The state government has applied for forest and environmental clearance from the Center for the drinking water project.
Experts feel the Kalasa-Banduri Nala drinking water project in Karnataka’s Mahadayi basin will not take off until it gets the necessary clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
The Basavaraj Bommai-led government has been upbeat over getting the Central Water Commission (CWC)’s nod for the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the drinking water project.
On 29 December, a day before Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to Karnataka, Chief Minister Bommai told reporters in Belagavi that the CWC had approved the DPR. The BJP government also added that the project works would commence in January itself.
With the project facing multiple hurdles, even ministers have been claiming that it would take at least another month and a half to kickstart the project.
The mega project was drawn up to address the perennial drinking water woes in parts of the Dharwad, Belagavi, Gadag, and Bagalkot districts in North Karnataka.
“According to the new DPR, we are using very less forest area. We will lay the foundation stone for the project in two months,” Union Minister for Coal and Mines Pralhad Joshi stated recently in Hubballi. He represents Dharwad in the Lok Sabha.
The Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal has awarded 13.42 TMC of water to Karnataka in August 2018. Of the allocated water, 1.72 TMC is from Kalasa Nala and 2.18 TMC is from Banduri. As much as 3.9 TMC of water will be utilised solely for the drinking water project.
The remaining 8 TMC will be utilised for power generation.
The tribunal issued a gazette notification regarding this matter in November 2020.
Union Minister Joshi, meanwhile, ruled out the need for environmental clearance from the MoEF&CC.
“The clearance will be given only after the DPR is ready. I have discussed it with officials and experts. It is two different projects (Kalasa and Banduri),” he told reporters recently.
“These two projects will affect around 65 hectares of forest. We will get the forest clearance in Karnataka itself. There is no necessity to go to Delhi to get the environmental clearance as it is a drinking water project,” he added.
Karnataka’s Minister for Water Resources Govind Karjol contradicted Joshi. He said that the state government has sought environmental clearance from the Union government.
Supreme Court Advocate MN Zirali, part of the Karnataka legal team, also confirmed that the state government had applied to MoEF&CC, requesting clearance for the project.
“We will commence the work as soon as we get the environmental clearance from the Center. The groundbreaking ceremony is likely to be held in one-and-a-half months. The government will implement this project at any cost,” Karjol told South First.
Meanwhile, Congress veteran and Gadag MLA HK Patil wondered why the state had applied to the MoEF&CC despite Union Minister Joshi saying it was not required.
“Union Minister Joshi stated that there is no need for clearance for implementing the project. Then why did they submit an application to the MoEF&CC,” he asked while accusing the state of misleading the farmers of the Mahadayi basin.
With barely three months left for the 2023 Karnataka Assembly polls, the Bommai government is under pressure to commence the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project. However, the major challenge before the government is to get the forest and environmental clearance.
The revised DPR pointed out that the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project would affect over 60 hectares of forest land in the Western Ghats. The state government must get environmental ministry’s clearance to go ahead with the project.
However, the project doesn’t need wildlife clearance since it is being implemented outside the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary in Belagavi. Earlier, the sanctuary was included in the project.
Incidentally, the MoEF&CC clarified in 2019 that environmental clearance was not needed for drinking water projects. A copy of the letter is with South First.
“Since the state government has environmental clearance, forest officials from the Center and experts have to visit the project site. They will prepare another detailed report on the project’s possible ecological damage and feasibility,” a wildlife activist told South First on the condition of anonymity.
“Their report, too, should be appr ed. This process will take at least two months. It is impossible to start this project in the next two months,” he added.
In 2019, the then Union MoEF&CC minister Prakash Javadekar had written a letter to the then Karnataka Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai, saying there was no need for environmental clearance since it is a drinking water project. However, he asked to get the forest and wildlife clearances. The letter was written before preparing the revised DPR.
The state government has identified 33 hectares of land to compensate the forest department. “The project involves the diversion of 33.05 hectares of forest land. A total of 33.05 hectares of compensatory afforestation land has been identified at Halahalli village in Telasang Hobli near Athani taluka in Belagavi district,” the DPR said.
“Further, a net present value of ₹154 crore (for 30 years) will be deposited to the Forest Department’s account as per the guidelines issued by MoEF&CC, to compensate for the economic value of loss of ecosystem due to diversion of very dense forest land,” the DPR added.
To get the forest and environmental clearance at the earliest, officials of the Karnataka forest and other departments concerned met the Union MoEF&CC minister Bhupendra Yadav at the Nagarahole National Park on Tuesday, 3 January.
“The Union minister held a detailed discussion with the officials and promised clearance at the earliest. He responded positively. We are confident that the Union government will clear all hurdles to the project,” a state Cabinet minister said, requesting anonymity.
Meanwhile, the Congress termed Bommai’s statement on the project a lie. “The BJP is coming out with one lie after another regarding the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project. The BJP is a university of lies,” KPCC president DK Shivakumar said at a rally on Mahadayi at Hubballi on Monday, 2 January.
“With the polls nearing, the BJP leaders are playing with the emotions of the people of North Karnataka. They are enacting dramas. Though it is a four-engine government, with the BJP in power at the Centre, Karnataka, Goa, and Maharashtra, they are failing to resolve the dispute,” he said, referring to Goa’s opposition to the project.
“The BJP government is deceiving and lying to the farmers of the Mahadayi basin by presenting an outdated order for the Kalasa-Banduri Nala drinking water project. They are misleading the people of North Karnataka,” MLA HK Patil said.
Responding, Joshi said that Siddaramaiah and Patil are getting outdated.