By setting what apparently is an unexpected and undemocratic condition that the Bharatiya Janata Party will evolve a workable solution to the vexed issue of sharing rain-fed Mahadayi (called Mandovi in Goa) river water if voted to power in the May-2018 elections to the Karnataka legislative assembly, party’s national president Amit Shah seems to be holding the people of the state to ransom? In simple terms, what he has conveyed to the people in Kalaburgi during his two-day tour of the Hyderabad-Karnataka region in the state on Monday is: You give us your vote and we will give you Mahadayi water in return.
The question is this: Will the BJP, heading the NDA government at the Centre for almost four years now, continue with the same allegedly partisan attitude towards Karnataka just because its party is not in power in the state but in the hands of its rival Congress?
The water-starved farmers and residents of Karnataka, particularly of North Karnataka region have been agitating for an early solution on sharing Mahadayi water to meet their irrigational and drinking water needs for more than two decades. The dispute escalated further due to the alleged delay by Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal in delivering its verdict with farmers launching an indefinite agitation in Nargund of Gadag district on July 16, 2015 and impatiently waiting for the elusive solution. Last New Year’s Eve (Dec 31, 2017) was the 900th day of their continued agitation – one of the longest farmer-driven agitations in the recent history of the country.
The Karnataka government claims that there was around 200 tmc of water available in the Mahadayi river which drains waste into the Arabian sea while the state is seeking to divert only 7.56 tmc of water through the two Kalasa-Banduri Nala projects into the water-deficient Malaprabha river (a tributary of Krishna river flowing through the north Karnataka belts), to meet the drinking water and irrigational needs of the people of parched areas in North Karnataka region. However, though Goa has been disputing the claims on availability of water and opposing the diversion of water on the grounds that it would impact the ecology of the state nestled along the Western Ghats, the present Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar issued a letter assuring that it would not object.
It was in July 2002 that Goa made a request under Section 3 of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 (as amended) for constitution of the Tribunal Act for adjudication of the dispute. With the Goa government allegedly not willing for a negotiable settlement, the Cabinet considered in its meeting held on December 10, 2009 and approved the proposal for constitution of the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (MWDT). The government constituted MWDT vide notification dated November 16, 2010, according to the information available on MWDT website. Subsequently, the MWDT members physically inspected the various sites of Mahadayi and Malaprabha basins. The final hearing was held recently and the Tribunal is expected to deliver its verdict before August this year.
The agitating farmers and the Karnataka government, both have been requesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to find an early out-of-court settlement for the last three years, but the latter tossed the ball back into the court of the Congress government advising it to evolve a consensus among Congress units in all the three riparian states of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. Thus, there is a visible stalemate with both the Congress and BJP indulging in blame-game, coming in sharp contrast to the expectations that the Prime Minister would gift at least an interim solution during his recent visit to Bengaluru.
Now, when Amit Shah says that his party will evolve a solution if voted to power, the farmers wonder that had BJP been in power at the Centre and in Goa and Maharashtra, it could have solved the problem three years ago itself. What prevented him from pursuing the Prime Minister to intervene and ensure at least an interim relief to the water-starved people of North Karnataka, which overwhelmingly supported the BJP both in the last assembly and parliament elections? By saying that the BJP will solve the row if the party came to power, it is only making it clear that it would continue with the status quo, unmindful of the fact that the issue is before the Tribunal and that it would now be resolved only by it and not by one state government. Yet, all the three riparian states and the Centre had the opportunity to do their bit in finding an amicable solution, but they missed out on it in protecting their political interests. In other words, the farmers have to wait till the MWDT delivers its verdict.
It is not that the BJP stands out as an exception here. Almost all parties have been wittingly or unwittingly laying out such conditions to the gullible voters/people, promising solutions to the existing problems and development works if voted to power. But, how the farmers of the region will take Amit Shah’s stand at the hustings in May vis-à-vis the Mahadayi dispute, only time will tell.
(Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.)