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Mhadei Verdict: Where Goa Needs To Act

The Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal in its verdict on Tuesday allowed Karnataka to utilise 13.4 thousand million cubic (TMC) feet of water from the river, while Goa got 24 TMC feet. The tribunal has allowed Karnataka to divert 2.18 TMC feet for the Bhandura dam and 1.72 TMC feet for the Kalsa dam, subject to conditions. In addition, Karnataka has been allowed 8.02 TMC feet for its Mahadayi Hydroelectric Project. Around 40 per cent of Karnataka’s demand for 36.55 TMC water has been met, while Goa got only 20 per cent of its demand of 122 TMC feet. The Goa government has hailed the tribunal verdict, but the opposition sees it as the state’s failure to get what was due. The Karnataka government has said their state has not been given full justice by the tribunal.

There are certain questions that need to be answered satisfactorily by the Goa government. The tribunal observed that Goa failed to conclusively place data on utilisation of the waters of the Mhadei River basin. The tribunal’s estimation of Goa’s water requirement, based on the responses of the Goa government to Karnataka’s interrogatories, was that Goa’s existing utilisation was 9.395 TMC feet. The tribunal said the Goa government did not contest its estimate; so they assumed it was accepted. Though Goa’s legal team claimed they had put up a foolproof defence to prevent diversion of water from the Mhadei basin, the tribunal observed that Goa failed to establish through scientific studies that any diversion of water outside the basin would adversely impact water resources including groundwater resources, river morphology, agriculture, irrigation and navigation. Goa also failed to establish conclusively through scientific studies that the impact of climate change and global warming would adversely impact the water resources of the Mhadei basin and consequently impact all related issues like river morphology, agriculture and irrigation. The tribunal also found faults with the profile of the identified 59 project sites, presented through detailed project reports by Goa, noting that they cannot be considered as “detailed project reports” as they are not based on requisite field investigations and studies. These were some of the key reasons why Goa could not stop Karnataka getting water for diversion as well as the Mahadayi Hydroelectric Project.

Of course, Goa does not own the Mhadei river and Karnataka deserves to get its due share of the waters. However, the question staring in Goa’s eye is whether the share given to Karnataka was far more than Goa can afford without endangering the survival of the Mandovi river and the ecological coordinates linked to the river. Goa needs to go back to work again. The government should arm itself with relevant data and scientific proofs to make a fresh case. Goa cannot let its core interests arising from the Mhadei river be buried after the award. The state should either go in for appeal before the Supreme Court against the tribunal order on its own or prepare a more solid and demanding defence, filling all the major lacunae pointed out by the tribunal.

As the Goa government had promised they would not allow the Mhadei water to be diverted, they need to prove their commitment to this cause. If immediate action is not taken by the state authorities, Goans would have to wait until 2048 when the award could be revised or reviewed. Political parties should cease seeing the tribunal verdict with their partisan lens. It is very rare to find the main opposition party welcoming a verdict and the government of the day expressing unhappiness over it. But it has happened in Karnataka. Karnataka BJP president B S Yeddyurappa was the first to welcome the tribunal verdict. But the ministers of the JD(S)-Congress government in the state described the verdict as ‘partial victory’ and vowed to fight for fulfilment of their demand for ‘adequate share’ of the Mhadei river waters. As the main opposition party, the BJP in Karnataka was expected to use the opportunity to lampoon and lambast the JD(s)-Congress government for failing to get the state justice. The fact that they are not doing it might suggest that the BJP does not want to join Karnataka’s ‘partial victory’ brigades as that could bring pressure on them to get the ‘deserving share’ through the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And that could acquire a negative traction for the Modi 2019 campaign if Modi would fail to get them the ‘deserving share’, which is more likely. However, Goa’s BJP-led government should not sacrifice Goa’s interests for any political gain.

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