from daijiworld's special correspondent
Panaji, Feb 25: The dust bellowing from the shovel of an earthmover.... dozens of trucks lined up to transport the soil is the begining of huge project that has strained relations between two happily-going-along neighbours - Goa and Karnataka.
Though separated over culture to some extent, the two states have always maintained cordial relationship. But "water" seems to be the cause of concern. Dams on Mhadei river have forced the relations to run into rough weather. Karnataka is going ahead with two of the seven dams despite strong opposition from its tiny but considerate neighbour Goa.
The Supreme Court has already directed Karnataka to stop the work. The order came a couple of months back when Goa government approached the apex court challenging karnataka's act of damming the water.
Goan environmentalists read a huge conspiracy in Karnataka's act to go ahead with the dam, caring a damn for the supreme court. "There is mounting pressure on karnataka government from timber mafia. The timber (wood) lobby is eyeing for forest in Mhadei basin which will be open for exploitation as it will be submerged in dam waters," alleges Rajendra Kerkar, convener, Mhadei Bachao Andolan (MBA), the NGO, which has been fighting back damming Mhadei for almost a decade now.
"Mhadei river valley has 700 sq kms of prestine forest which hitherto is left away from timber mafia's clutches," Kerkar stated. A teacher by profession, Kerkar, living in Keri village at the feet of sahyadri hills, declared anti-dam war, on much silent mode a decade back. The movement, which began with just 13-member-committee has now spread over the entire state forcing the state government to take its serious cognisance.
Hitherto burried down to the past, the decade long controversy gained momentum last year when Karnataka government began working on Kalsa and Banduri nullah project -- two dams -- on Goa Karnataka border, damming 7.5 TMC water. The original scheme involves constructing seven dams which will divert 255 million cubic litres of water from Mhadei to Malaprabha basin, which Karnataka wants to use for irrigation and drinking purpose.
Mhadei river, originating in Karnataka, called as Mandovi once it approaches Panaji in Goa, traverses through 28.8 kms in karnataka and 81.2 kms in Goa. The river, termed as Goa's lifeline, has 2032 sq kms catchment area in Karnataka while 1,580 sq kms catchment area in Goa.
"Karnataka government has to respect law.... They can't take law in their hands. We have asked court to restrain Karnataka government from going ahead with the project," Goa's chief secretary J P Singh stated back in Panaji.
He said that "no stone would be left unturned to ensure that Goa's interest is protected."
But environmentalists, who have been regularly visiting dam site, only to see blatant violation of court orders, feel that Goa government is not doing much. "Mhadei is our survival. Of the eleven talukas, the river wades through six of them covering 192 villages and cultivable land to the extent of 91,072 hactars," Kerkar said.
Of the eleven rivers in tiny Goa, Mandovi (Mhadei) is biggest providing maximum potable water. "Goa is a water deficient state. As against the projected requirement of 2674 m cum by the year 2051, the actual water available in the basin for conservation and utilisation is only 1531 m cum which includes entire 75 per cent dependable waters generated in the upper reaches of the basin in karnataka and Maharashtra and the foothills of Goa," Kerkar adds.
The MBA members have filed a petition before central empowered committee citing that Mhadei dam would submerge the major forest region in Karnataka. "Areas of proposed Kalsa and Banduri nallah are the ecologically sensitive zone," the MBA member stated.
In 1998, a proposal was initiated to declare this area as Sahyadri ecologically sensitive area. "It was six frontier forests, the remnants of primeval natural forests that have remained relatively undisturbed and big enough to mantain the biological diversity," Kerkar, who is also a green-writer, informs.
Citing the wildlife heritage in the forest around dam site, Kerkar said that the area constitute an endemic bird area as per the international birdlife, Cambridge and a level one tiger conservation unit by world wide fun for nature (international) Washington DC. "Also it is declared as one of world's 12 ecological hotspots as part of the western ghat by the Rio Earth Summit 1992," he adds.
In 1996, this area was proposed by Karnataka's forest department to be Bhimgad wildlife sanctuary and the proposal had resurfaced again in 2006. "It's a rich habitat for the stripped tiger, black panther, sloth bear, leopard, gaur, malabar giant squirrel, pangolin, king cobra, malabar gliding frog and others," Kerkar stated.
The Goan environmentalists also fear the impact on Goa's ecology as bio diversity of four wildlife sanctuaries and a national park of Goa are totally relying on Mandovi river.
Though river Mhadei originates in the forests of Karnataka, major portion of its basin is in Goa, traverses a distance of 28.8 kms in Karnataka and 81.2 kms in Goa. besides little part of it also flowing through Maharashtra. The river then joins the Arabian sea as river Mandovi in Goa.