The apex court will further hear the dispute on January 20. Karnataka wants the Centre to issue a notification on Brijesh Kumar Tribunal Award.
The River Krishna originates in the Western Ghats near Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra and traverses 1,400 km through four states before emptying into the Bay of Bengal in Andhra Pradesh.
Revered by the Hindus as holy, the river is a bone of contention among its four riparian states: Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
With Assembly elections a few months away, the Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government in Karnataka is pulling all strings to overcome legal hurdles to implement the Upper Krishna Project’s third stage (UKP-III).
Bommai has already bagged the necessary approval of the Central Water Commission (CWC) for the Detailed Project Report for implementing the Kalasa-Banduri Nala drinking water project in the Mahadayi basin.
Putting the UKP-III in motion would add to the BJP’s election prospects, especially in North Karnataka.
The two projects, Kalasa-Banduri Nala and Upper Krishna are the two major irrigation plans for the North Karnataka region. Over the past two decades, all political parties have promised to implement these two major projects in their election manifestos.
Karnataka wants to raise the height of the Almatti dam to 524.256 metres from the existing 519.6 metres to augment the capacity of the Lal Bahadur Shastri reservoir.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana objected, moved the Supreme Court against Karnataka’s plan, and obtained a stay order.
Karnataka, represented by senior advocates Shyam Diwan and Mohan Katarki, is trying to get the stay lifted.
It is also seeking a directive to the Union government to issue a gazette notification on the final award passed by the Brijesh Kumar Tribunal in 2013 for its implementation.
After hearing the arguments for three days from 10 January, the apex court allowed Karnataka’s plea to renotify a bench that heard the plea for issuing notification for passing the Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal (KWDT)-2 final award for three days, to resume hearing in the matter from January 20, reported Deccan Herald.
The report further said: “Senior advocates Shyam Diwan and Mohan Katarki mentioned the need to renotify the bench before the bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud. The CJI agreed to re-notify the bench — comprising Justices Suryakan and V Ramasubramanian.”
The two-judge bench had heard the petitions of Krishna basin states, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The Government of India set up the Justice RS Bachawat Commission to arbitrate the river water utilisation disputes among the Krishna river basin states under the provision of the Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956, on 10 April 1969.
DM Bhandari and DM Sen were the other two members of the commission. The Bachawat Commission or Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal-I is the first-ever commission constituted to resolve an interstate water dispute.
After four years of detailed study, the Bachawat Commission submitted its report to the Union government in 1973.
“Around 2,060 tmc (thousand million cubic feet) of water was available in the Krishna River. Based on the Bachawat Commission report — united Andhra Pradesh was awarded 800 tmc, Karnataka 700 tmc and 500 tmc for Maharashtra. All the three states welcomed the award,” activist Ashok Chandargi recalled.
“The first commission report detailed two schemes: Scheme A and B. However, the award included only Scheme A and left out Scheme B. It took almost three years for the Union government to publish the gazette notification on 31 May, 1976,” he told South First.
In 1997, the Karnataka government approached the apex court seeking approval for the utilisation of surplus water in the Krishna basin and the implementation of Scheme B. The state did not get a favourable order, Chandaragi said.
“Karnataka yet again went to the apex court seeking an approval for raising the height of Almatti Dam from 519.6 m to 524.256 m in 2000. Once again, the court turned down the petition,” he added.
On the request of Karnataka, Maharashtra and the then united Andhra Pradesh, the Union government constituted another water dispute tribunal to distribute the surplus water available in Krishna River in 2004.
The government appointed former Supreme Court judge Justice Brijesh Kumar as the chairman of the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal on 30 June, 2004.
SP Srivastava, a former judge of the Allahabad High Court, and DK Seth, a judge of the Kolkata High Court, were the other two members.
The tribunal conducted hearings for three years (2011-2013).
“Of the surplus water available, the Brijesh Kumar Tribunal awarded 194 tmc to the united Andhra Pradesh, 173 tmc to Karnataka and 81 tmc to Maharashtra on 29 November, 2013,” Chandaragi pointed out.
The tribunal’s final award provided 1,001 tmc to Andhra Pradesh, 907 tmc to Karnataka and 666 tmc to Maharashtra.
“It also permitted Karnataka to raise the height of the Almatti Dam by five metres. Within a year, the Supreme Court ordered a stay after Telangana and Andhra Pradesh approached it. The Telugu states sought reallocation of water,” Chandaragi recalled.
A year after the award of the Brijesh Kumar Tribunal, united Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated into two states: Andhra Pradesh and Telangana on 2 June, 2014. Both states filed a petition before the apex court for the redistribution of water among all four riparian states in the same year.
“On the plea of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the tribunal made it clear to both states that the Andhra Pradesh Re-organisation Act, 2014, did not apply to all four basin states but only to AP and Telangana,” Chandaragi said.
“Henceforth, the tribunal stated that there was no need to reallocate Krishna River water among all the four riparian states. AP and Telangana should utilise the water out of the share set aside for the united Andhra Pradesh, which was also the argument of Karnataka and Maharashtra,” the activist said.
In 2016, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana filed a special leave petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court against the Brijesh Kumar Tribunal award. The Union government did not agree to redistribute the Krishna River water. However, both Telugu states continued to mount pressure on the Union government for reallocating water.
On the intervention of the Union government, Telangana withdrew its petition in October 2021. In 2016, it had filed an SLP seeking fresh allocation of water among the Krishna River basin states.
“The Union government gave an assurance to Telangana that it will consider setting up a new tribunal to resolve this interstate water dispute. This led Telangana to withdraw its SLP. However, the AP government disagreed and continued its fight in the apex court against the judgment of the Brijesh Kumar Tribunal,” Chandaragi stated.
“The AP government’s SLP is one of the main reasons for the delay in issuing the gazette notification,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the Karnataka government has developed the necessary infrastructure to utilise 75 tmc of water of the 130 tmc reserved for the UKP-III. The third stage will benefit parts of Kittur Karnataka and Kalyana Karnataka.
The project is expected to permanently address the region’s perennial irrigation and drinking water woes.
According to the Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal, Karnataka can use 130 tmc of water under UKP-III from its share of 173 tmc.
“The Karnataka government has spent over ₹13,000 crores to develop the necessary infrastructure, including canals, for the utilisation of surplus water allocated to the state,” Chandaragi added.
The project cost for the implementation of UKP-III has increased exponentially over the past decade.
The Karnataka government gave administrative approval for UKP-III in 2012. The initial project cost was estimated at ₹17,207 crore. The works could not take off due to the delay in issuing the gazette notification and legal hurdles.
On 9 October, 2017, the government gave administrative sanction to hike the project cost to ₹51,149 crore. The cost has now escalated to ₹65,000 crores.
“If the apex court vacates the stay, the Karnataka government will have to submit a revised detailed project report to the CWC. The project is likely to exceed ₹65,000 crore. The major hurdles will be land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation,” the activist pointed out.
“As many as 22 villages and over one lakh hectares of agricultural land will submerge. The land acquisition cost alone stands at ₹35,000 crore. The construction work to raise the dam’s height will take three months. Over 5.4 lakh hectares will get irrigated with the implementation of UKP-III,” Chandaragi said.