The situation has worsened this year due to a stand-off between the Karnataka and Maharashtra governments over releasing water to fill up the tanks in the Krishna basin in Karnataka.

Water crisis Why residents in a Karnataka town are up in arms against the Maharashtra govt
news Water Tuesday, June 11, 2019 - 17:10

Facing an acute water-shortage this summer, residents of Athani in Belagavi district are set to launch a protest against the Maharashtra government demanding the release of water from the Krishna river.

For the past two months, residents in Athani and nearby areas, have been requesting the Maharashtra government to fill up the tanks at Krishna basin (in Karnataka) so that drinking water is available to them.   

The river Krishna which originates in Maharashtra, flows through Belagavi, Bagalkote, Vijayapura in Karnataka before moving on to Hamsaladevi in Andhra Pradesh and joining the Bay of Bengal. In fact, the river has the largest watershed area in Karnataka. At Vijayapura, Almatti reservoir has been built for the river which serves as the major water resource for North Karnataka.

But during summer, all the three districts in Karnataka experience severe drought as the river dries up. Subsequently, the tributaries of the river such as Ghataprabha, Hiranyakeshi, Vedaganga, Doodhganga rivers also dry up during summer leading to water shortage due to which over 250 villages in these three districts (169 alone in Belagavi district) are facing severe water crisis this summer.

"This summer, over 100 projects that are dependent on Krishna river water have also been non-functional," Shankar, a resident of Belagavi said.

The situation has worsened this year due to the Maharashtra government's demand to have water in exchange of water, unlike in the last few years.

From Maharashtra border to Alamatti reservoir, there are two barrages at Hirappa and Chikkapadasalagi, apart from which there are check dams. Since sugarcane fields are close to the river basin, most of the water from the river are absorbed by the sugarcane crops, further aggravating the scarcity of water.

The Maharashtra government used to release 4 tmc of water by the first week of March to Karnataka. Former Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa and Water Resources Minister DK Shivakumar had written to Maharashtra Chief Minister requesting release of water, prior to the Lok Sabha elections this year.

A delegation led by Rajya Sabha member Prabhakar Kore had met Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis - after the Lok Sabha elections - requesting him to release water. "Although the delegation had stated that Maharashtra CM had agreed for it, it does not seem to be true. Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy who was present at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony, recently had held a dialogue in this regard, it is learnt. But, we don't know the outcome or if we will receive water before the monsoon," Shivu Patil, a farmer from Kagwad in Athani taluk said.

Drinking water but with conditions

The Maharashtra government also releases water from Koyna dam. It would take one-and-a-half days for water to reach Chikkodi taluk on the border of Karnataka. The Maharashtra government had put conditions that it would release water only in exchange of water, and not money.

Every year during summer, Karnataka's demand for water from this reservoir is 4 tmc. In 2013, the Karnataka government had paid Rs 4.5 crore for one tmc of water from the Koyna reservoir. Now, the value of 1 tmc of water stands at Rs 5.5 crore.

In 2016-17 and 2017-18, Karnataka government had demanded 2 tmc and 4 tmc of water, respectively. The state government is yet to release Rs 33 crore to Maharashtra government.

Although, the Karnataka government had agreed to release water to Sollapur from Almatti reservoir in 2017, the technical process is not yet completed. Now, the Maharashtra government is adamant that the release of water only takes place after the agreement on water to Sollapur and Sangli areas from Almatti reservoir, claim officials from the Water Resources department.

Although, there is no water scarcity in the basin of river Krishna in Maharashtra, certain pockets like Sangli and Sollapur districts experience drought-like situation during summer. And both these places are close to the place where the Almatti river's backwater flows. The Tubachi Babaleshwar lift irrigation project utilises these waters. Eyeing this project, the Maharashtra Water Resources Department has demanded water from the lift irrigation project in exchange for water from Krishna river. The neighbouring state also wants to have a permanent agreement on this.

However, its counterpart in Karnataka government, the Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited (KNNL) is arguing that water from the lift irrigation project has already been assigned to various projects and that it needs to store more water if it has to release it for the Maharashtra government. Moreover, the Karnataka government has to lay 140 km-long pipeline up to Maharashtra border to allow water to flow. Considering all these challenges, the Karnataka government has sought to study feasibility before releasing the water. But the neighbouring state has not yet responded to these issues.

"I have pressed for a permanent agreement between Karnataka and Maharashtra governments on Krishna water sharing at Council floor, many a time. When I had requested Maharashtra CM to release water, he had readily agreed too. But he has not yet honoured his words. Unless, the chief ministers of both the states come to a conclusion on this, the issue would not be resolved," observes Mahantesh Kavatagimath, Opposition Party chief whip in the Legislative Council.

This has become an administrative crisis, with neither Karnataka nor Maharashtra state government ready to address their concern, at this juncture. As a result, people in Mumbai-Karnataka region (Belagavi, Bijapir, Bagalkot), where Krishna river flows, are reeling under severe water crisis.

Local residents who hold their annual village fair have been forced to put-off auspicious occasions in their villages, anticipating the release of water. Especially in villages at Athani and Chikkodi, artificial ponds were created to allow people to take bath during religious fairs. “These fares and celebration are very close to local people, and the government is aware of it, yet it is not showing any response. If this continues, it would certainly lead to another protest like Mahadayi,” says Manjunath Patil,  an advocate from Chikkodi.

(Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)

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