It is exactly a week since news of the Centre approving the DPR of Karnataka for utilisation of the Mhadei river waters was flashed. It stirred Goan politics quite a bit, even if the River Mandovi flowed by unaware of the churning on land. In the subsequent days, Goa’s response, after a lot has been said on the issue, has primarily consisted of what it will do to save the waters, rather than any positive action to save it.
Here's what happened: the opposition boycotted the all-party meeting on the issue after the cabinet decided to plead Goa’s case with the Centre. Bharatiya Janata Party has decided to launch a signature campaign to save the waters. Aam Aadmi Party MLAs and office bearers visited the dam site in Karnataka. Trinamool Congress MP Luizinho Faleiro raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha. Goa Forward Party MLA called for the chief minister’s resignation and has been attacking the government on the matter.
Congress has formed a subcommittee to study all aspects of the issue, disregarding its Leader of the Opposition’s call for mass resignation of MLAs. Goa Revolutionary Party is meeting to decide on the action.
The only action, as can be gauged from the above, has been forthcoming from AAP and TMC, while all the other parties have merely played to the galleries preferring to give sound bites that can be aired on television channels.
This raises the question of whether there is any political will in finding a solution – it requires a permanent solution – to the Mhadei issue, or whether this is mere posturing on the part of the political parties to get some news coverage. If it is the latter, it will put the onus on the people to save the river waters.
The Mhadei river water imbroglio is the one subject that has the possibility of uniting all of Goa. There can be no resident of Goa – whether living here for decades or who has made Goa his or her home just recently – who could be unconcerned about how the diversion of the water outside the river basin can affect the State.
The river is considered a lifeline for very specific purposes. It flows through 52 kms in Goa and its catchment area constitutes about 1,582 square kilometres in the State. That’s a large area and the diversion of its waters certainly raises the fear of it affecting the State adversely.
Mhadei river water diversion is an issue that should break through party affiliations. This is one issue that affects everybody, no matter what ideology they espouse. Opposition unity is important to ensure that the government, which has this overwhelming majority in the House, is kept in check on the issue.
Playing politics with the water verdict, or permitting politics to creep into the action required, will benefit neither the State nor help save the waters of the Mhadei. This is also neither the time nor is it the issue on which political parties can take partisan lines. The Mhadei water issue should have always remained above politics, where only the interests of the State were put forward, and political one-upmanship was nowhere in the picture. It has not been happening, not now and not in the past.
The fragile unity that the weakened opposition in the State attempted hard to display has been shattered over the Mhadei issue and unless the seven MLAs who make up the opposition in the Assembly can come to an understanding and agreement before the Assembly session later this month, the government will have the upper hand in the matter. Political posturing can be played in other issues. Many will arise, not in the matter of the Mhadei river water diversion.
The fact that the Mhadei issue has been dragging on for decades is an indication of how Goa has not been able to display a united front on this matter. This is not a new problem for the State. Linking the Mhadei and Malaprabha rivers was first suggested in 1980 by Karnataka, but it remained dormant until it was revived in 2002 and it was at that time that Goa opposed it. When talks failed the Mhadei Water Disputes tribunal was constituted in 2010. The tribunal delivered its award in 2018 which has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
Even after that, while everyone agreed that Goa had not got the best out of that award, the immediate response had been politically motivated. The government had termed it a victory, the opposition a disaster. The current situation vindicates the opposition response to the award, but then what has it done in the subsequent years to set it right?
While the State argues the matter in the Supreme Court and pleads for a reversal of the decision to approve the Karnataka DPR, the opposition and the people need to force a proper response to the water diversion. If Goa fails to protect the river waters at this juncture, it will never be able to stop it in the future.