The latest victory of Mhadei Bachao Abhiyan (MBA), who spearheaded the movement against Karnataka and Maharashtra’s move for diversion of water from Mhadei river-located in the Western Ghat region- in the Supreme Court, is evident that Goa is on a right path in its battle to protect its river and its water. Karnataka, which had proposed construction of 11 dams across river Mhadei, has assured Court that it will not undertake any construction work of the Kalsa-Bhandura project in Kankumbi- a move which could give a major boost to state’s long pending fight before the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal (MWDT).
Mhadei River also known as Mandovi River in Goa gets about 3,538 MCM (million cubic metres) of water every year. The neighbouring states were planning to divert 56 TMC ft of water from the river. Although it may not seem much when calculated in total, but what is missed by the eye is that the proposed diversion is actually from the non–monsoon period.
The damming and diversion of Mhadei’s water will have serious implications for water treatment plants in the Mhadei basin, aquatic life, flora and fauna, river navigation, sediment flow, and forests and wildlife sanctuaries.
“The Mhadei wildlife sanctuary is within 231 metres of the proposed Kalsa Bhandura dam project of Karnataka. The sanctuary is a habitat for many wild animals and even endemic species. Keeping Mhadei sanctuary as base, we have been pitching for a strong case, contending that the said project will lead to the destruction of ecology, leaving many waterfalls and springs dry, thereby effecting the Western Ghat hot spot,” noted environmentalist and member of National Wildlife Board (NWD) Rajendra Kerkar told TNV.
“The Supreme Court order and the interim order by Tribunal in 2016 rejecting Karnataka’s plea to divert 7 TMC is a major victory for Goa, but the battle is not over yet. Karnataka’s main petition to divert 56 TMC of water from Mhadei river, filed in 2006, is still pending,” Kerkar pointed out.
Mhadei water diversion is one such issue, which has got the entire state united- especially the political leaders, who are unanimous that the government should not compromise on the issue or go for any out of the Court settlement as proposed by Karnataka and agreed upon by Maharashtra- who are confident about their lost battle before the Tribunal.
Though, the neighbouring states resorted to every tactic including violence, Goa government was hell bent that it will not compromise on the issue at any cost. Last year, Goa faced major vegetable crisis after Karnataka resorted to violence and stopped supply of veggies to Goa and even damaged vehicles and bus transport travelling from Goa to Karnataka.
Be it then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar or Laxmikant Parsekar or the incumbent CM Parrikar- had categorically ruled out out-of-court settlement on the issue while stating that they will wait for the Tribunal to decide.
While Karnataka is ruled by Congress, BJP is ruling the Maharashtra. “Mhadei water diversion issue cannot be solved on political grounds and I would not like to do so. I will solve it through Tribunal, ensuring interest of Goa is protected,” Parrikar had told the state Assembly last month.
When contacted, state Water Resources Minister Vinod Palyekar categorically said he would not allow Karnataka to divert even a drop of water from the Mhadei basin. “Karnataka will not be able to divert even a drop of water from Mhadei. The case is in the final phase and out of court settlement is not possible,” he said.
Palyekar said that Mhadei is the lifeline of Goa, and for the last 37 years Karnataka has been planning to divert its water. It has plans for 10 to 12 projects for diversion of water. “Goa wants to utilise Mhadei water in the basin as it is deficient,” he said.
Former Congress Chief Minister and incumbent MLA Pratapsingh Rane, who is facing accusation of granting permission to Karnataka for diversion, said that the state is united in its battle against water diversion. “We will support the government in its every decision that will ensure protection of river Mhadei. We cannot allow diversion of our water to boost their sugarcane production, which is the main reason for Karnataka to divert water,” he alleged
Goa in the 80’s, under the then Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane signed a MoU with then Chief Minister of Karnataka S R Bommai, to give 45 TMC ft of water from Mhadei to Karnataka and a power station would be set-up upstream. The power generation would be shared with Goa.
The plan never came to fruition because Bommai government collapsed very soon. In the subsequent years, the project was renamed to Kalsa-Bhandura nala project.
Karnataka’s quest began in 1980, when people from Navalgund and Naragund taluka began agitating, demanding the government for water. Violence during the agitation claimed four lives, which included two policemen. This eventually became the issue it is today.
In 1992, the Karnataka government obtained a temporary permission from the Central Water Commission to divert 7.5 TMC of water from the river to Malaprabha reservoir via Kalsa-Bhandura project though it had proposed another 11 dams. The said permission was kept in abeyance in July 2002 after protests in Goa.
In July, 2002, the state of Goa had made a request under Section 3 of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956, for constitution of the Tribunal and referred the matter for adjudication and decision of dispute relating to Mandovi River. Accordingly in November 2010, Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal (MWDT) was set up, which deals with water diversion issue involving Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. The battle is still in progress, with Goa having the upper hand.
“Karnataka is in dispute over water diversion with almost every state. Be it Goa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra,” senior counsel representing Goa before Tribunal, Adv. Atmaram Nadkarni said.
Nadkarni, whose appointment as Goa representative, post his promotion as Additional Solicitor General of India was strongly opposed by Karnataka, has exposed the neighbouring state at every front before the Tribunal.
“The Karnataka government’s record in water disputes is a bundle of contradictions as it is fighting against any diversion of water from the Krishna-Godavari basin, but aggressively pursuing a project to link Mhadei’s tributaries to the Malaprabha basin,” he had told the Tribunal while highlighting the negative impact of the project on the water basin, wildlife and environment.
Water Resources Chief Engineer S T Nadkarni, in his detailed presentation on Mhadei basin before the Tribunal, highlighted that of the total 28 percent of Mhadei basin in Goa, 52 percent comprises of saline water. Mhadei’s total basin area is 1580 sq kms.
“We are now left with only 827 million cubic meters (MCM) of water as against our requirement of 2460 MCM and hence the state might have to depend on the catchment areas of Karnataka and Maharashtra for water requirement,” he explained.
Nadkarni said that the Mhadei river lifeline faces a major threat of choking on account of water flows and siltation, leading to disruption of ecology affecting wildlife, agriculture, drinking water, fishing, etc. “Karnataka plans 11 dams. Even if four dams are constructed it will harm the sustainability of the river itself and ecology of Goa as it will divert all the water from Mhadei basin to Malprabha basin,” he added.
As per the report, there are 30 villages scattered along the Mhadei basin, with areas being home for several species including an endangered bat species. There are four wildlife sanctuaries located in and around the basin.
“Our fight to protect river Mhadei and the ecological balance of the Western Ghat will continue till we win the battle. We have won the battle in Supreme Court; but Karnataka is known for violations as it has done in the past,” MBA president Nirmala Sawant said, informing about the leave granted by the Court to them to come back in case of violations.
MBA had approached SC in 2007 challenging Karnataka government’s project on the environmental ground, and had pointed out that the project is been undertaken without obtaining Environmental Clearance (EC) from Union Ministry for Environment and Forest (MoEF). MBA had also sought direction from the Court to maintain status quo in the project.
In 2009, the court had asked MoEF not to allow Karnataka to continue the canal work without obtaining necessary environmental clearance. However, despite this, Karnataka had continued to carry out work of the canal and in recent submission had informed the Court about completion of the project. The same was countered by MBA, who exposed Karnataka.
Goa’s battle before Mhadei got momentum under Parrikar’s previous term in 2012, when the state took up the matter vigorously exposing Karnataka and opposing diversions. Goa got first victory in July 2016, when Tribunal rejected Karnataka’s plea for diversion of 7.5 TMC of water from the river basin.
Supreme Court too declined to intervene in the matter, in a petition filed by Karnataka challenging Tribunal verdict.
However, at the end of last year, Goa got major jolt when Central Government proposed to set up a single, permanent Inter-State Water Dispute Tribunal (ISWDT) subsuming existing tribunals including MWDT. That was a major surprise to the state.
However, the then BJP government came out strongly against it and approached Centre raising its objection to the same, stating that ‘Goa’s battle will be lost’. The state Legislative Assembly unanimously passed the resolution opposing the ISWDT.
The move is currently kept on hold, as Goa continues to battle before the Tribunal. Recently, the Tribunal term has been extended by one year till August 21, 2018. This is the second extension granted after first, which was allowed in July, 2016.