Let apex court decide on the state’s plea on Mhadei
C T Ravi, the new Goa Desk in-charge of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has said that Karnataka and Goa will follow the verdict of the Supreme Court on the issue of sharing the Mhadei waters. The statement is nothing but a platitude, as it is obvious that the Supreme Court verdict has to be abided by both the states. The problem has been that Karnataka has not been following the rulings of the Supreme Court and the water dispute tribunal, which has been Goa’s persistent grievance over the years. Ravi, who is from Karnataka said that BJP being a national party, both the states were equally important to it. However, Goans have not forgotten the discrimination and bias the Karnataka BJP has shown in the dispute. They have also not forgotten the violence that erupted after the verdict went against Karnataka; so it remains to be seen whether Karnataka will respect the Supreme Court verdict gracefully. Goa and Karnataka have been in dispute over sharing of the River Mhadei waters for over two decades. Maharashtra, another neighbouring state, is the third state in the dispute. Though the Centre had tried to resolve the issue through the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal, which heard the matter over years and passed an order on the quantum of water to be shared by the neighbours, the verdict did not find favour with the disputants.
The River Mhadei has been the lifeline for Goa. Goans have opposed any move to divert water from the Mhadei basin to the Malaprabha basin (which Karnataka wants and has been pursuing unjustifiably) on the ground that any such diversion would affect the flow of water and subsequently lead to serious ecological damage downstream for Goa. Karnataka wants to divert water from the Mhadei basin through canals and connect them to the Malaprabha on the plea of meeting water requirements of the people of Dharwad district. Though there have been no approvals for the works on construction of canals, Karnataka has not cared for the processes and gone ahead with the works. It needs to be recalled that during the last Assembly elections in Karnataka, the then BJP state campaign leader and now Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa had with the help of the BJP national leadership got a letter from the late Manohar Parrikar who was then Goa’s chief minister saying Goa had no objection to Karnataka using the Mhadei waters for drinking water purposes. However, Yeddyurappa used it to gain political advantage during the elections.
When the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal passed an interim order in June 2016, violence erupted in several parts of Karnataka after the tribunal rejected its plea for release of 7.5 tmc of water. Several vehicles from Goa, including a few Kadamba Transport Corporation buses were burnt by irate Karnataka farmers. The central government has been more accommodating to the demands of Karnataka as it sends 29 MPs compared to 2 from Goa. There have been gestures from BJP leaders from Karnataka to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant to settle the dispute amicably. One such move was made in September last year when Union Minister for Coal Prahlad Joshi urged Sawant to meet Yeddyurappa and settle the dispute. It is worth remembering that in 2016 Joshi had said that the interim verdict of the water dispute tribunal was not acceptable to the people of Karnataka.
The Mhadei issue has been pending before the apex court for quite some time. Goa has sought courtroom hearing of the matter and an earlier settlement. Goa had put up scientific evidence before the apex court as well as the tribunal to convince them why diversion of water from the Mhadei basin should not be allowed. Rajendra Arlekar, a senior BJP leader has suggested a negotiated settlement between the two states. Most Goans are apprehensive of the motives of Karnataka politicians seeking an amicable settlement as it could leave scope for manipulations and lead to further legal battles. The best option for the state would be to seek justice from the apex court. Negotiations may be weighted against Goa in the long shadow of politics, especially as the past and present approach of the central government’s ministries has been to favour Karnataka.