The state government has finalised the draft tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) on nationalisation of six Goan rivers, the Mandovi, Zuari, Chapora, Mapusa and Cumbharjua, between the National Inland Waterways Authority of India(NIWAI), the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) and the Captain of Ports. Goa could become the first state to sign such a tripartite MoU. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has assured that powers for improvement and dredging of the six ‘nationalised’ rivers will vest with the state and the interests of the fishing community would be protected. The proposal for nationalization of the six rivers has been opposed by the Congress and some civil society groups. The Chief Minister has given the assurance that the MoU will not be finalized without taking all the stakeholders into confidence. The opposition from non-government quarters largely flows from the fears of the state losing control of the rivers. Of course, the central government has no such aims, objectives or intentions.
If nationalisation means development of the six rivers of Goa as inland waterways it would be good for the people as inland waterways are the cheapest and smoothest mode of transportation of goods and passengers. The state has a proposal to build 13 new jetties (four floating and nine along the river banks) with funds from the Centre following nationalization. Of course, before the inland waterways are developed, an environment impact assessment has to be done. Dredging or desilting of river channels and building of the necessary infrastructure to facilitate river transport have to be taken up. Only those river channels that are required for navigation could be dredged. Cheaper water transport would enable farmers to transport their produce to markets helping cut overhead costs. It could also add value to tourism and could be used to showcase life in rural areas and bring hinterland on the tourism scene, which will benefit locals. River waterways would mean less congestion on the roads. What is more, it would as a result reduce carbon emissions from automobiles.
However, how Goa will benefit from the ‘nationalisation of rivers’ beyond that is not very clear. Perhaps the picture would have been clearer if the terms of the MoU were known. The presumption should be that as much as the state government will be interested in safeguarding the state’s interests in the tripartite agreement, so would the central government be interested in pursuing its ‘national’ goals. It should not be forgotten that the other two parties to the agreement are both agencies of the central government. Not that the Centre or its agencies would take positions that would ostensibly encroach on the state’s rights or harm the state’s interests. But there are certain national objectives implied in the nationalization of rivers that the central government and its agencies are likely to pursue, of course couching it in terms that would look like beneficial to the state.
From the central government’s point of view, nationalization of rivers is a mission wedded to the mission of the roadmap of the economic progress of the nation. Nationalisation of rivers is aimed to create a vast, efficient, low-cost channel of transport throughout the nation. Nationalisation of rivers, to the Centre, means building dams and irrigation networks for agriculture and drinking water purposes. More water will mean higher agricultural growth and higher GDP. This objective would sound like music to the ears of those forces in Karnataka that have been batting for the diversion of the waters from the Mandovi basin for irrigation and drinking water needs in certain parts of that state. And the central government would find it difficult not to sympathize with them, for what does ‘nationalisation’ of rivers mean if not sharing of the waters between states to end water scarcity? Nationalisation could also mean setting of hydroelectric plants using rivers. Nationalisation of rivers could also mean developing industries on river banks to boost economic growth. And the Modi government stands for interlinking of rivers. Goa would have to take its position on the issue in case the nationalization implies an ease of pursuing the goal of interlinking rivers. Goa has to weigh in this and other such ideas of the central government which may be pursued purportedly ‘in national interest’ to assess how it would impact the waters in its rivers. Already, Goa is fighting with Karnataka over diversion of the Mhadei waters, because it will adversely impact the downstream flow to the small state, causing concerns to the ecology and livelihoods. Whether Goa will accept the ideas of dams on and industries along the rivers or the interlinking project should be clear from the outset.