Goa’s lifeline in danger: Rajendra P. Kerkar

Goa is blessed by the eleven rivers. Among these eleven rivers Mandovi is the biggest river of Goa. Though it is not as big as the river Ganga which has the length of about 2525 km. or as the Cauvery, one of the major rivers of the Southern India with 760 km. length; the river Mandovi has the length of 111 km. However it is the only river which drains the area of about 1580 sq. km. out of 3701 sq. km. total geographical area of Goa and provides the maximum quantity of fresh water. It is indeed a river that supports life and above all, makes life possible for all living things by supplying with fresh water. It is the artery of the watershed, which supplies the nutrients necessary for the body to survive. The river when it flows in its natural course, benefits all irrespective of caste, creed and colour, wealth or poverty; but as soon as it is dammed it loses socialistic character.
Karnataka since last three decades is very keen to build dams on the various tributaries of the river Mhadei originating from Karnataka, sometimes for generating hydro electricity or making use of the water for irrigation purpose. However, recently, in September 2006, Karnataka Government repeatedly making the claims of drinking water paucity for Hubli and Dharwad, has unilaterally gone ahead by excavating canals at Kankumbi for Kalasa- Bhandura Projects which aim to divert 7.56 TMC feet of water in the Malaprabha basin. Government of Goa has already raised strong objection to all the proposals of damming and diverting tributaries of Mhadei on economical, ecological and environmental ground and especially from the point of view of tiny state’s water security and ecological security. When all the attempts to arrive amicable solution proved futile and Karnataka became adamant to go ahead with the plans, Goa has approached the Supreme Court of India for justice and is awaiting its final verdict.
Karnataka has the grand plan to divert a total of 225 MCM from Mhadei to Malaprabha basin and additional 112 MCM from Khandepar River which is popular for the scenic Dudhsagar waterfall to Supa reservoir in Kali basin. Thus, the thirst for water of Karnataka cannot be quenched with Kalasa – Bandhra project, but will be increased gradually.
The Mandovi river basin in Goa occupies 43 % of State’s geographical area with 192 villages of Sattari, Sanguem, Bicholim, Tiswadi, Bardez and Ponda with cultivable land to an extent of 91072 ha. The Mhadei along with others is the most important tributaries of the Mandovi which originate in Degao near Khanapur. At Nerse village where Singer, Pat and Bandhura three main tributaries join together, Karnataka have proposed an earthen dam for which 244 ha. of forest land will be submerged due to the reservoir and the diversion channel also will involve the non- forest use of 16 ha. of forest land. As per the observations made by the DCF, Karnataka the proposed dam site of Bhandura is located among the most luxurious and scenic moist, deciduous and semi evergreen patches of forest frequented by wildlife. The Bhandura nalla is one of the perennial streams which joins the Mhadei at Kongla and then enter Goa via Gavali- Krishnapur at Bondir along with the Panshira of Mendil. Near Dhave- Uste, the Kalasa stream which joins the Mhadei. At Dhave –Uste, Sonal on the banks of Mhadei locals still practice the traditional silt based cultivation called ‘puran sheti’ which is believed to give three times more yield than other types of agriculture.
Karnataka has a proposal of building Kalasa dam at Kambar Ves on the Chorla ghat – Belgaum road near Kankumbi which is not even 1 km. away from the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary of Goa. Kalsa dam has the height of 32.6 m. and length of 340 m. Another dam is planned on the Haltara nalla at Chorla which has the height of 33.6 m. and length of 200 m. From the Haltara, water will be brought to Kalsa reservoir through the open cut channel of 1180 m. length and from the Kalasa water will be taken to Malprabha by excavating open cut tunnel of 2550 m. and channel of 1740 m. A total 178.43 ha of reserved forest in Kankumbi, 14.58 ha of reserved forest in Parwad and 64.73 ha in Koda is proposed for diversion. It is therefore clear that forestland is an integral part of these projects and is required not only for the construction of the dam and the resultant submergence area but also for the diversion channels.
As per the guidelines issued under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, it has been decided that if a project involves forest as well as non –forest land, work should not be started on the non-forest land till the approval of the Central Government for release of forest land. Till this date, Karnataka has not received forest clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Ministry of Water Resources have not withdrawn the in-principle clearance which was placed in abeyance in September 2002. Thus two states have so far not concluded any agreement on the Sharing of Mhadei waters. Goa, has already requested the union government to set up a tribunal as per Inter State Water Disputes Act, 1956. However, in spite of Goa’s serious objections Karnataka went ahead with the proposal. This is a classical instance of breakdown of environmental governance and constitutional provisions for the protection of the environment. The undemocratic and illegal act of diverting 7.56 TMC feet does not appear as a small quantity of water that cannot disturb the hydrological budget nor can it affect the ecosystem of a large basin. This is totally sarcastic.
Karnataka has made it very clear that they are building the dams and not bundharas. The construction of bundharas in comparison with the dams is totally different. How one can designate dam as bundhara, when it involves the submergence of the pristine forest lands? The length, height of these dams and their capacity to store water clearly indicate that these projects are not bundharas but the earthen dams. The water Resource Department of Goa has already built more than a dozen bundharas on various tributaries of the Mhadei and there exist many lift irrigation schemes. The water treatment plants at Dabos cater the drinking water needs of 52 Villages of Sattari whereas the water treatment plants at Sanquelim and Padoshe furnish potable water for many areas of Bicholim and Bardez. In April 2002, Goa Government announced that it was considering, a set of smaller dams to generate a total of 60 MW of Goa’s power needs.
Earlier, Goa Government was denied permission by the Ministry of Environment and Forest to build the Mandovi Irrigation Project at Nanoda in Sattari as it was supposed to destroy 350 ha forests, when Goa spent a total of Rs. 210.96 lakhs on the construction of colonies and other infrastructure. Presently Karnataka is marching ahead to meet the same fate under the Forest Conservation Act. Karnataka’s proposal will cause massive disturbances to the habitat of wildlife in the Mhadei valley. When dams and developmental activities increased in and around Dandeli wildlife sanctuary, elephants for these areas have begun to migrate. Today Tillari and Mhadei valleys are badly affected on account of the Man-elephant conflict. The elephants and other wild animals are displaced and disturbed, thereby creating a lot of environmental problems.
The report of the high level committee to suggest appropriate water management strategies for Karnataka state irrigation projects, March 1999 has highlighted Karnataka’s mismanagement of its water resources. Farmers in Karnataka are raising crops according to their wishes, violating the prescribed cropping pattern, due to which it has become difficult to distribute water equitably to all parts of the command area. Adding to the water shortage are the leakages in the pipeline supplying water to Hubli-Dharwad town. Apprehending problems if the diversion project is linked to irrigation demand, Karnataka has invoked the need of supply of drinking water taking the benefit of top priority given in India’s National Water Policy. The project cost was also trimmed to bring it below Rs. 1000 millions to avoid the mandatory environmental impact assessment and public hearing.
Considering the projected water needs of Goa till 2050 A.D., it has been established by the committee of experts that Mhadei is a water deficit basin and hence no scope exists for water diversion. The Goans are very much concerned that any diversion of water from the upper catchments of Mhadei would severely impact the downstream ecology particularly by changes in the salinity regime, the decrease in sediment load and the consequent impacts on the estuarine and mangrove ecosystems. The controversial project site is home to natural forests, unique wildlife and river origins and the biggest catchments for the Mhadei and Malaprabha rivers.
Presently, India is experiencing the change in the pattern of monsoon rain. For example, Goan town of Vasco, which is close to the sea and it, received 2798 mm rain in 1959 and 2111 mm in 2004. Margao is four kms away from the sea received 3322 mm rainfall in 1959 and 2311 mm in 2004. Moving interiors, we find that rainfall figures for Pernem, located 11 km from the sea were 3493 mm and 2247 mm for the above years, whereas for Quepem, a town 15kms from the sea the rainfall figures is were 4673 mm and 2758 mm. moving closer to the Western Ghats, the orographic (mountain related) influence is easily discerned. Valpoi town is 32kms away from sea and received 5571 mm rainfall in 1959 and 3316 mm in 2004. Lastly we can compare the figure for Sanguem-at the foot of the Western Ghats- it received 6333 mm in 1959 and just 2913 in 2004. The SW monsoon in 21th century has proved to be less productive for Goa.
Recently, Maharashtra Government has also entered in the race of acquiring the fresh water resources of Mhadei. One of the significant rivulets of Mhadei coming from Virdi village became the target of Maharashtra’s damming plan. At Virdi just 3 km from the Anjunem Irrigation Project of Keri – Sattari; Maharashtra has begun the work of the Irrigation Project in between Temb and Talyachya Vhalacho Dongar area of Virdi of 600 mts length and 48 mts height. Without understanding the actual situation and signing the memorandum of understanding for the share of water, Goa Government has given it’s consent, which is totally ironical and will result in the big catastrophe.
Allowing Karnataka to lift water of the Mhadei when the matter is pending before the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal, will prove detrimental for water security, ecology and environment of Goa.
To fulfil need of drinking water, Karnataka near Hubli has Benihalli, a tributary of the river Malaprabha with the catchment area of 5048 sq.Km. and 138Kms. length. This water is hardly used to the extent of 1.5TMC and Karnataka has almost 22 rivers in Belgaum unutilised.
Even when case was being argued, Karnataka had drawn plans for diversion of Dudhsagar water by envisaging 4 dams on the upstream of Khandepar river namely Katla, Palna, Diggi-Mara and Diggi- Bondeli to divert water to Supa reservoir.
Both Maharashtra and Karnataka has aimed to decimate upper reaches of resource rich western ghat, a global hotspot that is the part of the World Heritage Site of the UNESCO by mismanaging of the available water resources, the unsustainable irrigation and encouraging water guzzling crop selection model.
No neighboring states can divert the natural flow of the rivers that are flowing in the direction of wildlife sanctuary without obtaining permissions from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate change and also from National Board of Wildlife of India.
The stand taken by Goa’s Chief Minister that in principle Goa would not oppose reasonable and justified quantum of drinking water to Karnataka from the Mhadei river on humanitarian ground is indeed unrealistic and will prove harmful for the state of Goa’s claims put before the tribunal.
If the letter of Goa’s CM mentions to cater the drinking water need then why the political leaders in Karnataka claiming a political victory in front of the farmers from North Karnataka who are persistently insisting for utilization of water for meeting irrigational needs.
The colonial mentality produced consumer – culture, resulting into felling of forests causing landslide and nature’s capacity to conserve water. This consumer – culture led to the erosion of natural sources of livelihood resulting into the loss of humane – sensitivity which has made the crisis of nature and ecology more complicated. The new understanding of science is to develop a harmonious relationship with nature while showing due respect to its dignity. To maintain the natural balance and equilibrium, it is essential to keep in mind, preservation of other creatures – like birds, animals, trees, etc.
Alvares, Claude, 2002, Fish, Curry and Rice,A Source Book on Goa: Its Ecology and Life – style.
Deuskar, V. R., May 1999, Master Plan for Madei Mandovi River Basin, Vol.-I.
Kamat, Nandkumar, M, Articles appeared in daily, The Navhind Times from 1998 to 2006 on Mhadei issue.
Kerkar, Rajendra, P, April, 2006, Special Issue on Mhadei.