CHENNAI: The regional empowered committee of the Union Environment Ministry (MoEF) on Thursday approved the proposal from the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD) to release water from Srivaikuntam dam to industries for 25 years.
The committee has asked the Environment and Forests Department to revoke the Government Order (GO), dated March 17, 2008, which permits TWAD to supply the dam water for drinking purposes only. The decision was taken during the 42nd meeting of the committee at its regional office in Chennai on August 14, of which TNIE has accessed the details.
TWAD had earlier commissioned 20 million gallons of water per day (MGD) (roughly about 9.2 crore litres), under the Closed Circuit Scheme in 2011, for supplying drinking water in Thoothukudi. TWAD Board officials told TNIE that the project was conceived in 1970, exclusively for industries, and a GO was passed on April 12, 1970.
We are correcting a confusion: TWAD Board
“The scheme was implemented in 1975, drawing water through the North Main Channel from Srivaikuntam dam. However, there were massive protests from farmers and the government decided to shift the point of source to Petmanagar, where an intake well and other infrastructure were built,” said officials.
The new site fell inside Srivaikuntam forest area, which mandated for a forest clearance. “While obtaining the clearance, the State government mistakenly gave approval for drinking purposes only. This created all the confusion. We are only trying to correct it,” said a senior TWAD official. TWAD had been charged with utilising more forest land than what was diverted from Srivaikuntam reserve forest, which was a violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Going by the minutes of the meeting, the environment ministry’s committee has expressed displeasure over the TWAD board violating the Forest Act. The committee was also not satisfied with the State government and the Forest Department for not preventing the violation, and not taking action against those responsible.
The Principle Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) had informed the committee that a penalty of about `2 lakh was collected from the TWAD for violation. However, the committee said the penalty was not sufficient and must be reviewed again. Despite all the observations made, the committee chose to clear the project under the Forest Act, for both drinking and industrial usage.
Reacting to the development, S Joel, an advocate and resident of Thoothukudi, who had challenged the project before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), told TNIE that the project was given forest clearance under section 2 of the Forest Act, which prohibits letting water for any commercial activities, other than drinking purpose.
“It is unfortunate that the committee gave clearance to an illegal project.” An NGT order, dated November 21, 2018, had held that water under the scheme can only be used for drinking purposes. However, the order was challenged before the Supreme Court, which in turn, gave the Collector the power to take a call on releasing surplus water to industries. On June 21 this year, the NGT directed both the State government and the MoEF, to dispose of the proposal within two months. The case will come up for hearing on Friday.