Last week, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E K Palaniswami wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to stop the process of a feasibility study for the Mekedatu dam project in Karnataka. The study has been cleared by the Central Water Commission (CWC), which has also asked for a detailed project report. A look at the controversy and how it affects the two states differently:
Being set up by the Karnataka government, the project is near Mekedatu, in Ramanagaram district, across the river Cauvery from Tamil Nadu. Its proposed capacity is 48 TMC (thousand million cubic feet). Its primary objective is to supply drinking water to Bengaluru and recharge the groundwater table in the region. In November 2014, the Karnataka government invited expressions of interest in the Rs 6,000-crore project. In its 2015 Budget, it allocated Rs 25 crore for a detailed project report.
Tamil Nadu vs Karnataka
Tamil Nadu has moved the Supreme Court. Its main argument is that the project violates the final award of the Cauvery River Water Tribunal, and that the “construction of the two reservoirs would result in impounding of the flows in the intermediate catchment below the Krishnaraja Sagar and Kabini reservoirs, and Billigundulu in the common border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu”.
In Karnataka’s defence of the project, Water Resources Minister D K Shivakumar said Tuesday (following the CWC decision): “The project will not come in the way of releasing the stipulated quantum of water to Tamil Nadu, nor will it be used for irrigation purposes. We are ready to hold talks with Tamil Nadu on this. The next course of action will be decided at a meeting called by the Chief Minister on December 6.”
Tamil Nadu saw massive protests in 2015, including a state-wide bandh backed by political parties, farmers, transport unions, retailers and traders. The Assembly also adopted a unanimous resolution urging the Centre to stop Karnataka from building the project. Ahead of the 2016 Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, Captain Vijayakanth of DMDK led a delegation of Opposition leaders to meet the Prime Minister against Karnataka’s decision to allocate Rs 25 crore for a feasibility study. From Karnataka, then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah led an all-party delegation to the Prime Minister seeking the Centre’s cooperation in going ahead. The issue can potentially take centre-stage in the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign.
The process cleared by the CWC needs further clearance from the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) too, according to a senior official with CWMA. Experts with the authority said that the CWC clearance is for a report subject to certain conditions, which include the concerns raised by the Tamil Nadu government. “The detailed report has to consider the views of the co-basin states as well,” the official said.