Karnataka faces hydra-headed problem in fight for water

Controversies and disputes over major irrigation projects never die down as political parties try to extract mileage.

Published: 16th January 2022 06:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th January 2022 06:17 AM   |  A+A-

Mahadayi river

By Express News Service


Kalasa-banduri project

The Kalasa-Banduri project on the Mahadayi river basin has remained incomplete due to a dispute between Karnataka and Goa. If completed, it will improve drinking water supply to Belagavi, Dharwad, and Gadag districts. However, the issue has been used to gain votes by both the Congress and BJP. During Parliamentary and Assembly polls, the contestants promised to resolve the issue if they came to power. But it is still pending as leaders milk the issue only during run-up to polls. The protesters have met former Chief Ministers Siddaramaiah and B S Yediyurappa several times in Bengaluru, only to return with mere assurances. The Kalasa-Banduri project was planned in 1989 when Goa raised objections to it. The Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal was set up in 2010 and Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra are parties to the tribunal.

The Kalasa Nala dam was planned near Kanakumbi village for lifting 1.72 tmcft water for drinking requirements of the Belagavi district, while the Banduri Nala dam was to be constructed at Nerse village for lifting 2.18 tmcft of water for drinking purposes. The Supreme Court has already given clearance to the Kalasa-Banduri project on February 20, 2019 on condition that it should be implemented only after clearance from the Department of Forest and Environment. The State Government had approved funds for the project, but has failed to send a delegation to the Centre and convince it to give clearance for the project, Ashok Chandargi, president, Belagavi District Kannada Organisations’ Action Committee, alleges.

The project

  • To construct 11 dams on the river Mahadayi/Mandovi 
  • Diversion of water from Kalasa and Banduri nalas 
  • Project aim To bring water to drought-prone regions of Hubballi-Dharwad, Belagavi and Gadag districts by diverting water from the Mahadayi river to the Malaprabha river in Karnataka.


  • Estimated at be D94 cr in 2000 
  • Cost rose to D1,677.30 cr in 2020
  • Problem Goa fears losing its flora and fauna in the region.

Mekedatu balancing reservoir

Implementing the Mekedatu balancing reservoir (MBR) may not help the ruling BJP expand its vote bank in the Cauvery basin – the bastion of the dominant Vokkaliga community, which has traditionally favoured the Congress or the JDS. But not implementing the project provides scope for anti-incumbency against the ruling dispensation, headed by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai. This is the crux of the Mekedatu issue as Karnataka prepares for the 2023 assembly polls. Interestingly, the political chemistry at play is seen as an impediment for the project.

Tamil Nadu is ruled by the DMK, which is in alliance with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. While Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, following the Congress’ January 9 padayatra, said that he was committed to implementing the project by taking along the opposition parties, Siddaramaiah has alleged that the BJP is not likely to implement it as it has plans to expand its base in Tamil Nadu. This apart, environmental clearance by the Centre is awaited. Meanwhile, activists have entered the scene by roping in noted environmentalist Medha Patkar to address the issue.

What Mekedatu is about

  • To collect 67 tmcft of water, if constructed
  • Estimated project cost as per DPR in 2017: D5,912 cr
  • Project cost in 2019: D9,000 cr

Other factors

  • 12,000 acres of forests to submerge
  • At least 10 villages to submerge

Upper krishna project

The promises by both the Congress and BJP governments, in the past, have remained unfulfilled with regard to the UKP-Phase 3 as the mega irrigation project is yet to take off. Even after nine years of the Brijesh Kumar Tribunal award, the State Government is still grappling with getting it notified as it is pending before the Supreme Court. If the award is published, it allows increasing the height of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Reservoir (Almatti Dam) from the existing 519.6 mt to 524.256 mt, which will not just enable storing an additional 100 tmcft of water, but also to utilise surplus available water. Even if the gazette is notified immediately, the State Government cannot increase the height of the dam until it completes the Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) work, which involves acquiring 60,000 acres of land and rehabilitating 22 villages.

According to Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigama Ltd (KBJNL) officials, the estimated cost for UKP Phase-3 works is over Rs 60,000 crore, which includes R&R work. However, activists and former IAS officers allege that a lack of political will, political interference, poor financial allocation and corruption in administration are the main factors for delaying the project.According to a political analyst, who did not want to be named, “This project gives a huge political benefit to whichever party implements it successfully. The BJP and the Congress have limited themselves to only making promises but never displayed any commitment. It will be a game-changer for the party that implements the project and can turn around the political calculations in this region. Political will is the need of the hour, but it is lacking in both parties.”

Yettinahole project

The Yettinahole river is one of the main feeders of Netravati river, and the Yettinahole project was planned to divert excess rainwater from the Western Ghats to the parched districts Kolar and Chikkaballapur. But it has not borne fruit for almost eight years due to hurdles, including land acquisition. On the other hand, the people of Kolar and Chikkaballapur say apart from technical and other issues, politics is at play with none of the governments keen on providing drinking water to parched Kolar and Chikkaballapur districts.

Former Union Minister M Veerappa Moily blames the BJP government for lacking interest in taking up the project on a priority basis. “It is not a big issue for the state government, but the BJP government is neglecting it,” he says. But R Anjaneya Reddy, president of Saswatha Neeravari Horata Samithi, says the project is totally unscientific and not feasible. He alleges that despite being unscientific, the government is taking up the project to benefit contractors, and questions how water can be drawn to 265 km to Kolar and Chikkaballapur which are at the tail-end of the project. 

Kabini second stage project

The Kabini Stage-II Irrigation Project, which was a promise to the people in the late 1980’s to irrigate drought-hit areas of undivided Mysuru district (now Chamarajanagar district) has remained a distant dream even after three decades. The Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is to blame as the neighbouring state has opposed expansion of irrigation projects in Karnataka. Successive governments have not pursued the project as they feared that execution or expansion of irrigation projects will attract the ire of the Supreme Court and Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal. The execution of the Kabini Stage-II project would not only have changed the political equations, but also the local economy, employment and addressed the poverty of the backward region to a large extent. The Janata Dal government headed by J H Patel first tapped the river to provide drinking water to Gundlupet and Chamarajanagar taluks. 

What it’s about

  • Envisages lifting of 17.40 tmcft of water in the first stage from Tunga river to Bhadra reservoir
  • Lifting 29.90 tmcft of water in the second stage from Bhadra reservoir to irrigate 2,25,515 hectares by micro-irrigation in Chitradurga, Davanagere, Tumakuru and parts of Chikkamagaluru.
  • Also envisages 6 tmcft of water for filling 367 tanks.

Project cost

  • Commenced in 2008 at estimated cost of D500 cr
  • Delays in implementation has escalated cost to D16,125 cr
  • Only D4,565 cr worth of works completed so far

Upper bhadra project  

This project can become a lifeline for central Karnataka to provide both drinking water and for irrigation, but has taken a back seat as successive governments failed to execute it in time. Recently, the farmers of Hosadurga taluk of Chitradurga district took out a padayatra demanding completion of the Upper Bhadra project work on priority and ensure water for drinking and for irrigation to the farming community of Chitradurga, Davanagere, Tumakuru and parts of Chikkamagaluru.

Work on both sides of the Bhadra reservoir Project, which is the link between Tunga river and the Vani Vilas Sagar dam, has to be taken up immediately to ensure drinking water as well as to irrigate 2.25 lakh hectares in the command area of the UBP. Whereas other irrigation projects face problems of water sharing between Karnataka and other states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa, there is no problem in implementing the UBP. 

Hemavathi project

Multi-village schemes to provide drinking water from Hemavathi river to villages are pending due to funds crunch.  At least two hoblis in each constituency in Hassan district are included under a multi-village scheme. Dudda and Shantigrama hoblis have been awaiting drinking water through the scheme since a year. The scheme was sanctioned by HD Kumaraswamy during the Congress-JDS coalition government but failed to complete it in a time-bound manner. Hurdles include land acquisition delays in parts of Belur and Arasikere taluks and fund crunch. The Kachenahalli, Kamasamudra, Konanuru and Mallipattana lift irrigation projects are stalled due to political reasons. The projects were sanctioned during Congress and Congress-JDS coalition governments. 

(With inputs from K Shivakumar in Mysuru; V Velayudham in Kolar-Chikkaballapur; Tushar Majukar in  Belagavi; Devaraja Hirehalli in Bengaluru; Raghu Koppar in Gadag; B R Udayakumar in Hassan; Mahesh Goudar in Bagalkot/Vijayapura; and Ramachandra Gunari in Shivamogga)



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