Karnataka HC judge on KWDT sparks row

Karnataka HC judge on KWDT sparks row
Highlights

The Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal, headed by Justice Brijesh Mishra, which met here on Tuesday after a gap of over a year, witnessed an animated discussion over appointment of Justice Rammohan Reddy to the Tribunal. The discussion arose because Justice Rammohan Reddy was the sitting judge of Karnataka High Court when he was appointed to the Tribunal

New Delhi: The Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal, headed by Justice Brijesh Mishra, which met here on Tuesday after a gap of over a year, witnessed an animated discussion over appointment of Justice Rammohan Reddy to the Tribunal. The discussion arose because Justice Rammohan Reddy was the sitting judge of Karnataka High Court when he was appointed to the Tribunal As soon as the bench began proceedings, senior counsel for Karnataka government, Anil Dhawan, got up to ask whether the appointment of Justice Rammohan Reddy to the Tribunal was “OK” with all the States.

This was ordinarily unnecessary as no one would cast aspersions on the integrity of the member, he added. However, "if tomorrow, when an award is delivered, would any State party to the dispute raise objections just because the honourable Judge happens to hail from Karnataka? Is every party to the dispute clear about this or have any doubts? Is it a common agreement amongst all States that we could go ahead without any hitch?"

This made Maharashtra government's senior counsel, Andhyarjun, to reiterate that no judge would go by his regional identity. There was no need for any one even to discuss the same. Senior counsel, A K Ganguly, representing Andhra Pradesh, felt it was unnecessary to dwell upon the issue at all. However, the very mention of the same by the Karnataka counsel should lead to a rethink. And hence, he said, he would consult the State government and get back.

J Ramachandra Rao, Additional Advocate General, of Telangana State, also preferred to consult the State government beforehand. The KWDT -II is constituted to decide on the allocation of river waters to the four States involved. The matter reached Supreme Court too with Telangana State insisting on a relook into the earlier award arguing that the waters must be allocated afresh among the four States which Maharshtra and Karnataka firmly objected to.

Last year, in the second week of January, the Tribunal set a 10-point framework for the arguments in this regard and asked the respondent States to confine their defences within the framework. A fire mishap that destroyed a few files in the Tribunal building later delayed the hearing to this date.

The Karnataka government's argument was based on a letter written earlier by the then Chief Secretary of the government, Arvind Jadav questioning the appropriateness of the nomination of Justice Rammohan Reddy of Karnataka High Court to the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-II. The Counsel for the State of Karnataka was instructed to bring to the notice of the Tribunal the letter written by the Chief Secretary to the Ministry of Water Resources.

The letter handed over to the Tribunal stated that Justice Rammohan Reddy was a sitting judge of Karnataka High Court when he was nominated in place of Justice D K Seth who resigned from the Tribunal. As Justice Rammohan Reddy was an inhabitant of a party-State to the dispute it was not appropriate to nominate him, the letter stated.

It may also be recalled that when the SLP in the dispute came up for hearing in the Supreme Court, Justice H L Dattu, who was heading the division bench then, recused himself as he hailed from Karnataka. Hence, Justice Rammohan Reddy's nomination might not be appropriate, he said.

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