When disputes arise between states in India over the sharing of river water, the first priority of the central government is to get the disputing parties to arrive at a negotiated settlement. When all dialogue fails, disputes are referred to legal redressal forums like tribunals. The dispute over the sharing of the water of the Mahadayi or Mandovi river between the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa is over 30 years old if one were to consider the fact that attempts at negotiations were initiated by the central government as far back as 1985.
The water sharing issue reached a flashpoint in 2002 when the Karnataka government during the tenure of chief minister S M Krishna decided to implement a long pending drinking water project by building a canal across two tributaries of the Mahadayi – Kalasa and Banduri.
The Kalasa-Banduri project aimed to divert 7.56 TMC of water from the Mahadayi to the Malaprabha river in Karnataka to address the drinking water needs in three parched north Karnataka districts of Belagavi, Dharwad and Gadag. Though the NDA government of the time cleared the project, it was opposed by the BJP government lead by Manohar Parrikar that was in power in Goa at the time.
Goa approached the centre in 2002 with a request for a Mahadayi Water Dispute tribunal to assess the “available utilisable water resources in the basin at various points and allocation of this water to the three basin states keeping in view priority of the use of water”.
The Parrikar government argued that the Kalasa Banduri project would cause immense ecological damage in Goa since the river supports the fragile eco system in parts of the Western Ghats located in the territory of Goa. The final clearance for the Kalasa Banduri project was put on hold by the NDA government following the objections from Goa.
A coalition government of the JDS and BJP that came to power in Karnataka in 2006 brought the dispute to the fore again with Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy deciding to start construction of the Kalasa Banduri project at Belagavi in September 2006. Goa then approached the Supreme Court for intervention and creation of a tribunal to settle the water sharing issue. With no prospects of a negotiated agreement in sight between the three states the UPA government that was in power eventually set up the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal on November 16, 2010.
Since the constitution of the tribunal, Karnataka has sought interim orders to continue with the construction of the Kalasa Banduri project to utilize 7.56 TMC of water for drinking purposes.
The thinking in the Karnataka government is that drinking water requirements should get precedence in legal disputes and that since much of the water of the Mandovi eventually empties out into the sea there should be little hindrance in allowing the drinking water project to proceed.
The Kalasa Banduri project is incidentally an emotive issue in northern Karnataka and farmers in the region have been waiting for years for the project to materialize. Last year farmers agitated for almost 300 days in the Navalgund and Nargund region to draw the attention of the state and central governments to their demands. Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah eventually lead an all party delegation to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to seek his intervention on the Kalasa Banduri project.
With the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal in an interim order on July 27 rejecting Karnataka’s demand for 7.56 TMC of water, protests have once again broken out in the state and a day long bandh was observed on July 30. Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah has once again called for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention in the matter.
Legal experts in Karnataka are of the view that the Mahadayi tribunal has only issued interim orders and that these orders are not likely to have a bearing on the final verdict on the sharing of the waters of the Mahadayi since much of the technical issues are yet to be assessed in full by the tribunal.