Push for mini-hydel plants near sanctuary a threat to elephant habitat

More such projects have the potential of escalating human-animal conflict in Karnataka

Published - July 15, 2017 11:41 pm IST - MYSURU

In a move that could jeopardise the elephant corridor and wildlife movement, efforts are on to permit three mini-hydel projects close to the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. This has the potential of escalating human-animal conflict in the State.

The projects are Shivanasamundra Mini Hydel project (which is an expansion of the original project completed nearly 10 years ago by Pioneer Power Corporation), S.M. Hydro Power Project, and Madhyaranga Energy Pvt.Ltd. The inspection of the area for these projects was conducted on December 17, 2016.

What is intriguing is that the State Wildlife Board, in its meeting held on September 11, 2015, had already rejected the proposal in the case of Shivanasamundra mini hydel, while the other two projects are currently being proposed for which a section of senior officials in the government are keen to accord clearance.

This is also in violation of the High Court of Karnataka order dated October 8, 2013, with regard to WP 14029/2008, that permission given for forestland diversion for projects that fall within elephant habitats, corridors and within the periphery of forests should be reviewed.

Sources told The Hindu that the projects fall within the proposed eco-sensitive zone of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and hence needs permission from the National Board for Wildlife, which has not been obtained. In addition, the project needs clearance under EIA notification 2006, which has also not been obtained.

The Elephant Task Force, constituted by the High Court, specifically visited this project site a few years ago and raised objections about the existing mini-hydel plant due to its impact on elephants. “Hence, permitting its expansion or pushing for new projects will be contempt of court,” sources added.

The Chief Conservator of Forests and Field Director Project Elephant had written to the government (letters dated 26/9/2011, 8/6/2012, and 11/9/2012) that the area was facing severe human-elephant conflictand people have even lost lives due to the disturbances caused by the mini-hydel projects in forest areas along the Cauvery. Sources wondered as to what had changed at the ground level since then to reconsider the original decision to reject expansion of the existing projects or sanction new ones. “There are several other government documents that have recommended the rejection of hydel plants close to elephant habitats. In spite of that, the Forest Department is pushing to clear the projects,” sources added.

A ‘resolved’ issue resurfaces

Efforts to accord clearance for new mini-hydel projects close to the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary has riled wildlife conservationists who point out that this issue was “resolved’’ in 2015 by the rejection of a similar proposal by the State Board for Wildlife.

Documents available with The Hindu indicate that the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) had written to the Chief Conservator of Forests of Chamarajanagar rejecting permission for Basaveshwara Mini-Hydel Project across the Cauvery. It cited the notes of the Additional Chief Secretary of Forests, Environment and Ecology Department to point out that the proposed project was not only close to the proposed eco-sensitive zone, but was in the elephant home range and corridor, and hence should be rejected.

Though the proposed project was outside the protected area, the habitat was in the migratory path of the elephants and hence it would be detrimental to wildlife, said the note from the PCCF.

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