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Cauvery Tribunal Dispute
Jul 17, 2017

Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have filed a case through Special Leave Petition (SLP) in Supreme Court (SC) against the final award on the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal's 2007 decision on water sharing. They stated that the tribunal did not apportion the waters of the inter-state river on the basis of “settled principles of equity”.

  • Karnataka has argued that the 1892 and 1924 pacts (on which the 2007 decision was based) between the erstwhile Mysore and Madras governments reflects an “inequality of bargaining power” and a lack of “conscience” which have no validity after the birth of the Indian Constitution.
  • Karnataka submitted that the 1892 agreement, the “parent” of the 1924 pact, dictated that Mysore could not develop any irrigational infrastructure on the river without the consent of the Madras government.
  • Tamil Nadu on the other hand has earlier stated that the 1892 agreement was preceded by a good deal of mutual consideration of the interests of both the Madras presidency and the Mysore State.

Can SC adjudicate inter-state water disputes?

  • The Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956, coupled with Article 262 (2) of the Constitution, excludes the SC from hearing or deciding any appeals against the Inter-State Water Dispute (ISWD) Tribunal's decision. 
  • The court in this case has argued that the remedy under Article 136 (Special Leave Petition) was a constitutional right (Article 136 is the route taken by the three petitioner States in this case).
  • Thus, the bar, if necessary, can be overcome through the possible routes under Articles 32, 131, and 136 of the Constitution.
  • Article 32 provides for constitutional remedies to get the rights protected through writs namely Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Prohibition, Certiorari and Quo warranto. (It was invoked in a petition by the Bangalore Water Users' Association which was eventually dismissed by the SC on the ground of absence of locus standi). Though it is not clear whether the fundamental right to drinking water implies a fundamental right to drinking water from a particular source. 
  • Article 131 is about Centre-State or inter-state disputes in general. The question whether Article 131 provides a route for an appeal to the Supreme Court against an ISWD Tribunal's Order has not come up for consideration.
  • The reference to "any Court or tribunal in the territory of India," in Article 136 seems to bring the ISWD Tribunals within the purview of the Article. In the case of any SLP (whether relating to river-water disputes or any other), the SC has first to decide in its discretion whether it should grant or deny the requested Special Leave.
  • Thus, the case in question here raises a pertinent question- is it time to consider the recommendation of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution to repeal the ISWD Act and bring inter-State river water disputes within the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. 

Note: The Cauvery Tribunal’s order of February 5, 2007 gave 419 tmc ft of the total 740 tmc ft available in the Cauvery basin to Tamil Nadu, 270 tmc ft to Karnataka, 30 tmc ft to Kerala, and 7 tmc ft to Pondicherry. The remaining 14 tmc ft was accounted as reserved for environmental protection and outflow to sea.


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