Karnataka's Industries Minister R.V.Deshpande has confirmed on September 20 that a dam proposal (the seventh) across the Kali river at Dandeli in the ecologically sensitive Uttara Kannada district has been abandoned. He confirmed that this action was necessitated by the Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada rejected the proposal on the basis of an Environmental Public Hearing held during January 2001. Subsequently the Karnataka Forest Department had also rejected the proposal from the point of view of submergence of a unique riverine forest. Mr. Deshpande made this clarification in a meeting with various representatives of the Kali Bachao Andolan (KBA) who met with him as part of their campaign meeting in Bangalore.
Rafting on the Kali river will go onReaders may recall that the Dandeli Mini Hydel Project was cleared in Karnataka's Global Investors Meet held on 5th June 2000. The proponent, Murdeshwar Power Corporation claimed the dam was a run of the river scheme to and would produce 18 MW of electricity at the cost of about Rs. 200 crores. The project was slammed by experts and environment watchers as the most expensive hydel project ever proposed (normal costs per megawatt of Hydel power is in the range of Rs. 3 crores). To secure environmental clearance, the proponent had provided a plagiarised Environment Impact Assessment prepared by Ernst and Young. Within months of the Environment Support Group (a Bangalore based environment research and advocacy non-profit) exposing this, the proponent supplied another fraudulent EIA, this time prepared by Tata Energy Research Institute. As per the law on environmental clearances the Government was bound to reject the project.
While this is good news, several challenges remain. The pollution of Kali by West Coast Paper Mills and building of large dams has already decimated wildlife and forests in the region. (Over 35000 hectares have been submerged in Kali Valley alone by dams in Uttara Kannada district). Local communities have been threatened with dire action if they raised protest against such assault on the environment and people. Time and again, the KBA has intervened in significant ways in representing these issues and engaging with the state government.
To press the government forward on the other issues, the KBA met the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, the state environmental regulator and watchdog, for action against the West Coast Paper Mills. This factory set up in 1956 to produce paper from the bamboo extracted from Uttara Kannada forests has completely depleted bamboo forests. Now using eucalyptus, acacia and subabul, the company has demonstrated wanton disregard in retaining the region's environmental quality. For decades the company has discharged untreated effluents into Kali causing serious pollution of the river and groundwater. Its pulp has floated into downstream dams stinking up the waters and impacting agriculture.
More recently, pollution resulted in the alleged death of new born infant and acute renal failure of a young man, while and also causing widespread gastroenteritis in downstream villages. One local doctor confirmed to India Together that the company was urging doctors to treat patients of the outbreak and was willing to bear costs of treatment, in response to severe resentment in the region. The paper company has repeatedly violated environmental norms and standards, and has consistently overproduced doubling its production over consented levels. Despite various complaints, the KSPCB has not initiated penal required action. A recent stealth survey by Central Pollution Control Board (federal agency) demonstrated that pollution caused by the Mill was very serious. Meters for fresh water intake and discharge of trade effluents have also been tampered with and have been found ill-functioning, thus causing the State enormous losses.
At the meeting with the states regulator, these issues were brought up. With little to offer upfront to the campaigners, KSPCBs president confirmed that he would make a visit to Dandeli in October and that the regulator would take action per law on issues of overproduction. Also, the Board had ordered the company to install a new effluent treatment plant by September 30. If the company was found failing on this requirement, the regulator has promised legal action.
The KBA has also demanded immediate relief to affected villages whose water is polluted. Both the industries minister Mr. Deshpande and Mr. Alexander committed themselves to assessing the costs involved for potable water to be supplied. It was also committed that a detailed health survey would be conducted to assess the impact of decades of pollution on people's health.