Karnataka, which is facing political uncertainty, on Wednesday made a failed bid to temporarily stall the finalisation of draft Cauvery management scheme, telling the Supreme Court that it could not give any suggestion as the process of government formation was on in the state. A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra also asked the Centre, represented by Attorney General K K Venugopal, to “rectify” and “modify” certain provision of the draft scheme that authorises the Centre to issue directions “from time to time” on Cauvery water distribution between the four southern riparian states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry .
The bench made it clear that the provision empowering the Centre to issue directions was “not in consonance with the judgement”. The bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, rejected Karnataka’s submission that the draft scheme be finalised in the first week of July so that it will have the assistance and instructions from the elected government.
“Neither of the four states has any role in framing of the scheme. We had asked the Centre to formulate the draft scheme,” the top court said. It then took note of the submission of Tamil Nadu government, highlighting certain provisions of the draft scheme including that the Centre was keeping the power to issue directions from time to time.
“All that they (committee or authority) have to see the availability of water. The Centre is creating some room for further adjudication. This is the worry. I am in the hands of the Lordships,” senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for Tamil Nadu, said.
To this, the bench said “this part (power of Centre to issue directions) is not in consonance with the judgement. We make it clear to you (Centre).” It then asked the Centre to modify the provision of the scheme and submit them for approval tomorrow, while making it clear that the scheme has to ensure compliance of its February 16 judgement only.
Venugopal said the Centre has been facing a dilemma whether to call the supervising body “a Board, an Authority or a Committee” and urged that the court to decide this aspect.
At the outset, Divan urged that the draft Cauvery scheme should not be finalised as the process of government formation was on and the state has a right to put forth its suggestions like Tamil Nadu and others to the scheme. “I am not making an unreasonable request. This (scheme) is going to deal with Cauvery water distribution for next 15 years. I do not have assistance and instruction from the council of Ministers,” the senior lawyer said.
“There is always a government. The Constitution does not contemplate a vacuum. If it goes to July then Tamil Nadu will not be getting water in June,” the counsel for Tamil Nadu replied.
At the fag end of the hearing, the court rejected Kerala’s submission that it would be getting four per cent of Cauvery water and will have to pay 15 per cent for maintenance and other expenses.
Earlier, the Centre had submitted the draft Cauvery management scheme in the court for its approval. The apex court, in its verdict delivered on February 16, had asked the Centre to frame the Cauvery management scheme, which also included creating the Cauvery Managament Board, within six weeks for release of water from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.
The Scheme, once finalised, would deal with the issue of water share of the four states in different circumstances like normal and deficient water years in the Cauvery river basin.
The top court had modified the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) award of 2007 and made it clear that it will not be extending time for this on any ground. It had raised the 270 tmcft share of Cauvery water for Karnataka by 14.75 tmcft and reduced Tamil Nadu’s share, while compensating it by allowing extraction of 10 tmcft groundwater from the river basin, saying the issue of drinking water has to be placed on a “higher pedestal”.