More studies before green clearance to Brutanga project

According to experts, elephant herds never use such constructions even if intelligently built or camouflaged.

New Delhi: The proposed Brutanga irrigation project in Orissa has hit a stumbling block with a central forest panel on Friday deciding to conduct more studies on its impact on wildlife and tribal population before giving it a green signal.

Though the officials and non-official members of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of Environment Ministry, who met here, refused to divulge the decision taken on the project, it is understood that they agreed to conduct more studies on its likely impact on the wildlife habitat, particularly movement of elephants.

Incidentally, the pause to the project has come just a few days after the FAC had on August 20 given it in-principle nod paving way for diversion of 1524.17 hectares of forest land.

Soon after that, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had announced that based on the recommendation of the forest panel and also in view of the fact that this is an irrigation project which would benefit thousands of farmers in Orissa, the ministry has accorded the stage I clearance to it.

The FAC in its previous order of August 20 had imposed at least 29 conditions on the state government including construction of overpasses in fores land for movement of elephants. A second thought was given to the project after it was felt that till date, there is no documented proof that such structures could be successful in India.

According to experts, elephant herds never use such constructions even if intelligently built or camouflaged.

Wild Odisha, an NGO that initiated the "Brutanga Campaign", has termed the irrigation project as a threat to tigers and elephants who will be barred from migrating south from the area.

Based on a report by conservatists L Choudhury and C K Sar published in the Indian Forester in 2002, the NGO has alleged that submergence of the migration route will disable the mixing and interbreeding of herds north of the Mahanadi with those in the south, essential for the survival of both.

Moreover, a huge chunk of tribal population will have to give away their forest land for the project.

A reservoir scheme across river Brutanga, the project proposes to provide irrigation to 31,110 hectares of gross command area and 23,330 hectares of cultivable command area of its independent ayacut in Dasapalla, Khandapada, Odagaon and Nayagarh blocks of Nayagarh district in Orissa.

It had obtained clearance from the Techno-Economic Appraisal Committee of the Central Water Commission on December 18, 2000 but was placed before the FAC in its meeting on August 20.