The dispute between Karnataka and Goa over sharing the waters of the Mahadayi river has come to a head today, with farmers associations and pro-Kannada groups imposing a state-wide bandh in Karnataka.

Schools, colleges and offices have been shut since the morning and in Bangalore, banks and public buses have halted their services. Autos and taxis are off the streets in the state capital and protesting groups reportedly forced some metro services to stop. Even the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce has chosen to halt all film screenings and shoots today.

The state has beefed up security at government offices and imposed Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code in the state to prevent mob gatherings. Units of the Rapid Action Force and Border Security Force have also been patrolling cities to maintain law and order.

Anger over the Mahadayi dispute has been simmering for the past three days in Karnataka, triggered by an interim order from the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal on July 27 in favour of Goa.

In its order, the tribunal rejected Karnataka’s plea to implement its Kalasa-Banduri Nala project that was meant to divert 7.56 thousand million cubic feet of Mahadayi water to several arid districts of northern Karnataka.

The tribunal’s chief reason for rejecting the project was that it would lead to ecological damage in neighbouring Goa, particularly in Goa’s Salim Ali wildlife reserve on the banks of the Mahadayi.

On July 28, pro-Kannada groups had organised bandhs in Belgaum, Hubli, Dharwad and Gadag, and other towns and cities. Protests turned violent in several places, with protestors vandalising government offices, pelting stones and setting government buses on fire, and the police responding with lathi charge.

In Bangalore, there were reported instances of protestors throwing eggs at chief minister Siddaramaiah’s posters.

In Goa, meanwhile, the state government suspended bus services to Karnataka for two days on Thursday.

What the front pages said

Today’s Karnataka bandh, expected to end by 5 pm, has escalated the dispute further.

In Bangalore, the Saturday front pages of leading local newspapers divided their attention between announcements of the state-wide bandh and reportage of debilitating floods that wrecked the city on Friday.

Kannada paper Udayavani led with the floods but gave equal prominence to the Mahadayi protests, with the headline, "Today Maha bandh".

The headline in Prabha, another Kannada daily, announced "Bandh again today", adding that support for the protest has come from activists, farmers and the film industry.

In Goa, news of the Mahadayi dispute and the Karnataka protests did not necessarily make it to the front pages. oHeraldo carried a more conciliatory report on page 3, focusing on chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar’s confidence that Goans in Karnataka would remain safe.

Navhind Times announced the bandh at the bottom of its front page, with a report captioned “Goa’s neighbour on edge”.

Goa’s Marathi newspaper Govan Varta also put in a brief report on its front page, with a simple headline stating, “Karnataka bandh today over Mahadai dispute”.

What the dispute is about

The Mahadayi – known in Goa as the Mandovi – originates in the Western Ghats of Belgaum in Karnataka, flows through the state for around 29 km and then enters Goa, where it flows through another 52 km.

The dispute between the two states over the shared river has been ongoing since 2002, when Karnataka’s Congress government received the Centre’s approval for its long-standing Kalasa-Banduri Nala project. This project involved building a canal across two Mahadayi tributaries to divert around 7.56 thousand million cubic feet of water to the Malaprabha river basin. The diverted Mahadayi water could then be used to supply much-needed drinking water to northern districts like Belgaum, Dharwad and Gadag.

Karnataka’s contention has been that every year, more than 200 thousand million cubic feet of Mahadayi water flows into the Arabian Sea without being used in any way. But the Goan government has consistently refuted this argument with the claim that the river’s water is crucial to maintain ecological balance in the Western Ghats and the state’s wildlife reserves. Since the river is monsoon-fed, Goa also claims that diversion of water would lead to water scarcity in Goa.

In 2006, when the Karnataka government inaugurated work for the disputed project, Goa moved the Supreme Court to get a stay on construction. On the Court’s orders, the Centre set up the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal in 2010.

The issue has remained unresolved for six years, but was brought back to the limelight this year because of severe drought conditions in several Karnataka districts that could have benefited from the project.