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A Challenge To Goa

State must force MoEF&CC to withdraw approval to Kalasa-Banduri project

Goa’s battle for the Mhadei is not yet over. The central government has taken a decision which goes against the interests of Goa. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has granted environmental clearance for the Kalasa-Banduri project by which Karnataka plans to divert water from the Mhadei basin to the three north Karnataka districts of Belagavi, Gadag and Dharwad for irrigation and water. The project has always been opposed by Goa. The matter was argued in the Mhadei dispute tribunal and the Supreme Court, and Goa had succeeded in getting directives issued to the Karnataka government not to go ahead with the project. The River Mhadei is the lifeline of Goa; diversion of its water upstream would have far-reaching consequences on the ecology and cause water shortage in the state. The decision to accord clearance was announced by Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar on his tweeter handle. Javadekar’s tweet came as a surprise to the Goa government as it was not consulted on the subject. The ministry has given approval after representation by ministers from Karnataka.

The decision of the MoEF&CC is unilateral. A project that failed to get clearance from the Mhadei Inter-state Water Dispute Tribunal, the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal cannot be given approval by the MoEF&CC. The grounds on which it was not cleared by the  Supreme Court and the NGT have not vanished. The approval by the MoEF&CC is political. The governments at the Centre and in Karnataka and Goa are led by the BJP. It is obvious that the BJP unit of the larger state has succeeded in getting the favour of the central government. But the central government has to remember that a small state cannot be treated with disrespect. Its interests cannot be crushed under the feet of the interests of the larger state. The final decision on the sharing of the Mhadei waters was given by the Inter-state Water Dispute Tribunal in August 2018. The tribunal allocated 13.42 thousand million cubic feet of water to Karnataka, ending almost two decades of litigation. The MoEF&CC has bypassed the directions of statutory authorities in approving the controversial project.

Karnataka had been bent upon diverting the Mhadei waters for long. The diversion was first planned way back in 1970 to feed the Malaprabha River and store water in the Navilatirtha dam in the Dharwad district. The project, put on the backburner for various reasons, was revived in 2002 when S M Krishna was the chief minister of Karnataka. The move was opposed by the then chief minister of Goa Manohar Parrikar. The Goa government approached the Supreme Court seeking cancellation of the project citing ecological reasons. Finally, the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal was formed. The tribunal by an interim order rejected Karnataka’s plea for diverting 7.56 tmc ft of water. Karnataka erupted in violence following the tribunal rejection. Despite the orders of the statutory authorities, the Karnataka government went on funding and working on the Kalasa-Banduri project. The Goa government and the Mhadei Bachao Andolan, the non-government organization that has been fighting to save the Mhadei, succeeded in blocking the Karnataka government’s illegal works on the project. Goa’s argument has been that if Karnataka is allowed to divert water from the Mhadei basin, nearly 700 hectares of forest will be submerged in water and 60,000 trees will be lost. It will cause irreparable environmental damage to many parts of Goa.

The Goa government has to act fast to force the central government to withdraw its approval to the Kalasa-Banduri project. The central government’s decision is obviously to do with the political games the BJP is engaged in vis-à-vis the Congress and JD(S) in Karnataka. Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa is the happiest person today. Even before the elections to the Karnataka Assembly he had made the then BJP president Amit Shah to put pressure on the then chief minister of Goa Manohar Parrikar to write a letter to him giving him assurance that Goa would not oppose “in principle” sharing water with Karnataka for drinking purpose. This is a trial of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s leadership. He has to come out successful in blocking the Kalasa-Banduri project.

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