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SC directs Karnataka to release water to T.N.

By J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI, Sept. 3. In a major relief to lakhs of Cauvery delta farmers, the Supreme Court today directed Karnataka to release from its four reservoirs 1.25 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet) of water everyday to Tamil Nadu beginning from Wednesday till the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) takes a final decision in this regard.

A three-Judge Bench, comprising the Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice Arijit Pasayat after hearing counsel for Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and the Solicitor-General for the Centre, rejected Karnataka's contention that it was facing a distress situation and that it could not release water to Tamil Nadu.

The Bench examined the chart submitted by senior counsel for Tamil Nadu, K.K. Venugopal, indicating that 73.490 tmcft of water was available in August in the four reservoirs of Karnataka after taking into account the inflows, outflows and withdrawals.

The Bench faced a stiff resistance from senior counsel for Karnataka, F.S. Nariman, who said the court should not pass any order till the CRA took into consideration the distress-sharing formula to be evolved by the Cauvery Monitoring Committee (CMA).

He also disputed that the CRA alone was competent to implement the interim award of the Tribunal and that the court should wait till an order was passed by the CRA.

Gymnastics can wait

The Bench rejected the objections and observed that "the legal gymnastics can wait". It pointed out to Mr. Nariman that the storage in the four reservoirs had increased from 41 tmcft to 73 tmcft in August. "It is not as if you are in distress. But you are not releasing any water to Tamil Nadu," the Bench said.

The Bench said: "We direct Karnataka to release water from its reservoirs so as to ensure that 1.25 tmcft of water is made available in Tamil Nadu's Mettur reservoir everyday till a final decision is taken by the CRA."

The Bench said that as per the documents placed on record concerning the minutes of the CRA meeting held on August 27, the Prime Minister had observed that the CRA was awaiting suggestions from the CMC which was required to meet and finalise before September 15 a specific formula for distress sharing in keeping with the directions of the Tribunal given on April 3, 1992. It appeared that the Prime Minister proposed that the CRA would meet some time during the third week of September to arrive at an agreed deficit sharing formula which would ensure an equal distribution of water to the Cauvery Basin States.

The Bench said that Tamil Nadu's grievance was that sufficient water was not being released by Karnataka and admittedly it had affected the paddy crops in the State. As it was likely to take a few more days before the CRA took a final decision, "we feel that it is appropriate that some interim arrangements are to be made".

Directive to CRA

The Bench made it clear that this interim order, to be operative from tomorrow, "shall stand automatically superseded by the decision to be taken by the CRA''. The Bench requested the CRA to finally decide the dispute between the States with regard to pro-rata sharing of water by the Cauvery River basin States especially in times of distress.

Earlier Mr. Venugopal submitted that Karnataka had to make good the deficit of 45 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu up to August and it was prepared to accept even 30 tmcft of water as calculated by the Central Water Commission. The "kuruvai" crop in Tamil Nadu was totally destroyed due to non-release of water by Karnataka and if the situation did not improve the "samba" crop would also meet the same fate. The court should direct Karnataka to release 2 tmcft of water daily to Tamil Nadu.

When the court indicated its mind that it would pass an interim order, Mr. Nariman suggested that the quantum of water to be released could be worked out by experts and the court could pass an order later.

But after the Bench asked Mr. Nariman how much water the State would be prepared to release to Tamil Nadu, he said Karnataka could release one tmcft daily.

When the Bench asked Mr. Salve what percentage of the inflow into the Karnataka reservoirs be allowed to be released to Tamil Nadu, he said the Centre could provide the figures and statistics about the inflow and outflow but it was for the court to determine the quantum of the water to be released.

Finally, the Bench directed Karnataka to release 1.25 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu daily.

I've to look into the order: Krishna

The Karnataka Chief Minister, S.M. Krishna, today said he would like to look into the Supreme Court order on the release of the Cauvery river water to Tamil Nadu and place it before his Cabinet and at an all-party meeting.

Responding to queries before returning to Bangalore this evening, the Chief Minister said he had not seen the wording of the court order and he would like to analyse its implications.

Justice done, says T.N. Minister

The Tamil Nadu Public Works Department Minister, O. Paneerselvam, today welcomed the Supreme Court decision ordering Karnataka to release 1.25 tmcft of water everyday saying the State had obtained justice. "This would give the farmers of Tamil Nadu great joy," he told reporters.

The Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, had always believed that Tamil Nadu would get justice in the Supreme Court, he said. Asked about the steps the State intended to take from now on, he said the issue was still in the Supreme Court. The Cauvery River Authority would be meeting on September 15, he added.

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