River basin lands have first claim

Transfer of Krishna river waters outside basin areas cannot be justified when inside basin areas are suffering

By Author Salla Vijaya Kumar   |   Published: 26th Jan 2018   12:01 am Updated: 25th Jan 2018   11:09 pm

Whether considered in the light of past practice in India, in terms of the present constitutional position in India, in relation to topographic and hydrologic unity of the basin, or in the light of the latest thinking in international law and practice, the lands of a river basin have prior claim on the waters of a river system and any part of these waters can be used for irrigation outside the basin only if that part is surplus after meeting the full requirements of the lands within the basin — ND Gulhati in Development of Inter-State Rivers: Law and Practice in India (1972).

In the case of Krishna river basin, there were a lot of changes in political boundaries up to 1956. Hyderabad State — the largest constituent of Krishna basin was divided and the Telangana region was merged with the Andhra State to form Andhra Pradesh (AP). Because of the addition of Telangana, AP’s share of the catchment area rose from a mere 9% to 29%.

So, AP acquired more bargaining strength in the apportionment of Krishna river waters. Krishna basin consisted of Karnataka, AP and Maharashtra. In 2014, on the formation of the Telangana State, it became a co-riparian State of Krishna basin.

Depriving Telangana

The erstwhile AP increased utilisation in Andhra areas neglecting Telangana areas. Through lopsided pleadings before Bachawat and Brijesh Kumar tribunals, it got more allocations for projects serving Andhra areas and that too largely outside the Krishna basin areas. The diversion of huge quantities of water outside the basin areas was questioned by Karnataka too.

The National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development, 1999, had stated that “after meeting all these essential requirements if there is surplus water available in the basin, its transfer to other basins may be considered.”

The Bachawat Tribunal (ie, Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-I) had clarified the meaning of protection stating “it is not intended that the existing uses must continue or that they should not be changed in future.”

The Brijesh Kumar Tribunal (KWDT-II 2013) rejected the demand of AP for additional quantity to TBP (Tungabhadra Project) High-Level Canal for Penna Ahobilam Balancing Reservoir as it is outside the basin stating that “a large quantity of water already stands allocated to AP, which caters the need for outside the basin area.”

Failing our State

Though already utilising about 43% of its allocation (of 811 tmc) outside the basin, AP had vehemently urged before the Brijesh Kumar Tribunal, and laid more stress on allocation of water for the Telugu Ganga Project, an outside the basin project, and got an allocation of 25 tmc from Krishna river. At the same time, inside basin projects of Kalwakurthy, Nettempadu and Srisailam Left Bank Canal (SLBC) were not pressed for allocations.

As per the Inter-State River Water Disputes (ISRWD) Act, 1956, only the States can represent the people of the respective State. Hence, as a region in the erstwhile AP, Telangana could not put forth its water needs before the tribunals. The then AP State did not represent the water requirements of Telangana properly.

An observation of the KWDT-II in its October 19, 2016, order stating that “Under Section 3 of the ISRWD Act 1956, interest of all the inhabitants of the State is looked after by the State Govt. Therefore, it is not open to the State of Telangana to say that interest of inhabitants of Telangana region was not represented by the State of AP,” is worrying Telangana.

Blatant Violations

By 1973, AP legalised the diversions of Krishna water to outside basin areas, in Penna, Gundlakamma, Kandaleru river basins through Prakasham barrage, Nagarjunasagar canals, KC canal and TBPHLC. After that, AP started diversion of Krishna waters to Penna and other basins within AP from the Srisailam project.

By 1978, AP paved the way to construct a head regulator (Pothireddypadu) and a canal for that purpose, under the guise of clearance of Srisailam Right Bank canal by the Planning Commission, Telugu Ganga project by an Inter-State Agreement, and KC Canal without any sanction.

Resultantly, there now exists a big canal with a different name (Srisailam Right Main Canal instead of the erstwhile Krishna-Pennar Canal) with a capacity of 85,500 cusecs, and a head regulator with much more than that capacity. This canal is bigger than the erstwhile proposed Krishna-Penna project’s main canal capacity of 75,000 cusecs.

Redistribute Water

Ironically, projects serving inside basin areas of Telangana were not adequately advocated before the tribunals resulting in non-allocation of water. But high demands were made by the erstwhile AP for coastal Andhra projects. For instance, the cropping period in the Krishna delta system was considered as 180 days, when actually it is short duration crops of 90-120 days.

Hence, Telangana submitted before the present Brijesh Kumar Tribunal to reallocate the saved waters to its projects that are within the Krishna basin. However, the scope of the references made to the present Brijesh Kumar Tribunal — formed on the basis of Section 89 of the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014 — is very limited.

In fact, the Brijesh Kumar Tribunal, in its October 19 order, responding to the submissions made by Telangana before it, stated that “Section 89 does not speak about distribution of savings in water amongst four States or to Telangana alone. All are in the same position. If it is accepted then there would be frequent redistribution every now and then.”

Telangana, rightfully as a riparian State in Krishna basin, filed a complaint with the Union government in 2014 to refer its grievances of allocation of Krishna river waters to a new tribunal or present tribunal. So far, no action has been initiated by the Union government. It moved the Supreme Court in 2015 praying for giving directions to the Union government. The case is still pending.

(The author is Secretary, Telangana Engineers JAC)