A rare sighting of a lone tusker on the Shiradi Ghat Road near here recently has enthused environmentalists who say this should serve as a wake up call to the State Government, which should take a relook at its proposed power projects in the Western Ghats.

Environmental activists have said that the elephant habitat and migratory corridors have been earmarked for destruction in the Shiradi ghats and have called for immediate action to shift the power projects out of the region, which has been identified as one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world. They have pointed out that besides the 200-MW Gundia hydel project, 25 more mini-hydel power projects are proposed to be set up in the Netravati catchment area.

The elephant was sighted near the Kempholey mini-hydel power project site on December 5 at 5.45 p.m. by Niren Jain of the Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation. Mr. Jain, who has photographed the animal, was returning from Hongadahalla after meeting the Expert Appraisal Committee members who are evaluating the demand for environmental clearance for the Gundia project.

The committee has been constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Mr. Jain said the Shiradi ghats had been severely damaged in the recent years due to the submersion and destruction of the rainforests caused by the establishment of the 18-MW Kempholey mini-hydel project and the construction of the Kadmane mini-hydel project upstream.

While the damage caused to the rainforests due to the laying of a railway line, a national highway and an oil pipeline are irreversible, conservationists feel they can definitely help prevent the ill-conceived location of development projects such as the Gundia and other hydel projects. Praveen Bhargav, trustee, Wildlife First, Bangalore, said the sighting clearly established that elephants were using this area and that disruption to the corridor should be prevented.

The sighting also validated the statement of the Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh that the project around the Gundia project site is ecologically sensitive.

Mature bulls such as this tusker travelled a wide range of areas in the forests alone, Mr. Bhargav said and declined to buy the promises of compensatory afforestation, which he said would not help.

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