The liberal Budget allocation of ₹5,300 crore to Karnataka’s Upper Bhadra Project (UBP) has triggered a wave of protests across Andhra Pradesh. It is perceived that the Narendra Modi government is showering boons on Karnataka with an eye on the Assembly elections scheduled for May 2023, and the Upper Bhadra region is the principal beneficiary of the Centre’s generosity.
In February 2022, the Central Water Commission (CWC) gave the coveted national project status to UBP. And now, much to the chagrin of neighbour Andhra Pradesh, where another national project, Polavaram, has been languishing because of a paucity of funds, UPB was rewarded with an unusual dose of assistance.
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Though the project, which is coming up on River Bhadra in Chikkamagalur district, is said to mainly affect the water flow into Tungabhadra that traverses through Rayalaseema, farmers’ organisations from all Andhra regions have unanimously cried foul.
‘Contempt of court’
Noted water expert and convener of Study Centre for Integrated Development of Andhra Pradesh, T Lakshminarayana, called the UBP “illegal” because, in his view, it is being constructed without any valid allocation of water.
Talking to The Federal, Laskhminarayana said the Centre’s action amounts to contempt of court as well. “Karnataka claims that the UBP is being constructed within its share of water allocated by the Brajesh Kumar Tribunal. The award has not yet been notified by the Centre, as Andhra Pradesh has filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court against the way water is distributed among Krishna River riparian states.
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“Later, Telangana also impleaded in the case. How could the Centre accord national status to a pending project that has no water allocation?” Lakshminarayana wondered.
A round table of farmers’ organisations held in Vijayawada on Friday gave a call to stage protests across the state in front of Central government offices on February 9.
Former AP Agriculture Minister Vadde Shobhandriswara Rao dubbed UBP an “election project.” “The Brajesh Kumar Tribunal award has not come into existence. In its absence, all states have to stick to the previous Bachawat Tribunal’s award. Karnataka has already used up its entire quota of the Bachawat Tribunal award. So, granting national project status to UBP and releasing funds is illegal. We have to surmise that it is aimed at getting votes in central Karnataka districts by showing huge irrigation benefits,” Rao said.
Noted commentator V Sankaraiah wondered how the Centre can ignore the Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh, which was given national status way back in 2014, and release funds to an “illegal” project in Karnataka.
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“At the time of creation of Telangana, Parliament, through an Act, recognised the Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh as a national project. National projects get their entire funding from the Centre. But in the case of Polavaram, the Modi government has been delaying the release of funds on one pretext or the other. But, the UBP has received an extraordinary patronization,” Sankaraiah said.
Rayalaseema water woes
Rayalaseema Saguneeti Sadhana Samiti president Bojja Dasaratha Ramireddy is apprehensive that UBP would further aggravate the water woes of Anantapur, Kurnool and Kadapa districts.
“It is depressing to know that frequent visits to New Delhi by state Finance Minister Buggana Rajendranath Reddy have not yielded anything worthwhile to the state in terms of funds and projects. Now, the state government is silent on UBP despite its deleterious impact on Rayalaseema. It clearly shows that it doesn’t want to antagonise the Centre even if the interests of farmers are at stake,” Ramireddy said.
Though TDP president and former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has expressed displeasure over UBP, he could not direct it toward Modi. Instead, he used it to slam Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.
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“Jagan Mohan Reddy is not aware of what is happening in other states. UBP is an example. The project denies water to Rayalaseema. He has not completed the Polavaram project. He has jettisoned the Rayalaseema Lift Irrigation project, which he announced with all fanfare. His silence on UBP will ruin the state,” Naidu said.
The Jagan government has not yet reacted to the UBP development despite the commotion in the state.
About the Upper Bhadra Project
Upper Bhadra is a complex project with two stages. In the first stage, the UBP envisages to lift 17.40 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet) of water from River Tunga to the Bhadra reservoir via the 11.26 km-long gravity canal powered by pumps at a couple of points.
In the second state, 29.9 tmcft of water will be carried from Bhadra to a distribution point at Ajjampura through a 40.3 km-long gravity canal through pumping. The project is designed to irrigate 2.25 lakh acres in Chitradurga, Chikkamagaluru, Davanagere, and Tumkur districts.
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As for AP, three erstwhile districts — Anantapur, Kurnool, and Kadapa — draw water from Tungabhadra through three canals. These canals are not getting the allocated water due to reservoir silting. So now, the construction of the Upper Bhadra Project in the upper reaches is bound to reduce the flow into Tungabhadra. This will further erode the availability of water to these canals.
Farmer leaders of Rayalaseema fear that the problem would worsen during lean years.
Andhra Pradesh is passing through a strange predicament. While farmers’ organisations and activists have condemned the Modi government’s decision in the strongest possible terms, the reactions from the ruling YSR Congress and Opposition TDP do not sync with the mood in the state. The reason, in the words of Vadde Shobhanadriswara Rao, is simple, “Jagan Mohan Reddy does want to antagonise Modi for obvious reasons while Chandrababu Naidu is waiting eagerly for an opportunity to align with Modi.”