Cauvery Tribunal

A head, finally

Print edition : June 13, 2014

A view of the Grand Anicut and the dry Cauvery riverbed in Thanjavur. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

“BETTER late than never.” This was how lakhs of farmers in the 10 Cauvery basin districts of Tamil Nadu described the Centre’s decision to appoint a new chairman to the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT). The tribunal remained headless for more than two years following the resignation of Justice N.P. Singh in April 2012 on health grounds. He was appointed Chairman a few days before his superannuation as a judge of the Supreme Court.

On May 13, reports indicate, the Central government issued a gazette notification on the appointment of B.S. Chauhan, a judge of the Supreme Court, as chairman of the CWDT to take up the pending applications filed by the “party States” and the Central Government under Section 5(3) of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 (ISRWD).

The CWDT, constituted on June 2, 1990, gave its final award on February 5, 2007, but its recommendations remained on paper in view of the pending applications. The award was notified by the Centre on February 19, 2013.

Apart from the pending applications, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have filed appeals against the award in the Supreme Court. With Justice N.P. Singh quitting as Chairman, the efforts of the CWDT to take up and dispose of the review applications suffered a setback. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa appealed to the Prime Minister to take immediate steps to fill the vacancy in view of the fact that the ISRWD Act stipulated that the CWDT could not function without a Chairman. She also pointed out that the resignation at the “crucial juncture” had caused “deep concern and anxiety in the minds of the people of Tamil Nadu”.

Farmers’ associations alleged that the Centre delayed the appointment of a new head.

With the pending applications becoming the stumbling block to ensuring that Tamil Nadu received its share of Cauvery water, particularly when the monsoon played truant, lakhs of farmers and farmworkers in the Cauvery delta were left high and dry.

It added to the woes of agriculturists already reeling under the impact of escalating costs of inputs, unremunerative prices for farm produce, conversion of farmland for real estate use and seawater incursion owing to overexploitation of groundwater. V. Duraimanickam, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the All India Kisan Sabha, said the new chairman should accord top priority to the implementation of the final award. He said that farmers in the delta districts of Thanjavur, Nagapattinam and Tiruvarur had dug around five lakh borewells with depths ranging from 400 feet (122 metres) to 500 feet (152 m). Farmers had stopped raising crops on three lakh acres, he claimed.

Dubbing the appointment a “belated move”, K. Balakrishnan, president of Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam and leader of the CPI(M), called for early disposal of the pending review applications. The plight of the farming community could be gauged from the fact that in several places in the delta, which is known for raising short-term “Kuruvai” and “Thaladi” crops and the long-term “Samba” crop, farmers had confined themselves to a single crop, he said.

Farmers also insisted that steps should be taken to appoint the Cauvery Management Board and the Cauvery Water Regulatory Authority without any further delay.

S. Dorairaj