On 27 July 2016, in a major setback for Karnataka, the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal (MWDT) rejected Karnataka’s claim on Mahadayi river water to divert 7.56 tmcft water from the Mahadayi river basin to Malaprabha river, in order to fulfill the drinking water needs of people living in border regions of north Karnataka.
Although the announcement came after completing the hearing from all sides, the final judgement of the tribunal will take another year.
Reacting to the announcement, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah said the state awaited the copy of the tribunal to understand the reasons for the tribunal rejecting Karnataka’s case, and will then call an all-party meeting in the state to decide on the next course of action. He, however, stated that he would seek PM Modi’s intervention to try and resolve the dispute with Goa.
Meanwhile, farmers and pro-Kannada groups in Karnataka resorted to violent protests in Navalgund, Hubballi, Belagavi, Mandya, Nargund, Gadag and in several other places. Schools and colleges in Nargund and Hubballi remained closed on Friday.
Goa demands a Tribunal
In 2002, Goa had appealed to the central government, under Section 3 of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, for constituting a Tribunal to address and resolve the Mahadayi river water dispute between Goa and Karnataka.
As per the Act, the central government can establish a tribunal to resolve water sharing disputes if it feels its intervention cannot resolve the same.
In April 2006, the central government did convene a meeting of Chief Ministers of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, all stakeholder states, to try and resolve the same but Goa stood firm on its ground and in September the same year, took the matter to Supreme Court with an appeal to establish a tribunal.
On 16 November 2010, the central government had constituted the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (MWDT).
What is Mahadayi Water Dispute?
Mahadayi River or Mondovi, as it is called in Goa, actually originates from a cluster of 30 springs near Bhimgad in Karnataka and forms into a river at Degaon village in Khanapur Taluk of Belagavi district.
The Mahadayi is essentially a rain-fed river that flows at its peak during monsoon months. The river flows 35 km through Karnataka and then 52 km through Goa, before flowing into the Arabian Sea.
The Mahadayi catchment area covers around 2,032 km and includes some parts of Maharashtra near the Maharashtra-Karnataka border region.
Genesis of the dispute between Karnataka and Goa
The regions of northern Karnataka, along with bordering areas of Maharashtra and Goa, have traditionally been dependent on monsoon rain with little investment made towards building rain-fed catchment dams to meet drinking and irrigation needs of people of the area.
The region depends on Mahadayi river basin that holds around 220 tmcft water, of which around 200 tmcft flows into the Arabian Sea after passing through Goa.
Given erratic monsoon patterns over the years, people of the region have been demanding drinking water and water to meet irrigation needs for agriculture.
In April 2002, after getting an approval from the Water Resources Ministry in New Delhi and the National Environment Engineering Institute, the state government of Karnataka announced plans to build two barrages on Kalasa and Banduri, the two tributaries of Mahadayi river, to supply water to people living the Hubballi-Dharwad, Badami, Nargund, Ron, Navalgund and Gadag region.
Since the Mahadayi river is largely rain-fed between months of June through October, any diversion of waters by Karnataka would adversely affect the water needs of people of Goa.
Therefore, the state government of Goa approached the Supreme Court in September 2002 objecting to the plan, claiming any water diversion would deny people of Goa critical water it needs, besides having a negative impact on the highly sensitive ecology of Western Ghats.
In 2006, Goa had moved the apex court for establishing a tribunal. Justice JM Panchal headed the MWDT set up in 2010.
With the recent announcement, both Karnataka and Goa will have to wait for the final judgement from the tribunal.
There are several ongoing river water disputes between states and this does raise a valid point for all stakeholders. River water is a natural resource and all states must have a just share of it.
But the bigger question that must be asked of these state governments is what have they done towards investing and building ‘rainwater’ water holding capacities in their respective states?
Barring a few regions, there is adequate rainfall in Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, yet all the three states suffer from severe water crisis during the hot pre-monsoon period.
So why is it that these states, and it’s true for other states in India as well, have not invested judiciously in setting up rainwater harvesting check dams, mini-dams and micro-ponds, which collectively can meet a large part of people’s need, if not all of it, during crisis periods?
There is adequate rainfall in all three states to fill mini-to-medium reservoirs that can then pump water through pipelines to rain-deficient areas within the state. But most states have made little investment in these solutions and continue to dispute over river waters. And in cases where some investment have been made, it has mostly been squandered by corrupt officials and politicians. Many states are guilty of this and their people continue to suffer from government apathy.
Had governments of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra invested wisely since this dispute began in 2002, by now, the dependency on Mahadayi river waters would have been lesser, thus the chances of resolving the dispute to the satisfaction of all stakeholders greater.
Similar river water sharing disputes between states
- Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra
- Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha
- Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat
- Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry
- Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra
- Andhra Pradesh and Odisha
River Ravi & Beas – Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal
- Punjab and Haryana