Explained | Why are Karnataka and Tamil Nadu sparring over the Mekedatu dam project in the Cauvery Basin?

What is Karnataka planning? Why is Tamil Nadu opposed to it?

Updated - November 22, 2021 10:09 pm IST

Published - July 11, 2021 04:04 am IST

Karnataka : Ramanagara : 07/12/2018 : The View of the spot which is actually called the Mekedatu which is 1.5 ahead the place where reservoir is identified by Karnataka Government for the project of construction of balancing reservoir cum drinking water in Ramanagara District on Friday 07 December 2018. Photo : Sudhakara Jain / The Hindu.

Karnataka : Ramanagara : 07/12/2018 : The View of the spot which is actually called the Mekedatu which is 1.5 ahead the place where reservoir is identified by Karnataka Government for the project of construction of balancing reservoir cum drinking water in Ramanagara District on Friday 07 December 2018. Photo : Sudhakara Jain / The Hindu.

The story so far: On July 6, Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa said in Bengaluru that his government would go ahead with the long-pending Mekedatu dam project in the Cauvery Basin to cater to the drinking water needs of the Bengaluru Metropolitan City and surrounding areas. On the same day, in New Delhi, Tamil Nadu’s Water Resources Minister Durai Murugan met Union Minister for Jal Shakti, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, and impressed upon him not to grant Centre’s clearance for the project. This was preceded by a July 3 letter Mr. Yediyurappa wrote to his Tamil Nadu counterpart M.K. Stalin, calling for talks on the subject. However, the latter did not explicitly react to Mr. Yediyurappa’s offer of negotiations, even as he explained why Tamil Nadu continued to oppose the project. Mr. Stalin has called an all-party meeting in Chennai on July 12.

What do the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal and the Supreme Court say?

The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, in its final order on February 2007, made allocations to all the riparian States — Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, apart from the Union Territory of Puducherry. It also stipulated “tentative monthly deliveries during a normal year” to be made available by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu.

Also read | Cauvery Tribunal gives unanimous, final award

Aggrieved over the final order for different reasons, the States had appealed to the Supreme Court. In February 2018, the court, in its judgment , revised the water allocation and increased the share of Karnataka by 14.75 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) at the cost of Tamil Nadu . The enhanced quantum comprised 4.75 tmc ft for meeting drinking water and domestic requirements of Bengaluru and surrounding areas.

What is Karnataka planning?

Encouraged by the Supreme Court verdict, Karnataka, which sees the order as an endorsement of its stand, has set out to pursue the Mekedatu project . Originally proposed as a hydropower project, the revised Mekedatu dam project has more than one purpose to serve. Estimated to cost ₹9,000 crore, the project envisages the construction of a reservoir of 67.16-tmc ft capacity, which will come up about 4 km away from the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border. A hydropower plant of nearly 400 MW has also been proposed.

The Karnataka government has argued that the proposed reservoir will regulate the flow to Tamil Nadu on a monthly basis, as stipulated by the Tribunal and the Supreme Court. This is why Mr. Yediyurappa has contended that the project will not affect the interests of Tamil Nadu farmers.

 

Why is Tamil Nadu opposed to it?

Tamil Nadu feels that Karnataka, through the project, will impound and divert flows from “uncontrolled catchments” to it, a component which was taken into account by the Tribunal in the 2007 order while arriving at the water allocation plan for the State. As per an estimate, around 80 tmc ft of water flows annually to Tamil Nadu, thanks to the catchments including the area between Kabini dam in Karnataka and Billigundulu gauging site on the inter-State border, and the area between Krishnaraja Sagar dam in Karnataka and the gauging site. As the upper riparian State has adequate infrastructure even now to address the water needs of Bengaluru, there is no need for the Mekedatu project, according to Tamil Nadu. The Mekedatu project also does not find mention in the Tribunal’s final order or the Supreme Court judgment. Besides, given the unpleasant experiences that it has had with Karnataka in securing its share of the Cauvery water over the years, Tamil Nadu is wary of the assurances of the other side.

What happens next?

Tamil Nadu’s petitions against the project are pending with the Supreme Court. The project is yet to get environmental clearance from the Centre. A way out can be found if the two parties agree to the idea of a joint execution, operation and maintenance of the project or a third party’s participation.

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