Upper Bhadra project is crucial, but farmers on the ground hardly know about the Centre-State row over it

For months now, the State and Centre have been sparring over funding of nearly ₹6,000 crore for the Upper Bhadra project, with Congress accusing the Centre of not releasing funds despite announcing ₹5,300 crore in the 2023-2024 Budget

April 20, 2024 07:15 am | Updated 07:15 am IST - Tumakuru/Chitradurga

Water is being supplied through tankers to coconut plantations in Baramagiri and surrounding villages of Hiriyur taluk in Chitradurga district as the vast Baramagiri lake has dried up.

Water is being supplied through tankers to coconut plantations in Baramagiri and surrounding villages of Hiriyur taluk in Chitradurga district as the vast Baramagiri lake has dried up. | Photo Credit: BHAGYA PRAKASH K.

About 3 km from the historic Vani Vilas Sagar built across the Vedavati, a tributary of the Krishna, Baramagiri and 10 other surrounding villages that host a large number of coconut and areca plantations are reeling under drought. It is in stark contrast to the picturesque Marikanive in Chitradurga district in the backwaters.

Just outside the village, the vast Baramagiri lake, which can hold more than 2 tmcft of water, stands dry. So are most irrigation borewells in these 11 villages where groundwater depends on the lake’s health. Several water tankers pace up and down, carrying water to the near and far coconut plantations from the very few functional borewells as worried farmers are trying to keep the coconut and areca plants alive.

“Till last year, the plentiful rainfall not only irrigated our farmers but also increased groundwater level. This year, it has been terrible and coconut plantations are wilting. Water from V.V. Sagar is now being pumped for drinking water purposes only. We are demanding that the government fill the Baramagiri tank and save our crops,” said Veerabhadraiah, president of the Kere Balakedarara Sangha, and added that the water problem started in January. “The Upper Bhadra project has become important to us, now that we do not have water. We had not seen it as an election issue till now since we did not witness this kind of a drought,” he conceded, explaining why they had not demanded completion of the project from the parties in power.

Baramagiri in Hiriyur taluk of Chitradurga district is part of the command area for the much-awaited Upper Bhadra Lift Irrigation Project that will bring 29.9 tmcft. of water from the Bhadra to quench the rain-fed areas in Tumakuru, Chitradurga, Davangere, and Chikkamagaluru. The V.V. Sagar started receiving water in 2019. Due to low storage, water is not being released for agricultural purpose.

Little awareness

For months now, the State and Central governments have been sparring over funding of nearly ₹6,000 crore for the Upper Bhadra project, with the Congress accusing the Centre of not releasing funds despite announcing ₹5,300 crore in the 2023-2024 Budget. However, on the ground, there has been little awareness among the electorate. Ranganath, a farmer at Annesiddre, said he was unaware of the spat between the Centre and the State. “If it is true that the BJP-led NDA government has not given money, then it is very bad. No one should play with the lives of farmers. But whoever completes the Upper Bhadra project will get complete support of people from this region,” he said.

Another resident of Baramagiri, Kanthraj said, “By the time the Upper Bhadra project is completed, we would have died. We have been hearing about it for decades. We are not bothered about the fight between the State and the Central governments. All that we need is water. If the coconut trees dry up, we will go back by 10 years.” He said that though the water pipeline as part of the Upper Bhadra project passes through their land, it is not of use to him.

Boycott announced

While the electors in these 11 villages have announced a boycott of the elections unless their demand is met, Chief Electoral Officer Manoj Kumar Meena has said that the Election Commission was confident that the electors who have threatened boycott across the State would be convinced to vote.

With large tracts of land dependent on either rainfall or borewells, the agricultural activity is also limited to plantation crops, and crops such as groundnuts, onion, jowar, and ragi during the monsoon. Farmers lost their ragi and groundnut crops this year owing to the failure of the monsoon. In turn, small businesses have been hit too. Jayanagundanahalli resident R. Mahamood, a borewell water supplier, summed up the situation: “We have some solace from the guarantees. There is no problem with drinking water. We have food and money this year, but no water to irrigate our land.”

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