Normal life was disrupted on Wednesday in four districts in northern Karnataka due to a day-long shutdown, called for the release of Mahadayi river water by Goa to the drought-prone region in the southern state. “Barring stray incidents of burning tyres on roads, blocking movement of trucks and forcible closure of shops and eateries by the agitators, the dawn-to-dusk (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) shutdown was peaceful,” a senior police official told IANS here. As a precautionary measure, the state transport corporations did not operate bus services during the 12-hour shutdown in the affected districts of Bagalkote, Belagavi, Dharwad and Gadag, about 400 500km from Bengaluru. “Schools, colleges, shops, markets, hotels, theatres, and private offices remained shut for the day in support of the shutdown observed by farmers, traders and pro-Kannada organisations,” said the official. Inter-state bus services to and from Goa across the border were also suspended. Government offices and banks reported thin attendance due to lack of public transport and closure of petrol bunks in the cities and towns of the affected districts.
Security was tightened and vigil stepped up to maintain law and order and ensure peace during the shutdown, which received overwhelming response from the people. Though additional police were deployed across the four districts, organisations were allowed to hold rallies and stage demonstrations in protest against the delay in releasing the river water to meet the drinking needs of the people in the state’s northwest region. The 77km-long Mahadayi or Mandovi river originates at Bhimgad in the Western Ghats in Belagavi district of north Karnataka and flows into the neighbouring Goa where it eventually joins the Arabian Sea. Though the river flows runs 29 km in Karnataka and 52 km in Goa, its catchment area is spread over 2,032km in the southern state as against 1,580km in Goa. Karnataka has been asking Goa since 2001 to release 7.6 thousand million cubic feet of the river water to meet the drinking and crop irrigation needs of its people in the drought-prone four districts. Karnataka plans to build two canals at Kalasa and Banduri, the river’s tributaries in the state, to divert and supply the water to the four districts. The Mahaydai Water Disputes Tribunal, headed by Justice J.N. Panchal, on July 28, 2016 rejected the state’s petition for releasing the river water, citing various grounds, including ecological damage the twin canal projects may cause. The Tribunal, set up by the Central Government on the Supreme Court’s directive, however, suggested the two states resolve the issue amicably. With the state assembly election due in April-May 2018, BJP’s National President Amit Shah prevailed upon Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar to consider releasing the water on humanitarian grounds and boost the party’s poll prospects in the state. Parrikar then wrote to BJP’s state unit president B.S. Yeddyurappa on December 21 that he was open to discuss the issue with his Karnataka counterpart Siddaramaiah and release a certain quantity of water from the river to meet the needs of its people.