Chennai: On Thursday, the Tamil Nadu Assembly unanimously passed a resolution urging the Centre to adhere to the month-old Supreme Court order pertaining to the setting up of a Cauvery Management Board (CMB) within six weeks to monitor and manage distribution of the river's water among four states — Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.
Earlier in the day, Opposition legislators led by DMK working president MK Stalin walked out of the Assembly, boycotting the state budget for 2018-19 presented by Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who handles the finance portfolio. DMK MLAs wore black shirts to protest the delay on the Centre's part in setting up of the Cauvery Management Board.
The Centre held consultations with chief secretaries and water resources secretaries of the four states on 9 March to review the Supreme Court order that directs putting in place "a scheme under Section 6A of Inter-State Water Dispute Act" to oversee water distribution among states.
While the Centre has said the overseeing body would involve representatives from all four states, Karnataka has traditionally opposed setting up of a CMB, as proposed by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal in 2013, because it fears losing control over the water. Karnataka's aversion to having a board govern the distribution of Cauvery water seems to have fuelled the anxiety in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.
On 8 March, a day before Central Water Resources Secretary UP Singh had called the representatives of four states to talk about CMB, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah headed an all-party meet in Bengaluru to establish Karnataka’s stand on the issue. The meeting decided that based on consultations with the legal team, led by jurist Fali S Nariman, Karnataka will take a call on whether to seek a review of the SC verdict and will finalise its stand on the nature of the dispute resolution forum.
Chief Secretary Ratna Prabha had on 9 March informed the Centre that Karnataka is against the formation of CMB, but open to other mechanisms for implementing the SC verdict. Prabha sought time till Monday to submit a report on Karnataka government’s views on the mechanisms that can be put in place to implement the order.
According to MS Mohan, under secretary (Cauvery Unit) at water resources department in Karnataka, the state has not yet sent any report on the mechanisms to the Centre. "One is under preparation, but we can't reveal its contents as it involves high-level deliberations," Mohan said.
Addressing the media in Chennai, Stalin said the state and central governments have not taken any steps to form the Cauvery Management Board over the years. He said that even the prime minister is not willing to meet all party leaders for a joint discussion on the Cauvery dispute.
"We boycotted the budget session to draw the state government's attention on this," Stalin said, adding that the prime minister is "not willing to meet all party leaders on the issue" and "the situation is very delicate". "Without delaying the process further, Centre should intervene to start the Cauvery Management Board in strict adherence to SC verdict," Stalin said.
During the session, Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappady K Palaniswamy said that as per the SC order that upholds the recommendations of Cauvery Tribunal, the Cauvery Management Board should be formed within six weeks by the central government.
While coaxing the Opposition members to accede to proceedings initiated by the chief minister, Stalin remarked that all Opposition party members must resign from their portfolios if the Centre fails in setting up CMB within the stipulated six week period, of which four weeks have passed. "We hope this (setting up of the CMB) will not lead to misunderstandings between state governments," he added.
Congress leader KR Ramasami and Indian Muslim League's Md Abubaker extended their support to the leader of the Opposition expressing solidarity with DMK's stand on CMB.
RK Nagar legislator TTV Dinakaran, who recently launched his party, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, did not attend the special session on Thursday afternoon.
Palaniswamy said that the Tamil Nadu government has been pressing the issue with the Centre continuously and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was apprised of the united stand of state's parties on CMB when he was in Chennai recently.
'Centre not bound by Tamil Nadu resolution'
President of the coordination committee of All Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, PR Pandian, believes the rumble in the Assembly over setting up of CMB is only a tactic to calm the public. "Centre is not bound to adhere to this request immediately, because the resolution has been passed in Tamil Nadu Assembly, after deliberation of legislators over legal procedures with regard to the SC judgment," he said.
"Also, there is no meaning in Stalin's statement that all (Opposition) MLAs will resign," Pandian retorted. "If the prime minister does not want to meet all party leaders, they should sit on a dharna in front of the prime minister's house to draw his attention to this sensitive issue. We should involve other stakeholder states (Kerala and Puducherry) as well for amicable discussions on this issue."
CPM state secretary K Balakrishnan also welcomed the resolution saying that the Centre should not delay setting up of the CMB. His party would start rail roko protest from 5 April to press the Centre to resolve this issue, Balakrishnan said.
The point of contention now is that the SC verdict says a "scheme" should be put into place to resolve the issue as per Section 6A of Inter-State Water Disputes Act, which all parties assume to mean the CMB, except for Karnataka, which controls Cauvery water at present.
The author is a Chennai-based freelance writer and a member of 101reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
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Updated Date: Mar 16, 2018 13:17:19 IST