If Mumbai and its neighbourhood want to improve its drinking water supply, Maharashtra government will have to implement recommendations of K Kasturirangan Committee declaring 37% of Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive area.
This is one of the conditions imposed by an environment ministry committee to overturn its year-old decision scrapping a drinking water project for Mumbai Metropolitan Authority.
The ministry's Forest Advisory Committee, mandated to examine all projects for diversion of forestland, in April 2012 had rejected a proposal to construct a dam on Kalu river in Thane district.
The rejection was on the grounds of violation of Forest Conservation Act by starting construction without clearance, commitment of the state government not to initiate new water supply project after getting approval for Shai River Project and submergence of 18 villages. The FAC had also said that the project was within seven kilometers of a wildlife sanctuary and was part of ecologically sensitive area.
As the project had political importance, Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan met environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan and sought FAC review of the project. On request of the environment minister, the FAC decided to re-consider the project.
After examining submissions of the state government earlier this month and over-looking the grounds for rejection, the FAC approved the project. Even though nothing had dramatically changed since the rejection, the newly constituted FAC expressed satisfaction over the state government's clarifications and overlooked its adverse impact on tribals in 18 villages.
The Maharashtra government told the FAC that the total water requirement of Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region in 2031 would be 10,657 million litres per day (MLD) against the present water supply of 4,672 MLD.
"Therefore, it is necessary to construction Kalu Dam," the minutes of the FAC meeting says, with reference to the no new water project commitment.
While FAC termed this commitment as "ill-informed" it agreed with the state government for taking up Kalu River Project, which would result in destruction of 1.48 lakh trees --- that can cover one-fourth of Mumbai city -- in about 1,000 hectares of forestland.
The committee imposed four approval conditions including implementation of Kasturirangan panel recommendations even before the committee had submitted its report to the ministry. "It shows that the FAC knew what Kasturirangan panel was recommending," a senior ecologist, who was not willing to be quoted, said.
Other conditions for approving the project included penal compensatory afforestation on degraded land equal to submerged forestland in addition to compensatory afforestation. The state government has also been asked to conduct a cumulative impact assessment of all drinking water projects in the Western Ghat region on flora and fauna and to implement its findings.