In a big blow to the Karnataka government's plans to speedily complete the Kalasa canal, the high court of Karnataka has directed its state government not to carry out any canal work affecting forests without obtaining clearances from the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) and the National Board for Wildlife (NBW).
The government-constituted Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Ltd, since October 2, 2006, has been constructing the canal that will divert waters of the Kalasa rivulet into the Malaprabha river at Kankumbi. Kalasa is a tributary of the river Mhadei-Mandovi in Goa. On February 28, the court of the acting chief justice of the high court of Karnataka directed the Karnataka government to obtain MoEF clearances under the Forest Conservation Act and from the NBW under the Wildlife Protection Act. The court was hearing a 2009 petition filed by Belgaum-based, ex-army personnel, Ravindra Saini.
Saini's petition contended that as per the Kalasa-Bhandura project report, water from the Haltar nullah would be diverted through diversion channels to be laid from Haltar nullah to Kalasa reservoir. It stated that since the reservoir cannot be built without obtaining the nod of the central government the work on the diversion channel should not be allowed. The petition maintained that carrying out the work on the Kalasa-Bhandura project without obtaining the mandatory clearances was unlawful.
In its affidavit to the court, the Karnataka government maintained that no work was being carried out in forest area and work was on only in revenue lands. It further stated that the project is aimed at providing drinking water to Hubli, Dharwad and 10 other towns; and that though Karnataka is entitled to a much higher share in the water of the Mhadei river, only a small portion (3.5 TMC) would be diverted through this project.
The Karnataka government urged the court to permit work on the diversion channel to use water from the Haltar nullah alleging that this nullah is not part of the Mhadei river, that the Goa government has no objection to its use and that even the Mhadei inter-state water disputes tribunal would have no say in this.
On hearing the arguments, the court rejected the contention of the Karnataka government and declined permission to carry out work on the diversion channel to divert water from Haltar nullah. It directed the government not to carry out any work affecting forests without obtaining permissions as required under the forest and wildlife Acts.
Speaking to STOI from Belgaum, Saini said, "The Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Ltd has been working on the Kalasa canal without obtaining required permissions from the MoEF. This is unlawful. The whole region (where the work is under way) is in an ecologically-sensitive area, rich in biological wealth. As such I brought the issue through the petition to the notice of the Karnataka high court and got the judgment." [TOI]