With the proposed Yettinahole Project, Karnataka Government is trying to rob peter to pay paul. This high-cost project of Rs.1000 crores will help one region at the cost of another. As Karnataka witnesses one of the worst droughts it has seen in 40 years, protests are underway over the Yettinahole project. There is vehement opposition in Dakshina Kannada and Hassan districts where the two tributaries originate, and strident demand in the southern water-starved districts.
The Yettinahole project proposes to transfer water from two tributaries of the Nethravati river to the parched districts of Kolar, Chikballapur, Davangere, Hassan, Tumakuru by lift irrigation. The idea is to store water in two main tanks in the water parched areas, which would then rejuvenate 4,289 dry tanks in Chikballapur and Kolar districts, and supply water to other areas where there has been a drinking water shortage for the last 30 years.
The project was first proposed by the Dr. Paramashivaiah Committee that submitted its report in 1972. Paramashivaiah had recommended that 180 tmc out of the 2000 tmc of water available through rainfall in the Western Ghats along with 80 tmc of water from the Krishna basin could solve the irrigation and drinking water problems of the rain-starved districts of south Karnataka.
On Sunday, the protests took a serious turn as senior Congress leader and Chikaballapur MP M Veerappa Moily was shown black flags by people in Mangaluru who were protesting his stand on the Yettinahole Project, which they say would jeopardize the Nethravati river.
For the people of Dakshina Kannada, who consider the Nethravati as their lifeline, the project has brought much anxiety and anger, which most recently manifested in the irritation with Moily, who hails from the district. Even footwear was reportedly thrown at him.
Moilyâ€™s fellow colleague in Mangaluru B Janardhana Poojary however has lambasted the leaders of not just the BJP such as DV Sadananda Gowda (also from DK district), but also his own party members such as Minister U T Khader for supporting the project. On Saturday, he called for a united fight against the project without divisions along party lines.
However, State Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Sriramareddy says that Karnatakaâ€™s water crisis was a â€śself-creationâ€ť of the state government. â€śAll the political parties that ruled the state since 1952 have always played water politics but did not solve the water problem. Karnataka is in a severe water crisis and drought situation because of the inefficiency of the government to utilise the water sources in the state," he said.
In any indication of this, Moilyâ€™s position not enviable. He has contested the last few elections from Chikballapur and the people of his district feel betrayed.
He was skeptical of the Yettinahole project for two reasons, the quantity of available water, and also the cost of electricity to lift the water from the Western Ghats and pump it to the eastern districts. â€śThere needs to be at least 20 to 30 tmc water to fill the 4,289 tanks in Kolar region. But Yettinahole project, which was part of Dr. Paramashivaiah's report, will not provide more than 8 to10 tmc, according to records. Based on first phase estimate, only 0.35 tmc water will be there. So this clearly does not solve the problem of this arid region,â€ť Reddy said.
On the question of electricity, Reddy said: â€śThe Yettinahole project will need 2 megawatts power. Where is the power? Who will pay the cost of the electricity? If the Karnataka government is serious about the Yettinahole project, then why did the cabinet drop the land acquisition process for the Yettinahole? Contractors and pipelines manufacturers are the only ones who will be benefitted by the project.â€ť
According to a report titled â€śYettinahole diversion: An imprudent, Rs. 100 billion propositionâ€ť by the South Asia Network On Dams, Rivers And People (SANDRP), the Yettinahole project would be detrimental to the local river system, just like other similar projects in the Western Ghats.
The report says that the project would lead to massive destruction of forests and landslips. Changing the direction of the river would have an impact on people depending on it for agriculture and fisheries in Dakshina Kannada district.
Among the concerns that the people of Dakshina Kannada have over the project is the projectâ€™s impact on fishing.
State Secretary of the Karnataka Janata Party Ramachandra Baikampady had said earlier this month, "Fishing is as important as agriculture. Fish breeding will be affected and in turn, the fishing activity itself will decline, if the water is taken away."
Asked about alternative solutions, Reddy said that rainwater harvesting could only be a partial solution. â€śWe have seen a continuous decrease in the rainfall in the Kolar, Chikballapur and Bengaluru rural region. The rainfall in the region is half of what it was 25 years back. The government reports also claim that the region has had only 40% of the average rainfall this year. Even if we do implement rainwater harvesting schemes, it will solve only the drinking water problem. What about irrigation?â€ť Reddy says.
In his view, instead of focusing only on the Yettinahole project, the state government should implement other aspects of the Paramashivaiah report and also focus on utilising Karnatakaâ€™s share of water from the Krishna and Cauvery basins.
â€śThe government had implemented check dams, which also failed to deliver. The water problem in central Karnataka cannot be solved unless the government implements Dr. Paramashivaiah's report especially drawing our share of water from the Krishna basin that has been continuously denied. The state government should resolve the disputes between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka." Reddy says