More than 60% of land needed for the Mekedatu Balancing Reservoir project will be in the core area of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, according a pre-feasibility report prepared in June.
Of the 52.52 sq. km needed for the project, 31.81 sq. km comes in the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, while another 18.69 sq. km is adjacent forest land. Just 2.01 sq. km is revenue or private land.
The report, a copy of which is with The Hindu , states that the ₹9,000-crore project will utilise an additional 4.75 tmcft of drinking water to provide for Bengaluru Metropolitan Region, will store flood waters to prevent it from “escaping to the sea” and to generate 400 MW of energy.
Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Ltd. (CNNL), whose officials have refused to comment on the matter citing “sub-judice and sensitive politics around the matter”, has applied to the Ministry of Environment and Forests for Terms of Reference which forms the first step in a long process of approval that will involve environment, forest and wildlife clearances.
The Mekedatu project has come under controversy with Tamil Nadu vehemently opposing construction on fears that the project will result in lower release of water to the State; while, environmentalists fear large-scale, irreversible damage to the eco-system at the wildlife sanctuary.
The pre-feasibility document offers a glimpse into environmental damage due to the project. Maps show that a linear path along the existing forest land along the river will be submerged, cutting off many wildlife and elephant migratory routes. The Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the Mysore Elephant Reserve notified in 2002.
The sanctuary is the only habitat in the State for the near-threatened grizzled giant squirrel, apart from harbouring honey badgers, endangered and endemic Deccan Mahseer fish, smooth-coated otter and oriental small clawed otter, Indian Pangolin, the endemic Madras tree shrew, and the Kollegal ground gecko, among others, notes the report.
Sanjay Gubbi, wildlife biologist, says the project will cut off elephant corridors completely in the region, isolating north and southern reaches. “Villages here are already facing high human-elephant conflict. Several human deaths have taken place in the area, and any further fragmentation of wildlife habitats will escalate the conflict situation, causing mammoth suffering and losses to communities,” he said.
Moreover, the sanctuary acts as a buffer to absorb surplus tiger populations from B.R. Hills and M.M. Hills. “If this is lost, there will be human-tiger conflict near B.R. Hills and M.M. Hills...We cannot continue to destroy precious forests which are catchment of our rivers to meet the never-ending demand of Bengaluru,” he said.
The project will also see the displacement of the Iruliga tribals and other residents of five villages: Madavala, Kongedoddi, Sangama, Bommasandra, and Muthathi villages. The report estimates that 250 buildings and houses will be submerged.
Even the popular Bheemeshwari Fishing Camp and Galibore Fishing Camp, apart from tourist spots in Muthathi will be under water.
In the justification of the project, CNNL has said nearly 1 crore people in Bengaluru can be supplied with 135 litres of water per day.
Furthermore, the pre-feasibility report states that the project conforms to the Cauvery Tribunal verdict which says that State has the rights to “regulate within its boundaries the use of water, or to enjoy the benefit of waters within the State in a manner not inconsistent with the order”.