Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s intervention has helped obtain conditional clearance from the Union environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) for the controversial Kalu dam project.
The dam in Thane district is estimated to provide 1,140 MLD (million litres per day) of water to Mumbai Metropolitan Region, but at the loss of 999 hectares of forest land and 18 villages, which it would submerge.
In April 2012, the FAC, which scrutinses all projects that involve forest land, had refused to give clearance to the project on several grounds including submergence of 18 villages, the site being in the eco-sensitive Western Ghats and within seven kilometres of a wildlife sanctuary.
The minutes of the FAC meeting held on April 3 and 4, released last week, said: “The chief minister of Maharashtra has specifically requested for a review of FAC’s decision.”
It is learnt that Chavan wrote to the FAC, arguing that the project is essential to make up for the shortfall in water supply to MMR in 2031.
Shramik Mukti Sanghatana, the South Asia Network on Dams and People and locals from the 18 affected villages have now sent a letter to Union environment minister Jayanti Natrajan to revoke the FAC clearance.
Interestingly, the CM has been critical of cost escalations and irregularities in irrigation projects and had even questioned the irrigation potential achieved by the NCP-led water resources department after spending crores of rupees.
The Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation’s (KIDC) Kalu project has been extremely controversial as work started on it without the mandatory nod from FAC.
This despite the project estimate allowing for cost escalations as a result of time lost to get forest clearance.
While refusing to clear the project last year, the FAC had pointed out that the state government had breached its commitment that it would not construct a new source of water supply in MMR after the Shai dam project.
The FAC has so far also not given its nod to permit the use of 250 hectares of forest land for Navi Mumbai airport. This clearance has been pending for the past two years.
Activists are shocked at the FAC’s turnaround.
Indavi Tulpule of Shramik Mukti Sanghatana, which has been opposing the Kalu project, said: “The CM has supported a project where the KIDC and other state authorities have given false representations. Why has Chavan endorsed such a project?”
Citing an example of misrepresentation, Tulpule said the state government had wrongly claimed that eight of 11 gram sabhas had passed resolutions supporting the project.
However, data accessed this month under the Right to Information Act shows that not one of the 11 gram sabhas of the 18 affected villages had passed such resolutions, she said.
“This is a drinking water project commissioned by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, which is headed by the CM. The CM has every right to intervene in this project,” a senior state government official said.
Activists said they would protest against the clearance with state governor K Sankaranarayanan.