Karnataka election hurts formation of Cauvery Management Board as political parties look to play it safe

The Supreme Court on Tuesday told the Centre it was in "sheer contempt" of its direction regarding sharing of Cauvery river water between the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and the Union Territory of Puducherry, and for its failure to constitute a Cauvery Management Board (CMB), as demanded by the apex court in its order dated 16 February, 2018.

The verdict by the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to formulate a "scheme" within six weeks for management of the release of Cauvery water. This deadline expired on 29 March, leading to flared tempers in Tamil Nadu, which accused the BJP in New Delhi of looking at the dispute through Karnataka's political prism.

The Centre subsequently secured an extension of the deadline till 3 May. This deadline too expired with no consensus on the formation of the board. On 3 May, the apex court again asked Karnataka to follow through on its earlier order, even though the central government had asked the court to grant it another two-week extension, time by when results of the Karnataka Assembly election would be out.

Elections delaying Cauvery Board formation

 Karnataka election hurts formation of Cauvery Management Board as political parties look to play it safe

Representational image. Reuters

Karnataka will have Assembly election on Saturday, results of which will be announced on Tuesday. The Centre's plea to the apex court has repeatedly been to hold the formation of the CMB until after the results are declared.

The issue is a polarising factor, especially in parched southern Karnataka, through which the Cauvery flows. While the Tamil Nadu parties have aggressively been demanding the CMB be formed without any further ado, with Opposition leaders staging a boycotting, the state Budget before the Assembly passed a resolution demanding Karnataka adhere to the apex court's deadlines for the formation of the CMB.

Parties in Karnataka, meanwhile, have opposed the formation of the CMB, fearing the state would lose control over the Cauvery water. This despite the Centre's assurances that the CMB would have representatives from all four states.

The Supreme Court's order, which initially offered more water to Karnataka than the previous allocation, was welcomed in the poll-bound state, with the Congress government of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah saying the state stands to gain by the increased allocation, and that it would benefit his party in the upcoming election. However, with polling drawing nearer and the court insisting on the formation of a CMB, all parties have taken up a 'Karnataka First' approach.

What's next

The Chief Justice of India has threatened to file contempt charges against the Centre for the delay. The next date of hearing has been set for 14 May, which will be after the polling of votes but before counting takes place a day later.

Attorney General KK Venugopal asked a Bench led by CJI Dipak Misra for 10 days' time to add the "finishing touch" to its draft scheme and get the nod of the Union Cabinet. The Bench also ordered the Union water resources secretary to personally come to the court with the draft scheme on 14 May, as reported by The Hindu.

The court was responding to pleas filed by both states in the matter over the release of Cauvery water. However, it said only the authority formed to decide on the matter, the CMB, will intervene, and that the court will refrain from doing so for the time being.

What Tamil Nadu parties want

But while Assembly election in Karnataka — the last major Congress-ruled state in the country — is holding things up regarding the formation of the CMB, it's been an uncomfortable wait for Tamil Nadu as well. The two major national parties, Congress and BJP, have both tried to play it safe, not wanting to alienate voters in Karnataka, while acknowledging the fact that even a victory for Tamil Nadu in this state versus state issue is unlikely to result in electoral benefits for them, since neither party has a credible political stake in Tamil Nadu, which is ruled primarily by the DMK and AIADMK.

The DMK has been especially vocal about the delay, accusing the AIADMK-run state government and BJP-led Centre of both stalling the issue. DMK working president MK Stalin led a human chain last month, while the Congress, which is an ally of the DMK in Puducherry, did so in the Union territory as well.

The DMK had accused the Centre of not forming the CMB despite a Supreme Court order and for being "obstinate" on the Cauvery issue. Stalin hit out at the ruling AIADMK for allegedly siding with the Centre on the issue like a "double-barrelled gun".

The AIADMK too has been holding state-wide public meetings on the issue, to pressure the Centre into following the Supreme Court's norms. The AIADMK, which earlier staged a state-wide fast, seeking constitution of the CMB and to condemn the Centre on the issue said, "The massive public meetings will be held to urge the Centre to implement the Supreme Court verdict."

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: May 09, 2018 13:52:26 IST