The Supreme Court on Friday upheld its constitutional power to hear the appeals filed by Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala against the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal final award in 2007. It refused the Centre's stand that the it had no jurisdiction to hear the dispute.
A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said it would continue to hear the case on December 15 at 3 p.m.
Reading the operative part of the verdict, Justice Misra said the interim order to Karnataka to release 2000 cusecs to Tamil Nadu would continue till further orders.
The Centre had argued that the parliamentary law of Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956, coupled with Article 262 (2) of the Constitution, excluded the Supreme Court from hearing or deciding any appeals against the tribunal's decision. The Centre claimed that the tribunal award was final.
Quoting Section 6 (2) of the 1956 Act, the Centre said it was left to the government to frame a scheme for implementation of the tribunal award, and the scheme, once prepared, would be placed before both Houses of Parliament for approval. It argued that the tribunal takes on the mantle of the Supreme Court, and its award should be treated as the latter's judgment.
So, any appeal to the Supreme Court against the tribunal award would mean “an appeal to the Supreme Court challenging the Supreme Court's decision”, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi had submitted.
All the three States have opposed the Centre's stand, contending that a parliamentary law cannot stop the Supreme Court from exercising its constitutional power to hear appeals.
Judicial review was part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution, Tamil Nadu said.
Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade for Tamil Nadu submitted that Section 6 (2) of the 1956 Act only provides the procedure to be followed by the Centre post the tribunal award. It was not that mere procedure in a statute could negate the Constitution-given powers of the Supreme Court to hear appeals.
Pooh-poohing the claims of the Centre, Karnataka, represented by senior advocate Fali Nariman, submitted that Parliament cannot restrict the Supreme Court.
"Suppose, the tribunal award is flawed in the principles of natural justice or suppose it was given when a tribunal member was absent, making it a coram non judice ... does it become final? Article 136 - the appellate powers of the Supreme Court is a discretionary power.... Parliament cannot curtail the Supreme Court's powers to render justice," Mr. Nariman had countered.
Senior advocate Jaideep Gupta for Kerala had supported the two neighbouring States' contention.