IN PERSPECTIVE | Will statue save Cauvery?

IN PERSPECTIVE | Will statue save Cauvery?

There is opposition to the Government of Karnataka (GoK) proposal to build a 125-ft high statue of Mother Kaveri in the immediate vicinity of the iconic Krishnarajasagar (KRS) dam, along with some other constructions, including a ‘Disneyland’ entertainment park, at a cost of Rs 1,200 crore. Reportedly, a cabinet decision resulted in government officials scouting the area to identify the land required to be acquired for the project.

Such ‘wish-list planning’ is typical of governments across the country. It goes something like this: some person(s) who have access to persons in power (PiP) think of a project for Rs X-crore, and propose it to the PiP. The PiP say, “Yeah, great idea!”, with one eye on the total cost (making with lightning speed mental calculation of percentages), and the other eye on the political mileage that the project may bring. That is the reason for the planning strabismus (crossed eyes) from which all governments, including our very own GoK, suffer.

But what about the people? Oh, people?! The project will help boost tourism, say the PiP, failing to recognise that most of the benefits of tourism flow out of the area of tourist attraction, leaving the ill-effects of environmental degradation at the site, as tourists in their daily thousands leave tons of waste to ruin the heritage Brindavan Gardens, created by Bharat Ratna Sir M Visveswaraya, the doyen of creative planning and engineering. This is in addition to the irreversible ecological ill-effects of creating the tourism infrastructure.

People are opposing the Rs 1,200-crore Cauvery statue project for multiple reasons. Farmers who stand to lose fertile land along with livelihood argue that they have no objection to a statue of Mother Cauvery, but it should not be located where they lose land and, consequently, their livelihood. Some ask why this money cannot be used to pay distressed Mandya farmers for their sugarcane produce immediately rather than make them wait six months.

Engineers advise that the inevitable blasting required for excavation for the foundation of the 125-ft high statue, and making a deep excavation so close to KRS dam, can endanger the safety of the dam structure. They call for careful hydrological and geological investigations. Then, of course, there is a need for an environmental impact assessment —which includes social impact —according to the Environment Protection Act, followed by an environmental public hearing. All these are essential before agreements are signed, tenders are issued and contracts are concluded.

It is clear that raising a statue to Mother Cauvery and praying to her will not save the river, which is being preyed upon by building roads, rail routes, power lines, natural gas pipelines, etc, through Kodagu district.

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The loss of forest cover and large-scale human occupation of Kodagu district over the years is not only increasing human-animal conflict but killing the very source of the Cauvery itself. Even the most sincere prayers to Mother Cauvery, the speechless victim of thoughtless development, cannot change this.

Today, Cauvery river does not reach the sea for over two months a year, and loss of forest cover over the decades, combined with sand-mining and rampant water extraction, are the established causes. The GoK needs to spend money to urgently plan and execute measures to protect, preserve, conserve and restore the river. Such measures and expenditures, far from meeting with public opposition, will receive active support and surely provide long-term political benefit.

The argument that land for the project is (mostly) government land and that the project will be funded by the PPP model does not answer the above questions or put the above doubts and fears to rest.

Citizens wonder whether Rs 1,200 crore would be better spent providing education, health and welfare services. Such funds spent, even in PPP mode, can build schools or pay Anganwadi workers or write off farmers’ debts, just as easily as it can erect statues. But this, of course, only if PiP is interested in people-centred planning.

It is strange that some politicians who are promoting the project are from the party that criticised Gujarat’s Statue of Unity. Politicians, howsoever high and mighty, must understand that they are being critically watched by the people, whom they have sworn to serve.

Prayers to a Mother Cauvery statue by the high and mighty will not supply water to the millions of the ‘Children of Cauvery’ in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu who cry for water even as projects destroy the river at its source. When will governments listen to the anguished cries of people for the basics of life, instead of heeding the whispers of the initiators of the cross-eyed planning of wish-list projects?

The PiP might like to conduct a rethink of the Mother Cauvery statue and Disneyland project and drop it in favour of people-friendly projects to revive the river, which can provide relief to her children who perennially suffer for want of water.

(The writer is a retired major general of the Indian Army)