Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Arrogance of Supreme Court

My today's post is very India centric and much of it is politics. I write this because it concerns my state (Karnataka) and the water dispute that has been going on. The last few weeks have been a quite testing for Karnataka because of the Cauvery issue and it threatened to blow up into a major constitutional crisis. I have listed a few issues that bother me with the way the Supreme Court (SC) handled the issue.

Firstly, the river water dispute: according to Article 262(2) of the Indian Constitution and clause 11 of the Inter State River Waters Dispute Act, 1956(ISRWDA), all water disputes are outside the jurisdiction of the courts. So how come the SC is arrogantly (yes arrogantly) taking the case up without any authority? Legally it should ask the majority of the Parliament and/or the consent of the President before it gets emboriled in this issue. Test me - but I don't recall the SC going about that!!

Secondly the SC is a sacred institution which attempts to deliver justice. But does it have the authority to say 'so and so should go if he can't maintain law and order in his state'? It was not the first time it made such a statement either. Firstly a Chief Minister (CM) is elected by the people who place trust in him / her. In return it is the duty of the Chief Minister to protect the interests of his people within the constitutional framework. If SM Krishna (CM of Karnataka) doesn't do that - then is it not a betrayal of the trust placed on him? How can SC say - do this or that, when it doesn't have the legal sanctity to do so?

Thirdly there is a tribunal. Err.. let me put the dictionary meaning of tribunal here. It means " A committee or board appointed to adjudicate in a particular matter." Effectively an independent court (in this case that by-passes the SC) due to Constitutional reasons. If SC intervenes in the tribunal's orders then what sanctity does the SC have? What sanctity would the parliament have if it intervened in SC's decisions?

Fourthly, in a similar situation between Haryana and Punjab in their water disupte, a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was appointed (for the same reason that SC was not legally qualified to intervene) and the JPC in its report stated "each province has complete powers over water supplies within the province without any regard, whatsoever, to the interests of the neighbouring provinces...". So SM Krishna is acting within his legal boundaries whether he stops or releases water.

Fifthly can I complain against SC for its lethargic progress in handling the cases? In the High Court levels itself there is a huge backlog of about 3.5 million cases. Scores more at the lower level and at the SC level. In a sensitive issue like Cauvery (where farmers commit suicide and towns burn) the SC 'postpones' hearing for months together! So to whom is the SC accountable in such cases? It reminds me of the question 'why is there only one monopolies commission'? Get the pun??

And finally asking a large state like Karnataka (which produces more farm output than Tamil Nadu) to stick to the archaic Cauvery river water sharing scheme is meaningless and poignant. Its one thing for the press to stir up controversy by saying Karnataka viloted SC's orders but I don't see many reports which state that Karnataka gets only 20% of the rivers waters. Well that was the order passed in c.1881and ratified again in c.1928 by the British when Mysore was a princely state and Madras, Hyderabad and Maratha regions were provinces and TN insists that Karnataka get only 20% of the water. And that 20% is for drinking and irrigation.

And it is for this reason that I used the word 'arrogance' earlier on. Let me reassure you, I have utmost regard for the judiciary in our country but it bothers me a lot when the highest level of judiciary (and other constitutional systems) are out to expand on the scope of its powers in blatant violation of the Constitution.

I know most of you will not be really bothered about this. But I just wanted to pen my thoughts somewhere and my blog is the best place to do it coz no one can edit it.


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