Today's Paper

Stop weir construction, Centre tells Kerala

CHENNAI Jan. 28. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests today asked Kerala to stop construction of a weir across the Bhavani.

In a telegram addressed to Principal Secretary and Kerala's Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, the Assistant Inspector-General of Forests in the Union Ministry, J. P. Mishra, said, ``the clearance issued by the Regional Chief Conservator of Forests (RCCF), Bangalore, dated 22 October 1999, for construction of the weir and leading channel from the stream near the Mukkali forest station to Panthantod in Agali Panchayat, Mannarkad Forest division, is kept in abeyance till further orders. Please stop the work forthwith.'' The Ministry was acting on a complaint on felling of trees.

In a separate letter to the Kerala Forest Secretary, Mr. Mishra said the Ministry had received a representation from the Bhavani River Water Protection All-Party Committee of Coimbatore - Erode districts. The representation said large numbers of big trees were being felled. This might lead to soil erosion. Further, the Bhavani was an inter-State river and construction of the weir might harm the interests of Tamil Nadu farmers. The Tamil Nadu Government had raised this issue with the Union Ministry of Water Resources, saying the construction required the consent of other basin States.

(Work across the Bhavani is being taken up in a forest area. The Kerala Government intends diverting 0.718 tmcft of water, after the construction of the weir, to Mannarkad taluk, where water sources have been drying up fast owing to a combination of bad practices and an unconcerned administration. But there is an apprehension that once the weir is completed, Kerala will stake claim to 2.5 tmcft provided for in the agreement between the two States.)

Mr.Mishra's letter says: ``Enquiry reveals that the Regional Chief Conservator of Forests approved diversion of 0.93 hectares of forest land for construction of the weir and leading channel. Also, ````the matter was considered by this Ministry and it has been decided to keep in abeyance the clearance granted by the RCCF, until the matter is enquired into by a team of experts from this Ministry.'' The Forest Secretary was asked to ensure that the construction was ``stopped forthwith.''

Issue in Assembly

Earlier in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, the Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, said she was not averse to meeting her Kerala counterpart, A.K. Antony, to prevent the construction of the weir.

Denying that there was any delay on the part of the Government in reacting to the developments on the Bhavani issue, Ms. Jayalalithaa said the State was consulting legal experts before deciding to hold talks with Kerala. Intervening during the debate on the motion of thanks to the Governor's address, she said that as the State had already approached the Cauvery River Water Disputes Tribunal on the issue, it wanted to be clear that talks with Kerala would not hamper the efforts at finding a solution through the tribunal.

At this, the DMK deputy leader, Durai Murugan, said the Government should solve the issue through direct talks with Kerala rather than through the tribunal, as the latter course would take a long time. Ms. Jayalalithaa said she had written to the Kerala Chief Minister on the issue, but a reply was delayed.

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