Guido Schmidt, Fresh-Thoughts Consulting, Austria, and Nitin Bassi, Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy, India
Cauvery water dispute judgement: What next? Oct 16, 2018 Global Water Forum www.globalwaterforum.org | 1 Guido Schmidt, Fresh-Thoughts Consulting, Austria, and Nitin Bassi, Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy, India The Cauvery River Basin in India, which drains a total of 8.1 million hectares in the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry, has experienced conﬂict regarding water resources allocation for a long time. The Cauvery river originates in Karnataka and is mostly fed by seasonal monsoon rains and several tributaries. During the years of high rainfall, the basin witnesses excessive ﬂow of water, sometimes leading to ﬂoods.
Yet, in times of low precipitation, drought-like conditions mean irrigation needs are not met, leading to dispute between the upper and lower riparian states in the basin.
The pre-Independence disputes over water sharing were largely settled by the British through the agreements of 1892 and 1924 between the erstwhile princely state of Mysore (presently largely Karnataka) and the Madras presidency (presently Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala). A signiﬁcant feature of these agreements was that it put restrictions on the extent of area that could be safely irrigated by the two states by using the Cauvery waters. However, after reorganization of States in 1956, the division of water became a serious issue as the number of riparian states increased from two to four.
Tamil Nadu, being the lower-riparian state had complained on several occasions of receiving reduced ﬂows due to Karnataka’s action of building new dams and expanding the agricultural areas irrigated by the available water in contravention of the existing water sharing agreements.
Cauvery water dispute judgement: What next? Oct 16, 2018 Global Water Forum www.globalwaterforum.org | 2 Cauvery River Basin. Source: Government of India, 2014. After years of failure in negotiations over the water sharing between the two main riparian states (Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) in the basin, The Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal was established in 1990 pursuant to the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956. The tribunal made a ﬁnal decision regarding basin water allocation in 2007. It allocated 7,641 million cubic meters (m 3 ) of water to Karnataka, 11,858 million m 3 to Tamil Nadu, 849 million m 3 to Kerala, and 198 million m 3 to Puducherry during a normal rainfall year.
Subsequently, the decision was challenged by the riparian states in the Supreme Court of India. Recently, the Supreme Court gave a ﬁnal verdict on this decades-long dispute on water distribution, including a slight change in water allocation from the one under the order given by the Tribunal. While Karnataka’s share has been increased to about 8,058 million m 3 , Tamil Nadu’s share has been reduced to 11,440 million m 3 of water. Water allocation for Kerala and Puducherry remained same as was decided by the Tribunal in its 2007 decision. The court also made it clear that the ﬁnal water ‘award’ should stand unchanged for the next 15 years, when it shall be revisited.
Cauvery water dispute judgement: What next? Oct 16, 2018 Global Water Forum www.globalwaterforum.org | 3 In two of the states with major shares of basin area (i.e., Karnataka and Tamil Nadu), water users and politicians have made a large number of comments regarding the Tribunal’s decision and Court’s verdict. One such recent assessment 3 has highlighted many short-falls of the Supreme Court verdict, such as the failure to consider “poor” water availability years, climate change, and demand-control measures. These are crucial considerations for achieving a balance between water availability and demand in future.
The assessment also anticipates further disputes in the Cauvery as well as in other basins in India, where state politicians might be interested in following the judicial pathway to achieve their water-related ambitions.
3 Thus, though the Supreme Court verdict should be hailed in view of settling decades-old conﬂict over water sharing, the judgement may open a Pandora’s Box and lead to litigations being ﬁled over water sharing from states in other comparatively ‘peaceful’ river basins as well where prospect of amicable negotiations exist. A major question is what action will follow the Supreme Court decision. The authors foresee three possible approaches: 1) a business-as-usual pathway following the Supreme Court mandate, which would only be feasible in the short-term; 2) coordinated action for improved water management; and 3) the strengthened implementation of inter-basin water transfers in the long-term.
The Supreme Court ordered that implementation of the revised water allocation be completed in a very aggressive timeline by framing a scheme (including setting up of the Cauvery Water Management Board and Monitoring Authority) in only six weeks. But water management changes are usually much slower, and given the signiﬁcant operationalization gaps in data, metering, water rights and entitlements for users and their enforcement, it can be anticipated that changes will be slow and partial only. Under such scenario, we expect politicians in the riparian states to blame the others for non-cooperation or maybe climate change for negative impacts, and requesting for a larger water share.
12 This will likely lead the Cauvery river basin to new disputes and complaints, and increased water-related problems.
Cauvery water dispute judgement: What next? Oct 16, 2018 Global Water Forum www.globalwaterforum.org | 4 Furthermore, the Indian Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (MoWR, RD & GR) is skeptical on the implementation of the Supreme Court decision, as Article 262(2) of the Indian Constitution excludes the Supreme Court or any other court from hearing or deciding on any appeals against the speciﬁc Water Dispute Tribunals’ decisions. Even the deadline for setting up of Cauvery Water Management Board and Monitoring Authority for ensuring monthly releases (as directed by the Supreme Court) was not adhered by the MoWR, RD & GR citing one or other reasons.
4 However due to Supreme Court’s continuous insistence, ﬁnally it was constituted and notiﬁed on 1 st June 2018, more than three months after the verdict. Nevertheless, in the weeks since the Supreme Court decision, the conﬂict has already extended to water quality aspects, and to the setting up of proper governance institutions; without apparent moves towards solution-ﬁnding. Cauvery River in monsoonal ﬂood. Source: Sarangib, Pixabay. A second pathway is coordinated action between the Central and State governments and other stakeholders for improved water management. This will require political will for
Cauvery water dispute judgement: What next? Oct 16, 2018 Global Water Forum www.globalwaterforum.org | 5 negotiation and better governance of inter-state water sharing, as well as substantial investments in Information, Institutions and Infrastructure 7 , and thus is much costlier in the shorter run. However, we ﬁrmly believe that it’s a better option for facing ongoing water challenges and driving sustainable growth. Regarding information, MoWR, RD & GR has already started assessing water availability and use with the help of a “water accounting” framework, developed jointly with IHE-Delft.
Further information for robust decision-making shall be compiled for the impact of climate change on water resources availability. This assessment will consider the inter-annual climate variability; the interaction between surface water and groundwater; the eﬀects of water quality for people, the economy; and ecological ﬂows (e-ﬂows). Regarding the latter, the 283-396 million m 3 allocated (283 million m 3 for environmental purposes and 4 million m 3 for natural outlets into the sea) by the Supreme Court in the Cauvery represents less than 2% of the river ﬂow. However, deciding on water allocation for e-ﬂows is not amenable to simple formulations and is much more complex.
It requires formulation of a sound scientiﬁc methodology as per the hydro-environmental regime of the river and its ecology. Such knowledge will facilitate understanding of the social, environmental and economic consequences of water allocation decisions, and ease possible negotiations in future by providing a ready reckoner of the various water demands in the basin. Compared globally, India is severely lagging in setting up regimes for water rights, water allocation and water pricing, aimed at better demand management and economically eﬃcient use of water.
5,6 The institutional set-up needs to undergo a fundamental change to facilitate trust-building and negotiation of complex deals. Lessons can be learned from the OECD-supported activities in Brazil 7,8 , the ongoing UK license review 9 or the European Water Framework Directive implementation 10 . A mid-term focused development of River Basin Management Plans would bring actors together to jointly address water management challenges. Incipient activities have already started in India – with World Bank funding under the National Hydrology Programme – to start such planning eﬀorts for the Godavari, Krishna and Mahanadi river basins, with 2030 Water Resources Group in the Hindon river and with
Cauvery water dispute judgement: What next? Oct 16, 2018 Global Water Forum www.globalwaterforum.org | 6 the India-EU Water Partnership for the Tapi river basin. Improved infrastructure – ideally based on such river basin plans – is another fundamental pillar for assuring change on the ground. These shall target reduction of water leakages (e.g. in urban water supply system of Bangalore, a major claimant for Cauvery water allocated to Karnataka), and improving water-use eﬃciency in irrigation not only at the plot level, but also at the command area and basin levels. However, improving water-use eﬃciency in irrigation will be a major challenge as paddy (rice) which is irrigated largely through ﬂood irrigation method is the major crop in the Cauvery basin, and basin-wide water savings have so far been diﬃcult to achieve in India and elsewhere.
13 Further, proper infrastructure for conveyance and treatment of urban and industrial wastewater is required to improve water quality and to augment eﬀective water availability for meeting various competitive water needs. A third pathway, which has been on the political agenda for a long time, is to supply water to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu from other basins through inter-basin water transfers (IBWTs). Such cost-intensive solutions involving large-scale water infrastructure are in place in many water-scarce regions across the world, but disputes on inter-basin water transfers emerge similarly to disputes within the basins 11 , and such disputes would involve even more states.
But even if Karnataka and Tamil Nadu wish to choose this pathway, the regions should also improve their domestic water management (leakage reduction, water use eﬃciency, water quality, data and governance), for them to be able to argue with “legitimate” water requests in the case of litigations starting on water distribution by IBWTs.
We encourage politicians, managers and stakeholders to explore the second pathway of improved water management, but are aware that solutions will not be put in place and be eﬀective immediately. In developing countries, water management is usually tradition-based and reluctant to innovation. Often, there is less political support to implement stringent demand side measures such as introduction of water metering, realistic water pricing and setting up of systems of water rights and entitlements. Also, adoption of water use eﬃciency
Cauvery water dispute judgement: What next? Oct 16, 2018 Global Water Forum www.globalwaterforum.org | 7 measures in irrigation is dependent on extent of government subsidies and restricted to some high value crops.
In comparison, even in the European Union – a region often looked to for lessons on improved water management – ongoing water management changes for the past 18 years have led to some progress, but major steps to achieve set targets are still needed. In any case, we look forward to action being taken; the count-down for the next Cauvery water allocation review has already started!
Acknowledgement: We would like to thank Dr M Dinesh Kumar and Dr Nuria Hernandez-Mora for their review comments. References: Supreme Court of India, 2018. In the Supreme Court of India: Civil appellate jurisdiction, 1. civil appeal no. 2453 of 2007. New Delhi, India. Government of India, 2014. Cauvery basin report. New Delhi: Central Water Commission 2. and National Remote Sensing Centre. Available at: https://india-wris.nrsc.gov.in/, 2014. Noolkar-Oak, G. and Manubarwala, A., 2018. Why Supreme Court’s Cauvery verdict is a 3.
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Cauvery water dispute judgement: What next? Oct 16, 2018 Global Water Forum www.globalwaterforum.org | 8 Policy, Vol 33 (1), 39-51. Bassi, N., 2014. Assessing potential of water rights and energy pricing in making 6. groundwater use for irrigation sustainable in India. Water Policy, 16 (3), 442-453. OECD, 2015. Water resources governance in Brazil. Paris, France: OECD Publishing. 7. OECD, 2016. Water, growth and ﬁnance. Paris, France: OCED Publishing. Available at: 8. https://www.oecd.org/environment/resources/Water-Growth-and-Finance-policyperspec tives.pdf.
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In: Schneier-Madanes, G. (ed), Globalized water (pp. 175-194). Dordrecht: Springer. Rai, R., 2018. Cauvery conﬂict: Resolution lies beyond politics. New Delhi: Observer 12. Research Foundation. Available at: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/cauvery-conﬂict-resolution-lies-beyo nd-politics/. Grafton R. Q., J. Williams, C. J. Perry, F. Molle, C. Ringler, P. Steduto, B. Udall, S. A. 13. Wheeler, Y. Wang, D. Garrick, R. G. Allen (2018): The paradox of irrigation eﬃciency. Science 24 Aug 2018:Vol. 361, Issue 6404, pp. 748-750. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat9314. Guido Schmidt is a Policy Expert with Fresh-Thoughts Consulting in Austria and has 25 years of experience in the water sector.
He has been involved in assessing the implementation of European Water Framework Directive and was a Team Leader for ﬁrst phase of the India-EU Water Partnership.
Cauvery water dispute judgement: What next? Oct 16, 2018 Global Water Forum www.globalwaterforum.org | 9 Nitin Bassi is a Natural Resources Management Specialist with Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy and based at their Liaison Oﬃce in New Delhi. He has nearly 12 years of experience in India’s water sector and has been involved in research project pertaining to river basin management. He was on board as one of the specialists for implementing the ﬁrst phase of the India-EU Water Partnership.
The views expressed in this article belong to the individual authors and do not represent the views of the Global Water Forum, the UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance, UNESCO, the Australian National University, Oxford University, or any of the institutions to which the authors are associated.
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