Forest department and environmental NGOs have opposed desilting works in Sirumugai range in Coimbatore District, scheduled to be carried out by the Public Works Department (PWD). The area falls in the backwater region of Bhavani Sagar dam. Forest officials say uncontrolled desilting on the river bed will disturb animals that are dependent on that area for water in large numbers in summer.
According to forest officials, the backwater area where desilting works have been scheduled was leased to the PWD years ago when the dam was commissioned. The backwater area stretches up to 3 km in Pethikuttai and Kothamandi of Sirumugai range in Coimbatore district while the dam is situated in Erode district. Though water in the river recedes in summer, lush grass on the river bed is a source of fodder for several animals throughout the year.
Based on a recent Government Order permitting collection of silt from the river bed, the PWD, which has control over the forest land, has given a contract to a person for operating earthmovers on the river bed for desilting. Forest officials said that three earthmovers have been kept ready on the location.
“It is a sensitive spot for animals in summer as they throng in large numbers to graze the grass and drink water. One can often spot 40 to 50 elephants together as a herd on the river bed. Spotted deer, black buck and gaur are the other animals that depend on the river in large numbers. Uncontrolled desilting will disturb these animals and chances are high that they will stray to other locations, including human habitations in search of fodder and water,” said E.N. Manoharan, Forest Range Officer, Sirumugai.
According to him, farmers have encroached PWD land along one side of the riverbed and grow various crops. Some of them have allegedly erected electric fences to prevent wild animals too. “If animals are disturbed, they might stray to these places that can lead to human and animal casualties,” said Mr. Manoharan.
Going by govt. order
When contacted, a PWD (Water Division) official from Bhavani Sagar dam said that the desilting was scheduled to begin on Wednesday and it is based on the relevant Government Order.
“As per the order, a farmer can use 75 cubic metres of silt for one acre of land. The PWD is helping them collect the silt by operating earthmovers at the site charging a nominal fee of ₹ 100 per unit. The contract was given to a person through tenders and pooja was held on May 21. But the contractor is yet to begin the works,” said P. Thirumoorthy, assistant executive engineer, PWD. He said that farmers have been collecting silt from the river bed since 1992 and earthmovers were operated by them till May 20, a day before pooja was performed.
When asked about encroachments by farmers on PWD land, he said that notices are being issued to evict them.
Meanwhile, Coimbatore-based NGO Osai has written to the District Collector of Erode requesting him to regulate the desilting works. “Pethikuttai and Koothamandi are hot spots for wildlife. We have asked that the Collector should regulate desilting to seven hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. when animal movement is less,” said K. Kalidasan of Osai.