'Reconstitute Cauvery tribunal to correct the unjust award'

The Inquirer

Unhappy over various aspects of the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT), former prime minister H D Deve Gowda makes a case for reconstituting the CWDT. Against the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s recent directive to the Centre to notify the February 2007 final award by February 20, Deve Gowda, in an interview to K Subrahmanya of Deccan Herald, says that it is better the CWDT reconsiders some controversial aspects of the award than force them down the throat of the unhappy parties like Karnataka. The following is the full text of the interview:

You have been reported to have demanded a reconstitution of the CWDT. Isn’t it too late to go back to the CWDT for further consideration of the water disputes?

It is never too late, because the idea of having a tribunal is to settle disputes to the broad satisfaction of all parties. Each party must have sufficient opportunity to present its case. Recently, the Tamil Nadu chief minister has asked for appointing a new CWDT chairman as the incumbent had resigned last year. Then, why not reconstitute the body itself?

In what way has the final award adversely affected Karnataka?

All of us are, I suppose, aware of the long history of this dispute in the pre-Independence years. I am not going into that here. In the final award, Karnataka’s share of water is 270 TMC out of the total estimated water availability of 740 TMC. Having made that allocation, how can the tribunal impose restrictions on the state regarding the area of cultivation, or on the number of crops it can raise annually? This has never happened, and there is no such restriction imposed on Tamil Nadu.

Now, regarding the water that Karnataka is required to release to Tamil Nadu, how can the tribunal make allocation for environmental protection and inevitable escape to sea of 14 TMC when Tamil Nadu has no obligations to ensure its utilisation for the purposes mentioned? This quantum of water, in effect, amounts to additional quantum of water made available to Tamil Nadu over and above its apportioned share of 419 TMC. Is that fair? It is a clear case of bestowing undue benefit on Tamil Nadu. I cannot also accept the methods adopted by the tribunal for apportioning the available water among the riparian states for drinking purposes. It is not correct and reasonable to assume that Karnataka can meet large part of its drinking water requirements from ground sources.  

You mentioned about the drinking water requirement. Can you elaborate on that?

Look, everyone, including the Supreme Court, agrees that drinking water requirements should get priority. The share apportioned to Karnataka for drinking purposes in villages, towns and cities is patently unjust, unfair and irrational. There is no credible or reasonable allocation for 2.25 crore people (one crore population in Bangalore) in cities, villages and small towns in the basin area in the state.

Take the city of Bangalore. It is agreed that the city, which now has a population of one crore and growing rapidly, requires at least 25 TMC annually. But the tribunal has not even allocated 2 TMC! What is the logic? It states that two-thirds’ of the city is outside the Cauvery basin area and so those areas are not entitled to a share in the Cauvery water; its logic is also that the rest of city population (one-third - 33 lakh) can source 50 per cent of its requirements from ground water sources. Where is the ground water? Can we accept this logic? Is it fair? Look, years ago, we agreed to forego 5 TMC water from our share of Krishna River for the drinking water requirements of Chennai. Does Chennai fall within the Krishna basin area? The logic that two-thirds of Bangalore is outside the Cauvery basin is simply astounding.

But, didn’t the government of Karnataka get enough opportunities to present its case on these issues before the CWDT, and also, from time to time, before the Supreme Court?

Yes, the state government did get opportunities. But I believe that our case has never been heard with sympathy or reason. Further, when it comes to Karnataka, the final award not only fixes the quantum of water it has to annually release in a regulated manner, the state is also told to release it from specific dams. Of the 192 TMC required to be released, the award says 60 TMC should be released from Kabini reservoir and 52 TMC from the KRS reservoir. Worse, the state is also asked to ensure the release of 80 TMC from downstream KRS/Kabini dams! That is the quantum of water available from the catchment areas downstream the two the reservoirs within Karnataka. How can the state be held accountable to ensure regulated flow of this 80 TMC in the full annual cycle when it does not impound this water?
Effectively, it means that the state should make good from its reservoirs for any and all deficits in a bad monsoon season even from the catchment areas where it has no control to regulate releases. I would have understood this if Tamil Nadu had accepted Karnataka’s proposal to build a dam downstream within the state’s territory for hydel power generation. But that is not the case. The tribunal’s reasoning is therefore wrong.

There are voices in Karnataka, and even the state government has at times suggested that the final CWDT award is better than the June 1991 interim award...

I know what you are referring to. The interim award required Karnataka to ensure release of 205 TMC a year in regulated flows, whereas the final award requires the state to release only 192 TMC. The big difference, however, is that the 205 TMC was measured in Tamil Nadu – at its Mettur Dam, whereas under the final award, Karnataka is required to ensure the release of 192 TMC at Biligundlu gauging station located at the inter-state border. As per the tribunal’s own estimate, between Biligundlu and Mettur, the catchment area accounts for 25 TMC. It means that now Tamil Nadu will get at Mettur 217 TMC (192+25), and not 205 TMC, an additional quantum of 12 TMC. So, Do I need to say anything more?

Don’t you think it is too late to raise these issues, now that the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to notify the final award?

In fact, instead of notifying the final award, the Centre itself should go before the Supreme Court and spell out these problem areas. It is always better to arrive at a broadly acceptable solution than notify an unsatisfactory final award. I am pained at the Centre’s inaction. In the past, the Centre had cleared Tamil Nadu’s irrigation projects and also sanctioned funds to execute them. But when it came to Karnataka, none of the state’s projects got the Centre’s approval or funding.
That is why I demand reconstitution of the tribunal, including appointment of new assessors so that the issues that really concern us could be heard in an impartial, unbiased and rational manner.

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