A state-wide bandh has been called in Karnataka over the Mahadayi water issue on 25th January 2018. But one wonders, what is the story? What really is the issue? Of course, the bandh to the citizens serves as a purpose of excitement. It allows for a long weekend. But this bandh has another more important and political purpose. The Mahadayi water dispute stands testimony to the critical water shortage in Karnataka. It also speaks volumes about how the State chooses to tackle this shortage.
The Mahadayi River
It’s about the construction of the Kalasa-banduri dam project over the Mahadayi or Mandovi river. The river is shared by both Goa and Karnataka. It runs through Northern Karnataka and Goa to join the Arabian sea, and is often described as the ‘lifeline of Goa‘. The water dispute centers around the sharing of its water much like the Kaveri dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Karnataka government as part of the Kalasa-banduri project plans to divert some of the river’s water to Northern Karnataka to solve the ongoing water crisis in the region.
The Kalasa-Banduri Project
Should this project be carried out, it would divert 7.56 tmcft of water to the districts of Belagavi, Dharwad, Hubli and Gadag. This project dates back to S.M. Krishna’s regime, but has been a point of contention between the two states ever since then. The project obtained clearence in 2002 but was brought to a halt when Manohar Parikkar of BJP and the chief minister of Goa waged objections against the construction of the dam. It was said that the construction of the dam would harm Goa’s ecology and water supply. Therefore, it’s approval was put on hold by NDA. Multiple protests followed by different parties at different points in time. In 2006, H.D. Kumaraswamy decided to go ahead with the construction. But the Goa government halted construction again. The matter till today stands in front of the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal.
This is not the first time a state-bandh was called over the matter. In September 2015 there was a protest and bandh over the issue similar to the bandh now called on for 25th January. It even involved the CPI, and has been one point used to criticise BJP in the state. Although coming to 2018, when BJP accused chief minister Siddaramiah and Congress for having a hand in the protests one really questions why the matter has cropped up now. Vatal Nagaraj of KCVP believes that Narendra Modi would have to help resolve the issue once and for all. The chances of resolving the issue seem slim.
Instead if one reads between the lines, it would benefit the parties even more if the issue stayed open. Karnataka’s water issue is no joke. One can see this with the terrible state of lakes in Bengaluru, the capital. But when dams are constructed, it requires money, ecological intervention and also involves the lives of thousands of people. It needs to be acknowledged that the process requires consideration and time. But if it takes 16 years to decide whether a dam must be built, then how long have the people have been waiting for water? Moreover one must push aside the curtains of state politics and someone must step in and decide for the two states, maybe Modi is the “Messiah” as Nagaraj believes or this may just be another excuse as BJP calls it to disrupt the party’s rallies. We’ll find out after 4th February 2018.
The Bandh on 25th January:
While some government schools remain open, most of Karnataka has been under a shutdown. The police force in places like Mysore has also been increased, colleges have also had to reschedule examinations on the occasion of the bandh. While South Karnataka is not as affected, northern Karnataka sees much difficulty. The transportation in Karnataka has also resorted to making their own decisions on whether to be open or not. Although there facilities like petrol bunks still functioning, fewer vehicles have been seen plying the roads.
Actors like Prakash Raj too have decided to speak on the issue. There have been protests in front of the city Town Hall at Bengaluru too. Amit Shah is expected to address Mysore today on the occasion of the bandh at 2:30 p.m. In the light of the rally, the security in Mysore has been increased substantially. But, he refused to address the Mahadayi water issue. He only mentioned that the bandh was a congress-initiative to ruin BJP’s rally. He said, that on February 4th people would turn up for Modi’s address despite the bandh. Meanwhile, Goa’s ministry of Water Resources Development is monitoring Karnataka’s actions over the river Mahadayi. They are observing for any moves to continue the construction of the dam by Karnataka.
The Aftermath of the 25th January Bandh
Following the bandh, one found that the pollution levels were seen dropping in the city, mostly in the industrial zones. Traffic also smoothened out, something rare for Bengaluru. An all-party meeting was called on how to proceed on the matter but no applicable solution was found. The BJP sought an amicable solution to the problem. Mr. Siddaramaiah ultimately decided to write to the prime minister on the issue to find a solution and was also open to the idea of meeting and discussing the issue with Parrikar.