SAKLESHPUR: It’s a glaring change in the scenery that lets you know that you have entered the project site of the Yettinahole stream diversion project, which promises drinking water as far as Kolar and Chikkaballapur.
In the last four years, a large amount of money has been sunk into the project, leaving heaps of mud dumped across the sensitive Western Ghats. The particular part of the Ghats, which falls in Sakleshpur of Hassan district, is home to several streams that feed the river Netravati, the lifeline of coastal districts in Karnataka.
For the last 20 years, one or the other project has always been in the planning pipeline for the Kempu Hole, also known as Yettinahole and Gundiya river. This river is one of the main tributaries of the Netravati and the drinking water project is the latest to the list of projects, already showing signs of destruction of the fragile ecosystem as predicted by the green-activists.
Meanwhile, coastal districts of Karnataka are facing the brunt of these projects. This year, at Dharmasthala, Dharmadhikari Veerendra Heggade had to request devotees to postpone their visits owing to the water shortage.
However, locals who live around the site, seem to have largely made their peace with the project, which initially saw some resistance when the government spoke of taking water from Hassan to Kolar by laying pipelines. But floods during the previous monsoon and increased compensation have somewhat changed their mindset in favour of the project.
“The higher compensation for the land losers and new concrete roads connecting the villages around the site has made the locals inclined towards the project. At present the government is giving close to Rs 40 lakh per acre which is a lucrative offer for villagers whose lands used to be sold at Rs 8-10 lakh per acre,” explained a villager from Maranahalli in Sakleshpur where the Yettinahole project is being shaped.
According to activists, the Yettinahole project is nothing but an offshoot of the Netravati River Diversion project which was first planned two decades ago. If the required water is not obtained from Yettinahole, the water can be drawn from other tributaries of Netravati and finally from the Netravati river itself. The researchers from Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have already challenged the claims of the government over availability of water from Yettinahole and its tributaries.
Though the project developing agency, Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited (KNNL) had claimed that the project may feed nearly 10 TMC of water, researchers claim that Yettinahole has nowhere near the projected capacity predicted by the project implementing agency.
While the locals might have signed off on the project, new developments in the region, including the nod by the National Green Tribunal for the project have the greens protesting.
Activists point out that there could be more disaster waiting in the Ghats of Hassan district and adjoining areas and are questioning the sharing of Yettinahole water, which they allege will be used for industrial purposes in Bengaluru and for agriculture in more than three districts.
HA Kishore Kumar, a conservationist from Hassan and petitioner in the Yettinahole project case, pointed out that the effects of construction will be seen once monsoon begins in earnest and locals are currently unable to understand the dent the project has caused to their area.
“The government is misleading everyone stating that the project is a drinking water project. But in real sense the project involves feeding a large agricultural area, industries and lakes. Any project that involves these parameters must obtain permission from the Central Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change but in this case it has not been done. The way in which the Yettinahole project is being developed, one can list out several violations,” Kumar alleged.
Total cost likely to escalate
The money involved in the project execution is another factor which has run into controversy ever since the project was implemented. The total cost of the project was estimated at Rs 13,700 crore in 2012 which is likely to escalate in the coming days.
“Till today Rs 4,000 crores has been spent and two out of seven dams are nearing completion. Studies done by the IISc have showed that the available water from Yettinahole may not reach Kolar and Chikkaballapur as planned.
What will the government do next? Pump water from Kumaradhara? asked Dr T V Ramachandra, head of Energy and Wetland Research Group, IISc.
“The project has already caused a big dent to the green cover in the Ghats and pipeline laying has also destroyed several patches of green cover in the region. The mud that has been extracted from the work site will now go and sit under river beds when the rains begin,” he said.
1972: GS Paramashivaiah submitted a report to the government on the Netravati River Diversion project which involved diverting of rivers and streams from four Malnad districts to feed water to Tumakuru, Kolar and Chikkaballapur
As the proposed project was opposed by ecologists and also some of the project suggestions were not possible to implement, the government decided to go ahead with a part of the original project
2012: The government claimed that as the project is for drinking water purposes, it does not require permissions from the Environment Ministry
2013: Work begins on eight dams and pumping stations in Sakleshpur
2014: A petition is filed before the National Green Tribunal at Chennai
2017: The case is transferred to New Delhi Principal Bench of the Tribunal
2019: On May 24, Tribunal rejects the petition and gives a go-ahead
Activists say that the monsoons are likely to result in widespread damage as excavated mud enters streams.
Project At A Glance
1. The Yettinahole water diversion project, commissioned in 2012 seeks to feed water to Kolar and Chikkaballapur
2. The original DPR envisaged feeding water to industries in Bengaluru and some parts of Tumakuru district
3. The project involves damming or building weirs across the tributaries of Kempu Hole also known as Yettinahole and Gundia Hole
4. A 280 km long pipeline will be laid as part of the project, from the main dam near Sakleshpur and Chikkaballapur
5. The Yettinahole project also plans to lay several hundred of miles of pipeline to feed water bodies in Kolar, Tumakuru and Bengaluru rural
6. Eight pump houses will be built and electricity requirement for the project is being brought in
7. Total cost of the project is D 14,500 and the project is being implemented by Visvesvaraya Jala Nigam Ltd
8. By the time the project is finished (an estimated three years time) the implementation cost may escalate
9. Hongadahalla, Kiri Hole, Kadumane Hole and Ettinahole are the main tributaries of Kempu Hole