SC adjourns Babli hearing to Oct 16

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday adjourned the hearing of the arguments by Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh on the disputed Babli project to October 16. Andhra Pradesh contended that the project constructed within the foreshore area of another project Sriram Sagar Project was illegal and it would deprive irrigation to lakhs of acres in Sriram Sagar ayacut, Maharashtra argued how it could be illegal since it was purely meant to cater to the drinking water needs of its people. While senior counsel Andyarjuna represented Maharashtra, AP’s argument was put forth by Parasaran.

Maharashtra said had it not given its consent, Andhra Pradesh would not have been able to construct 1,091 tmcft Pochampadu project. As Pochampadu’s height was raised, some area in Maharastra was threatened with submergence and even then it gave its consent. Thus Andhra Pradesh got to benefit immensely due to Maharashtra’s concurrence, Andyarjuna pointed out.

Maharashtra claimed that it had riparian rights to about 60 tmcft of water and it was utilising the water only from its jurisdiction.
At this juncture, the Supreme Court asked for an evidence that Babli project water was being used only to meet drinking water needs.
Maharashtra replied that Babli project capacity was 2.74 tmcft and out of it Andhra Pradesh was objecting to use of 0.6 tmcft portion. It further said that there are 13 lift irrigation projects upstream of Pochampadu and six of them are in the reservoir area of Pochampadu.

Andhra Pradesh, which had not objected to these projects, was opposing the Babli project alone, it said and questioned AP’s justification in this regard. It said that it was only utilising water out of its 60 tmcft share through the Babli project.

Maharashtra also reminded the apex court that earlier the Supreme Court had advised resolution of the dispute by the two States only. Accordingly, it approached the Central Water Commission (CWC) whose recommendations were not being agreed to by Andhra Pradesh.

Disputing Maharashtra’s arguments, Parasaran said that Maharashtra had illegally built the Babli project and it even mentioned in the project report that there was a scope to utilise 8.9 tmcft through regular use of the project. When the Supreme Court questioned Maharashtra on this, its counsel could not give a convincing reply and reiterated that Babli’s capacity was only 2.74 tmcft.

Taking exception to Maharashtra’s explanation, the Court asked if it was not possible for Maharashtra to construct barrages to obstruct the water flow upstream and divert the same through lift irrigation. To this, Maharashtra maintained that whatever it would get to utilise would be within its share of 60 tmcft.

Parasaran faulted the argument of Maharashtra, saying that even as it staked a claim to about 60 tmcft of water, it was trying to seek credit for agreeing to construction of Pochampadu project in Andhra Pradesh. He also cast doubts on the feasibility of a joint mechanism to supervise the project, as proposed by Maharashtra. The State which did not even allow Andhra Pradesh to examine the status of Babli project could not be trusted to extend total cooperation to such mechanism, Parasaran pointed out.

It may be recalled on Wednesday, the Supreme Court court had asked whether both the State would be inclined to a joint mechanism to oversee the functioning of the project. Maharashtra readily agreed to the proposal and said it was ready reduce the project gate height to 3.5 metres. Parasaran, however, told the court that he would get back to the court after conferring with the State Government.

Meanwhile, Telugu Desam Party leader Errabelli Dayakara Rao criticised on Thursday that Andhra Pradesh had not forcibly made clear the illegality of Babli project and threat to lakhs of acres in North Telangana, which otherwise would have been catered to by Sriramsagar Project.

After paying compensation, Andhra Pradesh had full rights over an extent of land in Maharashtra for its irrigation project. And Maharashtra taking up a project on this land was totally wrong and illegal, he said. Andhra Pradesh should have put forth its arguments this way, he added.

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