Watching the Yettinahole snake through the undulating terrain of dense forests and rocky outcrops, it is hard to imagine that the docile stream is at the centre of a heated debate.
The natural course of the Yettinahole sees it eventually make its way to the Kempuhole, near Gundia, and then tumbles down crevices and valleys of the Western Ghats to join the Netravati.
The State government, however, would rather have it dragged up in a pipe, churned in a pump rotor, lifted over one of the hills nearby, and flowing down to the arid plains of Chitradurga, to be let out through the taps of Kolar, Chickballapur, Tumkur and Bangalore Rural districts.
The stream is at the centre of the controversial Yettinahole diversion project, which environmentalists call the “Netravati diversion project” and the government more innocuously “Diversion of floodwaters of Netravati river at Sakleshpur.”
Unlike in Dakshina Kannada, where opposition to the project is based on declining flow into the Netravati, in the numerous solitary houses that dot the hills around the Shiradi Ghat — where the Yettinahole is born — the issue is about land and environment.
“If they build dams and lay pipes here, our forests will get destroyed,” said Veerabhadraiah, who owns paddy fields at Kadagarahalli. Around 60 houses in the villages of Alvahalli and Kadagarahalli surround the proposed weir at Yettinahole.
As a team of reporters made its way to the sights of three weirs nearby — there are a total eight spread over either sides of national highway 75 at Maranhalli — villagers stressed on the need to stop the project that will irreversibly scar their lush environs and the fragile harmony they have with the wildlife of the forests nearby.
“It is a project only for unemployed engineers,” ranted H. Devraj.
Even though the villagers say they have seen officials flit in and out for the past four years, they have yet to receive any concrete information on the project. Devi, a resident, said two acres of her land may be taken for the project — according to survey stones — but has not yet received any official intimation.
Two blue markings — perhaps, charting out a dam site — by the streams, and scattered survey blocks are the only signs of the controversial project.
Eight weirs will be constructed across the four streams in the area — roughly 15 km separate the first stream and the last. As much as 24.01 tmcft of water will be diverted every year from the Yettinahole, Kadumanehole, Hongadahallahole and Kerihole for “drinking water purposes”, the State government has informed the Ministry of Environment and Forests in a letter on March 28.
“By calling it a drinking water scheme, the project bypasses stringent forest norms,” said H.A. Kishore Kumar, president of the Malenadu Janapara Horatta Samiti.
He said the project would not only endanger protected animal species such as lion-tailed macaque, tiger, Ceylon frogmouth, mouse deer and endemic snakes, but also lead to increased man-elephant conflict. “Several researchers have put the Gundia area under eco-sensitive region 1. This project will be disastrous to the Western Ghats,” he said.
With the waters, even at their peak, not seemingly enough to supply 24 tmcft, opponents fear that more streams may be tapped. “There may be only 8 or 9 tmcft in the Yettinahole, and the government may extend this project to a lot more streams,” said M.C. Dongre, secretary of the CPI’s Hassan district committee.