WA­TER WARS

The BJP’s at­tempt to force a deal in the decades-old Ma­ha­dayi wa­ter-shar­ing dis­pute has left peo­ple in both states an­gry

India Today - - STATES - By Ki­ran D. Tare and Aravind Gowda

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.

AFP

NO SHAR­ING File photo of a protest held in Ben­galuru in De­cem­ber against the Ma­ha­dayi wa­ter tri­bunal

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