Rivers national assets, can't belong to any one state: SC

Dhananjay Mahapatra,  Feb 17, 2018, The Times of India

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday said waters of inter-state rivers were national assets and no single state could seek full rights over it, extinguishing origin states' claim of exclusive rights over the waters of an interstate river.  

(Rivers) Being in a state of flow, no state can claim exclusive ownership of such waters or assert a preive right so as to deprive other states of their equitable share," said a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.   

The CJI narrated the gradual shift of the international river-water-sharing principle from the 'Harmon Doctrine' to the more equitable sharing propounded in the Helsinki Rules of 1966 and Berlin Rules of 2004.  

The 'Harmon Doctrine', based on an opinion of former US attorney general Judson Harmon issued a hundred years ago, holds that a country is absolutely sovereign over the portion of an international watercourse within its borders.  

The CJI said the principle of equality did not imply equal division of water, but equal consideration and economic opportunity for the co-basin states. "To conceive that equality rests on equal sharing of water within an arithmetical formula would be fundamentally violative of the established conception of equitable apportionment because the said concept inheres multiple factors," the SC said and asked all river water tribunals to follow this principle.  

The SC also referred to the Campione Consolidation of ILA Rules on International Water Resources 1966-99, which advocated taking into consideration the inclusion of water of an aquifer, that is underground water or 'fossil water' intercepted by the boundary between two or more states, while determining the shares of basin states over an inter-state river.  

This principle was put into practice by the SC on Friday to allow an additional 10 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) of Cauvery water to Karnataka, taking into account the fact that TN could access 10 tmcft of the 20 tmcft of groundwater available in the Cauvery basin. During its exhaustive search for principles for equitable sharing of interstate rivers' water, the SC cited the National Water Policy of 1987 and 2002, which more or less reiterated the Helsinki Rules. The policies stated the "drinking-water needs of human beings and animals be the first charge on any available water", the SC said.