By Shankar Sharma
The prevailing ecological and social scenario in Shivamogga and adjacent districts must not be ignored while considering high impact linear projects which come after many similar high impact projects with devastating effects on the social fabric of the people here.
Sharavathy river valley itself is left deeply scarred with many dams, reservoirs, canals, power stations, pipelines, roads, power transmission lines, townships etc. A railway line between Arsikere and Talaguppa built in 1940s, to assist in the construction of Jog power scheme, can be said to be among the earliest ones in this series.
For these projects, thousands of families have lost their ancestral lands without adequate compensation, and many families have been forcibly displaced many times in one generation. A good number of such families have been left without any sort of compensation even after many decades of forcible displacement. It will be almost impossible to put a Rupee value to the true costs associated with the associated environmental and social issues, but it seems credible to simply state that such costs to the larger society have been enormous, and there will be serious implications to the welfare of the local communities from the latest proposal.
Though the district is blessed with certain bounty of nature in the form of Western Ghats and many rivers in the taluks of Hosanagara, Sagara, Thirthahalli, Shivamogga and Bhadravati, it also has two largely dry taluks of Shikaripur and Soraba. More than 100 villages in Sagara taluk alone were supplied with drinking water needs through tankers during the recent summer.
In such a scenario, it is a simple matter of natural justice that the people of the district and the adjacent dry districts of Davangere and Haveri should get first priority to meet their drinking water needs before the so called “drinking water need” of a distant place like Bengaluru is even considered for such a purpose.
In the gazette notification of October 2018, the Union Ministry of Environment has provided a list of villages falling in Eco-sensitive area as identified by the High Level Working Group under the leadership of Dr Kasturirangan. About 475 villages in the district, including 126 in Sagara and 126 in Hosanagar taluk, where the river Sharavathy has most of its catchment area, have been identified in this list. It amounts to a sacrilege to continue to cut trees even in an ESA notified by the ministry, for providing water 400 kms away when there are many benign alternatives available.
If 30 TMC or 60 TMC (in the second phase) of water is to be removed from the Linganamakki reservoir, what will be the impact on the riverine ecology downstream, which is already devastated by vastly reduced flow? How much reduction will happen in the electricity produced at Gerusopppa power plant downstream?
Western Ghats (WGs) being one of the eight hottest of bio-diversity hotspots of the world, and having enormous implications for the state, are the major characteristics of the district. Whereas the bounty of nature in the form of WGs can be said to be blessings of nature, the callous way in which the natural resources in the district have been over exploited since independence has turned into a curse for the people in the district, who were forced to bear the brunt of such a curse without any commensurate compensation.
However, people can no longer withstand such ‘sacrifices’ which is being forced on them repeatedly in the form of so many ‘developmental projects’ for other districts. The proposed project will have enormous impact on these communities and on the district as a whole in many ways.
Is it not unscientific and inhuman to continue to damage the ecology of a district which has WGs as one of the hottest hotspots of bio-diversity of the world, and whose people have already suffered multiple times due to developmental projects for the state. Shall we not allow the residents of the district to live peacefully with whatever little left of the original bounty of the nature?
(The author is a Power Policy Analyst based in Sagara, Shivamogga district, Karnataka)