Congress ‘padayatra’ culminates with large rally in Bengaluru

PTI, Mar 4, 2022, 8:51 AM IST

Bengaluru: The Congress in Karnataka on Thursday concluded its ‘padayatra’ (foot march), demanding implementation of the Mekedatu project across the Cauvery river, by holding a large rally in the city.

The second leg of the padayatra with the theme ‘Namma Neeru Namma Hakku’ (Our water, Our right) that began at Ramanagara on February 27, culminated at the National College Ground in Basavanagudi here, after covering a distance of 79.8 kilometres.

The last day of the march today, which saw participation of a large number of people, covered a distance of 11.8 km from Mekhri Circle to National College Ground, causing traffic related issues in parts of the city.

A host of Congress leaders, including AICC General Secretary in-charge of Karnataka Randeep Singh Surjewala, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, state Congress President D K Shivakumar and Leader of Opposition in Assembly Siddaramaiah who led the march, and pontiffs of Mutts were among those who attended the rally.

Addressing the rally, Siddaramaiah accused the Centre of supporting Tamil Nadu in the Mekedatu project issue, for the sake of votes there, and hit out at the BJP government in the state for not putting pressure to get environmental clearance from the Modi government, as they lack “guts”.

Thanking party workers, leaders for the success of the total 9 day-long padayatra from both first and second leg, he said there are no court orders or legal hurdles for the project and urged the BJP governments both at the state and Centre to implement it at the earliest.

Also calling BJP a “factory of lies”, the former CM said they have spread false information and issued ‘benami’ advertisements accusing the previous Congress government of doing nothing for the implementation of Mekedatu project, while the fact is that the government led by him had prepared the DPR for the project.

Calling the padayatra “historic”, Shivakumar thanked the people of the state, leaders and workers of his party and said, “this was the fight for the Mekedatu project- for our water, on our land and with our own money.” Accusing the state government of creating trouble for the padayatra by filing about 10 FIRs against Congress leaders, he said, “We did not fear it, we are ready to face it. This is just the beginning, we will have to take it to the conclusion. We are committed to hold similar rallies and marches across Karnataka in the interest of the state.” Surjewala in his address said, Mekedatu padayatra is not Congress’ protest or a political fight, but a mission to quench the thirst of Bengaluru and surrounding areas.

Alleging that “double engine BJP governments” have betrayed the people of Karnataka, he urged them to implement the Mekedatu project, which is the right of the people of the state.

Kharge questioned the BJP government at the Centre over the delay in giving environmental clearance to the project, while pointing out that the same were being accorded to industrialists quickly.

This was the second leg of the march that ended abruptly in Ramanagara district on January 13, when the third wave of the COVID-19 had peaked.

The march that had initially begun at Sangama, the confluence of Cauvery and Arkavathi rivers at Kanakapura in Ramanagara district, on January 9, was scheduled to conclude at Basavanagudi in Bengaluru on January 19, after spanning a total distance of nearly 139 km.

It was however temporarily halted on January 13, with limited options before the party, amid surging COVID-19 cases, government prohibiting movement of people, and the Karnataka High Court’s strong observations regarding violation of curbs. Several Congress leaders who had attended the march were also infected by coronavirus.

Like in the first leg, cases was registered against Congress leaders including Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases Act invoked, for holding the march in violation of COVID-19 rules, during the second leg too.

Though the padayatra was projected as apolitical, it was seen as Congress’ attempt to mobilise its cadres and consolidate its voter base in the old Mysuru region, which is a Vokkaliga bastion, where Janata Dal (Secular) is its traditional rival and the ruling BJP is attempting to make inroads, ahead of 2023 assembly polls.

Much was at stake for Shivakumar, the man behind this march, as several Congress functionaries believe that it was an attempt by the KPCC chief, ahead of assembly polls, to assert his chief ministerial ambitions, for which Siddaramaiah is also a strong contender.

The party has seen several incidents of political one-upmanship between the two leaders last year.

The march was also seen politically, keeping in mind the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike elections, with the padayatra covering about 15 assembly constituencies in Bengaluru city in the last couple of days.

Both ruling BJP and JD(S) had hit out at Congress calling its march as a “political stunt” ahead of assembly elections next year, and questioned its morality, accusing the party of not putting any efforts to take the project forward while in power.

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has said that his government was committed to implement the Mekedatu project, as he hit out at the Congress for staging padayatra.

The Karnataka government submitted a Detailed Project Report (DPR) to the Central Water Commission (CWC) in 2019, which was then referred to the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA), where it is stuck currently as Tamil Nadu, which is the lower riparian state, has opposed the project tooth and nail.

Karnataka has maintained that the project within its territory will benefit both states as the surplus water stored can be managed between the two during a distress year, and its implementation will in no way affect the interests of Tamil Nadu’s farming communities, as there will be no impact on its share of water.

However, the neighbouring state is of the view that the project would “impound and divert” the uncontrolled water flow due to Tamil Nadu from Kabini sub-basin, the catchment area below Krishnarajasagara, and also from Simsha, Arkavathy and Suvarnavathi sub-basins besides other small streams.

The Mekedatu multi-purpose (drinking and power) project involves building a balancing reservoir near Kanakapura in Ramanagara district. The estimated Rs 9,000 crore project once completed is aimed at ensuring drinking water to Bengaluru and neighbouring areas (4.75 TMC) and it can also generate 400 MW power.

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