Water has always been a contentious issue between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh (AP). Although the neighbouring State has been exploiting water sources in Odisha, the State Government remained a mute spectator till date.
A pointer to this is river Vansadhara. It originates from Durgakangar hills (Lingaraj hills) of the Eastern Ghat in Kalahandi district. The 230-km river runs through Odisha (150 km) and AP before merging in the Bay of Bengal at Kalingapatnam in AP. Its catchment area is spread over 1,400 sq km in Odisha and 300 sq km in AP.
The dispute between Odisha and AP began in early 1990s when the latter attempted to construct Neredi barrage on Vansadhara, 16 km from Gunpur town in Rayagada district. Objections raised by Odisha prevented the then AP Government from going ahead with the construction.
In 1993, the then Water Resources Minister had informed the State Assembly that 1,326 acre of Odisha land will be submerged if the barrage at Neredi is constructed. To solve the problem, a team of engineers from the Union Government visited the area then and suggested construction of a reservoir at Panidangar, about 8 km from Gudari in Rayagada district instead of the barrage at Neredi. Although the foundation stone for the reservoir was laid in 2005, Odisha Government did not go ahead with the project afterwards.
Taking advantage of the situation, AP Government started construction of Vansadhara-2 project near Katragada which led Odisha Government to knock the doors of Supreme Court in 2010.
According to AP Government proposal, as a part of the Vansadhara-2 project, river water would be diverted from Katragada site near Kasinagar in Gajapati district to Hiramandalam reservoir in AP instead of constructing Naredi barrage on the river.
Following the apex court directive, a team of the Vansadhara Tribunal headed by Justice Mukund Sharma had recently examined sharing of Vansadhara water between AP and Odisha.
Former Berhampur MP Anadi Sahu said a large number of villages in Gajapti and Rayagada districts would be submerged during monsoon and there will be drinking water crisis in summer if AP is allowed to divert water from Vansadhara.
The Vansadhara project-2 apart, AP Government has to pay Odisha water tax to the tune of `3.18 crore.
According to sources in the Odisha Irrigation office, an agreement was signed between the then AP Chief Minister MC Reddy and Odisha counterpart Nilamani Routray in 1978 on use of water between the two states through water projects in Odisha.
As per the agreement, AP will take water from various projects in Gajapati district in lieu of payment of two-third cost of maintenance of the project.
AP Government used water of 17 projects in the district including the Alati nullah, Baijhal nullah, Burugaon reservoir, Gumma nullah, Krushna Sagar, Radha Sagar, Chintal reservoir, Ram Sagar, Sita Sagar and Kalua nullah.
But till 1993, AP Government did not pay the amount as per the agreement and dues stood at `3.16 crore. Following repeated demands, Andhra Government in two phases paid a sum of `9.19 lakh. The rest amount is still pending.
Executive Engineer of Irrigation Department BS Patra said at present, AP Government has to pay an amount of `3.18 crore to Odisha for using its water. Though the department has apprised the Government of the pending amount, no directive has been issued by the latter yet.
Bharat Paik, former MLA of Gajapati district, alleged that while Odisha farmers are deprived of electricity and water due to non-payment of dues, the Government has not been able to collect the pending water tax from its AP counterpart for the last two decades.
On the other hand, the AP Government has been collecting tax from its people for providing them water from Odisha.
Paik said if water supply from Odisha projects is stopped, the tax issue would come to fore and Andhra Pradesh Government will be compelled to clear the dues.