Mandya MP Sumalatha Ambareesh appears to be in no mood to accept a truce with former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, and began a two-day tour of her constituency on Tuesday, while reiterating that she will raise the issue of the safety of the Krishna Raja Sagara (KRS) dam due to illegal mining in the Parliament.
Sumalatha has been involved in a public spat with HD Kumaraswamy over the KRS dam after Kumaraswamy stated that Sumalatha should be sleeping at the entrance of the sluice gates of the dam to ensure safety in the area. While the issue has become increasingly personal and political, here is the crux of Sumalathaâ€™s allegations.
What is the KRS dam issue about?
The comments by Kumaraswamy came after Sumalatha raised concerns in early June over leakage from the KRS dam due to illegal mining in the surrounding Baby Hills area. BS Balakrishna, a retired Superintendent Engineer of the PWD, said that the KRS dam was constructed of masonry and earthen embankment, and not of reinforced cement concrete (RCC), making it susceptible to shock waves caused by blasting, a process in mining operations that involves firing explosives to break minerals.
Sumalathaâ€™s statements about the KRS dam led to a flurry of statements refuting there was structural damage at the dam. K Jaiprakash, managing director, Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Limited (CNNL), contended that there are no structural defects in the dam. He told the Star of Mysore that the Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP) consultant and Dam Safety Review Panel (DSRP) inspected gates of the dam on July 2 and there were no defects found. The Mandya district minister KC Narayanagowda of the BJP too said there were no cracks in the dam.
On July 8, Srirangapatna MLA Ravindra Srikantaiah visited the dam along with several officials. They inspected the ongoing work being done to replace the sluice gates, and visited gates 103, 106 and 117. The officials also reportedly told the MLA that the visible cracks would be sealed with cement without any damage to the structure.
However, on Monday, Sumalatha wrote to Murugesh Nirani, Karnataka Minister for Mines and Geology, over the issue who promised that trial blasts will be conducted around the KRS dam to study the impact and determine the permissible magnitude of explosions. According to the minister, mining activities are not allowed in a 15-km radius around the dam. â€śWe have not allowed illegal mining activities in the 15-km radius of KRS dam in the last three months. Iâ€™d instructed the officials to impose fines and stop mining activities after noticing violations by some companies,â€ť a statement issued by Nirani on Tuesday said.
Nirani added that following Sumalathaâ€™s complaints, a team of officials were tasked with preparing a report about illegal mining in the Baby Hills region around the KRS dam. â€śOur officials had conducted a joint survey and submitted a report denying there were illegal stone mining activities in the past three months with documentary evidence. We have cancelled 38 mining leases in Mandya and action will be taken if we find anybody involved in illegal mining. There is no need to worry,â€ť Nirani stated.
Currently, 136 sluice gates of the KRS dam are being replaced with financial assistance from the World Bank but work has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Politics behind the spat
There is more to the conflict between Sumalatha and Kumaraswamy than meets the eye. Underneath the debate about illegal mining in Mandya district, the two leaders have traded personal attacks in the past week. Kumaraswamy has repeatedly said that Sumalathaâ€™s victory in the Lok Sabha elections was due to sympathy.
Sumalatha hit back questioning Kumaraswamy over bringing up her late husband Ambareesh in media statements and asked the JD(S) leader to look at his family members and learn from Prajwal Revanna, the MP from Hassan, on how to be polite. She made it very clear that she will continue to carry on with the 'Save KRS' campaign and stop illegal mining in the region.
Sensing trouble, Kumaraswamy tweeted on Sunday that he would focus on other burning issues of the state and does not want to be dragged into the matter any further.
The animosity between the two leaders became public during the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections in Mandya. As an independent candidate, Sumalatha took on HD Kumaraswamyâ€™s son Nikhil Kumaraswamy who was the consensus candidate of the JD(S)-Congress coalition. The campaign got personal and there were reports of Kumaraswamy, who was then the Chief Minister of the state, using his power to disconnect electricity and cable TV when Sumalatha was campaigning in Mandya. The animosity peaked when Sumalatha managed to win in the JD(S) bastion by 1.3 lakh votes in the bitter political battle.
But it is not just JD(S) leaders that Sumalatha finds herself pitted against over the issue of the safety of the dam. BJP leaders have cautiously toed the line in reacting to the statements made by Kumaraswamy and Sumalatha. BJPâ€™s Mysuru MP Pratap Simha said that he had checked with dam officials and there was no damage reported at the dam. He also said that the issue should not be politicised.
But Sumalatha seems to have found support in the Congress with former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who criticised Kumaraswamy and the BJP government over the issue. He called for a fresh inspection of the dam to be conducted.
But interestingly, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President DK Shivakumar and former Water Resources Minister was not so forthcoming in his support and urged Sumalatha to not spread panic about the safety of the dam. He suggested that no damage will happen to the dam if gravel stones are produced 15 km away and added that he will not engage in publicity stunts over the issue. Shivakumar is known to have cordial relations with the JD(S) first family.
The issue does not seem to be dying down any time soon. Minister Murugesh Nirani is expected to visit the dam this week and Sumalatha had stated that she would visit the KRS dam soon as part of the constituency tour she kicked off on Tuesday. This is expected to lead to tensions between her and JD(S) workers. Sumalathaâ€™s supporters are also planning protests from Ambareeshâ€™s burial ground in Mandya city.
With IANS inputs