Nearly six months after the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (MWDT) greenlighted the completion of the Kalasa-Banduri project, the State government has started the lengthy process of getting clearances from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
Adopting the same route attempted in the case of the Yettinahole river diversion project, Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Ltd. (KNNL), which is executing the Kalasa-Banduri project worth nearly ₹850 crore, has claimed that the drinking water project is out of the purview of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). The project aims to provide water to Belagavi and Dharwad districts.
“The Kalasa-Banduri Drinking Water Supply Scheme doesn’t envisage creating a new command area or providing water to suffering existing command areas for irrigation. Furthermore, the project doesn’t involve hydro-electric power generation also. Hence, the proposed project does not find place in the schedule of EIA Notification, 2006, and its subsequent amendments in 2018,” states a letter sent by the chief engineer, KNNL (Malaprabha zone), to the Director of River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects, MoEF.
KNNL submitted documents to bolster its claim to the MoEF on May 2. Project officials are hopeful the ministry will agree with their stand, saving them nearly a year in processes such as public consultation and preparation of EIA reports.
However, officials are aware their reasoning may not be enough. A similar claim was made for the Rs 13,000-crore Yettinahole project in Hassan district, which envisions the diversion of 24 tmcft of water from tributaries of the Nethravati river for drinking water purposes in the arid hinterlands of the State. The claim was challenged by activists, and eventually the National Green Tribunal ordered KNNL to prepare EIA and Social Impact Assessment reports before going ahead with the project. Work had to be stopped for years as a result.
In the case of the Kalasa-Banduri project, nearly 4 sq.km of forestland is expected to be submerged by the three dams to be constructed across the Haltara, Kalasa and Banduri streams of Mahadayi river. The pre-feasibility report notes that the area to be submerged comprises verdant forests falling in the notified Eco-Sensitive Zone of Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary.
No notification yet
It is after nearly 14 years that the State government is filing for clearances for the project, which has been stuck in a protracted legal battle involving Goa and Karnataka. Prior to 2006, the department had sought forest clearances for this land but the MoEF kept the decision in abeyance until the court cases were resolved. The politically sensitive project saw a breakthrough in August 16, 2018 when the MWDT allowed Karnataka to proceed with it after obtaining the mandatory clearances.
Along with executing the laborious process of getting environmental, forest and wildlife clearances, KNNL is also sending a revised Detailed Project Report to the Central Water Commission for approval within a fortnight. “If we get this approval, we can partially divert Mahadayi water, to the tune of 0.8 tmcft, through 5.3 km of canals we have built on non-forest land,” said S B Naik, executive engineer, KNNL (Kalasa-Banduri).
However, getting this clearance may not be easy, considering the MWDT order has not yet been notified by the Ministry of Water Resources. “It is unusual for a tribunal order not to be notified after so many months. Considering the politics behind the implementation of the project, we hope that after the [Lok Sabha] elections, the Centre will take a stand and notify the order,” a senior official said.
At present, KNNL is revising the cost estimates of the project. In 2013, it was pegged at Rs 840.52 crore, up from the original estimate of Rs 93.98 crore for the construction of two dams as approved in 2000. According to officials, the revised estimate will take the cost up to more than Rs 1,000 crore.