Goa cannot afford to let Karnataka get away with water diversion
Goa expected Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar to explain why his ministry had issued an approval to Karnataka for diversion of the Mhadei water but he evaded all media questions with regard to that during his visit to the state on Sunday. He refused to comment saying the matter of diversion of the Mhadei water was sub judice. His statement that Chief Minister Pramod Sawant would be a better person to answer questions on the issue only brought the matter to square one, as Sawant had himself raised the issue with Javadekar when he had issued the approval to Karnataka. It is surprising to note that Javadekar, whose ministry has given consent to Karnataka to carry on with the water diversion work for “drinking purposes”, chose to ignore questions on the Mhadei.
Javadekar was in Goa to dispel negative notions among farmers about three newly enacted laws on agricultural reforms. By refusing to give a clear-cut assurance to Goans in general and Goan farmers in particular on the diversion of waters upstream by Karnataka Javadekar ignored the fact that the Mhadei is vital for agriculture and related activities as well as ecology of Goa. He should have used the opportunity to assure categorically that the Mhadei would continue to flow in an undiminished manner into Goa, thus helping farmers in the state to carry on with their agricultural activities unaffected. As he had aroused resentment among Goans by tweeting last year about issue of consent by his ministry to Karnataka on diversion of water from the Mhadei basin to meet its drinking water needs, he could have done well to assuage the feelings of Goans about being betrayed on the issue by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre and state. By being evasive on the issue, Javadekar and the BJP have lost an opportunity to come clean on vital issues of Mhadei and environment and strengthened the misgivings that Goans have been having for the last few years.
Javadekar said farmers did not raise objections to the recently enacted laws and went on to claim that the new laws will change the lives of 30 crore farmers in the country, including those in Goa. He also said that a programme started by the Narendra Modi government for testing soil and guiding the farmers accordingly on cropping methods together with new technology, seeds and manure will help increase farm yields. This is not the first time that the central government has held out the promise of changing the lives of farmers and improving their economic standards and perhaps would not be the last. It has to be noted that laws alone will not help bring the envisioned changes. What is required is reshaping laws and policies to accommodate the concerns of the farmers. There should be no dispute about the main objectives of laws and policies: the farmers must produce more and they must get a reasonable price for their produce. As agriculture has been the only sector to do well during the coronavirus pandemic, it is necessary that it is given the proper direction to make both the producers and consumers of farm produce happy.
It is an irony that while the central government is trying to give a boost to agriculture, it has allowed Karnataka to divert the water from the Mhadei basin, which could lead to crippling of the Mhadei and eventually to its demise. The central and state authorities have to realise that “Empowerment of Farmers”, the theme of Javadekar’s Goa address, might sound hollow in the shadow of the threat that the Mhadei might cease to exist because of the central government favouring Karnataka for political expediency. It is necessary that the central and the state governments join hands to ensure that farmers in Goa continue to use the water from the Mhadei by allowing its uninterrupted flow into the state. Karnataka managed to make inter-basin transfer from the Mhadei basin to the Malaprabha basin during the lockdown by tampering with the Kalasa river bed gradient. A great responsibility lies on the shoulders of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant to mobilise all-party support to exert influence on the central government to save the lifeline of Goa.