North Karnataka went up in flames after the state’s plea of diverting water from Mahadayi river, was rejected by the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal. The issue is nothing less than a political game. It involves everything from people going back on their words to prolonged periods of judgement.
A Little Background
The Mahadayi River originates in Belgaum district of Karnataka and flows for 77 km before it merges with the Arabian Sea. The river crosses the states of Karnataka and Goa and is also considered to be Goa’s lifeline.
The issue of sharing the water from the Mahadayi River rose to prominence almost decades back. Concerns were raised by Goa, to which the Central Government said that it would set up a Tribunal under Section 3 of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 if and only if the two children – Karnataka and Goa, wouldn’t resolve it through negotiations. With the constant change in governments and Goa’s disinterest in negotiations, the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal was formed in November 2010.
The only thing that Karnataka is asking for is the diversion of 7.56 thousand million cubic (tmc) of water from the Mahadayi River to the Malaprabha River. Through the Kalasa-Banduri canal, the Karnataka government intends to provide drinking water and irrigation facilities to four districts – Dharwad, Gadag, Bagalkot, and Belagani.
A surprising fact about the construction of the Kalasa-Banduri canal (Kalasa and Banduri are tributaries of Mahadayi), is that it hadn’t received a green signal until 2002, even though the project was on papers during S.M Krishna’s period in Karnataka (1999-2004). When the plan was charted, approval of the Goa government was also taken.
The age-old political game intervened. Governments’ changed, and due to extensive opposition by the Government of Goa, the construction came to a complete standstill.
Mahadayi is a rain-fed river and is also considered to be Goa’s lifeline. The state of Goa now claims that the diversion of water will adversely affect the quantity of drinking water in Goa. It also claimed that the project will cause widespread damage to the ecology present in the surrounding areas.
For one, we now know that there was a point in time when the Government of Goa had agreed to the Kalasa-Banduri project. When charted, the project had also received approval of the National Environmental Engineering Institute (NEEI); thus making sure that the construction of the canal does not cause mass ecological damage.
The Mass Protest
To provide water to four districts or to a state; the Tribunal chose the state. This caused widespread agitations that led to a complete shutdown in north Karnataka on 30th July 2016. Government offices were shut, public transport was disrupted and the National highways were choked with bullock carts and thorny bushes by nearby communities. The farmers protested because their ‘sentiments’ were not catered to by the tribunal.
It is surprising to note that the two governments continue to fight for over a decade regarding the diversion of river water, but fail to come up with alternatives to cater to the needs of the people. The state of Karnataka receives an average annual rainfall of 1248mm and Goa receives 3005mm. With such statistics, it is sad to note that the two states are not able to work in harmony to make the best of the available resources.
Call it bad governance or political ego, the price is always paid by the aam aadmi.
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Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.