A permanent tribunal to adjudicate river conflicts will not solve anything
The century-old Cauvery water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka could see a final settlement with the Supreme Court expected to give its verdict on the issue this month. This is not the only dispute over river water in the country: Karnataka is sparring with Goa over the Mahadayi . Then there is the fight between Odisha and Chhattisgarh over the Mahanadi. The Supreme Court has directed the Union government to set up a tribunal to adjudicate the case. Recently, the Centre announced that it is planning a permanent tribunal to adjudicate all interstate river water disputes. The underlying assumption here seems to be that our rivers are in good health and shall carry in them, in perpetuity, dispensable water.
But in reality that’s not the case; they are in dire straits. Dams, barrages and embankments mean many don’t have water in the downstream stretches; mindless sand mining, unimaginable levels of pollution from urban centres, industries and chemical farming and more recently commercial navigational infrastructure, fancy river fronts and river linking plans have already or are in the process of playing havoc with their integrity.
The result is that after 70 years of independence almost 70% of our rivers face an existential crisis.
Do the states of Karnataka and Goa in relation to river Mahadayi and Chhattisgarh and Odisha, with respect to the Mahanadi, know this? Does the central government ? They do, but all of them seem interested only in finding a magic formula, courtesy a tribunal, which would allow the rivers to continue to provide them with the services (water in particular) that they need.
So, would a permanent tribunal as planned by the central government deliver the goods? No, if its mandate remains just viewing a river as a carrier of water to be divided among the claimant states. Such an omnibus tribunal could only work if it is empowered and made broad-based in terms of its mandate and membership to focus as much on river revival efforts as on deciding claims over the services rendered by the river.
Manoj Misra is convener, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan
The views expressed by personal