Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project: Environmental clearance given to the project in violation of law, says NGT

The National Green Tribunal declared that the Kaleshwaram irrigation project has begun without following the statuary provisions with regard to environmental aspects.

Oct 21, 2020 12:42 IST

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) held on October 20, 2020 that the environmental clearance granted to the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project in Telangana was in violation of legal requirements. The tribunal then formed a committee to assess the damage caused as well as to suggest restoration measures.

The NGT directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to constitute the 7-member expert committee and suggested relief and rehabilitation measures to be adopted. The ruling was delivered by a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel.

The bench directed that the stand that the project executed before the grant of environmental clearance is unrelated to irrigation is indefensible. The green tribunal also held that the decision for expansion taken by the Telangana government is also without environmental clearance and not tenable.

NGT Ruling: Key Highlights 

The National Green Tribunal bench said that they are unable to accept the stand of the project proponent that primarily the project is for water supply and water management and that irrigation is subsidiary or incidental part of the project so as hold that no environment clearance was required before its execution from 2008 to 2017.

The bench also stated that it is unable to agree that the state did not proceed with the irrigation component in the project till the clearances were granted and only constructed components relating to supply of drinking water.

The green tribunal held that environmental clearance was granted to the lift irrigation project in violation of legal requirement.

The bench stated that all activities undertaken are clearly part of the irrigation project and cannot be separated from other objectives. It further added that it is difficult to accept all activities are only for drinking purposes.

The tribunal noted that the project had serious implication in terms of environment and it was never exclusively a water supply project.

The green panel directed the Environment secretary to monitor the progress of relief measures and said that the affected party will be at liberty to make representation to the ministry within three weeks putting forward suggestions and grievances, which may be taken into the account by the 7-member expert Committee. 

The green bench stated that the Environment Ministry may consider measures to prevent recurrence of such violations where environment clearance is sought ex post facto.

Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project

What is Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project?

The Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project is currently the world's largest multi-stage lift irrigation project. It has been taken up on the Godavari River in Kaleshwaram in Telangana.

The project's farthest upstream influence is at the confluence of Godavari and Pranhita Rivers. The Pranahita River is a confluence of various small tributaries such as the Wainganga, Wardha and Painganga rivers. All these rivers combine to form the seventh-largest drainage basin on the subcontinent.

The rivers have an estimated annual discharge of more than 6,427,900 acre feet or 280 TMC. The water remains largely untapped as its course is through dense forests and other ecologically sensitive zones such as wildlife sanctuaries.

Overall, the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project,  spans a distance of approximately 500 km through 13 districts, utilizing a canal network of more than 1,800 km.

Objective of the Project

The project aims to produce a total of 240 TMC, of which 169 TMC will be allocated for irrigation, 30 TMC for Hyderabad municipal water, 16 TMC for industrial purposes and 10 TMC for drinking purposes in nearby villages.

The project basically aims to increase total culturable command area (CCA), which is the sustainable area that can be irrigated after accounting for both upstream and downstream factors, by 1,825,000 acre⋅feet across all 13 districts in addition to stabilizing the existing CCA.

The project was opened on June 21, 2019 by Telangana Governor E.S. L. Narasimhan and Chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao.

Kaleshwaram Project: Key Issue

The National Green Tribunal declared that the project has been constructed without following the statuary provisions with regard to environmental aspects.

According to the submitted project proponent, the scheme is for providing water to the drought prone areas of the Telangana and it has two parts: drinking water and irrigation.

The Telangana government on October 6, 2019 took the decision to  increase drawl of water from 2 thousand million cubic feet to 3 TMC/day. However, the state claimed that the expansion will not alter the infrastructure plans and that the state did not proceed with the irrigation component of the Kaleshwaram Project till the necessary environmental clearances were obtained.

The NGT bench noted that the project is primarily for water supply and water management, which is not covered by the EIA Notification, 2006. The tribunal's ruling came on a petition that alleged that the project's construction had begun without the required environmental clearances.

Petitions against Kaleshwaram project

The main plea basically sought a ban on any non-forest activities such as felling of trees and blasting and tunnelling activities in the forest areas, which were in violation of the Forest Conservation Act.

A separate plea was also filed by few others who approached the NGT on the proposal and finalisation of tenders for the expansion of the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project without obtaining prior environmental clearance. 

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