Highlight the key observations of Supreme Court in recent judgment over River Cauvery water-sharing dispute and their potential implications over federalism.

The verdict of the Supreme Court on the Cauvery river waters sharing dispute can open Pandora box of challenges. The verdict can have spillover effect on the various inter and Intrastate River disputes.
Vital observations from the Judgment:

  • Rivers are the national assets. No state can claim ownership over the rivers.
  • Drinking water concerns must be addressed on the priority basis.
  • Possibility of considering the availability of groundwater in resolving of disputes.
  • Concept of warrantable flexibility in determining of the basin area of the states.
  • The order for devising a mechanism for implementation of the order.
  • Reiteration of the powers of the Supreme Court to intervene in the river water disputes contrary to the restrictions mentioned in Article 262 of the constitution.

The judgment reiterated the supremacy of the Supreme Court and its powers of judicial review. With increasing number of river water disputes between the states, the applications before the Supreme Court may Increase. The judgment will also impact various ongoing disputes like Mahadayi. The important implications would be

  • Strengthening of Implementation mechanisms for the implementation of the orders of the tribunals. Often the political reasons were delaying in constituting of the river management boards for the implementation of the orders.
  • Rivers as national asset will restrict the states in putting forward their claims on the basis of the rights.
  • The provision for drinking water requirements of Bengaluru which largely falls outside the Cauvery basin is a significant departure for the established norms adopted in the procedures of Inter-state Rivers.
  • The recognition of ground water availability and asking Tamil Nadu to bridge the reductions in the water allotment through ground water may give rise to new dimension in resolution of the water disputes.

Inter-State river disputes have become a threat to the nation’s unity and Integrity. The approach towards river basin must be more of responsibility based rather than rights based approach. The Supreme Court order is a welcome sign as it emphasizes for humanistic considerations not just factual and legal matters in resolving the disputes.


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