- The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s (MoEF&CC’s) Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has given Stage II clearance for the construction of the North Koel Dam also known as Kutku Mandal dam in core area of Palamau Tiger Reserve in Latehar and Garhwa districts of Jharkhand.
- The clearance also comes with the permission to start construction and settle the villages which will be submerged by the project before closing the sluice gates of the dam.
Work stalled, then resumed
- Work on the dam started in 1974 but stopped in 1997 after the partially built dam was responsible for flooding the area.
- An official who was blamed for locking a sluice gate was killed by an extreme leftist militant group referred to as Maoists in India.
- This changed on January 5, 2019, when the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, laid the foundation stone for the completion of the project. Work has since restarted, and fears of displacement have been revived.
- This has cast the future into doubt for the more than 800 indigenous residents of this village close to the Palamu Tiger Reserve of Garhwa district in Jharkhand, eastern India.
- The dam on the North Koel river was meant to be part of a hydroelectricity generation project, to provide irrigation to the drought-prone region and for flood control.
- The North Koel is a tributary of the Sone river, which feeds into the Ganga. It flows along the southern and then western boundary of the Palamu Tiger Reserve.
- When construction started, the entire area was in the state of Bihar – Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2000 – and much of the farmland meant to be irrigated by the dam is still in Bihar.
The incidents of 1997
- One night in August 1997, the partially built dam could not contain the water accumulated behind it and generated a flood that submerged 32 villages overnight, resulting in the deaths of 21 people and loss of property and livestock.
- In 2015, Prakash Javadekar, union minister for environment, forest and climate change, announced that the project would be completed.
- The ministry gave another approval in November 2018. This allowed the Jharkhand government to divert more than 1,000 hectares of forest land for the project, and to cut down an estimated 344,000 trees inside PTR.
- At the same time, the ministry reduced the full reservoir level (FRL) – the maximum permitted level of the reservoir that would form behind the dam – from 367 metres to 341 in order to minimise the risk of submergence in the core area of PTR
Some facts for prelims
- The Palamau Tiger Reserve is one of the nine original tiger reserves in Jharkhand and the only one in this state.
- It forms part of Betla National Park and Palamau Wildlife Sanctuary.
- Koel River may refer to the following two rivers in Jharkhand, India:
- South Koel River, a tributary of the Brahmani River
- North Koel River, a tributary of the Son River
- The dam would no longer serve the dual purpose of producing power and supplying water for irrigation.
- The drop in FRL had made it ineffective for the purpose of supplying water and producing power
- With the drop in the maximum permitted water level, the dam will no longer be able to irrigate the area as per the original plan.
- The dam would simply destroy wildlife, environment and biodiversity. Besides, it would also submerge eight villages close to it
- The cost of the project has escalated from INR 23 billion (USD 316.8 million) in 2017 to INR 30 billion (USD 413.2 million)..
- The central government wants the two state governments to bear the entire cost while the latter are not ready to pay.
- There is a need to obtain permission from the ministry of tribal affairs too.
- Rehabilitating two villages from inside the reserve to create more space for wildlife after paying adequate compensation as per the norms.
- The rehabilitation of six other villages for the dam, would help to provide more land for wildlife.
- It would also ensure ample supply of water to animals and birds during the extreme summer season when the mercury climbs several notches
- Therefore it is up to the government to ensure not only that the proposed benefits of the project actually reach the local people, but also that they are adequately compensated and rehabilitated before being displaced.
- For this it is important to take consensus and engage with the locals.