The Mhadei-Mandovi river water issue is becoming more and more contentious with Goans from all walks of life waking up to the fact that one of these days there may be no river Mandovi left. The Mhadei-Mandovi is Goa’s biggest riverine ecology yet Big Brother Karnataka has by diverting its headwaters in the river Mhadei which rises in its Western Ghats forests and slowly turning a naturally flowing river into a network of canals to steal more and more water meant small brother Goa. Goa’s social political groups have woken up to the seriousness of the river Mandovi going saline and drying up eventually give or take a couple more years…we reproduce environmentalist Rajendra Kerkar sensitively researched article here because it is an excellent backgrounder to understanding how Goa’s water resources are being politically manipulated and diverted away by larger short-sighted, predatory neighboring states which do not see the trees for the forests or the waters for the rivers…poaching water is the worst kind of crime to commit in a country currently ruled by a BJP government which swears by the philosophy of atithi devo bhava!
By Rajendra Kerkar
GOA is blessed by 11 rivers. Among these 11 rivers the Mandovi is the biggest river of Goa. Though it is not as big as the river Ganga which has the length of about 2,525 km or as the Cauvery, one of the major rivers of southern India which is 760 km length; the river Mandovi has a length of 111km. However, the Mandovi is the only river which drains an area of about 15,580 sq km out of 3,701 sq km total geographic area of Goa and provides maximum quantity of fresh water. It is the river supporting life and above all, makes life possible for all living things by supplying fresh water. It is the artery of the watershed, which supplies the nutrients necessary for the body to survive. The river when it flows in its natural course, benefits all irrespective of caste, creed and color, wealth or poverty; but as soon as it is dammed it loses its socialistic character.
Karnataka since last three decades has been very keen to build dams on the various tributaries of the river Mhadei originating from Karnataka, some times for generating hydro electricity or making use of the water for irrigation purposes. However, in September 2006 Karnataka government repeatedly started making claims for drinking water paucity in Hubli and Dharwad, and unilaterally went ahead, excavating canals at Kankumbi for Kalasa-Bhandura Projects which aim to divert 7.56 TMC feet of water into the Malaprabha river basin. The government of Goa has already raised strong objections to all proposals of damming and diverting tributaries of the river Mhadei originating from Karnataka, sometimes for generating hydroelectricity or making use of the water for irrigation purposes.
However, in September 2006 the Karnataka government by repeatedly claiming drinking water paucity in Hubli and Dharwad unilaterally went ahead excavating canals at Kankumbi or for Kalasa-Bhandura projects which aim to divert 7.56 TMC feet of water in the Malaprabha basin. The government of Goa has already raised strong objection to all the proposals of damming and diverting tributaries of Mhadei on economical, ecological and environmental grounds and especially from the point of view of the tiny state’s water and ecological security. When all attempts to arrive at an amicable solution proved futile and Karnataka became adamant about going ahead with its plans, Goa approached the Supreme Court of India for justice and has been awaiting its final verdict.
Karnataka has a grand plan to divert a total of 225 MCM from Mhadei to Malaprabha basin and an additional 112 MCM from Khandepar river which is popular for the scenic Dudhsagar waterfalls to Supa reservoir in Kali basin. Thus, the thirst for water of Karnataka cannot be quenched with Kalasa-Bandhra project, but will be increase gradually.
At Nerse village where Singer, Pat and Bandhura three main tributaries join together. Karnataka proposed an earthen dam for which 244 ha of forest land would be submerged due to reservoir and diversion channel also would involve the non-forest use of 16 ha of forest land. As per observations made by the DCF, Karnataka, the proposed dam site at Bhandura is located amongst the most luxurious and scenic moist, deciduous and semi evergreen patches of forest land frequented by wildlife.
The Bhandura nallah is one of the perennial streams which joins the Mhadei at Kongla and then enters Goa via Gavali-Krishnapur at Bondir along with the Panshira of Mendil. Near Dhave-Uste, the Kalasa stream joins the Mhadei. At Dhave-Uswte, Sonal on the banks of Mhadei, locals still practice traditional silt based cultivation called “puran sheti” which is believed to give three times more yield in crops than in other types of agriculture.
Karnataka has a proposal of building Kalasa dam at Kambar Ves on Chorla Ghat – Belgaum road near Kankumbi which is not even 1 km away from the Mhadei
Wildlife Sanctuary of Goa. Kalsa dam has the height of 32.6 m and length of 340 m. Another dam is planned on the Haltara nallah at Chorla which has the height of 33.6m and length of 200 m. From the Haltara, water will be brought to Kalsa reservoir through the open cut channel of 1,180 m and channel of and channel of 1,740 m. A total of 178.43 ha of reserved forest in Kankumbi, 14.58 h of reserved forest in Parwad and 64.73 ha in Koda is proposed for diversion. It is therefore clear that forest land is integral part of these projects and is required not only for the construction of the dam and the resultant submergence area but also for the diversion channels.
As per the guidelines issued under the Forest conservation Act, 1980 it has been decided that if a project involves forest as well as non-forest land, work should not be started on the non-forest land till the approval of the Central government for release of forest land. To date Karnataka has not received forest clearance from the Ministry of Environment & Forests and Ministry of Water Resources have not withdrawn the in-principle clearance which was placed in abeyance in September 2002. Thus, two states have so far not concluded any agreement on the sharing of Mhadei waters.
Here is a classical instance of breakdown of environment, governance and constitutional provisions for the protection of the environment. The undemocratic and illegal act of diverting 7.56 TMC does not appear as a small quantity of water that cannot disturb the hydrological budget, nor can it affect the ecosystem of a large basin. This is totally sarcastic.
Karnataka has made it very clear that they are building the dams and not bundhara. The construction of bundhara in comparison with dams is totally different. How one can designate dam as bundhara, when it involves the submergence of pristine forest lands? The length, height of these dams and their capacity to store water clearly indicates that these projects are not bundhara but earthern dams. The Water Resource Department of Goa has already built more than a dozen bundhara on various tributaries of the Mhadei and there exist many lift irrigation schemes. The water treatment plants at Dabos cater to the drinking water needs of 52 villages of Sattari, whereas the water treatment plants at Sanquelim and Padoshe furnish potable water for many areas of Bicholim and Bardez.
In April 2001 the Goa government announced that it was considering a set of smaller dams to generate a total of 60 MW of Goa’s power needs. Earlier, the Goa government was denied permission by the Ministry of Environment & Forest to build the Mandovi Irrigation Project at Nanoda in Sattari as it was supposed to destroy 350 h forests, when Goa spent a total of Rs210.96 lakh on the construction of colonies and other infrastructure. Presently, Karnataka is marching ahead to meet the same fate under the Forest Conservation Act. Karnataka’s proposal will cause massive disturbances to the habitat of wildlife in the Mhadei valley. When dams and developmental activities increased in and around Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary, elephants from these areas have begun to migrate. Today Tillari and Mhadei valleys are badly affected on account of the man-elephant conflict. The elephants and other wild animals are displaced and disturbed thereby creating a lot of environmental problems.
The report of the high level committee to suggest appropriate water management strategies for Karnataka state irrigation projects, March 1999 has highlighted Karnataka’s mismanagement of its water resources. Farmers in Karnataka are raising crops according to their wishes, violating he prescribed cropping pattern, due to which it had become difficult to distribute water equitably to all parts of the command area. Adding to the water shortages are the leakages in the pipeline supplying water to Hubli-Dharwad town.
Apprehending problems if the diversion project is linked to irrigation demand, Karnataka has invoked the need for drinking water taking the benefit of top priority given in India’s National Water Policy. The project cost was also trimmed to bring it below Rs1,000 million to avoid the mandatory environmental impact assessment and public hearing.
Considering the projected water needs of Goa till 2050 AD, it has been established by the committee of experts that Mhadei is a water deficit basin and hence no scope exists for water diversion. The Goans are very much concerned that any diversion of water from the upper catchments of Mhadei would severely impact the downstream ecology, particularly by changes in the salinity regime, the decrease in sediment load and the consequent impacts on estuarine and mangrove ecosystems. The controversial project site is home to natural forests, unique wildlife and river origins and the biggest catchments for the Mhadei and Malaprabha rivers.
THE Maharashtra government also entered in the race of acquiring the fresh water resources of Mhadei. One of the significant rivulets of Mhadei coming from Virdi village became the target of Maharashtra’s damming plan. At Virdi just three km from the Anjunem Irrigation Project of Keri-Sattari, Maharasthra has begun the work of Irrigation project in between Temb and Talyachya Vhalacho Dongar area of Virdi of 600 mts length and 48 mts height. Without understanding the actual situation and signing the Memorandum of Understanding for the share of water. Goa government has given its consent which is totally ironical and will result in a big catastrophe.
Allowing Karnataka to lift water of the Mhadei when the matter is pending before the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal will prove detrimental for water security, ecology and environment of Goa. To fulfill need of drinking water Karnataka near Hubli has Benihalli, a tributary of the river Malaprabha with the catchment area of 5,048 sqkm and 138 sq km length. The water is hardly used to the extent of 1.5 TMC and Karnataka has almost 22 rivers in Belgaum unutilized. Even when the case was being argued Karnataka had drawn plans for diversion of Dudhsagar water by envisaging four dams upstream Khandepar river, namely Katla, Palna, Diggi-Mara and Diggi-Bondeli, to divert water to Supa reservoir.
Both Maharashtra and Karnataka has aimed to decimate upper reaches of resource rich Western Ghats, a global hotspot that is a part of the World Heritage Site of the UNESCO, by mismanaging of the available water resources, the unsustainable irrigation and encouraging water guzzling crops selection model. No neighboring states can divert the natural flow of rivers that are flowing in the direction of wildlife sanctuary without obtaining permissions from the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate change and also from National Board of Wildlife of India.
The clarification given by one Director Dr S Karekatta of the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate change that the Kalasa-Bhandura is purely a drinking water supply scheme is unrealistic and there is need to apply provisions of EIA Notification 2006 and its subsequent amendments before giving any clarification. The proposed Kalasa-Bhandura project falls within the ecologically sensitive area identified earlier by Karnataka Forests Department and the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by Dr Madhav Gadgil in their report in 2011 and subsequently the high level working group appointed under the chairmanship of Dr Kasturirangan in their report of 2013.
Part of the project area in Nerse for the proposed Bhandura scheme falls within the eco-sensitive zone of Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary. The Union Ministry of Water Resources filed counter affidavit before the Supreme court on 20.11.2006 that Union of India has not withdrawn the abeyance letter dated 19.09.2002 pertaining to diversion of 7.56 TMC of water of the Kalasa-Bhandura, nor does it have any intension to do so till the water disputes relating to Mhadei are either amicably settle amongst the party states or adjucated by Competent Tribunal.
On 14.08.2018 the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal permitted Karnataka to divert 3.6 TMC of water through Kalasa-Bhandura projects outside the Mhadei basin after obtaining necessary statutory clearances. Karnataka has already filed a separate Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court seeking an enhancement of the allocation of water and the matter is pending before the court for the hearing.
The proposed Kalasa dam site is inside Reserved Forests notified by Karnataka Forests Department and also at the dam site which is just 231.27 mts away from the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary of Goa. Also the Kalasa site of Karnataka is 3.17km away from the Mhadei Sanctuary limits. Though it is mandatory for Karnataka to obtain prior environment clearances, wildlife clearance and other permissions, no such permissions/cearances have been obtained by Karnataka
Through camera trap techniques already presence of tigers has been proved inside the Mhadei Sanctuary of Goa and also in Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary of Karnataka and Tillari region of Maharashtra. This region of the Western Ghats has the flagship species of wildlife like sloth bears, leopards, slender loris and many more. Barapeda cave inside the Bhimgad Sanctuary is only know site for the Wroughtons’ free tailed bats (Otomops wroughtoni) which has been classified under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act as near to the proposed Bhandura dam.
Now in the name of the Kalasa-Bhandura drinking water project Karnataka has created conditions before the Ministry of MoEFCC that this project does not ttracts EIA Notification 2006 an subsequent amendments. But in reality thisproject of Karnataka needs approval from the National Board for Wildlife of India and clearance under Forets (Conservtiion) Act 1980 and approvalunder EIa Notification of 2006 and its subsequent amendments.
The letter of clarification given by the MoEFCC has created confusion as if Karnataka has been given the environmental approval. It is very essential to withdraw the letter of MoEFCC dated 19.10.2019 at the earliest. For the state of Goa Mhadei/Mandovi River is the major lifeline whereas Karnataka has within its state the benefit of several interstate rivers apart from intra-state rivers.
The proposed Kalasa-Bhandura if it becomes reality is bound to increase salinity by making this river unfit for drinking water as well as other disastrous effects upon marine and human life, when the increasing global warming and climate change is affecting the fragile eco-systems of Goa.
The colonial mentality produced consumer-culture resulting into felling of forests causing landslides and nature’s capacity to conserve water. This consumer – culture led to the erosion of natural sources of livelihood resulting into the loss of humane – sensitivity which has made the crisis of nature and ecology more complicated. The new understanding of science is to develop a harmonious relationship with nature while showing due respect to its dignity. To maintain the natural balance and equilibrium, it is essential to keep in mind, preservation of other creatures – like birds, animals, trees, etc.
(References: Alvares, Claude, 2002,` Fish, curry and Rice, A Source Book on Goa: Its Ecology an Lifestyle’; Deuskar, May 1999, Mastr Plan for Madhei Mandovi River Basin, Vol1; Kamat, Nandkumar, M, articles appared in daily The Navhind Times from 1995 to 2006 on Mhadei issue; Kerkar, Rajendra, P, April,2006, Special Issue on Mhadei.)