At a time when Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are fighting over waters of Cauvery, here is an example in contrast, of how Telangana and Maharashtra sorted out their 41-year-old inter-state dispute over sharing Godavari river waters recently. This became possible due to some nudging by Prime Minister Narendra Modi towards cooperative federalism.
Taking a cue from the PM’s philosophy over solving inter-state river water disputes, both Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti and Maharashtra Governor Chennamaneni Vidyasagar Rao played key roles in solving the dispute., Rao went an extra mile in persuading the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Telangana to sink their differences and ink a deal for the benefit of their people of both the states.
Senior functionaries in both the states, including Telangana Irrigation Minister T. Harish Rao, who spoke to The Sunday Guardian this week, underscored how states can resolve their differences and disputes, provided a right atmosphere of give and take is created.
The agreement, which was signed by Telangana CM K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) and Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis on 23 August in Mumbai, will help irrigate 36 lakh acres of land, including 18 lakh acres in the parched lands of Telangana, without submerging a single acre in upstream Maharashtra.
It is not that Maharashtra and Telangana (earlier combined Andhra Pradesh) had never fought over sharing Godavari waters. Ever since then AP Chief Minister J. Vengal Rao signed an agreement with his then Maharashtra counterpart S.B. Chavan on sharing Godavari waters in 1975, a year never passed without both the states fighting over the process.
Following the agreement, AP wanted to construct a dam at Tummidihatti in Telangana at a height of 152 metres so that it can compound 170 TMC of water. However, that would have led to the submerging of 3,786 acres in 37 villages of Chandrapur district in Maharashtra. That was vehemently opposed by Maharashtra.
But successive AP CMs AP ignored the objections from Maharashtra and went ahead with the plan to construct a dam of 152 metres at Tummidihatti. Some funds were spent on the survey and designing of the dam over the years. Maharashtra wrote as many as 17 official letters to the erstwhile AP government, saying that it would never accept a dam of the height of 152 metres on Godavari downstream.
Meanwhile, relations between the two states touched the nadir during 2011 when almost all political parties from the Telangana region opposed the construction of a project at Babli on a tributary of Godavari in Maharashtra. Then, TDP president Chandrababu Naidu and a clutch of his MLAs were arrested by the Maharashtra police as they went to the project site and tried to damage the project gates.
People of Chandrapur district have held many protests opposing a dam at Tummidihatti which would uproot 37 villages. Fadnavis, who belongs to that region himself, participated in such protests, during which he was even arrested. “When I as an Opposition leader opposed the dam, where is the question of accepting it as the CM now?” was his comment when Telangana raised the issue with him last year.
Ever since KCR became the CM in June 2014, he was in a hurry to build the dam across Godavari so that he could fulfil his promise of irrigating around 36 lakh acres in north Telangana and some parts of in the south too. He knew that the people of Telangana could not wait another four decades if he, too, adopted the adamant line of previous AP CMs.
The agreement will help irrigate 36 lakh acres of land, including 18 lakh acres in the parched lands of Telangana, without submerging a single acre in upstream Maharashtra.
The appointment of Vidyasagar Rao as the Governor of Maharashtra in 23 August 2014 came as a blessing for KCR who was searching for a mediator who could persuade the Maharashtra CM. As Vidyasagar Rao, too, belongs to an area in Telangana which depends on Godavari’s water, he knows the importance of solving the dispute.
“Our CM KCR had a one-on-one meeting with Devendra Fadnavis at the residence of the Maharashtra Governor in March this year. But Fadnavis made it clear that he would not accept any dam on Godavari in Telangana which would result in the displacement of a large number of people in his state,” Telangana Irrigation Minister Harish Rao told this newspaper.
According to the minister, KCR quickly understood the situation and changed his plan to build a dam at Medigadda, some 75 km down the original site and reduced the dam height from 152 metres to 148 metres so that there would not be any submergence of Maharashtra areas. This was promptly accepted by the Maharashtra CM and a historic agreement was signed last month.
“We appreciate the accommodative nature of Telangana and the agreement will go a long way in showing how states in India can cooperate with each other and solve their river water disputes,” said a senior official in the Maharashtra Irrigation Department on phone from Mumbai, on the condition of anonymity. “Soon, CM Fadnavis will visit Hyderabad,” he said.
The Telangana government is more than happy that it can store up to 200 TMC of Godavari water, including the flooding from upstream tributaries. This new dam can irrigate 18 lakh acres of land and stabilise another 18 lakh acres land. Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti recently commended Harish Rao on this happy ending.