The attempt on Saturday at Kanakumbi village in Belgavi district in Karnataka by a group of local farmers 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, came as a part of the continuing agitation by the state’s farmers’ organizations to put pressure on the state government to implement the diversion project immediately. Goa must maintain constant vigilance to prevent the reopening of the canal, as the state is going to suffer in terms of reduction in the volume of waters in the Mhadei. The Mhadei river water distribution problem is more than three decades’ old. In 1989, Goa entered into an MoU with Karnataka for sharing of the Mhadei river waters, but neither government zealously pursued the matter to sort out distribution issues. Then in 2002, the Karnataka government drew up a project of drawing water from Kalasa and Banduri nallahs for the drinking water and irrigation needs of Hubballi-Dharwad and surrounding villages. The project was approved by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). However, Goa raised objections on the ground that the state was going to suffer.
The issue has triggered a mass agitation in the concerned areas of Belgavi, Hubbali and Dharwad districts. Several districts in north Karnataka and Hubballi-Dhawad city heavily depend on the river Malaprabha to meet their water requirements. Over the years, the water level in the Malaprabha has been falling owing to natural factors, including scanty rainfall. The people living in these areas are relying on the expediting of the Kalasa-Banduri nala project for the solution to their water problems. There is an atmosphere of desperation among them. Farmers’ organizations such as the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Hasiru Sene, Raitha-Karmikara Sangha and Karnataka Pranth Raitha Sangha have been joined by partisan regional organizations such as Karnataka Rakshana Vedike. The state units of all political parties are supporting the agitators. Members of farmers’ organisations are taking out rallies and blocking roads.
It is hard not to sympathize with them. Their water needs are legitimate. However, the solution is not what they are seeking. At least not until the tribunal pronounces its verdict. The agitators are asking for an out-of-court settlement, which cannot be acceptable to Goa as the fundamental issue can be resolved only by the tribunal. 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 claims that the diversion of 7.5 tmcft of water from the Kalasa-Banduri nallah, which is the Mhadei basin, to the Malaprabha river would not adversely affect the availability of water in the Mhadei river. Goa refutes the Karnataka argument, saying the water available in the Mhadei is only 80 tmcft. How can this be resolved unless the tribunal examines both the claims with the help of authentic data and expert scientific perspective?
A few days ago, a delegation of lawyers from north Karnataka came to see Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar and persuade him to accept an out-of-tribunal settlement on the Kalasa-Banduri nallah project. They apprised him of the desperation growing among the farmers and residents of the concerned areas. The lawyers’ effort was a part of the initiatives by concerned persons in Karnataka to try and resolve the problem. Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaih 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.
There have been efforts even in the past to get Goa along. Soon after the BJP came to power in Goa in 2012, there were moves by Karnataka, which too had a BJP-led government then, to resolve the issue. But the issue has not been resolved politically, regardless of which party was in power in Goa or Karnataka, because the interests of the state and people of Goa are above narrow political interests and cannot be compromised. Parsekar has maintained the uncompromising stand. He must stick to his stand. At the same time the people and farmers of Goa should also get organized and hold out peaceful rallies in order to send out a message to the agitators in Karnataka that Goans have full sympathy with the agitating farmers but they have a justified reason to oppose the Kalasa-Banduri diversion.