Karnataka has finally received a shot in the arm with regard to sharing of Mahadayi river water, with the neighbouring Maharashtra finally agreeing to explore the option of an out of the court settlement on the issue.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has responded to Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s May 30 letter, seeking an amicable solution to the pending issue of inter State Mahadayi basin water distribution.

Fadnavis has said that a meeting of chief ministers of all three States - Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka, would help resolve the issue in a friendly manner, furthering mutual cooperation and collaboration. Fadnavis has asked Karnataka to announce the date for the meeting. Though the letter is dated July 7, the Karnataka government made it public only on Wednesday.

Encouraged by Fadnavis’s letter, Siddaramaiah shot off yet another letter to Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on Wednesday, asking him to indicate a date convenient to him, so that the meeting could be organised. Last year too, both the States had agreed for a meeting, but the talks had been called off in the last moment after Goa sprung a surprise by pulling out of the same. 

While it is unclear what Goa’s stand will be this time around, people involved in the Kalasa Banduri movement are sceptical of a positive outcome.Advocate B V Somapur, who has been part of the Kalasa Banduri Nala Horata Samiti ever since the movement started in the year 2002, said that Fadnavis’s letter was politically motivated, given that it’s election year in Karnataka.

While Karnataka is ruled by a Congress government, the BJP is at the helm in both Goa and Maharashtra. 
Somapur said that people of the affected districts in North Karnataka, are upset with the BJP for not taking a proactive stand over the issue. 

“With elections round the corner, the BJP is getting desperate, as all of these constituencies are important to the party. The Karnataka BJP wants to send across a message that it has stood by the people of this region - hence this positive response by Maharashtra. It wouldn’t be surprising even if Goa agrees for meeting, and the talks finally take place. But this meeting will be a mere eyewash, for Goa will not give in to Karnataka’s demands so easily,” he said.

Somapur added that all three parties - BJP, JD(S) and Congress were trying to gain mileage over the issue at this juncture, especially given the fact that farmers of the region have been agitating continuously for the last two years. 
Somapur said that the drinking water project was imperative for Belagavi, Dharwad, Gadag and Bagalkot districts, which have been facing acute drought conditions. 

“Until the prime minister intervenes and settles the dispute, there will be no reprieve. It’s difficult to pin hopes on this meeting between the three States,” he added. 

Welcoming Fadnavis’s letter, JD(S) MLA N H Konaraddi said that this development was owing to his party’s initiatives. He said that the BJP and the Congress had become alert after JD(S) said that it would stage massive protests on behalf of the farmers, this month. 

He also said that the meeting will have a standing only if Goa agrees participate in it. “This should become a political game all over again. It looks like Maharashtra has finally realised that it too can benefit from the project, and maybe that’s why it has agreed to participate in the meeting. If in case Goa fails to meet Karnataka half way, then the State government should impress upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and settle the dispute,” he added. 

The MLA also said that it was high time that the State BJP leaders, who had remained oblivious with regard to the issue, impressed upon the Centre to intervene. He also said that Siddaramaiah should convene another all party meeting in this regard. 

Karnataka first sought to build a canal across Kalasa and Banduri - the two tributaries of Mahadayi, during the tenure of S M Krishna in the year 2002. Karnataka said that it wanted to divert 7.56 tmc of water to Malaprabha river to supply drinking water to the parched districts of Belagavi, Dharwad and Gadag.

The same year, the NDA government at the Centre had cleared the project, but Goa had staunchly opposed it citing ecological damage -- its then chief minister Parrikar had demanded that the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (MWDT) be constituted. Following objections, the NDA government had put the Kalasa Banduri project on hold. 

The project gained momentum after JD(S)’s H D Kumaraswamy took over as chief minister in 2006, bringing the dispute to the fore again. When Karnataka started construction of the project in Belagavi, Goa moved the Supreme Court seeking the constitution of MWDT. After much deliberation, the UPA government had set up the Tribunal on November 16, 2010.

Ever since then, Karnataka has been seeking interim orders for the continuation of the project, which has been continuously opposed by the neighbouring States. Notwithstanding the delay, farmers of North Karnataka staged protests for over 300 days in the Navalgund and Nargund region in 2015, demanding implementation of the project.

Siddaramaiah lead an all party delegation to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which yielded no results.In an interim order on July 27, 2016, the MWDT, rejecting Karnataka’s plea, had directed the three States to settle the dispute amicably through talks. This had led to massive protests in North Karnataka and other parts of the State. Siddaramaiah yet again seeking Modi’s intervention. Karnataka had also filed a special leave petition before the Apex court.

On September 7, 2016 Siddaramaiah wrote to his counterparts, offering to host the first round of talks on the matter, and sought their cooperation for the same. On October 20, Goa and Maharashtra backed out of the meeting scheduled between the three states, which was to be held in Mumbai on October 21.

While Karnataka has been hoping for an out of the court settlement, Goa wants to settle the dispute through the tribunal. While the Congress government has attacked the Karnataka BJP for not trying to impress upon the Centre to convince the neighbouring States for amicable talks, the BJP has defended itself by saying that it was the opposition parties (Congress) in the two States that were against the talks. 

The BJP has said that the Centre’s intervention would be inappropriate. However, now that the elections are nearing, it seems like the BJP has realised that it has to step up, before it goes seeking votes from the people of the region.