According to reports, the Western Ghats, which has made it to the coveted list of World Heritage sites, is facing a serious threat from mini-hydel projects in Karnataka.
According to K. Ramesh, a senior officer of Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd. (KREDL), 76 mini-hydel projects have already been commissioned and 300 are in various stages of implementation.
Sources in KREDL disclosed that permission had been accorded for setting up 72 mini-hydel projects in the Western Ghats. Of these, 44 are coming up along the Netravati and its tributaries.
Environmentalists, who claim that such a large number of projects will have an adverse impact on the sensitive forests in the Western Ghats, have taken legal recourse to address the issue. The Western Ghats Environment Forum (WGEF) and Prashath Yavagal, a Bangalore-based wildlife enthusiast, have approached the Karnataka High Court to stop these “destructive projects”.
Though they are in favour of mini-hydel projects as an alternative to huge hydroelectric projects, environmentalists are opposed to a few projects especially in the evergreen forests in Sakleshpur.
Various environmental organisations, including Heggadde Gram Panchayat Committee, Jeeva Vaividhya Samshodhane Mattu Samrakshane Trust, Praja Vedike and Sakleshpur Taluk Krishikara Vedike in the Western Ghats region, are strongly opposing mini-hydel projects, which, they say, will devastate the eco-sensitive region.
The protesting groups are accusing project proponents of misleading the government. Speaking to The Hindu , Kishore Kumar, president of the Malenadu Janapara Horata Samiti, alleged that the project promoters had falsely claimed that they would implement two projects to escape the mandatory scrutiny by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and were implementing them as “one” project. “If any project requires diversion of above 5 hectares of forest land, then it needs to be sent to the Ministry of Environment and Forests for scrutiny. Similarly mini-hydel projects are allowed only up to 25 MW. To bypass this clause, they are splitting the project into two”, he said. The Forest Department has woken up now and taken serious note of the false submission by a project promoter in one case of serious violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980, he added.
He alleged that mini-hydel companies were constructing roads, erecting pylons for power transmission, felling hundreds of trees and disposing off silt recklessly to implement the project. “They are using ammonium nitrate prills for tunnel blasting, which is disturbing the elephant habitat. This is resulting in increased man-animal conflict in the region”, he noted.
Chairperson of the Western Ghats Task Force (WGTF) Anant Hegde Ashisar told The Hindu that he had already complained about the violation of norms by some projects to Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda. “KREDL has not sanctioned any new mini-hydel units in the last three years as there are problems with those already sanctioned. We will recommend action against companies that have misled the government”, he said.