Cauvery Water Dispute: Karnataka gets additional 14.75 TMC of water in light of availability of groundwater in Tamil Nadu

Supreme Court: Deciding the Cauvery Water Dispute that reportedly travels beyond 100 years, the bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar, JJ awarded to the State of Karnataka an additional 14.75 TMC of water, i.e., 10 TMC, on account of availability of ground water in Tamil Nadu + 4.75 TMC, for drinking and domestic purposes including such need for the whole city of Bengaluru. Hence, in view of the allocation of additional 14.75 TMC of water to Karnataka, the State of Karnataka would now be required to release 177.25 TMC of water at the inter-state border with Tamil Nadu. The Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal had, by award dated 05.02.2007, directed the State of Karnataka to release 205 TMC of water to the State of Tamil Nadu.

The Court noticed that the Tribunal had drastically reduced the share of Karnataka towards Domestic and Industrial purpose for the reason being that only 1/3rd of the city of Bangaluru falls within the river basin and also on the presumption that 50% of the drinking water requirement would be met from ground water supply. Holding that the said view taken by the Tribunal ignores the basic principle pertaining to drinking water and is, thus unsustainable, the Court said:

“Drinking water requirement of the overall population of all the States has to be placed on a higher pedestal as we treat it as a hierarchically fundamental principle of equitable distribution.”

In a 465-page detailed judgment, the Bench took note of the fact that around 20 TMC of groundwater is available beneath the surface in Tamil Nadu which the Tribunal has not taken into account citing it as a conjecture. Hence, while keeping in mind the risks associated with over extraction of underground water, the Court said that 10 TMC of the said available groundwater in Tamil Nadu can, in the facts and circumstances of the present case, be accounted for in the final determination of its share.

The Court, however, refused to interfere with the allocation of water in favour of the State of Kerala and the Union Territory of Puducherry.

Stressing upon the importance of the matter, the Court said:

“in view of the acute scarcity of the water resources and the intensely contested claims of the States, it is expected that the allocations hereby made would be utilized for the purposes earmarked and accepted and no deviancy is shown in carrying out the verdict of this Court.”

[State of Karnataka v. State of Tamil Nadu, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 135, decided on 16.02.2018]

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