SOURCE: The Mhadei river is the source of the Mandovi. If the waters of the Mhadei are diverted, the Mandovi will run dry
With the Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar insisting that the sharing of Mhadei waters is inevitable it would appear that he is determined to sacrifice the interests of Goa for the benefit of a BJP victory in the Assembly elections in Karnataka
By Ashley Rosario
I WILL not listen to my national leaders to sacrifice interest of Goa,” Manohar Parrikar had thundered in the Goa Legislative Assembly on August 7, 2012.
These words were uttered by him in relation to the contentious Mhadei river water sharing conundrum between Goa and Karnataka.
Exactly five years and five months later, Parrikar, does exactly what he said he wouldn’t — bows down to the diktats, or should we say ‘chunavi jumla’ of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)chief, Amit Shah. He writes an innocuous letter, addressed not to the chief minister of Karnataka, but to the BJP chief of that state, expressing his willingness to talk the concession of seven-odd TMC water, for diversion to the Malaprabha basin for drinking water, albeit on “humanitarian grounds”.
Irony of ironies is that those bombastic words were spoken in the Goa Assembly by Parrikar in response to a ‘Calling Attention Motion’ moved by then-foe-now-friend Vijai Sardesai. How politics makes strange bedfellows indeed!
Crux of the matter, however, is not the politics of it but the trail of ecological destruction it will leave along the nearly 81-kilometre meandering course of the Mhadei or Mandovi river in Central and North Goa, from East to West where it meets and flows into the Arabian Sea.
The Mhadei river originates in Karnataka and flows into Goa. The river has 28.8 kms of its course in Karnataka, and flows along 81.2 kms in Goa.
What diverting its waters in Karnataka will do is spell a death knell to one of the world’s most coveted biodiversity hotspots, inflict yet unknown and undetermined ecological disaster in the river-hugging Mhadei’s Wildlife Sanctuary, and worse still, destroy through rise in salinity intrusion from the Arabian Sea, the numerous Khazan and Mangrove mini ecosystems in Goa fed by the river.
“Goa’s loss will be unimaginable,” says a distraught Rajendra Kerkar.
The dispute finds its Genesis over four decades ago when in 1973, Karnataka first proposed a hydro-electricity project in the basin.
In these 44 years, nine of Goa’s Chief Ministers, including Manohar Parrikar, have stoutly defended Goa’s interests since then. Which is why, the latter’s inexplicable letter, makes the contentious waters of the Mhadei, even more muddier and “disturbing” in the words of Kerkar, arguably Goa’s most respected green warrior.
“It (Parrikar’s letter) is shocking because it comes from a man (Parrikar) who in 2002 championed the interests of Goa vis-a-vis the Mhadei waters. Heading an all-party delegation he had forced the hand of the then Vajpayee government to hold in abeyance the in-principle nod the Centre had given Karnataka to divert 7.56 TMC for drinking purposes,” Kerkar told the Goan Observer.
MHADEI SINCE 1973
The genesis of the tug-of-war between Goa and Karnataka over the waters of Mhadei as mentioned earlier dates back to 44 years ago when in 1973 Karnataka proposed the Mhadei Hydroelectricity generation project.
Objections raised by Goa and the fact that it was an Union Territory then, found favour with the Centre and the power project got shelved. But Karnataka did not give up its claim over the waters of Mhadei. In 1988 it proposed to divert 3.85 TMC of water from Katla and Palna tributaries of Dudhsagar river to the Supa reservoir in the Kali river basin. It also simultaneously sought to divert from sources of the Khandepar river to the Supa reservoir 1.06 TMC water. Its plans however hit a roadblock with the then Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) government headed by Dr Luis Proto Barbosa vehemently opposed diversion of the Katla and Palna tributaries.
The story didn’t end there. In 1994, in a favourable political climate with Congress governments in Goa, Karnataka and the Centre, the hydro-electricity project was resurrected. But stiff resistance from Goa saw the two chief Ministers — Dr Wilfred de Souza and Veerapa Moily — hold a joint meeting and appoint NEERI to study the Environment Impact Assessment of the Mhadei Hydroelectricity Project of Karnataka. It again got shelved.
Yet, Karnataka kept coveting the waters of Mhadei. In 1996, its irrigation minister visited Goa and opened a new front — the Kalasa-Bhandura Project. This is the very project that raised the heckles between the two States and landed it for adjudication before the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal.
If in September 2002, Parrikar as chief minister could ignore the politics and force the hand of the Vajpayee government to block an April 30, 2002 Ministry of Water Resources ‘in principal clearance’ to Karnataka to divert 7. 56 TMC of water from Mhadei basin, what is it that forced him in December 2017, to do exactly the reverse?
The cue, obviously, lies in the alacrity with which BS Yeddyurappa flaunted Parrikar’s letter on the electoral turf of North Karnataka less than 72 hours after the letter was written by Parrikar.
It was Yeddyurappa, as Deputy chief minister of Karnataka, who on October 2, 2006 laid the foundation stone of the Kalasa Project at Kankumbi. Wouldn’t he then claim credit for promising fruition of the project? That’s where the innocuous letter of Manohar Parrikar fits in.
THE BJP leadership, led by Amit Shah could also be fishing in the troubled waters of Mhadei to bring into focus the Modi government’s ambitious but much criticised dream project of linking rivers across the Nation.
Whether the Mhadei will be used as a test case, to be later show-cased and canvass in favour of riverlinking on a larger national scale is a possibility not being ignored by Goa’s greens who have been crusading for the Mhadei to be left alone.
In the days to come the Mhadei Bachao Abhiyan will launch a ‘Jal Yatra’ with its volunteers engaging with communities and villages either fed by the river or influenced by its quintessential presence.
The ‘Jal Yatra’ is a daunting, grass-root level task and is an effort meant to neutralize the political factor that’s tilting the balance in favour of Karnataka. But the Abhiyan’s leading lights like Rajendra Kerkar and Nirmala Sawant are known to have worked their hands with the soil which they so revere and have vowed to dig the nails of their bare hands, to protect.
Kerkar said, dates and strategy for the ‘Jal Yatra’ have not yet been finalised but will be launched in January itself.
“We will start the ‘Jal Yatra’ by mid-January,” Kerkar said.
WILL POLITICS PIP JUDICIARY?
BUT beyond the political playground, the logjam over Mhadei’s waters is a web of judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings. The Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal is on the verge of pronouncing a final verdict and has a term till August 2018, to do it.
In addition, the Supreme Court had also adjudicated the matter after Nirmala Sawant, who heads the Mhadei Bachao Abhiyan, filed a petition on January 8, 2009 alleging that the project is continuing without any approval under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and other related clearances from the MoEF. The Supreme Court disposed this petition after the Counsel for Karnataka Fali Nariman submitted a written assurance that no work will be carried out until all requisite permissions are obtained from MoEF.
Nirmala is a worried crusader for the Mhadei. Politically, the odds are stacked against Goa.
“We have two as against the twenty something MPs of Karnataka,” she says but keeps her faith that the judiciary will protect Goa’s and the environment’s interest.
None-the-less, it’s clearer than the waters of Mhadei, Mahadeyi or Mandovi or whatever other name you call it by, that Manohar Parrikar’s latest out-of-the-box stance on Mhadei is unlikely to dam or damn the 44-year old dispute. Not until, the next round of change in course Goa, Manohar Parrikar or whoever occupies the ‘kodel’ will take on the Mhadei dispute.
In 2019 maybe?