Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, India – Part II



 

Threats to the Valley

Location of the Valley

The Mahadayi River Valley is one of the few remaining areas of wilderness in the Sahyadris and like the threats to these remaining wildernesses all over the world, this piece of wilderness is also facing several threats due to human pressure.

Mahadayi River before Vajra Poha Waterfalls – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

The main threats are as follows:

• MALKI LANDS:

Many forest patches in the valley are privately owned (malki lands). The owners of these lands are a law unto themselves. While the Forest Act provisions are also applicable to private forest lands there is nothing much that can be done to prevent the owners from felling trees. Many malki lands have been denuded of tree covers and converted to food and cash crops. There are instances of valuable forest lands being sold to unscrupulous elements. There was a move to sell Yellurgad fort also known as Rajahansagad and there has been apprehension of Bhimgad fort being sold in the light of the fact that 47 acres of land adjacent to the fort has been already sold to a Kerala based firm. Private mining interests are taking advantage of the situation to carry on illegal mining.

• ILLEGAL MINING AND TREE FELLING:

Illegal mining has been going on in the valley for decades with the help of powerful vested interests.

 

Large scale illegal mining – Kalmani Village in Khanapur Taluk – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

Illegal tree felling also continues with a powerful timber lobby. Timber felling also clears the way for manganese mining. Large-scale felling of trees has also been going on by various gangs in connivance with forest officials.

Large scale tree felling & burning of forests on the steep precipitous slopes – Maan village, Chorla, Khanapur taluk – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

• MONOCULTURE PLANTATIONS:

Large-scale monoculture plantations of acacia (Australian) and mangium are being plantednot only in the heart of denuded forests but also in the rich grasslands between the forestexpanses and over the plateau. This disturbs the very composition of the flora itself adversely affecting the dependent fauna, particularly birds, bees and insects.

• INDUSTRIAL ACTIVITIES:

a) A sponge iron plant has been set up in Londa, just south of the Mahadayi Valley. The project site is within 25 km radius of the Londa Forest range and situated virtually on the crestline of the Western Ghats. In Goa itself, four sponge iron plants are operating in the Sahyadri zone.
b) Goa part of the Madei/Mandovi river basin is also facing considerable amount of pollution and damage.

Mining dumps along the banks of the Mandovi in Goa –Pic by Mohan Pai

Numerous mining leases for manganese and iron ore have destroyed the wilderness in Goa, leaving its surface looking like a bombed crater. As a result there is considerable sediment load in the rivers. It is estimated that at least 70,000 of run-off materials are dumped in the Mandovi river. The worst affected rivers are the Mandovi and its two tributaries – Dicholi and Khandepar. According to Goa University researchers there are 27 major mines within the Mandovi river basin. Tata Energy Research Institute which prepared “Area-wise Environmental Quality Plan” states in it report that “ around 21,000 hectares of private and forest land, which accounts for at least 18% of Goa’s private and Government forest, has been lost due to mining”. • POACHING There is widespread poaching both on Karnataka and Goa side. Hunting parties come from places like Mumbai with sophisticated gear for game that includes deer, wild boar, bear, bison, jungle fowl and panthers.

• DAMS & DIVERSIONS:

Much more threatening of all the threats is the energetic resurrection of the Karnataka Government’s decades old projects of diversion of the Mahadayi waters into the Malaprabha river along with the Mahadayi Valley power projects.

Kalasa Nala Dam Site at Kankumbi – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Malaprabha story
 

 

 

The Malaprabha Reservoir Project at Naviluteertha in Belgaum district Karnataka was completed in 1974 to irrigate an area of 2,18,000 hectare in Dharwad, Belgaum and Bijapur districts. What was envisaged during the planning of the project as the “cropping pattern” and what exists today is a complete contrast. Crops like paddy, sugarcane and horticulture which are water guzzlers, seem to have replaced the traditional cropping pattern. In the last thirty years four sugar mills have come up in the Malaprabha basin, apart from many others in neighbouring areas. The traditional four-month cultivation cycle has found it difficult to resist the profit-driven approach of growing of the 11-month water intensive crops. The farmers at the head and mid reaches of the irrigated belt are using water of the east-flowing Malaprabha by employing electric pumps. As a result the tail-end villages are facing an acute state of drought. There is almost a sense of doom in the Malaprabha basin with water scarcity and environmental deterioration. The Malaprabha dam since its completion thirty years ago has filled to capacity only thrice. The hills of the eastern plains in the area are denuded and extensively deforested and as a result there is a decrease in the rainfall. Drinking water supply has been affected seriously. Villagers gathering around a single tap with red, green, yellow plastic pots to collect their little share of water is a common sight.

Malaprabha is a much bigger stream than the Mahadayi. According to a former Conservator of Forests, Government of Karnataka, it was the wanton deforestation of the Jamboti area of Khanapur that was primarily responsible for the present state of the Malaprabha river. As a result the Renuka Sagar Reservoir has been affected seriously failing to fulfill the targets.

MAHADAYI WATER DIVERSION AND HYDROELECTRICITY PROJECT


The proposed Mahadayi River Valley scheme involves building six dams on the Mahadayi and its tributaries near Kankumbi-Chola to divert water into the Malaprabha, While the Mahadayi hydroelectric project will have five more dams on the tributaries to produce of power. The main diversion dam on the Mahadyi known as Kotni dam, is also designed to produce power, apart from diverting water into the Malaprabha above Khanapur.

 

Foundatiom markingsfor Mhadei Dam at Kotni – Pic by Mohan Pai

These dams will be: one on Kalsa (below its confluence with Surla), one on Haltar Nullha, diverting its water into Kalsa reservoir near Chorla and three small dams on Potni Nullha above Kankumbi (it meets Tilari river in Maharashtra), interconnected and led into Kalsa reservoir. Kalsa reservoir, cumulatively then, is diverted to the Malaprabha through a tunnel near Kankumbi. The water from the main Kotni dam is to be led through a 5.5 km tunnel into the Malaprabha at Asoga near Khanapur.

These six diversion dams involve 1.6 km of dam length, 6.4 km of tunnels through forested ridges, and 3.5 km of open channels as excavations. Areas of submersion amount to 4,300 acres of prime forests and 1000 acre of dry and wet agricultural land. The second project – Mahadayi Hydroelectric project with twin purpose Kotni dam and dams on the tributaries of Irti, Bail and Andhari will submerge another 400 acres of pristine forests bringing the total area of submersion to 5,700 acre including a few villages. The diversion dam on Kalasa (below its confluence with Surla river) will be depleting the waters of Surla river. Surla river makes a beautiful waterfall in the Chorla Ghat and this will turn into a mere trickle like the Jog falls. Besides, the reduction in waters of Surla river will alter the ecology of Sattari Taluk affecting its agriculture, fishery and its economy.

South of the Mahadayi river, two more dams have been planned at Palna and Katla on Dudhsagar (Khandepar) river which forms the source of Dudhsagar Waterfalls in Goa. These dams will reduce this beautiful falls to a sorry state of a trickle just like the famed Jog falls. But more serious will be the consequences for Khandepar river, the waters of which will be considerably reduced. The reservoir at Opa which meets the drinking water needs of Ponda will be seriously affected. River Khandepar is the main tributary of the Mandovi and this will ultimately reduce the inflow in the Mandovi.

A sizeable area will have to be cleared to accommodate the labour and it can be expected that the forests will be further damaged for the requirement of their fire-wood. Within an area of 20-25 km there will be as many as 11 dams and extensive excavation, blasting, etc on account of tunnels and channels. All these activities will seriously disturb and wipe out the wildlife of the area.

The Kalasa-Bhandura water diversion scheme on which the work has already commenced is going to submerge about 723 ha(Kalasa 320 ha & Bhandura 403 ha). Should Karnataka go ahead with the Kotni Hydroelectric & diversion project on the scale that it has been planned the total area to be submerged will be 2145 ha forests plus another 330 ha of forest land for roads, dams power houses, township, field offices, etc. The villages that will be submerged, some them completely and some partially are: Kankumbi, Parwad, Chorla, Kongla, Kirwale and Kabnail, Gavali, Pastoli, Nerse, Jamgaon, Mugwede, Chapoli, Jamgaon and Kavale

Another Malaprabha ?

The question to be posed here is, considering the imbalance existing in the Malaprabha basin, to what extent will the diversion from the Mahadayi will really solve the problem. And at what cost ? As long as the exploitation of water resources in the Malaprabha basin continues, no matter how much water and from where we divert it, we are likely to face the same situation in the near future. As outlined above, the environmental cost of the “developmental scheme” will be devastating.
The denuded Malaprabha Valley in Khanapur taluka bereft of tree cover – Pic by Mohan Pai

Malaprabha basin itself provides a potent pointer. Barely 10 km away from the Mahadayi valley separated by Jamboti ridge, the Malaprabha basin has witnessed marked deforestation, denudation, water scarcity and environmental deterioration within a span of 32 years.

The forest cover of Belgaum district would be reduced from 13% to 8% after releasing the forest land to Mahadayi Diversion and Hydro-electric project. Reduction in forest cover would have considerable effect on the climate – reduction in rainfall, temperature and humidity.

What the Mahadayi project is set to do is to destroy permanently an area, rich in biodiversity, which ranks second in India after Sundarbans and eighth in the world as the finest tiger habitat and is home to many species of flora and fauna including endangered Wroughton’s Freetailed bat and Theobald’s Tomb bat. Barapedi caves in the Mahadyi valley is the only place where Wroughton’s Free-tailed bat is found in the whole world and Theobald’s Tomb bat is rare. Apart from Krishnapur caves it survives only in two other places in India.

Forest destruction spree

In the words of a retired Conservator of Forest, Government of Karnataka “In the name of development the Karnataka Power Corporation has ruined much of our forests and so far more than one lakh hectares has already been destroyed in Sharavathi, Kadra, Kodasalli, Supa, etc. The same fate has fallen on Bedthi – Aghanashini valley forest. And now, it is the turn of Mahadayi. KPC should stop this forest destruction spree immediately other wise we will have to pay heavy price for it”. He also adds “It is not prudent move to destroy forest for electricity. Let it be generated by some other means”

Stockpile of timber near Amgaon – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

Deforestation and the Global Carbon Cycle

Carbon dioxide ( CO2) is the major gas involved in the greenhouse effect, which causes global warming. All the things that produce CO2 (like car burning gas) and the things that consume Co2 (growing plants) are involved in the “global carbon cycle”.

Tropical forests hold an immense amount of carbon, which joins with oxygen to form CO2. The plants and soil of tropical forests hold 460-575 billion metric tons of carbon worldwide. Each acre of tropical forest stores about 180 metric tons of carbon.

Deforestation increases the amount of CO2 and other trace gases in the atmosphere. When a forest is cut and replaced by cropland and pastures, the carbon that was stored in the tree trunks (wood is about 50% carbon) joins with oxygen and is released into the atmosphere as Co2. The loss of forests has a great effect on the global carbon cycle. From 1850 to 1990, deforestation worldwide (including that in the United States) released 122 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere, with the current rate being 1.6 billion metric tons per year. In comparison all the fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) burned during a year release about 6 billion tons per year.

Releasing CO2 into the atmosphere increases the greenhouse effect, and may raise global temperature. The role of fossil fuels burned by cars and industry is well known, but tropical deforestation releases about 25% of the amount released by fossil fuel burning. Tropical deforestation, therefore, contributes a significant part of the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.

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