Bengaluru: Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s announcement to a grant of Rs. 5,300 Crore for the ‘Upper Bhadra’ irrigation project in Karnataka has stirred up a fresh controversy over Mhadei diversion issue in Goa.
Opposition in the Coastal State has alleged that the particular announcement furthers the cause of (Karnataka) stealing water from neighbouring states and also BJP eyeing to win maximum seats in Karnataka during the Lok Sabha election.
BJP had also invited wrath from the politicians and people from all walks of life after Union Home Minister Amit Shah during a rally in Belagavi on January 28 had said, “Sonia Gandhi during a speech in Goa in 2007 had said that the Congress government will not allow Mhadei water diversion to Karnataka. In 2022, Congress in their manifesto stated that Karnataka will not get a single drop of water from Mhadei. Today, I am here to tell you that the BJP at the Centre has resolved the long dispute between Goa and Karnataka over Mhadei and allowed the diversion of Mhadei to Karnataka to satisfy the thirst of farmers of many districts.”
Referring to these remarks, Goa Forward Party MLA Vijai Sardesai had said, “Amit Shah’s remarks on Mhadei diversion is like a ‘bomb explosion’ on the people of the State.”
The Opposition in Goa has been attacking the BJP government since the Central Water Commission granted permission for the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of Karnataka for the disputed Kalasa-Bhanduri Dam.
Criticising the Central government’s announcement in the Budget 2023-24 of Rs. 5,300 Crore assistance to Karnataka for irrigation purposes, Sardesai has said “it furthers the cause of (Karnataka) stealing water from neighbouring states”.
“Presenting the budget, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday announced a grant of Rs. 5,300 Crore for the ‘Upper Bhadra’ irrigation project in Karnataka. Such financial outlays made for the State are furthering the cause of Karnataka stealing water from neighbouring states including from Krishna basin and Mhadei basin and using it for sugarcane production. I condemn this… it is a gimmick to garner votes,” Sardesai, Former Deputy Chief Minister of Goa, said, referring to the upcoming Assembly elections in the neighbouring state.
“This was done to win (Lok Sabha) seats in Karnataka. The BJP will suffer in Goa for this attitude,” he added.
All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of Goa, Manickam Tagore, in his first press conference in the coastal state lambasted on BJP and RSS over the Mhadei issue.
“The BJP and the RSS are playing with sentiments of Goa and Karnataka (on the Mhadei issue). Chief Minister Pramod Sawant should show courage to condemn remarks of Union Home Minister Amit Shah,” he said.
“The BJP and the RSS are not sensitive towards Goa’s rights, for them what is important is to win elections. They are playing politics with Karnataka and Goa,” Tagore asserted.
“Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant should show courage to condemn remarks of Amit Shah, who has taken away the rights of people. Congress stands for Goa’s welfare and will be with the people. We will fight for the rights of the people,” he said.
“Congress has never created rifts between states. We have always dealt with such issues on an emotional level. The BJP is doing this (creating rifts) to increase their seats in Karnataka during the Lok Sabha elections. They are in a panic situation because they are losing seats there,” the Congress leader said.
Former Chief of RSS’ Goa unit Subhash Velingkar has also criticised the BJP Government on the issue.
He said that the remarks of Shah about the Mhadei dispute “is a fact” and the State Government “is fooling people over the issue”.
“Amit Shah cannot lie. The Goa government is involved in it. The person who is on a responsible chair will not make irresponsible statements. Hence, whatever Amit Shah has said is serious and true,” Velingkar said.
“Amit Shah has said the truth. The Goa BJP Government is a traditional liar. They want to fool the people,” he added.
While Goa’s Environment Minister Nilesh Cabral has condemned the statement of the Union Home Minister over the Mhadei diversion issue, many of the Cabinet ministers and national leaders of the BJP are reluctant to comment on it.
“I condemn the statement made by Home Minister Amit Shah. First of all, when we met him (on January 11), this particular thing (resolving a dispute) was not discussed. We had requested that permission granted by CWC should be withdrawn. We never discussed giving our consent to DPR,” Cabral said.
“I don’t know how Amit Shah has made this statement when we have not discussed it. Even the Chief Minister never discussed it. I condemn the statement tooth and nail. We are against diverting water out of the Mhadei basin,” Cabral said.
However, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav during his visit to Goa on Saturday February 4 said that he will study the matter of Mhadei diversion and only then he will comment on it.
Surprisingly, Goa’s Former Water Resources Minister and BJP leader Dayanand Mandrekar has raised strong objections to the Mhadei diversion issue and has compared the neighbouring State to ‘Duryodhan’, who had refused to give even a tip of land to his brothers.
“When I was a Minister for five years, we fought to protect the Mhadei river. Many people who were concerned about the issue used to meet me. At that time such ‘Dadagiri’ (intimidating behaviour of Karnataka) was not there,” he said.
Goa and Karnataka are currently battling a dispute over the ‘Kalasa-Bhanduri’ Dam project across the water of the Mhadei river at a central tribunal.
Mhadei originates in Karnataka and meets the Arabian Sea in Panaji. While the river traverses 28.8 km in Karnataka, it is 81.2 km in length in Goa.
Karnataka plans to construct dams on the river, aimed at diverting the water into its water-starved Malaprabha basin in the northern region.
By Sanjay Borkar