Karnataka Congress has decided to temporarily halt its Mekedatu padayatra, due to COVID-19 concerns and in the interest of public health, Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Siddaramaiah said on Thursday.
Asserting that the Congress party was not halting its padayatra fearing cases being booked against its leaders or because of the Bharatiya Janata Party government's orders prohibiting it, he said, they will continue their march once the COVID third wave declines and the curbs are relaxed.
"We are concerned about the health of the people in Karnataka, it is our responsibility to see to it that the COVID doesn't spread because of our padayatra, despite taking all the necessary measures we had concerns, so we discussed today. We don't want people to feel that we are responsible for worsening COVID situation," Siddaramaiah said.
Speaking to reporters in Ramanagara after meeting with party leaders and legislators, he noted that the padayatra was to reach Bengaluru by tomorrow evening, where COVID cases are high.
"...so we have decided to temporarily halt this padayatra here. Once the third wave declines and COVID-19 rules are relaxed, we will continue the remaining distance of the padayatra from Ramanagara," he said, as he appealed to party workers not to lose spirit and requested their cooperation.
The Congress' decision to halt the padayatra is following the high court's strong observations and government's last night orders prohibiting inter-district and intra-district (within Ramanagara) movement of vehicles and persons for participating in it.
Also, several party leaders including Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, who had attended the inaugural of the padayatra on January 9, have tested positive for COVID.
The Karnataka high court on Wednesday had questioned the state government as to why it allowed the Congress' padayatra, which is being held in violation of its COVID curbs, and why no appropriate action was taken by the authorities to restrain the march.
It has also asked the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee whether it had obtained permission for the padayatra and whether measures have been taken in compliance with Standard Operating Procedures prescribed by the government to prevent the COVID-19 spread.
The court has asked both the state government as well as the Congress to respond by Friday.
Earlier on Thursday, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had appealed to Siddaramaiah and KPCC President D K Shivakumar to call off their padyatra.
The Congress' 10-day long march demanding implementation of Mekedatu project, to which neighbouring Tamil Nadu is opposed, on its fifth day today, was scheduled to cover a distance of about 15 km from Ramanagara to Bidadi, defying COVID curbs.
The padayatra that began on January 9, was to span a total distance of nearly 139 km, and was scheduled to conclude at Basavanagudi in Bengaluru on January 19.
Police have already filed four FIRs against Congress leaders including Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah, for taking out the march defying COVID-19 curbs.
The Mekedatu multipurpose (drinking and power) project involves building a balancing reservoir near Kanakapura in Ramanagara district of Karnataka.
The project once completed is aimed at ensuring drinking water to Bengaluru and neighbouring areas (4.75 TMC) and also can generate 400 MW power, and the estimated cost of the project is Rs 9,000 crore.