Underground power station plans in Western Ghats raise concern

The Sharavati river winding through the dense forests of the Western Ghats.

The Sharavati river winding through the dense forests of the Western Ghats.  

Project envisioned to generate 2,000 MW of electricity; activist calls it ecological disaster

An underground pipeline connecting two major reservoirs, and power stations situated underneath a pristine reserve forest are part of an ambitious ₹5,000-crore project that environmentalists say will leave an indelible mark on the flora and fauna of the Western Ghats.

The Sharavati Pumped Storage project, envisioned to generate 2,000 MW of electricity, is situated just 3.5 km from the Sharavati Wildlife Sanctuary and is expected to consume nearly 150 hectares or 371 acres of Jog Reserve Forest. The forests come between the sanctuary, Aghanashini Lion-tailed Macaque Conservation Reserve, and is part of the key, contiguous forest corridor of the Western Ghats.

The project cleared the very first step, gaining pre-construction clearance at the site from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on August 9.

According to Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd. report, the project “would perhaps be one of the biggest pumped storage schemes in India.” A large power house and two 3.8-km-long pipes would be laid between the existing Talakalale and Gerusoppa reservoirs, using the 450 m height difference to generate power.

However, the report notes that the pipelines, power house and transformers will be placed underground — even up to a depth of 312 m. This installation will take place through a “cut and cover” method, which will entail cutting out the trees, excavating soil and then filling it back once the power station is completed in an estimated five years time.

“This stretch is dense evergreen forest. Even if it is underground, construction will see cutting of thousands of trees, setting up of township and new roads. It is an ecological disaster that will destroy a vital habitat of the endangered lion-tailed macaque,” said Akhilesh Chippali, a wildlife activist from the region.

Eco-sensitive zone

The proposed area of construction comes within the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) limits as shown by the December 2015 draft around Sharavati Wildlife Sanctuary, particularly in the N. Talakalale village. Once ESZ norms are applied, the area would see a near prohibition on new hydro-electric projects.

However, in their letter to the MoEF, the project proponents have only mentioned that Gerusoppa village — which comes on the other side of the reservoir — has been excluded from the ESZ list.

“This is sheer manipulation of the ESZ area. The project falls entirely in ESZ area,” said another activist.

EIA only

However, Kumar Naik, Managing Director, clarified that the permission accorded was not for construction and was for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report only.

“It is for experts to say how ecologically sound the project is. If there is an adverse report, the project will not go on,” he said, adding that the letter presented to the MoEF committee was “based entirely on fact”.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 10:19:15 AM |

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