Panel sends Mekedatu back to the drawing board

An expert committee which reviewed the Mekedatu project has told the state government to go back to the drawing board and find better alternatives while stressing the need for an amicable solution between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu before it reconsiders the project.

The Mekedatu Balancing Reservoir project, conceived to supply water to Bengaluru, envisages storing 67 tmc water and generating 400 MW electricity by building a gravity dam to store 67.16 tmc water at Mekedatu, of which about 4.5 tmc will be supplied for drinking water purpose to Bengaluru. However, it will lead to the submergence of 7,862.64 acres of Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and 4619.63 acres of reserve forest, which seems to be too much, the panel has said. 

In June, the Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Limited (CNNL) submitted a pre-feasibility report to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change seeking approval for terms of reference, the first step in obtaining a series of clearances for the project estimated to cost Rs 9,000 crore. 

However, the 15-member expert appraisal committee (EAC) has found several problems with the proposal, including the disastrous effect on environment, despite socio-economic and ecological benefits.

The committee has stated that the state government has not studied alternatives for the project. “There is no consideratio of alternative sites and rather two options at the (same) location of different dam height have been considered. It requires to be revisited and the best alternative be decided after a detailed study,” it said.

The committee took note of the pros of the project like increased water surface, boost to groundwater table, drinking water for wildlife and the creation of new habitats. However, it said the diversion of 12,345 acres of land “seems to be very high” and suggested that the authorities attempt optimisation of the land required for the project.

The Karnataka government, which got a shot in the arm following the Supreme Court verdict allocating additional water to the state, has found Mekedatu project to be the best way to utilise the water. Tamil Nadu has been opposing the project from day one. 

The committee has suggested that both the states resolve the issue, noting that Tamil Nadu has been requesting the ministry not to grant terms of reference to the present proposal.  There was no clarity on whether the settlement was mandatory before submitting the proposal. DH could not reach the committee chairman despite repeated attempts. However, an official said the EAC would only speak to the agency submitting the proposal.

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