In a move that could rankle the Supreme Court of India, a special joint session of the Karnataka Legislature unanimously passed a resolution saying that the state could not release water to Tamil Nadu, on account of extreme distress.
A joint session of the Karnataka legislature that met on Friday passed the resolution. The session was held under Rule 159 of the Rules of Procedure.
In the Legislative Council, the resolution was moved by A Ravi of the Congress. It was passed at 2 pm.
In the Legislative Assembly, Jagadish Shettar read out the resoultion in English and YSV Dutta of the JD (S) moved the resolution in Kannada around 1pm, but it was only passed at 6.30pm, following a discussion and a statement made by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
In his statement, Siddaramaiah said that the legislature's resolution should not be taken as a "defiance" of the Supreme Court. Going into the details of the amount of water stored in the four reservoirs, he said that the state required 24 TMC until May for drinking water only for humans in the towns and villages of the Cauvery's catchment area, besides Bengaluru.
The CM said that based on a 41 year average, the four reservoirs together should have had 254 TMC. But this year's total storage was 124 TMC, a shortage of 48%. He added that as on September 23, the four reservoirs together had a storage of 27.6 TMC.
"We require 24.11 TMC water to supply drinking water to the towns and villages of the Cauvery basin and the whole of Bengaluru city until the end of May (2017). This is only for human consumption but animals too need water." He also suggested that there will also be a loss of water through evaporation.
Siddaramaiah also said that the Mettur reservoir in Tamil Nadu currently has 52 TMC, and the North-East monsoon (Oct-Dec, in TN) is yet to arrive. Besides, groundwater is accessible in Tamil Nadu at around 3 mts. "But in Karnataka, groundwater is completely depleted. We have to dig 1,000-1,500 ft to reach groundwater and even then, there is no guarantee that we will actually find it."
He also said that when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, an agreement was arrived at to allocate 15 TMC to Tamil Nadu for drinking water purposes. He said that Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka had each set aside a certain proportion of water for this purpose. "I am bringing this up because we have a federal system. Our farmers and people, Tamil Nadu's farmers and people and those of other states, all require water. This is an admitted fact. We too accept it. Tamil Nadu needs water for its Samba crop, but we need it for drinking. We need to preserve the water that we have."
In response to the argument of several MLAs that Karnataka should not have filed an affidavit stating that it would release 10,000 cuses of water to Tamil Nadu, the CM provided a clarification. He said that as in the past Karnataka's Counsel displayed a goodwill gesture. Based on the water levels at September 12, Karnataka had said it would release 10,000 cusecs for six days as a goodwill gesture to Tamil Nadu. However, the Supreme Court directed that Karnataka should release 15,000 cusecs for 10 days.
He emphasised that the Water Policy of 2002 made it clear that drinking water was to be given priority, followed by irrigation and power generation.
Both the JD(S) and BJP had convened meetings of their legislature party ahead of the session.
The resolution noted that the combined storage in the 4 dams- Krishna Raja Sagara, Hemavathy, Harangi and Kabini- has reached alarming levels and stands at 27.6 TMC. The situation for water year 2016-17 is one of acute distress. “In the state of acute distress no water from the present storage should be drawn, save for drinking water for the towns and villages in the Cauvery basin and the city Bruhat Bengaluru. Therefore, we pass this unanimous resolution after careful consideration,” said Jagadish Shettar as he read the resolution.
The resolution was unanimously passed "after carefully considering the needs of the inhabitants of the state of Karnataka whose interests are likely to be gravely jeopardized if water in the four reservoirs is in any way, reduced – other than for meeting the drinking water requirements of inhabitants in the Cauvery basin including the entire city of Bangalore."
Krishna Raja Sagara dam in Mandya
The Assembly and the Council also condoled the deaths of soldiers in the Uri attack and condemned the incident. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah also “strongly condemned” the “Pakistan-sponsored” attack in which the soldiers died. Statements condoling the death of former minister Basavaraj Patil were also read out in both Houses.
Both houses began sessions around 1 pm, after the Business Advisory Committee decided to pass the one-line resolution. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Speaker of the Assembly KB Koliwad, Chairman of the Council DH Shankaramurthy, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Jagadish Shettar and several other political leaders participated in the meeting.
The discussion in both Houses took place under rule 159 of the Karnataka Rules of Conduct. MLAs were forbidden from criticising the Supreme Court's order.
Six Karnataka MPs, and several former ministers and MLAs were seated in the press gallery in the Assembly to watch the proceedings. However, former minister and Congress leader MH Ambreesh was notably absent.
Before the discussion began, the Assembly and the Council also condoled the deaths of soldiers in the Uri attack and condemned the incident. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah also “strongly condemned” the “Pakistan-sponsored” attack in which the soldiers died. Statements condoling the death of former minister Basavaraj Patil in August were also read out in both Houses.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered Karnataka to release 6,000 cusecs of water every day to Tamil Nadu until September 27. A day later, Karnataka Chief Minister convened an all-party meeting. Taking into account the opinion of JD(S) leaders, the Karnataka cabinet then decided that they would defer the release of water till the special session on Friday.
All-party meeting on the Cauvery water-sharing issue at Vidhan Soudha in Bengaluru on Wednesday.
Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti is believed to have told CM Siddaramaiah in Delhi on Thursday, that the cnetre could not intervene as the matter was sub-judice.
What angered politicians in Karnataka more is the fact that the SC asked for 6,000 cusecs to be released daily just two days after the Cauvery Supervisory Committee told Karnataka to release 3,000 cusecs of water every day for 10 days.
Siddaramaiah would however not be the first Karnataka Chief Minister to announce that the state cannot comply with state or Cauvery Tribunal’s order. But unlike his predecessors like SM Krishna or S Bangarappa, Siddaramaiah called for an all-party meeting to arrive at a consensus, instead of taking an arbitrary decision.
Will the decision amount to contempt of court?
Legal experts say that the decision to not release water can amount to contempt of court. If found guilty of contempt, the state’s Chief Secretary can be given jail term by the Supreme Court.
In 2002, when faced with the threat of contempt of court, then Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna had agreed to release Cauvery water, after initially refusing it.
Wednesday was a day of high political drama in Karnataka. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who was under pressure from all sides to reject the SC’s order called an all-party meeting on Wednesday evening at 6pm to deliberate on Karnataka’s course of action. However, the BJP decided to boycott the meeting, blaming the government for failing to take a clear stand on the issue.
Earlier in the day various MPs and MLAs of the Congress and the JD (S) had also threatened to resign if the SC order was not favourable to farmers in Karnataka.
Siddaramaiah had said that the latest order from the SC was not implementable, indicating that the government may announce a rejection of the order. However, following the all-party meeting and a special cabinet session that followed it, the Chief Minister announced that a decision would be taken at the special session of the Karnataka Assembly called for Friday, deferring any release of water till the end of the session.
In the process, Siddaramaiah also added pressure on the BJP, which had been demanding a special Assembly session. One of the concerns for the BJP has been the possibility of Karnataka calling for central government intervention in the issue, as BJP leaders are apprehensive that the AIADMK’s support in the Rajya Sabha may weigh more heavily with the central government.