CHENNAI: The much-awaited verdict of the Supreme Court on the Cauvery water dispute had its share of the disappointment since the quantum of water allocated for Tamil Nadu was reduced. But, on the brighter side, the judgement carries the weight of the country’s top judicial forum and hence is more likely to assure the state water as per the distress-sharing formula.
But the failure of Supreme Court to censure Karnataka for failing to honour its interim orders and no reprieve for the standing crops in the form of immediate release of water have come as a bitter pill for Tamil Nadu.
There is more in the verdict. It is also for the first time a Constitutional authority has ruled that Karnataka alone cannot claim ownership of Cauvery water. Since it is the final verdict, it would bring Karnataka under much higher obligation to release the monthly due of water. It may find it difficult to refuse to release water as it did in the past, by even disobeying the SC’s interim orders, it is pointed out. Political analysts and experts feel that quoting availability of groundwater as a reason for reducing the quantum of Cauvery water is an injustice. Though the directive to form Cauvery Management Board will be helpful to Tamil Nadu, such a measure would help farmers only in the next agricultural season, that too, if the board comes into existence.
While there is an argument that the SC declaring Cauvery water as a national asset is a welcome one, experts feel that it is just a statement of fact in accordance with the Helsinki rules.
Political analyst Tharasu Shyam, who had served as an Agricultural Officer in the undivided Tiruchy and Thanjavur district, during the 1970s, says “The judgment is a blow to Tamil Nadu and will affect irrigation in around two lakh acres. Already, paddy cultivation in the Old Delta and New Delta areas have been reduced.”
“We have approached the SC for equitable allocation of surface water in Cauvery. But, what we have received is a tip on using sub-surface water and reduction in our total allocation. The judgment is pro-Karnataka and it will help either BJP or Congress in coming elections,” he says.
Observing that the assessment of groundwater in Tamil Nadu was wrong, Shyam explains why:
“Calculation of sub-surface water is not acceptable as vast areas in the coastal regions have only unusable sub-surface resources or saltwater. For example, in Cuddalore area which is part of Cauvery delta, underground water table is mostly not suitable for agriculture. Even in Nagapattinam, Pattukottai, Peravurani and Pudukottai, it’s the same. If the SC wants our farmers to draw more water from sub surface aquifers, then sea water will enter and in another 10 years entire delta will become a desert.” Though the verdict is not favourable, the Centre should immediately take steps for the formation of the Cauvery Management Board and a Cauvery Water Regulatory Authority so that immediate implementation of the verdict is ensured from the forthcoming agricultural season in June. “If it is not done, the SC verdict will remain only on paper,” he adds.
“Now, we should ensure water release as per present terms and conditions and to adhere to distress-sharing formula. Tamil Nadu government should take effective steps to implement modern water management practices.”
Senior advocate Tamilmani told Express that in the present situation, the Tamil Nadu government cannot do anything. Even if they go for a review petition, it would be a waste of time. What the government should do is to take steps to re-notify the altered verdict. Then, the Centre should immediately form the Cauvery Management Board. Once it is formed, powers for releasing the water as per schedule would go to the board. Thirdly, the Centre should place that notification before Parliament to get its approval. I think, it would take at least six months if the Centre is earnestly implementing the verdict. If these are done, it will help in the next agriculture season.
He feels that the SC should have censured Karnataka for its disobedience. Besides, the Apex court should have categorically said if Karnataka fails to implement the present verdict, it would have to face the wrath of the court. Reduction of quantum based on ground water availability is wrong. “In Erode district, groundwater is available at 1,200 feet and groundwater is available at 30 feet in Kumbakonam. Above all, whether the groundwater available is suitable for cultivation or not known,” he pointed out.
A Veerappan, secretary, TN Senior PWD Engineers Association, said the verdict of the Supreme Court was very much disappointing.
“There is no ground for SC to decide that the groundwater potential available in Cauvery delta is used for cultivation. There is no data available with them, except the accusation by Karnataka government.” He also pointed out that TN was using over 350 tmc of water 20 years ago to 192 tmc in the final award. But, Karnataka has been increasing its irrigated area from 11 lakh in 1990 to 21.70 lakh acres in 2007. Water for cultivation had also gone up. Further, Karnataka cannot claim more water towards drinking water purposes since the final award includes the water for drinking water purposes too. The SC had failed to note this point.