Pulling up the Centre for not sticking to the March 29 deadline for framing of a scheme to implement the award for distribution of the Cauvery river waters, the Supreme Court Monday directed the government to come up with a draft scheme by May 3.
The delay over implementation of the river share award has sparked off protests in Tamil Nadu, and raised the pitch in poll-bound Karnataka.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, turned down the Centre’s request for three more months to act on its February 16 verdict and directed it to prove its “bonafide” by submitting the draft. It also asked Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to ensure peace on the emotive issue. “They must maintain peace so that the court can put its final stamp on it,” the CJI said.
Citing assembly elections in Karnataka, the Centre on March 30 had asked the Supreme Court to extend by three months the deadline for implementation of the judgment, saying there were fears that any announcement on Cauvery may “vitiate the election process and cause serious law and order problems”.
The February 16 order in the decades-old Cauvery water dispute laid down the water share of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. It allocated more water to Karnataka and asked the state to release 177.25 tmcft water to Tamil Nadu from its inter-state Biligundlu dam. The court also directed that “a scheme shall be framed by the Central government within a span of six weeks” for implementation of the award.
The Centre approached the court, seeking clarification on the nature of the scheme and more time for implementation. The Tamil Nadu government too filed a contempt plea against the Centre for not drawing up the scheme by March 29 as directed by the top court.
Hearing the applications Monday, CJI Misra told Attorney General K K Venugopal that its order ought to have been complied with by now.
“You are bound by it… you are obliged to frame the scheme. We are surprised that it was not done,” the bench said. Pointing out that it had delivered the judgment after considerable study, the bench remarked that the Centre had not shown the resolve to frame the scheme.
“Now you must show your bonafide by framing a scheme… you should show respect to the principle of distribution of water… Let the draft scheme be filed before the court,” the bench said, adding that the states can give their suggestions thereafter. “When the scheme comes into effect, it will become binding,” the CJI said.
The bench said the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) order has been merged with the court’s decree. It also clarified the Centre’s doubts regarding the scheme. “The statute says ‘scheme’. Our judgment says ‘scheme’,” the CJI told the AG.
Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, who appeared for the Tamil Nadu government, said “but a scheme ultimately must provide for a board or an implementing authority”. The CJI agreed to this.
Later, U P Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, told The Indian Express that the Centre is now free to frame the scheme which need not exactly be what the tribunal (CWDT) has said. “The tribunal is recommendatory in nature and we have the flexibility to interpret the nature of the scheme.”
In its application, the Centre sought “clarification” from the Supreme Court on its direction, saying there were differences between some of the parties on the subject. It asked whether the court was open to the Centre framing the scheme at variance with the recommendations of the CWDT regarding the Cauvery Management Board (CMB).
The plea pointed out that the CMB, as recommended by the CWDT, was purely a technical body, and wanted to know if the Centre could modify its composition and include administrative and technical experts “for effective conduct of the business of the Board and considering overall sensitivity of the issues involved”.
It also wanted the court to clarify whether the CMB to be constituted by the Centre “can have functions different from the ones recommended for Cauvery Management Board by the CWDT”.