Despite heavy rains in the Sharavathi Valley region, the Geo-technical Survey for the 2000 MW Sharavathi Pumped Storage Hydroelectric project has continued intermittently. As per the conditions laid down by the state forest department, there should be no drilling work or studies permitted during monsoons. Further, all heavy machinery should be shifted out of the Sharavathi Valley LTM Sanctuary if the work has been stopped.
Activists added that when the work was stopped in the first week of June, it was re-started after four days and then stopped and then again re-started while all environmentalists were kept away from the drilling site by KPCL engineers. The survey work is being done intermittently as it is raining very heavily and the area is infested with leeches.
“Core sample drilling work near Henni village which is near the Surge tank valve house (that is two kilometres from valve house) is continuing. Work is going on as per official instructions,” says B Lakshmana Rao, Retired Executive Director, KPCL and Vice Chairman, Base Power Plant, Raichur.
However, Shivamogga district in charge minister K S Eshwarappa claimed that no survey work was going on in Kargal range of the Sanctuary and no such project will be allowed in the district which will harm the environment. Wildlife conservationists, power experts and activist groups who have opposed the pumped storage project stress, “Let alone the project – even the geo-technical survey work will cause irreparable damage to the Sharavathi Valley. It will not only destroy the ecology – its monsoon forests but will result in landslides.”
Displaying photos of survey work re-start with coordinates and dates, wildlife conservationist Akhilesh Chipli from Sagar said, “It is a straight case of violation as work cannot be taken up during rains. They do the work for three days, stop it and then again re-start it. Heavy machinery is still stationed inside the sanctuary and forest officials have failed to get it moved out even after the work was stopped.”
From 17-18 June, work took off, activists said and added KPCL has been putting inordinate pressure on the state forest department to continue the digging work. In the last few days, local villagers too said digging work has been continuing while the workers have drilled 3-4 holes. They have found moist soil as also hard rock. “Now they have to move further inside the dense jungles while the workers who are from Haryana are having a tough time in the rain forests. They are applying some chemical to their feet to avoid leeches,” informed a villager.
“We are scared about the kind of chemicals being used and leaching on the wet forest floor and what with so much of heavy machinery dumped on the forest floor they will cause problems to breeding activities. This project is a bonanza for politicians to make easy money as they are least concerned about destruction of Western Ghats or the habitat of endangered species,” activists add with concern.”
Browbeating forest officials, the user agency has been carrying out its activities and keeping out everybody from the survey area. Forest officials admitted there was inordinate pressure on them for the survey work’s continuance. However, concerned forest officials claimed the work was stopped in the first week of June once the monsoons started and they added that any violation would be verified and checked if any survey work was being done inside the wildlife sanctuary.
As per the 10 conditions laid down by the state forest department, the main condition was no survey work can be taken up during monsoons as it affects regeneration of flora and reproduction activities of fauna in the forests. Further, no accommodation can be provided to the workers while no tents or camps can be set up inside the sanctuary. However, activists say both these conditions have been violated.
Shankar Sharma, power policy analyst adds, “It is not just the harmful survey works but once the project takes off, it will involve building of a series of tunnels, roads, buildings, an underground power house and transmission lines inside the Sharavathi Valley which will completely decimate the forests. It has become clear that the concerned authorities in the forest, and energy department as also KPCL have not briefed the State Wildlife Board on the vastly negative impacts of the project to the state as a whole.”
Even on the basis of a pre-feasibility report, it can be credibly stated that the overall cost and impact on the state from the proposed project will be very many times more as compared to the meagre power benefits, opines the analyst.