The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is heavily leaning on an irrigation project in central Karnataka to fetch it a rich crop of seats in the upcoming Assembly elections.
With the Congress determined to oust the BJP, every seat in the state — the BJP’s biggest stronghold in southern India — does count. This is why both the Central and state government are focussing heavily on the Upper Bhadra Project.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced Rs 5,300 crore for the project in the Union Budget unveiled on Wednesday. The lift irrigation scheme has been upgraded as a National Project.
Interestingly, this was the only project specifically announced for any state in the annual budget.
Central Karnataka is important to the BJP. The region accounts for around 30 of the total 224 Assembly constituencies in the state. Twenty-seven of these will directly benefit from the project. So will some nearby districts but indirectly.
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Davanagere has eight constituencies and has six BJP MLAs. Tumakuru has three BJP MLAs, four of JD-S and one from Congress MLA. Chitradruga has six BJP and two Congress MLAs. Udupi- Chikmagalur has eight constituencies: seven with BJP and one with Congress. Three other constituencies which will benefit from the project are Mudigere, Chikmagalur and Tarikere, all of which are represented by the BJP.
Veerashaivas are the dominant community in central Karnataka although SCs and STs, besides other backward communities, also have a significant presence.
The region comprises seven districts. Chikmagalur, Chitradurga, Tumkur and Davanagere will benefit majorly from the irrigation scheme. Of these, Chikmagalur is in the Malnad region, where the Bhadra river originates.
Veerashaivas also dominate these districts. Vokkaligas and backward classes are other key factors. Lingayats and Veeashaivas have backed the BJP for a decade. Most constituencies here are now with the BJP.
The BJP feels that the announcement in the budget regarding the project will help the BJP to expand its appeal to those constituencies in which the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular have a base.
The project covers the drought-prone regions of four districts where farmers face severe problems. Tumakuru’s economy is majorly derived from plantation crops such as coconut, areca nut and paddy; Davanagere’s cultivation is cotton, maize, chickpea, sunflower, corn and rice; Chitradurga farmers depend on finger millet, maize, pigeon-pea, peanut, cotton, onion, coconut, banana, areca nut.
Lack of adequate irrigation is a major issue. This also affects farm workers who depend on farming. In these districts, more than a quarter area suffers from drought, forcing many small farmers to drift to cities like Bengaluru to work as labourers.
Farmers to benefit
So, the project, once it fructifies, will immensely benefit the people of Chikkamagaluru, Chitradurga, Tumakuru and Davangere districts by providing irrigation facilities to farmers and recharging the groundwater table to provide drinking water in drought-prone taluks.
The project needs Rs. 23,000 crore, and Rs 16,000 crore worth of work is pending. After the announcement of the National Planning Scheme, 60 per cent of the cost will be borne by the Centre. Accordingly, Rs 5,300 crore has been allocated by the Center to the project.
Chief Minister Basavaraja Bommai has also announced a grant for the project.
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Covering an area of some 5,57,022 acres in central Karnataka, the project will bring life to 367 lakes, immensely boosting irrigation facilities. This scheme will cover 74.26 lakh people of 787 villages in Karnataka.
At present, 29.9 TMC of water has been sanctioned under the project.
An area of 2,25,515 hectares is planned to be irrigated in the drought-prone districts of Chikkamagaluru, Chitradurga, Tumkur and Davangere. The primary objective is to provide sustainable irrigation during the Kharif season (monsoon or autumn).
Work has been taken up to complete the project in two phases. Hopefully, the region will have something concrete to talk about by the time elections are announced.