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Battle of states over Mahanadi

The tussle between Odisha and Chhattisgarh over projects in the upstream of Mahanadi in the neighbouring state is in the news lately. Subhashish Mohanty of The Telegraph provides details of the projects, their impact on Odisha and the state’s demands

  • Published 19.09.16
The Mahanadi river

The tussle between Odisha and Chhattisgarh over projects in the upstream of Mahanadi in the neighbouring state is in the news lately. Subhashish Mohanty of The Telegraph provides details of the projects, their impact on Odisha and the state’s demands

Why is Mahanadi important?

Odisha is predominantly an agrarian economy and about two-thirds of the state’s population depend on agriculture. The river is the lifeline for 16 of its 30 districts. The Mahanadi delta covers 95,000sqkm and the delta region has a 200km coastline. The availability of safe drinking water and sanitation largely depend on the Mahanadi. Also, Odisha is a cyclone-prone state and the mangroves in the delta are the first line of defence against the sea. Adequate water in the Mahanadi is an important prerequisite to maintain the fragile eco-system

What is Odisha’s objection?

• Chhattisgarh has taken up construction of many major and medium projects on the upper Mahanadi without consulting Odisha. The construction of seven barrages poses a serious threat to the non-monsoon (September to June) water flow to the Hirakud reservoir. Chhattisgarh projects them as minor schemes, but these are meant for industrial purposes
• Once the projects are complete, flow to the downstream will reduce. This will affect the fragile ecosystem of the Mahanadi — particularly the Satkosia, Bhitarkanika wetlands, Chilika lagoon, Gahirmatha turtle habitat and the Mahanadi delta itself. Drinking water supply in the state will also be affected

Odisha’s stand

When the Hirakud dam was built as a central project in 1957, Odisha was assured of a minimum availability of 12.28 million acres feet of water. This was accepted by the undivided state of Madhya Pradesh. At this point, Odisha wants:
• An immediate stop to all projects on the Mahanadi in Chhattisgarh
• Appointment of an independent fact-finding committee consisting of engineers, retired judges, hydrologists and agricultural experts to collect data on the use of Mahanadi water
• Non-approval of Chhattisgarh’s proposal to have a joint control board. Odisha feels the board will not be able to protect the interests of the state and would have no legal power to enforce its decision

Chhattisgarh’s stand

All projects on the Mahanadi have been built following the state rules. Even after its proposed (disputed) projects are completed, enough water will remain in Mahanadi to fill the Hirakud dam roughly 5-7 times

Centre’s stand

A memorandum of agreement signed between Madhya Pradesh and Odisha in 1983 on the Mahanadi provided for setting up a joint control board to review and plan inter-state irrigation projects on the river basin. The committee has not been formed yet. It should be formed

Option before Odisha

Approach judiciary to form a water dispute tribunal for settling the issue

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, Union minister Uma Bharati and Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh at a news meet in New Delhi on Saturday. Picture by Prem Singh


• July 7, 2000: Odisha raises issue (Chhattisgarh’s decision on Mahanadi projects) for the first time. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik writes to then Union water resources minister Arjun Sethi (of BJD)
• December 20, 2000: Odisha discusses issue with an official delegation of Chhattisgarh
• April 10, 2001: Construction activities undertaken by Chhattisgarh on the upstream of Mahanadi discussed in Odisha Assembly
• July 24, 2008: Officials of both states meet in Bhubaneswar
• August 5, 2010: Odisha Assembly discusses issue through an adjournment motion
• February 5, 2011: In a report published in The Telegraph, water resources secretary Suresh Mohapatra says Odisha will not have any problem even if the Chhattisgarh government builds 100 barrages on the river


• March 12: Naveen tells Odisha Assembly his government is aware of projects undertaken by Chhattisgarh
• May 2: Issue raised in the Assembly
• June 22: Odisha government defers a tripartite meeting on the Arpa-Bhaisar project in one month
• July 4: Naveen writes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to advice Chhattisgarh to stop unilateral construction of major structures on the Mahanadi
• July 7: Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan criticises Odisha government and suggests a joint control board to resolve the issue
• July 23: Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh says it would have been better if Naveen had spoken to him before writing to Modi
• lJuly 26: Mahanadi issue raised in Parliament
• July 26: Congress delegation led by Narasingha Mishra visits Chhattisgarh
• July 29: Senior officials of the two states meet in Delhi but fail to arrive at any conclusion
• July 31: Chhattisgarh water resources minister Brijmohan Agrawal says projects approved by Central Water Commission will not be stopped
• August 3: Leader of Opposition Narasingha Mishra calls for all-party meeting following Naveen’s refusal to do so
• August 9: BJD delegation led by Rajya Sabha member Prasanna Acharya inspects projects sites
• August 9: BJP leader Bijoy Mohapatra urges Odisha government to suggest to the Centre to form a river board
• August 10: All-party delegation led by Narasingha Mishra meets governor seeking Presidents’ intervention. The delegation demands formation of a river board under River Board Act, 1956, failing which, a water dispute tribunal could be constituted in accordance with law
• August 16: Congress observes Odisha bandh
• August 24: Union water resources minister Uma Bharati invites both chief ministers to Delhi to discuss issue
• September 13-15: Naveen solicits opinion on Mahanadi from public. Representatives of more than 16000 organisations offer views
• September 17: Tripartite meeting in Delhi. Odisha not satisfied with outcome