By Dr Olav Albuquerque
THE ruling BJP at the Centre and in Karnataka has played a game with Goa by making a provision of Rs 5,300 crore in the budget presented on February 1, for Karnataka’s famine relief fund. That Karnataka would be getting favourable treatment in the budget was a known fact. But the extent to which Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman has gone to favour Karnataka to the detriment of Goa and Goans has not become as clear as it did after she presented the budget.
First-the background. There can be no dispute that the Mandovi and Zuari rivers form the lifeline for Goa and Goans. There is no dispute over the fact that the Mandovi river covers 42 per cent of Goa because its water is used for agriculture, drinking, and other purposes.
There is also no dispute over the fact that the Mandovi river originates in neighbouring Karnataka where it is infused with life by the Dudhsagar falls whose milky waters pour into the Mandovi, giving it crystal clear potable water for the masses who live along its undulating course.
There is also no dispute over the fact that the northern and central parts of Karnataka are afflicted by drought which prevents crops from growing, leading to the deaths of a few thousand Kannadigas and precipitating them to migrate to Goa for succour and jobs. Goans who have their pride and property, look down upon the blue collar jobs which the poverty-afflicted Kannadigas and Biharis, leave alone those from neighbouring Maharashtra are willing to do.
GOA’S DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE
THIS is why there has been a demographic change in Goa. Be that as it may, the Karnataka government proposes to divert some water from the Mahadayi or Mhadei (as it is called and pronounced in Karnataka) river to the Malaprabha river basin as part of the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project.
About 188 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) of water at 75 per cent dependability is available in the river. The Mahadayi Water Tribunal under the Interstate River Water Disputes Act was set up to decide the sharing of the river waters by the two riparian states.
In August 2018, the Mahadayi Water Tribunal verdict permitted Goa to use 24 tmcft (excluding the 9.395 tmcft prevailing uses), Karnataka to use 5.4 tmcft (including 3.9 tmcft for export outside the basin) and Maharashtra to use 1.33 tmcft for consumption of their populace.
The tribunal assessed the water generated in the river catchment area of Karnataka and Maharashtra as 32.11 tmcft and 7.21 tmcft respectively at 75% dependability. The tribunal has apportioned only 40.125 tmcft of Mandovi river water for consumption among the three riparian states.
Karnataka challenged this decision of the tribunal in the Supreme Court alleging injustice was done to them in allocation of water to their state. After this development, the Central government issued a gazette notification on February 27, 2020 permitting Karnataka to draw 13.42 tmcft of water from the Mahadayi river out of which eight tmcft was for power generation.
Innumerable protests by Goa yielded nothing. The time has come to stop protesting and start acting with gusto. This is why the Goa government has filed a petition in the Supreme Court and is awaiting the verdict. But the Supreme Court, being supreme, is seized with weightier matters and it is unclear when the verdict will be delivered. Or whether it will be in favour of Karnataka or Goa. This is because law is not mathematical, and can be interpreted in different ways depending on the bench which is seized of the matter.
The reluctance of the Goa government to include former MLAs and former ministers who have thoroughly studied the issue implies the government is not taking this issue seriously. More so, when the lives and livelihood of millions of Goans is at stake.
IT IS apparent that the Goa government has not yet appreciated the seriousness of the issue which will become apparent only after there is a water shortage several decades later. By then, it will be too late to remedy an alarming situation because of the hilariousness of a situation where a coastal state has been deprived of its own water from a river which meanders through the state before emptying into the sea.
It is in this context that the Union home minister Amit Shah’s declaration in Karnataka that the BJP government had solved the Mhadei river dispute between Karnataka and Goa needs to be analysed. Shah declared at the Jana Sankalp Yatra that the solution to this internecine dispute was that the BJP had allotted the waters of the Mhadei (known in Goa as the Mandovi) to Karnataka should eyebrows in Goa.
SUPREME COURT VERDICT?
POLITICIANS work for power although they profess to work for the people and those people who believe what politicians say are gullible. Shah is a devout Jain who will never touch meat, fish or alcohol and is known to have a razor-sharp mind. His statements were made just before Karnataka goes to the polls.
And Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has his hands tied behind his back by the high command which is the RSS at Nagpur. He too professes to work for the people but by succumbing to the diktat of his bosses, he has ensured that Goa and Goans will suffer from perennial water shortage.
This is not to say that the drought-prone areas of Karnataka should be deprived of water. But an alternative solution can be worked out by building a network of canals and reservoirs as catchment areas for surplus rainfall during the months of June to September and diverting the water to the drought-prone areas.
As we wait for the Supreme Court verdict with bated breath, we can only hope that those who rule us do not fool us, which is what they have been doing since Goa was liberated from Portuguese. Whether it was the MGP or Congress or the BJP!