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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Mhadei is not a political ‘Tool’ it is Goa’s lifeline


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Let me get straight to the point since I am not in the habit of going around the bush on any issue that is critical to my people in the state of Goa:  Mhadei River is not a river of the BJP to divert on grounds of their intended political machinations. Neither is it a river that Congress can use to trample upon the long-term interests of the people to strengthen their foothold in Karnataka.

BJP at the Centre must be living in a fool’s paradise assuming that the decision to grant approval to the DPR of Karnataka over the Mhadei issue would go unchallenged by the people of Goa even if the BJP-led government in the state might toe the line of the Centre eventually after promising to ‘Save Mhadei’.

On the Mhadei river issue, neither BJP nor Congress cares about the concerns of the people of Goa. The state got its due award because of the sheer willpower of the Late Manohar Parrikar who was the Chief Minister of Goa.

There is no denying that it is incumbent on the Narendra Modi-led government to look at the interest of all states fighting over the Mhadei issue. Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Goa have their own points of view. There is also no denying that Karnataka is a bigger state than Goa and has been acting bullish against Goa over Mhadei.

The dispute over the Mhadei 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 Mhadei river water to the Malaprabha basin. Karnataka claimed that channelling the river water into the basin of Malaprabha, a tributary of the Krishna, would meet the requirements of the water-scarce districts of Bagalkot, Gadag, Dharwad and Belagavi.

The Karnataka government in its submission before MOEF&CC for the EC has said that tribunal has directed the State to implement the project after obtaining mandatory clearances as required by law. It said the project includes the construction of three diversion dams namely the Haltara diversion dam, Kalasa diversion Dam, and Banduri diversion dam involving the diversion of 499.13Ha of forest land, which includes submergence of 406.6Ha of forest land. The proposed project involves the supply of 7.56 TMC of water during the monsoon season through interconnecting canals for providing drinking water facilities to Hubli-Dharwad towns, Kundgol towns, and en route villages.

The Tribunal has awarded a total of 3.90TMC of water for diversion from Mhadei basin to the Malaprabha River for drinking water purposes, comprising 1.72TMC from Kalasa Nala and 2.18TMC from Banduri. This project falls within the eco-sensitive zone of Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary and is located close to Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary.

The population of Goa is dependent on the river’s natural path and any move to divert it would affect its fragile ecosystem. The ingress of saltwater in the river, which is dependent on monsoons, will ultimately end up killing the state’s mangroves and green belt, disturbing the relationship between the people and the land, as well as the ecological balance.

The people of Goa have expressed reservations because there is a possibility that Karnataka may stock excess water in its reservoirs so that it can be used for irrigation in other parts of the state.

Mhadei River rises in the Western Ghats, from the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary in Khanapur Taluka of Karnataka’s Belagavi district. Flowing westward, it enters Goa from Sattari Taluka 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 Panjim.

The Tribunal on August 14, 2018, in its award, ordered that Karnataka will get 13.4 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) of water from the river, while Goa and Maharashtra will be allowed to use 24 TMC and 1.33 TMC of water respectively. 

The government of Goa for now has come out in the open to take on Karnataka. Their stand is to raise the issue with the Centre and impress upon them to withdraw the DPR approval granted to Karnataka. The people of Goa, however, are sceptical about whether the intent of the Dr Pramod Sawant-led government is genuine or is it a role-play and eventually Karnataka would get its way because the BJP at the Centre needs Mhadei issue to be in Karnataka’s favour to get an advantage in the upcoming Karnataka elections.

The Mhadei river issue will find its solution only in the Supreme Court. Eventually, the decision of the Tribunal’s award to each state will prevail. That however does not augur well for Goa because the Mhadei river is a lifeline for 43 per cent of the population of the state, the population is dependent on the river’s natural path and any move to divert it would affect its fragile ecosystem. More so, Goa is witnessing a scarcity of water, not very alarming at the moment but certainly a phenomenon that we need to be alert about. The Mhadei river diversion can precipitate water scarcity in the state in the years to come.

We need to Save Mhadei period.



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