Karnataka is still reeling from the protests, rasta roko, bandhs, burning effigies, etc., resulting from the anger over the Interim Verdict of Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal[i] (MWDT) of the 27.07.16 which did not allow Karnataka’s Appeal to temporarily lift 7 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) water from Mahadayi Basin into Malaprabha Basin (a sub basin of Krishna basin). Twin cities of Hubali and Dharwad, likely beneficiaries from the diversion, are centers of agitation. Schools and colleges were closed, government offices and buses were burnt, major roads were blocked by protesters. Pro-Karnataka Organizations and even Film stars have joined this protest. Karnataka Home Minister has called on the Prime Minister to look into the decision. Goa, on the other hand, is quietly celebrating this one positive step[ii]. I was reminded of Rajendra Singh’s uncritical support to the project and also what Dr. T V Ramchandra from IISC, Bangalore said about this, “Do the film stars know the details of the issue or even where their water comes from? The day we push Pudharis away, solutions to our water woes will be easy and closer to home.”
I have returned from Mhadei/Mandovi Basin recently, tracing her footsteps near her origin to the sea and it is difficult to conceive that this veritable treasure trove of serenity and beauty is today a bone of contention, leading to unrest and violence.
It also cannot be missed that unlike Goa, the powerful Karnataka had hired a battery of celebrity lawyers to contest its case in front of the tribunal. As a conservationist friend from Karnataka said, it is amazing to see the amount of money Karnataka is spending on Lawyers, for just 7 TMC water.
What is interesting to note, though not surprising perhaps, is the absence of official information on what actually transpired at the Tribunal, what the Tribunal Order actually states and why. Even the media is quoted to be saying that MWDT rejected Karnataka’s appeal for diversion of 7.56 TMC water through the Kalsa-Bhanduri Project into Malaprabha Basin[iii]…which is away from the facts. The order is not about 7.56 TMC, neither is it about Kalasa-Bhanduri project.
Let us try to understand the interim decision of the Tribunal, a three-member bench headed by Justice J.M. Panchal. But before that, let us understand the Tribunal itself, which was constituted in 2010 after Goa approached the Supreme Court[iv] in 2006 even as Karnataka had started work on Mahadayi diversion project, without either consulting Goa or securing requisite clearances from Environment Ministry or Planning Commission. (A timeline of the Tribunal formation and its decisions is provided in Annex 1 at the end.)
Mahadayi, known as Mandovi or Mhadei in Goa is a spectacular, biodiversity rich river[v], which arises from ecologically sensitive regions of Western Ghats in Karnataka and flows into Goa. Of its 76 kms length, 52 lie in Goa. 18% basin area lies in Karnataka, just 4% in Maharashtra and maximum 78% basin area lies in Goa. See some of her avatars in a film made with the help of Dr. Rajendra Kerkar from Mhadei Bacaho Andolan. https://vimeo.com/82445659
According to documents submitted by Karnataka to the Hon. Tribunal in 2013 (this is based on Environment Impact Assessment of the Proposed Mahadayi Hydroelectric Project, done in 1997 by NEERI), Karnataka’s dual plan of Hydropower generation and river diversion for irrigation and drinking water includes multiple dams like Kotni reservoir, Irti, Bailnadi and a tailrace. Total submergence of these 4 dams will be 2,614 hectares, which includes 1938 hectares of forest land. In addition, there are two diversion dams planned, Kalasa and Haltar, with a submergence area of 301.5 hectares. So the total submergence of the project will be 2915.5 hectares, most of which is not only Forest Land, but also part of Mahadayi Wildlife Sanctuary.
This region is ecologically one of the most valuable regions in India. And it is extremely shocking to see that Karnataka started construction and digging canals at Kalasa Bhanduri, just 1.2 kms from the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary without securing any Environment, Forest or Wildlife Clearances. In fact, the MoEF should suo motto look into this matter and take strict action against Karnataka for violating a slew of environment related laws, but it has not done so for so many years. The reason is a mystery.
It will not be out of place to mention here that Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited has violated Environmental and Forest Laws in several of its projects, including Upper Bhadra Project[vi], Sonthi Lift Irrigation[vii] Scheme, and the latest Yettinahole Diversion Project.[viii] Maharashtra, which is also a party of the MWDT has also violated Environmental and Forest laws by not securing clearances before starting with the Virdi Dam project on a Mahadayi’s tributary.[ix]
This is not to say that Goa is exemplary in its river or environment management. Unabated, unregulated mining in Goa, with political support has ravaged its water systems, dams and rivers. [x]
Sequence of Events
The current Tribunal Order has not come in vacuum, it all started with an Interlocutory Application (IA) filed by Karnataka in Dec 2015, a reply by Goa, reply by Maharashtra, Rejoinder by Karnataka, Surrejoinder by Goa, IA of 2016 by which IA 60 of 2015 was Amended by Karnataka, finally Reply filed by Goa and the Tribunal’s Interim Order.
It was Karnataka which approached the Tribunal in December 2015 with an Interim Application, with a prayer that the state be allowed to lift only 7 TMC water (NOT 7.56 TMC, which is a part of Karnataka’s original application at Kalasa Bhanduri, under the MWDT) to alleviate “Extraordinary drought situation that prevails in the Malaprabha Basin.” Please remember that this was for an Interim Relief, not final resolution of water sharing dispute.
Karnataka supported its claims by stating that it be allowed to lift 7 TMC every year at 75% dependability at Kotni Dam site and that Karnataka’s original claim (for use of Mahadayi river basin water) of 24.15 TMC water for consumptive use from Mahadayi basin will be adjusted accordingly. It said that the present stated utilization of Goa is not more than 9.395 TMC, while yield available to Goa is 108.72 TMC at 75% dependability (although Karnataka says its 199.6 TMC as per CWC report 2009, which is strongly contested by Goa). Karnataka also stated that total utilization of Goa, as per its own master plan till 2051 would be 94.4 TMC so even if Goa succeeds in its claims before the tribunal, there will be no loss to Goa if Karnataka lifts 7 TMC water on immediate basis in view of extreme drought situation, which is “likely to persist in future.” Thus according to Karnataka, Goa has 14.32 TMC surplus after accounting for all uses including forest management, domestic water needs, irrigation, salinity control etc., and Karnataka will lift water “only during monsoons months”.
According to Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal I (KWDT I) calculations (Malaprabha Basin to which Karnataka wants to transfer water falls in Krishna Basin), Karnataka was allowed to utilize 44 TMC water in the basin, but Karnataka’s modified calculations in 2009 arrived at conclusion that yield of Malaprabha basin was just 27 TMC.
In 2015-16 (a drought year), the inflow at Malaprabha reservoir was at 11.42 TMC against projection of 23.82 TMC at 75% dependability. This shortage of 52.06% is adversely affecting irrigation, drinking water needs, “forcing farmers to go on agitation”.
Goa’s Rejoinder: In a rejoinder to this application, Goa stated that a party coming for interim relief should plead and prove “at least 3 mandatory predicates of irreversible loss, but Karnataka rather than doing this “bases its application on public agitation, which is patronized by functionaries and politicians and on the alleged word drought as if it is a word of magic to secure returns without even mentioning necessary averments.”
Goa pleaded that Hubli Dharwad, by Karnataka’s own admission, is a sugarcane growing region and drought is mainly due to misuse of water. “Instant application is silent on groundwater management as in areas with dense sugarcane plantation, the aquifer has run dry”. It pointed out that in 2011-12 areas under sugarcane in Malaprabha Basin was 1,81,470 hectares and its would need “nearly 160 TMC of water to cater to this. Excessive sugarcane and its processing has left aquifer dry in Belgaum and Dharwad regions.”
Goas further stated that “drought severity is not only dependent on rainfall intensity and geographical extent, but on the demands made by the human activities and changing cropping pattern like water guzzler cane.”
Very interestingly, Goa quotes that “Pepsico unit in Dharwad is supplied 4 lakh liters of Malaprabha water per day which should satisfy the domestic requirement of at least 16000 people and as such it is difficult to accept Karnataka’s claim of “Extraordinary drought” when such diversions continue unharmed.”
It further stated that Goa’s requirement cannot be fixed only at 9.395 TMC as the very source of water is needed for “hydropower, marine fisheries, navigation, etc.” and that considerable draft is required in Mahadayi river for vessels to enter, when navigation is the backbone of Goa’s economy.
It states that Karnataka is claiming water from Mahadayi without studying options, or making FR (Feasibility Report) or PFR (Pre Feasibility Report), which is not proper. In the same breath, Goa also mentions that Karnataka should explore intrastate water links for Malaprabha, when frankly it is not Goa’s place to suggest any such diversions only to strengthen its claim.
Goa further stated the important fact that Karnataka has proposed massive project to divert water through ducts and canals & dams through sanctuary without any clearances under the Environment Protection Act, Forest Conservation Act or the Wildlife Protection Act.
Goa advised that whatever Karnataka’s claims are about Malaprabha Water “should be settled in the KWDT which can be opened afresh due to formation of Telangana.” That advise though possibly was irrelevant and unnecessary.
Karnataka’s Rejoinder: To this, Karnataka filed a rejoinder that 7 TMC will not make any difference to Goa and that the inflow to Malaprabha reservoir for the year 2015-16 was “only 11.42 TMC as against normal inflow of 23.82 TMC with a shortage of 52.06%.” Shortfall in the inflow of Malaprabha Reservoir has been a reality for past five consecutive years.
Using some foreign examples Karnataka goes to the extent of saying that the “lower state is not entitled to have the stream flow as it would in nature regardless of the need and use and Goa’s contentions about the nature of use on Dharwad and Belgaum are irrelevant.” Karnataka said that it is not talking about the whole of Malaprabha basin, but only the command of Malaprabha Reservoir.
Karnataka says that it is ironic of Goa to talk about 4 lakh liters to Pepsico everyday, “when 200 TMC go waste to Sea in Goa.” This rhetoric of water going waste to Sea again and again made by Karnataka only exposes the ecological illiteracy of the lawyers and it is great to see the strong objection taken to this by the Tribunal itself in its order.
Karnataka claimed that the 7.56 TMC water diversion from Kalasa Bhanduri from Mahadayi is for drinking water of Hubli Dharwad, but current intermediate application for 7 TMC is for shortages of irrigation and drinking water needs on Malaprabha Command and that the Project will be commissioned “only after clearance from Central Government and MoEF and CC.”
Sur-Rejoinder of Goa To this Karnataka rejoinder, Goa filed an interesting Sur-rejoinder which raises some important points. It stated that through the Interim Application, Karnataka is deliberately placing Goa in disadvantageous position by creating a fait accompli of diversion works. Goa’s 1999 demand of 94.42 TMC water from Mahadayi did not include environmental needs. However, demands of Goa especially of “environmental needs are present day requirement and therefore lifting 7 TMC should not be permitted” without requisite studies, argued Goa.
Goa also argued: “This order passed would mean that the Tribunal accepts that Mahadayi is a surplus basin, or that Goa’s demands are only 94 TMC, this would be a major limitation for Goa later during Tribunal hearings. Any interim orders are passed in tribunals only in rarest circumstances and that too “to maintain or re-establish a historical status quo and not to change the status quo.”
Goa claimed that pumping by Karnataka will be from “a flowing river and not a dam or reservoir and it will be impossible to know how much is pumped by Karnataka.”
It also states that shortage into Malaprabha reservoir is only due to mismanagement of water with sugarcane and 9 irrigation schemes upstream of the Malaprabha reservoir. “Hence, it is apparent that unplanned pumping of water from Malaprabha reservoir upstream of the dam is causing shortage on the planned command.”
Goa repeatedly claimed that parts of Mahadayi (Mandovi in Goa) are water stressed and there is no mention of Mahadayi’s water balance in any of Karnataka’s studies.
Amended Statement: In a surprising move, Karnataka filed a totally Amended Statement to this, changing the prayer itself. It now demanded 7 TMC water for three schemes only for 2016-17 and 2017-18.
- 3 TMC for protective irrigation in DPAP (Drought Prone Area Program) area of Ramdurga, Soundatti, Bailhongal by Lift
- 2 TMC drinking water and irrigation by recharge of GW in DPAP parts of Ramdurga, Soundatti and Bailhongal
- 2 TMC by Malaprabha Command which are not getting water as planned.
While the original Interim Application sought 7 TMC water for all times, the Amended appeal demanded 7 TMC as an emergency measure only for 2016-17 and 2017-18 with temporary infrastructure for lifting the water by pumps at three points, “which can be manually dismantled at any time.”
At Page 54 of interim order, Karnataka is quoted as claiming that 7 TMC temporary water is only for drinking and not irrigation, contradicting all its earlier claims and amended application also!
Prayer in the Amended Appeal “Permit Karnataka to lift and pump with its own cost not more than 7 TMC water annually for 2016-17 and 2017-18 from Mahadayi basin to Malaprabha during monsoon months for irrigation demands and drinking water in Malaprabha Basin.”
Goa’s Rejoinder: To this, Goa said that Amended application should not be entertained as the grounds have been changed completely from Interim application to amended application. When IA dealt with current drought, the Amended Application talked about reduced inflows in Malaprabha Reservoir when “filling up of Malaprabha reservoir has no correlation with rainfall of Malaprabha” as with 33% less than average rainfall, the inflow is reduced to 56.48% and Goa contends that reservoir filling is related with upstream lifts and mismanagement of water.
Goa also asserted that water flowing to sea is not a waste and stated that it will be impossible for Karnataka to secure all clearances and continue with and complete heavy duty work in 2 years.
It will now be interesting to see what the Interim Order of the Tribunal says to this volley of appeals, rejoinders, amendments and counter appeals.
MWDT Tribunal’s take: On 17.4. 2014, the Tribunal had through an interim order, directed that Karnataka will not utilize or divert water under Kalasa Bhanduri Project until disputes are settled and finally adjudicated by the tribunal. In response to the original Interim Relief application by Karnataka, Goa had also said it is non maintainable now as Belgavi, Dharwad, Gadag have all received surplus rainfall in 2016 monsoon.
The Tribunal noted that the basis for Karnataka’s Interim relief is a report titled “Temporarily lifting 7 TMC water from Mahadayi basin to Malaprabha basin” by Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited (KNNL). This involves:
- Lifting water from Kalasa Nalla to Malaprabha river
- Lifting from Mahadayi River to Bhanduri Nalla
- Lifting from Bhanduri Nalla to Malaprabha River
Karnataka has claimed 24.15 TMC water from Mahadayi for consumptive use outside the basin and 13. 347 TMC non consumptive for generating hydropower under Mahadayi HEP project at Kotni Site.
Major Points raised by the Tribunal:
- While claiming in IA (Interlocutory Application) 60 that this will be adjusted against Karnataka’s total claim of 24,15 TMC, the Tribunal stated that there is NO mention of what modifications will be done in what manner to which project, how project configuration or specifications will be changed, etc.
- Karnataka also does not clarify if the lifting from Kalasa and Bhanduri Nala will affect the Kalsa-Bhanduri drinking water project (7.56 TMC) which is before the Tribunal already and when it appears that it would. The Tribunal hence concludes: “This relevant aspect is not clarified by Karnataka and Tribunal finds is difficult to grant Interim Relief.”
- Tribunal also takes serious note of Karnataka stating that “extraordinary drought is likely to persist in future”, which suggests that 7 TMC diversion will not be temporary.
- Looking at figures, tribunal also said that Mahadayi Basin can also be in water stressed at the same time when Malaprabha is stressed, but Karnataka makes no mention of this important fact neither does it take this into account or calculations. Karnataka has also not provided any evidence that surplus water exists at the three points from where water is to be lifted.
- Tribunal further states that 7 TMC water withdrawal by Karnataka will have impact on ecology in Karnataka itself and on the downstream and this cannot be ignored by the tribunal without any studies.
- It also states that Karnataka has not studied or presented any DOWNSTREAM IMPACTS of this diversion and “in the absence of this data, relief cannot be granted.”
- Karnataka has also not provided any details of the impact of the long conveyances system which will definitely be of permanent nature, of permanent sump and dam works, installation of huge pumps will have to be made, of huge construction work.
- Tribunal fails to understand how bunds, mentioned in KNNL’s report will be of temporary nature. They will be permanent structures, with impact. The Tribunal took strong objection to the fact that before making such construction, no permission till date has been taken from Environment Protection Act, Wildlife Protection Act Forest Conservation Act, Water Pollution and control Act, etc”. The tribunal also chided that although Karnataka had averred before the Hon. Supreme Court that no construction will be undertaken unless clearances are obtained, it has still not obtained clearances. It further states that Karnataka’s statement that it will take clearances after Tribunal gives ok is unacceptable and” such a course should not be adopted by Karnataka.”
“It is necessary for Karnataka to obtain clearance before pumping 7 TMC water into Malaprabha Basin”. Karnataka’s statement of securing clearances later “Does not inspire confidence as it has not done so in the past.”
- Most importantly, the Tribunal states that Karnataka cannot use water to normalise flow in to Malaprabha reservoir as the water coming to reservoir can be utilized in many ways. (Referring to lifting in the upstream, mismanagement, etc.)
- The Tribunal also asserts that “inflow into reservoir” a term exclusively used by Karnataka to establish more water for Malaprabha Reservoir, is not a standard practice used to measure or conclude on water scarcity. “These prayers at first look appear innocuous, but are capable of leading to granting undue advantage to Karnataka which will not be proper at this stage”.
Water going to Sea a waste?
Page 114 (Para 127) of the Tribunal order is very interesting: “Time and again it has been emphasized before the tribunal that water going to the sea is a waste and Karnataka should be allowed to utilise this water: before considering water into sea as waste, it is interesting to understand the anatomy of the river”.
From here, the tribunal provides a veritable lecture of the nature of river, what all it does: from shaping landscapes to carrying silt, sediment and depositing alluvium. It concludes “Rivers are important for many reason and one of the important roles is carrying water to the sea. Merging of water of a river into the sea, irrespective of its use, cannot be considered as waste of water.”
In fact, this section of the Tribunal’s order is stronger even than the arguments put forth by Goa itself.
Tribunal’s decision does not come as a surprise because Karnataka audaciously tried to affect the status quo to its favour, before the final Tribunal decision was arrived at. It also did not provide any details of the schemes it proposed, they did not look like temporary schemes, did not secure requisite clearances, it did not assess or allude to impact on Mahadayi River even once and stuck to reservoir inflow terminology to underline the scarcity not in the basin, but at the dam site.
Keeping these issues in mind, Tribunal’s decision seems to favouring sustainability, informed decision making process, equity and objectivity. This is also possibly the first time that a Tribunal has strongly supported the role of a river, including water going to the sea as well as environmental flows and downstream impacts.
As far as Malaprabha Basin and its inhabitants are concerned, there are several examples across the country which prove that answers to water woes lie closer to home, not in far-away transfers. As Bangalore’s Zen Rainman, Vishwanath Srikantaiah says, “Belgaum itself has shown way to water security through managing its groundwater. Through the leadership of R.S. Nayak, about 400,000 people in the city are serviced with clean groundwater.[xi] Drinking water is something every city and settlement can secure for its own by cleaning and reviving lakes and tanks is the first step.. it does not need to seize a different river for that.”
Head of Center for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, Dr. TV Ramchandra says: “We are not asking the right questions. What we should be concerned with is why has Malaprabha’s yield reduced? Why the anamoly? The reasons lie in reduced percolation and deforestation in the catchment. If we continue mismanagement of water, then another diversion will be needed in no time. This issue has striking similarities with the Yettinahole. The project is bound to fail. I do not know if the celebrities who are joining protests even know where their water comes from. The day we push pudharis away, solutions to water woes will be easy. Our collective wisdom is so strong that Bangalore today needs 16-18 TMC water , while the local catchment can yield 15 TMC water and ancestors had made lakes which could harvest 35 TMC water. We need to relearn what we have forgotten and unlearn the stuff that is aimed at polarising us. I have said so in Dharwad itself and I stick by my stand.”
Dr. Rajendra Kerkar, veteran activist and a scholar on Mhadei from Goa, also from Mhadei Bachao Andolan told me, “ This is an interim order, Goa needs to prepare more for the final order. All the three states should realise that protecting the forests and catchment of Western Ghats will not be a loss for anyone, it will be a gain for all. We need to declare eco-senstive zones for our sanctuaries like Bhimagad in Goa. Finally, our water security depends on our forests and mountains, can we find a way by destroying them? Even Malaprabha and people from Karnataka will benefit if the forests in her catchment are maintained and not dug up.”
People from Dakshin Kannada, affected by Yettinahole Diversion Project did not support the Karnataka Bandh against Mahadayi decision[xii]. They say, Goa at least has a Tribunal to protest mindless water transfer, what can we do? Dinesh Holla, leading the Yettinahole Struggle says that just like them, Goa is at the receiving end of a politically motivated scheme.
Are the protestors burning government buses & offices and pelting stones on shops aware of the basic facts of the case? Has the Karnataka government tried to share the order of the Tribunal with its people? Are the protests based on facts, or only on political rhetoric? Does the state or the protestors think that Mahadayi water is the one and only solution to their problems?
For Goa, this is an opportunity to appreciate, understand and protect the many roles of Mahadayi, Zuari, Chapora, Terekhol rivers, apart from them being channels to transport Iron ore or set up casinos.
Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal
- July 2002: Goa makes a request under Section 3 of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 for constitution of Mahadayi Tribunal
- April 2006: Union Water Resources Ministry convenes interstate meeting of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra for negotiation
- Sept 2006: Goa files suit in Supreme Court for constitution of the Tribunal
- December 2009: Cabinet approves constitution of Mahadayi Tribunal
- November 2010: Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (MWDT) constituted in New Delhi
- Dec 2013: MWDT Members visit Kalsa Bhanduri Project and inspect work done by Karnataka
- April 2014: Tribunal orders that Karnataka will not utilise waters of Kalsa Bhanduri Project unless final orders are issues. Canal will be plugged and excavated ridge line will be restored.
- September 2014: Tribunal orders Karnataka to produce all hydrological data at Kalsa Bhanduri site
- December 2015: Karnataka files Interim Relief Application for granting 7 TMC water for drought relief
- July 2016: Tribunal passes Interim Order, rejecting Karnataka’s request
[i] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/mahadayi-verdict-protests-across-karnataka/article8910908.ece, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Tribunal-rejects-Karnatakas-plea-for-Mahadayi-water/articleshow/53425400.cms
[iii] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/protests-against-mahadayi-verdict-rock-karnataka-2945344/, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/mahadayi-water-row-karnataka-shuts-down-over-rivers-water-verdict-2943871/
[x] “Dying Rivers of Goa: Impact of mining on water resources” http://www.sandrp.in/drp/April%20May%202011.pdf: Republished here: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/mining-havoc-impact-mining-water-resources-goa-article-dams-rivers-and-people