Goa needs to make a strong case to win Mhadei case in apex court
THE Supreme Court’s nod to the notification of the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal award does not mean an approval for execution of the award. The court did it at the prayer of Karnataka. Goa and Maharashtra did not object to it, because notification of the award was a procedural issue and did not alter the claims of the two states, nor of Karnataka. All the three states have filed appeals before the Supreme Court disputing the tribunal award which will be taken up for hearing on July 15, 2020. The Thursday order of the Supreme Court bench led by Justice D Y Chandrachud was an interim order, specifically for allowing notification of the tribunal award which was announced in August 2018. The tribunal had given Goa 24 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet), Karnataka 13.5 tmcft and Maharashtra 1.33 tmcft of Mhadei waters. Although Goa got the largest volume of the river water, the state had major concerns over diversion of water by Karnataka which could have adverse bearing on the flow of the river to the state. Of the volume of 13.5 tmcft Karnataka got 8.02 tmcft was for hydro-power generation and the rest 5.5 tmcft for drinking water. Of the 5.5 tmcft of drinking water, 3.9 tmcft would be diverted from the Mhadei to the Malprabha basin – 2.72 tmcft via the Bandura canal and 1.18 tmcft via the Kalasa canal. The remaining 1.5tmcft of the total 5.5 tmcft of drinking water would be diverted to the tanks and lakes in the Mhadei river basin.
Of course, legally and technically, nothing happens until the Supreme Court gives its verdict on the appeals of the states against the tribunal award. But the danger lies in Karnataka going ahead with the official processes for the hydropower and drinking water projects in the intervening period. Already, the politicians of Karnataka, including Union and state ministers, are celebrating the state’s ‘victory’ with distribution of sweets. Comments have been made in various quarters in Karnataka that their long struggle had borne fruit! The euphoria drummed up by Karnataka’s politicians is aimed at the voters in the three cities and over 150 villages of Dharwad, Belagavi, Gadag and Bagalkot districts in northwestern Karnataka who have been expecting to get water for drinking and irrigation from the Mhadei. The concerned cities and villages face water shortage owing to overexploitation of surface and ground water resources and the rising population density. The government of Karnataka came under such pressure from the masses in these districts, and from the politicians who wanted to build or retain their electoral base in the constituencies in them, that they went ahead without permissions from the required authorities to create infrastructure for the Kalasa and Bandura canals for diverting the Mhadei water to the Malprabha basin. After objections from Goa they halted but resumed at least twice even when the tribunal was hearing the states.
That is the danger Karnataka poses. The politicians of Karnataka are being irresponsible in making the people of the concerned districts believe that the permission of the Supreme Court for notification of the tribunal award meant endorsement of the tribunal award. It would be wrong to speculate on what ultimately the court verdict would be. The three states will have an opportunity to present their cases in July, so we hope the Karnataka government does not get carried away by electoral considerations to build up a façade of activities on the projects they had started without the required permissions and had to stop after judicial intervention. The Goa government has to maintain vigilance on that front. Any hint of the Karnataka government doing any activity before the final verdict of the Supreme Court must be kept under government and popular radars.
Above all, the Goa government cannot afford to lose its case in the Supreme Court. Goa must get more from the Mhadei as among the three states it is the only one that critically depends on the river for its ecology and economy. Goa’s fight against diversion of water from the Mhadei by Karnataka is several decades’ old. The fight at the tribunal itself is a decade old. The fight in the Supreme Court is the final battle Goa cannot afford to lose.