The decision of the Karnataka government to defer the release of 6,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu from the Cauvery river until it obtains a clearance from the state legislature has the put the Congress government of chief minister Siddaramaiah on a collision course with the Supreme Court which on September 20 had asked the state to release water till September 27 to Tamil Nadu.
With political and public pressure mounting after it released water to Tamil Nadu from September 5 to September 20, as directed by the Supreme Court, despite complaining of the lack of water in the Cauvery basin due to a weak monsoon, the Congress government on Wednesday decided to stop releases following day long consultations with the opposition and experts.
By calling the legislature session, the state government is looking at eliciting the views of the elected representatives of the people in Karnataka on the issue of water release from the Cauvery.
A resolution of the legislature on the issue of further release of water in the present context is expected to dictate the executive decision-making of the Karnataka government with regard to the Supreme Court’s September 20 order to release 6,000 cusecs of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu.
Given public sentiment and the positions of legislators – cutting across party lines – the Karnataka legislature is widely expected to pass a resolution against further water release on September 23.
By pitting the legislature against the judiciary on the water release issue the Karnataka government, while triggering a crisis similar to one seen in the state in 2002, when S M Krishna was the Congress chief minister, is also seen as cushioning itself against contempt of court charges and against adverse public reactions to the Congress in southern Karnataka.
The protection accorded by the privileges of the legislature to legislators is also expected to give MLAs and MLCs the scope to criticise the Supreme Court from the Karnataka perspective with respect to the recent handling of issues around the Cauvery water dispute.
In 2002, the Supreme Court had taken an adverse view of the move of the Krishna-led Congress government to defy court orders to release water to Tamil Nadu and had stated that the “government must go” if it cannot follow the orders of the apex court.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah took the decision on Wednesday to put the question of water releases in the legislature after assessing the views of experts and leaders with political stakes in the Cauvery basin in Karnataka, including former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda.
The former prime minister is reported to have advised the government to call for a legislature session to discuss the issue before deciding on the release of water. Gowda had released water from the Cauvery to Tamil Nadu in 1995 when he was the chief minister of Karnataka after the Supreme Court asked Prime Minister A B Vajpayee to intervene in the stand-off.
The Congress government in Karnataka has also been seeking the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in calling a meeting of the chief ministers of the Cauvery states to address the issue of water sharing that has arisen this year on account of it being a distress year.
The BJP stayed away from the consultations held by the Karnataka government on the Cauvery issue on Wednesday leading to calls by Siddaramaiah and Deve Gowda for all parties to sink their political differences and come together for the sake of people in Karnataka.
The Cauvery water sharing issue with Tamil Nadu is a political hot potato for the Congress and JDS parties which are the main political outfits in the Cauvery basin region in Karnataka. The BJP which has made recent inroads in the region does not have a broad base in the region.