Bengaluru: After Belagavi led to the BJP-ruled Maharashtra being pitted against Karnataka, a political storm has erupted in Goa, another BJP state, after Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced that the Centre has cleared the disputed Kalasa-Bhanduri dam project on the Mhadei river.
Opposition parties in Goa, along with civil society groups, have targeted the BJP government, saying that the ‘double engine’ has failed. The saffron party, meanwhile, has moved fast to counter the Opposition.
The BJP government in Goa has decided to hold an urgent Cabinet meeting on Monday and also meet senior leaders in Delhi seeking their intervention to withdraw the approval granted by the Central Water Commission to Karnataka.
The social media is flooded with messages of ‘Save Mhadei’ and criticising the politicians in power for allegedly failing to place facts before the concerned authorities at the Centre.
Environmentalists have expressed the fear that water diversion would lead to heightened salinity in the Mhadei. This would also cause ecological imbalance with the wildlife suffering.
Goa and Karnataka have been battling over the Kalsa-Bhanduri dam project across the Mhadei river before a central tribunal. The Mhadei river originates in Karnataka and meets the Arabian Sea in Panaji.
While the river traverses 28.8 km in Karnataka, it has a length of 81.2 km in Goa.
Karnataka plans to construct dams on the river, aimed at diverting the waters into its water-starved Malaprabha basin in north Karnataka.
Environmentalist Rajendra Kerkar has said that the water of the Mhadei keeps salinity of the sea under control, and if the water is diverted then it will have a bad effect.
“Salinity of the sea remains in control with fresh water of Mhadei. If this water is diverted then it will affect severely,” he said.
“The Goa government should put the facts properly before the central government. Though Karnataka has got approval from the CWC, it needs a NOC from the Environment Department and the National Board of Wildlife to go ahead with the project. The Goa government should see how they can be stopped from diverting water,” Kerkar said.
While civil society is raising its voice on the issue, some opponents of the MLAs in power are reminding the latter about their promises of ‘Saving Mhadei’ given during the Assembly election. Many candidates, who are now in power, had promised the people of Goa that they will fight for Mhadei.
After inviting the wrath of the public, the BJP government announced it will seek the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and take an all-party delegation to Delhi.
Union Minister of State for Tourism and Ports Shripad Naik on Saturday said he has no problem tendering his resignation if the Centre fails to withdraw the approval granted to Karnataka’s ‘Detailed Project Report’ for the Kalasa-Bhanduri Nala projects.
Naik is the first elected representative from the ruling side to speak about resignation’, after Goa’s Leader of Opposition Yuri Alemao appealed to all to resign to send a strong message to the central government.
“The decision of giving approval to Karnataka by the CWC, when the matter is pending before the Supreme Court is wrong. This should not have happened. Mhadei is the lifeline of Goa. Along with people, wildlife, flora and fauna are also dependent on this water of the Mhadei,” Naik said.
“There are cases in this regard in the Supreme Court. But despite that, the CWC giving approval is injustice to Goa. If this water is diverted, it will affect us heavily,” Naik, who’s the MP representing the North Goa parliamentary constituency, said.
He added that his constituency will be badly affected if the water is diverted to Karnataka.
“This is a one-sided decision, which we are opposing. Even the Goa government should take steps to oppose it. We will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to convince them to withdraw the approval,” Naik said.
Leader of Opposition Yuri Alemao said that the claims of the double-engine government of protecting the interests of Goa fall hollow and flat.
“I expect the Chief Minister to sink political differences on Mhadei and lead an all-party delegation to the Prime Minister immediately. I had made this demand earlier but as usual it fell on deaf ears. The government should table all papers in respect of Mhadei before the Assembly. It is important to extend the session devoting a full day for Mhadei,” Alemao stated.
Meanwhile, demanding Sawant’s resignation over the issue, Goa Forward Party MLA Vijai Sardesai alleged that the former compromised with Mhadei to save his chair.
“The Goa Chief Minister was present at a high-level meeting in Delhi, which was attended by BJP’s senior leader C. T. Ravi, and the Karnataka Chief Minister. He was clearly told that the Central government is approving the DPR of the Karnataka government with regard to the Kalasa-Bhanduri Nala project. This means the lifeline of Goa is gone.”
“This is the New Year gift of the spineless Chief Minister, who to save his chair didn’t utter a single word in this high level meeting. He had gone to the (Delhi) lobby for the induction of some defectors whom he had taken into the party,” Sardesai said.
He added: “If we have such a type of spineless Chief Minister then we are going to sell Goa to anyone who comes for the auction. He will sacrifice all the interests of Goa to save his chair. Mhadei is gone. He should resign and save Goa.”
Responding to allegations by the opposition, Goa’s Water Resources Minister Subhash Shirodkar said that the CWC has taken the decision without taking the state government into confidence.
“We will meet the Union Minister concerned in Delhi and will also try to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi over this issue. He should intervene and withdraw the approval given to the DPR, else Goa will suffer in the long term. Our wildlife sanctuaries will also suffer if water is diverted from Mhadei. This should not happen. People of Goa feel that this decision is not as per rules and law,” Shirodkar said.
“There are three petitions pending before the Supreme Court in this regard. We will try to ensure that the hearing of these petitions takes place soon. I am confident that we will get justice from the Supreme Court. We will move in court against this decision of the CWC,” he said.
The Congress, Goa Forward Party, AAP and Revolutionary Goans have all criticised the BJP government, alleging that it has failed to protect the interests of Goa and save the Mhadei.
By Sanjay Borkar