On a wet day recently, farmer Badavath Santosh, from Salgupally village in Bejjur mandal of Kumram Bheem Asifabad district, pointed out to the erosion of the huge dumps of excavated soil and asked: “Why can’t they move the excavated soil elsewhere instead of dumping it along the side of the canal.” His query hints at what can be an alternative plan that minimises damage to a huge area of pristine forest by the proposed Pranahita project.
The canal of the proposed Pranahita project has been designed to dump the extracted soil nearby while digging the 72 km long canal between Tummidi-Hatti in Koutala mandal in the district to Mailaram in Mancherial district. Of this, a nearly 3.5 km stretch passes through pristine forest in Bejjur forest range between Salgupally and Kondapalli villages, which forms part of the tiger corridor between Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Chandrapur in Maharashtra and Indravati Tiger Reserve in Chattisgarh. The existing design of the proposed canal would destroy invaluable vegetation in about 3 sq km.
While the actual water channel passing through the segment is on an average between 160 and 170 m in width according to the existing design the canal, including the piled up over-burden, is on an average 1.2 km wide.
“Forest in 2.5 sq km is being damaged only to dig a water channel which occupies 0.5 sq km inside the reserve forest in Bejjur,” a Forest Officer pointed out the anomaly. “The 2.5 sq km of forest will only host the excavated soil in the form of over burden,” he added, driving home the point that so much of natural vegetation is being destroyed only to dump soil.
The government has identified sufficient government lands mainly in Adilabad, Mancherial and Kumram Bheem Asifabad district to take up compensatory afforestation, a mandatory aspect of projects which destroy forests. The user agency not only purchases the lands but also pays for afforestation of these lands, which together total up to a large amount of money.
“This money can actually be used to purchase wastelands and to transport the extracted soil to avoid piling up of over burden close to the canal and thus saving at least 60 to 70 % of the vegetation comprising of nearly 1 lakh fully grown trees of over 30 cm in girth and nearly 2 lakh of under 30 cm in girth going under it. Instead of expecting the afforested vegetation to grow into a forest in years, this method requires less extent of land and saves precious money and existing forest in addition to protecting the corridor to a great extent,” an environmentalist working in the area suggested.