It is crystal clear that the sudden controversy over the diversion of Mhadei water has arisen purely due to the forthcoming Assembly election of Karnataka, scheduled in May. And the Central Government has conspired with the Southern state, at the cost of the livelihood and the environment of our ‘Green Goa’, a tiny tourist state and also a small part of Maharashtra. Against 28 members of the Lok Sabha of Karnataka, Goa has only two, besides a sole MP in the Rajya Sabha. Coincidentally, all three states and the Centre are today ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Beyond electoral gains, the faulty planning of the Karnataka governments, ruled by various parties all these years, is the prime cause of the present crisis. It was necessary to take steps for retaining the surface as well as the groundwater through realistic mitigation measures. But instead, both Karnataka and Maharashtra have been involved in building a chain of dams at various places.
Around 1973, Karnataka created a reservoir of Renuka Sagar at Saudatti by building the dam across the Malaprabha river to fulfil the irrigation needs of the sugarcane farmers. In spite of this, the government failed to satisfy the farmers involved in cultivating sugarcane and other cash crops. The authorities simply did not bother to deal with the leakages caused in the canals and the distribution channels.
Instead of taking mitigation measures, the politicians and the bureaucracy provoked the peasantry class to demand more and more damming and diversion schemes, for the best reasons known to them. And before the elections, almost all the political parties started giving assurances to divert the water of Mhadei and fulfil the needs, which are actually created by the corrupt political class.
THE ELECTION GIMMICK OF THE NOC
One such gimmick was played in 2002, based on the old proposal of diverting 7.56 TMC feet of water from Mhadei to Malprabha through Kalasa-Bhandura projects. A senior official of Central Water Resources was on his way to retirement. Out of blue, he suddenly issued a No-Objection Certificate on April 30, 2002, to Karnataka to diver the water. Then Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar led an all-party delegation to the then Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, managed to convince him about the serious consequences and the controversial NOC was kept in abeyance.
Now, once again, the central government led by the same party has played another gimmick of approving the DPR of the Karnataka government. Once again the talks have begun to take yet another all-party delegation to the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister.
Will it work in the wake of the Karnataka Assembly election, which is four months away? In spite of keeping the NOC in abeyance and hearings going on before the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal, Karnataka went ahead with the building of canals for the Kalasa-Bhandura projects. Who will take responsibility if Karnataka now also manages the environmental clearances in a record time and goes ahead with its new plans to divert the water?
KALASA-BHANDURA WAS ELECTION MANIFESTO
There are many plans floated by the Karnataka government to deal with the so-called water crisis of the state. But prime on the agenda was the Kalasa-Bhandura projects of water diversion from the Mhadei basin to the Malprabha basin. The BJP had promised in its manifesto for the 2018 Assembly election to complete the project. With the Central government approving the second edition of the Detailed Project Report (DPR), the ruling party appears to be relieved ‘politically’ though this political game would destroy the Sahyadri Ghat ‘environmentally’ and Goa ‘economically’. Efforts are going on a war footing by Karnataka to complete the unaccomplished work of the project.
In order to achieve this, Karnataka has revised its old DPR, as per which it had plans of damming and diverting 7.56 TMC feet of Kalasa -Bhandura nallas. But the revised DPR now claims it would divert only 2.18 TMC feet from the Bhandura and 1.72 TMC feet from the Kalasa in the Malaprabha basin. This is actually based on the allocation of water made in the award issued by the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal. By the way, one TMC is 28316.85 million litres of water!
No state agreed with this award. Not only Goa and Maharashtra, but even Karnataka has challenged the award before the Supreme Court. But even before the matter has come up for hearing, Karnataka has gone ahead with the Tribunbal’s directive, which the Southern state actually does not agree with.
CAN DPR HELP START THE WORK?
The concerned ministers of Karnataka as well as the local MPs and MLAs in the respective constituencies are now claiming that the project work would begin immediately and the project would be completed as fast as possible. Is it possible? Or it has numerous hurdles to face? Because as per the legal requirement, no work could be started without obtaining necessary environmental clearances from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change as well as from the National Board of Wildlife. The proposal envisaged by Karnataka for undertaking the work of various dams and diversion schemes is very old. The revised DPR is quite different.
In the new DPR, Karnataka has reduced expenditure estimates to Rs 1760 crores. The area for forest clearance from the Ministry has also been reduced from 349 hectares to 61 hectares. The mighty Southern state has also temporarily given up its plan to construct big dams. Instead, it would now construct a dam of 11-meter height and open-cut canals. Instead of diverting water in canals through the forests, it would install pipelines for transferring water from Mhadei to Malprabha, for which 37 hectares of forest would be destroyed. Instead of the earlier plan of 183 hectares, the work of the Bhandura project would be taken up in the village of Nerse near Khanapur, by spending Rs 764 crores and clearing the forest area of 24 hectares.
FUTURE PLANS OF KARNATAKA
Kalasa-Bhandura projects are just the beginning. The river Mhadei originates in Degao near Khanapur and numerous tributaries like Panshira, Irti, Kotni, Marudhall, Bail, Andher from the adjacent forests mingle in its waters for facilitating the river to flow continuously in the direction of Goa for the twelve months. Karnataka has a grand plan of building dams on these tributaries.
The immediate hurdle was notifying Bhimgad in Karnataka as a wildlife sanctuary in 2012. Due to this, all these plans of damming are presently kept in cold storage. Katla and Palna are two such tributaries, which are the lifeline for the Dudhsagar waterfalls, the Pride of Goa! Having enough experience with Kalasa-Bhandura, it won’t be a surprise if Karnataka tomorrow revives the schemes, under the guise of fulfilling the need for drinking water.
There is a chain of multiple projects of damming and diversion planned by Karnataka, along with the huge hydroelectricity generation proposal. Due to this, there was no alternative left before the Goa government to approach the central government and then file the petition before the Supreme Court, demanding the constitution of the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal.
IS GOA PREPARED FOR THE SUPREME COURT HEARING?
In spite of repeated demands, the Centre took almost 11 years to constitute the tribunal. And then four more years to receive the final award for the allocation of water.
The special leave petitions that have been filed before the Supreme court by the three states, for the enhancement of water share, so far have not come up for the hearing. The claim of CM Dr Sawant that it would come up for the first hearing on 5 January proved to be a false alarm.
Is Goa fully prepared for the hearing? Because at the time of the hearing, the Goa government will have to submit the necessary pieces of evidence and calculations pertaining to the availability of water resources in the Mhadei basin. Strong arguments will have to be made of erratic rainfall destruction and degradation of the forests, the diminishing water holding capacity of the river along with the increasing threat of salinity level in view of climate change and global warming with reference to Goa, in a planned manner.
And last but not least. Goa government has to immediately make serious efforts to convince the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, not to give environmental clearances to Karnataka from the forest and environment angles. If not, the flow of Mhadei would reduce drastically, creating a serious crisis of drinking water in North Goa, irrigation all along the Mhadei (Mandovi) basin, salinity in the river destroying the agricultural prospects of Goa and total destruction of the richest biodiversity of the Sahyadri Ghat.
Even before the water is diverted, the Kalasa tributary at Kankumbi has completely dried up at its source. Obviously, it has affected the flow of Mhadei in Goa which was witnessed for the last three to four years. The river bed has gone completely dry as seen in the first photo of this article. And, mind you, this is just the beginning…
Long Live Goa!!!