It is a drinking water issue in the drier regions of North Karnataka, while for the Union Government it is a legal issue, but for Goa it is more of an environmental issue
Mahadayi River issue is a classic example of how the simplest of the river water sharing issues can be blown out of proportion in India due to politics. In fact, most people outside south India would not have paid much attention till now. But since 2018 Karnataka election is probably the biggest fight between BJP and Congress before the 2019 Parliamentary Election, this issue will keep hitting headlines. So here is a primer on what readers should know.
Western Ghats is a heavenly place in India. Mahadayi River originates in North Karnataka, flows west and drops nearly 3000 feet in less than 80 Km to join the Arabian sea in Goa. This is known as Mandovi River in Goa, also termed as the lifeline of Goa. Maharashtra is also technically involved as some parts of the river basin extends into that state. This is a beautiful river in thick jungles, forming the world famous Dudh Sagar falls, with hardly any human use in any big city, or any major agriculture use. So it was a peaceful region for centuries. Remember—before 1961, this was an international river!
How It All Started
Then came a plan in 1978 in Karnataka. The perpetual dry areas of Savadatti in Belagavi district, Naragunda in Gadag district, and Navalagunda in Dharwad district were going to get some drinking water from this blessed Mahadayi River”s tributaries. It was a simple plan and by 1988 it got approved in Karnataka assembly. The goal was to create a Kalasa (first tributary) dam and canal north of Mahadayi River, and a Banduri (second
tributary) dam & canal east of Mahadayi river. Note, there is no dam on the main Mahadayi river at all. Totally the plan was to divert 7.56 TMC of water which is less than 4 per cent of the annual water flow in Mahadayi river in a year. Karnataka Chief Minister SR Bommai and Goa Chief Minister PS Rane met in 1989 and agreed upon some principles of water sharing.
Fast forward to 1996 and 1997 period. On September 10, 1996, the Irrigation Ministers of both states met and Kalasa was a done deal! Finally, people thought that”s how it should be handled. But within months, ugly politics got involved. On March 5, 1997, Goa changed its mind and said, no deal. And thus, started a small inter-state dispute. Pratapsingh Rane of Congress was the Chief Minister in Goa. JH Patel of Janata Dal was the Chief Minister in Karnataka. And interestingly, Deve Gowda was the Prime Minister. At that juncture, it was a 30 minute conversation between Gowda, Rane and Patel to solve the issue on a table. Even if it was decided to take some overflowing water during monsoon only, it could have a solution. But it did not happen. This was the first major hurdle and even 20 years later we are facing the heat because of that 1997 politics.
The next political hurdle came in 2002. In April 2002 Atal Behari Vajpayee led NDA Government gave approval to SM Krishna—led Congress Government in Karnataka for the Kalasa-Banduri nala (canal) project. But quickly, this turned into a political battle as Goa had Manohar Parrikar’s BJP Government. Goa objected and asked for a tribunal to be setup. NDA Government halted the earlier approval and the matter got more complicated.
The third political hurdle came up during the 2006 to 2010 period. In 2006, Goa approached the Supreme Court(SC) against the ground work started by BS Yeddyurappa of BJP, the then Deputy CM of Karnataka. SC did not grant the stay in November 2006. When people thought this drinking water project will finally take off, Sonia Gandhi of Congress made one big blunder in 2007. She gave a speech in Goa during election campaign which was totally against Karnataka’s Kalasa Banduri project, and all hell broke loose. The then Karnataka irrigation minister KS Eashwarappa of BJP flayed Sonia Gandhi’s remark and things got politically entangled.
Over the next three years, things went to a stage where Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh-led UPA Government constituted the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal, vide notification dated November 16, 2010. This third phase of complication ruined any chance of simple discussions solving the small issue.
Then in 2014, NDA came to power. But as usual politics did not change. Karnataka by now had a Congress Government and the blame game persisted between BJP and Congress. In 2014 the Tribunal visited the water basin areas. By June 2015, massive protests started in the ground-zero of Naragunda and Navalagunda area. Fasts, marches, speeches happened continuously. And this has been continuing ever since. On July 27, 2016 the tribunal did not agree to an interim appeal by Karnataka. This resulted in large scale violence, bandh, and eventual lathi charge in Yamanur on even women by Congress-led Government of Siddaramaiah. People have lost patience with political solution, and all they are asking for is drinking water now. This became headline TV news for weeks in Karnataka and emotions got flared up. Very few on the ground actually read the judgment about why JN Panchal-led tribunal did not allow Karnataka”s appeal citing technical reasons. Politics diluted all real issues, and we are now at a fourth or even fifth phase of this long pending issue.
A couple of weeks ago, Amit Shah convened a meeting of Manohar Parrikar and BS Yeddyurappa to find some solution from BJP”s side. But sensing a big political benefit for BJP, Karnataka Congress quickly indulged in politics and thwarted any progress. To make things worse, Goa Congress sensed an opportunity to unseat Parrikar himself! So things yet again got entangled and blame game continues. Siddaramaiah-led Congress in Karnataka wants PM Narendra Modi to directly get involved and solve this outside tribunals. But per BJP, since it was Sonia Gandhi-led UPA that setup the tribunal in the first place, things are not that easy for a PM to sit and solve outside the tribunal. The villagers in the three districts to whom drinking water was promised, are still waiting and increasingly getting frustrated as a full generation has seen the political drama. People have almost come to the conclusion that politicians are not serious about solving this seemingly minor inter-state dispute.
Karnataka’s position is that more than 80 per cent of the river”s water is going fully unused by humans to the sea. Using less than 4 per cent of the water for drinking, water in 3 districts of North Karnataka should be allowed from humanitarian purpose. Drinking water for Indians is the most basic human right in India. Numerous rivers have been linked or diverted in India for drinking and irrigation purposes, and this is one of the least environmentally damaging project as there is no major dam or submerging. Goa’s position is that Karnataka can use Malaprabha river to which Kalasa and Banduri canals will eventually feed the water to. Also, Goa is talking of wildlife, green
tribunal, and the natural lifecycle of river ending in fishing regions of Goa. Considering the thin population of Goa, this is not a drinking or irrigation issue for them.
This dispute has seen Congress, Janata Dal and BJP Governments in the Centre. And a mix of these parties in the states all along. No one has solved it, and it is getting increasingly difficult for any PM to directly solve it. It is a drinking water issue in the drier regions of North Karnataka, while for the Union Government it is a legal issue, but for Goa it is more of an environmental issue. Unless you see a miracle happen in the next 4 months like even 1 per cent of the river”s water being allocated for drinking project, expect this to be hitting headlines frequently during the Karnataka elections season.
(The writer is a Blogger, Social Media expert and a TV Panelist)