On February 16, the Supreme Court awarded its final verdict on the Cauvery water-sharing dispute, directed the Centre to frame a scheme within 6 weeks of the verdict. While that deadline expired, the use of the word ‘scheme’ was open to interpretation. The Tamil Nadu government had also filed a contempt plea against the Centre for not constituting the Cauvery Management Board (CMB) by March 29.
Tamil Nadu interprets the use of the word ‘scheme’ in the SC judgement as the Cauvery Management Board (CMB). Karnataka, on the other hand, argued that the word ‘Board’ is not there in the verdict and suggested alternatives to the CMB.
Following Attorney General KK Venugopal's claim that the Centre did not have time to finalise the scheme by the May 3 deadline given by the court, both AIADMK and opposition parties condemned the BJP-led government's actions.
According to Tamil Nadu Law Minister CVe Shanmugam, who was present in court, the Centre's counsel said that the scheme is ready but has not been finalised because the Prime Minister and other ministers are busy with the Karnataka elections. The Centre sought more time to frame the scheme and urged the top court to grant it time until after the Karnataka Assembly elections, which is scheduled to be held on April 12.
The apex court ordered the Karnataka government to release 4 tmc ft water to Tamil Nadu immediately and fixed the next hearing for May 8.
"We strongly object to the Centre’s stand. Supreme Court has also asked the Centre to file an affidavit regarding the steps taken by the central government for the formation of CMB. India is a democratic country. The Government of India should protect the interests of all states," said TN Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar.
"The SC order has to be obeyed. We condemn the central government and are mounting pressure on them continuously," he claimed.
The DMK, meanwhile, has announced that they will be taking to the streets in protest against the Centre's move.
"It cannot get more ridiculous than this," said DMK spokesperson A Saravanan. "The reason offered by the Central Government shows utter disdain for the people of Tamil Nadu. Does the Centre want farmers who are suffering to wait till they finish Karnataka election? What is the guarantee that the scheme will be formed even on May 8, considering how brazenly they defy the SC's orders," he said.
The Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi believes that the Supreme Court is giving the Centre too long a rope.
"What the Supreme Court has done is atrocious. Despite the government constantly missing deadlines, there has been no remedy to the matter. They are allowing for these extensions," said VCK General Secretary D Ravikumar.
"How can the court grant them more time when the Attorney-General offers such a reason. This is a sign that the independence of the judiciary is lost," he added.
For the Congress in Tamil Nadu, which is demanding that water be released to the state, the fight is against its own partymen in Karnataka.
"The Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Congress are definitely in disagreement over the sharing of the Cauvery river water. But this is where the Centre comes into play," said S Jothimani, spokesperson of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee.
"Every state will demand what is agreeable to them but the Centre should play the role it is meant to in a federal structure. The Prime Minister must govern the country and not act as a party campaigner," she added.
When asked about the Tamil Nadu's government's assurance that the matter will be resolved, Jothimani alleged that both the Centre and the state are not looking at the larger picture.
"What will Tamil Nadu do with just 4 tmc ft of water? And what if Karnataka doesn't release this water? At least the people of Karnataka have a government fighting for them. Here, both the Centre and the state are against Tamil Nadu. Tamilians have been made secondary citizens. This is a dangerous and unfortunate situation," she added.