By Meera Bhardwaj
The Jog Falls and its State Forest and Valley are in deep trouble due to the state government’s ambitious proposal to turn this Biodiversity Hotspot into a Luxury and Adventure Tourist destination. Presently, Zip line towers and Lines have been constructed as the state government has sanctioned an amount of Rs 185 crore for Jog Falls tourism development. However, since the tourist construction activities falls in the default ESZ of Sharavathi Valley Lion Tailed Macaque Sanctuary, activities have been stopped by the state forest department.
Unfortunately, the Zip Line that cuts across the Jog Valley is a nesting and breeding site of many native, migratory and endangered birds.
Any human disturbance will destroy the flora and drive away the unique fauna from this valley which goes to a depth of 900-1000 feet. Further, making over the Jog Falls flow all the year round from its natural monsoonal flow (for four months) will kill the unique ground vegetation, flora and amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and others which flourishes during the non-monsoonal months.
Activists and conservationist add there is an urgent need to carry out studies in the Jog Valley on its biodiversity by scientists and experts as any changes in its unique ecology through linear constructions and additions may be a permanent loss.
Changing the natural water flow patterns and once again damming the Sharavathi waters by using the waters at a natural pool formed from Raja (waterfall) may prove to be ecologically disastrous and cause irreparable destruction to the existing ecosystem of this area.
Activists say the construction activities are illegal as the entire Jog Falls area including British bungalow and the Bombay Guest house falls in the 10 KM default ESZ of Sharavathi Valley Lion Tailed Macaque Sanctuary. As per Eco-Sensitive Zone Guidelines, for any non-forest and development activity, wildlife clearance has to be obtained from the National Board of Wildlife.
In this regard, a memorandum was submitted by Akhilesh Kumar Chipli, SWAN & Man organization to the Sagar DCF to stop the construction activities.
Chipli adds, “Zip line towers and lines have already been constructed without any approvals or permissions. Presently, the Zip Line is passing through Jog State Forest which is a disaster for many avian species. This is completely illegal.”
THE GREAT HORNBILL
Chipli further says the entire Jog Falls valley is a crucial habitat for many threatened and endangered bird species of Jog State Forests like Lion Tailed macaques, Great Hornbill, Peregrine Falcon, King Cobra, apart from many other fauna and flora. The present project of Zipline, Cable car and Night Light arrangements in the Jog Falls will have a detrimental effect and cause irreversible damage to the flora and fauna of this region.
In the aftermath of the sanction of Rs 185 crore by the state government, tourism infrastructure projects were proposed that includes construction of a zip line, cable car, a five-star hotel, and other high end tourism related activities. With a few activities falling in revenue enclosures while others like the Zip line in the Sharavathi ESZ, construction began a few months back in the highly fragile and eco-sensitive area of Jog Falls and Valley and also the Jog State Forest.
PHOTO CREDIT FOR JOG FALLS PHOTOS: KESTUR VASUKI
Shankar Sharma, Power Policy analyst adds, “This is a disastrous and ill-conceived proposal and is an attempt to make the Jog falls an attractive destination for the tourists all around the year. At present, there is a good amount of water in the falls only for 4-6 months in a year depending on the monsoon rains. Has there been a scientific assessment of all the environmental and social impacts from the project?”
The user agency has further sought the permission for building a 5-Star hotel in place of the existing PWD guesthouse in Survey No:151 in Nadavada Talakalale village of Sagar Forest division.
As per Sagar division DCF, diversion of 0.8536 hectares has been requested by the Jog Management Authority for construction of this 5-Star hotel by demolishing the existing old PWD building. The project can be considered as there is no violation of FCA but falls in the Sharavathi ESZ.
The CCF, Shivamogga Circle has stated that the proposed hotel does not violate the Forest (Conservation) Act but falls in the default ESZ of Sharavathi Valley LTM Sanctuary. Enclosing the Site Inspection Report and recommendation on 6.7.2021, he adds, “The proposal helps in improving the infrastructure and facilities to tourists who visit the world-famous Jog Falls; so, it is essential for tourism department. Hence, the proposal is recommended.
Jog Falls is a natural creation and its splendour is a nature’s gift during the South-West monsoon. With Shivamogga MP B Y Raghavendra pushing the project forward, activists in Sagar add, “The existing facilities at Jog are enough for this highly fragile ecosystem and has served the purpose of tourists and visitors for decades. The proposed projects are high end and money-making ventures for politicians and does not serve the purpose of common man.”
It is high time politicians stopped meddling with the biodiversity of the Western Ghats which is one of the 8 biodiversity hotspots in the world. However, conservationists opine with Western Ghats in Karnataka facing decimation for many linear projects, people should realize the gravity of the situation and come forward to stop such projects before it’s too late.