By Elton Gomes
Due to the failure of the BJP-led central government to form the Cauvery Management Board (CMB), Opposition parties led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) called for a state-wide bandh in Tamil Nadu on Thursday.
The main opposition party DMK along with Congress, the Communist parties and regional parties including Viduthalai Chiruthai Katchi (VCK) and Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) are partaking in the bandh and demand the establishment of the CMB, as per an order by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court announced a verdict on the dispute, on February 16, marginally increasing, Karnataka’s allocation, and reduced Tamil Nadu’s share. After the verdict, Karnataka’s share went up to 284.75 tmcft and Tamil Nadu’s reduced to 404.25 tmcft.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to create a scheme to compile with its judgement. The Centre, however, failed to establish any such scheme or regulatory body within the assigned deadline of six weeks.
The Opposition demands that the Cauvery Management Board be set up immediately. As Karnataka prepares for the polls in May, the Opposition has accused the Centre of delaying the establishment of the board.
How did the dispute begin?
The Cauvery river originates in Coorg district of Karnataka. From there, it extends over Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry.
The dispute began during the British Raj when Mysore was a Princely state. In 1892, the row started between the Princely state of Mysore and the Madras Presidency when the two regions had to reach a consensus over the division of the river’s water. The British took control of the issue, deciding which state would receive how much water.
In 1924, an agreement signed in 1924, Karnataka was bound to operate the Krishnarajsagar dam on the Cauvery river. Thereby giving both Madras and Mysore equal rights to utilise the Cauvery’s surplus water. All complaints in the 1960s from Tamil Nadu about Karnataka building two dams were ignored.
After the end of the British Raj
Finally, in 1974, Karnataka claimed that the 1924 agreement mentioned that water supply to Tamil Nadu should be discontinued. By this time, the British had left India, and only the apex judicial court in the country could decide what was next for the Cauvery, which by then had become a serious issue.
Karnataka was of the opinion that as the Cauvery originates in the state, it was entitled to the river and was not, in any way, bound by the 1924 agreement agreed by colonial governments. Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, claimed that it was now heavily dependent on the Cauvery for agriculture.
After several discussions with the two states and the union government, a final draft was developed. The draft was based on the Cauvery Fact-Finding Committee’s findings.
M. G. Ramachandran’s AIADMK government completely rejected the draft and insisted that all concerned stakeholders should return to the agreements finalised in 1924. A number of meetings held during the 1980s failed to come to any definite conclusion.
Tamil Nadu’s insistence
Tamil Nadu however, remained relentless in resolving the issue. A farmers’ association from Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu, moved the Supreme Court urging a formation of a tribunal for an appropriate ruling on the dispute.
In its interim order, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal directed Karnataka to allocate 205 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu every year. Karnataka was also ordered to curb irrigation in the area. In 2013, then chief minister Jayalalithaa approached the Supreme Court hoping that the Cauvery Management Board would be constituted. Jayalalithaa’s efforts, however, were in vain. Thereafter, in September 2017, the Supreme Court reserved its judgement on appeals filed by the states.
Why hasn’t the Centre formed the Cauvery Management Board
The Centre, in 2016, told the Supreme Court that it does not have jurisdiction to direct it to create the Cauvery Management Board.
As per the Centre, setting up of the board was only a recommendation of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal and was not binding on the government. It further added that it was planning to set up a technical panel to take stock of the dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
The Supreme Court received assurance by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that the Cauvery Management Board will be established. However, later citing article 262, Rohatgi claimed that the Supreme Court cannot intervene in a matter associated with an inter-river dispute after a tribunal has passed its final order.
Besides the Opposition, even the ruling AIADMK was on a hunger strike over the Centre’s inaction to form the CMB. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam were both a part of the protests. DMK working president M.K. Stalin was also detained by the police during the protests.
In the meantime, the Centre has requested a plea seeking clarification of the verdict. On April 3, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the government’s plea concerning clarification on the court’s February 16 verdict.
A bench comprising the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud will hear the plea on April 9.
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