A WIND farm project under way in Khed and Mawal talukas of Pune has partially destroyed protected forests and threatens farmland in the area. On December 16, 2010, the Bombay High Court, responding to a public interest petition by a people’s forum, ordered a halt on tree felling. But blasting and other destructive activities continue.
The Andhra Lake Wind Power Project, promoted by Indo-German enterprise Enercon India, has felled over 300,000 trees to construct a 13-metre wide, 20-kilometre road along the hills. It had the permission to cut 26,000. Many more plants and shrubs including karvi (Strobilanthes callosus), a shrub that flowers once in eight years and is found only in the Western Ghats, have been destroyed because of dumping of rubble from blasted rocks. The project had received environmental clearance from the Centre in December 2009.
Environmental activists allege the 113 MW project, costing Rs 850 crore, was cleared on the false premise that there is no wildlife in the area. The clearance was based on a November 7, 2009 letter from A S Sinha, chief conservator of forests for Pune.
Pramod Bankhele, coordinator of Paschim Ghat Bachao Samiti, the petitioner, said there are irregularities in the clearance, involving 194.7 hectare (ha) of protected forests. First, the project area is just 3.5 km from the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary. “The clearance violates the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 and a 2004 order of the Maharashtra principal chief conservator of forests. Both identify area within a 10-km radius around protected areas as eco-sensitive and forbid development work,” he said.
Bankhele said the clearance letter also contradicted documents of the forest department. The 2006 and 2010 wildlife census identified all the 26 villages in the project area as falling in the eco-sensitive zone and richly endowed with wildlife. A letter, dated December 29, 2008, from the Chakan range forest officer (RFO), under whose jurisdiction the project falls, opposed the project on the ground that there is dense forest and rich biodiversity in the area, and the traffic on the road required for the project would create disturbances.
Both documents mention presence of wildlife species, including wolves, foxes, peacocks, leopards and endangered giant Indian squirrel. When contacted, Chakan RFO D B Bhalerao said his office was not informed about the project’s clearance, and that they came to know only after work started in March 2010. Till now, one out of the proposed 142 windmills have been put up but environmental damage is large-scale.
Most trees felled are 30 to 50 years old, and include valuable species like mahua, beheda, jamun, chaar and wild mango that villagers rely on for extra income. Due to the constant noise of blasting, birds and the giant Indian squirrel have disappeared from the area, said Sawla Madge, resident of Kharpud in Khed taluka.
Villagers say the loose rubble has created a danger of landslides which could destroy their farmlands, a scarce commodity in the hilly area. “The rains are heavy in this area and during monsoons all the rubble will come tumbling into our paddy plots, that take years to develop,” said elderly Chandrabhaga Memane of Kharpud.
Erosion from deforestation and blasting could also damage the catchment of rivers Bhima, Bhama and Indrayani and cause siltation in the reservoirs in the long run .
Nothing for community
Enercon’s contract includes clauses on compensatory forestation and development work in affected villages, but the company has so far not done anything. “Initially, local MLA Dilip Mohite promised us electricity from the project. Later, when the destruction started and we protested repeatedly, Enercon officials told us we will not get electricity, but offered development work for the village,” said Sutar, a resident of Kude Budruk village. We made a list of development works worth Rs 40 lakh, but when after two months nothing materialised, we protested again in November. This time they registered a complaint against resident Dilip Medge, accusing him of demanding a Rs 40 lakh bribe, he added.
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