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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 50 New Delhi December 1, 2018

Statues and People: Saving River Kaveri

Sunday 2 December 2018, by S G Vombatkere

There is public opposition to the Government of Karnataka (GoK)’s proposal to construct a 125-ft high statue of Mother Kaveri in the immediate vicinity of the iconic Krishna-rajasagar (KRS) dam, along with some other constructions including a “Disneyland” enter-tainment park, at a cost of Rs 1200 crores. 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 govern-ments across our country. It goes something like this: Some person(s), who have access to persons in power (PiP), think of a project for Rs X-crores, and propose it to the PiP. The PiP say: “Yeah, great idea!”, with one eye on the total cost (with lightning speed mental calculation of percen-tages), 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, sometimes 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 degra-dation 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. Visweswaraya, the acknowledged doyen of creative planning and engineering. This is in addition to the irreversible ecological ill-effects of creating the tourism infrastructure.

Reverting to the proposed Rs 1200-crore Kaveri Statue project, people are opposing it for multiple reasons. Farmers who stand to lose fertile land along with livelihood argue that they have no objection to a statue of Mother Kaveri, but it should not be located where they lose land, and consequently livelihood. Some ask why this money cannot be used to pay Mandya farmers for their sugarcane produce immediately rather than make them wait six months, leading to some of them committing suicide due to penury.

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 the KRS dam structure, can endanger the safety of the dam structure. They call for careful hydrological and geological investi-gations. Then, of course, there is need for environ-ment 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 Kaveri and praying to her will not save the Kaveri river, which is being preyed upon by constructing roads, railway routes, power trans-mission lines, natural gas pipelines etc., through Kodagu district. The loss of forest cover and large-scale human occupation of Kodagu district over the years is not only increasing human-animal conflicts, but killing the very source of Kaveri itself. Even the most sincere prayers to Mother Kaveri, the speechless victim of thoughtless development, cannot change this.

Today, the Kaveri river does not reach the sea for over two months every year, and loss of forest cover continuing over decades combined with sand-mining and rampant water extraction are the established causes. The GoK needs to spend money to very urgently plan and execute measures to protect, preserve, conserve and restore the Kaveri river. Such measures and expenditures, far from meeting with public opposition, will receive active public 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 mode, does not answer the above questions or put the above doubts and fears to rest. Citizens wonder whether Rs 1200 crores would be better spent to provide education, health and welfare services. Such funds spent even in the PPP mode can construct schools or pay anganwadi workers or write-off farmers’ debts, just as easily as it can erect statues. But this, of course, if and only if the PiP are interested in people-centred planning.

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

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

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

Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired as the Additional DG (Discipline and Vigilance) in the Army HQ AG’s Branch. His area of interest is strategic and development-related issues. He can be contacted at e-mail: sg9kere[at]

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