Where a fight over a river escalated

January 13, 2018 10:02 pm | Updated 10:20 pm IST

A view of the Mahadayi river in Goa.

A view of the Mahadayi river in Goa.

The row between Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra over the sharing of the Mahadayi (Mandovi) river has escalated. With Karnataka headed for elections and the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal setting a February date for the final hearing, political parties in both States have upped the ante.

What is the Mahadayi row?

Karnataka seeks to divert water from tributaries of the river through the Kalasa-Bhanduri Nala project towards the parched Malaprabha river basin (a tributary of River Krishna), which is being strongly opposed by Goa.

This has led to a long-drawn farmers’ agitation in Karnataka, which has been revitalised as the State goes to the polls later this year.

The 80-km-long river rises from the forests of the Western Ghats at Devgaon in northern Karnataka. It enters Goa where it is a lifeline, both for the people and the rich flora and fauna of its forests. While the demand for drawing water from the Mahadayi is four decades old, it was in 2002 that Karnataka drew up the Kalasa-Bhanduri project to supply drinking water to four parched districts of north Karnataka. The NDA government even cleared the project, which was kept in abeyance after opposition from Goa. The project has since become a point for a political stand-off between the two States. By 2010, the Centre set up the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal.

What are the contentions?

Goa’s main contention is that Karnataka cannot divert water from an already-deficit Mahadayi basin to the Malaprabha river basin: 115 tmcft was available in the basin, while the requirement for the three States is 145 tmcft. It has said that any attempt to divert water from one river basin to the other will cause irreparable environmental damage. Karnataka claims 199.6 tmcft is available and the river is water-surplus. Of this, Karnataka wants 24.15 tmcft.

Both States have received minor victories and losses at the tribunal over the last three years. However, a resolution is far from over, and anger continues to rise. Both the BJP and the Congress have attempted to leverage this anger.

However, with the BJP helming Goa and the Union government, the Congress has found itself on the backfoot .

Why has it spiralled now?

As Karnataka heads to the elections, channelling the anger against the failure to implement the project is becoming key for any party that wants to grab power. On December 20, 2017, Karnataka BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa met the brass of the party and Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar about the issue. Mr. Parrikar, responding to a letter by Mr. Yeddyurappa, said that in principle, Goa would not oppose the “justified quantum” to be utilised for drinking purpose alone on “humanitarian grounds,” and he was ready for discussions within the parameters of the tribunal. However, the plot has not worked out the way it was intended.

Mr. Parrikar remains under criticism in Goa, where he was asked to withdraw the letter. Water Resources Minister Vinod Palienkar called it a “political stunt.”

In Karnataka, the agitating farmers from the Malaprabha basin travelled to Bengaluru to stage a dharna in front of the BJP office, demanding that Mr. Yeddyurappa keep his promise. The Congress, on the other hand, attempted to portray this episode as the BJP’s ploy before the elections. But the farmers are building pressure on the government to hold an all-party meeting and take another delegation to the Centre to resolve the issue without resorting to one-upmanship.

What lies ahead?

The Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal has scheduled the final hearing of the case for February 6-22. The extended term of the tribunal will expire on August 26, 2018. With the elections in Karnataka expected to be held between the last week of April and the first week of May, Mahadayi is bound to remain on the boil.

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