Ministry of Water Resources

Shalmala River Protection Rally: Local Actions on the eve of International Day of Action for Rivers

On the eve of International Day of Action for Rivers (14th March), more than 1500 people gathered on the Ganeshpal Island in the Shalmala River. The mood was upbeat and there was spring in each step, young and old. The crowd was made up of a remarkable majority of women, all of them with flowers in their hair. There were barefooted farmers, planters with gardens along the river, priests in dhotis clutching files full of river protection stories, swamis who were to deliver a tough message, researchers working on rivers, tribal groups who venerated the Shalmala and after 5 pm, even school children who splashed around in the river! The densely forested river banks were decorated with garlands of flowers and mango leaves and there was a local band drumming rhythmic beats.

"Let our Shalmala Flow. International Day of Action for Rivers"
“Let our Shalmala Flow. International Day of Action for Rivers” Photo: All photos by Parineeta, SANDRP
People gathering for the rally Photo: All photos by Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
People gathering for the rally Photo: All photos by Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

The gathering was here to celebrate the lovely Shalmala River, a life giving resource to these villages. On one of the boulders inside the river was a painted notice: “If anyone tries to destroy our environment and rivers, we will NOT allow it”

Sign on a river boulder
Sign on a river boulder

They were unaware that this remarkable local phenomenon was resonating with a similar global endeavor. That the International day of Action for Rivers celebrates just this spirit: of protecting, celebrating and fighting for our rivers. Residents along Shalmala have been taking action for their river for more than 10 years now.

Shalmala River, as the name suggests, evokes lyrical beauty and magic. This small river is a tributary of the West Flowing River Bedthi of the Western Ghats, in Uttar Kannada District of Karnataka.

Bedthi herself is a special river. In the 1980’s when the Karnataka Power Corporation Limited announced its proposal for damming this river for a hydroelectric project, the resultant protest movement brought together myriad groups from Uttar Kannada led by Panduranga Hegde, Ananth Hegde, researches , economists, scholars and activists like Sundarlal Bahuguna, Vandana Shiva from across India. Like the Narmada and Silent Valley struggles, Bedthi struggle helped lay the foundation stones of an informed discourse surrounding dams and rivers. While it talked the language of a local peasant who did not want his land to be submerged and his river to go dry, it also talked the language of a scholar working on cost benefit analysis and ecological goods and services. The movement is an inspiration to many because the Bedthi still flows freely and the dam is all but scrapped, bowing to the opposition.

Ananth Hegde Ashisar addressing the Shalmala Rally
Ananth Hegde Ashisar addressing the Shalmala Rally
Priests earnestly discussing river protection strategies
Priests earnestly discussing river protection strategies


Shalmala, a smaller tributary of Bedthi is no less special. For one, it is one of the very few protected rivers in India. Following untiring research and advocacy by Bhalchandra Hegde and local communities and with support of Forest Department Officials and erstwhile Chairperson of Western Ghats Task Force Ananth Hegde Ashisara, Shalmala the river has been protected through constitution of Shalmala River Riparian Conservation Reserve in June 2012. With Shalmala River Riparian Ecosystem Conservation Reserve, Uttar Kannada now has 4 CRs under its belt: all of them protecting important rivers in the region, without affecting local traditional use. These include Aghanashini-Lion Tailed Macaque Conservation Reserve, Bedthi Conservation Reserve and Hornbill Conservation Reserve along the Kali River. Several researchers like Dr. TV Ramchandra from IISC, Dr. Praveen Bhargava, Politicians, Swamijis of local Matths, and importantly the local population have supported this cause.

Women of all ages took active part in the rally and the discussions
Women of all ages took active part in the rally and the discussions

Conservation Reserve is a new concept in the rigid framework of Protected Areas under the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act of 2002. The novel part of these reserves is that they seek to protect habitats that are under private ownership also, through active stakeholder participation. They are typically buffer zones or connectors and migration corridors between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved protected forests in India. They are designated as conservation reserves if they are uninhabited and completely owned by the government but used for subsistence by communities, and community reserves if part of the lands are privately owned. Administration of such reserves would be through joint participation of forest officials and local bodies like gram sabhas and gram panchayats.

Shalmala Conservation Reserve was declared in June 2012 through a gazette notification. It encompasses more than 15.9 kms of the Shalmala River, with 100 mts riparian buffer on each bank. The reserve starts at Sahasralinga and culminates at Ganeshpal, the island where the rally took place. Just downstream Ganeshpal, the river takes a plunge down a steep gorge to form the Ganesh falls. From here, the boundaries of the Bedthi Conservation Reserve begin.

One of the important arguments in the proposal for conservation reserve is the unique cultural value of Shalmala River. At Sahasralinga, one is awestruck to see hundreds of Shivlingas carved on the bedrock of the river. The river itself is a temple, with carvings of Shivalingas, Nandi (Basaveshwara), Garuda, deeps and inscriptions. There is a huge pilgrimage here on the occasion of Shivratri.

Shalmala Riverbed with Shivlingas and Carvings at Sahasralinga
Shalmala Riverbed with Shivlingas and Carvings at Sahasralinga

Hydel Project in the Conservation Reserve

Even as the conservation reserve was declared in June 2012, Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited (KREDL) has allotted a 24 MW Hydel project right inside the conservation Reserve across the Shalmala! This 24 MW Ganeshpal hydel project by KARE Power envisages a trench weir as well a dam to store and divert water away from the river. The proposed location of the weir is just upstream of Ganeshpal isalnd. The project envisages a 4.4 kms long Head race tunnel to divert water from river to the powerhouse. The powerhouse is planned to be at the foot of the waterfall.

Through this tunnel diversion which will need blasting in the river bed and riparian zone, nearly 5 kms of the rivers well as the Ganesh Falls will be rendered dry. As a trench weir is proposed, there is no possibility of releasing eflows.

Bhalchandra Hegde and Ananth Hegde Ashisar, instrumental behind protecting Shalmala
Bhalchandra Hegde and Ananth Hegde Ashisar, instrumental behind protecting Shalmala

The Ganeshpal Island, where the rally took place will be exposed, without a river caressing it and Ganesh Falls will dry up. The project also envisages a 15 kms long transmission line to the power station and most of this area is under forest. In addition, the DPR of the project plans  for construction of roads to the weir, powerhouse and tunnels as well as workers colonies and rest house with recreational facilities. If materialised, this small hydel project which does not legally require an Environment Impact Assessment or Public Hearing, will destroy the Shalmala Conservation Reserve.

The local people are opposing this project with all their might. One of the resolutions of the rally was an appeal to the government to install solar power projects in Uttar Kannada in non-forest regions, which will be heartily supported by locals, but to leave their river alone. It is understandable. The economic, social and cultural ethos of the region is very strongly linked to flowing rivers. People worship rivers, they fish from them, use water for drinking water needs, diver streams for irrigation g their lands and look upon the rivers in awe in the monsoons.

People after the rally
People heading back home after the rally
Enjoying Shalmala
Enjoying Shalmala

The protest rally was organised and addressed by Sri. Ananth Hegde Ashisara, past Chairperson of the Western Ghats Task Force and past member of the State Wildlife Board, noted economist B. Kumarswamy, Dr. Subhashchandra from IISC, Bangalore, Adv. Shankar Bhat from Bangalore, Parineeta Dandekar from SANDRP and Shri. Karunakar Gogate from Hosamat, Dakshin Kannada. Shri. Gogate shared now Kukke hydel project planned in his region has not disclosed even its submergence details after 3 years of being told to do so by the government. Incidentally, Kare Power Projects which is proposing Ganeshpal Hydel,  is constructing the Thangarabalu Hydel Project across Krishna in Gulbarga and here too, the company has not shared submergence details for a dam as high as 22 meters!

The meeting was presided over of Swamiji of a Svarnavalli Matth. He is locally known as the Green Swamy. Rather than going into religious sermons, Swamiji told the people: “Along with Shanti Mantra, now is the time for Kranti mantra. Do not let project developers who have no link with your river, come here and destroy it. We have a duty towards our river and we will fulfil it.”

More than 1500 people stood and vowed to protect Shalmala river and their entwined lives in days and years to come.

After the rally, school children splashed about in the river, researchers went for bird watching along the riparian stretch, farmers returned to their gardens to water their crops and the elderly sat down on the river sands for a gossip.

The Shalmala flowed by serenely. May this flow continue…

-Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP,



Another Hydro fraud: Two small projects on paper, one large project on site

24.75 MW Mouneswar + 24.75 MW Basavanna ‘Small’ Hydel Projects = One large HEP

According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), hydel projects between 2-25 MW are classified as Small Hydel Projects (SHPs). These projects are exempt from Environmental Clearance, impact assessment, public consultation or any monitoring from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), receive subsidies from the MNRE and apply for Carbon Credits from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Though the concept of encouraging small hydel projects as sources of decentralized energy, also supplying off grid power seem welcome, the happenings on ground are vastly different. As these projects are excluded from environmental governance, there are several examples of fraudulent Small Hydro projects, which exploit the lax governance mechanism to hoodwink all concerned.[i]

One such recurring fraud is showing two separate projects on paper, in order to avoid environmental scrutiny and avail subsidies meant for SHPs, while building one single big dam on site, clubbing the two projects. Projects like Perla and Shemburi by Greenco in Mangalore or Maruthi Gen projects in Sakaleshpur (, all in Karnataka Western Ghats, are two example of this fraud.

One more case has now come to light, this one from Gulberga district in north Karnataka when I visited the project area recently. Although called by two different names, 24.75 MW Mouneswar Small Hydel Project and 24.75 MW Basavanna Hydro Project are operating from a single dam/diversion weir across the KrishnaRiver, just downstream Narayanpur Dam. As such, the project should be considered as a single 49.50 MW hydel project and should undergo immediate environmental, social and legal scrutiny and further assessment. We tried to conatct the officials of the company several times for questions related to the projects, but we got no response.

The Projects:

24.75 MW Mouneswar and 24.75 MW Basavanna SHEPs are built across river Krishna in Benchagaddi village of Shorpur taluk of Gulberga district in Karnataka.

The projects have also applied for Carbon credits under the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Basavanna Hydro Project has been registered as a Clean Development Mechanasim (CDM) project with the UNFCCC on 28th December 2012 and its crediting period has been fixed as 1st March 2013 to 28th February 2023[ii]. 24.75 MW Mouneswar SHP has applied for registration[iii]. SANDRP has sent comments against registration of this project.[iv]

Shockingly, both projects have requested separate registrations, hiding the fact that both will be using the same dam, the same intake/power canal and the same tail race canal.

Project design documents (PDDs) submitted to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Board (UNFCCC – EB) mention the same coordinates as the project location:

Latitude- 16°19’52 “N

Longitude- 76°33’48” E

Figure 1. Mouneswara and Basavanna diversion weir_ Google Earth

PDDs of both the projects do not even mention the other project, clearly misleading the UNFCCC. Not only do the PDDs show same coordinates, the lengths of the intake canals are exactly the same at 2771 meters, so are the RCC conduits and penstocks, because we are talking of the same project!

Carbon Credits are supposed to be provided to projects only when they prove beyond doubt that they will be economically unfeasible without such support. However, in this case the expenses of dam, power canal, and tail race tunnel is shared and hence the costs will be lowered, the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of the projects will be higher than what is quoted in the PDDs and they will be profitable even without additional ‘pocketable’ finance from the UNFCCC in the name of Clean Development! (IRR claimed in the PDD is 9.14% for Mouneswar SHP and 11.38% for Basvanna SHP.)

Figure 2. Common Dam/Diversion weir for Mouneswara and Basavanna HEPs. Photo- SANDRP

Same Proponent, different names

Interestingly, project proponents of both the projects are shown to be different in respective PDDs. For Mouneswar Small Hydel Project it is Lakshmi Jalavidyut Limited and that for Basavanna Hydro Project it is Krishna Hydro Energy Limited.  However, the registered office of both these firms is the same! This address also belongs to Penna Cements, Hyderabad, which is a player in Mini hydel projects in Karantaka. Penna Cements and its subsidiary Pioneer Genco already operate two SHPs, each of 24.75 MW capacity across Cauvery in Karnataka.

From the ground

When SANDRP visited the project sites, the officials were hostile to any entry in the premises or even near the site.

Figure 3. Dam/Diversion weir . Photo- SANDRP

The dam/ diversion weir built by the projects is inside the KrishnaRiver bed and diverts the water through a power canal which runs approximately 3 kms downstream. The power canal takes most of the water from the river rendering the river dry in lean season.

Farmers told power canal as irrigation canal:

When I talked with the farmers in the downstream, they told me that they were under the impression that this canal is meant for irrigation, like Narayanpur Dam canals in the upstream (about 26 km). However, Benchagaddi village which is situated next to the tail race canal of the project not allowed to take even its drinking water from the canal.

There have been strong protests from the villages to this project as the diversion has dried the river bed and more than 300 irrigation pumps of villages like Bechagaddi, Hosur and Yedalabhavi used for irrigating paddy are now useless. Karanataka Bhagya Jal Nigam had also taken serious exception to the projects and had ordered a stop work notice.[v]  (It subsequently issued an NOC, without providing any resolution to the issues raised by it earlier.)

The Benchagaddi village which is right next to the power canal experiences power cuts lasting 18-20 hours daily. Around 40 farmers from this village lost their lands for the canal. Rates of compensation given were Rs 25-85 thousand per acre.

Shockingly fraudulent Local Stakeholder Consultations!

The projects have claimed to have organised ‘Local Stakeholder Consultations’ about the CDM mechanism, which is mandatory when applying for CDM credits. PDD claims that Mouneswar project organised stakeholder consultations on 21st December 2011 and Basavanna project organized it on 26th September 2011.

Now see this, both PDDs mentions exactly the same people asking exactly the same questions with exactly the same answers being given!! It is absolutely clear that these meetings and these reports are fake. Amazingly, UNFCCC could not see through this clear fraud.

Local Development through Small Hydels?

As per the villagers, affected families were promised a job in the power plant although none of them received any jobs there. Even the JCB and truck operators are from other states. Security guards too aren’t from the same village.

Figure 4. Area submerged upstream of the dam or diversion weir
Figure 4. Submergence area in the upstream of the weir
Figure 5. Tail canal near Benchigaddi village and the construction work of power house (Source: Google Earth)
Figure 5. Tail race canal near Benchigaddi village and the construction work of power house (Source: Google Earth)

Unaddressed impacts of Submergence:

In Geddamari village near the diversion weir, around 15-20 families lost their lands for construction of the dam. Bill collector (Talathi) of the village told SANDRP that around 50 acres of land was SUBMERGED due to dam (diversion weir) construction. He further added that farmers whose lands were submerged, have not received the compensation as yet. They have been talking with the company and have been verbally promised some compensation, though nothing on paper. Problems in this village too are like Benchagaddi village. Limited drinking water, disturbed power supply etc.

Figure 6. Power houses near benchagaddi village. Photo- SANDRP
Figure 6. Power houses near Benchagaddi village. Photo- SANDRP

Applicable for Environmental Clearance:

As the projects use a single dam and are a single project of 49.50 MW and they qualify for a full environmental clearance process, including an EIA, public hearing, and Environmental appraisal by the state or central EAC and an Environmental Management Plan. However, the projects have illegally escaped all this.

Executive Engineer of Krishna Bhagya Jal Nigam (KBJN) – controlling state authority in case of Krishna River- confirmed, “Both the projects are operating using the same weir .The power houses of two projects are housed behind the same diversion weir. There are three 8.25 MW turbines for each of the projects situated downstream of the same diversion weir.”

According to the Executive Engineer, KBJN has granted NOCs to both the projects and that both of them being fully operational for last 6-8 months. When SANDRP visited the project site, the HEPs were found to be fully operational.


24.75 MW Mouneswara and 24.75 Basvanna Projects are operating from the same diversion weir, use the same intake canal and same tail race. They are in fact one single project which has fraudulently shown itself as two separate projects. The proponent and the consultants have hidden this fact from the UNFCCC, the MoEF, the MNRE, KREDL, State Pollution Control Board and State Environmental Department. The Local Stakeholder Reports of the projects are a sham. Submergence impacts are still unaddressed.

These issues need to be addressed urgently by all concerned including the MoEF, the Karnataka Government, UNFCCC, MNRE and KREDL. Such frauds are giving a bad name to the all these institutes.

-Damodar Pujari ( with inputs from Parineeta Dandekar