Water conflict

Print edition : January 28, 2011

The Ongole branch canal under the Nagarjunasagar project command area near Chimakurthi in Prakasam district, Andhra Pradesh. The Krishna water flow may not be the same in future in view of the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-II award. - KOMMURI SRINIVAS

Andhra Pradesh feels the second Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal's verdict has dealt a blow to the State.

THE long-awaited verdict of the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-II allocating the highest share of the waters of the Krishna river to Andhra Pradesh has left the State shattered. The body blow is perceived to be so comprehensive that the State government is struggling to come up with a cogent response even after several days. Except for announcing that it will go in appeal for a review and seek clarifications to erroneous assessments, there has been no official word on the order given by the three-member tribunal headed by Justice Brijesh Kumar. The official line is that it was merely a draft report and the government will leave no stone unturned in safeguarding the interests of the State.

Preferring to adopt a cautious approach, it has constituted a 14-member team of technical and legal experts to peruse the tribunal order. Despite inviting flak for putting up a weak argument before the tribunal, the government seems to be in no mood to revamp its legal team. It has said that it will hold an all-party meeting before formulating its view.

Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy has been holding consultations with officials and experts to weigh the options before the government. The verdict is widely perceived to be harmful to the interests of the State though on paper the tribunal has allotted 1,001 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) to Andhra Pradesh. That is 190 tmcft more than what was allocated by the Bachawat Tribunal Award earlier.

Experts and political parties describe this gain as notional as it is worked out on the basis of an erroneous calculation of yearly river yields. They fault the tribunal's assessment of yields on the basis of 65 per cent dependability (sure yearly river water yields in 65 of 100 years) spread over a shorter period of the last 47 years.

In contrast, they argue, the Bachawat Tribunal's calculations were on the basis of yields of a longer period of 78 years at 75 per cent dependability. In fact, the State had favoured reckoning the yields for 112 years at 75 per cent dependability as is universally accepted, but KWDT-II rejected the argument.

Experts also feel that KWDT-II did not factor in the fact that Andhra Pradesh has received the full complement of its share of 811 tmcft only in a small number of years during the last five decades, sometimes just once in a decade. For the same reason of lower and far between yields, they question the tribunal's assessment of 448 tmcft surplus waters and the allocation of the same to three States 190 tmcft to Andhra Pradesh, 177 tmcft to Karnataka and 81 tmcft to Maharashtra.

They argue that by going ahead with the distribution of the surplus waters, KWDT-II has taken away the liberty given by KWDT-I to Andhra Pradesh to use it, recognising its vulnerability as the lower riparian State. A lower riparian State is always at the mercy of the upper riparian States as it receives only water released by them.

Projects in peril'

The snatching away of this entitlement at one stroke apparently puts in peril seven ongoing projects built using 227 tmcft at a cost of Rs.32,000 crore with an ayacut of 24 lakh acres (one acre is 0.4 hectares). These include the Srisailam Left Branch Canal (30 tmcft), the Kalwakurthy (25 tmcft), the Nettampadu (22 tmcft), the Hundri Neeva (40 tmcft), the Galeru-Nagari (38 tmcft), the Valigonda (43 tmcft) and the Telugu Ganga (29 tmcft) projects all located in some of the most drought-affected districts of the State.

Against this requirement of 227 tmcft, the tribunal has allocated 190 tmcft, leaving a question mark over the remaining water for the ongoing as well as future projects planned underJalayagnam, a dream scheme of former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. The argument is that the State has lost the opportunity to use exclusively surplus water whenever it was available.

While many experts say such allocation of unsure surplus water is improper, R. Vidyasagara Rao, former Chief Engineer, Central Water Commission, feels this will benefit the State as it can now claim these projects to be based on an assured supply of 190 tmcft. This would ensure easy permission from the CWC and funds from Planning Commission. But others do not buy this argument.

Alamatti dam height

The State's grievance is not confined to the allocation of assured and surplus waters in the Krishna river. It is now worried over KWDT-II allowing Karnataka to raise the height of the Alamatti dam to 524.256 metres. The contentious issue has been raging for over three decades now, with Andhra Pradesh even knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court.

It was after the State's objections that the height was pegged at 519.6 metres (for storing 173 tmcft) in the past, but with KWDT-II clearing the height increase, the State's worry is that Karnataka will be able to impound 130 tmcft more of the river water.

Andhra Pradesh has been doggedly objecting to the raising of the height of the dam as it not only exceeded the allocation made by KWDT-I to Karnataka but affected flows into two major reservoirs Srisailam and Nagarjuna Sagar, thus proving to be the death knell for agriculture in the Krishna delta. There is apprehension that the increase in the height and storage capacity of Alamatti will further push up the delay in the release of water to Andhra Pradesh. This would mean skipping of at least one crop season, affecting production of foodgrains and productivity as the release of water is now possible only in September and October, said Leader of the Opposition N. Chandrababu Naidu. Many experts endorse this point. They feel the release of 8 tmcft water from Alamatti in June-July mandated by KWDT will be hardly sufficient for even raising nurseries.

Telugu Desam Party workers stage a roadblock at Hanuman Junction in Krishna district against the State government's "failure to present strong arguments before Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal" in respect of the Alamatti dam, in July 2010.-CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR

Politicians and experts do not pin their hopes on the inter-State board suggested by KWDT-II to regulate river water flows, citing the example of the one existing for the Cauvery and the raging dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. With no statutory powers, the board will remain a toothless wonder, they argue. Former Engineer-in-Chief T. Hanumantha Rao instead suggests the appointment of a statutory authority taking the entire Krishna basin as a unit to monitor the yield of the river. A project-wise working table will have to be maintained for the daily flow of water into projects to ensure equitable distribution.

Andhra Pradesh feels injustice was done to it in the case of the Tungabhadra sub basin too as the allocation for Karnataka was raised from 307 tmcft (by the Bachawat Tribunal) to 360 tmcft by KWDT-II, including 40 tmcft for the Upper Thunga, the Upper Bhadra and the Singatalur projects. Andhra Pradesh describes these as illegal as they affect projects in the State.

Even as it is widely held that KWDT-II blatantly favoured Karnataka and Maharashtra and handed out a raw deal to Andhra Pradesh, there is criticism from the Telugu Desam Party, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Praja Rajyam Party that the government failed to argue the case before KWDT-II effectively. Chandrababu Naidu blamed the Congress both at the Centre and in the State for the fiasco.

He alleged that former Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy failed miserably in articulating the State's views before the tribunal. He was happy keep his party high command and Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, who belonged to Karnataka, in good humour for his political survival even by mortgaging the interests of the State, Chandrababu Naidu said.

Another charge is that while Maharashtra and Karnataka hired the services of the best legal experts, Andhra Pradesh fielded a lawyer who was removed from the post of Advocate General for being inefficient. The verdict is a gift for the people for returning the Congress twice, in 2004 and 2009. It will have to pay a heavy price for such neglect, he said.

Experts admit that the government had botched up on several counts by putting up a half-hearted, weak and inconsistent argument. For instance, the State kept arguing right from the beginning that there was no surplus water, citing yearly yields, but it submitted a list of seven projects based on such water. When the tribunal pulled up the State for such contradictions, the government gave a written clarification saying it would not claim any right over such water for these projects.

Again, while claiming that it wasnot receiving its share of 811 tmcft of water on a year-to-year basis,the State submitted documents showing utilisation of 1,058 tmcft to strengthen its argument that it was using more water as the upper riparian States were unable to use their share.

Justice Brijesh Kumar himself is believed to have pointed to such inconsistencies and observed that the State had failed to come up with specific evidence to substantiate its charge that increasing the height of the Alamatti dam would affect many of its projects. He cited an expert estimate that the loss from increasing the height was at 70 tmcft when the government's claim was 121 tmcft.

Similarly, but for harping on the need to lay a parallel canal from the siltation-hit Tungabhadra dam or raising the height to enable the State to use its allocation, the government did not come up with any elaborate study and documentation. It was confined to its imagination and did not reflect in the documents the State submitted, he is reported to have observed. As the government gets into damage control mode, farmers in the State wonder whether they will be able to raise a crop relying on canal irrigation, given the vicissitudes and complexity of inter-State river water distribution.

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