NEW DELHI: A river's water is a "national asset" and a beneficial gift of nature and no state can claim its "exclusive ownership" or deprive others, the Supreme Court said today.
The apex court said the water of inter-state river is common and equal to all, through whose land it runs, and no one can obstruct or divert it.
The court's 465-page verdict on the water dispute of river Cauvery, which flows through Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, also referred to international rules of Helsinki, Compione and Berlin on equitable distribution of river waters passing through several nations.
"The waters of an inter-state river passing through the corridors of the riparian states constitute national asset and cannot be said to be located in any one state.
Being in a state of flow, no state can claim exclusive ownership of such waters or assert a prescriptive right so as to deprive the other States of their equitable share," a three-judge bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra said while citing the Presidential Reference on Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT).
The bench, also comprising justices Amitava Roy and A M Khanwilkar, said "It has been propounded therein that the right to flowing water is well-settled to be a right incident to property in the land and is a right publici juris of such character, that while it is common and equal to all through whose land it runs and no one can obstruct or divert it, yet as one of the beneficial gifts of nature, each beneficiary has a right to just and reasonable use of it.
" The top court said in this context, the principle of equitable apportionment internationally recognised by the Helsinki Rules, Compione Rules and Berlin Rules which have also been incorporated in the 1987 to 2002 National Water Policies, have been regarded to be the guiding factor for resolving disputes qua apportionment of water of an interstate river.
It endorsed the view of CWDT that the acknowledged principle of distribution and allocation of waters between the riparian states has to be done on the basis of their equitable share, however contingent on the facts of each case.
"There is no quarrel that the Helsinki Rules on the use of waters of international rivers lack statutory status of binding nature, yet the same, having been adopted by the International Law Association in its Conference held at Helsinki in August, 1966, set down the criteria to determine equitable utilisation of waters of an international drainage basin," the bench said.