A Central panel has given nod to the controversial 200 MW Gundia power plant in Karnataka after the State government agreed to drop Hongadhala dam from the project reducing land requirement for its construction.

The fate of the project was lying in limbo for the last few years following protests from environmentalists and local Congress leaders, who alleged that it would threaten the fragile ecology of the Western Ghats.

However, the Environment Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) last month cleared the project after it noted that dam deletion would decrease total land requirement significantly from 1,041 hectares to 478.96 hectares.

Under the first phase of the project, the Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd (KPCL) has proposed building a major dam between the rivers, Hongadahalla and Betta Kumari. Also, there was a plan to build barrages on the rivers, Hongadahalla, Keeri and Yethhinahalla and to join them through a tunnel at Horibetta where power would be generated.

However, a sub-group constituted by the EAC which visited the proposed site objected to the project, saying that major portion of the proposed land as forest cover of moderate density appeared to be secondary growth forests.

While the KPCL claimed that revenue land or private land will be submerged for construction of Hongadhalla storage dam, the sub-group called for its deletion and sought a fresh land use breakup of the total land required at each site from the State government.

However, now “with the deletion of Hongadhalla dam from the scheme, the total land requirement has decreased from 1041 hectares to 478.96 ha (private land 71.98 ha, forest land 113.22 ha and revenue land including river course is 293.76 ha),” the panel noted.

The project was scrutinised by the Western Ghats ecology expert panel headed by Madhav Gadgil for recommending conservation and rejuvenation of the region and to suggest effective measures for implementation of notifications issued by under the Environment (Protection) Act.

After critically examining all the environment related issues, the panel observed that the project proponent had taken action on all the recommendations of the committee.

“The EAC decided to recommend environmental clearance with the conditions that the scheme for disposal of solid waste should cover the integrated project area including from labour colony during construction phase,” said one of its member.

Besides, solid waste from the labour camps shall be collected in bins and no dumping of solid waste will be allowed near any water body or a stream to exclude any health hazard problem to the community, the panel said while seeking adequate budgetary provisions for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

However, the panel has also asked the Environment Ministry to consider the recommendation of the Gadgil panel before according environmental clearance to the project.