“Project will cause large-scale land cover changes in the basin”

The Gundia power project in Karnataka should not be permitted as its execution can cause significant environmental impact and biodiversity loss, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) has reported.

The Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) proposed to implement in three stages the project in the Gundia river basin in Hassan and Dakshina Kannada districts to generate 200 MW.

The panel, in its report submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, said the execution would “cause large-scale land cover changes in this basin.

The impacts on the habitat and biodiversity would come not only from submergence but also associated activity including construction of buildings as well as roads to access the various project sites.”

Township will be hit

The project, according to the Madhav Gadgil-led panel, would “alter the hydrological regime of the river basin.” The Kumaradhara river, a perennial source to the important temple-township at Subramanya, “will lose water due to its diversion to the Bettakumari dam. This may have implications for the pilgrims visiting the temple.”

The “implications of land cover changes for the catchment yield as well as diversion of waters as envisaged in the project are not clear. Current perennial streams could become seasonal [as has happened in the Sharavathi river basin], while the altered hydrology downstream could affect the livelihoods of local people,” the report said.

“The tunnel access to the main underground powerhouse is located in an area of primary forest cover. This location is not desirable as it would cause disturbance to one of the few remaining patches of primary evergreen forests of the Gundia basin.”

Storage dams

The “WGEEP proposes that environmental clearance be not given to any large-scale storage dams in ESZ 1 and ESZ 2. Reportedly, the Karnataka Power Corporation now proposes to reduce the submergence area for the Gundia project by 80 per cent from the original proposal by dropping the Hongadahalla dam. Nevertheless, the other proposed Bettakumari dam comes under ESZ 1.” The panel also noted that the “process of proper assignment of rights under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Rights over the Forest) Act has not been completed” in this case. Hence, it was “quite improper to accord environmental or forest clearance” to it.

The Gundia region “is representative of the biodiversity of the moist western tract of the Western Ghats. Of the plant species found in the basin, nearly 36 per cent are endemic to the Western Ghats, while 87 per cent of amphibians and 41 per cent of fishes are similarly endemic to the Western Ghats. Several species of animals included in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) are also seen in this basin though their abundance may be low.”In many large private holdings in the Gundia basin, large trees such as Elaeocarpus tuberculatus, Calophyllum polyanthum, Vateria indica, Holigarna grahamii and Garcinia indica were unauthorisedly cut down. “In fact, illegal logging is rampant in this region and most of the valuable Calophyllum polyanthum has already disappeared. Likewise, encroachment on forest land by settlers is also common and has contributed to reduction and degradation of forests,” the report said.

The KPCL had “proposed utilisation of water from the Yettinahole, Kerihole, Hongadahalla and Bettakumari streams covering a catchment area of 178.5 sq km in the first stage of the project. The second stage would include Kumaradhara and Lingathhole covering 78 sq.km of catchment area and the third one would involve six streams, including Kumarahole and Abilbiruhole, covering a catchment area of 70 sq.km.”