The February 16 ruling will be the cornerstone of this final process of setting up an authority to oversee the measuring and sharing of water.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel after all. The long-festering dispute over the Cauvery waters might have a kind of workable solution if all parties are willing to follow the rules laid down for sharing of waters through the new authority being formed, to be called the Cauvery Water Management Authority. The Centre has also been told to give effect to the 10-member authority before the onset of the southwest monsoon, which is just a couple of weeks away. But given the number of years that have stretched since the awards in 2007 and 2013, the time has come to try and end the dispute and the squabbling. Of course, the solution will depend less on the mechanics of dispute resolution and more on the willingness of the upper riparian state, Karnataka, to understand and accept the need to share the water as per the Supreme Court’s order.
The bench has called for implementation of the scheme to mitigate the distress in Tamil Nadu, which is quite apparent in the basin as well as the delta, where the river has gone bone dry and there are concerns over the health of the river system itself. The February 16 ruling will be the cornerstone of this final process of setting up an authority to oversee the measuring and sharing of water. An annoyed Supreme Court has dismissed the objections from Karnataka and Kerala about the methodology of making indents for quantity of water in reservoirs. They were clearly told that the objections were devoid of merit and that there must be equitability for just and reasonable use of allocated water. No one can afford a relapse into the old habit of challenging everything before the nation’s highest court.
Karnataka’s political imbroglio has been sorted out but a particular problem may crop up as the popular base of the Janata Dal (Secular), which will head the incoming government, is the Cauvery basin region and the party will be under heavy pressure in granting water release as per the final award. It is clear that the Centre must be a stern arbiter, but not necessarily an authoritarian one. It must ensure water management is ruled by the court’s direction to find “reasonable use of water from the allocable water on equitable basis”. That may be a politically tricky task as the equations have drastically changed since the Karnataka polls. The court’s anxiety that the authority must be in place before the monsoon season starts is not misplaced.
Unless the scheme in accordance with the final verdict is in place before the water starts flowing in, it may leave the situation ripe for further appeals. A 15-year solution is being offered and it would be in the interest of all four states to grab it before the situation gets vexatious for those waiting for water for crops and use as drinking water.