Karnataka's announcement that it plans to proceed with the Kalasa-Banduri water diversion project on the Mahadayi River has flared up its longstanding dispute with its neighbour Goa. Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, on December 30 2022, said that the government had received clearance from the Union government for two Detailed Project Reports (DPR) on the project. Goa immediately opposed the move and announced that it would send an all-party delegation to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Union ministers to try to prevent the project.
What is the Kalasa-Banduri project?
The Kalasa-Banduri project is a proposed water diversion project in Karnataka and Goa. The Mahadayi River, also called Mandovi in Goa, is a rain-fed river that is shared between Karnataka and Goa for their water needs. The project involves the construction of dams and a canal system to divert water from the Mahadayi River, located in Goa, to the Malaprabha River basin in Karnataka. The main goal of the project is to meet the drinking water needs of the districts of Belagavi, Dharwad, Bagalkot, and Gadag in Karnataka. The project has been the subject of a long-standing dispute between the two states, as well as the state of Maharashtra, due to concerns about the potential impact on the local environment and the displacement of people living in the area. The Mahadayi river flows 35 km through Karnataka and then 52 km through Goa, before entering the Arabian Sea.
What is the reason behind the dispute?
In 1980, farmers in Dharwad and Gadag districts of Karnataka launched a movement to demand drinking water from the state government. The movement was in protest of the government's failure to provide water despite collecting a betterment levy. In response to the agitation, then Chief Minister Gundu Rao appointed a committee headed by Opposition Leader SR Bommai to address the issue. The Bommai Committee subsequently recommended the linking of the Mahadayi to Malaprabha. However, no progress was made on the recommendation until 1989, when SR Bommai became the Chief Minister of Karnataka. He signed a memorandum of understanding with the Goa government to construct a dam near Kalasa in Karnataka. This project also did not move forward due to the brief duration of the Bommai government.
The original plan for the Kalasa-Banduri project was to divert water from the Mahadayi river to the Malaprabha river and store it in the Navilatirtha dam in Dharwad. The project was proposed in the 1980s, but faced opposition from the state of Goa, which argued that it would cause ecological damage to the state.
In 2002, the Karnataka government, under then Chief Minister SM Krishna, decided to revive the project and received clearance from the Union government. However, the Goa government, under then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, approached the Union government and requested the establishment of the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal to assess the situation and grant allocation of water to the three states involved in the dispute, that is, Goa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. The clearance for the project was then put on hold by the Union government.
In 2006, the then BJP-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka decided to proceed with the project, causing Goa to approach the Supreme Court seeking the creation of a tribunal to settle the water-sharing dispute. The Union government finally established the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal in 2010. In 2018, it awarded 13.42 tmc (1000 million cubic feet) of water from the Mahadayi river basin to Karnataka, 1.33 tmc to Maharashtra, and 24 tmc to Goa. From Karnataka's 13.42 tmc allocation, 5.5 tmc was designated for meeting drinking water needs, while the remainder intended for hydro-electricity generation. Of the 5.5 tmc allocated for drinking water, 3.8 tmc was to be diverted to the Malaprabha basin through the Kalasa and Banduri nalas (canal). This allocation was notified by the Union government in February 2020.
However, the dispute continued, with Goa filing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court challenging the allocation of water in July 2019, and a contempt petition in October 2020 accusing Karnataka of illegally diverting water from the Mahadayi basin. There were also civil appeals filed by Maharashtra over the dispute.
Despite the ongoing legal issues, the Karnataka government has now announced its intention to proceed with the project, after receiving clearance from the Central Water Commission (CWC). However, it is still awaiting clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change. CWC has stated that its clearance is subject to the decisions in the three SLPs that were filed in the Supreme Court by the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Goa. These petitions concern the final verdict on the project issued by the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal in 2018.