ಬುಧವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 26, 2007

Where will you flow finally?

When everything appeared to be kept in a silent mode, the bell has rung automatically. But it is not strange. The nature’s danger bell is always automatic (natural). The Netravathi river, her tributaries and the Western Ghats from where they spring up, are once again on news as the Netravathi River Diversion Project, which had sunk below memory for some time, has come to the limelight due to certain recent developments.

The project which received strong criticisms by environmentalists after the G S Paramashivaiah Committee proposal in 2001, it was not talked about much in the later days. However, all of a sudden it started attracting arguments after the K C Reddy Committee submitted a second report. Long time after the then chief minister S M Krishna sowed the seeds of the project, it is the present Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, who has been giving statements regarding the project here and there. Though his statement in Holenarasipur in the beginning of this year that “man could not go against nature” brought smiles on the environmentalists’ face, the subsequent reactions from many other politicians indicated that the issue would continue to be a ‘vote bank’ issue.

Quoting certain statistics regarding the ‘excess’ water in Netravathi, former minister Dr G Parameshwar said in Tumukur in March last that he was ready for any sacrifice for the sake of implementing the project. “It is the question of the future of over one crore people living in the dry belt of the State, comprising Tumkur and its surrounding nine districts,” he said. Mr Kumaraswamy repeated his statement during his recent visit to Dakshina Kannada.

The opinion on the project has been divided among politicians and people from the very day of its announcement. Even today, people from bayaluseeme (plains) welcome it, while the people in the Malnad area oppose. The thing is people in these two segments have many reasons to argue, but politicians have only one reason. The worst part of the situation is that any politician who has not read a single sentence of the reports and who has not studied the possible effects of the project, can go on giving statements, for or against.

The project
In fact, for many people, the word ‘diversion’ in the title of the project - Netravathi River Diversion - itself is misleading. The full title of the project is: A Scheme for Gravity Diversion of Netravathi River to the Drought Affected Villages of Karnataka. Even after seven years, many people still have the notion that the project is going to divert the very path of river Netravathi so that it will never flow towards the Arabian Sea. But it is not so.

As stated in the Paramashivaiah proposal, the project intends to divert the excess monsoon water from west-flowing Netravathi towards east. Nearly 38 dams will be constructed across 9 tributaries of Netravathi river, namely Kumaradhara, Kempu hole, Kapila, Neriya hole, Sunalu hole, Bandaje hole, Elaneeru, Mrutyunjaya and Aniyoor hole. By constructing reservoirs, canals and tunnels, about 143 tmc ft out of the total 550 tmc ft water will be taken towards the ten districts through two diversions.

The east diversion will take 90.73 tmc ft water to the districts of Chikmagalur, Hasan, Mandya, Tumukur, Kolar, Bangalore (urban) and Bangalore (rural), through which about 8,684 villages, 107.92 lakh people, 102.74 lakh cattle will benefit. The diversion is supposed to end in Hemavathi.

The north-east diversion will take water into the parts of 6 districts Chikmagalur, Hasan, Chitradurga, Tumkur, Bellary and Kolar, thus benefiting around 52.13 lakh people, 37.82 lakh cattle in 2,808 villages. According to the proposal, one diversion starts from Gadikallu gudda in Karkala taluk, which passes on a height of 922 mts, and another canal starts from Subrahmanya mountain. They unite at Shishira and then flow together in a ‘garland canal’. Water for both diversions will be collected at 27 basins; the flow will be generated with the help of gravitational power.

The debate
The main allegation of the environmentalists against the report submitted by Mr Paramashivaiah is that it never mentioned a single word about the negative effects of the project, rather it appears to be a one-sided argument. According to environmental activists, the river diversion project is going to be a great threat to the bio-diversity in the entire Western Ghats, which is considered to be one among the 25 rare biological hotspots on the globe.

The government itself has admitted that a total of 7,716 hectare ghats area will be submerged under water if the project is implemented. Kadamane, Ettinahall, Edakumeri, the catchment areas of Kerihole, Hongada hole, Erutti hole, Lingada hole and Kumaradhara will also be submerged taking a large area of shola forests, flora and fauna under water.The 230 kms canal to be dug on the Western Ghats will disturb Subrahmanya reserve forest, Kadamakallu, Bisale rain forests, Pushpagiri reserve forest, Moojoor, Kombaru, Konaje reserve forest, Kangeri rain forest, Shiradi, Shishila, Miyaru reserve forest, Kudremukh National Park and so on. Perhaps, one need not explain the variety of living organisms in these regions.

The Western Ghats house about 15,000 different creatures, out of which 40 per cent are facing the danger of decay. About 938 bird species, 330 butterfly species, 4,000 flower species... who can assess their total value?The environmentalists argue that the water that has been flowing in Netravathi has witnessed gradual decrease over the years and there has been scarcity of even drinking water in the summer. If people won’t get sufficient drinking water, from where Netravathi can provide water for agriculture and a large number of industries in the district which is getting new industries every other day? It should be noted that Mangalore is going to get the multi-crore special economic zone too.

Netravathi which had severe floods twice in 1936 and 1974, stopped flowing in 2005 summer due to lack of water.The people of Dakshina Kannada also have their objections towards the proposal of diverting only the ‘excess’ water ‘being wasted’ into the sea. “How can you claim water is being wasted into the sea! If it is a river, it should end itself in a sea, which is natural,” they say.

The rivers originating in the higher altitude of Western Ghat region carry a huge volume of organic and inorganic nutrients along with water to downstream area. The aquatic organisms like fish will not survive without these nutrients, as per environs.

However, for Mr Paramashivaiah “water is a national wealth and it should be shared among all people. What is going to be done is tapping a very small area when compared to the extent of Western Ghats. The damage to environment, though not avoidable, will be almost negligible”. (Arguments of both parties have been listed out separately in the boxes).

The present
Former chief engineer G S Paramashivaiah had first suggested the idea as early as 1973. The S M Krishna Government that took interest in the project based on the recommendation of the then MP from Tumkur G S Basavaraj. The government appointed him to conduct a survey in 2000, and Rs 5 crore was released for the purpose. The committee submitted its draft proposal on March 23, 2001. The work of preparing survey maps of the command area with the help of satellites has been entrusted to Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) with a budget of Rs 14 crore. The agency is expected to submit its report in July 2008. The agencies investigation will be based on Airborne Laser Terrain Mapping (ALTM), developed by American scientists.The eventual question is, what will happen in the coming days- will the project be implemented or will it be dropped? The answer is not the matter related to a single government. The debate seems to continue further, and even the project’s implementation is not a work to be completed by a single government, hence the continuation of the project depends upon which government rules the State.

Why they favour?
Those who support the netravathi diversion project, list out the following points as why should the project be implemented:
* It will quench the thirst of the ten drought affected districts of central Karnataka namely,Chickmagalur, Hassan, Mandya, Tumkur, Bangalore (urban), Bangalore (rural), Kolar, Chitradurga, Davangere and Bellary.
* The project will result in the rejuvenation of ground water table in the drought affected regions.
* It leads to the development of sericulture, gardening, floriculture, horticulture, fisheries, tourism in the ten districts.
* Hydro-electric power generation is possible and unemployment problem can be reduced in rural areas.

Why they oppose?

The environmentalists who oppose the projects, put forward the following points in their support:
* The project is ecologically unsustainable and socio-economically inequitable.
* Agriculture and industries in Dakshina Kannada will suffer due to water scarcity.
* The diversion will disturb the landscape ecology, and result in problems like uneven percolation pattern, seepage problems and opening up of groundwater sources in higher altitude. * It will affect the life of aquatic organisms as the project results in insufficient flow of nutrient sources.
* Forest destruction in Western Ghats for the project will lead to rapid decrease in rainfall.
* Saline seawater may enter coastal inland through river mouths because of low water level in downstream.
* Kudremukh National Park, one of the most sensitive zones on the Western Ghats will be severely disturbed.
* Digging canals in Western Ghats may lead to soil erosion, consequently the silt will fill the area downside the ghats in DK.
* The estimated budget for the project is Rs 12, 500 crore, which will be a big financial burden on the State.

(The article has been published in City Herald-Deccan Herald, dated September 22, 2007)