The two mega drinking water projects planned by successive governments, the Ettinahole and the Mekedatu project, will prove to be a death warrant for the last remaining animal habitats in Karnataka’s Western Ghats and the Cauvery Sanctuary.
Environmentalists have warned that the sinking of 12,000 acres of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and the Ettinahole project will strike the very heart of the Western Ghats.
However, opposition Congress has declared it as a mission to implement the Mekedatu project for providing drinking water to Bengaluru and the surrounding areas. The Congress state President D.K. Shivakumar has repeatedly stated that the implementation of the Mekedatu project was inevitable and as soon as his party comes to power it will be implemented without any further delay.
The Ettinahiole project involving the diversion of rivers was mooted by the BJP government headed by former CM D.V. Sadananda Gowda. “Both projects will destroy the core area and heighten the man-human conflict,” explains retired senior bureaucrat and environmentalist Dr A.N. Yallappa Reddy.
Talking to IANS, Yallappa Reddy explained that the vast virgin forest region is the only place where elephants flock. This is the regular corridor for elephants from time immemorial. This is called ‘Gaja Aranya’ (elephant forests) and ‘Dandakaranya’ (thick forests), he said.
No one is thinking about recycling of water, which can solve the drinking water problem in Bengaluru. “I have been observing the developments since 1962 as I was a bureaucrat. The human activities not only in the core areas of the forests but in the periphery have increased.
“Core areas of forests, which are breeding centers of the wild animals, have been lost. The mining activities, hydro-electric projects, mini-hydro-electric projects have completely fragmented the forest area. The government is liberal in allowing plunder. Vast areas of the ecosystem have been wiped out and the core forest area is severely fragmented.
“The Forest Conservation Act and guidelines have been diluted by the government. The mining has made the perennial water flows and the water holes from where wildlife got the water, extinct. The Karnataka government during the tenure of Late Ramakrishna Hegde had given 78 lakh hectares for the forest department. Tragically, the present government is planning to take back 6 lakh acres.
“The people who are taking forest lands are not tribes, but they are the powerful landlords who have considerable influence. They indulge in plantation, mining and commercial activities,” Yallappa Reddy explains.
The Bannerghatta National Park near Bengaluru was notified in 1978. Nearly 100 square kilometers of forests of Bannerghatta have been destroyed. It was the biggest habitat for elephants. The elephants used to traverse in the corridor from Tamil Nadu, Biligirirangana Betta in Chamarajanagar and reach Bengaluru. They also reached elephant camps in Mysuru district and mated with tamed female elephants.
“The famous group of five tuskers was called the Rowdy Ranga gang. The group dominated for 12 years. Recently, there was a media report, where a group of elephants entered a godown in Hassan, broke open the door and carried rice bags into the forests. This is disturbing and indicative of future human-animal conflict,” Yallappa Reddy says.
Yallappa Reddy has filed a PIL before the Supreme Court regarding the loss of the forest land. The court is yet to take up the petition. “I rendered my services as the Secretary of the Environment Department. I am hopeful that the Apex court takes up the inquiry,” he says.