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Odisha-Chhattisgarh Mahanadi water dispute: Part II - Will states stop siphoning Mahanadi waters?
Tapan Padhi, who has been working closely with water related issues in Odisha since more than two decades and is also the Convenor of Odisha Nadi Surakhya Sammukhya, a network working on the health of the river basins of the state, opines that rather than taking the recourse of the Tribunal and the Courts, negotiations will be a safer option for Odisha to safeguard its interests. According to him, if the negotiations fail the state would still have the option of seeking recourse of the law and the Tribunal.

It is not advantage Odisha in case of the Mahanadi water dispute. First of all, Chhattishgarh is the upper riparian state and has the advantage. Secondly, the state of Odisha has failed (or it has been projected as a failure on the part of the state of Odisha) to react in time. But over and above all these, there is no agreement of water sharing with respect to the large project like Hirakud.

Odisha, by rejecting various proposals by the Union government has been missing opportunities for a negotiated settlement of the issue. On the other hand, the Tribunal is a very lengthy process. As per the existing provisions, a Tribunal can very well take one year for formation, three years for the verdict, two years for extension and one more year for finalisation of the draft report – altogether it can within the purview of the law take 7 years. Much can happen during this period. And, what is the guarantee that the verdict of the Tribunal will be in favour of Odisha and also Chhattishgarh and other states will accept the same? There are ample instances to justify these apprehensions.

After reading the Section 4 (1) of ISRWD Act, 1956, it is crystal clear, that the decision of the Union government in appointing a negotiation committee is well within the purview of law and is absolutely justified. The Union minister, Uma Bharti had arranged for a meeting of both the CMs on September 17, 2016 as stated before, but the meeting could not resolve the dispute. Prior to this, the meeting of the Chief Secretaries had also ended with no result. In all these meetings the non-negotiable put forth by the government of Odisha has been the stoppage of the construction work of the barrages and which wasn't acceptable to Chhattishgarh. It seems that both the CMs of Chhattishgarh and Odisha have taken construction work of the barrage as a matter of prestige which has stalled the negotiations.

Before the September 29 meeting, a group of retired senior engineers had advised the government to request the Central government to mediate in the dispute, but Odisha government did not accept such a suggestion. The Central government was, therefore, convinced beyond doubt that some sort of negotiations should be done between the states since this has never been attempted before. Also, no discussions have been held at the officers' level to sort out the issues. Hence, the Central government is of the opinion that some settlement is still possible if there are some serious negotiations between the warring states with third party mediation provided by the Central government.

Experts in this field have opined in no uncertain terms that the Centre's decision to constitute a negotiation committee is more than justified. All those persons who have found fault with the Central government are advised to read the law thoroughly to understand its implication. Another aspect needs to be understood. Section 4 (1) of the Act has given, up to one year's time to the Central government to constitute the Tribunal. It is the inherent intention of the law that the Central government should try sincerely to look for a chance for a negotiated settlement before the inevitable last resort, which is the constitution of the Tribunal. It is well known to everyone that the Tribunal route is not only time taking and tortuous but also very costly. Hence, every effort must be ensured by the Central government to try for the negotiated settlement in the interests of both the states.

The probable scope of works of the negotiation committee also has been clarified by the Union Water Resources Minster. The committee is to assess the surface flow data throughout the year correctly of various streams up to Hirakud with the present state of the art technology. Much water has flown into Mahanadi within the Hirakud catchment area over a period of about sixty years with a lot of variations. Most of the earlier assessments need to be superseded with the present flow data. If the flow data is correctly assessed, distribution will be easier and realistic. In case of any such assessment Odisha would plead before the committee to limit the assessment up to Hirakud catchment only in which Chhattishgarh will have their due share.

The committee will also study the consumption data for various water uses of the existing projects based on realistic assessment. Odisha would plead not to include the ground water component as the entire dispute is related to the surface flow only. Similar exercise will be done for future projects with proper assessment. Odisha would expose Chhattisgarh on this issue in view of their exaggerated water use data submitted to Odisha and the GOI. In a similar manner, Odisha's consumption figures will also be reviewed by them including the Mahanadi delta areas where the consumption is very meager due to less coverage during the Rabi season. The committee will also assess the residual storage capacity of the Hirakud reservoir. It will be Odisha's endeavour to ensure the interests of the state with respect to Hirakud & Delta Projects which are in operation since long and they have their riparian rights to claim such benefits. But, with Odisha rejecting the negotiations committee even these possibilities do not have a chance.

You can also read: BJP blemished and beleaguered over Mahanadi water dispute

Odisha-Chhattisgarh Mahanadi water dispute: Will states stop siphoning Mahanadi waters?

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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