Holy River Cauvery and Unholy Cauvery Water Dispute
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns, Top Stories

Holy River Cauvery and Unholy Cauvery Water Dispute

October 2, 2023

To quantify the water Karnataka releases to Tamil Nadu, the Centre has constituted a Committee. In that Committee every member is a Tamilian. In this Committee there is an engineer nominated by Karnataka and the irony is even that engineer is a Tamilian. — H.D. Kumaraswamy, former Chief Minister

Having written enough and more in this column over the years about the Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, not forgetting the involvement in the dispute of Kerala and Pondicherry, I was not inclined to write about the ongoing conflict and confrontation between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

However, I am tempted to break my vow not to write about this perennial dispute after reading a report in The Times of India, dated Sept. 26, 2023. The headline of the news was, ‘Cauvery Water Row: Karnataka Government spent Rs. 123 crore on Advocates,’ I decided to do some cud-chewing about the conduct of our politicians and advocates.

As per the information obtained under the RTI Act by an RTI activist, it was revealed that a total of Rs. 122,75,95,82 was paid as fees to, hold your breath, 41 lawyers for arguing  before the Supreme Court (SC) and the Tribunal. A clear case of digging up a mountain and finding not even a mouse.

During the period when S. Bangarappa was the Chief Minister of Karnataka (1990 to 1992) and Mr. P.P. Muthanna was the Advocate General of Karnataka, I had visited Delhi twice (at my own cost) and was a witness to what was happening at the Tribunal.

To say the least, it was a pathetic sight as far as the Karnataka team of advocates was concerned. A couple of them were introduced to me by the Advocate General. When compared to the Tamil Nadu team, the tallest of them all was K. Parasaran (who was also introduced to me later by Muthanna). Our team was an apology. In contrast the Tamil team was ably supported by three  smart, alert, agile advocates, one among them a lady. The lead advocate for Karnataka was to come from Mumbai but he was absent. The reason for his absence and the effort our Advocate General and State Law Secretary made to get that almighty advocate to come to Delhi and appear before the Tribunal was a story by itself. Anyway, from what I gathered while in the company of the Advocate General and his discussions with the Law Secretary the previous evening, it was clear to me and also to the Advocate General that the case was badly handled, in a lackadaisical manner. The Karnataka’s Delhi-based advocates dealing with this matter were found wanting on many fronts which I would not like to recall.

But I would definitely mention here that when the Court sought a copy of a statement filed by Karnataka, the Karnataka advocate did not have it. P.P. Muthanna, the Advocate General, was embarrassed and cut a sorry figure. It was K. Parasaran who came to his rescue and asked his lady assistant to provide a copy that was with her.

Having said this, let me produce here an excerpt from the Abracadabra I wrote on Dec. 12, 1991, under the title ‘Cauvery Dispute: A view from river bank.’ 

“However, I think it is time somebody told Mr. Bangarappa to streamline his legal department here and in Delhi (Advocates on Record for Tribunal and Supreme Court, the panel of advocates and the Senior advocates etc.) at the earliest without mercy and without showing favour and sympathy. This step must be taken to strengthen our legal machinery not only with regard to the Cauvery dispute but also with regard to all other matters concerning Karnataka and the Government’s interest.

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It is unfortunate that of the two senior Supreme Court advocates engaged in this case, one had refused to appear for the State before the Tribunal to take up the review petition. The reason is said to be the Government’s decision to file a review petition without consulting this senior advocate who came to know of the decision only through newspapers.

Now to think that the Karnataka Government has already paid a few lakhs of rupees (some say over Rs. 20 lakhs) as his fee and is not able to get his services at a critical time is something unimaginable. If I were the Chief Minister, I would have sacked the persons responsible for mishandling the case in this manner.

What I have written is just the tip of the iceberg. It is important for us to know that Karnataka has not won a single legal battle so far with regard to the Cauvery water dispute. It is time our Government and the politicians stopped interfering with this matter and handed over the case to a specialist body of acknowledged legal luminaries and technocrats.

Bangarappa should know that there is absolutely no rapport and goodwill between the array of advocates engaged by the State Government to fight the Cauvery water dispute, paying them legal fees running to astronomical figures.

I am afraid in this water battle Kannadigas are losing not only the precious water to Tamil Nadu but also the hard earned money to the lawyers. A sheer wasteful exercise this.

I can boldly say no single politician has properly understood the case, much less its legal complications at present, which, of course, is Karnataka’s own doing. Yet these politicians are never tired of breast-beating day in and day out here in Karnataka and there in Delhi. They look like orphans at Delhi to me. Contrast this with Tamil Nadu politicians. Every one of our politicians has touched the Cauvery elephant. True. But it is time they opened their eyes and saw the elephant in its totality.

In Mahabharat, the Pandavas were to spend the last one year of their exile in forest incognito. They do it at Viratnagar and return to Hasthinapur, the capital of their kingdom, to claim the kingdom back from the Kauravas. Krishna was the emissary. The demand was rejected outright. Krishna then asks for half the kingdom. No. Then quarter. No. Then a few Districts. No. Then a few villages. No. And finally one village where Pandavas could live. No.

The result was the Kurukshetra war!

When the matter for interim relief came up before the Tribunal on July 28, 1990, the Tribunal suggested that about 10 (Ten) TMC ft. of water may be released without going into the merits of the case or the question of rights. According to information, our senior Supreme Court Advocates advised that the Tribunal’s suggestion be accepted. But then Karnataka said No. (Apparently, Karnataka lost in Supreme Court). The Tribunal after the Supreme Court’s direction went ahead and passed an interim order asking Karnataka to release not 10 TMC ft. but 205 TMC ft. of water!

The result is before all of us to see. What a spectacle!

Sharing of waters by the riparian States is an accepted practice even under the international law. And, of course, sharing, as they say, is loving. Specially water, given by God, free. After all water is life. At the same time, self-preservation is also the law of nature. Therefore, tact and diplomacy, not obduracy and litigation, should be practiced like an art. Our rulers, indeed have failed us.

Now look at Tamil Nadu. They project a picture of an underdog, the one wronged. When negotiation failed during the Janata Government in the State, Tamil Nadu quickly opted and got the clearance also from the Supreme Court for setting up of a Tribunal even though the Central Government could have taken a decision about the Tribunal on its own. So on June 2, 1990, the Tribunal was constituted.

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The truth is that the then V.P. Singh’s National Front Government, because DMK was its ally, was rather in a mood to please the mistress (DMK Government) rather than the daughter (Karnataka JD Government). It is difficult to define why in the world Karnataka did not oppose the setting up of the Tribunal then in a manner strong enough for the Union Government to intervene.

Now it looks too late in the day for Karnataka to retrieve its legal steps.

It will not be out of place to recall the casual and indifferent manner our politicians and Ministers played host to the visiting Tribunal members and also the lackadaisical manner in which information, data, maps, background, etc., required by the Tribunal were provided. I understand Tamil Nadu is more meticulous than Karnataka in this regard. One need not be surprised if some of the valuable original documents and copies relating to Cauvery water dispute are found missing. Watch out!

Cauvery: Recalling what I wrote on 8.9.2016

When Karnataka does not release cauvery water under such circumstances, Tamil Nadu goes to the Supreme Court and always wins. Not because Karnataka despite having enough water simply refuses to release it as per terms and conditions settled by the Court or the Tribunal but because our legal team is unfit to deal with the case. I have written about it in detail giving my personal experience in Delhi in 1991 a number of times. Our legal team is a disaster despite being headed by a legal luminary who appeared to me, after listening to the then Advocate General and the Law Secretary of Karnataka (who was my classmate) that he was too demanding and audacious. Worse, our resident Advocates were chosen not on merit but on special considerations!

I do not know why and how Karnataka is paying crores of rupees in fees to an array of self-serving Advocates whose number is in dozens while Tamil Nadu’s legal team consists of Tamilian Advocates and who are committed to the cause. As for Karnataka, our legal team is led by an “alien” who has never visited the dam, according to some of the agitating leaders. Well, such visits may not be necessary, but is it necessary for our Chief Minister to visit the Advocate rather than calling him to Bengaluru and discuss in the presence of Karnataka experts and Advocates?

No wonder, there is significance in what our former CM (a good, competent one) H.D. Kumaraswamy had said just for record at a press conference in Mysuru yesterday.

“To quantify the water Karnataka releases to Tamil Nadu the Centre has constituted a Committee. In that Committee every member is a Tamilian. In this Committee there is an engineer nominated by Karnataka and the irony is even that engineer is a Tamilian.”

Kumaraswamy expressed his apprehension about the impartial decision of this Committee and asked if it is possible to know what is the correct quantum of water released?

Kumaraswamy has also made another most important observation and statement. That is about the way the present agitation is taking shape. What is the point in blocking the public road or destroying our own properties, he asked and said he himself was not able to go to Mandya for the same reason.

Jai Karnataka

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