RAMANAGARA: The Congress in Karnataka on Sunday resumed its padayatra' (foot march), demanding implementation of the Mekedatu project across the Cauvery river, after temporarily halting it in January due to COVID-19 concerns.
Led by Congress' state president D K Shivakumar and Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly Siddaramaiah, the five-day padayatra with the theme Namma Neeru Namma Hakku' (Our water, Our right) that began here will culminate at the National College Ground in Basavanagudi in Bengaluru on March 3 after covering a distance of 79.8 kilometres.
A host of Congress leaders, including AICC General Secretary in-charge of Karnataka Randeep Singh Surjewala, were among others present at the inaugural of "Mekedatu Padayatra 2.0".
This is the second leg of the march that ended abruptly in Ramanagara district on January 13, when the third wave of the COVID-19 had peaked.
Resuming the march from where it was halted temporarily, the padayatra 2.0 that resumed today, will cover a distance of about 15 km on the first day to reach Bidadi.
Hitting out at the BJP governments at both state and the Centre for not implementing the Mekedatu project, despite no legal hurdles, Siddaramaiah urged the central government to give environment clearance and state government to put pressure and get it done.
"It has been over 2.5 years since the BJP government came to power in the state.
They have failed to get environment and forest clearance from the Centre, despite having their own party's government there.
Tamil Nadu is opposing this project politically, not with any court orders in hand. If the project is not started, it will be a betrayal for the people of the state," he said.
Further, accusing the BJP of spreading lies over Congress for doing nothing while in power to implement the Mekedatu project, he said previous governments under his party's rule had prepared the DPR for the project.
Surjewala, in his address, accused the BJP government in the state of being an "obstacle" in the path of people's right over water.
"The voice of the people for their right over water will grow stronger through this padayatra...may you get success in your struggle and your right over water," he said.
D K Shivakumar said this is a fight of the people of Bengaluru and surrounding areas for drinking water and for the farmers of the region.
He urged Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to get the environmental clearance at the earliest and begin the project.
The march that had initially begun at Sangama, the confluence of Cauvery and Arkavathi rivers at Kanakapura in Ramanagara district, on January 9, was scheduled to conclude at Basavanagudi in Bengaluru on January 19, after spanning a total distance of nearly 139 km.
It was however temporarily halted on January 13, with limited options before the party, amid surging COVID-19 cases, government prohibiting movement of people, and the Karnataka High Court's strong observations regarding violation of curbs.
Several Congress leaders who had attended the march were also infected by coronavirus.
Though the padayatra is being projected as apolitical, it is also seen as Congress' attempt to mobilise its cadres and consolidate its voter base in the old Mysuru region, which is a Vokkaliga bastion, where Janata Dal (Secular) is its traditional rival and the ruling BJP is attempting to make inroads, ahead of 2023 assembly polls.
Much is at stake for Shivakumar, the man behind this march, as several Congress functionaries believe that it is an attempt by the KPCC chief, ahead of assembly polls, to assert his chief ministerial ambitions, for which Siddaramaiah is also a strong contender.
The party has seen several incidents of political one-upmanship between the two leaders last year.
The march is being seen politically, keeping in mind the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike elections, with the padayatra covering about 15 assembly constituencies in Bengaluru city in the days to come.
Both ruling BJP and JD(S) have hit out at Congress calling its march as a political stunt ahead of assembly elections next year, and have questioned its morality, accusing the party of not putting any efforts to take the project forward while in power.
The Karnataka government submitted a Detailed Project Report (DPR) to the Central Water Commission (CWC) in 2019, which was then referred to the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA), where it is stuck currently as Tamil Nadu, which is the lower riparian state, has opposed the project tooth and nail.
Karnataka has maintained that the project within its territory will benefit both states as the surplus water stored can be managed between the two during a distress year, and its implementation will in no way affect the interests of Tamil Nadu's farming communities, as there will be no impact on its share of water.
While the neighbouring state is of the view that the project would impound and divert the uncontrolled water flow due to Tamil Nadu from Kabini sub-basin, the catchment area below Krishnarajasagara, and also from Simsha, Arkavathy and Suvarnavathi sub-basins besides other small streams.
The Mekedatu multi-purpose (drinking and power) project involves building a balancing reservoir near Kanakapura in Ramanagara district.
The estimated Rs 9,000 crore project once completed is aimed at ensuring drinking water to Bengaluru and neighbouring areas (4.75 TMC) and it can also generate 400 MW power.