MANGALORE, June 18;Two days are long in politics. On Saturday, Minister for Forest and Environment B. Ramanath Rai was completely opposed to any effort to divert the Netravati River, which entails felling thousands of trees in the Western Ghats.
On Monday, the Minister in charge of Dakshina Kannada — for which the river is considered a ‘lifeline’ — woke up to new reality and said he is helpless and cannot stop the project.
In a turnaround, he said, “I am a Cabinet Minister and I cannot say anything on the Cabinet decision. I personally feel the diversion will lead to decrease in the ground water level in the areas where the river is flowing.” Mr. Rai said his concern about the project was same as that of a common man from the region. “But I cannot do anything. The previous government took a decision to go ahead with project,” he said.
Mr. Rai said environment clearance necessary for the project has already been given. He was commenting about the ongoing project to divert the Netravati at Yettinahole near Sakleshpur in Hassan district and other issues at a ‘meet the press’ programme here on Monday.
Only on Saturday he had told members of Kanara Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) that he was strongly opposed the project.
The contentious Yettinahole project has been proposed to meet drinking water requirements of arid districts, including Tumkur, Chickballapur and Bangalore Rural districts. Voices have been raised against this project on the ground that it will adversely affect the lives of farmers, fisherfolk and Mangalore residents, who rely on the river to meet their drinking water needs.
Mr. Rai said preserving forest and ecology will be a priority. Any development initiative has to conform to the preservation of forest and ecology. This will hold good even to mini-hydel projects. “The projects that are coming up cannot be at the cost of forest,” he said.
Forest conservation will be paramount even with regard to eco-tourism projects. There was no question of State government going against the order of the Supreme Court barring tourism activities in tiger reserves, he said.
“So far no eco-tourism projects has been approved,” he said. No decision has been taken on a proposal for eco-tourism initiative at the abandoned Kudremukh Iron Ore Corporation mining area in Kudremukh National Park.