Karnataka must get only drinking water from Kalasi-Banduri project
The much-awaited response of Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar to the letter of Goa’s Chief Minister Pramod Sawant seeking to restrain Karnataka from going ahead with the Kalasa-Banduri project, which is aimed at diverting water from the Mhadei basin to the Malprabha basin, did not contain any solid assurance of the interests of Goa with regard to just sharing of the river waters being safeguarded. It was intriguing that after tweeting on permission given by his ministry to Karnataka to go ahead with the project, Javadekar pleaded ignorance about it! Subsequently, his ministry claimed that the letter was issued by a low ranking official and could not be immediately traced. Goa was promised an appropriate response within ten days but the ministry failed to keep it. The response came after 14 days. And the response is vague about protection of Goa’s interests. Naturally it has raised public concerns as diversion of water from the Mhadei basin could have a catastrophic effect on the lives of Goans.
The Chief Minister has expressed happiness over the response from Javadekar. He said he was satisfied that the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEF&CC) has taken cognizance of the issue raised by Goa and decided to set up a committee to examine the validity of the state’s contention that the Kalasa-Banduri project was more than a drinking water project. However, the assurance to set up a committee to review the nature of the project has not come with any directive to Karnataka not to undertake any work on it until the committee does its inspections and studies and is ready with its report. Javadekar’s letter to Goa’s Chief Minister raises an issue or two also about the functioning of his ministry. The whole controversy started with his ministry’s letter to Karnataka that the state government did not require any environment impact assessment certificate as it was a drinking water project. What made his ministry presume that the Kalasa-Banduri project was only a drinking water project? The records suggested that the project was meant for irrigation and hydro-electricity generation. The MoEF&CC should not have given a go-ahead to the project without studying the documents and observations of the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal.
Goans at large cannot be faulted if they suspect that the by-elections to the Karnataka Assembly scheduled next month have a relation with the letter issued by the MoEF&CC. The BJP government led by B S Yediyurappa has a great stake in the by-elections. Javadekar’s letter to Goa’s Chief Minister has not come with any ‘stop work’ order to Karnataka, which suggests that he did not want to trigger concerns and protests in Karnataka at this juncture. This was confirmed when Javadekar, who was in the state on Wednesday for inauguration of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), rejected the demand for withdrawal of his ministry’s letter issued to Karnataka. He sought 15 days time to decide on the issue, a period that will obviously see the Karnataka by-elections through. B S Yediyurappa, during the elections to the Karnataka Assembly in 2018, got the then Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar to write him a letter saying that Goa was not averse to allowing Karnataka to use Mhadei water for drinking purposes, which he quoted during his campaign to get voters’ support.
Goa’s BJP leadership must not allow the party leadership to sacrifice Goa’s interests to consolidate its position in Karnataka. They should force Karnataka to give an undertaking that the Kalasa-Banduri project will only be for drinking water. The MoEF&CC must rely on the records of Goa’s objections to the project and the directives of the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal. Karnataka has been bent upon executing work on the Kalasa-Banduri project. Their contention is that there is no major diversion and it would not reduce the flow of water; besides, they need the project to supply drinking water to a large area which was drought-affected. Some years ago they started work without taking approval from any statutory body and were restrained from carrying on after Goa raised objections. They should not be allowed to execute an irrigation and power project disguised as a drinking water project.