Activists and the Lion Tailed Macaques (LTM), the apex and endangered species of Sharavathi heaved a big sigh of relief as engineers and workers of the Sharavathi Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project finally quit the Sanctuary. In May end, they had taken up survey work which included drilling 12 boreholes. They carried out geo-technical survey and investigations the last 5-6 months for the 2000 MW pumped storage project. Forest officials confirmed that since October-November itself the survey work had come to a halt in Sagar division while in Honnavar forests, boreholes could not even be drilled.
With the Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd submitting before the Karnataka High Court of having stopped the survey operations for the Sharavathi Project, forest officials said they had wound up their operations and vacated the Sharavathi Sanctuary but had also completed their survey to a large extent. It was on May 26th, the KPCL took up the survey work after the chief wildlife warden gave permission on May 6 but laid down 10 conditions.
SURVEY WORK STARTED IN MAY THIS YEAR IN KARGAL RANGE
No work was permitted during monsoons while all the equipment had to be transported manually while trees were not permitted to be felled. They were not allowed stay inside the Sanctuary also.
With the litigation going on in the court, activists from Sagar and forest officials said the survey work, which was taken up to know the feasibility of the project, digging of 9 out of 12 boreholes had been completed in Sagar division.
DRILLING BOREHOLE ON OCTOBER 7TH IN KARGAL RANGE
However, in Honnavar division, no work could be taken up for digging of 3 boreholes due to heavy monsoons. Officials said, “Drilling operations were completed for 8-9 boreholes of 2.12 inches in Joga State Forest Block-A and Block-B forest area falling in the Kargal Range. From May-October, survey work was carried out. But in the aftermath of court directions, all the drilling equipment (which was carried manually to the project site area during May-June) was dismantled and carried outside the Sanctuary.”
For the KPCL, the boring operations turned out to be very tough and cumbersome as the survey to determine feasibility was in rough and tough terrains of the tropical rain forests of Western Ghats. Sources added, “The collected samples are undergoing analysis. Some 9 boreholes were dug and enough samples have been collected. And whatever survey work was done is sufficient to determine the project feasibility. We wound up in October and all equipment/materials were removed from the project site after this.”
DRILLING WORK OF BOREHOLES SEEN ON OCTOBER 9TH
In contrast to the work being completed in Kargal range, no work could be carried out in Honnavar due to poring rains and terrain inaccessibility. According to forest officials, although machinery on head load was brought from the Jog side, they had not allowed any survey work in this range due to heavy monsoons. Any work can be done only from the Jog side and as there is neither any approach road nor connectivity from Honnavar side, survey had not even taken off. The terrain is very remote, inaccessible and tough, they said.
Akhilesh Chipli, Wildlife Conservationist from Sagar who has been monitoring the project survey since its start in May said, “Now we have to wait and see as KPCL has completed the survey work and vacated the sanctuary. By the time, the court could take up the matter, most of the survey work was over. We have to see what the analysis will reveal and whether they will come out with a DPR.”
THE SHARAVATHI TERRAIN THAT IS REMOTE AND INACCESSIBLE
Chipli added, “We are very worried about the serious ecological consequences of the pumped storage project on a fragile habitat that is home to LTMs, hornbills and many other species. Apart from this, the project site falls in a region that has many groups of LTMs and this may result in their disappearance. The LTM is an apex species and this is the only contiguous habitat for this endangered species in the Western Ghats.”
MAP SHOWING ORIGINAL SHARAVATHI VALLEY WILDLIFE SANCTUARY ADJOINING RESERVE FORESTS
The Sharavathi Valley Lion Tailed Macaque Sanctuary was expanded by adding Aghanashini and reserve forests in Honnavar and notified by the BJP government in 2019 to save this endangered and flagship species from extinction. But unfortunately, the state government was negating their good work by taking up this hydroelectric project in the Sanctuary.
TROPICAL RAINFORESTS WHICH GOT ENCHANCED PROTECTION
The LTMs which are old world monkeys are found only in rainforests and that too in the Western Ghat bound states of Karnataka, TN and Kerala. However, Tamilnadu and Kerala have not able to provide the required and necessary protection to this species as the habit has been fragmented by linear structures.
So, here the LTMs live in isolated and fragmented patches with 1-4 groups which may probably lead to their extinction. Leading primatologists and activists have therefore, called for urgent measures to save the tropical rainforests in Karnataka as this is the only contiguous habitat in the world for LTMs.
The mighty Sharavathi River, which originates in the central Western Ghats and flows in the westerly direction sustains the lives of thousands of native and endemic species including humans. The river flows through Shivamogga and Uttara Kannada districts before joining the Arabian Sea. And the state government’s ambitious project aims to pump water from the downstream reservoirs – Talakalale and Gerusoppa – to generate 2000 MW power for Bengaluru during the peak period while using power that is more than the generated capacity.