Water wars will be a reality if the interstate water disputes are not settled in a time-bound manner, warn legal eagles who are now debating ways to fast-track resolutions.
The July 27 interim order of the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal, rejecting Karnataka’s plea to allow drawing of 7.56 tmc of water from Mahadayi river to Malaprabha river (for drinking water project), proved a major setback for the state, which witnessed violent protests, lathicharge and mass arrests.
Even as all the political parties have come together to fight for the state’s rightful share, the legal fraternity in the state, under the banner of Advocates for Democracy, is demanding an amendment to the Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956, to make tribunals “more effective”.
“It is time lawmakers amend the Act to change the composition of the tribunals, which currently comprises three sitting judges—one from Supreme Court and two from High Courts. The tendency is to appoint a sitting judge who is on the verge of retirement and the proceedings drag on for 10 to 15 years for want of expertise,” rued former advocate general B.V. Acharya.
“We suggest the tribunals have one judge and two water experts—(an) agriculture scientist and (an) irrigation expert. The rule too states that water experts can be assessors and assist the tribunal. Why such a circuitous route? Experts on board will help arrive at a satisfactory solution faster,” Acharya noted.
The concerns are genuine as the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, constituted in 1990, gave the final verdict only after 17 years. Meanwhile, the neighbours and riparian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu saw unrest and agitations by farmers on both sides, besides souring of political relations between the states.
The Krishna Tribunal was constituted in 1969 and the final verdict was out only in 2013, after four-and-a-half decades.
The Mahadayi Tribunal was formed in 2010 and even after six years, the final verdict is pending.
“Karnataka has had a raw deal, be it Cauvery or Mahadayi disputes. The state has always made just claims but unfortunately, we have lost every case," former advocate general of Karnataka Ashok Harnahalli said.
“Sadly, the general perception is that Karnataka is the villain in every dispute, though the truth is otherwise,” rued Acharya, adding that the arbitrary decisions and the rigid mindset of the tribunal might derail justice.
In Mahadayi case, for instance, the tribunal dismissed the interim plea, while noting that the report by Karnataka Neeravari Nigama, “does not inspire confidence” and rejected the Central Water Commission’s hydrological data too stating “it was not agreeable to Goa”.
“CWC report shows total yield as 199.72 tmc. But the tribunal rejected it. We based our claims on the basis of the Goa data, which states it is utilising 9.3 tmc from Mahadayi and the rest goes to the Arabian sea. Goa has drawn up a master plan to utilise 180.72 tmc every year till 2050. By this count, there is a surplus of 14.32 tmc, which Karnataka can utilise. The tribunal citing ecological degradation to disallow Karnataka to draw the surplus water is unfair as drinking water should have been top priority,” Acharya pointed out.
Even as the Karnataka government is mulling over filing a Special Leave petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court, challenging the interim order, senior advocates feel Prime Minister Narendra Modi should intervene to resolve the issue. Tribunals are formed at the behest of the Centre when disputes cannot be resolved amicably. However, there have been many instances where Centre has intervened, experts noted.
“In 1995-96, the then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao requested the then chief minister of Karnataka H.D. Deve Gowda to release six tmc of water to Tamil Nadu to save the standing crops, when the tribunal was already in place. To honour the PM’s word, Karnataka had agreed to release water to Tamil Nadu. In Mahadayi case too, a similar collective effort is necessary,” Acharya. said
The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal was formed in 1990 after negotiations by the Centre between 1969 and 1990 (21 years) failed. The final verdict was delivered on February 5, 2007. The tribunal allocated water to riparian states of Tamil Nadu (419 tmc), Karnataka(270), Kerala (30) and Puducherry (7).
The Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal was set up in 1969 after negotiations between 1950s and 1969 failed. The final award was given on November 29, 2013. The allocation to states: Andhra (1005 tmc), Karnataka (906) and Maharashtra (666).
The Mahadayi (Mandovi) Tribunal was set up on November 16, 2010, after negotiations between 1985 and 2010 failed. The final verdict is awaited.