Timely letter or political strategy? Yettinahole project launch put off

Shreyas H S
For Daijiworld.com

Mangalore, Feb 1: It is quite surprising that the foundation stone laying ceremony for the controversial Yettinahole project, which was scheduled for Friday January 31 at Chikkaballapur district, has been postponed citing the delay of the department of environment in issuing a ‘clearance certificate’ to the state government.

This astonishing and sudden step was taken a day after a letter (a copy of which is available with Daijiworld) was sent to the union minister for environment and forest, who also holds the petroleum portfolio, Dr M Veerappa Moily, by the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) located at Delhi and Pune on January 30. The letter questioned the credibility of the ceremony for the Yettinahole project that has not been cleared by the forest and environment department till date.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who reportedly spoke on behalf of Veerappa Moily over the project at the minister’s home turf Chikkaballapur on January 31 said, "The foundation stone laying ceremony has been postponed conceding to the delay in acquiring the clearance certificate from the environment department." But the chief minister has not announced a new date for the  ceremony.

Moreover, Siddaramaiah’s tone signaled his acceptance of the letter and also justifications of a few points mentioned in the letter by SANDRP.  The letter delineated the ‘choice of place’ (Chikkaballapur)  to lay the foundation stone by the minister as politically motivated to mobilize the votes ahead of Lok Sabha elections. In response to SANDRP's contention, the CM insisted that it had nothing to do with the elections. "People of Chikkaballapur are the beneficiaries of the project and it would be relevant and valid to lay the foundation stone here rather than in Dakshina Kannada," he explained.

The letter also pointed out that neither Sakleshpur, the point of diversion of the river, nor Dakshina Kannada, which would be most affected by the project, were chosen for the ceremony as both these places have been witness to strong protests against the project.

However, despite stiff opposition all these days from the people of Dakshina Kannada and a few activists across the country, the state government remained evasive over obtaining a clearance certificate from the department concerned.  The state government claimed that this was a drinking water project; hence it does not come under the purview of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification (EIA) 2006 further amended in 2009.

Speaking to Daijiworld from Pune, Parineeti Dandekar, associate coordinator of SANDRP who conducted a holistic study of the project, visiting places and analyzing the project report, said,  “I welcome the move by the Karnataka government, for understanding the need of obtaining the clearance certificate.”

Further speaking about the project, she emphasized that the project should go through a clearance check by the environment and forest department and if it fails, the project should be scraped for the ill effects it would have on the region.

"We had written a letter to the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) on September 10, 2013, and as a result the department summoned the government of Karnataka seeking reply to the complaint put forth by the SANDRP. Karnataka government in reply to the MoEF stated that the EIA Notification 2006 and clearance from forest department do not come into the picture, since the project outlined was purely a ‘drinking water’ project. However, the reply by the Karnataka government to the MoEF had not been forwarded to the complainant (SNDRP) till now," she added.

Political Motivation?

Union Minister Veerappa Moily being the custodian of MoEF all these days, refrained from commenting on the issue of clearance certificate from his department. It can be observed from the current political wave in the district that this unexpected move from the state government could be a political gimmick with a view to seek the attention of the people of DK.

A credible source from the district Congress unit said, "Veerappa Moily has lost hope of coming to power from his current constituency. People of Chikkaballapur are disappointed with the performance of the minister."

He further added, "Although, in the district, Moily’s son Harsha Moily has been projected as a possible candidate, it now seems to be a political strategy by Moily senior to study the trend and further push himself to contest for the Lok Sabha elections from DK."

The sudden move of raising the issue of environment clearance also suggests that the skewed Yettinahole project is probably seen as a thorn in the flesh to Moily's chances, if indeed talks of his contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Mangalore become a reality.

Was it only the letter that made a difference or was politics involved in the process? The answer lies hidden in the folds of time that would unravel soon, probably before the general elections.


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