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BJP blemished and beleaguered over Mahanadi water dispute
The allegations of Central neglect has been a takia kalam in the political discourse by the ruling BJD in Odisha. So when the state government alleged that the Centre is supporting the Chhattisgarh government in diverting the water of Mahanadi through illegal constructions and without informing Odisha's state government, there were hardly any takers.

Most of the people believed that the Union government is being blamed by the ruling BJD as part of its usual rancour. And all through, New Delhi had been posing that the interests of Odisha will never be compromised at any cost. But those were the lullabies sung to the greater public and voters of Odisha. A closer look at the position that the Union government has taken, exposes a malicious design of not heeding to the genuine demand of the government of Odisha. It is rather the inaction and silence of the Union government that has led to the conflict over Mahanadi waters and later on flared it up.

Legalising the illegalities

As per the Seventh schedule, item 56 vests the control and development of water resources of interstate rivers on the Union government. Apart from this constitutional obligation of managing the interstate rivers, CWC, a body under the control of the Union government, also is the apex technical body that sanctions the construction of dams and barrages in different rivers, interstate or otherwise. Despite these provisions, Chhattishgarh government started constructing six major barrages on Mahanadi during the period 2010-11 without taking permission from the Union government.

It is noteworthy to mention here that the Hirakud reservoir downstream of Chhattishgarh was constructed by the Union government only as a Central project and later on handed over to Odisha. Hirakud is perhaps the only big dam project in Odisha for which there has not been any water sharing agreement between the neighbouring states.

Other than the provisions in the DPR there has not been any other mention about safeguarding the water flow into the reservoir. Despite that the Union government cared a hoot to look into the projects (not one or two clandestine ones, but, six of them) and how they will affect an existing dam. Why the Union government failed to stop the illegal construction of the barrages abdicating its constitutional duty?

As if this was not enough, when Odisha started objecting to the barrages upstream and alleged that the Chhattisgarh government had not informed the government of Odisha, the excuse given by the government of Chhattishgarh was that its wasn't thought prudent as the projects were minor ones, those meant to irrigate less than two thousand hectares of land.

The Union government rather than getting into the crux of the issue reiterated the stand of Chhattisgarh. Responding to the calling attention motion by the Odisha MP Bhartruhari Mahatab, in July 2016, the Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati responded with the information provided by the Chhattisgarh government. There was no effort to verify the facts with CWC, despite the enormity of the problem.

Another glaring example was the helplessness expressed by the Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati. After the trilateral meeting between the Chief Ministers of Odisha and Chhattishgarh and the Union government, Odisha has been constantly demanding that the construction works of the barrages by Chhattisgarh be stopped with immediate effect. But, after the meeting Bharati said that she can not order the Chhattisgarh government to stop the construction activities as she does not have that power.

"While the Union government has failed in its duty to stop such illegal project without permission, the water resources minister expressing her helplessness to stop them is deplorable. It clearly implied that the Union government is protecting the illegal acts of Chhattisgarh." sais Sarat Kumar Moahnty, Retired Chief Engineer of Odisha Water Resources Department.

This raised a very serious question. Chhattishgarh government has conned the Union government as well as the government of Odsiha by mentioning these projects as 'minor projects" which does not warrant a permission from the Union government as well as informing the co-riparian states. By this time with so much of hulla gulla on the issue, the Union government must have been aware of the truth that illegality has been too evident to be overlooked. But no action has been taken by the Union government. Rather this false information has been reiterated again and again by the BJP government to lend a supporting hand to Chhattishgarh. A lie told a hundred times again and again aspires to metamorph itself to a 'truth'.

During another discussion in the Parliament on 4 January 2018, this time the Union Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari reiterated, "In case of the minor irrigation projects if the ayacut area is less than 2000 ha, there is no need to take the permission from the Centre. Odisha along with other states of the country have availed this concession."

Well said Gadkari, that is the provision for the smaller projects (minor). But how do these projects by Chhattisgarh qualify as minor? The Union minister is not besieged of the fact that these barrages are meant to provide water to different industries and water guzzling thermal power plants? Why the Chhattisgarh government in the response to the Parliament has clearly mentioned that these barrages have been constructed for industrial purposes only and 31000 ha land also will be irrigated by it. The total volume of water that will be stored in the barrages is 829.29 MCM, which will be supplied to the industries the year around. Despite this information being available to the Water Resource Minister, how could he so innocently say that the projects are minor irrigation projects.

Rather than being even to the two states in conflict over Mahanadi waters and addressing the problem as per the law of the land, the NDA-led government is brazening it out to side with the BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh. Union minister Nitin Gadkari, in his speech on January 4 this year peddled another half truth to support Chhattishgarh. He cited that on 28 April 1983, the Chief Ministers of Odisha and Madhya Pradesh had agreed to form a joint control board which has not been formed as yet. Both the Union government and the Chhattisgarh government are pushing for a joint control board in the context of the present conflict. But this is not a fact that a joint control board was envisaged to look into the affairs of Mahanadi Basin. Rather it was proposed in 1983 only to facilitate four proposed projects of Odisha, four joint projects between the two states eg Kurnala, Lower Jonk, Sahajbahal and Lower Kolab as well as one project of the then Madhya Pradesh. It was not to take up other issues between the two riparian states. But, the Union and the Chhattishgarh governments have been promoting this as a panacea for the present water conflict. Either the Union Water Resources Minister has been misinformed or is deliberately propagating false information to help Chhattishgarh.

Shy of the Tribunal!

All through the Union government's as well as the Chhattishgarh government's effort has been to keep the issued under their control. The Union government has been shying away from formation of a Tribunal for Mahanadi water dispute. It has tried all possible means to keep off the formation of the Tribunal. First it proposed Joint Expert Committee, then Joint Control Board, and then it went ahead with the Negotiations Committee that was rejected by the government of Odisha. Why the Union government had been doing all these things, while it has done little to understand the real issue and act accordingly, which would have been a much simpler task. First of all it is alleged that the Union government was working for these arrangements to support the Chhattisgarh government. In the negotiations committees, of all the states involved MP, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Chhattishgarh and Odisha, Odisha was the only non-BJP ruled state. One can very well imagine the possible outcome of such an effort. And the other reason for the Union government to pursue these interim mechanisms seems to 'create a narrative that government of Odisha is not cooperating for the resolution of the conflict' which is too evident from the argument the Union government put forth in the apex court.

In the affidavit filed before the apex court on 6 December 2017, the Centre accused the Odisha government of not producing evidence in support of its case.
"The complainant cannot make allegations which are not backed by data, facts and evidence. The plaintiff (Odisha government) did not supply any data and adduce any evidence in their favour, while Chhattisgarh and all other party states did so. The plaintiff also challenged the evidence adduced by other riparian states without any factual basis," the Centre mentioned in its affidavit.

In the affidavit, the Centre also blamed the Odisha government of not making any effort to resolve the dispute. "The answering defendant (Chhattisgarh) exerted all its efforts with due diligence to resolve the issue. However, without making any effort to resolve the dispute and by showing its total non-seriousness towards the negotiations, the plaintiff moved a complaint on November 19 under the Inter State River Water (ISRW) Dispute Act, 1956," it pointed out.

The Centre also slammed Odisha for rejecting the neutral and apolitical negotiation committee which was constituted by the Centre to resolve the water dispute in an amicable manner. The state government had rejected the negotiation panel on January 28, this year (TOI, 7th December, 2017).

One can see the extra mile that the Central government walks in demeaning government of Odisha and is all praise for Chhattishgarh. It seems that in its overzealousness, the Union government has lost a sense of propriety. In this particular case for formation of the Tribunal the Union government is under constitutional obligation to form the Tribunal within a year of one the states requesting it. And the Union government failed to do so despite it promising that the Tribunal will be formed by 19 November 2017 since Odisha had first asked for it on 19 November 2016. And then it comes back with vengeance at Odisha saying that it does not have enough evidence. Any one with common sense will be able to decipher that the Union government has no business in looking for the evidence as that is the job of the Tribunal. Such venom by the Union government clearly justifies the act of Odisha government rejecting the earlier half-hearted efforts to resolve the issue, as it had the apprehension that the Union government will go to any extent to safeguard the interest of Chhattishgarh and also give a sense as to how apolitical the negotiation committee would have been.

However, the Supreme Court has ordered on 23 January for the formation of the Tribunal within a month. In the earlier instance, the Union government had failed to keep the date despite promising it in the Supreme Court. Now, it is to be seen whether the Union government forms the Tribunal as per the order of the Supreme Court or finds out a new alibi!

There are lapses galore by the ruling BJD in Odisha, but the Union government now seems to have a vested interest and does not consider the people of Odisha as part of the Union of India, having the right to expect that the Union government will be non-partisan.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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