Rivers have been the cradles of civilisations across the world and causes of unending strifes too. History is replete with many such tales. In India, if rivers have contributed to green revolutions, the same water sources have also led to too much of bad blood among people and states. Be it among Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan over Ravi and Beas or the century-old dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over Cauvery waters.
In the eastern parts of the country where river disputes were almost unheard of, Mahanadi is the new Cauvery in the making. The 851-km long river with a 1.41 lakh sq km basin is causing consternation for Odisha, thanks to neighbouring Chhattisgarh for acting the Big Brother because it has the geographical advantage over the river. Just like Karnataka has over Tamil Nadu.
While the row over Mahanadi river water is being played out since last year, the latest to infuriate the state was the unilateral release of water from Kalma barrage by its neighbour. Last week, Chhattisgarh opened 46 gates of the barrage as heavy rains lashed the upper reaches of Mahanadi.The Odisha government has cried foul and sought the intervention of the Central Water Commission (CWC) in the matter. As has been the annual practice, officials of Water Resources Departments of both the states hold a pre-monsoon meeting on May 22 to discuss flood management. It was agreed that both would share information on water management but what Chhattisgarh did was completely unilateral and arbitrary, claims Odisha.
Chhattisgarh’s indifference on the matter has been worrying Odisha. Unmoved by Odisha’s demand for greater cooperation, it has stuck to safeguarding its interests without paying any heed to how its actions could impact the Hirakud Dam Reservoir and millions living in the downstream of Mahanadi.
It is not for the first time that the Raman Singh government has acted in this fashion. Earlier in December, it shut down gates of the barrage drastically cutting water flow to Hirakud. As agriculture was badly hit in several western Odisha districts, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha held a hartal across the districts on June 10 to protest the move.
Chhattisgarh has been serving the interests of its farmers and industries well by building dams and barrages to create storage and manage resources. And rightly so. There is nothing wrong in what it is doing but by turning a blind eye to Odisha’s interests, it has acted in a high-handed manner because of the geographical advantage it enjoys as an upper riparian state.
The contentions of Odisha has merit. Release of water at this point may not cause much concern because water level in Hirakud, the major dam that controls the flow of water in Mahanadi in Odisha, stands at 598.37 ft and the dam has enough space left before achieving the full storage level of 630 ft. With the real monsoon still ahead, such arbitrary release of water has posed a serious threat to flood management in Odisha.
“Water from Kalma barrage cannot be a threat but release from dams and reservoirs will pose a serious challenge. The Odisha government must deal with such matters in a more direct manner with Chhattisgarh,” feels former chief engineer of the Water Resources Department Ramesh Chandra Tripathy.In fact, it is the dams and reservoirs Chhattisgarh has been building on the upstream of Mahanadi over the years which have jolted Odisha out of its lethargy but the Raman Singh government has nothing to regret. During a recent visit, the Chhattisgarh industries minister Amar Agarwal clarified that his government has been creating these infrastructure on PPP mode using advance water cess collected from industries because it has all the rights to do so.
While the Naveen Patnaik government has clearly been caught napping for ignoring the developments in the last one decade, its concern about the six barrages being constructed by the neighbouring state is not without reasons. It has challenged Chhattisgarh’s contention that non-monsoon flow to Odisha will not be affected on the grounds that these barrages have a storage potential of 829 million cubic meter (MCM) even during the non-monsoon season and not 274 MCM as is being claimed.
Despite the Ministry of Water Resources bringing the two states to the table last year, no solution is in sight.
Odisha has already knocked the doors of the Supreme Court demanding ongoing construction works to stop while the Raman Singh government says it has carried out the activities with the approval from CWC. Tripathy says a way forward could be the formation of a river board with both the states signing a tripartite agreement with the Centre.As politics on river water sharing takes centre stage and both Odisha and Chhattisgarh stand their grounds, there is a slender chance of the dispute abating in the near future. The fight over Mahanadi could worsen as climate change is sure to affect monsoon in the coming years. The Centre, therefore, will have a great role in either resolving the crisis or allow another Cauvery to take birth.
Srimoy kar. Resident Editor, Odisha Email: firstname.lastname@example.org