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Mahadayi river becomes political flashpoint: Tensions between Goa and Karnataka may escalate, here's why

The Mahadayi river has become a political flashpoint in Goa and Karnataka, and tensions are expected to escalate further with Kannada organisations and farmers planning to hold two bandhs in Karnataka over the next two weeks. The issue is pending before the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal in Delhi.

What is the dispute about?

The 77 kilometre-long Mahadayi or Mandovi river originates at Bhimgad in the Western Ghats in Belagavi district of north Karnataka and flows into the neighbouring Goa where it eventually joins the Arabian Sea.

 Mahadayi river becomes political flashpoint: Tensions between Goa and Karnataka may escalate, heres why

Protests over Mahadevi river water sharing. Naqshab Bhat/101Reporters

Though the river flow runs 29 kilometres in Karnataka and 52 kilometres in Goa, its catchment area —  the area from where water drains into the river — is spread over 2,032 kilometres in the southern state as against 1,580 kilometres in Goa.

Since 2001, Karnataka has been asking Goa to release 7.6 thousand million cubic feet of the river water to meet the drinking and crop irrigation needs of its people in four drought-prone districts.

Karnataka plans to build two canals at Kalasa and Banduri, the river's tributaries in the state, to divert and supply the water to the four districts. However, this diversion of water is being opposed by Goa, which contends that Karnataka should not divert water to the Malaprabha river basin as the Mahadayi river already has a water deficit, according to a report by The Hindu. Karnataka, for its part, claims that the river is water-surplus.

Why has it erupted now?

In December, Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar wrote a letter to former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa saying that the state was willing to share water from the river for drinking purposes. On 3 January, he also said that sharing of the Mahadayi river with Karnataka is 'inevitable.'

"One has to understand that 52 kilometres of the river runs through Goa, 35 kilometres through Karnataka and 16 kilometres through Maharashtra. As such, sharing of water of the Mahadayi river is inevitable as it is passing through all the three states," he had said.

His statement promptly met with sharp reactions from the Shiv Sena and the Congress. The Sena said it expected Parrikar to "fight like a real son of the soil" against all the attempts to share even a drop of water from the Mahadayi river. His letter to Yeddyurappa was termed as an electoral gambit by the ruling Congress in poll-bound Karnataka. The Hindu points out that the issue has become a heated topic in Karnataka, as there is public anger over non-implementation of the project to divert water to the Malaprabha river.

On 29 December, agitated farmers of Karnataka Raita Sena from several North Karnataka districts staged a dharna outside the BJP head office in Malleshwaram and demanded that Yeddyurappa sit down with them to resolve the issue, according to this Firstpost report.

Narendra Modi's upcoming visit to Karnataka has led to escalating tensions, as the timings of the bandhs in the state coincides with his tour. The pro-Kannada outfits have asked Modi to intervene. Farmer leaders have hit out at the BJP, saying that the prime minister should have resolved the dispute much earlier as the BJP is in power at the Centre.

Is it likely to be resolved soon?

The Mahadayi River Water Tribunal is expected to hear the final arguments in the matter in February. According to a report in The Indian Express, the final hearing is expected to take place from 6 February to 22 February.

Meanwhile, Karnataka organisations have called for two bandhs on 4 February and 25 February. The Goa government, for its part, formed a committee to inspect violations of a Supreme Court order in the case by Karnataka.  Goa water resources minister Vinod Palyekar set up the four-member committee to monitor, on weekly basis, possible violation of Supreme Court directives at Kankumbi village in Karnataka with resumption of the construction of a canal there.

With Modi's visit to Karnataka and two protests expected in the near future, this issue is likely to remain in the headlines.

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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2018 22:28:53 IST