As chief minister Siddaramaiah laid the foundation stone for the ambitious Yettinahole drinking water project on March 4, he didn’t have an idea that the project would become a nightmare, attracting criticism and protest from both Coastal and Malenad districts. There were uproars against both the timing and feasibility of the project.
The Yettinahole project aims to provide drinking water from Yettinahole, a tributary of the Netravati, for seven districts. The union minister Veerappa Moily, who hails from the coastal belt but represents Chikballapur in the Lok Sabha, is hell bent on implementing the project as it is one of the promises he made to the people in his constituency, saying: “Only 24 tmcft of water would be used to provide drinking water to nine districts, including Kolar, Chickballapur, Tumkur and Bangalore Rural. The project had been reviewed five times. It would not have an adverse effect on the people of Dakshina Kannada.”
Critics’ term this as Moily’s card to win next election in Chikkaballapur. But, the constituency itself does not favor the project and held protest at the inauguration time. The Sahyadri Samrakshana Sanchaya even started a campaign, distributing handbills to request people of Dakshina Kannda to use NOTA (None of the Above) vote to express their anger on how political parties have turned a blind eye towards their plea.
Major political parties of Karnataka are mum on the project as they are counting votes in the beneficiary region. Key JDS leaders who have firm hold in beneficiary region did not utter a word in favor or against it. Most of the BJP leaders are favoring the project. Congress leaders like former union minister B. Janardhana Poojary and BJP leader Vijayakumar shetty are rare faces now who were vocal earlier about their apprehension regarding the project.
On his own party leader opposing the project, Veerappa Moily has claimed that the Janardhana Poojary lacks knowledge about the Yettinahole project, and that nobody should oppose drinking water projects. He appealed to people not to give the project a “political color”.
Amid protest in Dakshina Kannada, which observed a total bundh to protest the diversion of its waters, chief minister Siddaramaiah signalled of work beginning soon. The Rs12,3,912 crore Yettinahole diversion aims to provide 24 TMC drinking water to Kolar, Chikballapur, Bangalore Rural, Ramanagaram, Tumkur, Hassan and Chitradurga. Siddaramaiah said that the state was keen on solving the drinking water crisis in these districts, often parched. The project foresees the diversion of 24 TMC of water from the Gundia River to Tumkur, Kolar, Chikballapur and rural districts of Bangalore. Gundia drains into the Kumaradhara river, which is a tributary of the Netravati. Rs 1,000 crore has been set aside in this year’s state budget for the project and the Karnataka Neeravari Nigama Limited, a public sector corporation that will implement the project.
There are much talk and discussion done on economic feasibility of this project. Experts feel that government is misleading the people by saying 24 TMC of water will be diverted to five parched districts of the state. Water experts claim that not more than 9TMC can be pumped from the Yettinahole River for their benefit. “Earlier Karnartaka Power Corporation limited proposed a project in the same area. Amid protest projects are shelved or delayed. Now the same projects are looming around in the name of drinking water project, ” says activist and head of ‘Malenada Janapara Horata Samithi Kishor Kumar.
Further, what is surprising is that environment impact assessment report is not done for the project, sighting it is as a mere drinking project. But the project involves proposals for building reservoirs and other work, which need large amount of displacement, rehabilitation and deforestation. But there is no socio-economic analysis done. People who are living and having farmland right next to proposed reservoir don’t have clue about proposed project and submerging areas! Owners of these properties in the neighborhood of reservoir till today have not received an alert or even a word from government. Victims are not only the people who may get rehabilitate. When rivers dried down Dakshina Kannada district, which is depending on Netravathy River for livelihood, animals come out as a bigger prey.
As per details obtained by Kishore Kumar who had specifically asked for a ‘Detailed’ Project Report under RTI , the total cost of the project is Rs 8323 crores. But the estimate does not include many costs like rehabilitation and resettlement, complete land acquisition, construction of reservoirs on Palar Basin, pipeline to 337 tanks, Forest NPV, etc. If these are included, cost of the project will certainly go beyond Rs 10000 crores. In Karnataka Budget Part I on February 2012, Rs 200 crores had been allocated for making DPR and initial works while Rs 2670 crores were sanctioned and Rs 850 crores allocated in 2013-14 for lift works upto Harvanahalli in Sakaleshpura. All the allocations have been made without a Detailed Project Report, cost benefit assessment, options assessment or environmental and social appraisal of the scheme, or any statutory clearances.
“THERE ARE ONLY VICTIMS”
Why are you against this project?
This project is undertaken in an ecological sensitive area. As per the project report, 107 hectares of forests in the Western Ghats will have to be burned down to make way for the canals. The Sakleshpura stretch of the Western Ghats was identified as an ‘Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1’, a highly sensitive area, by Western Ghats ecology expert Panel headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil. There are no beneficiaries, only victims.
But Government says it has assessed everything?
There has been no assessment. In the name of drinking project, they are dodging environment clearance and forest clearances. Ministry has ignored submerge of ecologically sensitive areas. They did not do environmental impact assessment. There is no social and economic assessment done.
Who do you think would benefit and who are vulnerable?
No one benefits in this project. This is meant to be providing drinking water to Chikkaballapur and Kolar districts. But, people of this region are protesting considering it as mere eyewash and believe that the project won’t solve their water woes. Experts say that Yettinahole Diversion Project will manage to divert only 9 TMC of water, instead of the proposed 24 TMC.
What are the politics behind this project?
With General Elections at peak, it is clear that they are reaping political benefits from the project. Union Minister Verrappa Moily, main force behind this project, is eyeing to get elected again from Chikkaballapur showing drinking water project. But people won’t buy the idea as there is no way a dry area turn green at the cost of Malenadu and Dakshina Kannada. There are also rumours that government itself may shelve the whole project after election.
If this project is shelved, what is the alternative for drinking project?
There is always a way to rejuvenate dry areas. One may spend just half of this project cost to rejuvenate the area by harnessing the underground water. We have seen desert areas of Rajasthan dwell in to water wells revitalizing underwater.
According to you what are the social and economical impacts of this project?
Dakshina Kannada as well as Malenad will suffer as rivers get dried down slowly. This project is not cost effective. They did not do cost benefit evolution before launching the project. Though the report talks of spending Rs 8,323 crore on building the dams, it does not mention the costs of resettlement and rehabilitation which would exceed Rs 2,000 crore. The report completely overlooks the human and ecological costs of the project. Moreover, by the time the project is completed, the actual cost could be much more.
In democratic way of government, there should be public hearing and also need environment and forest clearance for projects like river diversion. But, government is terming it as drinking water project which does not require any clearances and maintains that it has got no objection certification. According to the government, Yettinahole project had received the approval of the Central Water Commission and the Union Ministry of Environment and have also done a feasibility study and a project report.
Experts who fear about the project say that the real name of Yettinahole project is ‘scheme for diversion of flood water from Sakleshpur to Kolar – Chikkaballapur’. Project report says that there is a proposal to generate about 100 Megawatt electricity. For an electricity project, which is aimed producing 50 Megawatt or more electricity, has to get environment, forest and central government clearance.
Activists also have a notion that government itself will dump the project after election, sighting protests and environment problems. There are many such projects in Sakleshpur launched earlier, may be for electricity generation or irrigation water, but none completed.
Well, that’s the story with most of the environmental projects – they are not there for people, but for the interests of rich and politico.