The Big Story: Sold down the river

On February 16, the Supreme Court passed an order that provided a mechanism to deal with the Cauvery river water dispute between the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The verdict asked the Union government to constitute a scheme to implement the Court’s verdict on how water is to be shared between the two states. The court gave the Union government six weeks to implement the order.

Given the urgent nature of the Cauvery dispute, the Union government should have acted in haste. In previous years, the Cauvery dispute has led to violence. Yet, the Union government allowed the deadline of March 29 to come and go, opting only now to approach the court to seek a clarification on what the word “scheme” means. It waited six weeks to ask that question.

To explain the delay, the Union government has argued that the “Cauvery is a very emotive issue in Karnataka and in the past it has led to serious law and order situations leading to avoidable loss of human lives and property”, as if to suggest that the threat of public disorder should overrule the order of a court.

It does not take much to see past these excuses. It is clear that the Union government is simply buying time. The conventional wisdom dictates that the scheme would take the shape of board to manage water sharing. This does not suit Karnataka, which has often used its upper riparian position to control the flow of water. With Assembly elections coming up in Karnataka, the Bharatiya Janata Party – which rules at the Centre – does not want to antagonise Kannadiga voters. Hence, for its partisan political ends, the BJP has delayed the formation of a board.

In its February 16 order, the Supreme Court had explicitly mentioned that “no extension shall be granted for framing of the Scheme on any ground”. Yet, the Union government simply ignored the court. Suitably aggrieved, Tamil Nadu has now filed a contempt plea again the Union government. The delay has roiled politics in the state with the Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam calling for a shutdown across Tamil Nadu on April 5.

This delay will have human costs. Tamil Nadu is greatly water stressed – a situation that will get aggravated with the coming of the summer. There has already been enough delay on resolving the issue of Cauvery water sharing. For this critical issue to be delayed and the court’s order ignored in order to help the BJP’s campaign in Karnataka is unfortunate.

The Big Scroll

  • Cauvery dispute: Supreme Court order provides no solution to central problem of distress years, writes Sruthisagar Yamunan.
  • This map shows just how alarming Tamil Nadu’s water crisis is, writes Shoaib Daniyal.

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