While the entire State of Karnataka is bedevilled by water and power crisis, CM Kumaraswamy and coalition leaders are soaking up the sun in resorts and plush hotels, leaving the beleaguered citizens to fend for themselves
As parts of Karnataka reels under drought, people are hankering for a pot of water. Governance deficit that has plagued the State since the day the Congress-JD(S) coalition took the oath, has resulted in water crisis, power crisis, infrastructural woes in town and cities without anyone concerned in the government. With the leaders of the two coalition parties at loggerheads, the state is staring at a political crisis too.
Former CM of Karanataka Siddaramaiah with current CM Kumaraswamy
The Chief Minister has however chosen to relax and unwind after political campaigning ended after April 18 with stays in exotic resorts and nature cure spas. While the people of his State are struggling to find a bucket of potable water, Kumaraswamy chose to undergo expensive treatment of Panchakarma, Yoga, Oil Therapy the nature cure treatment at the Sai Radha Health Resort near Udupi. It was reported locally that Kumaraswamy underwent the Ayurvedic treatment for almost a fortnight.
According to the Karnataka water resources department, large reservoirs in the State have only 20-30% water while during the same period last year, they had 30-40% of the mandated capacity With the CM’s absence, the government was close to collapse as the coalition became a platform for personal attacks and charges. Few Congress MLA’s loyal to former CM Siddaramaiah started to make statements in public that they consider him as their CM and Kumaraswamy was only a namesake. This ruffled the JD(S) camp which hit back saying that Congress would not be in power had they not come together and demanded that the party rein in its MLAs. JD(S) leaders think that it is indeed Siddaramaiah himself who is letting the MLAs loose in public with the hope that he might return as CM again if he plays his cards well.
Karnataka Reels Under Dry Spell
While the ruling JD(S) and Congress and the opposition BJP are in a game of one-upmanship by pointing fingers at each other ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the prolonged dry spell has affected the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people across the State’s rural hinterland. Adding fuel to dereliction of duty by the Cong-JD(S) combine is the severe water shortage in the reservoirs of the State. Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) has said that the rain received between September and March was less than 40-60 per cent of what the State received in 2017-18. Despite this data, the government failed to act before the severe water scarcity hit the State in peak summer. With the dry spell continuing till late April, the situation has only aggravated.
Women in queue to take water as the State faces acute water crisis
The Krishnarajasagar (KRS) reservoir has a capacity of 45.05 TMC of water. The people of Bengaluru, Mysuru, Madikeri, Mandya, 45 other towns and 625 villages depend on the water from the Cauvery river for their daily needs. Today the KRS is left with only 10.26 TMC of water. Another major source of water for North Karnataka regions is the Tungabhadra dam. It is at just 3% of its live capacity of 100.86 TMC, having just 3.42 TMC of water to cater to the needs of people of at least 5 large districts. Almost all the dams in the state have less storage than what it was during the same period last year. According to the Karnataka water resources department, large reservoirs in the State have only 20-30% water while during the same period last year, they had 30-40% of the mandated capacity.
Karnataka’s Water Resources Minister DK Shivakumar has been a minister in absence ever since the dates for the Lok Sabha polls were announced. While he has been busy managing the coalition and saving himself from IT raids, the Water Ministry has been left orphaned
North Karnataka seems to be the worst affected and the situation is no better in other districts of north interiors of Karnataka. Already more than 500 villages are dependent on tankers to meet their drinking water requirement. Even Kodagu, which faced an unprecedented flood and drought during monsoon last year, is facing drinking water problem because of long dry spells. Adding to the woes, the temperature in districts of Ballari, Raichur, Koppal and Kalaburagi has already touched 37 degrees. Availability of drinking water has already become a challenge as wells have dried up and borewells are also fast running dry. Farmers and their families are the worst affected. The government has said that it is taking measures to curtail water crisis and has started to secure the existing water sources for rational use without giving it for standing crops, especially paddy.
There are drinking water problems in over 2,200 villages, and the government says that 1,800 tankers and 1,300 private borewells have been rented. But the crisis is far from over. With the government in a firefighting mode to save itself, all the cabinet and district ministers are busy in hectic parleys with the party high command. The people are left to contact the private tankers themselves and are ending up paying a huge sum to the tanker providers.
Karnataka’s Water Resources Minister DK Shivakumar has been a minister in absence ever since the dates for the Lok Sabha polls were announced. While he has been busy managing the coalition and saving himself from IT raids, the Water Ministry has been left orphaned. DK Shivakumar is so powerful that none in the Congress or the coalition have the courage to question, including the CM. While the Congress in the centre and state are dependent on DK Shivakumar to manage the alliance, there is no one to question his performance as the Water Resources Minister.
Longer Dark Nights in Karnataka
In October last year, HD Kumaraswamy had blamed the centre for not allocating enough coal to the State. However, both Minister of Coal Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan had refuted the charges and provided the amount of coal provisioned to Karnataka in a press conference. It is evident the mismanagement has led to the power crisis in the state.
Raichur Thermal Power Station (RTPS) which has a capacity to generate 1720 MW of power, is the nodal thermal power generation unit in the state. But today it is plagued with technical issues and was shut down for many days in early May. The government has not taken any measures to set things right at the RTPS. The sixth unit in RTPS was shut down in May 1st week owing to leakage in its boiler tube, while power generation in the fourth unit was affected because of a technical problem at its electrical section. Frequent shutdowns at RTPS has lead to blackouts and shortage of 420 mw of power supply to Karnataka which is already under the grip of power shortage adding to the woes of severe heat condition prevailing.
The RTPS units are frequently tripping owing to technical problems because of the company facing a severe shortage of Engineers. The government had promised that all such appointments would be completed before February, a promise it could not keep. Further, Kannada media had reported that the Gaskets supplied for the units from Andhra Pradesh have been found to be bad quality and alleged corruption in the supply deal. The government has turned a blind eye to the charges, given rise to doubts about the involvement of a powerful minister in the coalition government. The total working capacity of Eight units of RTPS is 1720 MW and out of this at present, the Six units generated only 900 MW.
The power generation in Hydel plants is not looking bright either with the generation having come down due to the shortage of water in the Reservoirs. Talks with Maharashtra and Goa on water and power sharing have come to a standstill owing to the bloated egos of the Cong-JD(S) combine as both the states have a BJP Government. Any deal with them for water will be seen as a largesse on the part of the BJP for the people and Karnataka, a message that the Cong-JD(S) is trying to avert at the cost of common man’s livelihood, only because the BJP in the state should not benefit from it.
Infighting Affecting Governance
A few days ago, clashes broke out between Congress and JD(S) workers during the elections for the milk federation in Kolar. JD(S) workers attacked a local Congress leader after a heated argument, alleging that he had promised Rs. 25,000 or a bike for the voters. Later Congress workers thrashed JD(S) workers. Though there are no physical fights between Cong-JD(S) coalition leaders in public like in Kolar, it is only indicative of the near collapse of the coalition in Karnataka. Leaders of both the parties have their grudges against leaders of other party and bonhomie that was displayed in public till recently is also fast disappearing. Siddaramaiah has his own ambitions to be the CM again and it is said that many in the Congress are not happy with him for this reason.
Lok Sabha election in Mandya laid bare the shenanigans of the Cong-JD(S) combine. While the Congress had plans to shield Sumalatha Ambareesh as its candidate in the key constituency, given the goodwill late actor and Sumalatha’s husband Ambareesh had, the CM was adamant on having the constituency for his son Nikhil. After hectic parlays, Mandya went to JD(S) with Nikhil Kumaraswamy becoming the coalition contestant. A disgruntled Sumalatha did not take it lying down and declared that she would contest as an independent. Grapevine in Mandya says that though many Congress MLAs in the region agreed to the arrangement in public, in private, they vowed to work for Sumalatha. With BJP too not putting up a candidate against Sumalatha, the CM had his task cut out. An angry CM had hit out at the Congress for not honouring the ‘coalition dharma’. Congress leaders blamed the crisis on the CM’s love for son and putting family above coalition. This blame game was just the start of what was to follow.
After the Lok Sabha polling ended in the State on April 18, it was as if there was no one to control or manage the coalition. The CM was busy in hopping from Ayurvedic spas to resorts and the ministers were busy calculating their political future. The state which had seen a collapse in governance in the run-up to the polls was hoping that things would improve after April 18th. However, that was not to be. Prominent Congress leader from Belgaum, Ramesh Jarkiholi threatened to quit Congress along with several MLA’s citing disrespect to his persona by the coalition leaders. It is said that importance given to another Congress leader Lakshmi Hebbalkar who enjoys the support of strongman and Water Resources Minister DK Shivakumar, had Ramesh Jarkiholi in knots. Lakshmi Hebbalkar’s interference in the Belgaum district administration and local co-operative society elections and DK Shivakumar’s support for her had riled up Ramesh Jarkiholi who even had a verbal duel with both. Jarkiholi and his supporters are said to be waiting for the results on May 23 before making any move.
The brouhaha does not end here. Recently, JD(S) leader GT Devegowda claimed openly that many JD(S) supporters had voted for the BJP in Mysuru as they did not want to vote for the Congress candidate. The hatred for the coalition at district level was out in the open again. JD(S) State President H Vishwanath sniped at Siddaramaiah’s tenure as CM and wondered if at all he had provided best governance why was the Congress reduced to 78. He also said that Siddaramaiah was bent upon breaking the coalition only to pursue his CM ambition again. Ironically, Vishwanath was in the Congress when Siddaramaiah was the CM and quit the party and joined JD(S) as a mark of protest over highhandedness of Siddaramaiah. Siddaramaiah was in the JD(S) and joined Congress in 2006 to thwart the influence of leaders like Vishwanath in the Mysuru region. Siddaramaiah hit back at JD(S) state president saying that he is jealous of him and will not give importance to what he says.
As the bickering the coalition continues, governance suffers. The Congress is struggling to keep its flock together. The JD(S) which has been reduced to just four districts in the State does not want to let go of the ruling power it got unethically without the mandate of the people of the State. The government and governance in the State is on auto-pilot and in the hands of the bureaucracy. With no public representative in the ruling coalition to hear to their woes, common people of the state are seeing the vagaries of having a riff-raff ensemble of parties ruling. Many are blaming themselves for not giving a decisive mandate in the 2018 assembly elections. An aged lady whom I spoke to in Tumkur sums up the government in the State. “A father interested in his family being in power. A CM interested in the political future of his son. A party that can't sees farther than the next election. With these in power, the people of the State are as good as orphans”, she said angrily.