Cauvery water dispute: SC raises Karnataka's share by 14.7 bn cubic feet

The Supreme Court on Friday increased Karnataka’s share of the Cauvery waters by 14.7 billion cubic feet (bcft). It reduced Tamil Nadu’s share and compensated the state by allowing it to extract 10-bcft groundwater from the river basin, saying the issue of drinking water had to be placed on a “higher pedestal”. 

Tamil Nadu and Karnataka will be annually entitled to 404.25 bcft and 284.75 bcft, respectively. Kerala and Puducherry will be entitled to 30 bcft and 7 bcft of Cauvery waters, respectively. 

The court on Friday dismissed Puducherry and Kerala’s demand for a higher share of water. 

With Friday’s unanimous judgment by a three-judge Bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, the centuries-old dispute between the three southern states and a Union Territory has come to an end, though the arrangement will be revised after 15 years. 

The 465-page judgment said that Bengaluru was a global city so its requirement should be taken into account. The apex court also noted that Tamil Nadu had enough groundwater to tap into.

This comes at a time when Karnataka is readying itself for the Assembly elections, slated in April-May, and political parties have been using the water dispute as their main election plank. Other than the Cauvery, Karnataka is engaged in a dispute with Goa over water sharing from the river Mahadayi. 

With the verdict in Karnataka’s favour, the state’s ruling Congress party is at an advantage, especially as Chief Minister Siddaramaiah hails from Mysuru, which remains at the centre of the dispute. Most pro-Kannada organisations welcomed the verdict. The workers of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike celebrated in different parts of the state. 

Siddaramaiah, who presented the state Budget on Friday, welcomed the decision. “With this verdict, Karnataka has got partial relief. However, no one should consider this as a victory or a loss. We need to respect the verdict.”

Former CM B S Yeddyurappa took to Twitter, saying, “Supreme Court’s verdict on the Cauvery is welcome and will help our farmers and ease Bengaluru’s drinking water problem. A well-thought plan is needed for utilisation of water for the welfare of farmers in the Cauvery basin.”

The judgment said the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal had not taken into account the groundwater available in Tamil Nadu, calling it only conjecture. “We, while keeping in mind the risks associated with over-extraction of underground water, deem it fit that 10 bcft of groundwater in Tamil Nadu can, in the facts and circumstances of the present case, be accounted for in the final determination of its share,” the judgment said. 

The tribunal award of February 5, 2007, which was notified in the gazette on February 19, 2013, had allocated 419 bcft, 270 bcft, 30 bcft, and 7 bcft of water yearly to Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry, respectively.

The judgment said the tribunal had drastically reduced Karnataka’s share towards domestic and industrial purposes on the grounds that only one-third of Bengaluru fell within the river basin, and also on the presumption that 50 per cent of the drinking water requirements would be met from groundwater supply. The judgment said the tribunal’s view ignored the basic principle pertaining to drinking water and was unsustainable. “Keeping in mind the global status that the city has attained, an addition of 4.75 bcft is awarded to Karnataka,” it said. 

The court stated that Karnataka would now be required to release 177.25 bcft of water at the inter-state border with Tamil Nadu at Billigundulu.

“Drinking water requirement of the overall population of all the states has to be placed on a higher pedestal as we treat it as a hierarchically fundamental principle of equitable distribution,” the judgment said. 

The Bench recalled its earlier judgment in presidential reference where the SC had asserted that the waters of an inter-state river passing through the corridors of the riparian states constituted a national asset and no single state could claim exclusive ownership of its waters.  

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