New Delhi: The Centre on Thursday justified in the Supreme Court the delay in framing a scheme to implement the directions in the February 16 judgment for release of water by Karnataka as per the Tribunal award, due to Karnataka assembly elections and campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Cabinet Ministers.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal who made this submission before a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Kanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud said, “We are in a difficult position. We could not finalise the scheme within the time limit of May 3. The scheme has to be approved by the Union Cabinet and since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Ministers are traveling the scheme could not be finalised.”
The court in a brief order directed the Centre to file an affidavit by May 8 explaining the steps it had taken to frame the scheme and also asked Karnataka to take instructions on release of 4 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu before the end of May.
Earlier the AG said “the Karnataka Chief Minister has written a letter on April 26 suggesting that the authority under the scheme should include the Irrigation Ministers of the four States instead of officials. Therefore there is confusion in forming the scheme. Please give us 10 days time and have the case listed on May 15 or 16 after the polls.” On April 9, the apex court had granted time to the Centre till May 3 so as to ensure that a mechanism is put in place before June when the release of water as per Tribunal directions will really come into effect. n P4
At that time the court turned down the request of the Centre to grant three months time in view of the Assembly polls in Karnataka on May 12.
Senior counsel Shekar Naphade and counsel G. Umapathy for Tamil Nadu took strong exception to the AG’s submission and said the Centre was playing politics to favour the BJP’s fortune in the State and is taking a brazen partisan attitude in support of Karnataka.
The CJI told the AG “you are supposed to frame the scheme. Why should you consult the States, it is your obligation as per the judgment. When you are stating the letter written by Karnataka CM, did you take Tamil Nadu into confidence.”?
When Mr. Naphade submitted that they are worried about electoral fate in Karnataka, the CJI quipped that the Centre’s stand is a reality. Mr. Naphade said, “the Centre does not want to frame the scheme before the elections on May 12.
If you allow this to happen, there will be nothing left of the rule of law and co-operative federalism. What do we tell the people of Tamil Nadu? The Supreme Court passed its Cauvery judgment in February and we have still not been able to get water. Summer temperatures are rising. There is no drinking water. It is time for you to call a spade a spade.”
Mr. Umapathy added that as per the Tribunal’s award Tamil Nadu was to get 2.5 tmcft of water in April and 2.5 tmcft in May but so far it has received only one tmcft. This was countered by senior counsel Shyam Divan, Mohan Katarki for Karnataka who said water has been released to Tamil Nadu as per the distress formula.
The CJI made it clear to Karnataka “be ready to release 4 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu by the end of May for drinking water purposes. We have given priority to drinking water and this order must be complied with. Otherwise you will have to face consequences and your Chief Secretary must be present in the court.” Counsel for Karnataka however, denied that there was any deficit in the release of water. The CJI asked the State to take instructions on when it would release 4 tmcft of water to Tamil nadu.
When Mr. Naphade insisted that the court should give a firm direction to the Centre to form the Cauvery Management Board, the CJI told the counsel “whether the board is formed or not, we will ensure that you (Tamil Nadu) will get water.”
Mr. Naphade referred to the contempt application filed by Tamil Nadu and said the AG had made a statement that the scheme was ready. Do we not believe him now? Do we not get water? Why this step-motherly treatment to us now? We cannot be at the mercy of the central government. They (Centre) will dilly-dally if the court does not take it seriously.” The Bench posted the matter for further hearing on May 8....