Why is Goa fuming over Karnataka’s drinking water project? Here’s all about the Kalasa-Banduri plan

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said the project has got the approval of the Central Water Commission. Goa is not impressed.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Dec 30, 2022 | 5:53 PM Updated Dec 30, 2022 | 5:54 PM

On the directions of Supreme Court, Siddaramaiah-led Karnataka government had built a wall near Kalasa site in Belagavi. (Supplied)

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s statement on the Kalasa-Banduri Nala drinking water project has armed the Opposition parties in Goa to take on the ruling BJP in that state.

Addressing the Karnataka Assembly on Thursday, 29 December, Bommai said the Central Water Commission (CWC) had approved a modified detailed report (DPR) of the drinking water project.

“This is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s gift to North Karnataka and this news has come during the legislature session in Belagavi,” the chief minister told the Assembly before the winter session in Belagavi, concluded a day in advance.

Bommai’s announcement came as Karnataka has been preparing for the Assembly polls.

The Kalasa-Banduri Nala drinking water project was one of the major promises the BJP had made during the campaign for the 2018 Assembly election.

The project was envisaged to ameliorate the water crisis in North Karnataka districts.

Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Pralhad Joshi, thanked Chief Minister Bommai for making a “constructive detailed project report on the Kalasa Banduri project”.

Dharwad, Joshi’s Lok Sabha constituency, will benefit from the project.

Bommai said 1.72 TMC of water would be diverted from Kalasa and 2.18 TMC from Banduri streams, the tributaries of the Mahadayi River. The river is known as Mhadei in Goa.

Assuring that the project’s work would resume at the earliest, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai told reporters: “The CWC has approved the DPR submitted by the Karnataka government in November 2022. As soon as we receive the final nod for the DPR, we will invite tender and kickstart the works related to this much-awaited drinking water project.”

The project will benefit 13 talukas in Belagavi, Dharwad, Gadag and Bagalkot districts of North Karnataka.

Why revised DPR?

Earlier the CWC, environmentalists and activists in Goa objected to the previous DPR Karnataka had submitted.

“As per the old DPR, around 367 hectares of forest area were under threat because the government had planned to construct tunnels for taking the allocated water. The CWC rejected the DPR and demanded environment clearance and advised the state to submit a revised report,” activist Ashok Chandaragai said.

“The state government submitted a revised DPR to the CWC. As per the revised DPR, around 61 hectares of forest will be affected as the government decided to go with lift irrigation instead of tunnels,” he said.

Accepting the revised DPR, the CWC give Karnataka its nod to go ahead with the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project. “But the CWC has clearly stated that its approval is subject to the final verdict of the Supreme Court,” Chandaragi added.

Bommai sparks trouble in Goa

After the Karnataka chief minister’s announcement, Goa Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president Amit Patkar accused Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and his predecessor, the late Manohar Parrikar, of sacrificing Goa’s interest on the issue.

The GPCC chief further stated that the Mahadayi dispute tribunal was formed by former prime minister Manmohan Singh at the request of the then Congress government in the state.

“We fought to preserve our lifeline Mother Mhadei & we will continue to protect it. The BJP is all out to destroy and sell Goa,” he claimed in another tweet.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Goa unit president Amit Palekar also slammed the chief minister on the issue.

“Goa’s mother sold by @goacm and @BJP4India. Shameless did not fall short of destroying Goa’s lifeline Mhadei for political gains. Time to take the revolution to save our mother to the streets and we will fight till death!” Palekar tweeted.

Sharp reactions have started emerging from the political circles in Goa following Karnataka’s announcement that the Centre has given a go-ahead for the DPR on the Kalasa-Banduri canal on the Mahadayi river.

Responding to the Karnataka chief minister’s announcement, Sawant had earlier clarified that the neighbouring state cannot go ahead with the project, even if the DPR has been approved.

“Despite the approval of the DPR, Karnataka cannot divert the water of Mhadei River because under the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, no water from Kalasa rivulet can be diverted in any manner,” Sawant tweeted.

“We shall fight to the hilt for each drop of Mhadei water. We demand and request the Central government to immediately constitute the Mahadayi Water Management Authority, which would ensure that no water from Kalasa rivulet is diverted illegally,” he said in another tweet.

In a subsequent tweet, he wrote: “We assure that the Government of Goa is fully committed and dedicated to the cause of the Mhadei basin and the people of Goa.”

The tale of Kalasa-Banduri Nala

The Mahadayi River originates at Kankumbi in Belagavi. It flows over 111 kilometres through parts of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. Kalasa and Banduri are the two tributaries of Mahadayi.

The Mahadayi waters have been the bone of contention between Karnataka and Goa for the past four decades. The Karnataka government had planned to develop dams and canals on the Kalasa and Banduri Nala by diverting the Mahadayi to the Malaprabha River.

The project was first proposed to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly by the then-Guledagudda MLA BM Horakeri in 1976. The project was proposed to address the severe drought and famine in the Malaprabha river basin. However, successive governments did not pursue the plan.

Recalling the early days of the dispute, Chandaragai said: “When Congress leader Gundu Rao was at the helm in Karnataka in the early 1980s, he set up a committee under the then opposition leader SR Bommai to evaluate the situation.”

“The committee recommended that if North Karnataka’s drinking water woes have to be resolved, the Mahadayi and Malaprabha rivers should be linked. The governments that followed were not serious about the project until SR Bommai, the father of the present chief minister, took up the issue in 1988.”

“Bommai held a meeting with his Goa counterpart Pratap Singh Rane and both agreed to go ahead with the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project. Though Goa initially agreed to the plan, it soon took a U-turn and objected to the project in 1989,” Chandaragi pointed out.

The successive governments did not make sincere efforts to pursue the project. “It came to the fore again in 2002 when SM Krishna was chief minister. The Union government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave the nod for the project,” he recalled.

“However, it was short-lived as the then Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar opposed the NDA government’s decision and sought the intervention of a tribunal. Based on Goa’s objection, Vajpayee put the project on hold,” Chandaragi said, adding that it was a setback for Karnataka.

Bommai’s awareness yatra

Basavaraj Bommai, then a Janata Dal (United) MLC, undertook a 250-km padayatra from Hubballi to Kalasa-Banduri in 2002, spreading awareness about the need for the project.

“Though there were minor agitations demanding the implementation of the project, Bommai’s padayatra was massive and the first mega protest on the matter,” Chandaragi, who was also the convener of the Kalasa-Banduri Horata Samiti, recalled.

“People were least aware of the Kalasa-Banduri plan. His padayatra made people realise the importance of the project,” he added.

Bommai left the JD(U) and joined the BJP in February 2008.

Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal

Goa moved the Supreme Court seeking the setting up of a tribunal to settle the dispute. After the court ruled in Goa’s favour, the Union government constituted the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal under the chairmanship of Justice JM Panchal in 2010.

The other members of the tribunal were Justice Viney Mittal, who was a former judge of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, and Justice P S Narayana, a former judge of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh.

“Goa wanted a court order halting the Kalasa-Banduri project. However, the court dismissed the petition. Though a tribunal was constituted, there was hardly any progress,” Veeresh Sorabadmath, state president of Raitha Sena Karnataka, said.

He further said: “We filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the apex court to expedite the hearing and resolve the interstate water dispute. Based on the PIL, the court served notice to the tribunal in 2013.”

“After the tribunal took up hearing, we withdrew the PIL. Karnataka sought 36 TMC of water and also submitted the DPR for the same. However, the DPR was not approved, citing environmental and other issues,” Sorabadmath explained.

Protests turn violent

In 2016, after the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal had rejected Karnataka’s petition seeking the diversion of 7.56 TMC for the drinking water project, farmers staged a huge protest, which turned violent. Normal life was paralysed in four North Karnataka districts.

The police resorted to lathi-charge to bring the situation under control. One person was killed and hundreds of farmers were injured at Yamanur village in Dharwad’s Navalgund.

“As many as 11 people lost their lives during the protests and hundreds of people were injured in 2015 and 2016. The police brutality was at its peak as they did not spare even pregnant women and the elderly,” Sorabadmath recalled.

“We gave our sweat and blood for getting approval for the project. The scars of police atrocity have not yet faded. We were fighting for our rights because our children reside in the cities, where there are severe drinking water issues even today,” he further said.

Referring to Bommai’s statement in the Assembly, he said: “It is just an eyewash as the polls are nearing. We will neither welcome nor congratulate the government for getting a nod for this project. If they have the Central Water Commission’s approval, I dare them to start the project within a fortnight,” he challenged.

Dispute still before the court

After nearly eight years, the tribunal awarded 13.42 TMC of water to Karnataka, 24 TMC to Goa and 1.33 TMC to Maharashtra on 4 August 2018.

Karnataka and Maharashtra assessed that around 200 TMC of water is available in Mahadayi.

“The tribunal awarded only 13.42 TMC against the demand for 45 TMC to Karnataka. Of the allocated water, 8 TMC has to be utilised for power generation. Of the total allocation, 1.72 TMC is from Kalasa Nala and 2.18 TMC is from Banduri. This 3.9 TMC of water will be utilised solely for the drinking water project,” Chandaragi said.

The dispute has not yet been solved. “Alleging injustice in the allocating the water, all three states approached the apex court. The matter is still pending before the court,” he pointed out.

(With PTI inputs)