Without Telangana, irrigation injustice cannot be questioned

By Madabhushi Sridhar

In any inter-State river water dispute, only the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction to decide, and invariably it depends on the water experts in a tribunal to arrive at a just conclusion. Another most important factor is, only the ‘states’ are competent parties to the question. If a state does not choose to represent the interests of a sub-region within the state, that sub-region will have no forum to seek justice.

Telangana is the best example; its irrigation interests are affected by Maharashtra’s unjust construction of Babhali and 13 like dams across the Godavari, but the Andhra Pradesh Government is silent in opposing these dams. Unfortunately the seven-year delay helped Maharashtra complete the Babhali dam, and because the completed dam could not be demolished, Telangana has to suffer.

Chief Minister of Maharashtra SB Chavan and Chief Minister of AP Jalagam Vengal Rao reached an agreement in October 1975, which was later made part of the Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal (GWDT) Award; according to it, Maharashtra could utilise 60 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet) of Godavari water while Andhra Pradesh could go ahead with building the Sriramsagar Project (SRSP) and utilise the remaining water.

Andhra Pradesh knew that Maharashtra had used up its quota by building several dams, Babhali and 13 other small projects upstream of Godavari. The SRSP could release water only if Maharashtra releases from the Babhali project. The storage capacity of SRSP was 112 tmc, which got reduced to 87 tmc ft due to silt. Babhali was constructed in backwaters of SRSP and it could take water from the project too, as SRSP is at a height of 17.5 feet above Babhali.

Eighteen lakh acres under the SRSP ayacut in the Telangana region will become barren if Maharashtra closes the gates of Babhali.
No sane State would build such a dam and reservoir within an existing dam and no other sane state would tolerate it. It should have been a strong case for the AP on the grounds of justice and equity. But deliberate absence of prompt action by the state, and prolonged hearing of case in Supreme Court facilitated Maharashtra to complete the Babhali dam.

When tenders were being called Chandrababu Naidu was in power and he was known to be kingmaker at the Centre too. He did not do anything to stop it. When it was going on full swing, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy was ruling AP and commanding the High Command.

Had he wanted he could have pressurized congress led regime in Maharashtra and saved farmers under SRSP. It was full and complete during the current government of Kiran Kumar Reddy. The indifference was atrocious. Three Chief Ministers did not try to do anything to stop the brisk action of Maharashtra. The media and opposition was making hue and cry. Of all people it was Congress MP, Mr. Madhu Yakshi who challenged Maharashtra in a Writ Petition before Supreme Court. Very fact that a Congress MP resorted to litigate in apex court against Congress led Governments in AP, Maharashtra, and even the Center, means his own party was not ready to secure the interests of Telangana.

Following him, Telugu Desam MLA Y Dayakar Rao and TRS former MP B Vinod Kumar also filed Writ petitions against Babhali. The state then realized the need to enter the fray and impleaded into the writ. Then other writs of representatives were dismissed. It is alleged AP lost case because neither the state engineers nor the lawyers have put up a strong argument before the court.

Telangana leaders contend that the actual reason for both Telugu Desam and Congress CMs not being interested in opposing Maharashtra was that the Babhali would not affect the Godavari delta in any manner. The Godavari River in the Andhra region receives inflows mostly from Sabari, Sileru and other tributaries and it would not depend on releases from Sriramsagar project.

They think that they need not bother even if Babhali seriously affects Telangana. In contrast the Government responded to hue and cry of Andhra Rayalaseema leaders over the construction of Almatti dam over Krishna River and was also fighting with Karnataka government because Almatti would affect the Krishna delta. This attitude clearly indicates how the Seemandhra Sarkars approach against integration. For them, only people in Delta are their citizens, and Telangana farmers should suffer.

The Supreme Court on February 28 held the Maharashtra government could go ahead with the Babhali project and directed the Maharashtra government not to use more than 2.47 tmc ft of water from Godavari and release 0.6 tmc for the needs of Andhra Pradesh.

Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha, T.S. Thakur and A.R. Dave said, “On the basis of facts which have come on record, a case of substantial injury of a serious magnitude and high equity that moves the conscience of the court has not been made out by Andhra Pradesh justifying grant of injunction” and held “in light of the above, we hold that Andhra Pradesh is not entitled to the reliefs, as prayed for, in the suit”.

Experts say that though Babhali could not be stopped, the Judgment was good as mechanism to enforce water distribution agreement is created. The Supreme Court constituted a three-member committee to oversee sharing of Godavari water between Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

One member each from AP and Maharashtra and a member from the Central government’s side will constitute the committee. This committee was entrusted with supervising the operation of the Babhali barrage and to ensure Maharashtra maintained storage capacity of 2.74 tmc feet of water out of the allocation of 60 tmc feet given to the State for new projects.

It is significant to note that the Bench ruled the committee to oversee that “the gates of Babhali barrage remain lifted during the monsoon season, i.e., July 1 to October 28 and there is no obstruction to the natural flow of Godavari River during monsoon season below the three dams, Paithan, Siddheswar and Nizamsagar, towards Pochampad dam”.

Another duty of the committee has to also ensure that “during the non-monsoon season i.e., from October 29 till the end of June next year, the quantity of water which Maharashtra utilises for Babhali barrage does not exceed 2.74 tmc feet of which only 0.6 tmc feet forms the common submergence of Pochampad reservoir and Babhali barrage and Maharashtra does not periodically utilise 2.74 tmc feet from time to time”. There are doubts as to the possibility of meticulously implementing this order and to keep vigil every day whether gates are open during the monsoon, etc.

It is a paradox that the people of Telangana have to fight with other ‘state governments’ and also its own ‘Andhra Pradesh government’ for proportionate share in irrigation waters. As Constitution does not provide for any forum or remedy for substantially big regions like Telangana to secure the irrigation interests, the only way is to carve out Telangana state so that it could question the injustice on its own without depending on anti Telangana sarkars. This is the constitutional requirement for separation of Telangana, which was proved by the latest developments on Babhali.

The writer is Professor & Coordinator, Center for Media Law & Public Policy, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad

[Courtesy: The Hans India]

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