Environmentalists has warned that Karnataka government’s proposed Mekedatu multi-purpose balancing reservoir project will spell death-knell for protected wildlife and also possibly kick off another water sharing dispute with Tamil Nadu. While the project on river Cauvery is being touted as a solution to Bengaluru’s crippling water crisis, experts warn that the resultant ecological impact would be devastating.
According to project documents issued by the state department for water resources, 4,096 hectares of forest land will be submerged once the Rs 5,912-crore dam is built. This will fragment the 1,027 square kilometre Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS), threatening the survival of protected species such as the grizzled giant squirrel (Ratufa macroura)—a threatened species found only in a few regions in southern India and Sri Lanka. It will also affect the habitats of the elusive honey badger (Mellivora capensis). Approximately 15 lakh trees are expected to be submerged if the reservoir comes up as well.
Sanjay Gubbi, a conservation biologist with the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Bengaluru, who has carried out extensive field work in the region, says, “The Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary hosts unique and endangered wildlife species, and their habitats that needs to be protected. The surplus tiger population from BR Hills Tiger Reserve is moving into the CWS which acts as a shock absorber, and if this is lost, there will be human-tiger conflicts near BR Hills and MM Hills.”
He adds, “With the submersion of the riverine habitat, the entire grizzled giant squirrels’ population and their only habitat in Karnataka will be lost.” The project has become yet another conflict point in the long standing river dispute between the two southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In this instance, if environmentalists’ allegations are proved true, the dam will not only exacerbate conflict between the states but also have an adverse impact on wildlife in this ecologically sensitive region of the Western Ghats.
The Mekedatu project has been mooted by the government of Karnataka as a solution to Bengaluru’s water woes.
Currently, Bengaluru receives 1,350 million litres per day (MLD) of Cauvery water. Water requirements for Bengaluru are expected to rise up to 2,285 MLD by 2030 and Karnataka Water resources officials claim that this project will go a long way in satisfying this demand.