Karnataka: Govt to set up hydel project in elephant corridor

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  • The state government is gearing up to set up a mini hydel project next to the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, an elephant corridor, even as cases of jumbos straying out of forest areas in search of water and food and getting killed are on the rise.
  • The proposed mini-hydel project will violate the directions issued by the Karnataka High Court in 2008 that no projects can come up in and around elephant corridors.
  • Taking suo motu action to ensure that there is no destruction of elephant corridors, the court had formed the elephant task force.
  • The proposed project near Gaganachukki-Bharachukki waterfalls in Malavalli taluk of Mandya district was opposed by several agencies in the past.
  • However, the government now seems to be keen on reviving the proposal. It recently asked senior officials of Forest department to visit the proposed project spot and submit a report. Under ‘pressure from political bosses,’ a team visited the area. The project is just 200 metres from the waterfalls.
  • “Based on the recommendations of the state government, a committee comprising Principal Chief Conservator of Forests P Suresh and B J Hosmath and other senior officials visited the place.
  • The committee members were directed to visit the location and submit a project feasibility report,” a Forest department official told DH.
  • The committee had inspected the place. It will hold a meeting in three to four days. Based on the recommendations made at the meeting, a report will be prepared and submitted to the government.
  • It is unfortunate that when there is water crisis in Karnataka and, man-animal conflicts are increasing, the government is pressing for power generation projects on forest borders.
  • Increasing urbanisation has led to the death of three elephants on the outskirts of Bengaluru in the last 10 days.
  • The project, experts opine, will not only lead to further depletion of water table but also curtail water supply to Bengaluru.

Who had opposed

  • In the past, the hydel project had met with opposition from many quarters, including the State Wildlife Board.
  • Cricketer and former vice chairman of Wildlife Board Anil Kumble had rejected the government’s proposal.
  • Kumble is still a member of the board. The board had also pointed that the project will lead to man-elephant conflict.
  • In 2015, the secretary, Forest department, too had opposed the project stating that it will destruct wildlife habitat.
  • In September 2016, a wildlife board meeting chaired by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah too had refused to give permission for the project.

Why the project has been opposed

  • According to news reports, human-elephant conflict is on the rise.
  • In 2012, the Karnataka High Court set up a task force to address this issue.
  • In September that year, in a report submitted to the court, the Karnataka Elephant Task Force estimated that on an average 25-30 people were killed in the state every year due to elephant attacks.
  • The all India figure is 250-300 deaths per year. Some claims put the figure at 400 deaths a year. Over 100 elephants are killed every year in retaliatory attacks.
  • In 2013-’14, the state government paid Rs 993.8 lakh to the families of people who had died, for crop losses and property damage.
  • Causes for human-elephant conflict listed in official reports include ill-planned mini-hydel projects, quarrying activities and other commercial infrastructure projects in and around elephant habitats in Karnataka, which has pushed the animals into the neighbouring states of Maharashtra and Goa.
  • Forest departments have tried to address the problem by constructing elephant-proof trenches and installing solar fences.
  • However, field-based studies conducted in Karnataka and Maharashtra by the Wildlife Research and Conservation Society show how engineering solutions like barriers have failed to keep elephants away from the fields and villages.
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