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Jumbo hurdle ahead for Mekedatu project after SC order

Express News Service

BENGALURU: The Supreme Court order on strengthening the Mudumalai elephant corridor in the Nilgiri Biosphere in Tamil Nadu has come as a booster for the Karnataka Forest Department, which is now making its case strong for better elephant habitats and corridors, especially in the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS). This could well throw a spanner in the works for the Mekedatu reservoir project. 

“The Supreme Court order will help strengthen the Hosur, Bannerghatta National Park, Satyamanagala and CWS corridor and habitat. But, if the Mekedatu project is cleared,a large portion of the elephant habitat will get submerged. The apex court orders to clear commercial projects and protect the Mudumalai elephant corridor will also help Karnataka. But immediate attention needs to be paid to the protection of the CWS, where the government is keen on implementing the Mekedatu reservoir project,” a senior forest department official told TNIE.

Water Resources Minister Ramesh Jarkiholi had, in September, met Union Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat urging that the project be cleared at the earliest and environmental clearance be given. However, Karnataka Forest Department officials pointed out, “No proposal had come to us for clearance and it cannot be approved also. The CWS was declared as a sanctuary in 1985, but the government is doing little for its protection.”

An official from the National Board for Wildlife said, “The Mekedatu reservoir is proposed in the core CWS elephant habitat of CWS and clearing it will lead to submergence of a large forest patch, affecting the corridor. It cannot be cleared and the Supreme Court verdict will be beneficial now.” Although the Karnataka Government had issued orders to reclaim forest land and strengthen elephant corridors and habitats, the Forest Department has been unable to acquire any land in last five years.

Focus should be on inter-state corridors: Expert

They  (Forest Department officials) are now taking the help of NGOs. The Wildlife Trust of India has acquired 25 acres of land to strengthen the Edayarahalli-Doddasampige corridor in Chamarajanagar. Noted elephant expert R Sukumar said emphasis should be given to strengthening inter-state corridors between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, like the Hosur corridor, where elephants even reemerge in Brahmagiri. The Forest Department officials are also working on acquiring 100 acres of land to strengthen the Kaniyanapura corridor in Bannerghatta.

This was the first protected and developed corridor in Karnataka. They are also working on protecting the BRT- Moddahalli- Boodipadaga corridor in Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple (BRT) reserve. Forest officials are now hoping that coffee becomes less profitable so that the Kutta corridor — connecting Nagarhole to Brahmagiri — is protected, where many private estates have also encroached upon forest land.

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