Tour guides and local shopkeepers fear that the proposed Mekedatu dam project will destroy their livelihoods.
Prakash, a tour guide at the Chunchi waterfalls (five kilometres from the Mekedatu dam site) and nearby locations, has been working for the last six years. But, now he fears he might lose his job because of the proposed Mekedatu dam project.
“I fear that the government will take our work away. Other than this place, I do not know of any other place and do not know of any other work. That is why I stay at the waterfall till late evening,” he said.
Amma, who has a small stall near the Chunchi waterfalls, said that a group of boys and a family were her only customers for the day. Very few people come here. “My shop opens when the entry to the waterfall opens and closes when the entry to the waterfall closes,” she said.
Chunchi waterfalls originate from the Arkavati River, which is a tributary of the Cauvery River. Experts suggest that the construction of the Mekedatu dam could lead to a loss of livelihood for people living near the proposed site.
Krishna Murthy, an activist who has extensively worked on the impact of the Mekedatu project on the livelihood of the locals, said the people of Bengaluru need to think about the tribal people and other communities who live and work near the proposed Mekedatu dam.
Murthy said that people here (near Mekedatu dam) are fooled in the name of development. “What welfare are they talking about?” Leaders of both the states have been fighting for years to secure water for themselves. Do they even think about the locals? No,” Murthy emphasized.
The shopkeepers in the area don’t have alternate jobs to rely on. “My son works at a shop in Kanakapura. I earn Rs. 200 to 300 a day. Sometimes I earn nothing. Our financial situation is bad. We fear that once the dam is constructed, it will get worse,” said Prakash.
Himanshu Thakkar, a researcher with the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers, and People (SANDRP) said that the project will only exacerbate the damage to the areas. “I do not see the project being implemented anytime soon, but if it gets implemented, there will be massive damage to the geography of the area. Massive deforestation would lead to flooding and that would damage the area around the proposed site,” he said.
A report mentioned that the dam project aims to submerge over 7,800 acres of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and over 4,600 acres of the adjoining reserve forests.
Sachin Soonthodu, professor of tourism department at Garden University, said that people who have spent their entire lives in forests and surrounding areas find it difficult to adapt to change. “Their culture and livelihood revolve around natural resources. The Mekedatu project will cause destruction to their culture, which will further affect the survival of the tribals and locals,” he explained.
However, MN Harish, assistant director, Ramanagara division, Karnataka Tourism Department, said that the dam (if constructed) would lead to more jobs. ”There would be more tourism opportunities as the area would be developed. Proper construction of activities would be a priority,” he said.
An uncertain future
The Tamil Nadu Assembly recently passed a resolution to stop the Karnataka government from constructing the Mekedatu dam and provide a safeguard for the interests of the farmers in the regions bordering Tamil Nadu.
Govind Karjol, Karnataka Water Resource Minister, said that the resolution passed in the Tamil Nadu Assembly has no value and that Karnataka will implement the Mekedatu project.
“All the politicians have made statements about saving the people and their livelihood. Till date, tribal communities are completely ignored, and that is why they suffer till date,” said Murthy.
Prakash thought that the politics and government of both the states would eat up the Cauvery River. “I used to take my son to the waterfalls when he was young, and we had a good time. I still remember my son used to cry every time the fast flowing water would touch his face,” he added.
A report mentioned that the Mekedatu project, if implemented, could be an environmental disaster. It is mentioned that the project can pump 4.5 tmcft (one billion cubic feet) of drinking water to the Bengaluru and Kanakapura areas.
Sitting on the hill-top and wondering what was next for him, Prakash thought that his son would not be able to bring his children here. “By that time, the water would be gone to the cities and farms,” Prakash said sadly.