Nanjangud, Feb. 25: Close on the heels of the VHP saffron brigade’s march to Parliament, the seers of Karnataka have taken up the cudgels for matters more mundane — water and the implementation of the Kabini irrigation project.
The campaign began today with a dharna and meeting at Nanjangud, a small town about 60 kilometres from Mysore. Led by Sri Mahantaswamy, head of the famous Devanur math, the seers, including Guruswamy, Krishnamurthy, Bharathi Shanker and Mahadevprasad, all belonging to religious centres in and around Mysore, joined hands with farmer organisations agitating for the past several months for the irrigation project.
Explaining their motivation, Mahantaswamy said religious leaders cannot remain silent when farmers are suffering due to lack of water. “It is our religious duty to see and understand the difficulties of agriculturalists, who toil in the land to give us food,” he said.
One phase of the Kabini project is over, but work on the second stage has been dragging on for decades. Farmers of the region have been waiting eagerly for the completion of the project since it was announced in 1980. Successive governments have doled out promises and assurances, but nothing concrete has happened on the ground.
Ram Gopal, a farmer involved in the agitation, said they decided to protest this year as water scarcity has been more severe than in earlier years, partly because Karnataka was forced to release water for Tamil Nadu from Kabini also. “We have got a great morale booster with the involvement of the seers,” he told The Telegraph.
Once completed, the Kabini project will irrigate more than 1.5 lakh acres in Gundlupet, Chamarajnagar and Yellandur taluks of Chamarajnagar, benefiting farmers of 186 villages.
The project’s foundation stone was laid in 1986-87 by then chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde. But the project survey began only in the late nineties during J.H. Patel’s tenure. Though survey was on, the S.M. Krishna-led Congress government handed over the job to a private agency. Legal hurdles have also come up recently as the Supreme Court has banned expansion of irrigation facilities in the Cauvery basin — parts of the Kabini project fall in basin.
The seers’ involvement in the agitation has alarmed the police and administration. Senior government officers pointed out that the work of law-enforcing agencies will become difficult as the farmers could use them as cover and get belligerent. “We cannot take strong action against these sanyasis, who have a large following in several parts of the state. It is indeed a difficult situation, one that could lead to serious law and order problems in the area,” said a police official.