The Centre moved the Supreme Court on Saturday seeking a three-month extension to implement the court’s February 16 order on division of the Cauvery river waters between Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.
Pointing out that the Karnataka Assembly elections were coming, the Centre said that Cauvery being a “very emotive” issue in the state, any move at this point to constitute a scheme under Section 6A of the Inter State River Water Disputes Act 1936 and notify it may “vitiate election process and cause serious law and order problems”.
It recalled that in the past, the issue had caused serious law and order problems, and loss of lives and property.
In its response, the Tamil Nadu government initiated contempt proceedings against the Centre for “willful disobedience” in carrying out the “clear mandate” set out by the Supreme Court which, in its order of February 16, had sought framing of the scheme for constitution of the Cauvery Management Board (CMB) and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee within six weeks.
Tamil Nadu said that it had filed the petition to “protect the interests of the farmers and the larger interests of the State”. “The Central Government was duty bounds to take steps to facilitating implementation of the judgment by itself deciding and taking necessary action to constitute the machinery as per the mandate..,” Tamil Nadu’s petition stated. “It has not taken any concrete steps in this regard.”
In its application, the Centre sought “clarification” from the apex 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 Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) regarding the 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 count to clarify whether the Board to be constituted by the Centre “can have functions different from the ones recommended for Cauvery Management Board by the CWDT”.
The Centre brought to the court’s notice efforts made by it to comply with the February 16 order, referring to a meeting of the Chief Secretaries and other senior officers of the three states and the Union territory.
However, the Tamil Nadu government petition said: “Belatedly, after a period of three weeks, the Central Government merely convened a meeting of the Chief Secretaries of the Party States. The convening of such a meeting does not in any way make any substantial progress in the matter of constitution of Cauvery Management Board and Cauvery Water Regulation Committee.”
Tamil Nadu also noted all the dates of the letters sent to the Centre requesting for the constitution of the CMB and Cauvery Water Regulation Committee within the time limit, “so that water is made available to the farmers of the State of Tamil Nadu for the ensuing irrigation season of 2018 commencing” from June 1.
The Centre’s decision to submit a clarification application follows weeks of back and forth, with riparian states taking distinctly different positions. There were differences between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on the framing of the scheme, the Centre’s petition submitted, adding “it is felt that if any scheme is framed by the Central government itself, states may again approach the Hon’ble Supreme Court”. The “clarification” was necessary “to avoid further litigation by the states”, it submitted.