Protest and politics

Published : Jul 18, 2003 00:00 IST

Andhra Pradesh's response to the Paragodu project has been multi-pronged - when the government takes the issue to the Centre and the Supreme Court, the political parties adopt the agitational approach.

in Hyderabad

ANDHRA Pradesh views the Paragodu dam project as yet another attempt by Karnataka to deprive it, the lower riparian State, of its due share of Chitravathi water.

Paragodu has sparked off a major controversy in Andhra Pradesh over a number of projects taken up by Karnataka in the Krishna and Pennar basins. In a multi-pronged offensive, the Andhra Pradesh government approached the Central government and the Supreme Court even as the people of the State staged dharnas and demonstrations. In its complaint to the Centre, Andhra Pradesh said the construction of the dam was a violation of the 1892 agreement between the erstwhile Mysore and Madras States. Though the dam has been projected as one that will serve the drinking water needs of two towns and 88 villages in Karnataka, its storage capacity is being built with an eye on irrigation needs, the complaint said.

The 1892 agreement identified some of the tributaries of inter-State rivers like the Pennar and the Tungabhadra and put restrictions on project works within defined limits of these river systems. The agreement prohibits the construction of new irrigation projects within the whole area north of the Chellur-Bagepalli road without the consent of the then Madras State (now Andhra Pradesh, in this case).

According to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, the Paragodu project was originally meant to irrigate 589 acres besides meeting the drinking water needs of Bagepalli town. When Andhra Pradesh protested, Karnataka modified the project report to show that it was meant to meet the drinking water needs of 88 villages and Gudibanda town, besides Bagepalli. It was designed to store 138 mc ft (million cubic feet) of water, while the drinking water requirement was only about 44 mc ft. Chandrababu Naidu claimed that to justify the large storage capacity, Karnataka projected the population for the year 2051 in the villages and the two towns assuming a growth rate of 2.5 per cent as against the normal 0.9 per cent (which is the rate of population growth in Andhra Pradesh). In a drinking water project, the population is usually projected for 20 years and not 50.

Andhra Pradesh's apprehensions are rooted perhaps in the dispute with Karnataka over the height of the Almatti dam upstream of the Krishna river. Karnataka increased the height of the dam and that is cited as the reason for the ayacut served by the Nagarjunasagar project in Andhra Pradesh not getting enough water last season. The area under the Srisailam hydel project too suffered on this count. In his representation to the Centre, Chandrababu Naidu highlighted the danger posed to the State by a dozen projects taken up by Karnataka in the Krishna and Pennar basins.

"Karnataka's attitude is inhuman. It refused to release 45 tmc ft of water from Almatti to meet the drinking water needs of people dependent on the Nagarjunasagar Project despite my personal request to S.M. Krishna. In return, we offered to share our surplus power with Karnataka. But he was unmoved," Chandrababu Naidu said at a press conference. "I have no objection to discuss the issue with Krishna if work on Paragodu is stopped," he added. But with Karnataka ruling out the suspension of work, the prospects of a dialogue between the States do not seem bright.

THOUGH work on the Paragodu dam has been going on for some time, Andhra Pradesh raised objections only in the end of May. A delegation of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) members of Parliament called on President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on May 26 and submitted petitions to them complaining that Karnataka was harming Andhra Pradesh's interests by constructing "unauthorised" projects in the Tungabhadra and Pennar basins. They also specifically referred to the Paragodu project. The "individual" effort of the TDP drew criticism from other parties. The Congress(I) alleged that the TDP was interested only in gaining political mileage and not in protecting the interests of the State. The BJP was sore that the TDP ignored it.

What precipitated matters between the States was a dharna held on June 6 by the TDP leaders of Anantapur district at Kodikonda checkpost on the Andhra Pradesh-Karnataka border, about 12 km from the Paragodu project site. The atmosphere in the border villages of both the States was surcharged, and TDP leaders who tried to march towards the project site were arrested by the Karntaka Police. Among those held were two Members of Parliament, five Members of the Legislative Assembly and the Zilla Parishad Chairman of Anantapur. Congress(I) leaders from Anantapur district took out a rally in Hyderabad and courted arrest alleging that the State government was in deep slumber when Karnataka obtained the necessary Central permission for these projects.

The ruling party drew flak for treating an inter-State dispute as a party affair and for inciting innocent people on both sides instead of attempting a solution through negotiations. "If the Chief Minister is serious about protecting the State's interests, he should lead the march with Ministers and Opposition leaders like me in the forefront," said Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the leader of the Congress(I) Legislature Party. The Congress(I) initially dismissed the TDP's tirade against Karnataka as an attempt to dilute the impact of Rajasekhara Reddy's padayatra across 11 districts in the State. Later, it joined the campaign considering that the State's interests were at stake.

When Chandrababu Naidu sought the intervention of Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi to "rein in Congress(I)-ruled Karnataka", the focus unwittingly shifted to the Sonia factor with the TDP and the Congress(I) engaged in a heated argument over the relevance or otherwise of the Congress(I) president's intervention. Congress(I) leaders took the stand that the inter-State row could be resolved only by the constitutional heads and that Sonia Gandhi had no role to play.

Chandrababu Naidu criticised the Congress(I) attitude as "unhelpful" and initially brushed aside the demand for an all-party meeting to discuss Paragodu. He subsequently convened an all-party meeting on June 14 and also led an all-party delegation to New Delhi on June 21 to meet the President, the Prime Minister and the Union Minister for Water Resources. The Chief Minister was keen that the all-party delegation should meet Sonia Gandhi also and apprise her of the "unfair game" the Congress government in Karnataka was playing. The Congress president pleaded her inability to meet the team, citing prior engagements. There were no takers for her suggestion that the team could meet Manmohan Singh.

"We wanted to meet Sonia Gandhi as she is well-placed to use her influence over Karnataka Chief Minister and safeguard the interests of Andhra Pradesh. It is unfortunate that she refused to meet us," said Chandrababu Naidu on his return from New Delhi. Congress(I) leaders in the State faulted him for dragging Sonia Gandhi into the picture and argued that she was not a constitutional authority and had little role to play. "Chandrababu Naidu is playing the dubious game of setting the people of the State against the Congress(I) to cover up his government's failures on Paragodu and Upper Thunga," said Congress(I) legislator M.V. Mysoora Reddy.

Though the TDP and opposition parties try to put up a united fight against the neighbouring State, the mutual distrust and discord among them is evident in the statements of these leaders. The Congress accuses Chandrababu Naidu of "cooperating" with H.D. Deva Gowda when he was Prime Minister in raising the Almatti dam height. "If Sonia Gandhi is to be drawn into the picture on Paragodu, why not BJP chief Venkaiah Naidu?" they ask.

At the dharna staged at the border with Karnataka, angry TDP leaders demanded that their party should threaten to withdraw support to the NDA government if it failed to bridle Karnataka. The BJP is understandably unhappy. "Such proclamations by the TDP will not serve the cause of the State," warned Union Minister of State for Commerce Ch.Vidyasagar Rao.

Although the focus is on Paragodu, Andhra Pradesh is more worried about Upper Tunga, which is taken up by Karnataka and which threatens to endanger four major projects downstream in the Andhra region. "In clearing the project, the Central Water Commission has acted as a post office. The CWC clearance should be withdrawn immediately. Otherwise we shall move the court," the Chief Minister warned.

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