Saturday’s attempt at enforce bandh in Hubbali-Dharwad, Belgavi, Bengaluru and some other parts of Karnataka by local farmers and other groups was a high point of the agitation they have been carrying on for months for forcing Goa to accept their demand of diversion of water from the Kalasa nullah to the river Malaprabha. Less than a fortnight ago, at Kanakumbi village in Belgavi district in Karnataka, a mob tried to open the vents of the canal, which was constructed by the Karnataka government to divert water from the Kalasa nullah to the river Malaprabha but closed at the orders of the Mahadayi River Waters Dispute Tribunal. Goa opposes the diversion as the state is going to suffer diminution in the volume of waters in the Mhadei available to it. About 13 years, the Karnataka government tried to implement a project of drawing water from Kalasa and Banduri nallahs for the drinking water and irrigation needs of Hubballi-Dharwad and surrounding villages.
Saturday’s bandh had a tacit support from the Karnataka state government. Chief Minister Siddaramaih must not let mobs take over the issue. He recently led an all-party delegation to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi to seek his intervention to get Goa to agree on the Kalasa-Banduri diversion. However, the Prime Minister decided not to intervene, perhaps owing to the tough stand of the Goa government against reaching any out-of-tribunal settlement. Karnataka argues that the total water available in the Mhadei basin is about 200 tmcft and quotes a report by the Central Water Board in support of it. Based on this argument, Karnataka has been arguing that diversion of 7.5 tmcft of water from the Kalasa-Banduri nallah, which is in the Mhadei basin, to the Malaprabha river would not reduce the volume of Mhadei water flowing into Goa. However, Goa’s argument is that the water available in the Mhadei basin is only 80 tmcft and the diversion will cause adverse impact on the water availability to Goa as well as on the environment in the catchment area.
It was utterly reprehensible to note that the agitators in some pockets targeted cars with Goa registration number plates. They even targeted BJP local representatives. It was clear that BJP men were targeted because there is BJP government in Goa. The government of Karnataka must ensure that the agitation does not turn into an ethnic or political violence. The issue should not be allowed to degenerate into street reactions of groups of people in the two neighbouring states. Disputes over distribution of waters from a river that flows through several states are not uncommon. All states have faced this problem. Water is an explosive issue for farmers and urban consumers. However, it is the responsibility of the state governments to keep emotional outbursts under check. The dispute must be resolved through a legal process which is acceptable to both the parties.
We can understand the popular pressure Chief Minister Siddaramaih has to face. It is not only he, all political parties and leaders of Karnataka are facing the pressure. The agitation is being organized by a number of farmers’ organizations such as the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Hasiru Sene, Raitha-Karmikara Sangha and Karnataka Pranth Raitha Sangha. They have been joined by regional organizations such as Karnataka Rakshana Vedike. The state units of all political parties are supporting the agitators. Former Karnataka chief minister and Janata Dal (secular) leader H D Kumaraswamy is trying to meet Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar to represent the demand of the people of his state. A few weeks ago, a delegation of lawyers from north Karnataka met Parsekar to appeal to him to accept an out-of-tribunal settlement on the Kalasa-Banduri nallah project. The desperation growing among the farmers and residents of the concerned areas is a matter of growing concern in the state.
Siddaramaih says he is going to call upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi again for his intervention for setting up tripartite talks between Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra to resolve the issue. Siddaramaih should not try that route, because he knows that tripartite talks are not possible, because Goa has outrightly rejected the idea. No purpose will be served by Siddaramaih portraying it as a Congress vs BJP issue. The stand of Goa would not have been different if it had a non-BJP government. The interests of the state are secular and non-partisan. Goa continues to maintain a very fair stance on the issue of the Kalasa-Banduri diversion. It says the issue must be resolved by the Mahadayi River Waters Dispute Tribunal. The best course for Siddaramaih is to move an interim petition before the tribunal, seeking the judge’s urgent intervention on the diversion issue. Once the subject is taken up on an urgent basis by the tribunal, the situation in Karnataka will defuse. The respect for judiciary remains very strong in our country; so whatever the tribunal’s verdict, people of both the states will accept it.