Violent Protests Break Out in Karnataka Over Mahadayi Water Dispute

The water-sharing dispute has the states of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka vying for water from the Mahadayi river.

Women display empty pots as part of protests against Mahadayi river tribunal verdict in Hubli on Thursday. PTI Photo (PTI7_28_2016_000172A)

Women display empty pots as part of protests against Mahadayi river tribunal verdict in Hubballi on Thursday. Credit: PTI

Protests erupted across Karnataka on Thursday after the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal rejected the state’s request for an interim order allowing it to draw 7.56 thousand million cubic feet of drinking water in its northern districts under the Kalasa-Banduri canal project. Goa had objected, arguing that it would have an adverse impact on its rights.

The Mahadayi river, which has its source in Karnataka, flows through Goa to the sea and Goa fears that the diversion of water to northern Karnataka would harm its interests. The dispute goes back to 2002, when Goa first approached the Centre over the question of diversion by Karnataka.

According to Down to Earth magazine, “the Mahadayi originates in the Western Ghats and flows 35 km in Karnataka and 52 km in Goa. The downstream state constitutes a large part of the river’s catchment (78 per cent), which also includes runoff from Maharashtra, although the main stem of the river does not flow through that state. Maharashtra, as a result, is also party to the water-sharing dispute.”

The Mahadayi tribunal headed by J.N. Panchal, had concluded its hearing on Monday and pronounced its order on Wednesday.

Several cities, including Hubballi, Dharwad, Gadag and Belagavi witnessed violent protests by farmers and pro-Kannada organisations, The Hindu reported. Normal life has been affected in these districts and movement of vehicles almost came to a standstill.

Map of the Mahadayi river. Credit: Down to Earth

Map of the Mahadayi river. Credit: Down to Earth

Many Kannada groups called for a statewide strike, the impact of which was felt more in north Karnataka, which will bear the brunt of the tribunal’s decision. The twin cities of Hubballi-Dharwad, which had hoped for drinking water from the project, were badly hit, with its schools and colleges closed. Almost all major roads were blocked by the protestors.

Bullock carts were used by local communities to block national highway 218 and prevent vehicular movement. The movement of even two-wheelers was being prevented by the protestors affiliated to various pro-Kannada organisations.

Police had to resort to mild lathi-charges at many places including Navalgund, which is in the Dharwad district of Karnataka, to control the situation, according to The Indian Express. In Navalgund, thousands of protesters, including farmers, gathered Thursday morning and set government buses afire. The agitators later went to the town’s BSNL office and attempted to set it on fire, leaving documents, computers and furniture damaged, local police said. A mob also pelted stones at the taluk court and damaged furniture there.

More than 28 people were reported injured in the incidents and were shifted to a Hubballi hospital for treatment. The Navalgund police have registered a case against more than 50 people, including local leader Lokanath Hebasur.

According to NDTV, Appealing to the people of the affected districts to maintain peace, Karnataka home minister Dr. G. Parameshwara said, “The state government will do everything possible to convince the tribunal. The Centre has to consider.”

There are instances, he said, where the prime minister has intervened before the tribunal gives a final verdict,” and it is high time Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervenes,” he added.

Another bandh has been called on Saturday in Karnataka.