Three months after the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on the Cauvery water dispute, the Centre has drafted a “scheme” to execute the most contentious part of the judgment. On May 18, it told the apex court that it will constitute an agency that will keep stock of the water-level in the Cauvery’s reservoirs and apportion the river’s waters between Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry in accordance with the SC verdict.
The agency would also deal with the issue of the water share of the four states in different circumstances — normal monsoon years and deficient rainfall years. The court had called for the constitution of such a body by March 29. But matters got complicated because Karnataka and Tamil Nadu interpreted the apex court’s verdict differently — and the Centre did not want to risk playing referee between the two states when Karnataka was poll-bound.
Karnataka argued that the SC’s February verdict enjoined the Centre to create an agency that would restrain the riparian states from approaching the apex court directly in case of a dispute. Tamil Nadu contended that the Court had asked the Union government to set up an “authority” that would monitor the amount of water released by upstream Karnataka. The need for setting up such an agency had acquired urgency, the Tamil Nadu government argued, because Karnataka did not release the water stipulated by the apex court’s February verdict. On March 30, the downstream state moved the SC contending that the Centre’s reluctance in arbitrating the matter constitutes “a contempt of court”.
Given that the Cauvery dispute stretches back to more than a century, and is complex and layered, it is understandable that the two riparian states do not see eye-to-eye over the resolution mechanism. But the pitch was further queered by the Centre’s safety first approach. It responded to Tamil Nadu’s contempt of court petition with a request to the SC, asking it to extend the March 29 deadline by three months. Given that the monsoon sets in the Cauvery basin states by the first week of June, such an extension would have virtually nullified the SC’s February verdict for a crucial part of the year. The Centre was rightly pulled by the apex court for its “lack of resolve”.
It has redeemed itself with the scheme submitted to the SC on May 18. The proposal envisages an authority that will maintain an account of cropping patterns, irrigation requirements, and domestic and industrial water use in the Cauvery basin. The Centre must now notify the scheme before the monsoon sets in.