The Union government on Monday submitted in the Supreme Court a draft scheme to implement the final award of the Cauvery River Water Tribunal apportioning river water between the three states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and the Union territory of Puducherry.
The dispute about how the waters of the Cauvery should be shared between these entities has been underway for 22 years. In 2007, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal allocated to Tamil Nadu 419 tmcft (or thousand million cubic feet) of the 740 tmcft of water available in the Cauvery basin. Karnataka received 270 tmcft of water, 30 tmcft went to Kerala and seven tmcft to Puducherry. The Centre notified the tribunal’s award in 2013. But Tamil Nadu and Karnataka moved the Supreme Court against this ruling. In February, the Supreme Court directed Karnataka to release 177.25 tmcft of Cauvery water per year to Tamil Nadu.
The tribunal’s final award envisaged a Cauvery Management Board that would be autonomous. Its decisions were to be absolutely binding on the member states. But the draft submitted by the Centre on Monday tries to undermine this autonomy with the inclusion of a provision that elaborates on what happens when one of the states refuses to cooperate with the board.
The 14-page scheme put together by the Centre heavily borrows from the model board that the tribunal recommended in its final award. However, there are minor differences. Most importantly, the Centre has converted itself into a sort of an appellate body.
According to the tribunal award passed in 2007, “if the Board finds that either Government of the party States namely Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Union Territory of Pondicherry do not co-operate in implementing the decision/direction of the Tribunal, it can seek the help of the Central Government”.
However, the Centre’s scheme on Monday adds an extra line to this provision. Under point number 14 elaborating the functions of the board, it said:
“If the Board finds that either Government of the party States namely Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Union Territory of Pondicherry do not cooperate in implementing the decision/direction of the Tribunal, it can seek the help of the Central Government, whose decision in the matter will be final and binding on all parties concerned.
This provision is contradictory to another provision in the scheme, which clearly states that decisions of the authority formed “shall be final and binding on all the party states/UT”.
For example, if Karnataka decides not to adhere to decisions of the board, then the Centre will step in to decide what to do. But what would happen if the Centre agrees with Karnataka and not the board? Can the Centre override the board and ask the states to follow its directions?
The matter gets complicated considering that the management board will have supervisory role but not control of the dams. That will continue to be in hands of the states.
Karnataka has often refused to stick to the tribunal award and has refused to release water to the other states. In 2016, violence erupted in the state when the Supreme Court ordered it to release Tamil Nadu’s share of water.