Environment Ministry rejected forest clearance to Kalu dam in Thane district

While irregularities were surfacing in irrigation projects around Mumbai in early April, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) rejected forest clearance to the Kalu dam in Murbad taluka of Thane district, which would have submerged around 1,000 hectares of forest land.

Work started last October without permission from the MOEF, and Indavi Tulpule of the Shramik Mukti Sanghatana said hundreds of trees were chopped, in blatant violation of the Forest Conservation Act. The dam didn't have approvals from the MoEF, there was no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), or rehabilitation and resettlement plan, or a public consultation, according to a statement from the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) and the Sanghatana, both of which have been raising this issue.

Public interest litigation

It isn't Kalu alone that is fraught with irregularities. In the case of the Kondhane dam in Karjat, similar violations have been raised in a public interest litigation in the Bombay High Court, filed by Anjali Damania of India Against Corruption (IAC) and some other groups, which is coming up for hearing on May 11. Kalu is just one of the 15 or so dams coming up in the adjoining Thane and Raigad districts of Mumbai, aimed at increasing the drinking water provision in areas under the Mumbai Metropolitan Development Region Authority (MMRDA) and Navi Mumbai.

According to activists of the Shramik Mukti Sanghatana, 18 villages, with around 18,000 inhabitants, mostly tribals, would be displaced by the Kalu dam, financed by MMRDA. The FAC's rejection is based on the premise that there is ‘no respect for the laws of the land,' according to a site inspection report in January by the Regional Chief Conservator of Forests.

After the Sanghatana filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Bombay High Court, the construction on the dam was stayed in March. According to SANDRP and the Sanghatana, when the Regional Chief Conservator of Forests, Central Zone, visited the dam site, he was shocked by the extent of destruction. In his report submitted to the MoEF, he said the project proponents had no respect for the laws of the land and ‘took permissions from the MoEF for granted.' The statement said the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC) gave the work order to a contractor in May 2011, but submitted the proposal to the MoEF only in August 2011. In addition, KIDC grossly underestimated the number of trees to be felled, and the villages that would be affected. It didn't even consider those villages which were to be cut off by the dam.

Displacement of tribals

The FAC said “it has taken note of the complaints received regarding this dam, and also that the State government hasn't submitted any of the reports requested by the MoEF.” SANDRP said there were multiple dams coming up in the ecologically-sensitive Western Ghats around Mumbai, and a punitive measure would set an example for the remaining dams coming up too. Most of these dams have no EIA, environmental clearance, public consultations, Social Impact Assessment, or independent monitoring and scrutiny. They all displace tribals without their consent, or without any rehabilitation plans.

In March, tribals led by the Kashtakari Sanghatana took a morcha to the MMRDA offices in Bandra to oppose these dams, which were to supply water to the cities. Brian Lobo of the Sanghatana said the government must first create an efficient water distribution network, plug all leakages and misappropriation of water, and conduct a Water Audit for the entire MMRDA area. A recent report by the Paani Hakk Samiti and YUVA States that while 3,350 million litres of water is supplied to Mumbai daily, approximately 1,000 million litres is lost due to leakages, rusted pipes, or from pipes that have been sabotaged.

The Sanghatana opposed dams to provide water to the entire area falling under the MMRDA, including the Municipal areas of Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan-Dombivli, Ulhasnagar, New Mumbai, Vasai-Virar, Mira-Bhayandar, and called for immediate cancellation of the Kalu, Susari, Shai and Balganga dams.

For the past hundred years, dams, which have been constructed in the rural areas of Thane and Raigad districts to supply water to Mumbai, destroyed the lives and livelihoods of Adivasis and farmers, the Sanghatana said. It criticised the “skewed policies of the government, which displaced Adivasis while providing the mega-cities of Mumbai-Thane and its suburbs with an uninterrupted supply of water from these dams.”

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