The Continuing Turbulence Over Cauvery
Tamil Nadu had undergone yet another protest over the Cauvery water dispute as it sought contempt action against the Centre for “failure” to frame the scheme for the constitution of the Cauvery Management Board and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee within six weeks, as directed by the apex court on February 16. A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Mishra and Justice A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud posted the matter for April 9.
There were two agreements entered into in the years 1892 and 1924 with respect to sharing of the river water between the states of erstwhile Madras Presidency and the Kingdom of Mysore. As per this agreement, water sharing is determined with the help of basin area in each state, which is 44,000 square km in Tamil Nadu and 32000 square km in Karnataka.
Now, Karnataka has claimed that the agreements have been unfair towards Karnataka and that ‘equitable sharing of waters’ should be ensured. But Tamil Nadu claims that it would not be possible to share equal water because the state has already used up 12,000 square km of land around the river and is heavily dependent on the current usage pattern of the river. A change can affect the livelihood of millions of farmers in the state of Tamil Nadu.
The top court had, in its February 16 order, asked the Centre to formulate a “scheme” for distributing the river’s waters among the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. Six weeks later, Chief Justice Dipak Misra had verbally said that the “scheme” did not mean the Cauvery Management Board alone.
A day after the court’s March 29 deadline for the formulation of a “scheme” passed, the Centre sought a three-month extension, citing the Assembly elections in Karnataka. AIADMK MPs have been protesting and disrupting the proper functioning of the Parliament, demanding immediate constitution of the CMB — a stance that is at odds with the Tamil Nadu government’s wait-and-watch line, giving the Centre time.
What did Tamil Nadu seek?
Tamil Nadu, in its contempt plea, said the Centre was bound to give effect to the judgement by framing a scheme so that the authorities of – Cauvery Management Board and Cauvery Water Regulation Committee – were put in place within six weeks.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, who joined the one-day fast organized by the ruling AIADMK, demanded the constitution of the Cauvery Management Board, accused the DMK of enacting a “game of deceit” on the Cauvery issue. However, both the chief minister and deputy chief minister at the conclusion of the hunger strike said that the DMK had tried to politicize the Cauvery Management Board issue by blaming the AIADMK of ‘staging a drama’ in the form of a one-day hunger protest.
The state is of the view that the Centre is mandated to put in place the CMB and Cauvery Water Regulation Committee. Therefore, through the contempt petition filed on March 30, the Tamil Nadu government attempted to bring to the court’s notice the Centre’s “willful disobedience” in carrying out the “clear mandate”.
According to the state, the apex court has left the contents of the scheme to the discretion of the Centre. The state is of the opinion that the scheme referred to in the judgement is a “dispute resolution body”, and is distinct from a management or regulatory body recommended by the CWDT. It also feels that the court has not endorsed or approved the CMB in its judgement.
What did Apex Court say regarding the ‘Scheme’?
The court directed the Centre to frame a scheme within six weeks “so that the authorities under the scheme can see to it that the present decision which has modified the award passed by the Tribunal is smoothly made functional and the rights of the States as determined by us are appositely carried out”. It “categorically convey(ed) that the need-based monthly release has to be respected”, and that “no extension shall be granted for framing of the scheme on any ground”.
Even though the central government failed to frame the scheme that the apex court had ordered, the consequences have to be faced by those poor farmers who are dependent on both the governments and the judiciary expecting for a favourable feat. As the bench has postponed the hearing, the statements on the issue will bring about a huge change as it defines the future of the two states.
By: Thamanna Abdul Latheef C