Bengaluru: The Supreme Court on Tuesday is likely to hear the special leave petition (SLP) filed by Karnataka over the 5 February 2007 verdict of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT)—a case, if upheld, has the potential to dry up Bengaluru’s drinking water supplies, regulate agricultural activities and flare up tensions between the two states.
Despite facing one of its worst drought years, deficient rains and acute drinking water shortage, Karnataka’s willingness to comply with the unfavourable interim orders of the Supreme Court was to ensure that any refusal of interim orders (five in September alone) may impact the outcome of the SLP.
Karnataka, the upper riparian state (where the river originates), has contested the final verdict of the disputes tribunal as it believes that the major share of the water will go to Tamil Nadu leaving almost six Karnataka districts, including Bengaluru, without adequate water for drinking and agriculture.
Tamil Nadu’s claims are based on agreements executed between the then governments of Mysore and Madras in 1892 and 1924, which the tribunal states cannot be held as “invalid”.
“In the case of Karnataka, it may be mentioned that Bangalore (now Bengaluru) which fits a metropolitan city is located on the border of Cauvery basin. The information furnished by Karnataka State indicates that 64% of the Bangalore city area lies outside the basin and only 36% of the city area lies within the basin,” the tribunal’s 2007 order states.
The Siddaramaiah-led Karnataka government also had to pacify a disgruntled Fali S.Nariman—noted jurist and the state’s representative in the Cauvery dispute for over three decades—to continue arguing the case.
The dependence of Cauvery increased after erstwhile sources like Arkavathi, Hessarghatta and T.G.Halli dried up. A 2011 expert committee recommended that 30 tmcft of water from Sharavati (Linganamakki reservoir) be diverted to Bengaluru, The Hindu reported on 15 September.
According to T.B. Jayachandra, law and parliamentary affairs minister, the state government has said that the 18 October SLP requires “meticulous planning and presentation of key facts including failure of South West monsoon (which feeds Karnataka), depleting groundwater levels and the second successive drought”, among other reasons, to impress upon the apex court.
All political parties in the state have suggested that all “distress” arising out of the shortage of Cauvery water be shared between all stakeholders to minimize Karnataka’s losses.
In the last two decades, Bengaluru has more than doubled its size from around 300 sq.km to over 800 sq.km, is home to over one crore people, and houses some of the biggest companies in the world accounting for at least 70% of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The verdict, however, transcends Bengaluru and impacts other economical aspects of the Cauvery basin, or over 18 lakh acres of agricultural land.
In its verdicts, the 2011 expert committee has suggested that water can be saved by measures including restricting the double crop paddy area, introduction of a shorter duration variety in place of samba and growing crops requiring less water. Sugarcane farmers, among others, will be directly impacted as Karnataka, under the terms of the 1924 agreement was allowed to grow crops in only 40,000 acres which it increased over time to about 70,000 to 90,000 acres, the area under cultivation being a major point of contention with Tamil Nadu.
The cultivable areas for paddy and sugarcane have been restricted to the areas to the period prior to 1924 and any future development would involve growing crops that require less water.
In the final order on 5 February 2007, the tribunal determined the utilisable quantum of water of the Cauvery at 740 tmcft.
Of this, Karnataka is entitled to 270 tmcft, Tamil Nadu to 419 tmcft, Kerala 30 tmcft, Puducherry 7 tmcft and around 14 tmcft is meant for environmental purposes.
“The state of Karnataka is to ensure 192 tmcft of water at the inter-state contact point presently identified as Biligundlu gauge and discharge station maintained by Central Water Commission in a normal year,” the final verdict states.
The 2007 verdict of the tribunal comes after deliberations and arguments heard over 15 years. But as the saying goes, much water has flowed under the bridge.