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Belagavi drinking water project raises Centre's eyebrows

Looking into the KNNL's proposal, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on June 10 flagged that many encroachments have been found in the area proposed for CA.
Last Updated : 08 July 2024, 00:18 IST

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Bengaluru: Drought-stricken north Karnataka is set to lose 575 hectares (1,421 acres) of natural forest in Belagavi but the equal amount of land offered as compensation is riddled with encroachments, which has prompted the Union environment ministry to step in.

In 2020, the state government sought permission to divert 575 hectares of forest land with 75,581 trees. More than 90 per cent of the forest land will be submerged under the backwaters of a reservoir of the proposed Ghatti Basavanna Drinking Water Project. The project seeks to draw 6 TMC water from Markandeya river for the benefit of about 7 lakh people in four towns and 131 villages.

The deciduous forest hosts 66 species of trees and 16 species of fauna. The project site is located within 3 km distance from the eco-sensitive zone of the Ghataprabha Bird Sanctuary and 3.1 km from the boundary of the sanctuary.

Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited (KNNL), which proposed the project, has acknowledged the disturbance caused by the project to the animals. The firm proposed to deposit Rs 13.47 crore as part of a wildlife conservation plan to be implemented in three years.

As per the rule, the agency seeking forest land has to give the same extent of land for compensatory afforestation (CA). However, the land proposed by the agency in eight villages spread across Athani, Savadatti and Gokak ranges has run into problems.

Looking into the KNNL's proposal, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on June 10 flagged that many encroachments have been found in the area proposed for CA. "As per the discussions with field functionaries, about 100 hectares in is under encroachment," it said in a letter last month, directing the state government to provide the balance area to take the application forward.

But even before the project received approval, officials have taken up planting of saplings in the land proposed for CA. 

The Union ministry has also asked for clarification on how the government calls it a drinking water project as the project component includes drawing 0.50 TMC of water for industrial use.

To a question, Manjunath R Chavan, Chief Conservator of Forests, Belagavi Circle, said the forest department had pointed out the encroachments. "During the spot inspection time, our officers had pointed out the encroachment in the proposed CA land. We have taken up a mapping exercise to identify the block encroachments," he said.

Further, the government has been asked to get approvals from the Central Water Commission and submit a rehabilitation plan for families affected by the project. Belagavi is characterised by extreme weather events, with half the district seeing drought while parts of Gokak get flooded during heavy rains. The dam is proposed as an answer to the problem of drought.

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Published 08 July 2024, 00:18 IST

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