‘The project will submerge patches of the riparian forests’

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) constituted high-level working group (HLWG) headed by Planning Commission member K. Kasturirangan has said that the government should reassess the impact that the Gundia hydroelectric power project will have on the environment and proceed with it with “extreme caution”.

The HLWG submitted its detailed report on the Western Ghats in New Delhi on April 15.

The HLWG was formed to examine the report of the Madhav Gadgil-headed Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), which was formed to assess the impact of various projects on the ecology of the Western Ghats.

The WGEEP had opposed the project in strong words. It had said the execution of the project would cause large-scale land cover changes in the river basin. “The impact on the habitat and biodiversity would come not only from submergence but also associated activities”, it said and recommended that the MoEF should not to grant the environment clearance to the project.

But, the Kastururangan-led HLWG did not recommend a complete ban on the Gundia project but has said that the government should re-assess the impact that the project might have on the ecology and proceed with extreme caution.

The HLWG noted that the project would submerge patches of the riparian forests, cause fragmentation of forest patches due to tunnelling and road construction, and dry up downstream of Yettinahole, Kerihole, Hongadahalla and Bettakumari. It recommended the Karnataka government to “reassess the ecological inflow in the downstream area based on a thorough evaluation of the hydrological regimes in the area”. Further, it said that “the project should not be given the go-ahead till such a review and reassessment is made”.

The project, proposed by Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd. is on Gundia River, a tributary of the Netravati, to generate 400 MW of power in two phases. The land required for the project includes forest area of 113 ha and revenue land of 263.63 ha. The Karnataka government had got clearances from all agencies for the project, except environment clearance from the MoEF.

Environmentalists, who had been opposing the project, feel that Prof. Madhav Gadgil’s report itself was enough to deny environmental clearance. “Prof. Gadgil had made valid recommendations after assessing the impact of the Gundia project on the flora and the fauna in the region. There was no need for the Kasturirangan group to relook into it. We have been urging the MoEF uphold the Madhav Gadgil’s report”, said H.A. Kishor Kumar, president of the Malenadu Janapara Horata Samiti, which has been opposing the project.

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