CHENNAI: In a controversial move, the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD) has proposed to build a desalination plant inside Koonimedu reserve forest in Villupuram district by axing 2,092 fully-grown trees.
In July, the state government forwarded a proposal for diversion of 16 hectares of forest area for setting up a desalination plant at Koonimedu village for Combined Water Supply Schemes in Villupuram district and sought forest clearance from the Union Environment Ministry under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Sources told The New Indian Express that the state forest department has recommended the project. As per the Villupuram district forest officer's report, attached with the TWAD Board's application, a total of 2,319 trees are enumerated in the forest area proposed for the diversion and 2,092 trees will be felled for the project.
The Regional Empowered Committee of the Union Environment Ministry deliberated about the project in its meeting held in Chennai on August 14 and raised certain concerns.
While deferring the proposal for want of additional information, the committee observed that the state government shall submit a detailed report on the purpose for which desalinated water will be utilised with quantification of water allocation for each purpose. The TWAD Board had told the committee that desalinated water will be used for drinking and industrial needs.
The committee said, in the minutes of the meeting accessed by The New Indian Express, "The proposed 16 hectares of forest areas was in the middle of the forest block, which may lead to fragmentation and make it difficult for protection and management of forest area. Hence, the state government should resurvey the area and propose an actual area in one side of the forest area."
The committee also questioned the need for 16 hectares. The TWAD Board said 7.5 hectares (half of the forest area proposed for diversion) would be used for green belt area and for future expansion. This, the committee said, was against the principles of barest minimum criteria for diverting forest area for non-forestry purpose. So, the Villupuram district forest officer was directed to rework on the barest minimum forest area required for the project.