By Florine Roche

Mangaluru, Sep 8: Protest against Yettinahole project is finally intensifying in undivided Dakshina Kannada as students have taken to the streets to protest against the project and joining hands with those who are spearheading the movement. It is true this awakening from the intelligent and enterprising people of this coastal region has come a trifle late, but as they say it is better late than never. Just recently Netravati Samrakshana Samithi organised a protest in front of the DC’s office against Yettinahole project, where they have posed 10 questions to the elected representatives. They have given them a time frame to answer these questions and in the absence of proper response they have threatened to intensify the agitation.

The President of the Samithi during the protest rally had lamented the lacklustre response of the people of the twin districts to Yettinahole Integrated Water Project. His accusation is justified because the jaded attitude of the public when faced with a cataclysm is simply appalling. There have been protests, rallies, seminars, articles and even exclusive cartoon exbitions to highlight the adverse impact the project might pose to the people of the district. Even then it has failed to wake up our conscience and bring us to the streets to protest and forcing the government to stall the project. The project if implemented is fraught with disaster as it might cause damage to this ecologically sensitive region. It might destroy river Netravali and in the process the coastal region sustaining on it may become barren over a period of time.

The involvement of students against the anti-people Yettinahole Project no doubt is a welcome decision. But the need of the hour is for the entire citizens of this coastal region to try to understand the dangers posed by the project and fight in unison against its implementation. The people need to understand that the project is being implemented with the active connivance of some of our elected representatives who are bent upon its implementation to pander to vote bank politics and score political brownie points. Forest and Environment Minister B Ramanatha Rai has been trying tried to mislead the people saying only preliminary work is done in Sakleshpur when on the contrary major work of building check dams is undertaken by throwing all norms to the wind. Even forest trees are felled and permission of the forest department has not been obtained.

Anti Yettinahole protests are being held in Dakshina Kannada since 2013 ever since the project was announced and various committees have been formed to fight against the implementation of the project. However, in the absence of public participation to make this agitation a mass movement, nothing fruitful could be achieved. So much so it is now believed that anything can be done here in the coastal region as the people really don’t care unless the problem comes to the doorstep of the people. Just last month there was no water for about five days. Even then people haven’t realised what it is to be to go without water for more than a day. If Yettinahole project is implemented despite public opposing it, we may have to face a similar situation where we might have to go without water for days together. Further the project might affect the livelihood of fishermen of this coastal region who are entirely dependent on fishing for their livelihood. Under these circumstances the 10 points given to the elected representatives of this region by Netravati Samrakshana Samiti (NSS) have assumed great significance.

Apart from Ecological disaster the implementation of the project might cause, there is a huge expenditure of crores of rupees tax payer’s money. Initially the cost of the project was estimated at Rs. 8323.50 crores and now it has gone up to 12,200 crores. There is every possibility that the budget of the project might cross Rs 20,000 crores when it gets completed.

Drinking Water Project or Political Stratagem?

Yettinahole project is only a minuscule part of the larger scheme of Netravati River Diversion project to provide water for drinking and irrigation purposes in 9 districts that includes Kolar, Chikballapur and Tumkur among other districts of Karnataka. Considering the unusual interest evinced by two former Chief Ministers Dr Veerappa Moily in implementing the project and D V Sadananda Gowda, who actually signed the project during his stint as Chief Minister, there is every reason to believe that the project is more of a political game plan under the disguise of providing drinking water. Despite widespread protests, D V Sadananda Gowda even had the cheek to say he is committed to the project. It is ironical that that he is not concerned about people of the coastal region despite experts forewarning that the implementation of the project will lead to unforeseen environmental disasters.

There is no doubt Nethravati River Diversion is a political project. Former chief minister Veerappa Moily who represents Chikaballapur Lok Sabha constituency though hails from Mangalore has taken fanatical interest in implementing Yettinahole project after he moved to Chikkaballapur constituency in 2009. It may be recalled that as Union Environment Minister he had laid the foundation stone for the project in Chikkaballapur just a few days before the general elections in March 2014 despite people of this region agitating against it. In fact the he laid the foundation stone in Chikkaballapur and not in Hassan from where the water will have to be diverted, which shows the project has political overtones.

Netravati River Diversion involves major irrigation works and is taken up by the government based on the report submitted by irrigation expert (now late) Dr G S Paramasihvaiaha to the government. Paramashivaiah’s report had recommended diversion of flood waters from Sakleshpura to Kolar Chickaballapur districts and he had even objected to when the government decided to go ahead only with Yettinahole project and for not taking up the report in toto.

Yettinahole Diversion Project is planned in the Western Ghats by the Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited (KNNL) supposedly for providing drinking water supply scheme. As per the available information in various media the project is to supply 24 TMC water to Kolar and Chikkaballapur districts involving 8 dams in Western Ghats Forest. However, available data also indicates that just 2.81 TMC water is for drinking purpose and the remaining is to be used for river and tank rejuvenation, irrigation, industry etc.

Inviting Disaster

This isn’t the only dichotomy ever since the project has been planned and controversies have been an inseparable part of this project. Karnataka Netravati Nigam Limited, (KNNL) one among the nodal agencies for implementing irrigation projects, had outsourced the job to a private company for identifying the source for feeding water to Kolar and Chikkaballapur. This company identified west flowing rivers as the source and prepared a feasibility report to divert 10 TMC water from Yettinahole near Sakaleshpur. However KNNL in its feasibility report claimed 24 TMC water can be diverted from the source, which is far from reality. As per the report Yettinahole and its two tributaries, Kadumane Hole, Keeri Hole and Hongadahalla and only flood water was to be diverted.

However, the reality is quite different from what is being projected. According to assessment made by a premier institution like Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore the availability of water from YYettinahole project is at 9.55 tmc only. This naturally has given a feeling that there is some hidden agenda in pushing through the project. There is the question of how the government is going to replenish this shortfall. Those who have spearheaded the anti-Yettinahole are of the belief that the long term plan of the government includes diverting both Kumaradhara and Netravati rivers, which means we are embracing nothing but disaster. This also means that there will not be any water left for local agricultural and other requirements.

Prof S G Mayya of National Institute of Technology, Karnataka, Surathkal has expressed dismay at the government’s decision to go ahead with the project. He opines that the water available for diversion in Yettinahole will be only 7 to 7 tmc. So there is no question of getting 24 TMC of water in any circumstances. He also questions the sagacity of the government to spend almost 20,000 crores (estimated cost at the end of the project) just for diverting the 6 to 7 tmc of water to cater to the water requirements to certain areas for only three months in a year.

It is estimated that the Yettinahole project also requires about 370 mw of power. The many hydroelectric projects planned enroute Yettinahole are expected to give only 125 -150 mw of electricity. How this requirement of power will be met is not known. There has been some opposition to the proposed hydro-electric projects on Netravati river also. Dr Ravindranath Shanbhogue who is also in the forefront in opposing the project says “this project is like inviting disaster for the people of the coastal area. It will cause unmitigated danger to the flora and fauna of Western Ghats and would convert this area into a barren land. The project would also pose threat to the marine life of the Arabian Sea and endanger the livelihood of fishermen of the entire coastal region”.

There have been criticisms for those opposing the project saying it is inhuman not to provide drinking water to people who suffer acute shortage. It is not that the people of this region oppose providing drinking water. The opposition is towards the unscientific, myopic and clandestine approach adopted by the government, the nefarious designs to deceive people by hiding real facts and the hidden agenda of some political bigwigs who are bent upon going to any extent to gain political advantage by pushing through the project. There is no meaning in destroying the only source of water that feeds the city of Mangalore and its economy by diverting it unscientifically when there is enough scope to explore other options of providing drinking water for areas facing acute shortage. The project is implemented without adhering to the usual norms like environment protection, forest conservation and wildlife protection acts.

It is time people of this coastal region arise and awake and convert this agitation into a mass movement to force the government to shelve the project before it is too late.