The Government of Karnataka had announced plans to construct a 67 tmcft capacity dam across Cauvery River at Mekedatu area of Kanakapura taluk in Ramanagar district located between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu border.
The objective of the project was to provide drinking water to Bengaluru city and nearby villages and also to generate 400MW of power with the dam.
The government had proposed to spend around Rs. 6000 crore for the dam which was submerging around 5000 acre land.
The detailed project report was also submitted to the Central Water Commission.
The Karnataka government meanwhile has been saying that the project would be commenced after receiving permission from the Ministry of Environment, Government of India.
The Karnataka government has evinced interest in the project since 1960 itself. At the same time, Tamil Nadu government also declared to construct Hogenakal project.
But because of the Cauvery water sharing dispute between both states, the projects remained pending.
Between 1996-97, duo States held five rounds of talks, and the Central Government allowed both States to take up two projects each.
In 2007, The Apex Court issued an order stating that both States can take up non-irrigation related projects that do not affect its order.
The Court stated the same in its 2018 order. After which, Karnataka took more interest in the Mekedatu project.
The Government decided to start the work by considering the feasibility report prepared between 2013 and 2019.
But the Tamil Nadu government raised objections to it. In order to clear all the doubts and objections of the Tamil Nadu government related to this project, Former Chief Minister, B. S. Yediyurappa had written a letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. K. Stalin.
But the TN government which refused to hold any talks, continues to oppose the Mekedatu project. Going a step further, the government held an all party meeting where it resolved to urge Karnataka to drop the project.
What are the objections of TN?
The Supreme Court and the Couvery Tribunal have already issued directions about releasing the quantum of water to be released to TN by Karnataka.
TN government claims that by constructing a dam across Couvery River, the Karnataka government is violating SC order.
The TN government says that Karnataka has made several projects to provide drinking water to Bengaluru that requires around 4.75 tmcft of water annually. Therefore it is not logical to construct a 67.17 tmcft storage capacity dam only for using 4.75 tmcft water.
TN government says that it has all legal rights to stop the Mekedatu project.
What is the defence of Karnataka ?
The government of Karnataka however supports the project and gives several justifications also.
The government says that the project is being constructed on the Karnataka border. The government wants to store water which normally goes to waste during monsoon season. In order to store that excess water, the dam is being planned.
Even after constructing the Dam, the TN will get the quantum of water directed by the SC. Therefore, Karnataka holds all legal rights to construct the project.
As per the SC order, during normal years, Karnataka has to release 192 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu.
But since over the years, the Couvery basin receiving copious rains, the government of Karnataka is releasing more than the stipulated order.
That excess water is going to sea and getting wasted. Karnataka is making it clear that it will not violate SC order and at the same time, it will release water to TN during distressed years from the dam.
Congress to hold ‘Padayatra’ for faster implementation of the project.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Congress is exerting pressure on the BJP government to expedite the project.
Firstly, it was wrong on part of Karnataka to write down any letter to TN, now the government of Karnataka is delaying the project citing the objections of TN.
Leader of the Opposition, Siddaramaiah and KPCC President, D. K. Shivakumar has urged the government to get the permission of the Central Government’s Environment Minister immediately to start the project.
The Congress has already announced to hold 100 kilometer Padayatra from Mekedatu to Bengaluru in support of the project in the first week.
The project has no legal hurdles and the Central Government too has agreed for the project. Despite the BJP ruling in the State and at the Centre, yet the BJP government is not starting the project. Chief Minister, Basavaraj Bommai has no will for the project, the Congress has accused.
“ The land and water, both belong to Karnataka. The project will benefit TN more. In the last two years, excess water has gone into the sea making the huge quantity of water useless for anybody.
The Tribunal holds the power to release water from KRS dam. Therefore, the Karnataka government has no authority to release the water. If Mekedatu is constructed, then water can be released even to TN during distressed days. Karnataka will also get electricity and water to seven districts”, Shivakumar asserts.
Resistance of Environmentalists
Several environmental activists claim that the project is harmful to ecology. The Construction of Dam will further destroy the forest area. It will be like the construction of a giant wall to the forest. The dam will adversely affect biodiversity. Wild animals will face extinction if the project is constructed. It will also lead to human-animal conflict.
Leo Saldhana, one of senior environment activists, is strongly opposed to the project.
Admitting that water is essential, however he believes that for that, only Couvery water is not required. “ After the construction of the Dam, the filthy and used water will go and merge in the Dam. The government will have to spend money to treat it and supply it again to the people of Bengaluru, Ramanagar, Mandya and Mysuru.
Instead of constructing Dam, the government can prepare extensive plans for rain harvesting which will meet the requirement. It will also save forest and ecology”, he said.
He also questions the government that why it has not been focusing on decongesting Bengaluru and developing other cities. “ The project is being planned only to help resort, star hotels and Golf Course owners who have constructed their commercial properties close to International Airport. The project will not help common people. Even after laying four big pipelines to bring Couvery water to Bengaluru city, yet over 60% people of the city are still not getting adequate water. The groundwater is depleting constantly “, he alleged.
Sharing his view of the project, another environment activist, Nagesh Hegade says that if the water of Couvery is given to Bengaluru, the rapid urbanization will only continue.
The water shortage can be addressed with the help of rainwater harvesting and preserving all the lakes.
He said that he has been opposing all the major dam projects. Hegade claims that many countries have found better alternatives for water storage to dams. “ We already have some of the best technologies to treat impure water. Why are we not making use of it. With even half of the Mekedatu project, water treatment plants will provide sufficient water”, he said.
The article was first published in naanugauri.com our sister website. It has been translated in English by Firoz Rozindar.