The Yeddyurappa government in Karnataka is currently battling a second wave of floods amid political chaos unravelling with reports of his dipping popularity and infighting within the party. The state government is now attempting to consolidate its power through massive developmental projects, which, however, come at a huge environmental cost.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government has given a go ahead to the proposed 2,000 MW Sharavathi Pumped Storage Hydroelectric project that falls in the middle of the Sharavathi river valley. The project is being pushed by the Yeddyurappa government aggressively despite facing stiff opposition from environmentalists. The project is being run by the Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) and is aimed at generating 2,000 MW of hydroelectric power. The primary concern of the activists is the project falling under within a deeply volatile ecosystem.
The proposed project site falls within the core area of 902 sq km in the Sharavathi Valley LTM (lion-tailed macaque) Sanctuary, which is a habitat for the critically endangered macaques and the Myristica Swamps. The activists stated that construction activity is likely to damage scores of acres of forest land in the Kargal range of the sanctuary. Many also stated that the project will adversely affect the riverbed, a “death knell” for Sharavathi river.
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Speaking to NewsClick, environmental activist from Bengaluru, Leo Saldanha, said, “For the Sharavathi issue, the main concern is also how the state government went back on its poll promise. Yeddyurappa had categorically stated that he would not allow this project. The government is trying to completely overhaul the waterflow of the river, which will take a huge toll on the river and the surrounding forest areas.” He added, “There is no way the project will not cause any harm to the forests. It will lead to fragmentation. The important part here is, the thought process which believes that the city can solve its drinking water problems this way needs to go.”
Forest officials have also stated that the project is not in tangent with Section 29 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which states that any project that causes destruction to the environmental system must not be allowed. However, the Karnataka State Wildlife Board, under Yeddyurappa’s chairmanship recommended the project without any discussion. The matter is still pending with the National Board of Wildlife, while activists in the state are currently building momentum on the ground to appeal to the board to not give further clearances to the project.
Earlier this year in July, a special task force on Western Ghats appointed by the Karnataka government had strongly recommended dropping the plan to draw water from the Sharavathi river to meet Bengaluru’s drinking water needs.
The task force headed by S Chandrashekar submitted its final report to the forest minister Satish Jarkiholi and insisted that no irrigation or other water projects should be taken up in the Western Ghats.
Kalasa Banduri Project
Not just the Sharavathi water project, another major proposal of the Kalasa Banduri project has also been cleared by the central government despite opposition from the residents and even the Goa government. The project proposes to divert water from Mahadayi river (also known as Mandovi) from Kalasa and Banduri canals into the Malaprabha river. The project aims to facilitate drinking water for 13 towns in Dharwad, Belagavi, Bagalkote and Gadag—part of Northern Karnataka that is home to the second most arid region in the country after Rajasthan. "The Environment Ministry has given its nod to the Kalasa Banduri project, almost paving the way for its completion," PTI reported, quoting Karnataka chief minister Yeddyurappa.
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However, activists have suggested that the project will lead to the destruction of the Mandovi river. Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has demanded that the environment ministry withdraw the permission granted to Karnataka, rushing a three-member team to Delhi. He also threatened the Centre that the state would approach the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and file a case against the environment ministry if it fails to accede to its demand.