Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Bengaluru politicians across party lines bat for Mekedatu project

Environmentalists warn that the project could have a massive impact on the Cauvery forest that is home to critically endangered wildlife.

The Mekedatu project has been proposed, opposed and has lain forgotten several times over the past many decades. However, the project idea is revived during every election. The current issue of water shortage in Bengaluru has particularly spurred interest in it again. Politicians from both the BJP and Congress in Karnataka are now using the project as an election campaign talking point.

Mekedatu, which is Kannada for goat’s crossing, is a rocky outcrop along the river Cauvery. It is situated within the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, around three kilometres from the confluence of Arkavathy and Cauvery River.

Read more: Water shortage in Bengaluru: Families, schools, hospitals share their struggle

Mekedatu project timeline

In 2013, the Karnataka state government under Congress announced a balancing reservoir project in this stretch of the Cauvery to augment Bengaluru’s drinking water needs. The project would supply 4.75 tmcf (thousand million cubic feet) of drinking water to Bengaluru and surrounding areas and generate 400 MW of hydroelectric power.

The project would cost Rs. 9,000 crore, according to the 2019 Detailed Project Report (DPR) estimates. Over 5,000 ha of forest within the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary would be submerged for the project. The state government under Congress submitted a pre-feasibility report with the Central Water Commission (CWC) in 2017, which was rejected.

A second pre-feasibility report submitted in 2018 was accepted. The central body gave the state government in-principle clearance to submit a DPR. In the same year, Karnataka MPs across party lines held a protest demanding the approval of the project at the Parliament. Protesting MPs included current Lok Sabha candidates such as DK Suresh from Congress (contesting from Bangalore Rural) and Shobha Karandjale from BJP (contesting from Bangalore North).

In 2019, JDS-Congress coalition submitted a DPR for the Central Water Commission’s approval. The DPR was forwarded to the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA), but no approval was forthcoming due to several objections by the Tamil Nadu government as well as its MPs across party lines.

Delays in implementation

However, the project has still not been approved. In 2021, BJP MP Tejasvi Surya and three of his fellow BJP MPs from Karnataka asked about the status of the project in the Lok Sabha. Bishweshawar Tudu, Minister of State for Jal Shakti, responded that the DPR had been taken up for discussion by CWMA but progress had stalled “due to the lack of consensus amongst party states,” i.e., Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

In 2022, Congress MLAs undertook a much publicised ‘padayatra’ or march demanding that the Union Government approve the project. Siddaramaiah, who was the leader of opposition in the state at the time, accused the BJP government at the Centre for delaying the project. FIRs had been filed against ten Congress leaders, including Siddaramaiah and Krishna Byre Gowda for violating COVID-19 rules. The cases were withdrawn when Congress came to power last year.

In 2023, Janata Dal Secular (JDS) MP Prajwal Revanna, representing Hassan constituency, asked about the status of the project in the Parliament. The Water Minister had a similar response to this question. However, he added that the CWMA would take a call on the issue based only after the Supreme Court had decided on a Tamil Nadu state petition for Cauvery water.

Mekedatu promises during the campaign trail

With the elections in full swing, BJP and Congress candidates have taken to accusing each others’ parties for the delay. In February this year, Surya claimed that he would get the Centre’s nod for the project if the State government (under BJP at that time) could secure a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from Tamil Nadu’s politicians. It must be noted that the bottleneck for the project is Tamil Nadu government’s opposition.

Surya also accused the Congress of duplicity on the matter. He pointed out that DMK, a member of the INDIA alliance with Congress, had promised to stop the Mekedatu project in their manifesto. In response, Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar said that the project would be implemented during Congress’ term in the state. He also accused BJP of politicising the issue and advised them to obtain the Centre’s nod instead.

Meanwhile, Siddaramaiah at an election rally claimed that the Congress candidate for Bangalore South Sowmya Reddy ‘s victory was crucial for the project’s implementation. Shobha Karandlaje, BJP candidate from Bangalore North, asserted three years ago that she and her party at the state would continue to push for the project.

Even former Prime Minister and leader of JDS HD Deve Gowda urged all Karnataka MPs across parties to support the project last month.

Environmental impacts of the project

It is clear that Karnataka politicians across party lines favour the project, while Tamil Nadu’s politicians appear to oppose it. However, environmentalists and conservation biologists warn that the project could have a massive impact on the Cauvery forests.

Speaking to Citizen Matters in March this year, Sanjay Gubbi, a wildlife biologist asserted that the project would lead to further loss of wildlife habitat. The location for the project is part of a critical elephant corridor. Loss of forest here would push elephants into further proximity to villages in Ramangara district, increasing conflict in the region, Sanjay explained.

Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary
Over 5,000 ha of forest within the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary would be submerged for the Mekedatu project. This could lead to increased human-wildlife conflict warn experts. Pic: AJT Johnsingh via Wikimedia Commons

Urban water experts have also asserted that Bengaluru needs to look at restoring the city’s lakes, reusing wastewater particularly for construction and drinking water and implementing rainwater harvesting rules efficiently to make the city self-sufficient. However, Karnataka politicians have shown little interest in this alternative path to supply Bengaluru water.   

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