Op-Ed: Odisha Must Assert Its Rights Over Mahanadi

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: A section of the media has reported that Chhattisgarh is planning more projects on Mahanadi, the river considered to be the lifeline of people in Odisha. One of the mightiest rivers of the country it caters to the water needs of people in around 15 districts of the state. It is the biggest source of irrigation in several districts.

Odisha just cannot survive without this river which also sustains an array of aquatic species and is a constant source of inspiration for poets and artists. The state government has long expressed concern over the dams and barrages built by Chhattisgarh in the upstream of the river as they adversely affect the flow of its water on Odisha side. Right now the matter is before a tribunal and its fate remains uncertain.

But Chhattisgarh planning more projects on Mahanadi is bad news for Odisha which being the downstream state is always at a disadvantage. There is a constant fear of Chhattisgarh releasing excess water from its structures over the river during the monsoon season and regulating the flow of water to suit its ends in the non-monsoon months.

Odisha and Chhattisgarh governments have been at loggerheads over the issue for past sometime. The dispute intensified when BJP was ruling Chhattisgarh and Centre was seen as siding with the then Raman Singh government in the matter. Miffed, Odisha chief minister, Naveen Patnaik launched a vigorous campaign to protect his state’s interest in the matter which now lies before a tribunal.

At the heart of the dispute over Mahanadi waters lies the huge Hirakud dam and reservoir, a multipurpose project aimed at flood control, irrigation and hydel power generation. Any significant reduction in the flow of water into the reservoir could have disastrous repercussions for the state.

Interestingly the bulk of Hirakud’s catchment area lies in Chhattisgarh though estimates vary. While according to one estimate 90.6 per cent of the reservoir’s catchment lies in Chhattisgarh and 9.4 per cent in Odisha, another estimate puts it in the ratio of 87 to 13. In either case Hirakud remains pathetically dependent on the inflow of water from Chhattisgarh side.

Given this backdrop Odisha has a strong case against Chhattisgarh which has built many of these structures over Mahanadi without taking its neighbour into confidence. The threat perception in Odisha is bound to increase with Chhattisgarh constructing more dams or barrages on the river.

Odisha government has been criticized repeatedly for not raising the issue with Chhattisgarh and the Centre at the “ right” time, implying that the state did not protest when the earliest of these structures over the river came up. It is quite possible that the state government made a mistake in its initial assessment of the kind of threat dams and barrages in Mahanadi’s upstream could pose to Odisha.

But it is never too late to mend. The state government should fight for its rights over Mahanadi at all possible fora and prevent its neighbour from carrying out any activity on the river which could prove prejudicial to the interests of Odisha.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)