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Cauvery: Karnataka assembly refuses to release water, Tamil Nadu set to move SC again

Ramakrishna Upadhya | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

Setting the stage for a possible confrontation with the Supreme Court on the Cauvery water sharing issue, all political parties in the Karnataka legislature joined hands on Friday to pass a unanimous resolution urging the government not to release any water except "for drinking purposes".

The resolution, moved by the BJP's Leader of Opposition Jagadish Shettar and the JDS' deputy leader YSV Dutta and seconded by Raitha Sangha's KS Puttannaiah, noted that "there was an acute situation of distress" and it was "imperative that the government ensures that no water from the present storage is drawn, save and except for meeting drinking water requirements of the villages and towns in the Cauvery basin and for the entire city of Bangalore".

The resolution also noted that the combined storage in the four reservoirs in Karnataka - Krishna Raja Sagar, Hemavathy, Harangi and Kabini - had reached "alarmingly low levels with only 27.6 tmcft of water" and it was barely sufficient to meet the needs of 1.1 crore people of Bengaluru and other towns till next May.

There was no reference to Tamil Nadu's demand or the Supreme Court's order to release more water to the neighbouring state for its Samba crop, being sown over 15 lakh acres.

The assembly proceedings was scheduled to begin at 11 am but started two hours late as the business advisory committee attended by floor leaders of all parties grappled with the language of the resolution. The leaders reportedly agreed that they should not seek any confrontation with the judiciary, but present "the ground realities".

I have no intention to challenge the judiciary, but I am duty-bound to honour the people's mandate

Those who took part in the debate generally restrained from attacking the judiciary but said the Supreme Court's order had grievously hurt Karnataka and, therefore, they could not remain silent.

The general theme of the discussion was that Karnataka's farmers too had been denied water to reserve the storage for drinking purposes and standing crops over 2.9 lakh acres had withered away, but Tamil Nadu was demanding water for its next crop even when it had sufficient water in its storage.

'No affront to judiciary'

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah paid handsome encomiums to the judiciary and said that having been a lawyer himself, he had no intention to show disrespect to it. "We have only 27.6 tmcft of water in our four reservoirs, whereas we need 24.11 tmcft till May 2017 for human consumption. We also need water for animals and birds... If we release water now to Tamil Nadu, can we get it back?" he asked.

He said Tamil Nadu had 52 tmcft of water in Mettur reservoir, but was still asking Karnataka for water as per the orders of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.

The chief minister said Karnataka, along with Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, had generously agreed to contribute 5 tmcft of water each from the Krishna basin to Tamil Nadu to tide over the drinking water scarcity in Chennai two decades ago, and hinted that the gesture should be reciprocated now.

Siddaramaiah regime may not be accused of wilful disobedience, so a contempt charge is unlikely

"It's an extraordinary situation. I have no intention to challenge the judiciary. But the people of the state have given our government a mandate and I am duty-bound to honour it," he said.

BJP leader Jagadish Shettar, who tried to make amends for boycotting Wednesday's all party meeting on the Cauvery issue, said the state had suffered "great injustice" as the court had taken no note of the distress situation and repeatedly asked it to release water. He said the government was only a creature of the House so it had a moral responsibility to go by its sense on whether the court's verdict was constitutionally correct or not.

He said the Supreme Court had even modified the order of the Cauvery supervisory committee, which had asked Karnataka to release 3,000 cusecs of water without any basis, and, therefore, "the resolution did not amount to contempt of the court".

Legal hurdles ahead

All eyes will now be on the 27 September hearing of the Supreme Court as the Tamil Nadu government is already planning to move a contempt petition against Karnataka for not obeying the apex court's order.

Uday Holla, a former advocate general of Karnataka, said although it was admirable that the Karnataka legislature had restrained from attacking the judiciary, there was no guarantee the Supreme Court would be sympathetic to the state.

He said, "The fact of the matter is that Karnataka is defying the Supreme Court's order to release water to Tamil Nadu. The legislature has done its duty when emotions are running high. But in any legal matter, the judiciary has the last word and it is unlikely to accept anything short of compliance of its order."

Does that mean Karnataka would be committing contempt of court and would have to face the consequences for the same? Holla was of the view that since the Supreme Court had already ordered for the constitution of the Cauvery Water Management Board, it might ask the Centre to expedite the procedure and entrust the work of releasing water to the board.

Holla does not think the court would go so far as to seek dismissal of the state government for contempt. "The Siddaramaiah government may not be accused of wilful disobedience in this case and, therefore, it is unlikely that the court will go to that extent," he said.

Another former advocate general, Ashok Haranalli, also felt that the state government may find the going tough in the Supreme Court "though the proceedings of the legislature will send positive signals".

He said there was every possibility of the chief secretary of the state being called before the Supreme Court and asked to explain why its order had not been complied with. "Supreme Court expects nothing short of compliance of its order and, therefore, the resolution passed by the Karnataka legislature may not be more than a moral victory for the Siddaramaiah government," he said.

First published: 24 September 2016, 12:40 IST
Ramakrishna Upadhya @rkupadhya9

Ramkrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist based in Bangalore, currently working with TV9. Earlier, he was with Deccan Herald, The Telegraph and The Indian Express.