River to be diverted to quench urban thirst3 min read
Mangalore: It cuts through the mighty hills of the Western Ghats, passing by holy villages and populated cities. After quenching the thirst of Dakshina Kannada district, it rushes to form an estuarine ecosystem to the south of Mangalore, where it meets the Arabian Sea. Denigrating the importance of its natural course through the Ghats – one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots of the world – the Karnataka state government has allocated a sum of Rs. 200 crore to what is India’s first ‘river diversion project.’
What was once known as the Netravathi river diversion project is now known as ‘Project Ettinahole’, after the tributary of the river. If implemented, the biggest-ever ‘inter-basin water transfer’ project in the history of independent India.
The project which in 2003 had first aimed at providing water to 27 rural districts of the state had subsequently also promised to provide water to the Bangalore urban district in 2010. In its original plan the government had intended to divert one-fourth of the river water to supply 900 million litres to the Bangalore urban district everyday. As of now, this demand is fulfilled by an over-exploited Cauvery river. The project envisaged formation of two canals at 850 metres and 925 metres above the sea level in the Western Ghats.
A number of political parties, environment groups, members of the scientific community, and citizens’ forums of Mangalore have collectively expressed their dissatisfaction on the issue. An independent research conducted by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute based in Kochi shows that 145 thousand million cubic feet (TMC ft) of excess water (a quantity sufficient to quench the thirst of Bangalore city for 10 years), that could be diverted towards the east, is what helps the Arabian Sea maintain its delicate balance. This nutrient-rich water also sustains the ecosystem around the river’s estuary.
Additionally, the government has given permits to 27 different hydroelectric projects, and an increasing industrial demand for fresh water in and around Mangalore will only drive the government to look for alternative sources of water. Experts and local environmentalists believe that the Netravathi has already been exploited to its fullest. Environmental activist Vidya Dinkar rendered the project as “unfeasible, implausible and if implemented, will result in a major threat to the ecosystem and the livelihood of people in neighbouring districts.”
The project is also criticised to be highly uneconomical by other environmentalists. “The Netravathi river diversion project that has been there since 2001 is the biggest-ever environmental project in India and it was estimated that it would cost the state over 16,000 crore, 10 years down the line. The cost might have spiralled by at least four times, and it would be a foolhardy decision to take up that project,” said Professor S.G. Mayya, senior faculty, National Institute of Technology Karnataka (NITK).
In a bid to solve the water shortage in urban areas, the government has perhaps overlooked the enormous harm that will be inflicted upon the Western Ghats if this project is taken up. From the denudation of thousands of acres of ‘Shola’ forest, displacement of animals to soil erosion, this could have catastrophic results and lead to the total degeneration of the Western Ghats. As per the non profit Conservation International, this region has already lost at least 70% of its original habitat.
After strong opposition from local parties, the government renamed the project as the ‘Ettinahole scheme’ which induced ‘The Karnataka Development Programme Review Committee, Dakshina Kannada’ to question the purpose of the Rs. 200 crore allocations made in the recent 2011-12 agriculture budget.
With the project rendered moot by the State Government and Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s assurances to consult with experts before venturing into the project, the question of whether the delicate balance of this pivotal ecosystem will be maintained remains. If the project is fortunate enough to be scrapped, the question of whether the allocation of Rs. 200 crore ends up in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians remains imperative.
Sub-edited by: Garima Goel