Rewind: Water Wars – Telangana Today

BJP government’s bad water policy is nurturing water wars that are increasingly getting bitter.

Updated On – 12:32 AM, Sun – 15 January 23

Rewind: Water Wars – Telangana Today
Representational image.

Hyderabad: Four out of the seven sacred rivers in India have water dispute tribunals in their names, some dating back to 1969. This millennium itself has seen the constitution of four water dispute tribunals. The number of States involved in inter-State river issues is at least 15, more than half of the country’s States.

In a union of States, where cooperative federalism is the adhesive that binds States together, this situation means only one thing: Successive weak, indecisive Union governments with continuing bad water policies have nurtured water wars that are increasingly getting bitter. Political dynamics have for long kept these water wars simmering, with the situation turning worse of late.

Failed Double Engine

Though the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre has been strongly pitching for ‘double engine’ governance, on the pretext that issues would be solved amicably if BJP ruled both in the State and at the Centre, ground reality shows it to be a flawed claim. The ongoing stand-off between Karnataka and Goa over the River Mahadayi (also known as Mhadei) is a classic example of how double-engine governance is just empty rhetoric.

To begin with, many States like Tamil Nadu-Karnataka, Telangana-Andhra Pradesh, Telangana–Maharashtra, and Karnataka-Goa are embroiled in disputes over water. Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Puducherry and Chhattisgarh too have been caught in similar, long winding and complicated water wars. Though Schedule 7 of the Constitution gives the Centre the power to formulate laws and mechanisms for regulating inter-State rivers while the States retain autonomy over water utilisation, there is federal-jurisdictional ambiguity and political equations that have kept these wars raging for decades.

However, though the role of the Centre is crucial, successive governments at the Centre have failed to formulate any plans to solve these issues, and like Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao has repeatedly pointed out, bad water policies have led to poor utilisation of water that is available abundantly, and, in turn, leading to a crisis in agriculture and depriving people of the basic right of drinking water even 75 years after Independence.

The Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal dispute dates back to 1966 when Haryana was carved out of Punjab. SYL is a 214-km long canal for sharing waters of Ravi and Beas rivers between them

Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to solve the long-pending Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal crisis between Punjab and Haryana. It was the duty of the Centre to ensure water for Punjab and Haryana and to make them stop fighting, he had said. But the crisis is still on. The stalemate between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over River Cauvery and the one over the waters of the Godavari, starting before 1969, between Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha still has its embers glowing.

Karnataka-Goa Tussle

The water war in news is the Karnataka-Goa standoff over a water diversion project on River Mahadayi. Though a contentious issue since the late 2000s, leaders from both States are now engaged in an intensified verbal duel ever since the Karnataka government announced its decision to go ahead with the Kalasa-Banduri project. Though the Goa government has raised strong objections, Karnataka has said tenders would soon be floated for the project. This is when both States are ruled by the BJP, and the BJP is in power at the Centre as well, strengthening the weak water policy angle once again.

Citing the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal award, Karnataka Water Resources Minister Govind Karjol reportedly said Karnataka does not require permission from Goa to use the water. The tribunal had allocated 13.42 tmcft water of Mahadayi river to Karnataka, he said. This was after Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant decided to send an all-party delegation to Prime Minister Modi to lodge their protest over the approval given by the Central Water Commission (CWC) to the project.

Stalemate between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over River Cauvery and the one over the waters of Godavari, starting before 1969, between Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha still has its embers glowing

For a bit of history and background, River Mahadayi originates inside the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary in Belagavi district of Karnataka and flows into the Arabian Sea in Goa. The Karnataka government aims to take up the Kalasa Banduri Nala project to divert water from Mahadayi to meet the drinking water needs of Belagavi, Dharwad, Bagalkot and Gadag districts. This project was initially proposed in the 1980s but kept on hold due to objections raised by Goa. Relentless pressure was exerted by then Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna on the Centre to clear the Kalasa-Banduri project.

Heeding the constant pressure, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government gave an in-principle nod to the project in 2002. Things took a U-turn after an all-party delegation led by BJP’s Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar forced the Vajpayee government to reverse the approval. The same year, the Goa government got a cabinet decision passed and a request was made to the Centre to constitute a Tribunal and refer the River Mahadayi matter for adjudication.

Considering all these factors, the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government constituted the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal in 2010 but the proceedings began only in 2013. The first award was passed on August 14, 2018, allocating 13.7 TMC to Karnataka, including the controversial 3.9 TMC for diversion to Malaprabha from Kalasa and Banduri. Challenging the quantum of allocation, the Goa government filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court in 2019.

Despite the case being pending in the Supreme Court, the CWC gave its nod to the Karnataka government’s proposed project. The CWC’s decision is being criticised by the State Congress party, saying it was announced as elections were due in Karnataka. The recent delegation from Goa to the Centre too hasn’t made much headway, except for a typically politically, time-buying statement of “a solution will be worked out soon” from Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

Approval to Karnataka’s Kalasa-Banduri project, ignoring Goa’s pleas, just because Karnataka is heading for polls smacks of political opportunism

Telangana, Andhra Pradesh

The first Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal was set up in 1969, when Maharashtra, the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka staked claim to the river’s waters. After the formation of Telangana in 2014, 10 years after the second Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal was set up, there is no end to the issue.

Despite the Telangana government’s repeated pleas to address the River Krishna water sharing as per the AP Reorganisation Act, the Centre has kept dilly-dallying and has not acted in a manner befitting a Union government. Again, there have been political reasons.

Though the Brijesh Kumar Tribunal on River Krishna Water was constituted to address the issue, the Telangana government has been up in arms for failing to resolve the dispute. Stating that Krishna river predominantly flows in Telangana, the State government has been demanding a 50% share in the 811 tmcft assured waters of the river against the allocation of 299 tmcft and Andhra Pradesh’s allotment of 511 tmcft. But the Krishna River Management Board issued directions to share the river water in the 66:34 ratio for the 2022-23 water year as well, continuing the temporary water ratio agreed by the both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments in 2014.

Despite Telangana appealing to the BJP government to issue a mandate to the Tribunal to deliver its verdict at the earliest, it did not acknowledge the plea. As a result, the war continues between Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. It is not just about water-sharing. The Union government’s inordinate delay in according approvals for irrigation projects too is affecting the State government’s interests adversely, especially with rising project costs.

Telangana had proposed projects on River Godavari and accordingly sought approval from the Central Water Commission (CWC). However, the Union government’s delay in approving the projects escalated the cost from 18% to 25%. To make matters worse, the increase in GST from 2% to 18% on irrigation works has also increased the cost of the projects substantially.

Last week, Telangana Special Chief Secretary (Irrigation) Rajat Kumar, during a Godavari River Management Board (GRMB) meeting raised the issue once again. He said the delay in granting permissions to projects undertaken by Telangana on River Godavari was escalating the cost of the projects, putting an additional burden on the State.

It was only after the Telangana government’s intervention and relentless pressure that the Jal Shakti Ministry’s Technical Advisory Committee in November last cleared three irrigation projects –Mukteshwara (Chinna Kaleshwaram) lift irrigation project in Jayashankar-Bhupalpally, Chanaka Korata barrage in Adilabad and Choutupally Hanmantha Reddy lift irrigation project in Nizamabad. But the Sitarama, Samakka Sagar and Mondikunta Vagu projects are still awaiting CWC clearance, once again underlining the need for better water policies and a proactive approach from the Centre.

What’s Wrong and Where

The lack of commitment and proper planning by the Union government in addressing the water wars between States is a crucial factor. Both Congress and BJP governments that have been in power at the Centre have successively seen the water wars as a political agenda and never dug deep to lay a strong foundation for addressing the long-pending issues.

The BJP-led Union government has consistently shied away from taking a tough stand in negotiating the issues. With the absence of a strong Union government and central leadership, the Tribunals have continued the practice of dragging the cases for decades. And when judgments were issued in a few cases, they lacked legal binding, forcing the States to approach the Supreme Court for justice.

The number of States involved in inter-State river issues is at least 15, more than half of the country’s States

The Solution

As the States continue to engage in bitter wars, the Union government seems to be blatantly ignoring the basic principle of believing in and following cooperative federalism. It is not that there is no way out. For that, Telangana itself has set examples of how such issues could be addressed through dialogues and a cordial approach. This was how Telangana completed the world’s largest lift irrigation system, the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation System, on the Godavari.

The Telangana government with clear intent and no hidden agenda approached Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh governments for executing the Kaleshwaram project. Issues were discussed across the table and there was an all-out effort to avoid bad blood. In fact, things worked out smoothly with Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao even inviting his Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh counterparts Devendra Fadnavis and YS Jaganmohan Reddy, respectively, for the inaugural ceremony of the Medigadda barrage in 2019. Rao also acknowledged the support extended by Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh governments. Kaleshwaram is now up and running, and in fact, changing the course of the State’s agricultural history along with path-breaking irrigation schemes like Mission Kakatiya.

On the other hand, save for the jugglery of words, the Union government has been found repeatedly wanting in its approach towards cooperative federalism or even respecting it. The approval to Karnataka’s Kalasa-Banduri project, ignoring Goa’s pleas, just because Karnataka is heading for polls, smacks of political opportunism and either ignorance or utter disregard for the federal spirit.



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