Kali Bachao Andolan




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Introduction to issues raised by the Kali Bachao Andolan

The Kali river is one of many rivers that flows in the richly forested area of the Western Ghats. The river is 184 kms. long and flows into the Arabian Sea. Check this schematic map to get an idea of the river's location in Karnataka. Because of the dissolved manganese ores in its waters that is gathered along its flow, the river appears blackish (CHECK). Like many rivers in India that have been abused on the path of ``development'', the Kali River is no exception. It has been dammed, polluted, and sand-mined.

Damming of the river

On the river, there are already 6 major dams which generate over 1200 MW of electricity while submerging over 32,000 acres of forests in Uttara Kannada. In the process of generating this power, the State has lost a lot of rich forests in the Western Ghats. Like most developmental projects that involve displacement, displaced people have not been adequately rehabilitated. The people who had rich fertile land have been given land which cannot be farmed. As a result, several people have migrated to Goa in search of jobs. This is the familiar national story of displaced people ending up in slums in urban areas.

Now, a new dam has been proposed, to be sited at Mavalangi, near Dandeli. If approved, it will be constructed by Murdeshwar Power Corporation Limited (MPCL) to generate an additional 18 MW of power. However, this comes at the cost of submerging an additional 86 hectares of land. In total, 210 hectares of forest area will be submerged by the dam (this includes forest land on either bank of the river, river islands being submerged, river course that is part of reserved forest area, and land acquired for transmission lines and roads). The 70 hectares of forest land being submerged on both banks of the Kali River abuts the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary which has rare flora and fauna.

When the existing dams already generate 1200 MW of electricity, and when the Kaiga nuclear plant generates another 400 MW of electricity, and when the power consumed by Uttara Kannada district is a mere 17 MW, the obvious question that pops us is: why is this new dam being built? Is it worthwhile to pay the high environmental and social costs to generate a mere 18 MW? Is it worth damming the last remaining stretch of the Kali River that is still free-flowing? Have other alternatives like improving efficiency of existing hydel plants, micro-hydel and pico-hydel power generation (hydel power generation that exploit the flow of the river to generate power at low costs and no submergence) been explored? Haven't the people of Uttara Kannada already paid enough costs for the larger development of the cost?

Even on purely legal grounds, the dam construction cannot proceed on two counts. First, there is a Government notification of 18th May 1987 (No. FFD 242 FGL 83) that states no further projects can be undertaken on the Kali river and its tributaries after the Kadra and Kodasalli dams if they involve further loss of forest land. Second, due to two instances of generating fraudulent EIAs (Environment Impact Assessments) by its consultants (first by Ernst & Young and second by Tata Energy Research Institute), this is a fit case for rejection

On financial grounds too, the new dam does not make much sense. At a cost of over Rs.180 crores, the electricity costs over Rs.10 crore per MW and is one of the costliest power projects proposed. There have been reports that this power costs over 15 times the cost of power produced by Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL).

On several counts then, social, environmental, economic, legal, and developmental policy grounds, the new dam does not make sense and needs to be scrapped.

Documents and further details about this issues can be found on this page.

Industrial Pollution

The Dandeli Paper Mills at Dandeli on the banks of the Kali River releases large volumes of untreated effluents directly into the river thus polluting the river and converting a clean and beautiful river into a toxic waste stream. For communities who depend on this river, the adverse impact of these accumulated pollutants is quite significant. There have been losses in agriculture, dairy farming, and fisheries. Farmers indirect contact with the water suffer from a variety of skin diseases. Farmers that use this polluted water for irrigation find layers of pulp left behind covering the soil.

The concerned regulatory agency, the Karnataka Pollution Control Board has done very little to contain the damage, thereby allowing the Mills a free run on its polluting spree. Only recently, due to pressure from local communities under the banner of Kali Bachao Andolan, has there been some response with the local Assistant Commissioner initiating criminal proceedings against the company. Note that the demand is not a closure of the Dandeli Paper Mills. Rather it is to get the mill to clean up its operations for the benefit of all - including the employees of the mill.

Sand Mining

There is illegal sand mining along the banks of river Kali and its tributaries. It is reported to be rampant in the Supa dam area. This illegal sand mining needs to be stopped as it disturbs the river ecology.