Karnataka: Congress govt fights back Cauvery row with two water projects
State govt using Yettinahole and Mekedatu drinking water projects to assert its concern for farmers
Under attack from the Opposition for releasing Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu, the Congress government in Karnataka is using two water schemes to show that it remains committed to the water needs of the state, in particular farmers.
The BJP and the JD(S) are at their aggressive best, accusing the Siddaramaiah government of betraying farmers by releasing the Cauvery water when the lack of adequate rains has caused huge problems. The BJP and JD(S) want to embarrass the Congress ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, particularly in Old Mysuru region.
While Karnataka has approached the Supreme Court saying it wants to protect the interest of the state and its farmers, the Congress is using the Yettinahole and Mekedatu drinking water projects to assert that it too is worried about the state’s farmers.
The Congress leader at the centre of it all is Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, who in January 2022 launched a 16-km yatra on the theme ‘Namma Neeru, Namma Hakku, (Our Water, Our Right)’, demanding immediate implementation of the contentious Mekedatu project.
He had to abandon the walkathon due to rising COVID cases. He resumed the journey, completing the second leg in March 2022. The walkathon played a major role in helping the Congress to garner more seats in the old Mysuru region.
The Mekedatu Balancing Reservoir project was conceived to ensure drinking water supply to Bengaluru. It aims to store 67 tmcft of water and generate over 400 MW of power. Tamil Nadu, however, opposes the Mekedatu project underlining the urgent need to utilise the excess river water that flows into the sea.
Recalling his state’s lingering legal battle to establish its rights, Chief Minister MK Stalin says Tamil Nadu too has all the rights on Cauvery water as the river flows through Tamil Nadu along a longer stretch than through Karnataka.
But Karnataka is all set to make a strong case on the necessity of implementing the Mekedatu project before both the Cauvery Water Tribunal and the Supreme Court.
According to Department of Water Resources sources, forest officials have completed two km of survey of the land for the Mekedatu project, which will require 5,240 hectares of land.
Shivakumar is determined to implement the project as the Makedatu Yatra helped to elevate his stature in the party ahead of the May assembly elections. He is also projecting the Yettinahole drinking water project, which gained momentum during the previous tenure of the Congress.
To mitigate the problem of drought-prone Chikkaballapur, Kolar, Hassan, Chitradurga, Tumkur, Ramnagar and Bengaluru Rural, an earlier Congress government approved the diversion of 24.01 tmcft of water from west-flowing streams for drinking water needs and to fill 500 plus minor irrigation tanks to 50 per cent capacity in these districts.
The project got administrative approval from the government for Rs 12,912 crore in February 2014. But multiple delays have pushed the estimate to Rs 23,251 crores -- a 100 percent jump over a decade. It is expected to rise even further.
Shivakumar has blamed the previous BJP government for not taking the initiative to implement the project. He told media in Hassan district: “The project would have been completed by now had the previous government taken interest to quench the thirst of drought-hit areas.”
Expressing his displeasure over the inordinate delay in implementing the project, Shivakumar set a 100-day deadline for contractors to complete the first phase of the project. He cautioned the project engineers to lift the water on a trial basis by December 2023. According to Shivakumar, 88 per cent of the work on the first stage of the project has been completed.
The Yettinahole project involves the construction of eight small dams. It is a diversion project taken up by Karnataka Neeravari Nigama Ltd as a drinking water supply scheme.
The plan is to fill up 725 tanks in five districts, with 24 tmcft of water lifted from the depths of the Western Ghats at Yettinahole to the ridgeline of Shirady Ghat at Sakleshpur.
The water will then be pumped into a pipeline that stretches 873 km. Environmentalists opposed the project, saying it kills 600 acres of the forest area. But the Karnataka government is determined to enforce it.