By Lata Jha:Â
If life gives you much to worry about, there is also some reason to rejoice. The world and its green laws may be going to the dogs, but an occasional step that makes a difference reaffirms one’s faith in the governance that’s meant to watch over us.
In a startling revelation, the Karnataka state government cancelled a mini hydel project in advanced stages of construction as it violated significant environmental laws. On April 16, the state finally responded to what had been a long battle for forest rights and conservation by revoking land leases granted to Maruthi Power Gen, four years after the company had acquired stage-II environmental clearance for two of its projects in the Hassan district.
The case has a long and fairly interesting history. For quite some time, the forest department had suppressed its statistics about the Maruthi wrongdoings. Facts and figures were severely misrepresented to bag clearances for the Hongadalla (4.18 hectares, 18.90 MW) and Yedakumeri (4.20 hectares, 19 MW) projects.
Work was probably carried on more arduously behind the scenes than on completing the actual project. Since projects of forestland requirement less than 5 hectares and below 25 MW can be given clearances at the state and regional levels instead of having to go up to the Centre, Maruthi split its projects into two adjacent units with a common powerhouse and excluded the land required for paving access roads. The then Deputy Conservator of Forests of Hassan was made to especially recommend the project, stating that it threatened no rare or endangered species of flora and fauna in the Kagneri and Kachanakumari reserved forests.
The alarm bells were first rung when a Forest Range Officer reported 13 counts of violations in November 2011. The High Court stopped work when further inquiry revealed a fresh range of irregularities, about three months later. In March 2012, the vigilance wing of the forest department pointed out other violations like encroachment on forestland, construction of roads and bridges without permits and blocking of streams with debris. All this while, the state government counsel strangely continued to back Maruthi, insisting there had been no violations.
Finally, under pressure from and in the face of evidence that refused to back down, the Karnataka government conceded that the project had been violating several environmental laws and that a fresh lease for the company would have to be considered. The cancellation of the project at a stage as advanced as this poses important questions for those working on government licences and permits, and especially those who’ve circumvented their way around the proper procedures.Â Questions of whether mere substantial investment (ironic) really assures you complete safety and complacence, if your project is inherently flawed. And that as far as governance goes, it’s never too late to make amends. The spotlight now falls on similar projects in other parts of the country, and whether they will meet the same fate in good time or be able to pull through on the basis of sheer scale and strength.