Karnataka has been playing unfair to Goa on the issue of distribution of Mhadei waters all along. Despite Goa’s opposition, it has been trying to build barrages across the Kalasa and the Bhanduri tributaries of the Mhadei river to divert 7.6 tmc (thousand million cubic) feet of water to the Malaprabha river ostensibly for supplying drinking water to Belagavi, Dharwad and Gadag districts. Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah led an all-party delegation from his state to Delhi to seek Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention on Monday to make Goa accept the diversion of Mhadei river water from Kalasa and Bhanduri tributaries to the Malaprabha river. Siddaramaiah had hoped Modi would take favourable action as even the Karnataka BJP was a part of the delegation. However, he was disappointed as Modi gave them no commitment.
It would have been wrong on the part of Modi in any case to intervene. The issue required a consensus among Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra that are party to the Mhadei river water dispute. The whole dispute is being heard by a tribunal. On the sub-issue of Karnataka’s Kalasa-Bhanduri water diversion project the Supreme Court and the Karnataka High Court have restrained Karnataka from going on with its construction. What Siddaramaiah was seeking from the Prime Minister was an intervention by him to bring about an out-of-court settlement on the issue. Modi showed no willingness to do that. Just how much unwilling he was also became apparent from the fact that he did not discuss the issue at all with Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar who met him on Tuesday. Parsekar has already made it clear that Goa was not interested in any out-of-court settlement with Karnataka on the issue.
Stalling the Kalasa-Bhanduri project is very important to Goa, because it is going to affect the overall availability of Mhadei waters and hence reduce its share. The Mhadei river is 77 km long, with 52 km (over 67%) flowing through Goa. It springs from the Bhimgad hills in the Belgavi district in the Western Ghats, so the larger part of its catchment area is in Karnataka. When negotiations failed, Goa made a request to the Union water resources ministry in 2002 for constitution of a tribunal for adjudication and decision of the dispute regarding sharing of the Mhadei river waters. The issues mentioned in the request included the assessment of available utilisable water resources in the basin at various points and allocation of this water to the three basin states of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra, keeping in view the priority of the use of water within the basin. The then Union water resources minister convened a meeting of the chief ministers of the three states on April 4, 2006; however, Goa did not show much interest in negotiations as they were not favourable to it. Finding the ministry not inclined to set up a tribunal as it wanted, the government of Goa filed a suit in the Supreme Court in September 2006 for setting up of a water dispute tribunal for adjudication of the Mhadei river water dispute. Eventually, the central government was forced to set up a tribunal in 2010.
Karnataka started building barrages across the Kalasa and Bhanduri claiming it was beyond the jurisdiction of the Mhadei tribunal. The tribunal imposed an interim ban on the construction. However, Karnataka resumed work, showing no respect to the interim ban. Goa filed a suit in the Supreme Court seeking to stop Karnataka and succeeded in its effort. Karnataka did not comply with the apex court order and went on with the construction of the project. Goa regularly filed its reports on the violations by Karnataka with the tribunal. In March 2013, the Karnataka High Court directed the Karnataka government to stop constructing a canal at Kalasa-Bhanduri to divert the Haltar rivulet of the Mhadei river to the Malprabha river on the ground that the canal work was affecting forests and the state government had not obtained clearances from the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) and the National Board for Wildlife for the project. This stoppage was based not on a complaint from Goa government but on a petition filed by a Belgavi-based ex-armyman Ravindra Saini.
It is not only Karnataka; even Maharashtra started building a dam in Virdi to divert 3 tmc feet of water from the villages of the Mhadei basin to the villages of the Tillari river basin. The intentions of both the large cats Karnataka and Maharashtra are clear: leave very little for the small cat Goa. The whole problem is the Mhadei tribunal’s work is very slow. The tribunal must compel the bigger states to quickly respond and comply to resolve the dispute fast. In order to ensure that the compliance of its decision is hundred per cent, it must direct setting up a machinery to implement it.