IN one of his best masques, ‘Arcades’, John Milton wrote in reference to the countess: “…such sweet compulsion doth in music lie, To lull the daughters of Necessity, And keep unsteady Nature to her law, and the low world in measured motion draw…” Milton accepts the compulsive forces that act on mankind when confronted with necessities.
Last fortnight, we saw a spectacular revisit to Milton’s views on the subject of sharing the Mhadei waters with Karnataka for “drinking purposes” ahead of the Karnataka assembly elections. The subject matter, which has been with the juridical machinery Mhadei Water Disputes Tribunal for seven years with the consistent view that a settlement has to come through this tribunal and not through any bilateral talks, suddenly ‘talks’ became Milton’s ‘sweet music’, to the ears of both parties and an understanding of sorts seems to have been advanced!
Project to destroy a river
Before I proceed further I will just in a nutshell recapitulate who is where. As is common knowledge, from around two decades back, the Karnataka government had been working on dams and canals for the diversion of around 7.5 tmcft of the Mhadei (our Mandovi) waters through a certain canal project at Kalasa and Banduri in north Karnataka on to the Malaprabha basin in Karnataka to meet drinking water requirements there. As is the case here, Karnataka being at upstream on Mandovi, actions of diversion of water would hit water flow downstream in Goa. So, on Goa’s valid objections to Karnataka’s upstream actions, the Mhadei Water Disputes Tribunal was instituted in 2010 under the Interstate River Water Disputes Act 1956 where the case now rests. The tribunal is hearing all three states affected – Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa – and will adjudicate on the demands and finally come out with its orders, perhaps also with a certain water sharing formula.
Goa’s case has been that the Mhadei basin essentially is deficient and if water is lifted upstream it would have tremendous adverse ecological fallouts on general ecology, reserved forests, drinking water and on agriculture en route.
On the other hand, Karnataka has been trying to make out that there is significant surplus available in the Mandovi after meeting Goa’s requirements and therefore they look for diversion of a portion of the ‘surplus’ for the dry areas of north Karnataka primarily for “drinking water” purposes. The case is still on.
Meanwhile, last fortnight the Goa government at the behest of the BJP national president and the BJP Karnataka president have reportedly agreed to consider sympathetically sharing Mhadei water with Karnataka for drinking purposes.
I have taken a close look at the subject as an unbiased citizen, and I make some observations here.
How does a case which is already under the juridical mechanism, open itself to meddling by a political party? If at all, an out-of-court settlement would be the task for the governments – central or state. Just where does the BJP or any political party fit into this under the Constitution of India? I invariably get a bit of nostalgia of the good old 1970s where the Congress party, the executive and the constitutional bodies all turned into a delicious cocktail of sorts, with hardly a line dividing the three! Even if we, for argument’s sake, submit an affidavit before the tribunal, what do we say? Yes, we were indeed deficient seven years back, now we have become surplus and will be happy to part with the Mandovi basin waters to Karnataka in view of compulsions of the state elections there?
‘Loving thy neighbour’ is an excellent idea, and giving him water to drink is even better. But let us look at this: in its interim orders in July 2016, the tribunal was not at all convinced of Karnataka’s contentions of water being surplus at the Mhadei basin: the whole of the basin or at the lifting points. How does Goa now fit into this? If we can afford to give 7.5 tmcft today or say in April or May (the peak deficient period) won’t it mean we are in fact surplus?
Monitoring water sharing
Another point is that we have been reportedly maintaining that the shortage which the Malaprabha basin in Karnataka faces is actually a result of inappropriate management of water resources and its application there. Will that still hold now as we have agreed to part with our water?
There are several important aspects in water sharing. The sharing would statedly be for “drinking purposes” only. Can we afford adequate systems of monitoring, control, manpower and costs thereof for compliance and verification of end-use?
Mammoth condominiums are coming up in Goa and groundwater levels are consistently and progressively depleting. I wonder whether all of tomorrow’s water requirements have been factored in. Once we share water, it would not be easy to lay hands on sound logics to discontinue later on. And I only hope that forward plans exist in the worst, best and likely scenarios.
I may remind here in another recent intervention – the tribunal has actually refused to issue stop work orders on the Kalasa-Banduri project. So to that extent we have to be very cautious in our approach. In my view, the subject is still wide open
Moreover the Union government has already initiated the process of merging these individual river tribunals and putting in place a single central tribunal to adjudicate on all river disputes centrally. That calls for further uncertainties, which to me, would have been best avoided at this late stage!
And lastly, as I keep saying, we lack suitable coherent communication systems. You get to see different ministries here speaking in different tones on the subject giving rise to doubts in citizens’ minds – it’s woeful!
Yes, Milton’s compulsions in ‘Arcades’ were real, so are a politician’s. The true test of governance, however, in my view is managing compulsions with consistent efficiency on all agenda of stakeholders!