The verdict handed out by the Supreme Court on the long festering, 120-year-old Cauvery water dispute is the best in the given circumstances and deserves to be commended. While Karnataka, which is on the threshold of Assembly elections has welcomed it because its share has been enhanced, Tamil Nadu is aggrieved without seeming radically upset. Kerala and Puducherry can draw comfort from the fact that their share has remained unchanged. Tamil Nadu’s share of water from river Cauvery stands now at 177.25 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) instead of 192 TMC while Karnataka has got a marginal increase of 14.5 TMC.
What has gone down well with the middle class is that the city of Bengaluru has been singled out for additional allocation to relieve the drinking water problem in the software city which once was billed as the ‘garden city’ before it fell on bad days. A landmark aspect of the judgment is that the apex court made it clear that no state can claim exclusive right to a river passing through different states which is as clear a direction as can be for any future water-sharing disputes. This is a path-breaking observation indeed. That the Tamil Nadu Delta Farmers’ Association welcomed this pronouncement of no exclusive rights over Cauvery water is significant. The surmise that a Cauvery management board would be set up has given the Tamil Nadu farmers hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Supreme Court said that drinking water “has to be kept on the highest pedestal”. It said that Bengaluru’s needs as a “global city” were important and hence allotted 4.75 TMC of drinking water to it. That the apex court reduced Tamil Nadu’s water allocation was ascribed by the court to the fact that it had taken the state’s ground water into account. The view in farmer circles in Tamil Nadu was that the State government had failed to put forward its case convincingly in the court. That had its echo in the DMK demanding that the State government be dismissed which is not conceivable but that that the anger against the ineffective Palaniswami government is growing and this verdict could affect it further is quite on the cards. S.Dhanapalan, general secretary, Cauvery Farmers Protection Association said the reduction in the quantum of Tamil Nadu’s share of Cauvery water is a blow to the State and will affect irrigation on about one lakh acres. This may be an overstatement but that there is a level of dissatisfaction which can be exploited by the State’s opposition is a grim reality.
In poll-bound Karnataka, the verdict is expected to give a boost to the Congress in the upcoming Assembly elections but a lot would depend on how well the Siddharamaiah government would be able to convince the people that it has played a big role in convincing the apex court of the strength of its stand. That Karnataka engaged a well-oiled battery of lawyers to fight the case is true. The BJP on its part will pin the credit for victory on the lawyers to the exclusion of the government but only time will tell how much conviction it would carry.