N Sathiya Moorthy in Chennai
By staging a walkout from the meeting of the Cauvery River Authority, chaired by the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha may have put the ball firmly in the Supreme Court.
In fact, the Tamil Nadu government had initiated the Supreme Court proceedings, after Jayalalithaa declared the decision to boycott the CRA. The Court is slated to hear Tamil Nadu's petition on September 2.
All the same, Tamil Nadu's demand for adequate quantum of Cauvery waters is not unjustified under the law. At a time the interim award of the Cauvery Water Tribunal is still in force, all that Tamil Nadu has sought is the enforcement of the same.
The Centre has neither the authority for the same. Nor has successive governments at the Centre displayed any inclination to this end.
Indications are that the Centre's mind was made known to Jayalalithaa when Union Law Minister Jana Krishnamurthy called on her in Chennai on the eve of her Delhi visit, to participate in the CRA meeting.
Having decided on her strategy, which would also be in line with the larger political sentiments prevailing in the state, she scheduled her all-important news conference in New Delhi a day later.
By putting the ball back in the Supreme Court, Tamil Nadu may not have shut all doors on Prime Minister Vajpayee's revived proposal for 'distress-sharing' in years of poor rainfall. For one thing, the state wants teeth for enforcing whatever decision that is taken at whatever level, so that Tamil Nadu would not have to beg Karnataka, year after year.
Simultaneously, Jayalalithaa too would not like to be seen as conceding the state's rights on a platter. Obeying a Supreme Court verdict, as different from even the final award of the Cauvery Water Tribunal, is a different ball game altogether.
After all, the people of Tamil Nadu would understand if the chief minister's hands are tied by the orders of the Supreme Court.
That way, the prime minister's proposal is only a revival of what was mentioned at the height of the inter-state talks between then chief ministers, M Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu, and the late J H Patel of Karnataka. Dubbed the 'Guhan formula' in Tamil Nadu, and the 'Nanje Gowda formula' in Karnataka, the proposal provided for equitable sharing of available waters, under the ageis of the Central Water Authority, in years of poor rainfall.
Even Vajpayee's proposal for 'water-conservation', pointing out how 70 per cent of the Cauvery waters waste into the sea, is a take-off from the Karunanidhi-Patel plans. But Karnataka at the time wanted a new reservoir to store the excess flows in a surplus year to be built at Billigundulu, inside the state. Tamil Nadu wanted it at Hokkanekkal.
While as prime minister, H D Deve Gowda had shown a keen interest in an early resolution to the decades-old problem, once out of power, he could not concede that luxury to Patel, who belonged to his own Janata Dal.
Gowda hails from the Cauvery-irrigated Mandya district, while Patel came from northern Karnataka, where the Krishna is the major river.
It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court acts in the matter, when the CRA proceedings are placed before it. It was the Supreme Court, which hinted at a political, rather than legal resolution of the tangle.
As of now, the Cauvery Water Tribunal is set to be moving closer to the conclusion of its long drawn-out hearings. With the result, it remains to be seen if the Supreme Court would place the CRA proceedings before the Tribunal, or act on the CRA resolution by itself -- thus giving it the much-needed teeth that it sorely lacks at present.
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