The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Krishna, Centre share court stick

New Delhi, Oct. 24: The Supreme Court today found the Karnataka government led by S.M. Krishna “prima facie” guilty of contempt of court for “wilfully and deliberately” disobeying the court’s order to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal, Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Justice Arijit Passayat said the quantum of punishment will be fixed on Monday, the day when Tamil Nadu’s contempt cases against Karnataka will be taken up again.

Police have been put on high alert in Karnataka to prevent any backlash.

Krishna, water resources minister S.K. Patil and the Karnataka chief secretary are likely to face imprisonment. The contemners may get a token day’s incarceration like former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh received in connection with the Ayodhya case.

During the day-long session, the court rejected Karnataka counsel Anil Devan’s argument that his client had released “as much water as possible”, but suicides by farmers and riots prevented it from implementing the apex court’s order.

Upbraiding Krishna, the bench observed: “If an elected government says because of law and order problem, it cannot comply with this court’s order, then let it go. You have come to that (stage).” Chief Justice Kirpal added: “You (Karnataka) have no regard for this court’s orders. We are of the view that there is a wilful non-compliance of the order and it is deliberate.”

Painting a grim picture for the country, the bench added: “For each of you, the most important question is the seat — that is more important…. These man-made situations to flaunt court orders should stop. You get political mileage out of it.”

The judges were no less scathing on the Centre. They observed that Delhi should have acted firmly. “We dare say that the Union government has not covered itself with glory. It was their (Centre’s) duty as well to see (that) the orders were complied with. They had sufficient powers to do so,” the judges said.

Chief Justice Kirpal pointedly asked Solicitor-General Harish Salve: “Why did you not take any step'” Salve said Delhi would have acted had the court directed it to do so. In the absence of it, “taking steps suo motu would be difficult” for any Central government for or against any state government, he argued.

The bench told Karnataka that it might have had reasons not to comply with the Supreme Court orders, but expressed displeasure over the fact that the state instead of seeking the court’s indulgence, tried to “mislead”. “What was the purpose of your (Krishna’s) padayatra' What was the unanimous resolution of political parties there (in Karnataka)' (Is it) Don’t release water'” the judges asked Diwan.

The bench said it was going deep into the issue as one after another chief minister was taking a stand to violate court orders. “What happened to Article 144'” asked the bench, referring to the clause that says all authorities — civil and judicial — in India shall act in aid of the Supreme Court.

Referring to the Ayodhya case, the judges observed: “There were promises here, in spite of which a monument was demolished.” Kalyan Singh had given a sworn affidavit that it would protect the Babri Masjid.

Conveying his disgust at the state of affairs, the chief justice said “God alone help this country” if governments play to the emotions of people and violate court orders. In an indirect reference to the Ayodhya case, the court said there were cases “pending in this court involving people’s emotions. If chief ministers come here and say that they cannot implement the (apex court’s) orders due to law and order situation, then what will happen'”

Tamil Nadu counsel K.K. Venugopal argued that the Karnataka government “by not obeying the Supreme Court orders, has perpetrated a constitutional crisis” and contended that the “state should not only pay punitive damages, but also those who disobeyed the orders should be punished for contempt”. Tamil Nadu claimed to have suffered damages estimated at Rs 2900 crore.

“We hereby direct, in the meantime (till Monday), to release some water. We will record a finding that there has been a deliberate non-compliance of the order,” the bench told Diwan, who said that by Monday, he will get the opinion of his client as to what remedial steps could be taken now.

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