The BJP’s attempt to force a deal in the decades-old Mahadayi water-sharing dispute has left people in both states angry
BJP president Amit Shah’s attempt to force a settlement of the two-decade-old water dispute between Goa and Karnataka ahead of the assembly elections in the southern state seems to be backfiring.
Coming in the wake of a December 21, 2017, meeting between Manohar Parrikar and Karnataka BJP chief B.S. Yeddyurappa—at the instance of Shah—the Goa chief minister’s proposal to release 7.56 TMC ft of water from the Mahadayi river to Karnataka is being vociferously opposed, not just by voluntary groups but also members of Goa’s tenuous coalition government. Yeddyurappa let the ‘politics’ of the move out of the bag in pointing out that the additional water would “end the thirst” in north Karnataka, where the BJP hopes to make major gains in the coming polls. The water issue can influence poll outcomes in at least 25 out of the 224 assembly seats in Karnataka, where elections are due in May.
Originating in Karnataka, the Mahadayi flows 78 per cent of its course as the Mandovi in Goa, where some 43 per cent of the state’s population depends on the river for its drinking water needs. While Parrikar has claimed that the decision will not compromise Goa’s interests, his coalition partners, particularly the leadership of the Goa Forward Party (GFP)—whose support is critical to the incumbent government—are evidently not convinced. “Mandovi (Mahadayi) is the only water resource for our state. We won’t compromise with the people’s interest,” says GFP leader and the state’s water resources minister Vinod Palyekar.
Former Goa advocate-general Atmaram Nadkarni believes there’s a more sinister design. The real issue, he says, is not north Karnataka’s drinking water needs but the neighbouring state’s plan to construct eight upstream dams on the Mahadayi. “If they construct those dams, not a drop of water will percolate down to Goa,” says Nadkarni, who is representing his state at the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal. He also argues that north Karnataka’s Belgaum district is already water surplus with its 22 rivers. Joining the clamour, the Mahadayi Bachao Abhiyan, a coalition of Goa-based environmentalists, warns that Karnataka’s plan to divert the river water would sound the death knell
The water issue can influence poll outcomes in 25 of the 224 seats in Karnataka. Polls are due in May
for five major sanctuaries in the state. They say the Mahadayi, Bondla, Mahavir, Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary and the Mollen National Park will be imperilled.
The dispute over the Mahadayi river dates back to the 1980s when the Malaprabha dam failed to provide enough irrigation to farmland in its command area. The Water Resources Development Organisation (WRDO) has reported a 17 TMC ft deficit from the dam. Karnataka has been demanding 7.56 TMC ft since 2002 but Goa has refused to comply, leading to the establishment of the tribunal in November 2010.
Besides the storm of protests in Goa, the BJP is facing significant flak in Karnataka too. Although Yeddyurappa held out Goa CM Parrikar’s December 2017 letter as proof that the dispute had been “resolved”, there has been growing criticism since nothing has changed on the ground. In fact, thousands of angry farmers picketed BJP’s Bengaluru office through the last week of December, accusing Yeddyurappa of “misleading” them.
Quick to seize the opportunity, Karnataka’s Congress leadership accused “Parrikar and Yeddyurappa of enacting a drama ahead of the assembly polls” in the state. “The farmers have caught his (Yeddyurappa’s) lie,” chief minister Siddaramaiah scoffed. Joining in the rumpus, Janata Dal (Secular) leaders, led by former CM H.D. Kumaraswamy, have also accused the BJP of “betraying” the state’s farmers. Though unnerved by the furore, Yeddyurappa, on January 11, claimed that Karnataka’s Congress leaders were “deliberately politicising” an issue that had been amicably resolved with the help of Parrikar.
NO SHARING File photo of a protest held in Bengaluru in December against the Mahadayi water tribunal