July 20, 2021
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What is the dam(n) fight?

To: either/view subscribers

Good morning. Reuters photojournalist and Pulitzer prize winner Danish Siddiqui, who died last week while covering the conflict between Afghan security forces and Taliban, was laid to rest at his alma mater Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi on Sunday.

“I shoot for the common man who wants to see and feel a story from a place where he can’t be present himself,” he had written in his Reuters profile.


Mekedatu project: beneficial or detrimental?

Last week, Union water resources minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat promised to help the Karnataka government resolve the contentious Mekedatu project. This sparked opposition from Tamil Nadu, which was already involved in a tiff with Karnataka regarding the construction of the Mekedatu reservoir. From Karnataka’s perspective, the project would significantly help in catering to the drinking water needs of the Bengaluru Metropolitan Region. However, Tamil Nadu complained that the dam would affect the irrigation water requirements of its farmers.


Mekedatu, a multipurpose reservoir project across the Cauvery river, was first proposed by the Karnataka government in 1948. The dispute began when the States were reorganised in 1956. Tamil Nadu objected to the construction of the dam and iterated that it would be at a great disadvantage if the reservoir was built. 

It was only in 1996-97, the state governments brought up the Mekedatu issue again but failed to reach an agreement. A revised version of the Mekedatu project was announced by the Karnataka government in 2013. The plan proposed that the reservoir would hold a water capacity of 67 tmc (thousand million cubic feet) and generate 400 MW power. 

Meanwhile, another bigger problem arose when the two states began to fight over their respective shares of the Cauvery water. In 2007, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) observed that Karnataka will receive 270 tmc water as against 419 tmc in Tamil Nadu. Under Clause XIII of the CWDT’s final order, it was stated that “whenever any such hydro-power project is constructed and Cauvery waters are stored in the reservoir, the pattern of downstream releases should be consistent with our order so that the irrigation requirements are not jeopardized.” 

However, the Karnataka government appealed to the Supreme Court regarding its water share. Finally, in 2018, the SC verdict declared that Karnataka will receive 284.75 tmc and Tamil Nadu would get 404.25 tmc.

The recent Detailed Project Report submitted by Karnataka to the Central Water Commission renewed the dispute between the two states.

Why must the Mekedatu reservoir be constructed?

The Karnataka government asserted that the Mekedatu project was pivotal to meet the drinking water needs of the Bengaluru Metropolitan Region. The reservoir would also generate crucial hydro-electric power.  

The project was based on the calculations of the Water Resources Department which mentioned that there was an excess water of 45 tmc. Only this excess water was intended for use in the Mekedatu reservoir. Through the reservoir, the state could utilise an extra 4.75 tmc of water to fulfil the drinking water requirements. 

When questioned about the necessity of the dam, officials stated that as of now, around 1,450 million litres per day (MLD) of Cauvery water was used by Bengaluru. However, the requirement was estimated to rise to 2,900 MLD in ten years. In this scenario, only the Mekedatu project could quench the water needs of the city. 

Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa assured that the project would not harm the irrigation water needs of Tamil Nadu farmers. In fact, he said that both the states would be mutually benefited if the Mekedatu dam was constructed.

Karnataka Law Minister Basavaraj Bommai claimed that the dam will ensure that Tamil Nadu receives its share of water regularly. He noted that the dam will store surplus water for future needs. When adversities rise, the water stored in the reservoir could be released to the state.  

Karnataka’s final argument was that the project was permitted by the SC verdict and CWDT order. The dam would only regulate the water flow and would not damage any party. The project would neither interfere with the monthly deliveries to Tamil Nadu nor harm the interests of the farmers.

Opposition to the reservoir project

Tamil Nadu urged the Centre to not allow Karnataka to proceed with the Mekedatu project. Their claim was that it would affect the interests of the farmers. They also stated that no construction could take place in Mekedatu without consent from Tamil Nadu, which was one of the mandates of the SC verdict. 

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin objected stating Karnataka was known to not release the state’s due share on normal years. Only when Karnataka faces floods, does it supply the surplus water to Tamil Nadu. He pointed out that if the Mekedatu reservoir was constructed, Karnataka would continue defaulting the SC verdict and tribunal order. 

A professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Janakarajan, argued that Karnataka’s claims on building the reservoir to facilitate regular water supply to Tamil Nadu was invalid. He critiqued that once a dam of such magnitude was built, there would be no flow to Tamil Nadu. 

The general worry of Tamil Nadu was reported as not receiving the “uncontrolled catchments” from Karnataka. Annually, around 80 tmc of water flowed to the state from the catchments near the Kabini and KRS dams in Karnataka and the inter-state border. However, if Mekedatu reservoir was constructed, the state might lose out on this water.

Tamil Nadu water resource minister Durai Murugan argued that as per the SC verdict, a river is a national asset over which states do not have ownership. Therefore, he stressed that going ahead with the project that would eventually block water to Tamil Nadu would only mean that Karnataka was ignoring the SC verdict. 

Farmers in the delta districts of Tamil Nadu heavily opposed the project. They protested that if a new reservoir were to be built upstream of the river, farmers downstream would be severely affected. President of Association for Interlinking National-South Indian Rivers, P Ayyakannu claimed that the project would negatively impact the agricultural area of the farmers. He stated that only a mere 1 lakh acre would remain.


For the Right:

What do we make of the government’s attitude of “I don’t care if the people suffer” and the people’s attitude of “This is our fate”?

For the Left:

Prashant Kishor and Congress — A Faustian pact or a feast that can truly threaten Modi’s BJP


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