Mumbai: After last month’s standoff between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka over their decades-old border conflict, there’s now another BJP versus BJP conflict brewing — this time between Goa and Karnataka.
This tussle, over the waters of the River Mahadayi, as it is called in Karnataka, or Mandovi/Mhadei in Goa, has put the Goa BJP unit in a tight spot.
The conflict, which dates back to the 1980s, was reignited in December last year when the Central Water Commission (CWC) approved the Karnataka government’s detailed project report for the Kalasa-Banduri drinking water project. The project seeks to divert water from the Mahadayi river to Karnataka districts such as Belagavi, Dharwad, Bagalkot, and Gadag.
Union Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah’s comments last week, that the Modi government had resolved the water-sharing dispute to finally supply the river’s waters to Karnataka, have further fuelled the controversy in Goa.
While speaking in poll-bound Karnataka’s Belagavi district, Shah had even congratulated Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai for getting approval to divert Mahadayi’s waters to Karnataka.
While at least two Goa BJP Ministers — Nilesh Cabral and Subhash Shirodkar — have criticised the Union minister’s comments as “condemnable and unacceptable”, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has been cautious, only saying that his government “is working to fight for Goa’s cause” and “Goa’s legal case is strong.”
Meanwhile, Bommai Tuesday told reporters that his state will go ahead with the Mahadayi diversion project step by step and that it is being implemented after a protracted legal battle.
Political analysts told ThePrint that the controversy puts the Goa BJP in a difficult position.
“The controversy cuts a sorry figure for the BJP in Goa, and particularly for the Goa CM,” Goa-based political analyst and advocate Cleofato A. Coutinho said.
“Karnataka is going to polls soon. In Goa, elections are still four years away. The Opposition is virtually nonexistent. So, it is a perfect opportunity for the BJP overall. But, it definitely dents the BJP government in Goa, particularly the CM’s image,” he added.
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The Mahadayi water dispute
The Mahadayi, or Mhadei or Mandovi, river originates in the Western Ghats from Karnataka’s Bhimgad Wildlife sanctuary in Belagavi district’s Khanapur taluka and briefly flows through Maharashtra before it meets the Arabian Sea at Panaji in Goa.
It’s one of the two main rivers of Goa and is considered to be one of the state’s lifelines, key for its drinking water needs and cultivation of prawn and paddy.
The conflict over Mahadayi’s waters dates back to the 1980s when the Karnataka government first proposed using water from the river for drinking water and irrigation purposes and also conceived a 350-megawatt hydroelectric project. Goa staunchly opposed both proposals.
In 2002, the Goa government wrote to the central government asking for a water dispute tribunal to be constituted to resolve the conflict and in 2006 filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking it to direct the Union government to constitute the tribunal. The tribunal was eventually constituted in November 2010.
In 2018, the tribunal allocated 13.42 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) of water to Karnataka from the river’s primary basin though the state was demanding 36.5 TMC. Of the 13.42 TMC, the tribunal allowed 5.5 TMC for use within the river basin and for diversion to the Malaprabha reservoir. The rest was permitted for power generation. The tribunal allocated 24 TMC to Goa and 1.3 TMC to Maharashtra.
The then Manohar Parrikar-led BJP government in Goa welcomed the decision hailing it as a victory for the state.
The fear among Goans, said Goa-based activist Viriato Fernandes who had unsuccessfully contested the 2022 assembly poll as a Congress candidate, is that Karnataka may divert water from Mhadei for irrigation, especially for the cultivation of the water-guzzling sugarcane crop, and possibly for industries too.
“The whole of North Goa is dependent on Mhadei. You divert that and you destroy the livelihood of North Goa,” he told ThePrint.
Goa BJP in a tight spot
The CWC’s approval of Karnataka’s detailed project report once again brought the age-old tiff back to the forefront of the politics of Goa and Karnataka. Union Minister of State for Ports, Shipping & Waterways and Tourism Shripad Naik, who hails from Goa, briefly offered to resign but has since then maintained a studied silence on the issue.
Earlier this month, the Goa assembly passed a unanimous resolution to oppose any out-of-basin diversion of Mhadei’s waters.
However, Union Minister Shah’s statement has raised questions over the BJP-led Goa government’s seriousness in protecting the interests of Goa’s population, Opposition legislators say.
“We as an Opposition were not taken as a delegation to meet the home minister because the CM was perhaps aware that Mhadei was about to be sold,” Congress Member of Legislative Assembly Yuri Alemao told ThePrint. “So the BJP basically has got a double-engine government, but it is a complete failure. Despite being a small state we have got some democratic rights, but they (the BJP) have compromised all our future generations.”
A Goa BJP MLA who didn’t want to be named said the Union home minister has assured them that he will find a solution “soon”.
“Right now, only the detailed project report of Karnataka has been approved. There are many more steps after that,” the MLA told ThePrint.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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