VIOLATING the directives of the Supreme Court and the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal to maintain the status quo, the Karnataka government has diverted the flow of the Mhadei River at Kalsa-Bhandura. A team of Goa’s water resources department (WRD) officials that visited the site found that digging work has been carried out at the Kalsa-Bhandura nullah and the flow of water towards Goa has been stopped and diverted towards the Malaprabha river basin. The team has collected photographic evidence of the violation. The Goa government has decided to file a petition against Karnataka before the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal. A WRD team has gone to Delhi to file a plea before the tribunal to seek immediate stoppage of the ongoing work and action against Karnataka and we hope a restraining order comes.
This is not the first time that Karnataka has carried out works in violation of court and tribunal orders. The state government must impress upon the tribunal that Karnataka is a habitual offender in this regard and a more stringent action should be taken against the state than have been taken in the past. According to the evidence, Karnataka has undertaken the construction of head regulator and allied work on the Kalsa nullah. Though the dispute is nearly three decades old – the first memorandum of understanding on sharing water was signed between Goa and Karnataka in 1989 to allow Karnataka to construct dam across the Kalsa tributary – no resolution has come. The trouble arose when Karnataka decided to revive the project in 2002 with the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre giving its approval to the project in 2002. However, the Goa government opposed the project and sought constitution of a tribunal under Section 3 of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, forcing the Centre to keep its sanction of the project in abeyance. Subsequent negotiations to resolve the issue between the states failed to yield results and the Goa government approached the apex court seeking setting up of a water dispute tribunal and won the battle. A tribunal was ordered to be set up in 2010. Since then there have been many violations by Karnataka.
The Mhadei water dispute was a focal point during the recent Karnataka Assembly elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised during the campaign a speedy resolution of the Mhadei water dispute, which involves not only Goa and Karnataka but also Maharashtra. People of the concerned constituencies in Karnataka rallied behind the Bharatiya Janata Party and voted for their candidates. Though more than two months have elapsed since the elections were held there are no signs of any intervention by the Prime Minister to resolve the dispute. It is high time that the Mhadei River dispute is resolved at the earliest by the award of the tribunal, rather than by any political intervention for a negotiated settlement, because a political settlement is likely to elude a consensus among all parties in Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. As water diversion is an emotional issue to the people of the three states it has caused agitations and can cause further agitations. There have been violent agitations in Karnataka which led to road blockades and cases of arson. Sections of people from some districts of Karnataka also resorted to violence after the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal rejected the neighbouring state’s request to allow temporary diversion of the Mhadei waters to its drought-affected districts.
Interstate water disputes have been a sentimental issue which has been used by political parties to get the backing of the voters during elections. Ever since the Mhadei dispute began with Goa objecting to Karnataka’s proposal to divert 7.56 TMC of water from Mhadei basin in 2002, the issue has been used for political gains. As Karnataka is a big state which sends 29 members to the Lok Sabha, the major political parties have been using the sensitive Mhadei sharing issue to gain political mileage in which the interests of Goa are sought to be sacrificed or given lesser importance. Goa cannot suffer because it is a small state and sends only two members to the Lok Sabha. The Mhadei is very important to the state: it is the lifeline of the state. Karnataka has repeatedly violated the directives of the apex court and the tribunal and every time Goa has gone to plead before them and has succeeded in restraining the big neighbour. In one month or so, the three concerned states are expecting the verdict of the tribunal to be out. Let us hope Goa gets a fair and favourable award.