The governments of Odisha and Chhattisgarh are at loggerheads over the sharing of waters of the Mahanadi. The dispute is set to become a major election issue in the days to come. While Chhattisgarh is due to go the polls at the end of this year, the Assembly election in Odisha will be held along with the Lok Sabha election next year.

Although a tribunal has been constituted to adjudicate the dispute, the Biju Janata Dal government in Odisha and the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Chhattisgarh are refusing to budge.

What happened?

The dispute started in July 2016 when Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, claiming that the new projects launched by Chhattisgarh across the Mahanadi would hamper water flow to the Hirakud reservoir and affect life in 15 of 30 districts of Odisha, including major urban centres such as Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Sambalpur. He urged Mr. Modi to instruct the Central agencies to direct Chhattisgarh to stop construction so as to protect the interests of Odisha farmers.

Under the 1945 detailed project report of the Mahanadi Valley Development (Hirakud Dam Project), Odisha’s allocation was 12.28 million acre feet (MAF), and 8.33 MAF was to be set aside for States such as the undivided Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra in the month of June. But Chhattisgarh has constructed six barrages — Kalma, Saradihi, Mironi, Basantpur, Seorinarain and Samoda — to store 27.48 MAF. Another seven ongoing projects could store 2.95 MAF annually. These barrages pose a real threat to dry weather flow to Hirakud, according to experts.

Why the worry?

Last summer, Odisha felt the pinch, with many areas facing an acute water shortage.

Chhattisgarh dismissed Odisha’s apprehensions, arguing that these projects would not have any adverse impact on Odisha as it was using the surplus water draining into the sea.

Subsequently, Mr. Patnaik wrote several letters to the Centre, seeking that a tribunal be constituted to resolve the dispute. When the Centre did not oblige and suggested talks to resolve the dispute, Odisha moved the Supreme Court.

Has a tribunal been set up?

The Odisha government has been worried over the delay on the part of the Centre to intervene and stay the construction of the barrages across the Mahanadi in Chhattisgarh. It moved the Supreme Court in December 2016 for an order asking Chhattisgarh to stop the construction.

The court, which did not grant a stay, ordered constitution of the tribunal on January 23 this year. The Union Cabinet approved the setting up of the tribunal on February 20 and the Centre constituted the tribunal on March 13. The terms of reference were handed over to the Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal on April 17.

As per the provisions of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956, the tribunal is required to submit its report within three years, which can be extended for a period not exceeding two years.

Mr. Patnaik, who is scheduled to launch the second phase of his party’s ‘Save Mahanadi’ agitation from May 16, has criticised the BJP government at the Centre and in Chhattisgarh for choking the flow of water to Odisha.

The Oopposition Congress, too, has announced a movement to protest against the unilateral construction of barrages across the Mahanadi. The BJP in Odisha has been blaming both the Biju Janata Dal and the Congress for exploiting the issue for political gains.

Water activists are of the view that the tribunal should immediately order an independent assessment of the impact of the dams and barrages on the Mahanadi so that a proper approach can be adopted to resolve the dispute as the data generated by government agencies cannot be relied upon.

(Adapted from The Hindu)