Tussle over Mekadatu project to reach crescendo in CWMA meet

The next meeting of CWMA will be held on June 17 and it will be attended by officials from Karnataka, TN, Puducherry and Kerala when the Mekadatu project is to be discussed under the direction of the Central Water Commission, as Bommai claimed...
Tussle over Mekadatu project to reach crescendo in CWMA meet
River Cauvery gushing through deep and narrow gorge in MekadatuWikipedia

Ahead of the 16th meeting of the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) on June 17, Chief Minister M K Stalin and his Karnataka counterpart Basavaraj Bommai have locked horns yet again over the Mekadatu dam issue. With Tamil Nadu claiming that Karnataka has no business introducing the Mekadatu project in the CWMA meeting, which was mandated in the SC Verdict on the Cauvery Water Sharing dispute delivered in February 2018, Karnataka claims that sharing of Cauvery Water has nothing to do with the project as Tamil Nadu will continue to get its share of water as mentioned in the verdict and has already allocated Rs 1,000 crore for Mekadatu.

As instructed by the Supreme Court, the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) was created by the Centre on 1 June 2018

On Monday, Chief Minister Stalin urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and restrain the CWMA from discussing Karnataka's Mekedatu project proposal in its meeting. In a letter to the Modi, he pointed out that the scope of the CWMA is limited to implementing the Supreme Court's verdict on the Cauvery issue and it cannot consider any other subject. He also highlighted that the matter was sub-judice as three petitions had been filed by the state on the issue and were pending before the Supreme Court. "These involve critical questions on the role of the CWMA, which can be clarified only by the Supreme Court. Hence, we are apprehensive that the CWMA's decision to rush to discuss this issue, which is beyond its scope, even before our applications are heard by the Supreme Court, is an attempt to subvert the earlier verdict of the court," the Chief Minister stated in his communique to the PM.

A day after Stalin wrote a letter, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai called it a ‘political stunt’. “Regarding the Mekedatu project, the Central Water Commission (CWC), while receiving our DPR, had put a condition that it has to be approved by the Cauvery Water Management Authority, and accordingly, it is now before the board (CWMA) and several meetings have taken place,” Bommai told reporters in Bengaluru. He added TN's demand was illegal and against the spirit of federalism. Asserting that the Mekedatu project nowhere involves Tamil Nadu’s water share, he said, “it is on our share of water, within our state.”

They (Tamil Nadu) are conspiring against utilisation of our (Karnataka) share of water by the state. The union government should not consider their demand

Bommai, Karnataka Chief Minister

The CWMA has conducted 15 meetings so far. The next meeting of CWMA will be held on June 17 and it will be attended by officials from Karnataka, TN, Puducherry and Kerala when the Mekadatu project is to be discussed under the direction of the Central Water Commission, as Bommai claimed. As TN had been opposing any discussion on the project, the CWMA sought legal opinion from the Solicitor General on whether the Mekadatu project can be a part of the authority’s discussions and, according to media reports, got a favourable response.

Anticipating such a move, about a week ago, TN moved SC seeking a direction that the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) should not take up Karnataka’s Mekedatu project for discussion at its meeting on June 17. The State government, in its petition, stated the CWMA does not have powers to discuss the construction of the Mekedatu Balancing Reservoir-cum-Drinking Water Project across the Cauvery river according to the February 2018 order of the SC. "At the 16th meeting (of CWMA scheduled for June 17), the Tamil Nadu representative will strongly oppose this and point out that this subject is beyond the jurisdiction of the CWMA,” minister Durai Murugan said after filing the SC petition. Earlier, when Karnataka allotted ₹1,000 crores for the project, the TN Assembly passed a unanimous resolution opposing the move and sent it to the central government. The government had also written to the CWMA to remove the Mekedatu issue from the agenda as the agency has no powers to discuss the issue. However, the Karnataka government filed the petition after the CWMA allegedly included “discussions on Mekedatu project DPR” in the agenda for the meeting.

What is Mekadatu Project?

The Mekadatu Project is a ₹9,000-crore balancing reservoir proposal at Mekedatu, seeking to impound 67.16 tmc ft (thousand million cubic ft.) of water. The project is expected to help Karnataka utilise an additional 4.75 tmc ft of water allotted by the Supreme Court in its judgement in February 2018 to meet the drinking water needs of Bengaluru and surrounding areas. The project also envisions a 400 MW hydropower component. The project is expected to submerge 5,000 hectares of revenue land and 4,800 hectares of forests. The project which was reportedly envisioned several decades ago in various stages finally came to become a concrete proposal in February 2019 when the Karnataka government had submitted a detailed project report to the Centre on its plans for the construction of a reservoir at Mekedatu in Ramanagara district, about 90km away from Bengaluru and 4km ahead of the border with Tamil Nadu.

Cauvery river flowing near Biligundlu
Cauvery river flowing near BiligundluWikipedia

SC Verdict on Cauvery Water Sharing between Karnataka, TN, Kerala and Puducherry

As with most other water disputes in this part of the country, the rift between TN and Karnataka over sharing Cauvery water runs deep and is a century-old. The issue has been somewhat quiet since February 18 when SC delivered its verdict on water sharing and wanted the formation of CWMA to ensure that the details mentioned in the verdict were enforced. In February 2018, the SC had lowered the amount of Cauvery water due to TN to 4.4.25 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet) from 419 tmcft allotted by the CWDT in February 2007. The SC allotted 270 tmcft of Cauvery water to Karnataka, 14.75 tmcft more than the tribunal award. There was no change in allotment to Puducherry (30 tmcft) and Kerala (7 tmcft). The SC also permitted TN to draw an additional 10 tmcft of ground water from a total available 20 tmcft beneath the Cauvery basin, thus reducing TN's share only by 4.75 tmcft. Thus Karnataka has to release 177.25 tmcft of Cauvery water from the Biligundlu dam every year.

The SC allotted 270 tmcft of Cauvery water to Karnataka, 14.75 tmcft more than the tribunal award. There was no change in allotment to Puducherry (30 tmcft) and Kerala (7 tmcft).

In 2007, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal set up in 1990, declared its final award, in which it said Tamil Nadu should receive 419 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet) of water more than double the amount mentioned in the interim order of 1991.

With the 2018 verdict not in favour of TN, farmers down South claim that Mekadatu dam project was yet another ploy by Karnataka to divert water allocated for TN thus depriving farmers of their livelihood and the TN government has strongly opposed the Mekadatu project. Meanwhile, the Karnataka government claims that the reservoir is needed to cater to the growing city of Bengaluru. Besides, they also cite that during most years, several tmcft of excess water from the Cauvery River runs into the sea and this project could save some of it.

The Central Water Commission allegedly giving a green signal for taking up Mekadatu in CWMA Meeting and TN rushing to the SC alleging violation of CWMA rules that mandate only overseeing water-sharing between the states is likely to escalate the situation further into a full-blown conflict between the two states in the coming days until apex court or the centre intervenes and clarifies on the role of CWMA.

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