THE Supreme Court has rejected Karnataka’s special leave petition seeking its intervention on the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal order disallowing the state to divert 7.56 thousand million cubic feet of water from the Mhadei basin to the Malaprabha reservoir. Karnataka would have to go back to the tribunal to seek relief. Though Karnataka brought to the notice of the Supreme Court that the third party to the litigation, Maharashtra, was on its side in the dispute, the lengthy argument by its legal team failed to impress the apex court. While Goa appears to have won a major battle it cannot afford to lower its guard and must fortify its case. Goa’s legal team has been doing a good job at the tribunal. They have presented reliable data before the tribunal and the Supreme Court and got positive orders so far in favour of Goa. The ‘perceived’ victory in the Supreme Court recently is just a part of the long legal battle the state would have to fight to ensure that Goa gets its fair share of the Mhadei waters.
Having lost the last round at the apex court, the Karnataka legal team would try to come up with data and projections to get orders in its favour. The Goa team has to be more vigilant and take steps to blunt any new argument offensive that the opposite team might launch. Goa’s legal team would have to be ably supported by the officials of the water resources department as well as the department of science and state administration in order to be able to outsmart any new Karnataka offensive. The next ‘encounter’ between the legal teams of the states is expected to be in the last week of March, as all the three states to the dispute have been given time to file new documentation and details on the matter.
Though the Karnataka government has agreed to abide by the orders of the Supreme Court and the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal, it has failed to honour its commitments. Despite orders to the contrary, it has been illegally carrying out works on diversion of water from the Mhadei basin, much to the chagrin of the Goa government and Goan farmers, thus forcing them to wage a vigilant and constant battle to protect their interests. The state authorities have faced bullying tactics adopted by Karnataka with utmost restraint and used every possible legal means to combat arbitrariness on its part. Tribunal and court orders have been disregarded by political parties and pressure groups in Karnataka that have resorted to violence and damaged vehicles belonging to Goa and forced shutdowns and indulged in acts of arson in the northern districts of the state. In contrast, Goan people have reacted with calm and reason. Perhaps realizing that it may not be able to get favourable orders from the tribunal, Karnataka has been pressing for out of court settlement. The tribunal too had suggested that chief ministers of the three concerned states sit down to explore the possibility of an amicable settlement, which however failed to elicit positive response from Goa. Political parties in Goa have opposed any out of court settlement and urged the state government to use all forums of justice to save the Mhadei river basin and get a fair share of Mhadei waters for the state.
The Mhadei, as the Mandovi is known, is the lifeline of the north Goa district, and any diversion of water from its basin could have cascading effect on the water supply, ecology and marine life that thrive in the river. It also contributes significantly to the biodiversity hotspot along the Western Ghats and any attempt to take away water from it would have disastrous effects. Goa would have to adopt a long-term strategy to deal with any arbitrary actions by Karnataka to protect its interests by protecting the flow and ecology of the Mhadei river basin. Karnataka might once again try for a “political” settlement on the water sharing as it has failed in the Supreme Court. The state even took the matter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention to call a meeting of the states which are party to the dispute for a settlement. Delegations came from Karnataka to meet and urge Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar to agree to a tripartite meeting out of the court to settle the disputes. Karnataka, having come back to the same position after the Supreme Court’s rejection of its plea, must be told by Goa to settle the issues at the tribunal. And the tribunal must speed up hearing and give its verdict the soonest possible to settle the dispute.