07 May 2023  |   05:47am IST

Mhadei diversion: Karnataka’s game of deceit

The diversion of Mhadei river water has become a major poll issue in Karnataka Assembly elections, with every political party in its manifestos assuring the electorate of water diversion to meet the drinking water needs of parched areas of Hubbali-Dharwad and surrounding areas. Following a visit on the ground, VITHALDAS HEGDE finds that Karnataka is playing a malicious game of deception in the Mhadei water diversion issue. However, there are some politicians and common people, who are opposed to the diversion of Mhadei river by the Karnataka government
Mhadei diversion: Karnataka’s game of deceit

Central Water Commission’s (CWC) nod to the Karnataka government’s detailed project report (DPR) for the construction of dams on Mhadei river which will lead to diversion of Mhadei river, water into Karnataka, has left every Goan angry and worried about their future since it will have far reaching implications on the overall environment of Goa.

The tussle between Goa and Karnataka is not just for river water. The fight goes beyond this. While, the discussion on Goa’s rights over Mhadei waters vis-à-vis Karnataka continue to rage and will continues to go on, however, one aspect of the issue that has probably not got the attention it deserved is the fact that if this diversion of Mhadei and its tributaries happen, then it will have a very severe impact on Goa’s ecology, that includes the land and marine life, the hydrology, amongst others. 

It is not just a simple matter of river water diversion. We are staring at an imminent long-term devastation on the entire ecology of Goa, which in turn can spell doom on people’s lives in this State. Some possible dangers that one can already see are water salinity, destruction of fish and marine life and even destruction of Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary.

This decision taken by Government of India’s CWC has to be linked with the overall destruction that could befall Goa. These issues need to be analysed threadbare and have to be seen beyond petty politics. But with the Assembly elections in Karnataka just a few days away, the matter has become as emotive in Karnataka as in Goa.

With activists, NGOs and political parties in Goa and even the common man busy playing the blame game, it is time that irrespective of any leanings political or otherwise, we put forth a united stand.

Putting matters in perspective, the Inter-State Mhadei Water Disputes Tribunal in its August 2018 Award, allocated a total of 3.9 tmc feet of water to Karnataka for diversion from Mahadayi (Mhadei) basin to the Malaprabha basin. 

Dissatisfied with the Tribunal verdict, three riparian States – Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra governments have challenged the award before the Supreme Court, which has asked all parties to keep the Tribunal Award in abeyance and that no construction be allowed till it hears the petitions.

As per the Tribunal Award, the bifurcation of this allotment would have been 2.18 tmc from Bhandura and 1.72 tmc from Kalasa, Haltara and Surla. 

This allotment was granted due to Karnataka’s claim that the diversion into the Malaprabha Dam is for drinking water requirements of twin cities Hubbali and Dharwad and surrounding areas of Malaprabha basin.

According to Mhadei Bachao Abhiyan (MBA) Secretary and environmentalist Rajendra Kerkar, Karnataka’s claim is a glaring example of manipulation and deceit, as the Malaprabha Dam is a surplus dam and is the major supplier of water for irrigating cash crops. 

“Karnataka in contemptuous disobedience to this order of the Supreme Court has gone ahead and constructed two oversized diversion tunnels at Kankumbi. The size of each of these is 4 x 4.80 metre. These tunnels are thus more than double the size required to carry just 1.72 tmc water allotted for diversion to the Malaprabha river by the Tribunal.

Kerkar said that Karnataka is constructing tunnels of capacity of around 4 tmc keeping in mind that the Tribunal has not allotted the entire yield, which will be reviewed after August 31, 2048, and such review shall not as far as possible disturb any utilisation that may have been undertaken by any State within the limits of allocation made to it. With an eye on this rider, Karnataka hopes to usurp this unallotted yield in future.

Thus Kerkar strongly emphasized that the 3.9 tmc total water requirement calculated by the Tribunal, is for the projected population for the year 2044 of Huballi and Dharwad and surrounding areas. So the actual requirement at present would be much below 3.9 tmc.

Kerkar who has been regularly visiting the proposed sites of Kalasa and Bhandura nullas, alleges that Karnataka has a history of misrepresenting facts and are habitual offenders, paying scant respect to orders from all authorities as in the case of Krishna and Cauvery rivers, and now, even the Supreme Court, while disregarding the concerns of the local population and environmental issues. 

“Karnataka’s historical strategy has been to deviously construct oversized structures, then complain to the Centre that the dams and other retention and delivery structures are not running to full capacity, feign scarcity and thus plead for more water allotment,” Kerkar said. 

Some glaring examples are the oversized Malaprabha dam constructed in 1972, and the other dams including Lingamakhi, Supa, Varahi, Hemavathi, Bharati, Tungabhadra, Ghataprabha, Almatti, Narayanapura, etc.

Another argument put forth by Kerkar is that the National Water Development Agency has approved 30 links for interlinking of rivers from surplus basins to water deficient basins. The interlinking of Mhadei and Malaprabha rivers does not figure in this list since Mhadei is a water deficit basin.

However, justifying Karnataka’s demand to divert Mhadei water, former Dharwad MLA Vinay Kulkarni refused to accept that Karnataka has massive unutilised water resources close to Huballi-Dharwad district particularly the Bedti river, which actually originates from Hubbali-Dharwad and has a surplus of 8.5 tmc of water.

There are reports that Karnataka is seeking to divert the surplus water of Bedti river to the water deficit Varda river in Ghataprabha basin to irrigate 60,200 hectares of land.

Karnataka Raita Sena president Veerish Sobaradhmath from Nargund taluka of Gadag district, one of the leaders spearheading the agitation for Mhadei diversion has now jumped into the election fray. 

He claimed that it was due to his initiative that the revised DPR submitted by Karnataka was approved by the Central Water Commission (CWC). 

“In the past, DPR submitted by Karnataka was rejected by CWC because of the height of Kalasa-Bhandura nulla and vast areas of 1,000 acres. I reduced the height to 11 metres and brought only 50 acres of land under irrigation and thus the revised DPR was approved,” he said.

Sobaradhmath said that the Malaprabha dam was built to supply water for irrigation purpose only and farmers from Navalgund in Dharward district and Nargund want water for both – irrigation and for drinking purposes. Farmers cultivate wheat, cotton, onion, chilli and sugarcane, which are their sources of income.

However, former Khanapur (in Karnataka) MLA, Digambar Y Patil is opposed to the Mhadei water diversion. 

“We are opposed to Mhadei water diversion as it will cause major destruction of ecology and environment in Khanapur taluka and Goa. The Karnataka government wants to take Mhadei water to Navalgund and Nargund areas mainly for irrigation purposes and not for drinking water purposes,” he said.

Prakash V Patil, son of former Khanapur MLA late V Y Patil, too said that Mhadei diversion is not to quench the thirst of local villagers. 

The proposal will cause immense destruction of forest and we have witnessed floods during monsoon and also depletion of water resources during the lean season, he said.       

Patil informed that it was his father, who when he came to know about the sinister design of the Karnataka government and the implications of the proposed Kalasa-Bhandura project, alerted the then Goa Congress president Nirmala Sawant and other Goa leaders and requested them to oppose the Karnataka’s moves.

Kamlakar Gawade, a resident of Kankumbi is strongly opposed to diversion of Mhadei water. 

“Karnataka has built box-type culverts almost two-km-long and covered them with mud to divert water. Any diversion will spell doom for us. But nobody is listening to us. Our voice is not heard,” he rued.

Janaki Poskar from Jamboti too opposed any attempt to divert Mhadei water. “We make our living by cultivating our fields. The diversion will result in water shortage and render our fields dry. We don’t want it to happen.”     

The Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited in March this year floated a short term tender for construction of a diversion dam across Bhandura nulla at an estimated cost of Rs 542.31 crore. But technical bids could not be opened due to code of conduct in force for Karnataka Assembly polls.

It would be interesting to see if the Karnataka government actually goes ahead with the project by opening the bids after the election results are announced or it is just a poll plank. Also, what happens to this project in case BJP loses the polls? Will the new government also pursue it? 

The Goa government should keep an eye on the poll results and prepare its plan of action. It would be ready to have discussions with the new government, even if it is non-BJP, for the sake of Goans’ welfare. The Goa government must understand that terms like “double engine ki sarkar” ring hollow as they don’t really serve Goa’s interests, when it is needed the most.


Iddhar Udhar