Congress stops Mekedatu padayatra in Karnataka after HC rap

The 10-day padayatra, organized in support of the Mekedatu dam project, was being conducted in violation of COVID norms and despite an alarming surge in daily cases in the state

The Nama Neeru Namma Haku padayatra was called by the Congress to goad the state government to proceed with the Mekedatu project, which neighbouring Tamil Nadu has opposed in the court.

The Congress on Thursday (January 13) called off its mega padayatra in Karnataka after five leaders tested positive for COVID.

The decision to stop the controversial 10-day padayatra was reportedly taken after Congress leaders got a call from former party president Rahul Gandhi. It also comes a day after the Basavraj Bommai government banned the foot march in a late evening order, following a rap by the high court on allowing the event to take place despite a spike in COVID cases in the state.

The Nama Neeru Namma Haku padayatra was called by the party to goad the state government to proceed with the Mekedatu project, which neighbouring Tamil Nadu has opposed in the court. Karnataka, under the project plans to build a dam that would conserve water during floods and channel it to Bengaluru. The padayatra which began at Mekedatu was planned to be culminated in Bengaluru on January 19.

As many as 134 Congress leaders have been named in three FIRs filed for flouting COVID guidelines in the five days of the padayatra.

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Announcing the party’s decision to halt the rally for now in view of the pandemic, Congress leader and former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah told reporters that the rally couldn’t be stopped earlier despite the Omicron situation as it was planned two months ago.

“We have been successful in the last five days. We were supposed to end the padayatra in Bengaluru. Because of the third wave we have to postpone it for now,” he said.

According to reports, earlier in the day, Chief Minister Bommai in a letter to Siddaramaiah, had requested to call off the foot march, while assuring that the project was on track.

On Wednesday, the Karnataka High Court had pulled up the government for allowing the padayatra to take place even though Omicron cases were spiraling in the state. In a late evening order, Chief Secretary P Ravi Kumar, had banned all inter-district (within Karnataka) and intra-district (within Ramnagara) movement of vehicles and entry of people to participate in the padayatra.

“…despite explicit order of banning dharnas and protests…it is observed that certain group of people have organized and mobilized people from various districts to Ramanagara district to participate in padayatra from Mekedatu to Bengaluru…” the government order said, adding, “The act of defiance is endangering the lives of a large number of people. The protest/padayatra is likely to aggravate the already worsening COVID-19 situation in the state.”

With the state having reported a 44 per cent rise in COVID cases (21,000) on Wednesday evening, alarming pictures and visuals on social media showed large numbers of Congress workers swarming past during the padayatra.

Congress leaders who have tested positive for the virus include Veerappa Moily and Mallikarjun Kharge. They had shared dais with Karnataka Congress leaders DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah during the protest.

Shivakumar told reporters that their decision to stop the padayatra was taken in deference to high court orders and that the march will continue from where it stopped once normalcy returns.

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