Parrikar makes u-turn on Mhadei dispute

Another major u-turn by Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, this time on the Mhadei water dispute, has put the BJP-led coalition government in a spot, with critics accusing him of putting the state's natural resources at stake, merely to boost BJP's chances in the upcoming Karnataka polls.

Parrikar, after a meeting with party president Amit Shah and senior party colleague from Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa in New Delhi earlier this week, agreed "on humanitarian grounds" to consider the southern state's need for drinking water, even as the matter is being heard by a Tribunal.

But his current intention of "resolving" the dispute is in sharp contrast to his own statements earlier, unequivocally opposing diversion of water for any purpose to Karnataka.

Soon after becoming Chief Minister in 2012, Parrikar had asserted that he would not listen to his party's Central leadership if they press him to sacrifice Goa's interests on the dispute.

Goa and Karnataka are currently battling out a dispute over the latter's controversial Kalsa-Bhandura dam project across the waters of the Mhadei river at a central tribunal. Mhadei, known as the Mandovi in Goa, is known as a lifeline in the northern Karnataka, where it originates, passes through Maharashtra briefly and drains into the Arabian Sea at Panaji.

While the river traverses 28.8 km in Karnataka, it runs through a length of 81.2 km in Goa. Karnataka plans to construct seven dams on the river, aimed at diverting 7.56 TMC water into its water-starved Malaprabha basin in North Karnataka.

At a meeting of the National Water Resources Council in 2012, Parrikar had said diversion of the Mhadei water by Karnataka, would be opposed at all forums.

The Chief Minister however now insists that he is not under pressure from the party's central leadership and has blamed the Congress of trying to unnecessarily rake up the issue.

"The Congress is unnecessarily making a hue and cry over the issue. Their governments have in the past gave written submissions to the courts saying that there was no problem with diverting the Mhadei water," Parrikar told reporters on Friday, adding that a letter written by him to Yeddyurappa on the contentious issue had taken care of Goa's interests.

Yeddyurappa, the BJP's first Chief Minister in south India, is expected to lead the party's campaign in the region when the state goes to poll next year. BJP sources said that the party was looking to leverage the Mhadei issue in north Karnataka constituencies, especially in districts like Belgaum, Bagalkot, etc. 

"A promise to end the Mhadei dispute and provision of drinking water will be a big plus during poll campaign in Karnataka. BJP leaders from Goa like Parrikarji are also expected to join the election campaign there and the promise of diversion of drinking water will be an attractive poll promise," a senior BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.

The Congress has now accused Parrikar and BJP of letting down Goa's interests.

"Chief Minister's stand that in principle, Goa will not oppose reasonable and justified quantum of drinking water to Karnataka from Mhadei on humanitarian grounds is unrealistic and will be harmful to the state," state Congress president Shantaram Naik told IANS.