Ramaswamy R. Iyer
|The Government and the political leaders of Karnataka are entitled to argue the legitimate claims of the State on Cauvery waters. However, they have all along adopted a wrong attitude to this issue.|
THIS IS addressed to the intelligentsia of Karnataka (KR) because I believe that there is a certain sanctity to the judicial process and the Karnataka Government and political leaders are damaging it. The people need to be cautioned about this, and the intelligentsia has a responsibility in this regard. Hence this appeal.
Let me make it clear that I hold no brief for Tamil Nadu (TN). (Not long ago, an article by me on the Mullaperiyar issue was interpreted in TN as pro-Kerala and anti-TN, and made me unpopular.) If instead of 419 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) to TN and 270 tmcft to KR, the Tribunal had made different allocations (more to KR and less to TN), I would have pleaded with TN to accept the decision. Nor do I argue that the Tribunal's Award is necessarily right; judges can err, and there is nothing wrong in seeking legal remedies against real or perceived judicial errors.
It would be easy to say that I am taking a narrow legal view of the matter and that depth of popular feeling is more important than legalities. That is a dangerous line to take. Societies need laws, rules, procedures, and institutions, however imperfect. Without them there is no society, but chaos. Article 262 of the Constitution and the Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956 (as amended in 2002) are by no means perfect. However, they are important features of Indian federalism and provide a last-recourse mechanism for the resolution of conflicts. Teaching people to disregard them or treat them as of no consequence is an act of irresponsibility.
What is the basis for the widespread and deep sense of injustice in Karnataka in regard to the Cauvery Tribunal's Final Order? Have the `people' studied the matter, carried out analyses, and come to the conclusion that the Award is unjust? I suggest that they believe that it is unjust because they have been told so by the leaders. The sense of injustice is fostered by the politicians.
Why do they do so? The reason is that each political party or group is worried about being accused by the others of failing to uphold the interests of the State; no group wants to be upstaged by any other; and so the safest course is for all parties to agree that the Award is unjust and must be rejected. The consensus so arrived at is the outcome of competitive politics. The people need to be rescued from this kind of politicking.
The Government and the political leaders of Karnataka are entitled to argue the legitimate claims of the State on Cauvery waters, but they have all along adopted a wrong attitude to this issue.
What is the basis for that statement? Consider the following: Karnataka's firm adherence to the discredited Harmon doctrine of sovereignty over the waters passing through its territory; its unwillingness to recognise the rights of the lower riparian; its implicit position that it retains the right to decide how much water it needs and how much it is willing to `spare'; its resistance to the adjudication process, its early attempts to derail it, and its eventual reluctant participation in the adjudication proceedings; its attempts to nullify the Interim Order, and when that failed, its steadfast refusal to implement that order except by way of releasing waters when the rains were good; its unwillingness to obey the decisions of the Tribunal and the Cauvery River Authority, and its readiness even to defy the Supreme Court at one stage until it was threatened with punishment for contempt of court; its refusal to participate in the efforts to find a distress-sharing formula for difficult years; and when at long last the Tribunal declared its Final Order, its refusal to accept it, and its attempts to nullify 17 years of judicial proceedings and re-open the entire case de novo.
Can any of those statements be denied? What do they amount to except the negation of the Constitution, the rule of law, and federalism? It is interesting to note that if Parliament wished to repeal the Inter-State Water Disputes Act or amend Article 262 of the Constitution, it would not be easy for it to do so. However, by making them inoperable, the Karnataka Government has virtually made them dead letters. A disturbing point is that the anti-Tribunal feelings in Karnataka tend to become anti-Tamilian and anti-Tamil feelings. Consider the informal banning of Tamil channels on television and of Tamil films from the cinema theatres.
I hope that the intelligentsia of Karnataka will recognise the serious implications of these developments and the need to give the right advice to the people as well as the leaders of the State. I have not addressed a similar plea to the intelligentsia of Tamil Nadu because reactions in that State have not been extreme. Quite possibly, if the Tribunal's Final Order had been seen as unfavourable to Tamil Nadu, the reactions there would have been equally irrational and indefensible.
I hope that the Cauvery Family will be able to play a constructive role in this context. Let me conclude by saying that I have no quarrel with recourse to legal and legitimate means of seeking a review of the Tribunal's decisions, whether through petitions to the Tribunal within three months or through petitions to the Supreme Court provided it is willing to entertain such petitions.
(The writer is a former Secretary, Water Resources, in the Government of India.)
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