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Cauvery: Karnataka defies Supreme Court again. Is President's Rule imminent?

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

Karnataka appears headed for President's Rule as the Siddaramaiah government continues to defy the Supreme Court's order to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu, even after the apex court read out the riot act.

Ignoring the court's dire warning that it was giving Karnataka "a last opportunity" to release 6,000 cusecs of water a day from 1 October to 6 October, the state cabinet Saturday endorsed the decision taken at an all-party meeting earlier to not release more water as the storage was "barely sufficient to supply drinking water" to Bengaluru and other towns till next June.

Terming Karnataka's defiance as "most unfortunate", former advocate general BV Acharya told Catch that the Supreme Court could now issue notices of contempt to the chief minister and the chief secretary, and call them before the bench for admonition.

Also Read: Cauvery water dispute: How it has raged on for over a century

More seriously, the court could direct the central government to dismiss the Siddaramaiah regime and put the state under President's Rule. "If the Centre is able to quickly form the Cauvery Water Management Board to take control of the situation, the dismissal of the government may not be necessary, but it cannot be ruled out," Acharya said.

At Friday's hearing, the Supreme Court had given sufficient indication of acting tough when it said, "Karnataka should not be bent upon maintaining a stand of defiance. It knows not when the wrath of law falls on one."

Citing Article 144 of the Constitution, which mandates all authorities to act in aid of the Supreme Court, the bench said, "Unfortunately, Karnataka, despite being part of the federal structure, is flouting the order and in fact, creating a situation where majesty of law is dented."

Piling on the misery

Karnataka's lead advocate Fali Nariman caused further embarrassment to the state government by declining to put up an argument, saying he did not agree with the state's continued defiance as he was "an officer of the court". He simply read out the correspondence he had exchanged with Siddaramaiah since the court's 27 September order to release 6,000 cusecs of water and the chief minister's stand that he was "upholding the will of the people" as per the unanimous resolution of the state legislature.

The court appreciated Nariman for maintaining "the highest tradition of the Bar", but he came in for severe criticism at the all-party meeting on Saturday, where some BJP leaders demanded that Nariman be replaced. Siddaramaiah, however, said Nariman will continue to represent the state as it was difficult to find a suitable replacement immediately.

Also Read: What is Cauvery water dispute: Core issue and timeline

Going by legal advice, Karnataka has decided to file a review petition before the same bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and Uday Lalit on Monday seeking modification of its orders but the chances of its success are extremely slim.

Meanwhile, former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, 84, began an indefinite fast in front of the Gandhi statue at the assembly on Saturday, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and do "justice" to Karnataka. As he is a diabetic, his health is causing concern and a team of doctors is keeping vigil at the dharna venue.

Modi's continued silence regarding the Cauvery crisis has led to a war of words between the Congress and the BJP leaders. The Congress leaders recall that then prime minister AB Vajpayee had effectively intervened in 2002 and 2003 under similar circumstances and got both Jayalalithaa and SM Krishna to the negotiating table, but Modi had chosen to ignore Siddaramaiah's pleas. The BJP leaders, on the other hand, contend that as the matter was live before the court, there was little Modi could do.

Compromise that wasn't

There was a possibility of a compromise earlier this week when Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti hosted a dialogue between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu at the instance of the Supreme Court. As Jayalalithaa is unwell, she had deputed PWD minister Palaniswamy to speak to Siddaramaiah.

At one stage, Karnataka's offer of releasing 3,000 cusecs of water for 15 days was countered by Tamil Nadu's demand of 5,000 cusecs for 10 days. Siddaramaiah was inclined to agree, but when he consulted Deve Gowda, the latter reportedly advised against it. Tamil Nadu also complicated matters by refusing to give an assurance that they would not seek any more water for this season.

After the failure of the talks was reported to the Supreme Court, it proceeded to tighten the screws on Karnataka. It modified its earlier order to the Centre to constitute the Cauvery Water Management Board within a month and advanced the deadline to as early as 4 October after consultation with the Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.

The court directed the three states, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to nominate their representatives to the CWMB by Saturday, but Karnataka hasn't done so hoping its objections to the CWMB will be heard by another bench which has scheduled the case for 18 October.

The Supreme Court also wants the yet to be formed CWMB to check the ground reality in the Cauvery basin and submit a report to it by 6 October, when it will hear the matter again.

Although many legal experts in Karnataka don't agree with the Siddaramaiah regime's adamant stand, they feel the Supreme Court has shown needless bias in favour of Tamil Nadu by refusing to pay attention to Karnataka's drinking water needs.

Advocate BV Acharya said he was "astounded" by the apex court's hurry in forming the CWMB. "The legal provisions require the constitution of a river water management board to be approved by both the houses of Parliament after considering suitable amendments. How can the Supreme Court take a unilateral decision?" he asked.

Interestingly, while Karnataka is being badgered to release water, the northeast monsoon has made an early appearance in the Cauvery delta region. Thanjavur recorded 100 mm rainfall, Tiruvarur 60 mm and Nagapattinam 40 mm on Friday and the meteorological department has predicted more heavy rainfall over the next few days.

But this bounty of nature is unlikely to wash away the dark clouds hovering over the Karnataka government.

Also Read: Cauvery Row: SC order to release 6,000 cusecs of water unimplementable, says K'taka CM Siddaramaiah

First published: 1 October 2016, 10:42 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.