Residents of villages on banks of Tunga river in Karnataka oppose multi-crore water supply scheme

The protesters question the very design of the project — When many villages in the taluk are on the banks of river Tunga, where is the need for a multi-village scheme

Updated - March 13, 2024 02:51 pm IST

Published - March 13, 2024 02:22 pm IST - Kodlu (Shivamogga district)

A multi-village water supply scheme has been designed for villages in Tirthahalli taluk of Shivamogga district in Karnataka under the Jal Jeevan Mission of the Union Government. As per the scheme, water will be lifted from Bheemeshwara Sangama (in pic), where rivers Tunga and Malathi join.

A multi-village water supply scheme has been designed for villages in Tirthahalli taluk of Shivamogga district in Karnataka under the Jal Jeevan Mission of the Union Government. As per the scheme, water will be lifted from Bheemeshwara Sangama (in pic), where rivers Tunga and Malathi join. | Photo Credit: Sathish G.T.

They have put up a temporary kitchen in Heggodu village where they cook ganji (porridge) for lunch.

For the last 15 days, residents of many villages located on the banks of the Tunga river in Tirthahalli in Karnataka have been protesting against a multi-village drinking water supply scheme, being executed under the Jal Jeevan Mission of the Union Government.

Residents of Kodlu, Heggodu, Balekodlu, Savali, Kavalane, Alageri, Balagodu, Gudde Koppa, Haluballi, Bikkolli and some other villages in the taluk have joined hands under the Bheemeshwara Sangama Ulisi Horata Samiti. They are all opposed to the project, which they allege was designed only to benefit contractors and the politicians who got the project sanctioned by the BJP government at the Centre.

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The purpose of the project is to lift water from Bheemeshwara Sangama, where rivers Malathi and Tunga join, and supply the same to 1,616 habitations in 36 gram panchayats in Tirthahalli taluk. The project has been taken up under DBOT model (Design, Build, Operate and Transfer). It was approved in March 2022 at a cost of ₹274.40 crore. Later, the cost was revised to ₹344 crore.

The work is being executed by a construction company based in Tirthahalli.

Well-grown trees spread over four acres of grazing land (gomala) have been chopped to build a water treatment plant. 

Residents of villages on the banks of river Tunga have been protesting against the multi-village water supply scheme for the last 15 days, in Shivamogga district of Karnataka.

Residents of villages on the banks of river Tunga have been protesting against the multi-village water supply scheme for the last 15 days, in Shivamogga district of Karnataka. | Photo Credit: Sathish G.T.

The protests began in 2023 when the contractors began their ground work at Kodlu village, a couple of kilometres away from the Bheemeshwara Sangama. Villagers wanted to know what the work was all about.

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Abhilash, a resident of Savali village, applied for information under the RTI. The villagers had to stage a protest to get information about the project that would impact their lives in a major way.

River in the backyard

A majority of the residents in these villages are small farmers, each with one to three acres of land. Many of them cultivate areca, and are dependent on the river for water. The project came as a shock to them. They are worried that the project will take away their source of water.

“We are living in a place in Karnataka known for high rainfall. At least 18 gram panchayats in the taluk are located on the banks of the river Tunga. Do we need such a project,” wondered Naveen Balekodlu, a farmer.

Sundaresh, a techie-cum-farmer in Kodlu, pointed out that the basic objective of the Jal Jeevan Mission was to involve local people in designing projects. “None of us demanded a scheme of this kind. Gram panchayats were not involved. Should we keep our mouths shut when the government spends public money on such a useless scheme?”

Watch | Why is Bengaluru staring at a severe water shortage?

MLA announces a change of plan

The farmers met Rural Development & Panchayat Raj Minister Priyank Kharge in Bengaluru and attended a meeting convened by Shivamogga Deputy Commissioner Gurudatta Hegde. However, they were not happy with the response they received.

Recently, the administration and Tirthahalli MLA Araga Jnanendra told the protesters that they would not lift water from Tunga. Instead, they would take the required quantity of water from Mani reservoir, built across the Varahi river.

The Department of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation has consulted Karnataka Power Corporation Limited in this regard and sought permission to lift 0.129 TMC of water from the reservoir dead storage at Kattikoppa in Hosanagar taluk. The KPCL replied that the backwater area belongs to the Forest Department. Besides that, diverting so much water would affect power production, resulting in a loss of ₹97.77 lakh to the KPCL every year.

“The KPCL has put up all these conditions to lift water from the reservoir. We don’t know if this alternative method works out. However, we demand that Bheemeshwara Sangama is not disturbed at all,” said Kodlu Venkatesh, who is leading the protest.

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