The Cauvery Water Management Authority’s (CWMA) meeting on Friday saw a sharp exchange of words between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Mekedatu dam project.
Though the matter was not on the agenda, Karnataka, at the fag end of an hour-long meeting held through video-conferencing, urged the Centre to clear the Mekedatu project, which would be a balancing reservoir, fulfilling the drinking water requirements of the Bengaluru metropolitan region. But Tamil Nadu, represented by Principal Secretary (Public Works) K. Manivasan, opposed the demand, as the project would “adversely affect” its rights.
Karnataka, in its pre-feasibility report prepared in 2019, stated that the project would “regulate the required quantum of water to Tamil Nadu, on a monthly basis (in a normal year)” as per the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, as modified by the Supreme Court in 2018.
But Tamil Nadu was of the view that a mere perusal of data on Cauvery river water realisation, at its end, since the 1990s, would reveal that the State, being a lower-riparian State, it did not get its share of water as per the schedule laid down earlier by the tribunal, and now, by the Supreme Court and the CWMA. The State, as a matter of principle, was opposed to any project being proposed in the upper riparian, unless approved by the Supreme Court.
At the meeting, Karnataka sought to equate the Mekedatu project with the Sarabanga Lift Irrigation Project, which envisaged the diversion of excess water from the Mettur dam. But Tamil Nadu’s response was that the Sarabanga project, utilising only the surplus water, would benefit the area that fell under the existing ayacut, located within Tamil Nadu’s part of the Cauvery basin.
At the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, early last month, the State government had stated that the proposed project was not for developing a new ayacut.
Besides, one of the factors behind the State’s apprehension regarding Mekedatu has been its proposed capacity of 67 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) — – huge and it was more than two-thirds the capacity of the Mettur dam, a senior official in the Public Works Department said.
In a chat with The Hindu, R.K. Jain, chairman of the Central Water Commission (CWC) and part-time chief of CWMA, sought to downplay the exchange between the two States and termed the discussion “incidental”. He, however, added that so long as the CWMA cleared the Mekedatu project, the CWC would not be able to give its nod.
In light of the advice rendered last year by the Expert Appraisal Committee for River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects, attached to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, for an “amicable solution” between the two States on the issue, Mr. Jain said that efforts were on to bring about a consensus between the States.