The ₹500 crore allocation in the State Budget for the Kalasa–Banduri Nala under the Mahadayi project, on the heels of the Supreme Court verdict allowing the State to go ahead with the works in the basin after getting necessary approvals, has brought cheer to farmers. However, officials say the road ahead is not very clear.
Officers say that they are seeking clarification from the legal team over many matters, including the issue of clearances. “First of all, the term ‘necessary clearances’ is loaded. We are not sure whether we need to seek all three types of clearances afresh from the start,” a senior officer of the Irrigation Department said. The March 2 judgment has terms like “approval from the Union Environment Forest and Climate Change Ministry”. Whether this mean approach afresh the Environment Ministry that had exempted the drinking water project in 2005-2006 is unclear, the official said.
Issues of ecology
Secondly, every project in a forest area that affects trees, wild animals and the ecology has to obtain three clearances. “We have obtained exemption from the Environment Ministry for the Kalasa-Banduri project as drinking water projects do not need it. But it still needs forest clearance and wildlife clearance. Goa has strongly objected to these two procedures as it suspects that the project will involve diversion of large-scale forest land and have negative impact on wildlife. That will take some time,” the officer said.
He also pointed out that the exemption was for using around 3.9 tmcft of water for the project of the total allocation of 13.4 tmcft. “For the remaining nine tmcft, we will have to get all three clearances,” the officer said.
Last month, Major and Medium Irrigation Minister Ramesh Jarkiholi announced the State government’s plans to build a hydro electric project in the Mahadayi basin, saying the 8.02 tmcft of water that will be used to generate power will be released back into the river. “But even this is not easy as it needs all the three clearances,” another officer said.
Officials point out the fund issue is also crucial. The ₹500 crore set aside is quite inadequate, they believe. “The first detailed project report prepared in 2014 involved expenses of ₹1,600 crore. The SC has now asked us to submit fresh detailed project reports. A fresh DPR will see escalation of costs. Also, we are not sure if we have to prepare three separate DPRs for the Kalasa nala, Banduri Nala, and the MHEP hydro electric project. If the cost escalates by 20% to 30%, then the time taken for completing the project will stretch to more than the planned period of six years,” an officer said.
Another contentious issue is of the continued objection to the project by Goa, which has filed an original petition against the project saying it would have devastating effects on the environment. It also tried to stop Karnataka from going ahead with the project after the notification in the union gazette. But this suit was dismissed by the SC that asked Karnataka to go ahead after necessary clearances. On Friday, Goa CM Pramod Sawant met Union Jal Shakti Minister G.S. Shekhawat to urge him not to entertain any proposal from Karnataka without keeping Goa informed.
The politics behind
Ashok Chandaragi, convenor of the action committee for Kannada organisations, suggests the three riparian States should settle the dispute out of court, considering the political nature of the dispute. “The Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti is against the project because they want Khanapur taluk, where the projects will be taken up, to be merged with Maharashtra,” he argued.
Sidagouda Modagi, Krishik Samaj leader feels the only hindrance is release of funds for the project. ``The path for all projects in the Mahadayi basin have been cleared by the Supreme Court. The state government should arrange the money for the project and go ahead,’’ he said. Vijay Kulkarni, president of the Mahadayi Horata Samiti claimed in Belagavi on Wednesday that there was no need for any clearance for the drinking water project. Officers say these are not informed opinions.
Farmers also feel that the tribunal’s allocation of 13. 4 tmcft is less compared to Karnataka’s demand of 36.71 tmcft. Officers say that would require seeking a review of the Tribunal order that could jeopardise the projects that have been cleared till now.
In August 2018, the Mahadayi river water disputes resolution tribunal allocated Karnataka 13.4 tmcft of water against its demand for 36.71 tmcft. This was contested by all the parties who sought clarifications. In February 2020, the Centre notified the award following directions from SC. On a petition by Goa against Karnataka starting work on the projects, the SC, on March 2, allowed Karnataka to go ahead after obtaining approvals.