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Netravati Diversion Project opposed

By Our Staff Correspondent

MANGALORE FEB. 21. Even as the Government is struggling to evolve a perfect river water policy, its plan to turn the West flowing rivers to East has come in for criticism from various organisations in the three districts surrounding the Western Ghats.

The Netravati Diversion Project, which is being studied with Rs.5 crores released by the Government, the greens feel, will affect Dakshina Kannada as the district is dependent on the river for irrigation and drinking water.

Experts in the district have expressed concern over this ``environmentally disastrous'' project, while the common people are asking why the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats be pillaged for natural resources?

The catchment area of the Netravati, which is a part of the Western Ghats, is recognised as one of the 25 hotspots for bio-diversity conservation in the world.

It also forms one of the largest expanses of natural grasslands and Shola forest eco-system in the Western Ghats. This range of Western Ghats is home to several endangered species of wildlife, including the tiger, the lion tailed macauqe and the great pied hornbill.

Apart from being the lifeline of the district, the Nethravati has several tributaries keeping alive the hydro-system of the Western Ghats by feeding excess water into the streams, small rivers and rivulets. Its water percolates into the ground during summer ensuring greenery throughout the year.

The former Law Minister, M.C.Nanaiah, told The Hindu that the Government had no authority to question what the river did with the extra water it received during monsoon. He said even before the State studied the river diversion programme, it should stabilise the inflow of other West flowing rivers by taking various steps to ensure storage of water for the three districts — Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu and Uttara Kannada.

Calling the Netravati River Diversion Project as ``disastrous,'' Mr. Nanaiah said that it was not necessary that the river be diverted to feed water to upghat areas. But by efficiently managing the available river water such as the Hemavati, Cauvery and their numerous tributaries, it was possible to meet the irrigation and domestic demands.

The Netravati River Diversion Project proposes to form a series of canals at mid-elevation of the Ghats starting from Gadikal Gudda near Naravi passing through Shirlal, Elaniru, Didipe, Charmady, crossing National Highway 48 and the Southern Railway line near Shiradi Ghats and across the ridgeline of Yettina Holae.

A second garland canal is proposed south of Shiradi from Surlabi Betta through Koikaslu Betta in the Kumaradhara catchment. Another canal is also proposed for the catchment of the Bhadra that joins the Garland canal from the Netravati catchment near Samse.

According to an observer, Niren Jain, the project proposes to form 38 reservoirs across 38 streams in the Western Ghats submerging about 77 sq km of pristine grassland and Shola forests mainly located near Kadmane, Yettina Holae, Yedakumeri, near Shiradi, Keri Holae, Hongada Holae, Yeruthi Holae and Lingada Holae in the Kumaradhara catchment area.

Ancillary damages to form these 38 reservoirs spread across the Ghats in the form of access roads and canals in addition to those areas mentioned earlier. The local governments of Dakshina Kannada, including gram panchayats, the Zilla Panchayat and the Mangalore City Corporation have expressed reservations against the project. Some of them, which are ruled by the Congress, had not committed their opposition to the project apprehending the wrath of the Government but the more vocal fora such as the Mangalore City Corporation despite being ruled by the Congress have expressed their opposition as the Corporation draws water for Mangalore city from the river.

The Opposition Leader in the Corporation Council, Shankar Bhat, said changing the course of the Netravati would affect the people depending on the river for sustenance. He pointed out that the district administration had banned lifting of water for irrigation from the river by farmers from January.

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