Will people on both sides of the River Mandovi dispute accept the verdict of the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal? We take a look at the Tribunal’s decisions and responses from both sides
By Samay Shetti
The Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal, which has been hearing arguments from both Goa and Karnataka over the past eight years, has pronounced its verdict. In a definitive judgement, on August 14, the Court declared the distribution of water for the three states vying for the waters of the River Mahadayi. According to the verdict, Goa was granted 24,000 million cubic feet of water, 13.4 TMC feet to Karnataka and 1.33 TMC feet to Maharashtra.
A mixed reaction was observed in both Goa and Karnataka regarding the verdict. Speaking of the environment in Goa, the stalwarts of the ruling coalition in the state have welcomed the decision and are of the opinion that the interests of the state have been protected, while the opposition has deemed the verdict a failure. Across the boundaries though, the situation is different. Goan activists who have been fighting to protect the river, however, have been left disheartened. The Mhadei Bachao Abhiyan (MBA) has been very vocal about their displeasure on the verdict, terming it ‘unfortunate’. Members of the Abhiyan have stated that the verdict will affect Goa and its people adversely.
Nirmala Sawant, president of Mhadei Bachao Abhiyan, called the verdict an injustice not only to Goa, but also to the farmers of Kankumbi and its surrounding areas. Kankumbi is the village that can be reached after crossing over Chorla Ghat, where the construction for the Kalsa-Banduri Dam project is underway. She also revealed that of 122 TMC feet of water that was demanded by Goa, only 24 TMC feet has been allotted, which is only about 20% of the demand, whereas Karnataka which had demanded 36 TMC feet of water has been allotted 13.5 TMC feet, which amounts to 40% of the demand. Moreover, apprehensions were also raised on the 3.9 TMC feet of water that has been allowed to be diverted to the Mallaprabha basin – something the Abhiyan was strongly opposed to. The MBA has also pointed out the effects the diversion will have on the flora and fauna of Goa. According to Sawant, “This verdict will affect the environment, aquatic life, flora and fauna of Goa. Besides this, navigability in River Mandovi will also be affected.” She added, “Goa is a big loser in this case.” MBA Secretary Rajendra Kerkar pointed out that, with reduced inflow in the Mandovi, the salinity balance, which plays an important role in maintaining ecological equilibrium, would be thrown off, with severe implications on the natural environment of the state.
On the other side of the border, activists and farmers were seen celebrating the inter basin diversion, which would fulfill the drinking water needs of Belagavi, Dharwad and Gadag. Vijay Kulkarni, president, Kalasa Banduri Horata Samiti, has been reported saying. “The verdict of the tribunal, allowing Karnataka to divert Mahadayi water to Malaprabha reservoir, has brought relief to the people of the region. But we are expecting more allocation of water as we got only 13.5 TMC for drinking water and power generation, instead of the 36.5 TMC sought by us. Therefore, we will continue our agitation until we get our full share of water.”
Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar expressed his views by tweeting, “I am happy that the Mhadei Tribunal, with its final verdict, has done justice to Goa. I thank the legal team and everyone who has fought relentlessly for protecting our lifeline Mhadei”. Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardessai said, “Our stand has been vindicated. We have quantitatively won. Our party and our minister have been at the forefront of this struggle and on top of things right from the beginning and our legal team has been able to convince the Tribunal of our reasonable prayer.” He further went on to say, “I have been personally monitoring the proceedings and we have demonstrated our commitment to the interest of Goenkars and our courage to stand up for it. We will study the decision and take the next steps.”
A discerning look at the numbers reveals that the court seems to have taken a judicious call on Karnataka’s exorbitant demands and curtailed them as was necessary while keeping in mind the genuine need, too. Of the total demand of 36.558 TMC feet of water, 13.42 has been allotted to Karnataka. While the neighbouring state had demanded 3.56 TMC and 4 TMC water for Kalasa and Banduri Nullas respectively, 1.18 TMC has been approved for Kalasa and 2.72 TMC has been allotted to Banduri. For irrigation and drinking purposes, Karnataka had demanded 1.5 TMC of which full 1.5 TMC has been allotted whereas, of the demanded 14.971 TMC for the purpose of Hydel power generation, 8.02 TMC has been approved. The demands of 5.527 and 7 TMC for Kali Nadi and Kotni dam site respectively have been rejected.
To understand why the River Mahadayi or Mhadei has been a bone of contention between he neighbouring states, one has to dig into the regions’ history. Mahadayi, which is known as Mandovi after it flows into Goa, is a short perennial river, which originates from a cluster of 30 springs at Bhimgad, located in the Western Ghats falling within the boundaries of Belagavi district. The river stretches over 111 kilometers from its source to the sea, forming a catchment area of 2032 square kilometers. Out of this, the area under Karnataka and Maharashtra is 375 sq kms and 77 sq kms respectively, while Goa has the lion’s share of 1580 square kilometers. The row began back in the 1980s, when the people from Navalgund and Naragund taluk began agitating for the water. Violence during the agitation cost four people their lives. This included two policemen. This led to Karnataka designing a number of dams, canals and barrages to route the Mahadayi river water to the Malaprabha basin. The state claimed that channelling the river water into the basin of Malaprabha, a tributary of the Krishna, would meet the requirements of the water-scarce districts of Bagalkot, Gadag, Dharwad and Belagavi. Goa, seeking redressal in 2002, sought the constitution of a water disputes tribunal. The state then moved the apex court in 2006 with its demand. After sustained efforts by the Goa government, the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal was set up on November 16, 2010. In the year 2016, an attempt to get approval for diversion by Karnataka was fended off by Goa’s legal team, under the leadership of Atmaram Nadkarni, who was then the Additional Solicitor General of India. There was bickering by opposition parties in the state over the excessive cost of legal fees paid to the state’s legal team headed by Nadkarni.
There were attempts to reach an amicable solution through dialogue by the elected representatives of the states since the 1980s too. The then chief minister Pratapsingh Rane signed a MoU with then chief minister of Karnataka S R Bommai, granting them 45 TMC ft of water from the Mhadei and permitting the setting up of a power station upstream. The subsequent power generated would be shared with Goa. The plan, however, never came to fruition because the Bommai government collapsed soon after. In the subsequent years, the project was renamed Kalasa-Banduri nala project. In 2002, the central government cleared the project at the behest of S M Krishna, the then chief minister of Karnataka. However, Manohar Parrikar, his Goan counterpart, opposed it. Hence, the project was stalled again. After that, the politics over Mahadayi heated up as the Karnataka state elections approached, without a solution in sight.
Now, people on both sides should accept the verdict and move forward
“I am happy that the Mhadei Tribunal, with its final verdict, has done justice to Goa. I thank the legal team and everyone who has fought relentlessly for protecting our lifeline Mhadei”
“Our stand has been vindicated. We have quantitatively won. Our party and our minister have been at the forefront of this struggle and on top of things right from the beginning and our legal team has been able to convince the Tribunal of our reasonable prayer”