The dispute over Mahadayi river has resurfaced over the past few weeks and tensions have been rife between Goa and Karnataka. So, what is the dispute all about?
The dispute over Mahadayi river began in the 80s and grew stronger in the subsequent decades. The trigger was Karnataka’s move to design 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 water-scarce districts of Bagalkot, Gadag, Dharwad and Belagavi.
Goa, seeking redressal to the dispute in 2002, sought the constitution of a water disputes tribunal. The state also moved the apex court in 2006 with its demand. After sustained efforts by the Goan government, the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal was set up on November 16, 2010.
Goa contends that its population is dependent on the river’s natural path and any move to divert it would affect its fragile ecosystem. It claimed that the ingress of saltwater in the river, which is dependent on monsoons, will ultimately end up killing the state’s mangroves and green belt, disturb the relationship between the people and the land, as well as the ecological balance.
The dispute is also around the amount of water that Goa receives. Karnataka claims that the surplus from Mahadayi drains into the sea and that it should be diverted into the deficit basin in Malaprabha to meet the state’s drinking, irrigation, agriculture and power generation needs. Goa has, meanwhile, denied Karnataka’s claims saying it is a water deficient state and limiting the water supply would adversely impact its agriculture production.
Supreme Court has, for now, stayed the construction of dams and canals by Karnataka on the Mahadayi. Karnataka claims it requires 7.56 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) of water from Mahadayi to meet the requirement of farmers of North Karnataka. Goa, nonetheless, has expressed reservations claiming Karnataka may stock excess water in its reservoirs so that it can be used for irrigation in other parts of the state.
Mahadayi river rises in the Western Ghats, from the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary in Khanapur taluk of Karnataka’s Belagavi district. Flowing westward, it enters Goa from Sattari taluk of North Goa districts. A number of streams join the flow of the river to form the Mandovi which is one of two major rivers that flow through Goa. It joins the Arabian Sea at Panaji.
The Mahadayi river, also spelt Mhadei or Mahadeyi, stretches 111-km. Over two-thirds of the river’s stretch lies in Goa (76km). The Mandovi is important for Goa also because it is one of the few sweet-water sources at the state’s disposal. Most of Goa’s 11 rivers contain salt water and Mandovi ensures water security as well as being an important place to source fish for the state.