Water: A pipe dream


Farmers fail to irrigate their fields as water canals run dry in Basavana Bagewadi taluk.

Every morning while leaving for his field, Jayirder, a farmer from Nandyal village in Bagewadi taluk, passes by the dry canals cutting across his village. “The sight makes me anxious, like any other farmer,” he says. He cultivates corn for a living and the success of his crop depends on whether he gets water for irrigation or not. Jayirder is just one of the many farmers in several other villages of the Basvana Bagewadi Taluk, in Bijapur district in Northern Karnataka. Even with the giant Almatti dam, situated a few kilometers away, water is inaccessible to most of the villages in the taluk for irrigation purposes.

The Almatti Dam

A View of the huge Almatti Dam

The Almatti Dam is a hydroelectric project which is built on the Krishna River in the Northern Karnataka. The construction of the dam was completed in July 2005. The Almatti dam produces an annual average of 560 MU of electricity. The Almatti dam is the main reservoir of the Upper Krishna Irrigation Project.

The Upper Krishna Project (UKP)

The UKP is an irrigation project across the Krishna river in order to provide irrigation to the water scarce areas of Bijapur, Gulbarga, Bagalkot, Raichur and Yadgir; districts in Northern Karnataka. The project has been put in place to irrigate 1536,000 acres of land (6,220 square kilometers)

As major dam of the Upper Krishna Irrigation Project, the Almatti power station (290 MW) is located on the right side of the huge dam. The power station uses vertical Kaplan turbines, one 15 MW generator and five 55 MW generators.

At the inception of the project, the estimated costs were calculated as Rs. 14.70 billion.  But as the entire project was taken over by Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL), the estimated budget was slashed by 50 per cent to Rs. 6.74 billion. The highlight of the construction process was that the entire dam completed in less than forty months; that too at a lower cost of Rs. 5.20 billion. The dam is situated on the edge of Bijapur and Bagalkot districts. The dam boasts of a water storage capacity of 123.08 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) at 519 meters MSL (Mean Sea Level). The dam is geographically located in the Bijapur/Bagalkot district. Especially large areas of the Bagalkot district have been submerged due to the filling of the reservoir.

Status Quo

In Basavan Bagewadi Taluk, Bijapur district, Northern Karnataka; the water canals built from the Almatti dam for irrigation purposes to the villages such as Nandyal, Yarnal, Mangoli, Masuti, Kudgi, Malghan, Matara, Kolhar, Golasangi, Gonal, Nidagundi, and Wandal. None of the canals had water and most of them were not even connected properly to facilitate for the irrigation purposes. Maize, which requires less water, was widely cultivation but the production of those water intensive crops, including BT-cotton, was largely stalled due to the unavailability of water.

Mr. Chanda Pira Murthajasa Jayirder is a farmer from the Nandyal village, cultivates maize on his farmland. He has been born and brought up in the Nandyal village. Chanda says, “M.B Patil sir had come to Bijapur the last time and has been promising us that we too will be receiving water for irrigation purposes like in the villages close to the Almatti dam. This is not just the problem in our village, the same is the case with the neighboring villages, those including Yernal and the farmers are in distress in all these villages as well. With Karnataka state elections coming up, the government has been making promises, but we really don’t know what’s going on at the top level. All we need is water and a way out of this misery. We have represented this issue at different levels many times, but water fails to reach us,” he said.

This is happening despite heavy rainfall in the region and Almatti being the first major reservoir in the state to get filled this year. Ironically, M.B Patil (Mallanagouda Basanagouda Patil), the minister for water resources of the Karnataka government, hails from the Bijapur district. Taluks and districts (Mundargi, Ron taluks in Gadag district for example) across the state have been hit hard by irrigation problems.

Haji Malangbhai, a fisherman from the Almatti village, said, “This year we have had a lot of rainfall and that has made my job easier and profitable as well. I earn a living by selling Catla and Pabda; which I catch from the banks of the Almatti dam. The fishes that are caught in the nearby regions get exported, all the way up there to places like West Bengal. And once the dam and the canals came subsequently in the past 5 years, the ‘people’ here (farmers) have really progressed, the canals have been effective in providing water in the Almatti village. This is not just the case with Almatti, but also other nearby villages like Nidgundi, Wandal and Arasangi. Farmers here mainly cultivate jowar and pulses. But, the situation is not the same in faraway villages where the canals are not still in place. My friends there are having a tough time without proper irrigation and to make things worse, this year the unexpected rainfall has adversely affected their crop cultivation.”

From the Golasangi Gram Panchayat, the officials said that the villages close to the Almatti dam are receiving adequate water, but the villages down the line, like the ones that come under our gram panchayat, have been waiting for water for over two years now. They say that this is an issue of great concern and the local farmers are at the miserable and their livelihoods are at stake.



Going through my central character Chand Pira Murthujasa Jayirder

Farmers in the Nandyal village

Mallu P.C, a farmer from Nandyal village, said, “The water problem has been daunting us since decades; affecting our crop and cultivation. The leaders have told that they will be building canals here before the elections, but still, we are waiting. We have tried to represent the issue at various official levels and the result is still being awaited. If the situation goes on like this, our farming will be at risk next year as well.”

The unfinished dry canals have stalled the production of farmers, especially cotton, which is a major crop in the region, especially in villages like Malghan, Mattara, Nandyal & Yarnal. It has been a grave concern for the farmers in the taluk since over a decade now. This is happening despite the state having received adequate rainfall.

Nagaraj, an auto driver from the Yernal village, said, “My family is practicing agriculture since decades and my father is still doing it. But I can’t take that risk. You see the conditions of the canals. Water is pivotal for farming and our village has been rather dry since the time I was born. So I decided to get an auto and support my family. We don’t have many options to choose from.”


Yet another dry water canal in the Masuti village

Almatti Dam Site Visit

The chief executive engineer at Almatti Dam site, B.S Patil, refused to comment and quipped that things don’t work as fast as one would think. He said that the Krishna Bhagya Jalam Nigam Ltd., at KR circle Bangalore, a governement of Karnataka undertaking, is in charge of the Almatti Dam and constructions related to it. Karnataka state Chief Minister Siddaramiah is one among the board members of the company.

K.G Mahesh, Superintending Engineer, Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigam LTD., Bangalore, said, “The water canal projects in the Basavana Bagewadi taluk, Upper Krishna Project(UKP) Stage-1 and 2, with a variety of schemes will be taken up for execution in the current financial year after the model code of conduct which is in place because of the Karnataka assembly elections. But to take the project to the next level ( the UKP Stage-3), to ensure more water for irrigation purposes in the Northern Karnataka, there should be gazette notification of KWDT (Krishna Water  Distribution Tribunal ) award by the Government of India.”

He added that the major challenges in the project are land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement of PDFs (Project Displaced Families). He said that despite the restrictions surrounding the election scenario in the state, they have sought relaxation from the MCC for ongoing tenders.

On the other hand, after numerous attempts to get in touch with MB Patil’s office, they refused to comment since the state has declared elections but assured that all the water problems in the villages in Bagewadi will be solved post elections.




K.G Mahesh said, “The UKP project has been formulated with 65 per cent dependable yield considering 50 to 60 years historic records both flow and rainfall data. In case of lesser rainfall, there is a lot of planned modalities to redress farmer’s problems.”

He said that for places like the Basavan Bagewadi Taluk, they have lot of back up plans like advanced water saving techniques, the likes of  SCADA, GIS-based water management, Tank filling Schemes, conjunctive water use, Micro-Irrigation, PIM, Piped water distribution system, Canal top Solar PV Projects, Modernization canals, Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Programme etc. which  effectively combating water scarcity issues.”

The solution is a quick connection of the canals in these villages. This issue needs to be discussed on a public forum to remedy the woes of the farmers in the taluk.

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