Tension is mounting in Karnataka ahead of Friday’s special session of the state assembly to discuss the Supreme Court directive to release Cauvery water to neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
Chief minister Siddaramiah called the special session, hoping to pass a resolution that will convey to the top court that its Tuesday’s directive to release 6,000 cusecs of water every day to Tamil Nadu until September 27 is not implementable. It instead decided to defer the implementation at least until the special session.
Political commentators say it is a high-stakes gamble as any defiance of the court order could even lead to the dismissal of the state government.
Siddaramaiah has opted to take on the apex court despite the fact that similar tactics by earlier governments have not succeed.
In 1991, Congress chief minister S Bangarappa passed an ordinance that sought to negate the tribunal’s interim award. The Supreme Court struck it down. Again, in 2002, Congress chief minister SM Krishna defied an apex court order to release water to Tamil Nadu. But he had to later apologise to the court and release the water.
Sharing Cauvery water has always been an emotive issue in Karnataka, which was roiled by violent protests in the second week of September. The violence turned into a Tamil vs Kannada slugfest with businesses and vehicles of each other targeted for attacks in both states.
Realising that a “meek surrender” could hurt him politically, Siddaramiah is hoping that an assembly resolution against the court directive could turn the dispute into a constitutional wrangle.
The Congress state government, under pressure from opposition parties, farmers’ associations and linguistic chauvinistic groups, has finally succumbed to their demand to virtually defy the apex court. According to these pressure groups, Karnataka is facing severe water shortage owing to poor rains and the drinking water supply is also dependent on the Cauvery, as against Tamil Nadu’s demand for agricultural use.
Despite the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal adjudicating a final deal in 2007 between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu there is no end to the conflict. Under the powerful Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, the tribunal award is not open to judicial review and has to be implemented at any cost.
In times of good rain both sides have no issue and plenty of Cauvery water is available for agriculture and drinking. During these times, more water than stipulated flows from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru)