Goa-Karnataka clash over Mhadei water diversion

| 21 January 2000 23:22 IST

While the water disputes over Cauveri and Almatti with Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are still unresolved, Karnataka is gearing up for another similar kind of dispute, this time with Goa by planning to cut off the tiny state's lifeline for the purpose of irrigation and power generation.

Plans are getting afoot to divert waters of river Mhadei, on the simple grounds that it originates in the forests of Karnataka, by constructing almost seven dams on the main river and four diversion dams on its tributaries.

The Mhadei river, which merges into the Arabian sea as river Mandovi in Panaji, traverses a distance of 28.8 kms in Karnataka and 81.2 kms in Goa. Its total catchment area is estimated at 2032 sq kms, out of which 1580 sq kms lies in Goa and the rest in Karnataka.

The opposition has obviously come from Goa, as the diversion plans would affect half of the Northern state, depriving Goans from rich vegetation in the forests, fields all along the river banks, waterfalls and even the water treatment plant and the internal waterways.

Besides generating around 457 MW of hydroelectric power with three different power houses, the plan proposed by the Karnataka government also includes diversion of 255 million cubic metres of water from Mhadei to Malprabha basis for irrigation in Belgaum as well as parts of Bijapur and Dharwar districts.

Karnataka chief minister S M Krishna has been consistently making public statements that the new coalition government led by chief minister Francisco Sardinha has given a green signal. The Goa government however still hesitates to come out openly on the issue.

In the joint meeting held between irrigation ministers of both the states on 10 January, Goa's irrigation minister Dayanand Narvekar is however on record stating that the Kalsa project, one of the proposed three, is a good project as it may benefit both the states. His only fear is however whether Karnataka would be in position to fulfil its promise of releasing one TMC water to Goa.

"But we will take a final decision in this regard only if the panel of experts we have appointed approve the project", said Narvekar when journalists talked to him this week, though he once again reiterated that the Kalsa project is not a bad proposal.

The claim by Karnataka that Goa would not be affected but benefited with this multi-crore project is purely based on the basis of comprehensive environment impact assessment report prepared by the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in September 1997.

The panel of experts appointed by the Goa government however has given a totally divergent opinion, pointing out that it would disrupt entire Goa's ecological balance. Even the Kalsa project would affect most of the villages of Sattari taluka and the entire forest belt.

If diverted, the impact would not only be on the human settlements in terms of irrigation and drinking water, but the wroughton freetailed beds and the tiger belt – considered next to Sundarban – would be submerged while also affecting 5000-year old traditional silt-based agriculture prevalent here in 50 villages, point out the environmentalists.

As the next joint meeting is now being fixed in the second week of February, the Goa government has presently left it to the experts' panel to react to Karnataka's proposal regarding the Kalsa dam. The southern state however appears to be quite desperate to finalise at least one proposal before the fresh budget is prepared.

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