IEI: Govt needs to stop postponing Mekedatu

Bangalore Environment

The Institution of Engineers (IEI) wants the government to take stronger steps in the Mekedatu project.

The Indian Institution of Engineers (IEI) said today that Karnataka government should immediately implement the Mekedatu project, but environmentalists point to the negative effects the project will have on the ecosystem.

M. Lakshman, Chairman of IEI, said, “Dam construction is very important. Tamil Nadu thinks that we are benefiting from this. In reality, they are the ones taking our excess water.”

He added that implementation is the need of the hour. “We will file contempt against them in Supreme Court. Why are they not discussing? What is the political intention behind this?”

On January 9, Karnataka Congress had   organized a 165-km padyatra that would go on for ten days—this was cut short due to the pandemic.

Speaking about the 2018 judgment which allocated 404 thousand million cubic feet (TMC)  to Tamil Nadu and 284  TMC to Karnataka, Lakshman said, “According to the judgment, we will release 177.25 TMC of water. Since there is no dam, excess water flows into Tamil Nadu in the rainy season.”

In Karnataka’s budget 2022-2023, Chief Minister and Finance Minister Basavaraj Bommai allocated Rs. 1000 crore to build the Mekedatu Balancing Reservoir and for Bengaluru Drinking Water Project.

The project is named after Mekedatu village through which Cauvery flows. In 1996, the Karanataka Power Corporation initiated the project to generate hydroelectricity for various districts in Karnataka. However, the project was brushed aside for almost two decades after this. In 2013, the Congress government in Karnataka chalked up the idea of a balancing reservoir to grapple with the rampant water shortage problem in Bengaluru.

Advocates say that the project will help Karnataka get drinking water. “We need to keep the environmental concerns aside and look at the greater good. This is going to give Bengaluru drinking water. A city that was going to run out of water will finally have water. What could be better than that?” Anil, a High court advocate said.

Lakshman added that Bengaluru is left with just 4.75 TMC of water per month. “We only have one-fifth of the water. People of Bengaluru need drinking water,” he said.

Bengalureans say they face problems due to water shortage. “We do not even get Cauvery water anymore. We have to keep spending on the tankers. We are trying to save water, but we are worried that we will slowly run out of water,” Anu, a resident said.

Committee members of IEI say that they see the project solely from the technical implications.

“Undoubtedly, this is a challenging task. But we are not doing this for any party. This is for the people of Bengaluru,” Dr. EntiRanga Reddy, Secretary, said.

Lakshman added that the committee and the institute has analyzed the situation closely.

“Institute has gone and seen the ground reality. We are not benefited by lying. We are working in the interest of the general public,” he said.

The reservoir will be able to hold 284,000 million cubic feet (TMC), If Karnataka goes ahead with the project. This issue has been a bone of contention between the two states, because Tamil Nadu has often stated that the project will block the source of water (for both drinking and agricultural purposes) for the lower riparian state.

Environmentalists have said that the project will submerge 52 sq km of forests which are worth Rs. 81.6 billion.

“Although there will be a loss, we need to see the larger impact. There is always some loss at the cost of greater gain,” Raghu, an environmentalist and disaster management expert said. Dr. TV Ramachandra is a researcher from the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. He has been vocal about the environmental degradation that the Mekedatu project posses. “The people who say that some amount of development happens at the cost of degradation—the do not know anything. Forests actually store water, about 100 TMC. Removing or submerging it is a foolish move,” he said.

He added that the water become saline. “The water needs to go to the ocean. If it does not, it will retain salt. This affects agriculture. We’ve seen fish die. We’ve seen mangroves disappear. People just want to loot timber,” he said.

 Dr. Shashidhar, ex-chief engineer of Bangalore Water Supply & Sewage Board (BWSSB) said, “I have been connected with the Cauvery issue since 1971. Speaking from a purely technical standpoint, we need to understand that Bengaluru is located upstream. It is impossible to demarcate a part of the city or district rather we need to take it as a whole and provide drinking water.”

The IEI stressed on the necessity for an alternative as well. “Tamil Nadu is currently getting 95 percent benefit in this. If they are complaining, they need to give a proper alternative that benefits people of both the states. We are working for the people at the end of the day,” Lakshman said.