New Delhi: The Supreme Court today warned the Centre that it was in “sheer contempt” of its February 16 verdict by not framing the Cauvery management scheme on river water sharing between four southern riparian states till now. It directed the Secretary of the Union Water Resources Ministry to appear before it on May 14 with the draft scheme. The harsh comments of the top court came after Attorney General K K Venugopal said the Union Cabinet has not been able to meet to approve the draft scheme as the leaders, including the Prime Minister, were busy in the ongoing poll campaign in Karnataka. He also said the Cauvery issue would be placed before the cabinet soon.
The Union Cabinet had last met on May 2. The apex court had in its February verdict asked the Centre to frame the Cauvery management scheme, which also included creating the Cauvery Managament Board, within six weeks for the release of water from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry with a caveat that the deadline cannot be extended.
“You (Centre) are in sheer contempt,” a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said when the Tamil Nadu Government alleged that the non-framing of the policy was a blatant violation of the crucial judgement in the Cauvery case. “We do not want to come back to square one. Once the judgment has been delivered, it has to be implemented,” the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said.
The bench directed the Secretary of the Union Water Resources Ministry to personally appear before it on May 14 with the draft of the Cauvery management scheme to implement its verdict on water sharing between four riparian states. At outset, senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for Tamil Nadu government, said the state, which was facing acute water shortage, was not getting its due share.
“We are being taken for a ride by the central government … Are we waiting for the votes to be cast on May 12 (in Karnataka polls),” the lawyer asked. He vehmently opposed Venugopal’s plea that the case be adjourned till May 14 as the Union Cabinet has not been able to meet to approve the draft Cauvery scheme due to the campaigning in Karnataka.
“This is the fit case for contempt. Somebody has to be sent to jail,” Naphade said. Venugopal referred to the sensitive nature of the Cauvery water dispute and said Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have witnessed violent protests over it in the past. The top law officer referred to previous orders, including the one passed on May 3, and said “the cabinet was not available on that day and this is why we are seeking 6-8 days time till May 14”.
Venugopal also referred to the violent protests across the country after the apex court judgement in the SC/ST matter and said the Cauvery draft scheme would be put before the cabinet as soon as possible. Taking exception to the submissions, the counsel for Tamil Nadu said, “Now, the cat is out of the bag.. we will not be getting the water”. The bench intervened by saying, “We must understand the purspose behind framing the (Cauvery management) scheme. It is for implementation of the order”.
It then referred to the adjustments to be made in the shares of stakeholder states in water deficient years. The bench said Cauvery Management Scheme, once finalised, would deal with the issue of water share of four states in different circumstances like normal and deficient water years in the Cauvery river basin. Venugopal said last time, the court had asked Karnataka to release 2.5 tmcft Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu opposed the submission and said it wanted final resolution of the dispute over water sharing which can be resolved by framing the Cauvery management scheme. The Attorney General again sought time till May 14 and said by that time, the Cabinet would be able to meet to approve the draft scheme.
The counsel for Tamil Nadu then took a dig at the Centre and said the government boasted that it worked 24X7 including on Saturdays and Sundays. The apex court had on February 16 asked the Centre to formulate a scheme to ensure compliance of its judgement on the decades-old Cauvery dispute.
It 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. The top court had then 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”.