After the centuries-long dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over sharing the Cauvery river water, the construction of Mekedatu dam on the river, has paved the way for a new dispute..
The neighbouring Southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have been always been at war when it comes to sharing of water. The geographical position of the state of Karnataka, being the upper riparian state, has given the state the upper hand when sharing the Cauvery water with the lower riparian state of Tamil Nadu
The Cauvery river dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka dates back to British era. Only in 2018, the centuries-long dispute finally culminated in the setting up of the Cauvery Water Management Authority. As per the Supreme Court’s final verdict Karnataka would get 284.75 tmc ft, Tamil Nadu 404.25 tmc ft, Kerala 30 tmc ft and Puducherry 7 tmc ft. of water every year.
After decades of tussle with sharing of the Cauvery water with Tamil Nadu, the Karnataka government has planned another mega water project by building a dam at Mekedatu that threatens to curtail the flow of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu. While the government of Karnataka is going all out to implement the project, the Tamil Nadu government has steadfastly opposed the project.
Mekeadatu, meaning goat’s leap, is a deep gorge situated at the confluence of the rivers Cauvery and Arkavathi, about 100 km from Bengaluru, at the Kanakapura taluk in Karnataka’s Ramanagara district, about 90km away from Bengaluru and 4km ahead of the border with Tamil Nadu. Mekedatu project envisages the construction of a reservoir of 67.16-tmc ft capacity, along with a hydropower plant of nearly 400 MW capacity. The estimated cost of the project is around Rs 9,000 crore.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin urged his Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa not to pursue the Mekedatu project. Tamil Nadu government has strongly opposed the Mekadatu project stating that the proposed project is to come up at the confluence of Cauvery with its tributary Arkavathi and it will adversely impact the amount of Cauvery water the state is bound to get, especially from the uncontrolled catchments areas, as the project is likely to impound and divert the flow of water.
Normally, Karnataka government is supposed to release Cauvery water from three sources every year. First source is from the water flowing in the areas downstream of the Kabini river, catchment areas of Krishnarajasagar reservoir, the sub-basins of Shimsha, Arkavathi, and Suvarnavathi rivers, and the second source is the water from minor rivers due to water released from Kabini dam. The; third source is the water released from Krishnarajasagar dam.
The Tamil Nadu government fears that the Mekedatu dam is built, water received by Tamil Nadu through the first source will be stored in it and Karnataka will release only residual quantities of water to Tamil Nadu and that is the main reason for opposing a Makedatu dam. Further the Mekedatu zone represented the last free point from where water from the Cauvery flowed unrestricted into the downstream state of Tamil Nadu from the upstream Karnataka.
It is estimated that around 80 tmc ft of water flows annually to Tamil Nadu from the catchments areas, including the area between Kabini dam in Karnataka and Billigundulu gauging site on the inter-State border, and the area between the Krishnaraja Sagar dam in Karnataka and the gauging site. Tamil Nadu government has also pointed out that it has been clearly defined .in the final order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, the three components contributing to the annual quantum of water to be delivered by Karnataka at the inter-state contact point. Also, the fact remains that in both the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal's final order and the Supreme Court judgment there was no mention of the Mekedatu project.
Despite the request from Tamil Nadu government not to pursue the Mekedatu reservoir project, the Karnataka government has decided to go ahead with the project. The State Government will take administrative and legal measures and Mekedatu project work will start, said a statement issued by the Karnataka Chief Minister’s Office. Tamil Nadu has filed a petition (Miscellaneous Application) in 2018, but there are no hurdles to implement the project, the CMO stated. Further the Karnataka government pointed out that Mekedatu is not a new project as it has already received a Detailed Project Report (DPR) has been already prepared and an in-principle approval from the Centre around two years ago. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu says that if Karnataka has right to build dam, we’ve right to halt project legally, The fact remains that though the river Cauvery commences its journey from Coorg district of Karnataka, the river flows through Tamil Nadu along a longer stretch than through Karnataka. Hence, Tamil Nadu has also legal rights over its water.
While, Karnataka government has claimed that the Mekedatu project is crucial for addressing the water needs of Bengaluru city, Tamil Nadu government has said that Karnataka already has adequate infrastructure to address the water needs of Bengaluru and there is no need for the Mekedatu project. But the Karnataka government has argued that even after the project, Tamil Nadu will get its designated share of water as stipulated by the orders of the Tribunal and the Supreme Court. Hence, the project will not affect the interests of Tamil Nadu farmers.
While the government in Karnataka is determined to go ahead with the project, Tamil Nadu is opposing it tooth and nail. As the tension over Mekedatu dam increases both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments have approached the centre for an amicable solution.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin convened all party meeting at Chennai regarding the proposed Mekedatu dam. A delegation of 12 members under Water Resource Minister Durai Murugan , met the Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in New Delhi and handed over to him the three resolutions passed by the state government.
Addressing the reporters, Durai Murugan said “We told the Union Minister that they should not support Karnataka’s proposal. We also informed him about the permission Central Water Commission had provided to Karnataka to prepare DPR regarding this project. The Union Minister said he asked the Karnataka government to get the full cooperation of riparian states, get clearance from the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) but they did not fulfil any of these conditions, and hence they will not provide DPR clearance. He firmly said there is no possibility of constructing a dam at Mekedatu,” Durai Murugan said.
Durai Murugan also said the Union government has given the assurance that Karnataka government will not be granted the permission to construct the Mekedatu dam over the Cauvery river. Tamil Nadu government has also appealed to the centre to appoint a full-time chairman to CWMA, to which Shekhawat replied that they will take the required steps to do it soon and are looking for someone from a neutral state for the post.
Meanwhile in several districts of Tamil Nadu, farmers staged protests against Karnataka government’s decision to go ahead with the Mekedatu project. Hundreds of farmers carried banners and raised slogans in Thanjavur condemning Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa and also burnt effigies of the Karnataka CM.
The Karnataka government’s resolve to proceed further in constructing the Mekedatu dam is considered as an act against the Supreme Court order. Further, in a federal system of democracy, no upper riparian State can unilaterally interfere with the natural flow of an inter State river without the consent and concurrence of the lower riparian State. In such a scenario the construction of Mekedatu dam would be tantamount to be an act against the principles of federalism and a challenge to the Indian constitution. It remains to be seen whether central government will uphold the principles of federalism or give-in to the political pressures and approve the Mekedatu project.