Ticking off the Centre that it was in “sheer contempt” of court by not acting on its ruling on the Cauvery river water matter, the Supreme Court Tuesday directed the Secretary, Union Ministry for Water Resources, to appear before it on May 14 with the draft of the Cauvery management scheme drawn up by the government.
“By now, the authority should have framed the scheme. It can’t go on like this. What you have done is sheer contempt,” a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud told Attorney General K K Venugopal when he sought more time, on behalf of the Centre, to finalise the draft scheme.
In its February 16 verdict, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to frame the Cauvery management scheme, which also includes creating the Cauvery management board, within six weeks for smooth release of water from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. It had said the deadline could not be extended.
“We do not want to come back to square one. Once the judgment has been delivered, it has to be implemented,” the bench said as the Centre sought more time to implement the order.
The CJI pointed out that there were drinking water problems etc that needed to be addressed and told the Attorney General “you can’t abdicate your obligation… It’s your duty to implement the scheme”.
Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for the Tamil Nadu government, told the bench that “we have been taken for a ride by the Centre on one pretext or another”.
Venugopal said the draft was before the Cabinet but had not been ratified yet as the Prime Minister and others were busy with the Karnataka assembly elections. The issue was a very sensitive one and had even led to riots in the past, Venugopal said, adding that this was one reason why the Centre had sought time to implement it after the elections.
Naphade sought to know if the government was afraid of implementing the Supreme Court order fearing violence. The Attorney General replied “we will like to avoid it, if avoidable” and referred to the deaths which happened in the wake of the Supreme Court’s March 20 order stopping automatic arrests for offences under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The bench said the Cauvery management scheme, once finalised, would deal with the issue of water share of four states in different circumstances like normal and deficient water years in the Cauvery river basin.
Venugopal said that on the last date of hearing, the court had asked Karnataka to release 2.5 tmc feet Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu. At one point, he said it was not in the hands of the board to get the water released. Taking exception, Naphade said “now, the cat is out of the bag… we will not be getting water”.