Could have 'Mahanadi' been a bigger poll issue in 2024?

Prameyanews English

Published By : Prameya News Bureau | May 14, 2024 IST

Mahanadi

Anirudha Mishra

Water is a must for the existence of life on the earth. Located on the eastern coast of India, Odisha is blessed with plenty of water resources. Apart from the 485-km coastline, fresh water resources in the state are plenty too.

But in recent years, Odisha is forced to face new challenges as far as fresh water sufficiency is concerned. The level of water in the non-monsoon period in Mahanadi River System, the lifeline of Odisha, is decreasing fast. As a result, more than 10 districts of the state face water woes. 

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River Mahanadi originates from neighbouring state Chhattisgarh, which was created in 2000 after bifurcation of Madhya Pradesh. Chhattisgarh has constructed a number of major dams and barrages on Mahanadi and its source rivers, much to Odisha's pain and agony.

As a fallout, in non-monsoon period, water level in Mahanadi in Odisha drops drastically. The river bed appears like a desert in many places. 

Since River Mahanadi is very crucial for both Chhattisgarh and Odisha, therefore both the states are bound to strive for maximum benefit from Mahanadi and its tributaries.

Also Read: Amit Shah to address election rallies in Odisha tomorrow

Earlier, a treaty was signed between Odisha and Madhya Pradesh in 1983 on Mahanadi water sharing. The treaty was signed by the then Odisha chief minister JB Patnaik and   Madhya Pradesh CM Arjun Singh. But once Chhattisgarh was formed in 2000, that treaty almost became history. 

Chhattisgarh strategically constructed a number of dams and barrages on Mahanadi River System, while Odisha was somewhat content with only Hirakud Dam. 

Once Chhattisgarh raised a series of barrages and dams and did not release enough water in non-monsoon period, aggrieved Odisha, knocked all possible doors opposing Chhattisgarh's monopolistic approach. 

Also Read: Deadline for filing nomination papers in Odisha for fourth phase election closes today

The tug of war over Mahanadi water sharing, is now being looked into by the Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal headed by its Chairman Justice A M Khanwilkar of the Supreme Court. 

The Tribunal was constituted on March 12, 2018. The Tribunal Members have made field visits to both the states and have also  begun examination of witnesses. 

With both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections underway in Odisha, it was expected that Mahanadi will be a major poll issue in 2024. The reason being, in the past almost all political parties have expressed their concern over the Mahanadi water dispute.

Despite the issue being taken up by the Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal, parties were expected to attach priority to the issue in 2024 battle royal. 

The issues that political parties in Odisha were expected to raise during the 2024 twin polls could have been plans or demands for construction of new barrages and anicuts in Odisha portion of the river and targeting Chhattisgarh for its arbitrary activities. But that somehow has not taken a centre stage during the poll campaigns so far.

Social activist Ranjan Panda viewed, "Mahanadi is definitely an emotive issue. It was expected to be a major issue in the twin polls in Odisha this time. But it did not get that much priority. Mahanadi issue needs a long-term, united and intense struggle."

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Social activist turned political leader Sudershan Das, who earlier was quite vocal about the Mahanadi water sharing dispute, agreed that river water sharing with neighbouring states could have been paid more priority in poll manifestos this time. Not only Mahanadi, there are a few other rivers too, he added. 

 Das, who is contesting 2024 Assembly elections on a Congress ticket, further said that if his party is voted to power in Odisha, or forms the government at the Centre, then the Mahanadi issue will get its due priority.

Reacting on the issue, former BJP state unit president Samir Mohanty reminded that the Mahanadi water sharing dispute has already been taken up by the Tribunal. We must wait for the Tribunal's decision, he suggested.

BJD veteran Prasanna Acharya stated that his party always attaches priority to Odisha's interests. The ruling regime has knocked all possible doors on the Mahanadi issue and will always continue to fight for the state's best interests, he summed up.

Water resources expert and former Chef Engineer Ramesh Tripathy has a different take on the entire Mahanadi tug of war. He opined that Odisha could have built more barrages on Mahanadi and its tributaries. " We did not pay that much priority to that aspect since we never imagined such a scenario," he said

Tripathy further added that although barrages do not control floods, they help in irrigation and water supply. Majority of barrages on Mahanadi and its source rivers built in Chhattisgarh, are not meant for domestic consumers or irrigation, they are meant for major industries, he reminded.

He continued that it is not about blaming any political party. Mahanadi is a major state issue and it's a collective battle. All political parties, organisations and people of the state have to be united on this issue.

True, Mahanadi is above politics and is a battle of survival for Odisha. Parties might not have paid due priority to the Mahanadi issue in their poll manifestos, or poll campaigns, but Odisha has to stay focussed and united on Mahanadi water issue.

Also Read: Odisha’s identity and language in danger: PM Modi

It is understood that the Tribunal will act as per guidelines and will surely suggest ways to address the water dispute between the two neighbouring states.

 After the Tribunal gives its rulings and suggestions, if either Chhattisgarh or Odisha, have any objection, then they may appeal at  higher legal forums. That will certainly take more time. In any case, already aggrieved Odisha, may have to face more challenges in future.

    Tags
  • Election 2024
  • Odisha Election 2024
  • General Elections 2024
  • Mahanadi River System

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