Water and power, the lifelines of urban living, have always been contentious issues between neighbouring states and the sharing of Cauvery river water is no different, contributing its share of distrust to ties between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The latest source of discord is the Mekedatu balancing reservoir project which Karnataka is planning across the Cauvery to quench the thirst of Bengaluru and augment hydro-power generation. The TN Assembly has already passed a resolution opposing the project and seeking Central intervention besides approaching the Supreme Court. This comes soon after the Central Water Commission gave permission to Karnataka to prepare a Detailed Project Report on the Mekedatu project.Will this project be caught in legal wrangles delaying its implementation or will the two states break the ice to share the water in the best way possible? SHYAM SUNDAR VATTAM explores various facets of the Mekedatu project while contending that this is a boon which will benefit all
Mekedatu in Kannada means ‘a goat's leap’ and is located in Kanakapura taluk of Ramanagaram district. The place derives its name from an incident believed to have been witnessed by herdsmen a long time ago. It is said that a goat being chased by a tiger made a desperate attempt to save its life by leaping from one side of the gorge and managed to cross the raging river below while the tiger did not attempt to replicate this feat and abandoned the chase. The point where the goat leapt has widened since then because of erosion caused by the river Cauvery. About 3.5 kilometres downstream, the Cauvery which is more than 150 metres wide at the confluence of rivers at Sangama, flows through a deep and narrow gorge hardly 10-metres wide at Mekedatu. Upstream on the Cauvery is the well known Shivanasamudra Falls with its hydro-electric power station, which was set up in 1902.
The idea of having a balancing reservoir was first mooted by then Water Resources Minister M.B. Patil when Siddaramaiah was in power, to prevent the precious water from going waste during years of excess rainfall. The task of preparing the feasibility report was entrusted to a company which pegged the project cost at Rs 5,600 crore.
Subsequently, the report was tabled in the state Legislature which approved it after which the report was sent to the Central Water Commission for approval. After almost two years, the CWC has given the green signal to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the project which is considered the first victory for Karnataka which hopes to impound water whenever the state receives excess rain.
The state is determined to go ahead with the project and has dismissed the TN government's claim that it has transgressed into the share of water allocated by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, Karnataka Water Resources Minister D.K. Shivakumar has already made it clear that not an acre of land will be irrigated by the Mekedatu project as there is no provision in the tribunal's order to utilise water for irrigation. However, around 18.5 tmcft of water had been allocated to Karnataka in the final order of which 4.5 tmc ft will be used for the drinking needs of Bengalureans.
What Karnataka is planning to do is release 177.25 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu as per directions of the tribunal and then impound the excess water in the proposed balancing reservoir and drinking water project at Mekedatu. Besides, 440 MW power will be generated by the project with the cost to be borne by the Energy Department (Rs 2000 crore) and the rest by the Water Resources Department.
Work will start as soon as permission is obtained from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Ecology wing and Central Water Commission.
What should brighten Karnataka’s prospects is the fact that this year, as much as 397 tmcft of water was released to Tamil Nadu of which only 150 tmcft was utilised and the rest flowed into the Bay of Bengal. Instead of allowing it to waste, the water could be utilised by building a balancing reservoir with a capacity to store 67 tmcft of water so that it could be used by both states. The water will flow into Tamil Nadu after it is used for power generation.
"Karnataka government alone is investing in this project though it will benefit TN too. Our intention is to ensure water does not go waste without proper utilisation. I am optimistic that the TN government will withdraw its petition in the apex court," explained Water Resources Minister Mr Shivakumar.
In a country perennially hit by flood and drought, primarily because of the lack of foresight in planning and implementing hydro projects and properly using water not to mention internecine water rows, projects like Mekedatu require a broad-hearted approach by all those involved so that the common citizen in both states does not have to wake up every morning fearing if his tap has run dry. Karnataka and TN have already seen too much animosity over water sharing and it`s time to put the bitter past behind and start on a fresh note. Mekedatu could perhaps be the harbinger of better times, provided those at the helm of affairs are not guided by short-sighted political goals and instead have the ultimate good of their citizenry in mind.