The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed Karnataka to release 6,000 cusecs of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu for a period of seven days. This has led to protests in Karnataka and there is pressure on Chief Minister Siddaramaiah not to follow the order of the Supreme Court.
In the court hall, Karnataka's counsel, senior advocate, Fali S Nariman pleaded that no interim orders should be passed on this issue. Any interim order now will be a wrong order, he told the court. The court room witnessed some drama as the counsel for Tamil Nadu, Shekhar Naphade countered both Nariman as well as Harish Salve, who was appearing for a citizen's group from Bengaluru.
How the drama unfolded
Nariman told the court that Karnataka would not be able to comply with the order, which would cut into the drinking water supply in Karnataka. He pointed out that Tamil Nadu had over 50 tmcft of water in the Mettur reservoir. However, Naphade retorted that no water
can be released from this reservoir unless the storage crosses the 50 tmcft mark.
Both Nariman and Naphade expressed their grievances with regard to the view expressed by the Cauvery Supervisory Committee. The committee had ordered Karnataka to release 3,000 cusecs of water for 10 days. Both states raised the question of distress. Karnataka's argument was based on the apprehension that if southwest monsoon is below normal and the northeast monsoon is above normal, the waters cannot be brought upstream to Karnataka area and as such, the crops in the upper region of the Cauvery basin will suffer.
The court noted that the crops of the upper basin areas mostly receive support of artificial irrigation from the southwest monsoon and as mentioned above, while working out the crop
water requirement, provision has already been made from the availability of southwest monsoon water in the reservoirs to meet the annual requirements of those areas.
Further, there would also be some good years, bringing in more than 740 tmcft of water. "We have suggested mechanism for implementation of the order of the tribunal and that suggested authority will take care of conserving water during good years in the designated reservoirs and also devise conservation of water by the party States in the remaining reservoirs (capacity - 3 tmcft and above), and during a deficit year permit withdrawals keeping in view the shortfall in total availability.
Similarly, if the northeast monsoon happens to be below normal, it would be feasible, as also justified, to provide some water from the storages in the upper regions for saving the crops of the lower region of the basin. This task has to be carried out by the Cauvery Management Board after assessing the extent of distress", the court said.
Not a normal year
Nariman said that this is not a normal year and, therefore, there has to be adjustment in monthly allocation. He submitted that if there is a deficit year and not a normal year, the yearly allocation has to reduce proportionally. When Karnataka is in great misery as far as the supply of water is concerned, it is not possible to release any water to Tamil Nadu, he said.
Nariman said that Karnataka will have to part with drinking water if it is compelled to supply the water to Tamil Nadu. Naphade contended that the monthly allocation by the Tribunal is
rational, inasmuch as it has taken into consideration various crops that are grown in Tamil Nadu and the seasonal requirement. He said both states have to embrace the principle of adjustment in a deficit year. The argument relating to dwindling water was controverted by Naphade on the ground that the Tribunal has not really referred to the decision pertaining to drinking water for two-thirds of the city of Bengaluru from the Cauvery basin.
Better intervene than protest
During the course of the arguments, senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for a citizens' group from Bengaluru, said it was better that the court intervenes. When he advanced arguments, Naphade tried to cut him short by saying, "please do not add another speaker from Karnataka which is trying to bring street violence into the courtroom."
Salve immediately retorted and said that it is time that the matter is settled. "We cannot afford anymore luxury litigation. It is better to intervene here rather than protest on the streets", he said, adding that there is concern over drinking water supply to Bengaluru.