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113MW Andhra Lake Wind Power Project a threat to ecology: panel

As Panchabuta had reported in December 2010, Andhra Lake Wind Power Project in Pune district has run into rough weather with the Bombay High Court restraining the promoter, Enercon (India) Pvt Ltd, of the 113.6 MW power project from cutting a single tree until further orders.

The division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice SJ Kathawala issued the interim order earlier this month following a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a Khed-based social worker Dr Dattatraya Kale.

This is the second incident in which land being acquired for Wind power projects are facing problems. As Panchabuta had earlier reported, Kerala cabinet had decided to evict Suzlon from the land that was claimed to be illegally acquired by them and restore the land to tribals at Attapady in Palakkad district.

According to reports, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) has slammed the Maharashtra government for clearing the Andhra Lake Wind Power Project promoted by Enercon (India) Limited.

Situated near the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary here, the 113 MW wind energy project has caused “substantial forest destruction and triggered large scale soil erosion,” according to the panel.

“This project should not have been cleared at all without completing the constitution of a Ecologically Sensitive Zone [ESZ] in the region and the implementation of the Forest Rights Act [FRA],” the panel, headed by noted ecologist Madhav Gadgil, said.

The Hindu has a copy of the report, which has not yet been made public by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which constituted the panel in 2010.

The newspaper first reported about green activists’ concern about the ecological impact of the project on April 10, 2011. The Rs.772-crore project, spread over 14 villages of the Khed and Maval talukas, covers 194.66 hectares of reserve forest land. The report noted that the region is in “biodiversity rich evergreen forests and home to Maharashtra’s State animal, the Malabar Giant Squirrel.”

According to the panel, an ESZ should have been constituted in a 10 km radius of the Bhimashankar sanctuary, according to a 2002 resolution of the Indian Board of Wildlife (IBWL). While noting that no action was taken about the resolution, the panel states that the principal chief conservator of forests (PPCF) had written to the State government in 2004 asking for a proposal, but without any results.

“The Forest Department,” the report says, “is colluding with wind mill project operators in also illegally denying citizens access to these hills… There are many traditional forest dwellers on these hills. Not only are their rights under the Forest Rights Act not being recognised, they are being illegally restrained in their movements on hills they have inhabited for centuries.”

The panel visited the project area on April 14, 2011 after the then Union Environment and Forests Minister, Jairam Ramesh, asked it to look into the matter. The report says no documents relating to the sanctuary were provided to the panel, and that A.K. Sinha, Chief Conservator of Forests, stated that no papers relating to the matter “are traceable in any office of the Maharashtra Forest Department.”

Activists claim that while the project had permission to cut 26,615 trees, more than 3 lakh trees have been cut in the region to construct a 20-km-long road along the mountains to reach the windmill site.

“Apart from substantial forest destruction [including Forest Department estimates of about 28,000 trees being cut] via wide roads cutting huge swathes through Reserve Forest, the wind mill project has triggered large scale erosion and landslides through poor construction of roads with steep gradients, and all this rubble is ending up on fertile farmland and in reservoirs of tributaries of the Krishna.”

However, the Forest Department maintains that all the procedures were followed while granting the necessary clearances to the project. Chief Conservator of Forests Nitin Kakodkar, who has replaced Mr. Sinha, said: “The project has been given clearance only after thorough assessment. It has met with all the preconditions laid down by the government.”

Mr. Gadgil told The Hindu: “The report should be brought out in the public domain and there should be a proper discussion. I sincerely wish this is done soon. We are an advisory body, and the government can make its own decision, if they don’t agree with what we have said.”

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