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K’taka spent Rs 37+ cr on water-related lawyers in 26 years, with Divan & Fali billing Rs 22 cr alone

Then again, the department’s total budgets were Rs 11,013 crores, so lawyers’ fees may have been money well spent

Keeping the water wars flowing: A dam(n) expensive business...
Keeping the water wars flowing: A dam(n) expensive business...

According to a Right to Information (RTI) response received and reported by Bar & Bench, between 1990 and 2016, the Karnataka Water Resources Department has spent at least Rs 37.5 crore on around 20 lawyers representing it in disputes such as the Cauvery battle, of which 91% (or Rs 34.22 crore) were billed by five senior lawyers alone.

Since the Karnataka Water Resources Department is also responsible for irrigation and damming projects and is handling disputes in tribunals relating to other water bodies, such as the Krishna River Basin, the Godavari and the Mahadayi, according to its 2013-14 report, that figure of legal spend is unlikely to include only bills on Cauvery. However, considering the total apex and other court hours accrued in that case, it is fair to assume a sizable portion will be related to Cauvery.

That said, the legal costs, massive as they are, would be dwarfed by the departments’ total spend, which in 2015-16 alone had budgeted for expenses of Rs 11,013 crore.

- Read our explainer of the long-winding Cauvery dispute here.

In any case, top of the list according to Bar & Bench was senior counsel Anil Divan, who between 1992 and 2016 billed the state Rs 14.03 crores.

Senior counsel Fali Nariman, between 1990 and 2016, billed 8.61 crores.

According to our research from last year, Nariman normally charges private clients between Rs 8 lakh and 15 lakh per appearance in the Supreme Court; providing that Nariman didn’t provide a discount to the government, that would approximate to 50 to 100 appearances for Karnataka.

He is followed by SS Javali and MV Katarki, who in the same period had respectively billed Rs 4.58 crores and 4.47 crores.

SP Singh comes fifth, having billed Rs 2.53 crore to Karnataka’s water department between 1993 and 2010.

Brijesh Kalappa, from 2004, had billed Rs 82.5 lakh, with SC Sharma between 1991-2005 and 2012-2016 having charged Rs 63.6 lakh.

VN Raghupathy, from 2011-2016 was on Rs 45.3 lakh, Ranvir Singh from 2004-2016 on Rs 36.1 lakh, and Sanjay Hegde between 2002-2010 on Rs 21.8 lakh.

Karnataka had spent the most in the years of 2005-06, and 2012-2013, having paid around Rs 5 crores in each of those two years.

In 2004-05, that figure was around Rs 3.7 crore, followed by 2002-03 and 2016-17 with Rs 2.98 crores and Rs 2.75 crores respectively.

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