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TN lets Centre worry about Cauvery dispute

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

"The ball is in the Centre's court and we are happy to just watch the proceedings with caution and care." That, according to a source, is the attitude and approach of the Tamil Nadu government to the current stage in the Cauvery waters dispute.

"The Centre is doing what we have all along been demanding, and we are happy about that," said the source, referring to the federal government's proposal to set up a Cauvery River Authority to monitor the flow of 205 tmc-ft of the river's water to Tamil Nadu each year, as per the interim award of the three-member tribunal.

The Centre's intervention comes after a Supreme Court directive. Madras sought the court's intervention following the inability of the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to resolve the crisis last year.

Though Tamil Nadu has offered its comments, reservations, and suggestions on some aspects of the Centre's proposals on the substantive issue, it has every cause for welcoming the proposal to set up a monitoring authority. "It is in the absence of such a regulatory mechanism that we have not been able to draw the waters promised to us under the interim award," points out the same source.

"Though Karnataka has expressed its reservations to setting up a Cauvery River Authority, it will have little choice if the court upholds the scheme," the source pointed out. "Alternatively, it may be up to the Supreme Court to come up with a solution if it upholds Karnataka's reservations."

The Cauvery waters dispute has gone through a vexatious route since 1974 when the 50-year-old agreement between the then Madras presidency and the princely Mysore state elapsed. While Karnataka contends that the agreement provided for discontinuing the water supply, Tamil Nadu, based on the wordings of the 1924 agreement, argues that it provides only for a review of the quantum of water to be supplied at the end of 50 years.

After bilateral and trilateral talks involving the Centre also, the Cauvery Waters Tribunal was appointed in 1989 when V P Singh was the prime minister. With Karnataka declining to accept the tribunal's interim award, notified by the Centre as required, the apex court urged the then prime minster P V Narasimha Rao to talk to both the chief ministers early last year.

The change of governments at the Centre and in Madras enabled direct talks between the two chief ministers, but after kindling hopes of a permanent solution, the talks were aborted, and Tamil Nadu moved the tribunal and the Supreme Court all over again. The court has since sent the dispute to the Centre asking for a parliamentary solution.

In between all this, the chairman of the tribunal too was replaced when Justice Chittatosh Mukherji quit the post after H D Deve Gowda became prime minister. Though no reason was given, it was said the tribunal chief, who had penned the interim award, felt his position untenable because when Deve Gowda was chief minister of Karnataka, he had opposed the interim award tooth and nail.

All through the 20-odd years since 1974, Karnataka has been releasing the Cauvery waters in instalments, after pleadings and protests which often take a violent turn, particularly in Karnataka.

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