As the AIADMK stalled both houses of Parliament Thursday pressing for the immediate setting up of a Cauvery river management board (CMB), the Congress government in Karnataka chose to ignore the CMB and instead proposed a two-layer “scheme” to the Centre for the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict. The proposed scheme comprises a six-member Cauvery Decision Implementation Committee (CDIC) headed by the Union Water Resources Minister, and an 11-member monitoring agency under it, headed by the Union Water Resources Secretary.
Conceptualised as a “dispute resolution” mechanism, the scheme proposed by Karnataka seeks to restrain states from approaching the Supreme Court and has suggested that the CDIC approach the apex court for any clarification when states differ.
After decades of conflict between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over sharing of Cauvery water, the Supreme Court in February this year underlined the drinking water requirement and increased Karnataka’s share of Cauvery waters by 14.75 thousand million cubic feet (tmc).
In its judgement, it noted that a scheme should be framed “exclusively for the implementation of the Award or as the same gets modified by this Court.” It also noted that “it needs no special emphasis to state that the purpose of Sec.6A (of the Inter-State River Water Dispute Act, 1956) is to act in the manner in which the Award determines the allocation and decides the dispute with regard to allocation of sharing of water.”
The Karnataka government’s alternative proposal is likely to draw objections from the other riparian states since it means they have to approach the monitoring agency before appeals can be made to the CDIC. “If the state is dissatisfied with the directions of the monitoring agency, it may file a review petition before the committee,” the draft scheme proposes. “If a question of interpretation of the decision of the Supreme Court arises for consideration in the implementation, the Committee may file an application before the Supreme Court seeking necessary classifications.”
Karnataka’s scheme proposes that the CDIC will comprise the Union secretary of Water Resources, water resources ministers of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. The monitoring agency will comprise the chief secretaries of the four riparian states, chairman of the Central Water Commission, chief engineer of the CWC, and one officer each not below the rank of a chief engineer to represent the four states.
In a letter to Union water resources secretary U P Singh, Karnataka Chief Secretary K Ratna Prabha said that under the suggested scheme, the CDIC would “resolve the dispute” raised by the aggrieved state.
“The contention of the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu that Cauvery Management Board (CMB) as formulated by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal should be a part of the Scheme is wholly contrary to the mandate of the judgment and law,” stated the letter.
“First, Section 6A has vested powers in the Central Government to frame a scheme. Secondly, the Tribunal, itself being conscious of the legal position arising from Section 6A, had not directed but only made “recommendation” on the CMB. Thirdly, the Scheme contemplated in the judgment is a dispute resolution body as distinct from the Management or Regulation recommended by the Tribunal and therefore, the question of asking Karnataka to submit indent (as was recommended by Tribunal) does not and should not arise for consideration,” it stated.
The letter also pointed out that forming of the CMB was “clearly ultra vires of the federal structure on the division of powers envisaged in the Constitution” and the “Supreme Court has not endorsed or approved the Cauvery Management Board in its Judgement.”
“The larger powers as a management, such as regulation of the reservoirs or power to seek indent, (as was wrongly recommended by the Tribunal) cannot be part of the dispute resolution body,” Prabha said in the letter. Specifically, in relation to Tamil Nadu, the letter states: “The State of Tamil Nadu has no other right or interest much less the manner in which the State of Karnataka stores or utilises its share of water.”