Mekedatu reservoir row: Why is this project a bone of contention between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu
Karnataka plans to construct a balancing reservoir or a storage dam built downstream of the main reservoir to capture excess water that flows out – over the river Cauvery
From padayatras to court battles, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have had their fair share of water wars. After the century-old Cauvery water-sharing dispute was settled by a tribunal, now Mekedatu, a drinking water reservoir project, is the new bone of contention not just between both states, but also the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress.
Karnataka plans to construct a balancing reservoir or a storage dam built downstream of the main reservoir to capture excess water that flows out – over the river Cauvery. Estimated to cost around Rs 9,000 crore, Karnataka believes it would resolve the drinking water shortage in the districts of Bengaluru and Ramanagara and also generate hydroelectricity to meet the power needs of the state.
BJP VS Congress
Launching an attack on the ruling BJP in Karnataka, the Congress is on a five-day padayatra covering 170 km and about 15 assembly constituencies. Going with the slogan “Namma Neeru Namma Hakku (our water, our right)", the party was forced to temporarily suspend the protest on January 13 owing to the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in the state.
Resuming the protest, Congress is demanding the reasons behind the delay in the project while highlighting the water crisis.
Leading the March, Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar spoke exclusively to News18. He said when the Congress was in power, it submitted the detailed project report (DPR) to the Centre.
“This double-engine BJP government has been using delayed government tactics on the project. Mekedatu is very important to Bengaluru as it is an international city. We have waited long enough. People are asking the ruling BJP to act or they will teach them a lesson,” Shivakumar said.
Reacting to the protest, the Karnataka BJP called the padayatra political drama. Chief minister Basavaraj Bommai asked people not to give importance to the Congress protests being conducted for “political gains".
“The Congress leaders are well aware of the project’s reality. This padayatra is only for political gains. They failed to prepare even the detailed project report when they were in power and now they question the government?" Bommai said while speaking to reporters in Hubballi on Monday.
“So will you call Advani’s Rath Yatra, Chandrashekhar’s yatra, Deve Gowda’s yatra or Gandhiji’s padayatra also political dramas? We are fighting for the people of Karnataka and the BJP will have no other option but to respond to this,” Shivakumar responded.
Speaking to News18, former Congress minister Krishna Byre Gowda slammed the government for dragging its feet.
“Bengaluru is a global city. It should be nurtured as it is the lifeline for Karnataka and its development. It is the goose that lays the golden egg and Mekedatu is about saving this very city and its people. It is about providing water to all and it should be taken up immediately,” he added.
What is the Mekedatu project?
Named after the village where the project is expected to be constructed, the reservoir will have a capacity of 284,000 million cubic feet (TMC). It is proposed to be built over the Cauvery river, which is why Tamil Nadu has been vehemently opposing it.
Mekedatu in Kannada translates to “goat’s leap". Legend has it that a goat was being chased by a tiger and, in an attempt to save its own life, the goat leapt across this gorge, leaving the tiger helpless. They claim the marks of its hooves are still found imprinted on the rocks. Locals believe that the goat was none other than an incarnation of Lord Shiva and thus the name Mekedatu.
This project was first planned by the Karnataka Power Corporation in 1996 at the location to provide hydroelectricity to Bengaluru and the surrounding districts.
The project went into cold storage until it was once again revived by the Congress Government in Karnataka in 2013. The renewed project proposed constructing a multi-purpose balancing reservoir, which would help resolve the drinking water shortage in the districts of Bengaluru and Ramanagara and also generate hydroelectricity to meet the power needs of the state.
In 2019, Karnataka submitted a DPR to the Centre on its plans to construct the reservoir in Ramanagara, about 90km away from Bengaluru and 4km ahead of the border with Tamil Nadu.
However, building a dam over Mekedatu is not just an inter-state dispute anymore. The Congress and BJP in Karnataka are now using the delay in implementation of the project to target each other with the state headed towards elections in 2023.
According to a 2021 report, Karnataka at a Glance by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Bengaluru’s urban population was 96.21 lakh in 2011 and was projected to rise to 1.42 crore by 2021. Located in a semi-arid peninsular plateau region, the city relies heavily on two rivers, Cauvery and Arkavathi to meet its water needs.
Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) calculates the demand for water to be 1,400 million per day (MLD).
However, there have been several reports claiming that Bengaluru will go dry in the next few decades.
BBC reported in 2018 that Bengaluru was one of the cities likely to reach “ground zero" conditions soon and districts surrounding the capital city like Kolar and Ramanagara will face an acute shortage of drinking water.
An analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) also found that the total number of extraction wells in the city had shot up from 5,000 to 4,50,000 in the past 30 years.
News18 spoke to S Vishwanath of Bengaluru-based Biome Environmental Trust, an expert in water-related issues, who emphasised that the situation is not as grim as it made it look.
“Bengaluru manages to get 1,400 to 1,450 MLD water each day and another 775 MLD will be provided once the Cauvery fifth stage is implemented. If people use water judiciously, reuse treated water and manage the rain and groundwater better, we see no shortage at all," he said.
When asked if the Mekedatu project is necessary at this time, Vishwanath said it is not urgent if it is to address Bengaluru’s water woes.
“If you look at Mekedatu from the environmental perspective, it is hugely destructive to the Cauvery wildlife and river life. If we are looking at providing drinking water for greater Urban Bangalore, it provides an additional cushion," he said.
Reports by entities like NITI Aayog claiming that Bengaluru will be among India’s 21 cities to run out of groundwater soon sound alarmist, he said. “A city is designed to consume 135 litres per capita per day. If we design it for 100 litres per capita per day in Bengaluru, we will not have water problems for another 30 years,” said Vishwanath.
The tragedy is that it is a narrative like the one set by NITI Aayog that drives these kinds of protests, he added.
Tamil Nadu's stand
Over the years, talks and negotiations have failed between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on the Mekedatu project. Tamil Nadu has been firm on its stand, stating that Karnataka has no right to decide on the Mekedatu project until a no-objection certificate is obtained from the other riparian states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
According to TN’s water resources minister Duraimurugan, the documents submitted by the Karnataka government to the Central Water Commission (CWC) on why the Mekedatu project should be allowed was not just “flawed" but also “unfair".
Duraimurugan visited New Delhi twice to impress upon the Centre that Karnataka should not be allowed to go ahead with the project.
Karnataka, however, has made its stand clear. “We will follow what the CWC has said and do not want to get into petty politics by TN," said a senior BJP minister on condition of anonymity.
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