Decades-old Cauvery river water sharing dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is far from over – and is poised to enter another phase of protracted legal tussle over the formation of Cauvery Water Management Authority.
The Central government had on June 1 set up the Authority as per the Supreme Court order that was aimed at ending over a century-old dispute over sharing Cauvery water between the neighbours. The authority made up of members drawn from the riparian states and central government was to have complete control over the river water distribution between the states as per a formula worked out by the Supreme Court after hearing all the sides.
But Karnataka, seething over the formation of the Authority that takes away control over Cauvery water on Saturday, decided to challenge the formation of the authority in the Supreme Court. The formation of the Authority, with its headquarters in New Delhi, will mean that its control over Cauvery waters will be gone and Karnataka feels that it would be hard pressed to meet its own water requirements for drinking water and irrigation during drought years.
A senior Congress leader said that Karnataka has no problem in supplying 177.25 tmcft to Tamil Nadu as per its share worked out by the Supreme Court in a normal year. The trouble arises only during drought years, like the present one, when it is impossible to release water to neighbouring state.
A top Supreme Court advocate privy to developments said that the legal tussle could be another long and protracted one as the entire issue of state and central government powers would be up for scrutiny. Karnataka feels that by handing over the power to control its river to another body set up by the Centre, the central government was trampling on state government powers.
Now, the state government and its political leadership as also combined might of the political parties in Karnataka have forgotten their differences and putting heads together on this issue, unlike in Tamil Nadu where the government of the day rarely consulted the opposition. It is the lack of coordination and cooperation between the ruling AIADMK and opposition DMK, as also vice versa when the other lot was in power, that DMK working president Stalin holds responsible for continuous ‘defeats’ for Tamil Nadu on Cauvery issue.
On Saturday, Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy authorised the state’s legal team to appeal against the central government notification on setting up of the Cauvery Water Management Authority. All its MPs, cutting across party lines, will take up the issue in Parliament. The Centre had issued the notification as was necessitated by the SC order in its final verdict on the issue earlier this year.
Irrigation Minister D Shivakumar told media persons after the meeting that Karnataka’s representatives at the Authority will attend the July 2 meeting and present the views of the state as also appraise the authority of the plight of the farmers in the state. “Our legal team Mohan Katarki, Fali Nariman and our advocate general will guide our appeal against the notification,” Shivakumar said.
These decisions were taken at the all-party meeting convened by the Chief Minister. Among those who attended the meeting included state Bharatiya Janata Party chief BS Yeddyurappa. But the former chief minister S Siddaramaiah was conspicuous by his absence.
On the other side of the border in Tamil Nadu, farmers leaders were apprehensive of “some action” by Karnataka to deny waters, even if the Supreme Court and the Central government decided otherwise.
Now with Karnataka going in for an appeal, their fears appear to have some basis. A senior legal officer in the Supreme Court felt that an appeal of this sort could take its own time to be settled.
Once the matter gets tangled in the Court, it is very difficult to say how long it would take and what order may come out. This apprehension from a farmers’ leader in Thanjavur, part of the Cauvery delta basin in Tamil Nadu sums up the farmers' expectations.
But, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edapaddi K Palaniswami exuded confidence that with the Cauvery Water Management Authority in place, Tamil Nadu will surely get its due. Even as Kumaraswamy was sitting with leaders of alliance partner and opposition party leaders to find out ways and means to block the functioning of the authority his counterpart in Tamil Nadu, Palaniswami was telling farmers that they could go in for extra cultivation of 350 acres as “no one can stop the flow of Cauvery waters now as per the Supreme Court order.”
But, Karnataka appears all set to launch its legal offensive to frustrate Tamil Nadu and its farming community.