New Delhi, Sept. 3: The Supreme Court today rapped the Prime Minister’s Office for dragging its feet on calling a meeting of the Cauvery River Authority to resolve the water dispute between neighbours Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Puducherry is also a party to the water-share dispute, which has been simmering for long.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa had written to the Prime Minister in May this year, seeking an urgent meeting to prevail upon Karnataka to release much-needed water for the Cauvery delta in the state.
Karnataka, on its part, has contested the earlier water-sharing arrangements as skewed and demanded a review.
“We have already expressed our anguish over this. We have avoided giving any direction as it involves the PM. But you tell us that the PM is asking about everyone’s convenience when he can hold a meeting? Then we will give a direction whether convenient or not,” Justice D.K. Jain, one of the judges on the bench, said.
The comment followed a statement by additional solicitor general Harin P. Raval, who had at the outset declared that a minimum quorum was required for the meeting and the PMO had sought to know the convenient dates from the third parties involved in the dispute.
The chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry had indicated they were available, the law officer said, reading from an affidavit from the water resources ministry.
This angered the court. “It is shocking and strange. For fixing a date for the CRA meeting, you seek the convenience of the states. It is the PM who should see his convenience. For fixing a date, you see the convenience of the PM or the states?” Justice Jain, sitting alongside Justice Madan B. Lokur, wondered.
“We had already expressed our anguish the last time. It still doesn’t matter to them. This is very, very shocking. This is what happens in the PMO.”
The judge said he was refraining from saying anything more as it involved the country’s highest functionary, but not before observing that the PMO was not possibly even aware of the court’s orders.
“Please call the senior officers and take instructions. I daresay that the PMO would not even be aware of our earlier orders,” he said. “Sometimes one is lost for words when it involves the highest functionary.”
Tamil Nadu counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan pointed out that the PMO was not even involved in fixing a meeting which was to be chaired by the Prime Minister. “We have already lost one crop,” he said, urging the top court to intervene to get Karnataka to release more water.
The court’s wrath prompted Raval to stall for more time to seek clearer instructions from PMO officials. Let the matter be adjourned to September 7, he said. “Something is remiss.”
The court then adjourned the case till Friday, berating itself for unnecessarily raising its blood pressure when the government couldn’t care less.
The bench also sought to know if any PMO official had read Karnataka’s affidavit in the case.
Karnataka had referred to Tamil Nadu calling the river authority a “toothless body” in its affidavit.
In her letter to the Prime Minister, Jayalalithaa had urged Manmohan Singh to convene a meeting for more water for Tamil Nadu.
She said although the southwest monsoon has not been vigorous in the Cauvery catchment, Karnataka had received 21.9Tmcft of inflow into its four major reservoirs till July 20 during the irrigation year 2012-2013, but has not shared the water with Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu wants Karnataka to release 25.373Tmcft, the shortfall based on the distress-sharing formula.
Karnataka claims the arrangements worked out in 1892 and 1924 — between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and the princely State of Mysore — were skewed against the state. It has instead demanded a more “equitable sharing of the waters”.
Tamil Nadu says it has come to depend heavily on the existing arrangement and any change would adversely affect millions of farmers in the state.