Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s assurance in a letter to state BJP president B S Yeddyurappa of sympathetically considering Karnataka’s request for allowing it to draw water from the Mhadei basin for drinking water purposes in its northern districts seems to be leading nowhere with Karnataka Chief Minister K Siddaramaiah demanding that the Goa government file an affidavit before the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal pledging to release 7.56 tcmft of Mhadei water if it was serious about helping his state meet the drinking water needs of northern districts. The next hearing on the Mhadei water dispute is likely to be in February 2018. Siddaramaiah’s point is that Goa Chief Minister’s letter to Yeddyurappa would not hold water before the Tribunal. Quite expectedly, Goa’s offer has got into a political tangle. Siddaramaih has been quick to point out that protocol required that the Goa Chief Minister should have written to him and not to the head of the opposition party on an inter-state issue.
In May last Yeddyurappa had taken the responsibility of bringing the BJP chief ministers of Goa and Maharashtra together to work toward resolving the Mhadei water sharing dispute through negotiations between the three concerned states. Yeddyurappa’s move would have had some meaning if he had also tried his best to get the elected government of Karnataka engaged in tripartite talks on the river dispute. Tripartite dialogue was something that Siddaramaih had been trying for quite some time. Yeddyurappa made his move look even more partisan by criticizing the Siddaramaih government for failing to get Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call the three concerned states for a solution. Yeddyurappa should have used his good offices to appeal to the Prime Minister to call a tripartite meeting. Siddaramaiah has argued that he had always wanted negotiation with Goa and had written a letter to Manohar Parrikar expressing his willingness to hold parleys to resolve the issue but failed to get any response. Siddaramaiah regretted that Parrikar made a public statement that he was not ready for any talks until the Assembly elections were over in Karnataka and Yeddyurappa became the chief minister. What would happen in case the BJP fails to get a majority in Karnataka? Will the Goa government withdraw its assurance?
Goa’s stand on the Mhadei dispute has always been that it would like a legal resolution. All pressures and requests from various sections of Karnataka, including political parties, had not been able to make Goa change the stance. Parrikar insists that he would not allow Goa’s interest to be compromised on the water sharing. However, his new position, as apparent from his letter to Yeddyurappa, was that the state was ready for talks about drinking water only within the parameters of the Tribunal and that there was no need of giving any further explanation to the leaders of Congress who are making a hue and cry on the issue. The state has been fighting for protecting its interests since 2000 when it fought for setting up of a tribunal and the dispute is in advanced stage before the MWDT and the state is hoping to get a favourable verdict. The opposition parties and civil society groups feel that any change on the stand of the state could jeopardize its chances of winning the case. Besides, the huge amount spent on litigation to protect its interests would go down the drain.
It is clear from the claims and counter claims in Karnataka that the letter from Parrikar to Yeddyurappa has become a source of political slugfest in the neighbouring state, rather than opening any new channel for inter-state dialogue on the issues. For all his stated good intentions, Parrikar’s letter to Yeddyurappa has found its place in the list of political targets of the Congress in Karnataka in the election season. As the decision of the Tribunal may not come before the Assembly elections, it does not matter to the BJP whether the letter is taken on record by the Tribunal. While politicians have every right to use all tactics to win elections, it would be unfair for any political party to use emotive issues to garner votes and then let the people down. Both the main parties in the race for power, the Congress for retaining it and the BJP for gaining it once again, should desist from politicking on issues such as of drinking water for a large population in Hubli, Belgavi and other districts of Karnataka. Any solution should be found on grounds of rationality and justice to the peoples and governments of both the states.