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Cauvery Conflict: Populist or Democratic?

The Supreme Court viewed Cauvery water dispute as an act of defiance by Karnataka

Vijay Grover
Publish Date: Oct 7 2016 2:56PM | Updated Date: Oct 7 2016 3:02PM

Cauvery Conflict: Populist or Democratic?
Photo: Cauvery 
The conflict between the Judiciary and the Legislature has made headlines in the past, even to the level of a verbal war of words between the Chief Justice and the Prime Minister. Thanks to the drought like situation in parts of southern India, the Judiciary and the Legislature conflict got a new chapter added to it this week. 
The Supreme Court took no cognizance of the Resolution passed by both houses of Karnataka legislature to not share water for any other purpose other than drinking water requirements of Bengaluru and people of Cauvery Basin, viewing it instead as an act of defiance by the Karnataka legislature against the Supreme Court. 
After a series of hearings through September which led to the Supreme Court directing  Karnataka to release water in different quantums, on three occasions the conflict came to the streets. As Bengaluru burned, arsonists expressed anger and the state government going by public sentiment resolved to defer the release of water to Tamilnadu.
Even as a special session of the legislature was convened on 23rd September, the scene was of a rare unity as every party in the state stood in support of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and passed the resolution unanimously in the assembly. 
The resolution clearly said, “ The Cauvery water will not be released for any other purpose apart from drinking water needs of Bengaluru city and the people of Cauvery basin.” 
Public support for the resolution was seen in the fact that activists immediately gave up agitations and protests. But the resolution which challenged the Supreme court verdict which insisted the release of water by Karnataka to Tamilnadu at the rate of 6000 cusecs didn’t go well with the Supreme Court bench of Justice U U Lalit and Justice Deepak Misra. 
Not only did Justice Dipak Mishra turn down the legislative resolution, it advised Karnataka government, “We are in a Federal system, where every state has to cooperate. It is a cooperative system.” 
The court advised the Attorney General to convene a meeting of the two states, clearly reflecting the fact that even in this matter the Supreme Court wished to have a part in the decision making. 
The Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha speaking to Policy Pulse sad, “ I don’t wish to comment on the Judiciary, but the fact that the Karnataka resolution was the collective will of over 6.5 crore people of the state who are suffering and are in distress. The courts could have been considerate to the plea. What is of concern is the studied silence of the Centre on the matter”.
While the Congress huddled into a meeting to understand the impact of the Supreme Court  and the path of conflict it was taking with the Judiciary by being firm on its resolution. 
While the Congress huddled into a meeting to understand the impact of the Supreme Court verdict, and the path of conflict it was taking with the Judiciary by being firm on its resolution, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was surprised as support from the lead opposition party the BJP only helped his cause. 
Former Deputy Chief Minister R Ashoka’s appeal to Siddaramaih to stand by the Assembly Resolution came as a shot in the arm.
“The Supreme Court order is very unfortunate and impossible to implement . I urge the state government to stand by the resolution of the legislature. The BJP is with the state government on the Cauvery matter,” said R Asoka, Former Deputy CM.
This support was a much welcomed, desperate need of the hour for the State government which had poised itself to defy the order of the Supreme court on 27th September. 
Even as Karnataka’s Advocate-General sought time till November, the Supreme Court opined, “You cannot defy the Supreme Court. In a Federal system two states can’t fight with each other in this manner.”
The most discussed question in the legal circle in Bengaluru that is whirling about: “Is Karnataka right in defying the Supreme Court verdict ?” 
While going by the popular sentiment, the decision of the Karnataka got immediate public and political support, but the legal fraternity called it a wrong precedent. 
Senior lawyer and former Advocate General of Karnataka B V Acharya told Policy Pulse, “Instead of going on a conflict path, the state should have asked for a higher bench  intervention; or the Supreme Court before giving two orders in span of a week directing Karnataka should have convened the meeting between states earlier.”
Is the Supreme Court stepping too hard on the Legislature’s toes? A senior politician not willing to go on record was heard quipping outside Vidhan Sabha, “Judges don’t have to win elections. They don’t have to face the ire of the people, and don’t have to meet their demands.” 
But the fine balancing act that the Cauvery issue has show-cased is Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s political acumen on how to keep the masses together despite the Supreme court being on opposite side. 
While the tussle goes on at various levels in the Supreme Court and the two state governments, a big challenge is whether the Congress will be able to reap the political benefits of this gamble and conflict in 2018. And is it going to strengthen or weaken a democratic system is something we will need to wait and see.