Fifty-eight year old Belagavi-based advocate Maruti B Zirali is a member of Karnataka’s legal team appearing before the Mahadayi River Water Tribunal. He is one among several social activists who have been in the forefront of the movement and also the only advocate from Mahadayi river basin to represent the team. He is serving as a member of the team since 2006 and was instrumental in persuading former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and then water resource minister K.S. Eshwarappa to lay the foundation stone for the Kalasa-Banduri project during the tenure of the JD(S)-BJP coalition government. He is also a farmer and served as law professor for seventeen years in KLE Law College. He spoke to Deccan Chronicle on the recent tribunal verdict and its impact. Here are excerpts from his interview.
Is the Mahadayi Tribunal verdict really a victory for farmers?
We have succeeded partly with regard to meeting the pressing needs of North Karnataka. It is a good judgment to this extent for the farmers and citizens of Hubballi-Dharwad. We have to be very positive. The chief minister of Goa has been saying right from the beginning that his state will not allow us to take a single drop of water. Now, the tribunal has said tour state is entitled to get 13.4 tmc of water.
What is the role of the government after the tribunal award?
The government should remove the two middle walls built on the canal to block the water moving from towards the state as engineers claimed that half tmc will flow gravitationally if we do so. The tribunal said that its award has to be published in the official gazette by the Union government as soon as possible under section 6(1) of the Inter-State Water Dispute Act 1956. It is a statutory requirement to make it effective so that its implementation is not delayed.
Can we get water immediately? It is being said that it may take several years for the water to reach farmers.
Karnataka has to build two dams across Kalasa and Banduri streams. It should also put up a canal from Mahadayi river to Malaprabha reservoir. It will take its own time. Kalasa diversion canal is ready to divert 3.9 tmc water allotted by the tribunal. It is left to the will and wish of the government to speed up the project on a war footing.
Did the state’s legal team argue properly before the tribunal? Did we err in not been able to get the full share of water demanded by Karnataka?
The legal team of Karnataka has pleaded the case under the supervision of senior advocate F.S. Nariman who is an expert in water disputes. Our team has done its best. We have not left any stone unturned and produced all necessary documents and witnesses before the tribunal. Earlier, Goa had tried to mislead the tribunal by contending that Mahadayi is a deficit basin and argued that the total water yield is merely 90 tmc in the basin. It had also opposed the diversion of water from Mahadayi to Malaprabha basin claiming it comes under the Krishna basin. We argued about the need of water for drinking purposes and could prove before the tribunal that it is a surplus basin and total water availability is not less than 200 tmc. Finally, the tribunal held that the estimated yield in the river is 188.06 tmc and this is a big victory for us.
Goa may again object to the Centre’s clearance for the project citing environmental issues. Will Karnataka get early clearance as the BJP is in power in both Delhi and Goa? Is there chance of politicising the issue again?
There is a possibility that Goa may oppose environmental clearance. But, the Central government cannot deny permission to continue the project when there is such a pressing need for drinking water in Mumbai-Karnataka region. The tribunal has already made allocation of 13.4 tmc to Karnataka, 24 tmc to Goa and 1.32 tmc to Maharashtra. We can fight for our share of the remaining 149.31 tmc water which is flowing waste into the Arabian sea. The Centre should not play politics on the issue and should facilitate early implementation of Kalasa Banduri project.
Will State BJP leaders pressurise the Centre to give early clearance as the credit for implementation of the project may go to CM H.D. Kumaraswamy.
Farmers staged several protests and observed bandhs for many years. The govt has to take immediate steps, I hope no party will play politics on the issue of water. I feel that the credit for this victory should go to farmers.
Is the tribunal’s direction to form a water management authority detrimental to the interest of our farmers?
Formation of a water management authority is a must according to the Act and it is necessary in any water dispute. Some committee should be there to regulate, moderate and observe whether the award of the tribunal is properly executed or not when three riparian states are involved. Such a body will in no way affect the interest of our farmers.
Do you think the tribunal verdict has caused a loss to Goa? Should it have opted for a negotiated settlement through dialogue on water sharing?
Goa behaved immaturely right from the beginning. It fought the case by making unfounded allegations against Karnataka and accused the state of defying orders of the Supreme Court. It also filed a contempt petition against Karnataka though we had given an undertaking not to utilise and divert the water from the Mahadayi to the Malaprabha dam till the tribunal award. Later, it withdrew the petition after we objected. We are neighbouring states functioning under a federal system. Goa cannot indulge in votebank politics.
The legal team of Goa is filing a disobedience petition alleging that Karnataka diverted water on the day of the tribunal award without waiting for any clearance.
Karnataka is a very responsible state and it has never violated the orders of the Supreme Court or Mahadayi tribunal. They are creating an unnecessary controversy as if we are stealing someone’s property after getting our share of water. It is an allegation only to divert the attention of the people of Goa. We will oppose it and fight against it.
Goa is also planning to oppose the hydel power project contending that it will affect ecology.
The tribunal has ruled that Goa has not provided any scientific evidence on how their environment and ecology will be affected if the hydel power project is implemented. The tribunal has approved the award only through conducting a survey and after going through all the records.
Why did the tribunal not make an allocation of water for irrigation?
We had demanded water for irrigation from the surplus water. If water is there over and above 75 per cent of the yield, that has to be given to Karnataka. Unfortunately, the tribunal has not considered our appeal. We will fight the case in the days to come.