Explainer: What is the Mekedatu dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka?

While the government in Karnataka is eager to implement the big budget project, Tamil Nadu has resolved never to support it.
Explainer: What is the Mekedatu dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka?
Explainer: What is the Mekedatu dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka?
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Months after the centuries-long Cauvery river dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka culminated in the setting up of the Cauvery Water Management Authority, a new dispute over a dam on the river is now underway.

Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy’s recent meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the construction of a dam at Mekedatu has stirred the hornet’s nest. On July 5 this year, CM Kumaraswamy announced in the Legislative Assembly’s Budget session that his government would revive the Mekedatu project, if necessary permissions were given.

In response, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami wrote to PM Modi last Tuesday, asking him not to approve any plans without the permission of Tamil Nadu and other co-basin states.

What is the Mekedatu project?

Mekedatu, meaning goat’s leap, is a deep gorge situated at the confluence of the rivers Cauvery and Arkavathi, about 100 km from Bengaluru, at the Kanakapura taluk in Karnataka’s Ramanagara district.

In 2013, then Karnataka Law Minister TB Jayachandra announced the construction of a multi-purpose balancing reservoir project over the Mekedatu. The Rs 5,912-crore project aims to alleviate the drinking water problems of Bengaluru and Ramanagara district. It is also expected to generate hydro-electricity to meet the power needs of the state.

The government at the time said that the reservoir would have a capacity of 66 tmcft, after the release of water to Tamil Nadu.

Why does Tamil Nadu object?

Soon after the project was announced in 2013, then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa wrote to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him not to grant permission or environmental clearance.

Explaining the potential for damage to the lower riparian state of Tamil Nadu, she said that the project was in violation of the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.

“Therefore, this proposal of Karnataka is wholly illegal and is causing great alarm and apprehension in Tamil Nadu, as it will affect the natural flow of the river Cauvery considerably and will severely affect the irrigation in Tamil Nadu. Further, it will set at nought the Final Order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal. The Government of Karnataka should not be allowed to unilaterally execute a scheme without the consent of the lower riparian State,” she wrote.

Stating that the construction of a reservoir would be against the principles of federalism, Jayalalithaa said, "In a federal structure, no upper riparian State can unilaterally interfere with the natural flow of an inter State river without the consent and concurrence of the lower riparian State."

Tamil Nadu’s stand was that the project would not only impede the water available to farmers in the state but it would also go against the mandate that the total quantity of water must be for consumptive use, as prescribed by the Tribunal.

The Tamil Nadu government had also filed an interlocutory application in the SC in 2013, asking for the Court to restrain the Karnataka government from executing the Shivanasamudram and Mekedatu projects.

In its application, the Tamil Nadu government sought that the National Hydro Power Corporation of the Government of India undertake the Mekedatu and Shivanasamudram hydroelectric projects along with the Hogennakal and Rasimanal hydel projects as a package.

What has Karnataka been upto?

In February last year, the Siddaramaiah-led Karnataka Cabinet gave an in-principle nod to the project. 

In October 2017, the Karnataka government submitted a pre-feasibility report to the Central Water Commission (CWC), which was promptly returned by the body citing shortcomings.

On Monday, Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy met PM Modi and requested a meeting be convened to resolve the Mekedatu dispute between the state and Tamil Nadu.

Karnataka is also reported to have submitted a pre-feasibility report last month to the Central Water Commission.

What now?

On February 16, 2018, the Supreme Court ordered the setting up of a scheme that would oversee the enforcement of its orders as well as arbitrate on any future disputes between the two states.

One of the key objections that former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had earlier raised was the lack of a permanent monitoring mechanism. With the apex court verdict satisfying the need for such a mechanism with the setting up of the Cauvery Water Management Authority, why does Tamil Nadu continue to object the project?

In a September 4 letter to PM Modi, TN Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami flayed Karnataka for approaching the Central Water Commission over the Mekedatu project and condemned its ‘unilateral actions’.

Reiterating late CM Jayalalithaa's stand, Palaniswami stated that Karnataka approaching the CWC without the concurrence of Tamil Nadu was in violation of the apex court verdict.

While the Kumaraswamy government is eager to implement the big budget project, Tamil Nadu has resolved never to support Karnataka constructing it.

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