Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has said that Goa is willing to hold bilateral talks and sympathetically consider Karnataka’s request for sharing water from the Mhadei basin for drinking purposes. This is a change of Goa’s stand on having any bilateral discussion with Karnataka on sharing of Mhadei waters, because all along the state had maintained that the issues relating to sharing of Mhadei waters had to be settled at the Mhadei Water Disputes Tribunal. It was Goa that had appealed to the central government in 2002 to constitute a tribunal to resolve the Mhadei water dispute between Goa and Karnataka. Four years later the central government convened a meeting of chief ministers of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, to resolve the dispute, but Goa stood firm on its demand for constitution of a tribunal and took the matter to the Supreme Court, leaving the central government with no option but to establish a tribunal in 2010.
Even while the hearings at the Tribunal were going on, Karnataka launched certain projects to divert water from the Mhadei river to which Goa objected. Karnataka put out a claim to divert 7.56 tmcft water from the Mahadayi river basin to the Malaprabha river in order to fulfill the drinking water needs of people living in the border regions of north Karnataka. Goa challenged the claim at the Tribunal and on July 27, 2016 the Tribunal rejected Karnataka’s claim. In an angry reaction to the Tribunal rejection, farmers and pro-Kannada groups resorted to violent protests in Navalgund, Hubballi, Belagavi, Mandya, Nargund, Gadag and in several other parts of Karnataka. Normal life was disrupted and schools and colleges were closed. Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah decided to call an all-party meeting in the state to decide on the next course of action. Karnataka’s claim for Mhadei water had been unanimously endorsed in a special resolution in the state Assembly. On the Mhadei water issue, all parties in Karnataka were one, including the Congress and the BJP. Siddaramaiah had tried several times to seek Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to try and resolve the state’s dispute with Goa by calling a meeting with chief ministers of the three stakeholder states of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra.
Prime Minister Modi never obliged Siddaramaiah. Nor did the BJP party president Amit Shah ever care to pay any serious attention to Siddaramaiah’s plea. However, with elections to the Karnataka Assembly due in five months, the Modi-Shah pair has suddenly realized that it was important to persuade Goa to allow Karnataka to divert water from the Mhadei river basin to the Malaprabha river in order to fulfill the drinking water needs of people living in the border regions of north Karnataka. Because that would surely get them votes from those regions, as they can say it was the BJP which got them water and not the state Congress government led by Siddaramaiah. Parrikar’s assurance to sympathetically consider Karnataka’s “request” came after a meeting in Delhi in which Amit Shah and Yeddyurappa were present. Yeddyurappa is the BJP’s chief minister candidate and the party obviously wanted to help him gain a big emotional advantage by persuading Parrikar to assure sympathetic consideration of Karnataka’s request for sharing Mhadei water for drinking purposes.
The shift in Goa’s position will not be taken lightly by Goans at large. Mhadei has been a sensitive issue for Goans and all political parties have fought against Karnataka’s design to divert water from the river’s basin. The decision is likely to create controversy and Parrikar could be accused of trying to help his party win elections in Karnataka at the cost of Goa. The Chief Minister could have avoided the controversy were he to take a collective decision by calling a meeting of all political parties. Parrikar appears to have taken BJP ally the Goa Forward Party on board. Town and Country Planning Minister Vijay Sardessai said his party was opposed to sharing water with Karnataka for irrigation purpose but not for drinking purpose. This is in contrast to WRD Minister Vinod Palyekar who had tweeted that his party’s and ministry’s stand on the Mhadei issue remained unchanged and that they were committed to protect Mhadei and every drop from it. What happened to Goa’s resolve not to make any political settlement with Karnataka on the Mhadei water sharing? Parrikar has denied Goa’s decision was related to BJP’s game to build up support in Karnataka elections. However, BJP realpolitik is out there for anyone to see: something Goa was not prepared to do earlier it is ready to do now. Also notable is this: the assurance by Chief Minister of Goa has been given to BJP leader Yeddyurappa, not to Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah.