Text of the talk delivered by Major General S.G.Vombatkere, VSM (Retd) at the meeting on Tuesday 21 October 2014
Sri S.Gopal, dignitaries on the dais, Members of Kaveri Sene and Coorg Wildlife Society, and members of the august audience, I thank you for giving me this opportunity to say a few words about the 400 KV Double Circuit (D/C) HT line connecting Mysore with Kozhikode.
The 210-km 400 KV Double Circuit HT line connecting Mysore with Kozhikode is under construction by Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL). It is said to be required to evacuate electric power generated by Kaiga Nuclear Power Station to supply north Kerala.
PGCIL claims that of 210-km, about 92-km in Kerala’s Wynaad District and about 63-km in Mysore District is completed, and 55-km through Kodagu District remains to be constructed. This “remaining” portion in Kodagu District is being opposed by the people of Kodagu, spearheaded by Kaveri Sene and Coorg Wildlife Society on grounds of environmental destruction that will adversely affect the Kaveri watershed which is the source of life-giving water to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Also it will ruin coffee plantations due to tree felling and intensify the human-animal conflict especially related to elephants, which is already claiming human lives in Kodagu. The objections of the Kodava people to this project are not new, but are several years old. I will speak on this issue and ask some questions concerning technical, environmental and governance matters.
Let us first examine whether this 400KV HT line is at all required. As on date, there are seven HT lines supplying power to Kerala, five from Tamil Nadu and two from Karnataka. These seven lines have a total capacity of 3,000 MW while the share of Kerala from the national grid is only 1,000 MW. Further, although the energy share of Kerala from the national grid is 9,350 Million Units (MU), Kerala is drawing about 11,350 MU from the existing seven HT lines. This shows that the existing seven HT lines are more than adequate for Kerala’s power needs from the national grid, and the proposed 400KV D/C HT line is not at all required.
Thus the question arises as to why PGCIL has constructed 155-km when the project is not necessary and also when the 55-km segment within Kodagu District is facing objections from the people of Kodagu. The environmental and social costs of the project have obviously not been taken into account.
Karnataka State officials have deposed before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), stating that the objections of Gram Sabhas are “belated”, “motivated” and are an “after-thought”. These statements are uncalled for, and show the dismissive attitude of officials towards simple people. The objections may be “belated” because village people did not get to know about the PGCIL project earlier. And if the village people are “motivated” in objecting to the project, their motivation is in preserving the environment which is a vital watershed for South India, saving their own coffee plantations which are their livelihood, and trying to mitigate the growing human-elephant conflicts. Thus, the question arises as to why officials have this attitude towards projects.
The 90-paise “disease”
The fact is that even though all officials are not corrupt, many officials are interested in getting large projects sanctioned and executed because a good portion of every rupee of public money spent does not go towards the project work but gets diverted into private pockets. When Rajiv Gandhi was PM, he had estimated that 80-paise in the rupee went astray. Now, decades later 90-paise, possibly more, would be seen vanishing if an honest, transparent audit were to be made. When a project is estimated at Rs.X crores, X-crore 90-paise portions vanish. Some people indelicately refer to such standard practice as corruption. But if at least the project was a genuine requirement and was executed with quality and in time, one could still wink at the corrup.. oops, sorry, the vanishing 90-paise. And this 400KV HT line is an unnecessary project as has been shown earlier.
Environment and governance
The felling of trees in forest areas and in coffee plantations is harmful to the environment. PGCIL argues that felling a “mere” few thousand trees may not harm the environment. But this argument fails to address the cumulative effect of felling trees for different projects of roads, HT power lines, etc., in the Western Ghats which is an “eco-sensitive hot-spot” in India and even in the international context.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Wildlife (MoEFW) is busy giving clearances to any and every project and weakening the Environment Protection Act. When Article 48A of the Constitution reads, “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife“, this attitude of MoEFW is condemnable.
The cumulative effect of this deforestation especially in special regions like the Western Ghats and in particular Kodagu, is not at all a consideration for MoEFW, in the country’s mindless rush towards industrialization at the cost of environmental destruction.
Kodagu District is special in two ways. One, its famed soldiers protect our country as a fundamental duty, in accordance with Article 51A(d), to defend the country. And two, its people are saving the source and vital watershed of Kaveri, and performing their fundamental constitutional duty “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife“ in accordance with Article 51A(g), doing what MoEFW should be doing but is actually doing the opposite. For all this, we all need to salute the people of Kodagu.
When the State, consisting of the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary, fails the People, the people have to resist and uphold the Constitution of India. In opposing this 400 KV Double Circuit HT line, we are performing our fundamental constitutional duty. Let us join together to do our duty!