The Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project’s enormous benefits come at an irrecoverable cost -- loss of forest cover to an extent of over 7,800 acres.
As per the conservative calculations by the Forest Department, a total of 22 lakh forest trees will be hacked to accommodate canals, reservoirs and other structures of the project. NGOs contend that the figure could be much greater, at 25 lakh.
“Only trees with stem girth over 30 centimetres are enumerated. Together with trees less than such girth, shrubs and other kinds of greenery, the loss could be five times more,” a wildlife conservation activist says.
A Forest Department official, who had witnessed the ongoing work at the barrage site as part of the team visit arranged by the Irrigation Department, vouches that many trees being mechanically felled in minutes were hundred or two hundred years old.
As per the ecology and biodiversity data collated in the Environmental Impact Assessment report prepared by the EPTRI, forest land being acquired for the project is spread over nine divisions, namely Mahadevpur, Karimnagar, Sircilla, Siddipet, Yadadri, Medak, Nizamabad, Banswada and Nirmal.
A total of 391 plant species --116 trees, 53 shrubs, 15 lianas (woody vines), 37 climbers, and 170 herbs -- were recorded post-monsoons in the project area. Of them, six are listed as vulnerable species as per the IUCN Red List.
Loss of fauna
Twenty-six species of butterflies and moths, the conservation status of majority of which has not been assessed, four species of dragonflies and damselflies, 75 species of birds, 11 species of reptiles, five species of amphibians, 16 species of mammals, and five species of spiders with unknown conservation status, form part of the fauna that is set to be displaced.
Recording of the tree species was done through sampling, and not through usual tree by tree enumeration, officials from the department informed.
“Tree by tree enumeration would have taken three to four months’ time, delaying the project further,” a senior official of the department informed.
While the EIA report says the project would not affect the wildlife migratory routes, activists point out that the government has agreed to construct eco-bridges for facilitating movement of tigers from Maharashtra.
“The project will forever bisect the contiguous forest between Maharashtra and Telangana and between Warangal and Adilabad, leading to genetic isolation of species,” an activist says.