In the foothills of the Western Ghats in the Uttara Kannada region, the river-linking project has come in as a shock yet again. It is not feasible to turn the course of the district’s life rivers – Bedti, Aghanashini, and Varade rivers, towards the plains of Gadag-Raichur-Koppal. Government officials have prepared a completely unscientific project. The obstinacy on the idea of supplying drinking water to the plains from the Sirasi-Yellapura region with the three seasonal rivers which dry out completely during the summers has panicked North Kannadigas.
What’s the ‘thirsty’ plan?
Protests against the river-linking project that is said to take away lives have begun right after CM Yeddyurappa announced it in the budget. However, this is not a new project. The project was proposed over two decades ago and was stalled after vehement opposition from the locals. The Bedti-Aghanashini-Varade river-linking project was also included in the country’s major rivers project devised by the then Prime Minister Vajpayee government. The Central Government had created a task force to prepare action plans for interlinking the riverbeds in 2002. The project cost and the source of investments were ascertained and suggested that the project be taken up in 2016.
The National Water Development Agency (NWDA) had also prepared a detailed report for the interlinking of the Bedti-Aghanashini and Varada rivers. According to the report, the dams must be built on the tributaries of Bedti river, and must the water from it must be filled in the Varade river-bed regions. River Varade will flow into the Tungabhadra River. The objective of the project was to provide water from this project to create irrigation facilities to the left-side banks of the Tungabhadra river. However, the project was defeated by the strong opposition from the people of Sirasi region. Now the same project has made a come back in the name of ‘Drinking Water’.
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As per the transformed project, a large dam would be built at Hirevadatti in Gadag, to collect water from Bedti-Varada-Aghanashini. To build a dam on Pattana river at Menasagoda in Sirasi; to block the Shalmala River at Sonda and divert the water from both the dams to Varada through a 6.3 Km channel and a 2.2 Km tunnel. Shalmala and Pattana streams pump 8.03 Kms of water from Kengre to the reservoir’s backwaters and then bring the water through a 6.88 Km tunnel to the Hakkalumane in Sirasi. From here the water from Shalmala and Pattana streams would flow smoothly through the sloped canals and joins the Varada river bank near Banavasi. It is stated in the NWDA blueprint that the water would be collected at the Hirevaddatti reservoir in Gadag and be supplied to the people of Gadag-Raichur-Koppal.
The Goofed-Up project
The plan is not as simple as the NWDA states. To pull the water till Gadag, 61 megawatts of power would be required. Even after this, it is not sure if the water will reach Gadag. Turning the westward-flowing river to flow eastward is not easy. The Bedti-Varada-Aghanashini riverbed begins to dry up in February which is early summers. Knowing very well that these rivers do not flow in all seasons, it is a cruel irony that the government experts are planning to inter-link the rivers in the name of providing drinking water! The failure of the Rs. 20 crore project of providing drinking water to Yallapura town near the river stands as a testimony to how bad the present river-linking project is!
When the project began in 2011, there was the objection that the project would be a futile exercise. Yet, the foolish rulers had plunged into the project. People had shouted out loud that Bedti’s water is a drain of Hubli-Dharwad’s waste and is not pure water. Despite the large sums of money spent on the project, the project failed because the water was not available during the summers. Even though the water was provided for a few wards, people could not use it as it was drain water. The project has been stalled for five years. A separate power line built for this has remained as vestiges of the project in the forest. The refinery unit and the machinery have all remained useless symbolizing the ‘intellect’ of the government experts!
A Threat to life web
The Bedti river which originates near Dharwad University flows into Yallapura-Ankola taluk and joins the sea at Gangavali. The river known which flows only 152 Kms as Bedti on the ghats is called Gangavali in the coastal belt Dedi. The Bedti/Gangavali-Aghanashini-Varada rivers which provide water for thousands of acres are the lifelines for thousands of farm laborers in the Malenadu region and also fish worker communities in the coastal belt as they are dependent on these rivers for fishing. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has declared the Bedti valley as an active biodiversity zone. The area is recognized to be housing 1741 species of flowering plants and 420 species of birds and other wild animals. The fish breeding in the coastal river-sea confluence can be attributed to the nutrients that the river flows down with. It is a corridor for more than 35 animal species.
The Bedti-Varada river-linking is not only unscientific, it is also a money-laundering scheme. It is also not true that the Gadag region would get water. It would only increase the wealth of the contractor, cement, iron, granite, politicians’ lobby. The project would destroy homes, monasteries, gardens & yards, and also unique and diverse life-forms! The by experts from the government put forth a baseless argument that the excess river water flows into the sea in vain. Excess water does not stay in the riverbeds. Water flowing through the riverbed to reach the sea is also essential for aquatic species. Changing the course of the river through unnatural force could lead to multiple casualties. Saltwater from the sea would penetrate the coastal agricultural land; Water from the well will not be fit to drink. Groundwater would eventually dry out. It’s visible that it’s more harm than good from the project!
A project has been undertaken to fill the lakes of Mundagoda taluk from the Bedti river. Drinking water is being provided to the Ankola-Karavar taluks from the Gangavali River. A check dam to supply water to the Seabird Shipyard has been built. Water is being supplied for irrigation from the dam built in Tigani on the banks of Varada. Drinking water is being supplied from the river Varada to the villages under Banavasi village panchayat. Interlinking of the three rivers would render them useless. It is not only unscientific and unnatural but also disastrous and unforgivable to change the course of rivers forcefully.
Preparations for Struggle
The BJP, which had previously gained politically by opposing the river inter-linking project is now in power. Those who acted as if they were environmentalists are in power today. Hence the dissenting voices have stayed silent; hypocrisy is proved. Nowhere in the country are the river-linking schemes implemented as expected and in time! Not one of the 30 river-linking projects undertaken over the past 20 years is functional. Rs. 24000 crore worth project to supply 1 TMC Water from Ettinahole to Kolar is a complete fiasco!
Even after knowing all this, the government is in a mad rush to implement the Bedti-Varada-Aghanashini river-linking project. Who will explain to the rulers that the river-linking project contradicts the law of nature and science?
The article was originally published in Nyayapatha. Translated into English by Shashank SR