NEW DELHI , MAY 16,
The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused Karnataka’s repeated pleas to stall the Cauvery management scheme framed by the Centre till the dust settles on the government formation in the State.
The uncertainty about Karnataka’s future government made its presence felt in the courtroom when senior advocate Shyam Divan, for the State, asked the apex court to postpone the hearing to July first week.
“The government formation is going on. We too want to give suggestions on the draft scheme like the other States. You deferred the case many a time for the Centre. If that had not happened, we would not have been in this situation now. This scheme will be effective on us for 15 years. We have a right to say something. Stand this over till the first week of July,” Mr. Divan told the court.
Senior counsel for Tamil Nadu, Shekhar Naphade, protested. He said the Constitution does not contemplate a vacuum and it is wrong to say that there is no government in Karnataka now. Mr. Naphade said the court cannot wait till July as the first release of water from Cauvery is scheduled in June.
The Supreme Court paid no heed to Mr. Divan and went ahead to sift the inputs from the States of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Union Territory of Puducherry. It agreed to four changes suggested by the States in the draft Cauvery management scheme of 2018.
‘Rectify the draft scheme by tomorrow’
Now, the court wants the Centre to incorporate the changes into the draft scheme within the next 24 hours. “Rectify the draft scheme by tomorrow,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra, leading a three-judge Bench, told Attorney General K.K. Venugopal for the Centre.
Primarily, the Bench took offence to a provision in the draft scheme which virtually gave the Centre the final say in inter-State disputes over Cauvery water. The provision makes the decision of the Centre “binding”.
“Central government’s authority is not final. Centre has to understand our judgement better,” Chief Justice Misra observed orally. Puducherry said giving the Centre such unbridled power would “politicise” the issue. Mr. Misra observed that such a provision is against the Supreme Court’s February 16 judgement in the Cauvery dispute.
Though Mr. Venugopal said the provision was only meant as a “safety valve” if States do not “co-operate” with the Cauvery implementing authority, the court stood firm and asked the Centre to amend the provision.
Tamil Nadu, represented by senior advocates Shekhar Naphade, Rakesh Dwivedi and advocate G. Umapathy, took offence to a second provision which directs the Cauvery authority to comply with any and all directions given to it by the Centre from time to time. “This way the Centre can give any instructions from time to time… What wide powers! The provision is too broad. Please look into it,” Mr. Dwivedi addressed the Bench. Mr. Venugopal said the provision was only confined to the working of the authority and did not extend to the water-sharing part. The court asked the Centre to make this point clear in the provision. The court agreed with Tamil Nadu that the headquarters of the Cauvery authority should be in New Delhi and not in Bengaluru, as in the draft scheme. Mr. Naphade suggested that the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee – which is in charge of the day-to-day functioning of Cauvery water management and storage under the scheme – could be based in Bengaluru. This proposition was largely found acceptable in court.
Tamil Nadu insisted that the Cauvery authority should be named the ‘Cauvery Management Board’ as is the “practice”.
Chief Justice Misra said there was no such “practice” though Mr. Venugopal repeated that the Centre had no qualms about the name of the authority – whether it is Board, Authority or Committee. The Supreme Court shot down Tamil Nadu’s suggestion that the chairman of the Cauvery authority should be an “independent person” like a retired judge and not an engineer or IAS officer as proposed in the draft scheme. The court had in the previous hearing asked the Centre to provide Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry with the draft scheme copies for them to check whether it is in conformity with the February 16 judgement of the Supreme Court.
NEW DELHI , MAY 16,