Tribunal blow

Print edition : September 02, 2016

THE interim order of the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (MWDT) on July 27 was a big disappointment for Karnataka as it quashed the State’s interlocutory application. Karnataka had sought permission to lift or pump 7.56 tmc ft (thousand million cubic feet) of water annually from the Mahadayi river basin to the basin of the Malaprabha river with the intention of providing drinking water and irrigation facilities to several taluks spread across the districts of Belagavi, Dharwad, Gadag and Bagalkot in north Karnataka.

The Mahadayi, a westward-flowing river, originates in the Western Ghats in north-west Karnataka and after a short run through Karnataka flows through Goa as the Mandovi and eventually drains into the Arabian Sea, a total length of 87 kilometres. With water from the basin of the Malaprabha, an eastward-flowing river, insufficient to meet the requirements of its four northern districts, Karnataka stands by its claim on a part of the water from the Mahadayi basin. On its part, Goa lays claim to the Mandovi, the biggest river in the State. The catchment area of the Mahadayi is spread across Karnataka (375 sq km), Maharashtra (77 sq km) and Goa (1,580 sq km).

Karnataka has based its claim on the grounds that its northern districts are frequently affected by drought, which can be mitigated by access to water from the Mahadayi during the monsoon period. The Kalasa Banduri project to build a canal to divert the waters of the Mahadayi was conceived by Karnataka in the mid1980s. The canal work (the Kalasa portion) is almost complete. In its interlocutory application, Karnataka said the total yield of water in the Mahadayi basin was 199.6 tmc ft, whereas Goa contented that it was only 108.72 tmc ft. Considering that its requirement was only 7.56 tmc ft, Karnataka prayed that this water should be granted.

Goa stated that Karnataka’s “application is thoroughly misconceived and based on inflated, concocted and artificially flavoured alleged demands, which are far from reality and, therefore, the I.A. [interlocutory application] should not be entertained”. Goa also contended that there had been absolute misuse of water in the drought-affected areas of Karnataka, where sugarcane was being cultivated and four lakh litres of water was supplied every day to a soft drink company’s unit in Dharwad. It added that Karnataka’s estimate of Goa’s water requirement was kept low deliberately. In its 119-page order, the MWDT dismissed Karnataka’s application.

Rajendra Kerkar, an environmentalist based in Keri, a Goan village on the border with Karnataka, said it was wrong to permit Karnataka to build dams and canals to divert the natural course of the river. “The guidelines issued under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, make it clear that if a project involves forest as well as non-forest land, work should not be started on the non-forest land until the Central government gives approval for release of forest land. To date, Karnataka has not received the necessary clearances,” he said.

Vikas Soppin, convener of the Kalasa Banduri Horata Samiti, pointed out the lacunae in the Karnataka government’s interlocutory application. “The quantifying data regarding the severity of the drought in Karnataka have not been conveyed correctly,” he said

A bandh was organised in the State on July 30. Protesting farmers in the taluks of Navalgund and Nargund were lathicharged by the police. With the final order of the MWDT expected in 2017, Karnataka is hoping that it will be able to present a stronger case in subsequent hearings.

Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed