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Damage Control After MWDT Verdict-I

Nandkumar M Kamat

Since people in Goa are busy with many other issues it has escaped the notice of the civil society in general and media in particular that a “bombshell” is going to be dropped within 15 days for which we need to prepare them through a series of articles. The “bombshell” would be in the form of the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (MWDT) led by very fair judicial people who have done a meticulous and complex job.

Very few would know how difficult it is for such interstate water dispute tribunals to write a techno-legal verdict because the judges need to understand hundreds of technical issues in proper, balanced, unprejudiced manner. MWDT irrespective of the final verdict would go down in the post 1956 history of interstate water disputes tribunals as one of the freest, fairest, friendliest tribunal. Nobody would be able to cast any doubts on their fairness based on their meticulous scrutiny of papers, data laid before it and submissions, arguments heard.

When its verdict becomes available, people of Goa, and anyone else must not attack or criticise the honourable members of MWDT but direct all their queries and questions to Goa government and its very expensive jumbo legal team along with expensive experts and consultants and witnesses. This government must have already worked secretively on two plans- plan A – derive maximum publicity mileage if the award mainly on contentious issues like out of basin diversion of water and tripartite allocation of the water resources from the basin seems favorable to Goa and plan B – damage control if the verdict does not go in favor of Goa and the allocation doesn’t meet Goa’s future planned requirements as have been pointed out by panel of experts chaired by engineer (rtd) Deuskar.

Under Plan B very comic official arguments are expected to misguide the technically unfamiliar people and make it appear as if Goa got a fair judgment. We have absolute faith in negotiating skills of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar who would never do anything to compromise the long term water security of Goa. He may even find tangible, affordable technological solutions like establishing mega desalination plants to mitigate future water scarcity.

He is the only chief minister who worked on interlinking of various raw water supply lines to different water treatment plants (2001-2005) and he has a vision of intrastate river water grid. But people of Goa must never forget that the 8500 million cubic metres surface water resources available are found only on paper and the quantity and quality has diminished and deteriorated. The secretary of Mahadayi Bachao Abhiyan (MBA), Rajendra Kerkar who had officially deposed before the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (MWDT) in New Delhi as witness, and in know of things due to his close contacts and rapport with Atmaram Nadkarni, leader of Goa’s legal team announced at a function on Saturday that the verdict of the tribunal is expected around August 20. But he did not provide any specific information about the allocation of water to Goa which he and Nadkarni expect.

This clearly means that Goa has not really made any specific, well quantified claims and disclosed these in public right from the time the arguments before MWDT began. The water resources department (WRD) was reluctant to even disclose the questions fixed for argument before the tribunal. WRD so far has also treated the full documentation, all affidavits and transcripts of arguments before MWDT as a nuclear secret while selectively releasing some information through a handful of friendly reporters whom the government trusts. It would be answerable to public after MWDT pronounces its verdict.

It failed to create a separate website and upload all the documents for public knowledge because we have officers, engineers, lawyers and consultants totally alienated from the people and they advise the government to mistrust us. The MBA had entrusted the task of getting all these details from WRD to a selfless personality, its secretary Rajendra Kerkar but it appears that except the information and data leaked strategically and selectively government is afraid to divulge the specifics including bulky technical reports.

Since state submission before MWDT involves massive public funds the denial of truth to people, the taxpaying voters of Goa and showing distrust of civil society is a very serious matter. The government nervous in anticipation of an unfavorable verdict wished for some diversionary news and precisely when the assembly session was in progress they received the well-timed report of “overflow” of water in channel draining in Malprabha river basin.

If the Karnataka government has not responded on the allegation of sabotage and forced diversion to Malprabha basin then we must know that they may be waiting to hit back with more solid technical details at the right time to cause embarrassment to the government of Goa which depends on hurriedly filed media reports than getting technically sound time series data from mandated, qualified hydrologists appointed to monitor the monsoon situation at Kankumbi and Nersa. Satellite pictures since 2014 clearly show dry channels and how the flow trickling towards Surla had been curtailed.

Goa’s arguments would fall on face if Karnataka government shows with rainfall-runoff figures and channel geometry parameters that it’s the natural overflow and spillover from the original dry channel beds due to heavy rainfall. Let us hope that this doesn’t really happen. This government would move heaven and hell to do damage control if MWDT verdict proves disastrous for long term water security of Goa.

Under such circumstances all those deposed in various capacities before it would be answerable to civil society in Goa. There was absolutely no need for those in power to taunt people by saying that “everyone is an expert on this issue and let them be present as witnesses before MWDT”. Surely, many would have come forward if they were to be given every paper the Goa legal team had in its hand for scrutiny.

But the healthy, citizen friendly, citizen trusting political culture and discourse has completely changed after March 2011 with government engaging expensive advisors and consultants totally alienated from micro-realities. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand expected allocation from MWDT- its basically simple. No problem for within basin use of what is available in Karnataka and Maharashtra- but irrespective of total claimed yield Goa deserves the maximum 75 to 80 percent volume. And thanks, no dams, no diversion in upper basin. (to be continued).

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