The ever-burgeoning need for water, both for domestic and industrial purposes have led to a drying out of local rivers and lakes. The Karnataka government has now turned to diverting the west-flowing rivers to the drier eastern belts of Karnataka. The Yettinahole Diversion Project plans to divert head waters of the Gundia River (a tributary of the Kumardhara, which is a tributary of the Netravathi) in the west and transfer this water to the other end of the state, in the east.
The ambitious and dangerously erroneous project is all set to cost the taxpayer Rs.13000 crores to divert nearly 24 TMC (or 672 billion litres) of water from the head-waters of the Netravathi river towards the water-scarce districts of Kolar, Ramanagara, parts of Hassan, Tumkur, Chikkaballapur, Bengaluru Rural and Devanahalli Industrial Area.
But where is this 24 TMC to divert?
Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES) of Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), which is under The Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India has published a report in April 2015 titled: Environmental Flow Assessment in Yettinaholé Where is 24 TMC to divert? The entire catchment yield is just 9.55 TMC according to the study! This stands to be 60% less than the estimated yield by KNNL – Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Ltd. The estimation being faulty comes as no surprise, when one looks at the methods deployed to measure the riverine flow. Instead of measuring each diverted stream, just measurement of one stream was taken in a nearby catchment. As per IISc study, the water demand in the catchment is 5.84 TMC & water required for maintaining environmental flow is 2.84 TMC
The entire project falls in an ecologically sensitive area, according to the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (Kasturirangan report). Deforestation, loss of riverine fauna, impaired nutrient flow in rivers, are all lined up in the near future. But KNNL has denied the need for an ecological assessment saying that drinking water projects are exempt from the purview of the Environment Protection Act. But the catch in this statement is that only 60% of the diverted water is going to be utilized for drinking purposes while the rest 40% is going to be stored in minor irrigation tanks and used for other purposes.
Prof. S.G. Mayya, Department of Applied Mechanics and Hydraulics, National Institute of Technology, Suratkhal has major issues with the name of the project itself, which he says is grossly misleading—“First of all, it is not Yettinahole diversion, it is Netravathi Diversion. It would have been Yettinahole Diversion if water only from Yettinahole catchment and its sub-catchments was diverted, but here 90% of water being diverted is from the downstream of Yettinahole catchment, actually from the Netravathi catchment. So calling it Yettinahole Diversion is misleading and fraudulent. I don’t know why the government continues calling it Yettinahole Diversion.”
Why do such glaring gaps exist, between the facts used by the government and those unearthed by the independent experts? Why was there no inclusion of the communities living downstream of the Yettinahole, who would be affected by the diversion? Why has the KNNL put up no figures to indicate the displacement of people in such communities? Regarding the rampant deforestation that is due, no concrete numbers regarding how many trees would be cleared out, for the project has been given out? The economic value of the region is higher (> 200 Billion Rs.)than the diversion project and therefore emphasis should be given on the need for conservation of the livelihood of dependent population and the green cover.
Reports that the Karnataka government had already allocated Rs 2,800 crores and had assigned contracts worth Rs. 1,000 crore even before the environmental assessments were done and clearances sanctioned, are terrifying.
The 2015 study by IISc, meanwhile had given some suggestions on how to tackle water scarcity in the eastern belts of Karnataka instead of proceeding with the project. Some of the solutions were- decentralized water harvesting, restoring existing lakes and ponds, improving native vegetation in catchments, soil and water conservation through micro-watershed approaches.
The Yettinahole Diversion is the government’s faulty band-aid solution for political gains which will lead to large scale repercussions, if not mended in time.
Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel college in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution.