Above: The modest Yettinahole Stream, close to location of proposed weir. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Debate over Yettinahole Diversion Project has been raging in Karnataka for more than two years now. While Dakshin Kannada has been rightly raising issues of unassessed social and ecological impacts of the project on this region, fresh information now available, including a study by scientists of the Indian Institute of Science – Bangalore, and other experts proves that Yettinahole Diversion Project just does not have the water that the project developers claim it does, taking out the very hydrological foundation of the project.Continue reading “Yettinahole diversion Project (literally) holds no water”→
River Netravathi in the upper reaches Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
Like a many-headed serpent, Yettinahole (Netravathi) Diversion Project refuses to die. Every time one of its head is cut, it grows a new head.
Following criticism of the Project Report [i](based on which Karnataka Government had already made budget provisions in 2013), a new DPR of the project has been prepared in December 2013 by EIT RIP JV [ii] which tries to amend blatantly illegal stands taken earlier. However, after scratching the surface, it is clear that the DPR is just as illegal and dangerous as the interim Project Report was.
Yettinahole, or rightly the Netravathi Diversion Project has always been a political project, visualized to earn political mileage and brownie points. Veerappa Moily originally from Dakshin Kannada, moved to Chikkaballpur constituency in 2009, from when he started pushing the project strongly. As the Environment Minister, Moily also laid the foundation stone of the project in Chikkaballapur, just before the Loksabaha Elections in March 2014 [iii]. Strategically, the stone was laid in Chikkaballapur and not in Hassan, from where the water actually be diverted. No political party has opposed the project consistently.
Even before a complete DPR, Karnataka 12-14 Budget of the Congress Government allocated nearly 2800 crores for this scheme. The current govt lost no time and directly awarded contracts worth nearly 1000 Crores to Hindustan Construction Company, in a joint venture with GVPRL, without any clearances or any public consultations[iv].
Before the laying of the foundation stone of the project, SANDRP had presented a detailed analyses if the Project Report proving how the project is violating Environmental Protection Act by evading Environmental Clearance.[v] A number of eminent personalities from Karnataka had jointly written to the MoEF to appraise the Project for EC. In response to this, the MoEF had written to the Karnataka Govt and Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited (KNNL), seeking clarifications on the nature of the project. Although this move was triggered due to the submission made by SANDRP and other groups, we never saw KNNL’s response despite specifically asking for it. We only saw MoEF’s lame justification, bailing out KNNL and Karnataka Government and turning a blind eye to the huge impacts of the project.
When Karnataka CM Siddramaiah was about to lay the foundation stone along with Mr. Moily, SANDRP wrote an open letter to him[vi], as the Environment Minister, asking a direct question as to how can he himself formally initiate a scheme which is blatantly violating laws governed by his own Ministry. Following this, the ceremony was cancelled[vii], only to be held surreptitiously later.
During all this, there was huge and unprecedented opposition to the project from Dakshin Kannada and Mangalore. Farmers, students, workers, women groups all came together, united in their opposition against a project that would divert their Netravathi. People stopped trains, organized hundreds of dharnas, boycotted voting, organised signature drives, etc. Leaders in all hues came together in a rare show of discontent. On the day of foundation stone laying, people in Dakshin Kannada voluntarily observed a strict Bandh. Funnily enough, even the beneficiary district of Chikkaballpur opposed the project as the 2.82 TMC water that it would be getting after so much of fanfare was too meager, in the face of the grand promises of lush fields and no worries.
Despite these unprecedented protests and in the face of 2014 Loksabha Elections, foundation stone was laid on a dais in Chikkaballapur. The dais was burgeoning under the weight of several political strongmen.
This event stands out as an example of undemocratic behavior for an elected government.
The Government of Karnataka did not hold a single public meeting in Dakshin Kannada, trying to understand and address people’s apprehensions. When eminent personalities from Dakshin Kannada planned to hold a National Consultation on Yettinahole Diversion in NIT Suratkhal in August 2013, the meeting was cancelled at the last minute due to political pressure on the organizers.
As things stand now, the project does not have Environmental Clearance, Forest Clearance, Wildlife Clearance, has not started rehabilitation and resettlement of over 10 villages that it will submerge, but its work can start at any moment.
SANDRP accessed the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the Project from local activists, who obtained it under RTI. Analysis of the DPR reveals a number of issues. KNNL has drastically changed the initial Project Report, avoiding mention of contentious issues we had raised like hydropower generation, irrigation component, etc., thus strongly vindicating the objections raised. However, going further, it is clear that these changes are cosmetic. Deeper problems and severe unstudied impacts of the scheme remain.
SANDRP analyzed 4 volumes of the DPR and Annexures of the Project. What follows is some myth busting about the Yettinahole Detailed Project Report.
1. What is the Current Project? Is it different from the last Project Report?
While the Project Report of June 2012 was titled: ‘Scheme for diversion of flood water from Sakleshpura (West) to Kolar/ Chikkaballapura Districts (East)’, the DPR dated December 2013 has taken out all the random stuff on Kolar and Chikkaballapura and simple calls it as “Yettinahole Project”.
Current Project as per the DPR, is divided in Two Phases.
Phase I: 8 weirs will be built in the Western Ghats, on the streams Yettinahole, Kerihole, Kadumanehole and Hongadahalla. It also includes several pump houses next to weirs, raising mains that run for several kilometers are nearly 5 kms wide, 3 Delivery Chambers (DC) and a gravity canal taking waters from Weirs 3, 4 and 5 to Doddanagara (DC 3) in the Western Ghats forests.
From the weirs, 85 cumecs (Cubic Meters per second) water will be drawn 24*7 in the six months of June-November.
This will be delivered through 4 Delivery Chambers with the last DC: DC 4 at Haravanahalli.
Phase II: From DC 4, water will be diverted to a canal running 274 kilometers, cutting across the ridge line dividing Cauvery and Krishna Basins and culminating at a Balancing Reservoir at Byragondlu and Thumbadi, in Koratgere Taluk. Thumbadi Reservoir will store about 3 TMC water and will submerge nearly 700 hectares of land and three villages[viii] while Balancing Reservoir at Byragondlu will store 5.7 TMC water and will submerge 7 villages [ix]and an area of about 2000 hectares. The Reservoir at Devaranyadurga, which was proposed in the Project Report has been replaced by these two.
It includes construction of several storage tanks and reservoirs for en route water supply. It will also delivery water to T.G. Halli and Hesarghatta Reservoirs, which supply water to Bangalore. It also plans to supply water to Devanhalli Industrial Area.
The project envisages constructing 7 additional storage reservoirs and 10 major canals. Water will also be used to fill morethan 500 Minor Irrigation (MI) Tanks in many districts and taluks.
It is amazing how the project envisages filling MI Tanks to 50% capacity: The DPR says that water will be pumped and released to the highest point and an additional sluice gate will be made to all MI tanks to let water flow into the cascading MI tank. This sounds highly impractical.
The project also includes constructing over 100 bridges in villages and nearly 100 road brides on major roads.
So although details have changed, the basic of the project remain the same. There is no change in Western Ghats, except for the fact that not 24 TMC, but 47 TMC water will be pumped now!
2. What is the cost of this current Project? Can the cost be borne easily by KNNL or Karnataka Government?
The cost of the Project as per DPR stands at nearly 13000 Crores as per 12-13 price line. This exceeds the entire 13-14 years’ budget of the Karnataka Water Resources Department, which stands at 8007 Crores and is nearly five times the annual budget of KNNL, the implementing agency.[x] This is a colossal amount of money to spend to convey approximately 7 TMC water to Kolar and Chikkaballapur and other nonspecific projects.
3. Who are the Main Beneficiaries? Will Kolar and Chikkaballpur really get 24 TMC water as promised?
The supposed beneficiaries of the project are several towns, villages, cities and industrial areas[xi] and No, Kolar and Chikkaballapur again lose out and get only about 7 TMC water.
4. Then who will be getting this water?
The DPR puts out a diffuse list of beneficiaries ( see Annex below) including Bangalore urban area through TG Halli and Hesarghatta Reservoir and the Devanhalli Industrial Hub. There are no population projections or future need calculations for this region like all other regions and at no place does the DPR say that water will go to Bangalore. However, TG Halli and Hesaraghtaa reservoirs are both used by the Bangalore Water Supply and Sanitation Board [xii]for Bangalore City and in the last Budget, the government had itself stated that water will be used for Bangalore Urban Area’s needs.
A review of beneficiaries:
Bangalore gets 3 TMC water: The DPR says that about 3 TMC water will be released to TG Halli and Hesargahtta Reservoirs and for the Devanhalli Area.
Minor Irrigation Tanks and hence irrigation gets maximum water at 9 TMC: Nearly 9 TMC water will be used for filling more than 500 MI tanks upto 50% of their live storage capacity. This water will be supposedly used for “groundwater recharge”. There are several participatory, cheap and sustainable ways for recharging groundwater, which seem to have been rejected in favor of long distance transfer. In any case, this groundwater recharge will be used for agriculture, as most of the agriculture there depends on groundwater and hence, the project qualifies for Environmental Clearance.
The project is being pushed for the drought affected taluks in Kolar Chikkaballapur and Tumkur and even a brief glance at the calculation shows that even in 2023-24, the drinking water demand of these places cumulatively will be just 12 TMC! Then why are we diverting 24 TMC water, double of the ten years’ estimate?
5. What is the basis for diverting 24.01 TMC?
The report provides no justification about why 24 TMC is supposed to be diverted. In fact, after population calculations and making provisions for drinking water supply for the beneficiary districts and villages, the DPR simply states : “This has resulted in a balance availability of 8.9 TMC” . This is a strange statement to make. What is meant by “balance availability”? Is there compulsion for diverting 24 TMC by hook or by crook from the Western Ghats?
6. 24 TMC Diversion? No 47 TMC Diversion!
The project envisages diverting 85 cumecs (Cubic Metres per second) water[xiii], purportedly for six months of June-November. The DPR states that pumps will function 24*7 during this period. Even a simple, back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that 85 cumecs diversion leads to nearly 47 TMC diverted over six months and not 24 TMC, as is claimed.
7. Was there a detailed hydrological study to arrive at 24 TMC diversion?
The proponents have no flow data from individual streams. The 13,000 Crores project is to be based on shoddy hydrology data.
They have used gauge data from Bantwal across Netrvathi, which is approximately 60-70 kilometers downstream and in a completely different eco-region from the hills. This gauge data is simply extrapolated based on catchment area of each stream. This is highly unscientific.
The earlier Project Report used an entirely different method for calculating this yield, based in rainfall in individual catchments. Interesting to see that although to different methods were used by two different reports, divertible yield is exactly the same to the last decimal point of 24.01 TMC!
The fact of the matter is that there have been no scientific studies to find out the level of safe diversion. The DPR makes a fantastic statement in conclusion to the effect that:
“According to the revised computations, the divertible yield has been assessed as 22.14.TMC. However, Prof.Rama Prasad , who has conducted the Hydrology studies has opined that the yield of 22.14 TMC at 50% dependability is very much on a conservative side and 24.01 TMC of divertible yield is available across the streams. This has been taken note off and for the present proposal, 24.01 TMC of water has been considered as the divertible yield from the selected streams to proceed further regarding finalization of the scheme in total.”
This just shows the random way in which divertible yield has been fixed!
8. How about the downstream Impacts of this diversion, which was the main reason for protests in Dakshin Kannada and Mangalore? Were the impacts studied?
There has been NO assessment of downstream water needs or impacts of this diversion on the downstream people or ecosystems. The DPR just ‘assumes’ that there will not be any impact on downstream users of ecology!
This is evidently misleading. One example of the problem in such assumption is that the flow data of Hongadahalla maintained by KPCL (given in Annex) indicates that flow in streams like Hongadhalla in August near the gauging point, has not exceeded even 20 cumecs. However, the according to the DPR[xiv], arrangement has been made to divert a whopping 30 cumecs from Hongadhalla from Weir 7 during June-November. This means that in the downstream, the rivulet will be rendered dry.
9. Was Impact Assessment for Western Ghats conducted?
The project proponent has not even clarified as to what will be forest land required for diversion. The section on Impact Assessment in the EMP deals largely with the beneficiary region without dealing with impacts on Wesetrn Ghats at all. There has been no study on eflows as per the HLWG (High Level Working Group on Western Ghats/ Kasturirangan Committee Report)report, no study of estuarine fisheries, no study of drinking water needs.
10. Will there be profound impacts in the downstream region?
Yes. Yettinahole Project will “divert” water out of the basin and unlike most other irrigation or hydropower projects, the water will be permanently lost from the basin. The ecosystem and livelihoods in the downstream are closely linked to the hydrology of the Netravathi. In fact even in June, which is supposed to be a “peak season” for diversion, Mangalore and other parts of Dakshin Kannada have been facing water shortages[xv]. In addition, there are several estuarine and riverine fishermen dependent on the Netravathi for their livelihoods. There are many industrial areas, SEZs coming up in Mangalore which will be needing more water. While there has been a prospective study of the population and water demand growth of the beneficiary region in the DPR, there has been not even a mention of Mangalore and its increasing needs in the future in the DPR, highlighting the bias of the proponents.
There are several functioning mini hydel projects on the individual streams as well as tributaries which depend on the assured flow from upstream. They have not even been consulted before this decision was taken.
11. Will there be a severe impact on Ecology and Wildlife?
The project falls within 10 kms boundary of the Pushpagiri Sanctuary, one of the specific World Heritage Sites in the Western Ghats[xvi]. The entire region has exceptional biodiversity. The project also affects the Mysore Elephant Reserve.
The region has exceptional fish biodiversity, with several new species [xvii]being discovered from the region. There have been efforts to declare this area as a specific fish sanctuary.[xviii]Despite this, the Environmental Management Plan of the DPR states that the fish diversity in most streams is “Poor”. This is a very irresponsible and misleading statement.
Man Animal Conflicts in Sakaleshpura are on a rise. Mega infrastructural activities envisaged in Yettinahole Project will worsen the situation further. There has been no mention of this.
12. Considering the impacts and the strong opposition from Dakshin Kannada, were any public consultations held?
No. there has not been a single open public consultation held by the proponents or the Karnataka Government in the affected region. This indicates lack of respect for democratic values and transparency. Shockingly to the question: “ Have-public debates about utility of projects been held and the response thereof outlined in the Report?” has been answered as “Yes” in the DPR.
In fact there has been no such report in the DPR.
The DPR also states: 1.14: “Many public meetings have been held by the Govt. to make the people aware of the importance of the scheme both in the initial reaches and the end reaches of the project.”
This is entirely false as no such meeting has been held on Dakshin Kannada where informed discussions can be held.
Yettinahole diversion or Netravathi Diversion Project is an extremely costly ( 13000 Crores +) project of the Karnataka Government. It has been based on weak hydrology, nonexistent impact assessment of the downstream region, no Forest Clearance, no Wildlife Clearance and no public consultations. It is violating Environment (Protection) Act 1986, Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 and Wildlife (Protection)Act 1972. As has been proved by SANDRP, Karnataka has violated Environmental Laws in the recent past[xix].
The project provides no justification for diverting 24 TMC, plans to divert more volume than that, most of which is meant for urban areas and irrigation, without options assessment of cheaper and more sustainable options.
The project has illegally awarded tenders worth Rs 1000 crores without clearances.
In the interest of ecology, downstream population of Dakshin Kannada, public resources, wildlife, World Heritage sites and even future generations, at least until we have basis for informed decisions including a credible EIA, SIA, Options assessment and participatory decision making process, Projects like Yettinahole need to be shelved. Already multiple PILs against the project have been filed in the High Court and routed to the NGT. We hope NGT will also take a strong view on the serious issues involved here.
Severe downstream impacts and drying up of streams due to Yettinahole project reminds one of the tale of Sage Durvasa, meditating on the banks of the Tunga, not very far from Dakshin Kannada. Durvasa loved the river and was known for his short temper. As Bheema dammed the flowing River, Durvasa was agitated to see dried up river bed in the downstream. Yudhishthira saw this and advised Bheema to break the dam himself, to avoid the wrath of Sage Durvasa. Bheema relented and broke the dam, to allow the free flow of the river once more. (One of India’s first decommissioned dams?)
Let us hope that Netravathi flows unhindered and continues to support human and non-humans alike like she has been doing for centuries. Even for the areas claimed to be benefiting from the project, there are cheaper, sustainable and credible options available than this mega project.