07 August 2006 : Bangalore, INDIA

Governor demands explanation why Karnataka wants Centre to review rejection of forest clearance to Dandeli Dam

On 21 June 2006, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests rejected the Forest Clearance to the Dandeli Mini-Hydel Project proposed by M/s Murdeshwar Power Corporation Ltd., on the following grounds:

"(A)fter careful examination of the proposal, and based on recommendation of the Forest Advisory Committee, the proposal is hereby rejected by the Central Government on the following grounds -

(i) The project will have adverse impacts on tourism of the surrounding areas.
(ii) Major stakeholders including Jungle Lodges & Resorts Limited, Trans-Oriental Holidays Private Limited, Bison Resort, Department of Tourism of the State Government, adjoining private land owners, etc. have raised objections against the proposal.
(iii) While according the approval for Kodasalli Hydroelectric Project on Kali River, the Ministry had imposed the condition that no more Hydroelectric Projects shall be allowed on Kali River and its tributaries, which was endorsed by the State Government also."

It is clear from this letter, that besides being a very well considered decision, it also had the backing of many key departments of the State. The Karnataka Forest Department, the Karnataka Tourism Department, and the state owned Jungle Lodges Ltd. in particular, have very strongly urged that this dam must be rejected if the last flowing stretch of the heavily dammed Kali River is protected by posterity.

Backing them in this stand is a 19 year old undisturbed Karnataka Government order which categorically states that since Kali has been so heavily dammed (5 major dams on this short 186 kms. river has destroyed most of its forests and displaced thousands of tribal and forest dwelling communities), no more dams, big or small, should be allowed.

Protected by this order, the Forest Department has ensured that the forest stretches along the 15 kms stretch of the river downstream of Supa Dam and leading to Dandeli is protected as it forms a critical wildlife corridor between the neighbouring Anshi National Park and Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary.

MPCL spares no fraud to secure clearances:

The RN Shetty Group led M/s Murdeshwar Power Corporation Ltd., however, has had different plans for this stretch. Since 2000, MPCL has repeatedly attempted to seek forest and environmental clearances for this project by fraudulent means, and failed. It first attempted to seek clearance on the basis of a completely plagiarised Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment produced by the international consultant M/s Ernst and Young (now owned by Cap Gemini). ESG exposed this criminal fraud and the clearance fell through.

Within a month of this expose', MPCL presented another REIA, this time by M/s Tata Energy Research Institute (now The Energy Research Institute). This was once more exposed as based on secondary and spurious data. Accepting ESG's deposition on legal affidavit during the Environmental Public Hearing held in January 2001, the Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada district had recommended to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board to review what action had to be taken against the company as per the law.

Not much was heard of the project thereafter, and despite demands the Government of Karnataka refused to initiate criminal proceedings as is required per the Environment Protection Act against MPCL and its consultants for attempting to secure environmental and forest clearances on the basis of fraudulent information. In fact, Shri. R. V. Deshpande, then Minister for Industries, and Haliyal MLA, who was a keen supporter of the project, admitted to a delegation of Kali Bachao Andolan which met with him on 20 September 2003 that the dam proposal was rejected as it had failed to get through the forest and environmental clearances mechanisms.

Forest Department strongly against Mini-Hydel projects in Western Ghats:

A year later, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Shri. S. N. Rai, strongly recommended that not just the Dandeli dam, but no mini-hydel project should be allowed in the Western Ghats. In his letter of 13 February 2004 to the Principal Secretary of the Karnataka Dept. of Ecology, Environment and Forests, he presented the following views:

1. "Mini-hydel projects degrade the wilderness and the eco-system of Western Ghats.
2. They cause disturbance at construction stage by way of entry of large number of men, material and machinery.
3. The transmission lines that are required to evacuate power, scar the landscape.
4. Though it may appear apparently harmless due to the presumption that only small areas are required to be disforested (siq), its effects on the surrounding wilderness is profound.

Mini-hydel projects may produce anywhere between 1 to 12 MW. Considering the present and future demand, the contribution of min-hydel projects is set on stream, would only be considered as insignificant. There has been tremendous amount of fragmentation and shrinkage of the wilderness, causing obstruction to migratory routes and pathways for various kinds of animals. As a result the population of wildlife has drastically reduced, many of them to the state of extinction.….. Mini hydel projects will accentuate these problems. ….Therefore, it is proposed that as a matter of policy, no mini-hydel projects should be permitted in Western Ghats zone."

Consequences of not taking action on fraud:

Perhaps strengthened by the Government's weakness in not taking action against MPCL for criminal fraud, the company began to move its papers once more seeking clearance during 2005. This time it sought clearance for the project on what it claimed to be a proposal that would submerge less forest. But the Forest Department rejected even this proposal summarily.

Shri. Vinay Luthra, IFS, Managing Director of Jungle Lodges, which runs the only major white water rafting project in South India, along the very stretch that is proposed for submergence, strongly urged the Government not to entertain the proposal. In his 18 October 2005 letter to the Forest Dept., he argued that:

"This 14 kms stretch on which we are operating white water rafting is the only clean water stretch and ideal for rafting due to the existence of several rapids, and therefore unique in the State…… The mini-hydel project would require construction of a dam across the river Kali and diversion of the water through a tunnel at the end of which a small quantity of electricity will be generated. The stretch of the river between the dam and the generation station where we are undertaking white water rafting operation, will become completely dry, making it impossible to carry out rafting operations for all time to come…… In the circumstances, I earnestly request you to consider the larger interest of the people of Uttara Kannada district, and deny permission for the min-hydel project, so that the non-consumptive use of forests like ecotourism are encouraged by the Forest Department".

This was strongly supported by the Smt. Shanthakumari, Principal Secretary of the Karnataka Dept of Tourism, who urged the Chief Secretary to reject the dam in her letter of 24 December 2005 arguing thus:

"The beautiful stretch of the river with all its fauna and flora will also be adversely affected, just for producing 18 MW of electricity. It will also severely affect the Tourism prospects of not only Jungle Lodges and Resorts, but also a few other such resorts that have come up in the area. The number of tourists in Dandeli in 1998 was around 1500 including 300 foreign tourists. Since the introduction of the river rafting in 1999, the inflow of tourists has jumped to 15,000 a year including 4,000 foreign visitors. Also 1500 and odd jobs have been created for the local community with the tourist facility available in the area, especially in Kali river, in comparison to the proposed Hydel Project which would create only 60 jobs."

Clearly, therefore, there was simply no support from any of the State Departments for the project. Perhaps keeping this in view, MoEF rejected the dam proposal forest clearance on 21 June 2006.

Yet, Principal Secretary of Environment and Forest Dept. controversially pushes for clearance:

Within a couple of weeks of rejecting the proposal, MoEF sought to reverse this decision claiming that fresh evidence had been produced by the Government of Karnataka, surprisingly in a letter dated 30 May 2006, which originated from the office of the Principal Secretary of the Dept. of Forests, Ecology and Environment.

By the very fact that the forest clearance was rejected on 21st June, it clearly implied that all material presented to it prior to this date was considered for forming this rejection decision. Yet, by a peculiar and special consideration accorded to this 30 May letter promoting the MPCL dam, an attempt to reverse the rejection decision was initiated by MoEF in a review held by the Forest Advisory Committee on 31 July 2006.

Given the very short notice, no State official could participate. Only the project proponent and one adversely affected owner of a private resort resisting the dam could participate.

Alarmed by such reaction, ESG submitted a detailed representation to the Shri. Sandeep Kumar, IFS, Asst. Inspector General of Forests, MoEF, questioning the necessity and legality of the review. In this representation (available online at: /campaigns/dandeli/dandeli.html) it was highlighted that any reconsideration of the rejection order would be in blatant violation of the Forest Conservation Act, as it expressly prohibits overturning a well considered decision, especially when the rationale has been sustained all through the decision making process: in this case to reject the dam proposal.

The shocking aspect of this review is that it claims the support of the office of the Principal Secretary of the Karnataka Dept. of Ecology, Environment and Forests, whose express mandate it is to protect forests. For reasons best known to then Principal Secretary, he chose to write on 30 May 2006 to MoEF arguing for the project, when every one else in the Government had argued against the dam.

Governor acts immediately on ESG representation:

Despite our best efforts when MoEF went ahead with the review, we were constrained to make a representation to His Excellency Shri. T. N. Chaturvedi, Governor of Karnataka, who has immediately acted upon this appeal and "asked for the views of the State Government in this regard" with a view to "taking action accordingly". A copy of the letter received from Ms. Gauri S. Trivedi, IAS, Principal Secretary to the Governor, dated 3rd August 2006, in this regard is enclosed.

We demand:
Now that this highly controversial and questionable promotion of this dam is being reviewed by His Excellency, we urge the Chief Minister to order an immediate enquiry as to why this project is being repeatedly pushed for clearance, by some officials, when most officials and departments have advocated against the dam.

Leo F. Saldanha

Bhargavi S. Rao
Asst. Coordinator

Subramanya Sastry

Environment Support Group

Read Governor's Letter


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