The Karnataka government’s decision to take the legal route to seek reversal of the Mhadei River Water Dispute Tribunal’s order denying it the diversion of 7.56 tmcft for the needs of some districts of North Karnataka is wise. It is good to see that the Siddaramaiah government has not played to the populist gallery. The reaction by various groups to the tribunal verdict across North Karnataka was unwarranted, as the matter could not have been solved by rallies, bandhs and violence. It was a matter that could be decided only judicially. The decision to take the legal route was taken at an all-party meeting; so we can hope not to see any outburst of anger on the streets. Karnataka has two options: either to go back to the tribunal to seek a review of its interim order, or go to the Supreme Court in appeal against the tribunal order. Goa would not mind that: for Karnataka being the aggrieved party has every right to seek a review of the order. What Goa dreads is politically motivated and emotionally charged street protests which get directed at Goans and Goan properties, such as private vehicles and public buses.
Karnataka’s decision to seek a legal recourse also suggests that the state has given up its hope on finding a political settlement of the river water dispute. Karnataka had been seeking intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for presiding over a tripartite dialogue between Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. But Goa being averse to an out of court settlement, the matter has not made much headway, as for tripartite dialogue all the three states have to agree to sit across the table. Karnataka made it sound like they wanted a political settlement because the tribunal route could take long to decide on the sharing of Mhadei waters. However, there was also the fear working behind the Karnataka leaders’ mind that the state might not be able to get the 7.56 tmcft it requires for the drinking water needs of the twin cities of Hubbali-Dharwad and the districts of Belgavi and Gadag – a fear that came true with the tribunal interim order. Karnataka had as a matter of fact started work on the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project which was to get Mhadei waters from diversion. It was Goa’s protests that the work was stopped.
Now that the Karnataka government has decided to take legal recourse they should leave the matter in the hands of their team of legal luminaries that includes the celebrated Fali Nariman. Nariman had advised Karnataka on the Krishna and the Cauvery disputes. The state has trust in him; all the political parties of Karnataka have trust in him. So, the government must wait for him to give it advice: whether to approach the tribunal on its interim order under the provisions of the Inter-State Water Dispute Act or move the Supreme Court.
At the same time, however, the Siddaramaiah government must work out alternative plans for finding solutions to the drinking water problems of the twin cities of Hubbali-Dharwad and the districts of Belgavi and Gadag. The scenario the state government needs to work on is the one that would obtain if the tribunal interim order is not revised by the tribunal and is upheld by the Supreme Court. According to an official report, the Karnataka government in partnership with the World Bank has been able to provide 24/7 water supply to about 200,000 people in Belgaum, Gulbarga, and Hubbali-Dharwad (roughly 10% of the population of these areas). The ambitious World Bank-supported Karnataka Urban Water Sector Improvement Project (KUWASIP) initiated reforms in the water supply and sanitation sector and has demonstrated that it is possible to provide urban dwellers with safe water supply at sufficient pressure for 24 hours a day, seven days a week – something very few cities in India are able to do. The continuous water supply was made possible by bringing into service new water distribution pipes and making new household connections with high-quality links (ferrules) to the distribution network to avoid leakages. New meters were installed in all households and there was full metering of bulk water supply. Three types of water connections were offered, in response to the needs expressed by customers: a single standalone tap in the front yard of the property, a direct connection to the internal plumbing of the house, and a connection into the ground-level tank of the property. The Karnataka government ensured the supply of the required quantity of water from the reservoirs. If the Karnataka government can do it for one-tenth of the population in the concerned areas without Mhadei waters why can’t they do it for the rest of the population?