The Big Story: Water under the bridge

On Monday, the Karnataka government told the Supreme Court that it was unable to release any more water from the Cauvery river to Tamil Nadu. This was in response to Tamil Nadu’s claim that Karnataka was in a position to release 4 tmc ft of water. Karnataka argued that it had already released excess water to Tamil Nadu, as per the Central Water Commission, and given that this was the third distress year in the Cauvery basin.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the Cauvery matter on Tuesday.

Karnataka’s arguments come after the Union government’s refusal to follow the Supreme court’s orders leading to this impasse. On February 16, the Supreme Court delivered a judgement on the decades-long Cauvery dispute, asking the Union government to set up a scheme – widely interpreted to mean a water management board – to oversee the distribution of Cauvery water. The deadline for this was March 29. The Union government, however, decided to simply ignore the Supreme Court’s order. More than a month after the deadline, there has been little movement by the Union government on the matter.

The reason for this delay is not difficult to see. Karnataka does not want the formation of any Centrally-controlled board, which would force it to give up its control of the Cauvery. The Union government, rather than ignore any partisan considerations and follow the order of the Supreme court, has kowtowed to Karnataka. The state votes on May 12 and an adverse move by the Union government will hurt the Bharatiya Janata Party’s chances in the Assembly elections.

To add to the mess, the Supreme Court, it seems, has been unwilling to crack the whip in order to implement its own order. On May 3, the Union government glibly told the court that the judgement could not be implemented since the prime minister and other ministers were busy campaigning for the Karnataka elections. Not only was this statement made a day after the prime minister chaired a cabinet meeting – and was therefore false – that the Union government could argue in the first place that its ministers were placing party considerations above matters of the state beggars belief. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did nothing to force the Union government to act, instead changing goalposts and asking Karnataka to release 2 tmc ft of water on an ad hoc basis – an order that Bengaluru seems to have already swatted away.

Even as the February 16 order of the Supreme Court remains a dead letter, and the Karnataka elections as well as the partisan needs of political parties takes precedence over it, summer looms large over Tamil Nadu and its farmers. This entire incident is a dangerous precedent for the Supreme Court’s prestige, for federalism and rule of law. The work of the Union government cannot be stalled for one state election. And the Supreme Court’s orders and Tamil Nadu’s rights to the water of the Cauvery cannot be subject to the BJP’s poll prospects.

The Big Scroll

  • Karnataka farmers hope Supreme Court order on Cauvery water will make farm distress a campaign issue, reports TA Ameerudheen.
  • Cauvery water should not be allocated on the basis of groundwater estimates, say experts. Vinita Govindarajan reports. Also: Thirsty Bengaluru to get more Cauvery water, but does it manage its existing supply efficiently?
  • From Aadhaar to Jallikattu, why is everyone ignoring the Supreme Court, asks Shoaib Daniyal.


  • Cow, namaz, historical monuments, Jinnah — we are back to cultural issues in the prelude to Partition, writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express.
  • India is facing a grave jobs crisis. Rather than be in denial, India must debate solutions to the employment problem, as a true democracy should and would, argue Praveen Chakravarty and Jairam Ramesh in the Hindu.
  • Has India played into China’s hands in Wuhan, asks Brahma Chellaney in the Hindustan Times.
  • The Congress’ deal with the Popular Front of India allows the Bharatiya Janata Party to polarise the Karnataka polls, writes TS Sudhir in Bloomberg Quint.


Don’t Miss

In Mangaluru, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh representatives mount a “silent campaign” to draw voters to the BJP, reports Sruthisagar Yamunan.

The RSS has always claimed to be a cultural organisation, far removed from politics. It is the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power at the Centre and is aiming to defeat the Congress in the upcoming Karnataka assembly election on May 12. The party is already in power in several states and hopes to form what would be its only government in South India.

The document that is circulating in Karnataka suggests that the RSS is campaigning for the BJP in the state – covertly.