Ignorance cannot be a virtue for a political party which has been in power for the last 16 years. Therefore, the assertion of the Naveen Patnaik government that Chhattisgarh deliberately kept Odisha in the dark about the development activities on the Mahanadi is not just ridiculously naive but speaks volumes of its administrative bankruptcy.
This, however, is not the first instance where the Naveen government was found side-stepping serious issues that involved millions. It was caught napping a couple of years ago when the mining mafia plundered the mineral resources of the state. Then the state was rocked by the multi-thousand-crore-rupee ponzi scam. Lakhs of poor investors were held to ransom by unscrupulous chit fund firms who hoodwinked the law by hobnobbing with ruling party leaders, police officers and some journalists. The government woke up from its slumber after complaints piled up and the matter went to the Supreme Court.
The Polavaram Project was another glaring example of its administrative inertia. Years after the UPA government sanctioned the project, Odisha woke up to the fact that the dam will submerge habitations of tribal communities in Malkangiri. As the NDA government ignores the issue on the ground of delayed intervention of Odisha, the Naveen government continues to mask its failure by turning it into a Centre vs state issue.
Similar posturing on the Mahanadi water row, which involves Chhattisgarh and Odisha, has put it on the back foot. Under severe criticism for its prolonged inaction and silence over Chhattisgarh’s attempt to build barrages on the upstream of the river that would result in insufficient flow of water to the state, the clueless BJD is again targeting the Centre. But this time the bluff has been called with Chhattisgarh rebutting each and every claim of Odisha. A raging war of words and an aggressive media campaign notwithstanding, there is no place to hide for the BJD government. Its embarrassing claim that the Water Resources Department — a portfolio held by Naveen himself — was not kept in the loop by Chhattisgarh and the Central Water Commission (CWC) about the developments on the upstream of the river has found no takers. Official letters clearly reveal that the neighbouring state had communicated with Odisha about the Kelo Project but the only defence Odisha has offered so far is that it has not received any.
This only shows that the Odisha government is trying hard to cover its slip-ups by pointing the finger at Chhattisgarh and the Centre. While Chhattisgarh is barely 16 year old, the first agreement between Odisha and Madhya Pradesh was signed between the then chief ministers J B Patnaik and Arjun Singh in 1983 when the establishment of a Joint Control Board for river-water sharing was recommended. Why the BJD government didn’t try to reformulate the pact and constitute the Board after Chhattisgarh came into being in 2000 remains a mystery.
Last year, the state government withheld its consent to a proposal from Chhattisgarh for the diversion of 85 million cubic metres of water from the Mahanadi to Tandula Dam for irrigation on the grounds that there is no interstate agreement on Mahanadi basin water allocation. It had even expressed displeasure over Chhattisgarh’s unilateral decision to construct a series of barrages on the upstream of Hirakud. How come it feigns ignorance about the activities undertaken by Chhattisgarh? It is simply mind-boggling. Besides, the attempt to pass the buck on the CWC sounds lame because the government has a Principal Resident Commissioner at Delhi who is mandated with monitoring and flagging issues concerning the state’s interest. In fact, civil society organisations like Water Initiatives Odisha have long been demanding formulation of a plan to save the Mahanadi and manage its water resources through a joint coordination panel with Chhattisgarh but the state has remained indifferent.
While aggressively pushing industries that would source water from the Mahanadi, the government has made no effort to assess the impact of the number of thermal power projects Chhattisgarh is setting up. These water guzzling industries, once set up, will have a massive impact on the flow of the Mahanadi. A study by researchers of IITs of Bombay and Madras reveals that the Mahanadi’s water yield has dropped by 10 per cent, which is scary.
Naveen may have cleverly rebuffed the all-party meeting Leader of the Opposition Narasingha Mishra convened to discuss the controversy but his party has to do more than coining catchphrases like “Mahanadira Jala Odishara Bala (Mahanadi Powers Odisha) . With panchayat polls drawing close, the Mahanadi should not just be a ploy to tap voters through BJD-sponsored agitations to show that they have the upperhand. True, the Mahanadi is not just a river for four crore Odias but sloganeering will do Naveen no good. He must show what the river means to Odisha. Someday history will judge him for this.
Resident Editor, Odisha