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by Green Minute News

The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday granted two weeks’ time to Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd (KPCL) to file their objections against a public interest litigation (PIL) on the 2000 MW Sharavathi Underground Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project that falls within the newly notified Sharavathi Valley Lion Tailed Macaque Wildlife Sanctuary.

In the hearing on Wednesday, the petitioner insisted on an interim stay saying that serious fait accompli will arise if the stay is not granted immediately as this will enable KPCL to ‘complete the geo-technical survey work’ and prepare the DPR. Further, they added that it is an open truth that the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and state agencies were hiding documents from their websites.

Meanwhile, the High Court granted the petitioner one week’s time to file an affidavit and furnish proof of document hidden by the MoEF&CC and the State. Further, the KPCL has been granted two weeks’ time to file their objections as they claimed in the court, they had no knowledge of the PIL.

In submission before the court, the KPCL said the said project area was not a wildlife area and there are no LTMs there. The KPCL was represented by senior advocate Holla. However, arguing for an interim stay, the petitioner said the standing committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has granted 680 wildlife clearances in the last 5 years as admitted by MOEF in a reply to the Rajya Sabha on 19.09.2020. This is unprecedented in the history of the nation. Between 1998-2008, the NBWL has only granted clearances to 25 projects.

Earlier, Santosh Martin, wildlife activist and conservationist had filed a public interest litigation against the 2000 MW Sharavathi Project which was cleared by both the state and national wildlife boards for geotechnical studies. These studies encompassing digging of 15 boreholes in the protected area started immediately after the chief wildlife warden gave permission as this was to elicit whether the project is feasible or not in this terrain. The controversial project is proposed between existing Talakalale and Gerusoppa Reservoir downstream of Linganamakki dam on the Sharavathi River and the project site falls right inside the Sharavathi Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, the one and only exclusive habitat for LTMs in the world.

The PLI had come up for hearing on September 10 and the High Court had sent notices on the matter to the concerned government departments and user agency, the KPCL. The petition stated the Sharavathi River Valley is home to a diverse array of species and sustains very rich biodiversity. The Valley supports a rich flora of 215 herbs, shrubs and climbers. It is the only contiguous habitat for Lion Tailed Macaques in the Western Ghats and that is the site for this hydroelectric project.

However, when the matter came up for the second hearing on Wednesday (September 30), KPCL claimed they had no knowledge of the PIL and came to know about it only from the media. But Sreeja Chakraborty, the petitioner’s advocate said KPCL was served notice, order and memo of PIL on 14.09.2020. On September 23, 2020, KPCL got in touch with petitioner Santosh Martin saying that their email id had changed due to a change in their domain id and so, they came to know about the PIL only through newspapers.

In this background, the petitioner re-sent all the requisite documents to KPCL on September 23rd itself within half an hour. In the aftermath of this, the KPCL filed a memo on September 28 before the High Court asking for two weeks’ time to file their objections against the PIL. However, the petitioner’s advocate Sreeja said, “This memo was not served on us and it only came to our knowledge from the Chief Justice himself. There is no reason known to us as to why the KPCL contacted us 12 days after it.”

The next hearing of this matter is after two weeks.