Rs 5,300 crore for the Upper Bhadra irrigation project for poll-bound Karnataka


The Bharatiya Janata Party was so focussed on North Karnataka that even while delivering the Union Budget on Wednesday, finance minister Nirmal Sitharaman presented it in a traditional maroon Ilkal handloom saree complete with the famous Navalagund Kasooti embroidery, a craft that is famous from the region. She also announced a grant of Rs 5,300 crore for the Upper Bhadra irrigation project for poll-bound Karnataka, which would benefit northern and central Karnataka.

This is the first irrigation project of Karnataka that has been declared a national project.

One of the promises made by Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai in April last year was to ensure that this crucial project that is expected to help meet the water requirements in the parched regions in north and central Karnataka would be declared a national project. Bommai had to push the Centre to lease the funds for the project which has been pending since 2008.

The CM had said that once the Upper Bhadra project was declared a national project, Rs 16,000 crore would be made available. Sitharaman, however, announced Rs 5,300 crore in this Budget.

What is the Upper Bhadra project?

The Upper Bhadra project is a major lift irrigation scheme under implementation in the central and northern regions of Karnataka state and is being implemented in two phases, both of which are underway. According to the project report submitted by the state government, the Upper Bhadra project “envisages lifting up to 17.40 tmc of water in the first stage from Tunga to Bhadra and lifting 29.90 tmc of water in the second stage from Bhadra to Tunnel near Ajjampura, in Tungabhadra sub-basin of Krishna basin”.

With the release of central funds of Rs 5,300 crore, the Upper Bhadra project will help in the irrigation of close to 2.25 lakh hectares of land with around 19 tmcft of water. This will benefit the drought-prone districts of Chikkamagalur, Chitradurga, Tumkur, and Davanagere and will be done through micro irrigation.

“The primary objective of the project is to provide a sustainable irrigation facility in kharif season and the other objective of the project is to recharge the groundwater table and provide drinking water by filling 367 tanks to their 50% capacity in drought-prone taluks of the above-said districts,” the project report also said.

Key targets

The announcement on the Upper Bhadra project by the BJP at the Centre could serve in achieving two major goals for the state that is heading to elections shortly.

Firstly, it will give a boost to a region that will help the BJP retain its traditional votes, and appease and retain its vote bank in the north Karnataka region, which is one of the party’s strongholds. Internal reports in the state BJP unit have indicated that there has been growing anti-incumbency against MLAs in the region and this major announcement could help safeguard them.

A Narayana from the Azim Premji University says that any announcement made for a state that is heading towards elections is done with an eye on the polls.

“The strategy seems to be to have one big-ticket announcement that will cover and impact a large number of voters at one go rather than one that will not be felt beyond the next day’s headlines. An irrigation project like the Upper Bhadra project will help farmers in the north and central regions of the state, and if you see that a large number of farmers in north Karnataka are Lingayats. This move will help the BJP address the optics and also appease the community that has been putting demands on the Bommai government recently,” Narayana said.

Secondly, the growing protests by the Panchamasali Lingayats, a sub-sect of the Lingayats that dominate this region have been seeking special reservations and are also largely agriculturists.

“Given the BJP’s focus on North Karnataka, I think the substantive funding that has been given is a move to try and please the voters in that region,” said political analyst Sandeep Shastri. “I must add that for the BJP to do well they will need to get a majority in the Old Mysore region. Empirically it has been seen that no party in Karnataka has managed to get a majority on its own if it has not done well in the Old Mysore region. This Budget had nothing for Bengaluru or the Old Mysore region, which should have been their focus.”

However, Shastri warns that merely giving a grant has not necessarily swayed voters and they would rather vote when they see change happening on the ground.

“By announcing the Budget, by itself does not guarantee votes… This has been proved in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and also in Karnataka,” he pointed out.

Praise, and ‘appeasement politics’ taunt

Bommai thanked Sitharaman and the Union government for announcing the grant.

“On behalf of the whole of Karnataka, thanks to the Finance Minister Smt. @nsitharaman and the Union Government led by Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi for announcing a grant of Rs 5,300 crore for the Bhadra Upper Bank Project in this year’s Union Budget,” his Twitter post said.

Karnataka’s water resources minister Govind Karjol said that no other state has been allocated so much money after being converted into a national project.

“This project will be useful for us to provide water to drought-prone regions and their people,” he said.

All the major political parties have been trying to shore up support for themselves in this election by pitching to “quench the thirst” of the voters by making promises of addressing or clearing pending irrigation and drinking water projects in the North Karnataka region.

The JDS reacting to this announcement called it “appeasement politics”.

“This was a project that was first initiated by HD Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy and the BJP is trying to piggyback on the plans that were laid out by the JDS when we were in power in 2007. The BJP can try and use it, but the people of Karnataka know who gave them that much-needed project,” said KA Thippeswamy, JDS MLC and spokesperson, to News18.

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