Dam project in Uttarakhand's tiger corridor gets nod despite conservation concerns

Dam project in Uttarakhand's tiger corridor gets nod despite conservation concerns

New Delhi | The Centre has approved a proposal for the use of nearly 400 hectares in the Dudhwa-Lagga tiger corridor in Uttarakhand's Nainital district to construct the Jamrani Drinking Water Multipurpose Project, despite the lack of a recommendation from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

The project involves building a 480-metre-long and 150.60-metre-high gravity dam across the Gola river in Jamrani village in the hill state.

It envisages the creation of a reservoir with a maximum capacity of 208.6 million cubic metres (MCM) and live storage of 142.72 MCM, which will be utilised to provide drinking water supply to Haldwani (42.7 MCM), irrigation of 57,065 hectares (9,458 ha in Uttarakhand and 47,607 ha in Uttar Pradesh), and generation of 14-megawatt hydropower.

The Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) discussed the proposal in its 77th meeting on January 30 and granted in-principle approval to it.

An NBWL member said the project is critical for drinking water supply to Haldwani town and proposed reducing the dam's height and dropping the construction of a powerhouse.

The NBWL member secretary mentioned that the NTCA had not recommended the project and sought its comment on a site inspection report.

The NTCA member secretary did not respond to PTI's queries on the project.

The environment ministry accorded environmental clearance for the Jamrani Dam Multipurpose Project in December 2019 with a condition to obtain a no-objection certificate from the NTCA.

In December 2022, the NTCA requested the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to assess the ecological impacts of the proposed dam. The WII team set up for this purpose submitted the report to the NTCA in May last year.

The report presented two decision-making scenarios: keeping the Dudhwa-Lagga tiger corridor intact and conserving this as of utmost importance or balancing the interests of both development and conservation values.

"Should the first objective be chosen, then the proposal has to be rejected, and if the second objective is chosen, then stringent compliance conditions have to be stipulated," it said.

"Mitigation is not a panacea that will overcome all ill effects of developmental projects. In fact, avoidance is also considered the very first mitigation step/measure. Despite all technological and scientific developments, our understanding of complex natural processes in the Terai landscape, which has taken millions of years to evolve, is still primitive and far from complete,” the report said.

Therefore, many other impacts of the project on the natural systems may remain unforeseen as of today, it added.

The best mitigation measure for the project is the avoidance of any developmental project in the identified tiger corridor area, the WII report said.

The total submergence area of the proposed reservoir is 4.28 sq km (about 17.85 per cent of the corridor area of 24 sq km).

"This 17.85 percent of the area will be affected at the full reservoir level. If we have to save this area without any anthropogenic intervention, the area has to be left alone, and status quo has to be maintained without any developmental activities in the corridor," the report read.

If the project is unavoidable due to other considerations and has to be approved, then mitigation measures proposed in both the Tiger Conservation Plan and in Wildlife Management Plan have to be undertaken, it said.

The WII proposed regular monitoring of compliance conditions and mitigation measures through an independent committee composed of members from NTCA, WII, the Forest Research Institute, and the state forest department.

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