Updated: February 21, 2018 4:38:26 am
Conceding to the long-standing demand of the BJD-led Odisha government, the Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved setting up of a tribunal to resolve the dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh over sharing of Mahanadi river water. The cabinet nod comes two days before the deadline set by Supreme Court, prompting the BJD to point out that the Centre was simply complying with the directive and not acting on its “own will”.
The dispute has allowed the Naveen Patnaik government to use the issue against the BJP — it will raise the “misuse” of Mahanadi waters by the BJP-led Chhattisgarh government while campaigning for the February 24 bypoll in Bijepur Assembly seat. “This is in compliance with the Supreme Court directive, not by Union government’s own will. Supreme Court directed the Centre to form the tribunal within a month, for which the deadline was February 22,” said BJD spokesperson Dr Sasmit Patra.
In mid-2016, the BJD had said in Parliament that damming of Mahanadi in the upper riparian state of Chhattisgarh would choke water supply to Odisha. Patnaik’s demand then for constituting a Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal (MWDT) was rejected by the Centre. The Odisha government in December 2016 moved court, seeking an order to Chhattisgarh to stop construction work in projects on the upstream. The Raman Singh-led government has been building six barrages on the Mahanadi. BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab told The Indian Express, “These are purely illegal constructions for benefit of industries carried out by Chhattisgarh which has been choking the water flow to Hirakud dam in Odisha.”
Earlier this month, in response to a question by Mahtab in Lok Sabha, MoS, Water Resources, Arjun Ram Meghwal said his ministry had framed a proposal for formation of MWDT as per directions of Supreme Court. Meghwal, however, noted in the written reply that Odisha government was absent from two negotiation meetings in 2017. Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari, too, had urged the two states to sit down and iron out differences. BJD representatives say they did not agree to discussions since the Centre was unwilling to ask Chhattisgarh to stop construction.
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Water Resources Ministry officials said the tribunal would determine water-sharing on the basis of overall availability of water in Mahanadi basin, contribution of each state, present utilisation in each state and potential for future development. Regarding the interim, Pradeep Jena, Principal Secretary, Odisha water department, said, “Odisha will ask the tribunal to ensure that the existing water flow continues (till the final decision). We will also seek to immediately halt construction of illegal barrages.”
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