Bangalore: Here's another damned scam

Monday, 16 December 2013 - 12:03pm IST | Agency: DNA
Two dams built at the same site on Netravathi river to bypass green laws. Earning carbon credits without helping cut down emission is one of them.

Scams revolving around mini-hydel projects (MHPs) in the Western Ghats region of Karnakata get weirder by the day. And there’s nothing sublime about any of the preposterous projects; each dam scam in fact is more ridiculous than the previous one.

The latest one that’s come to light is a two-in-one project. This one is a single project masquerading as two different hydel projects on paper. The 24MW Perla Mini Hydel Project and the 24 MW Shamburi Mini Hydel Project on the Netravathi river have the same intake, the same power house and the same tail race for both hydel projects. The allegations being made by activists is prima facie corroborated by Google Earth images.

The Perla MHP is owned and operated by AMR Power Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of Greenko Energies Pvt Ltd. Its installed capacity is 24 .75 MW. The Shamburi MHP is run by Rithwik Energy Private Ltd, an SPV venture of Greenko, with the same capacity.

When activists of the South Asian Network on Dams Rivers and People (SANDRP) visited the area recently, they found that Perla village is on the right bank of Netravathi river and “the villagers told us that there is no project here. They pointed to the left bank of the river, to Shamboor village where the AMR project is situated. It is not in Perla. There is no powerhouse or any other structure in Perla village. Both the project are set up on the same barrage on the same bank in Shamboor village.”

About a kilometre from Perla upstream of the barrage, Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) has a pumping house. It lifts water from the river when the AMR project closes its gates. MRPL is said to have been adversely affected by dams coming up in the upstream of Netravathi. Interestingly, the AMR project design document (PDD) claims to have been affected by the precedence given to water requirements of MRPL.

Close by, near Shamboor village, are office premises where two boards face each other, one of Perla MHP and the other of Shamboor MHP. There’s no mention of Greenko. Apparently, though the offices are different, the plant is the same: both have five turbines each.

Residents filed a petition against these dams claiming that it was not a mini-hydel project, but a 48 MW power project which diverted all flow to the left  bank of the river, depriving locals from using the water 1.8 km upstream of the project. The Karnataka High Court ordered a spot inspection and recommended that a panel should be appointed to check claims and the technical viability of the project.

Though the petitioners said this should be done by NIT Suratkal from Mangalore (which had submitted a report claiming that the projects were essentially the same and that this was a violation), the court asked the petitioners to approach the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd for a report. After submitting documents and photographs, they received a bill for Rs 24 lakh for a preliminary report and inspection fees. The petitioners are not in a position to pay this, and the NHPC has been insisting that they pay this amount.

The Shamburi PDD says, “The existing plant started commercial operation prior to the start of a minimum historical reference period of five years, used for the calculation of baseline emissions and defined in the baseline emission section, and no capacity addition or retrofit of the plant has been undertaken between the start of this minimum historical reference period and the implementation of the project activity.”

Parineeta Dandekar of SANDRP calls the bluff. “Perla MHP started on February 2, 2010 and Shamburi MHP on November 2, 2010. Therefore, no hydrological viability of even a single year has been available to Shamburi MHP.”

“It is clear that both projects were designed to be one and same project, planned simultaneously, with a combined capacity of 48 MW, in order to raise capital from market, access subsidies, tax benefits, enjoy high tariff meant of non-conventional energy sources and get carbon credits. In this process, they have bypassed getting Environmental Clearance or EIA for the projects. The Rapid EIA done for Shamburi MHP is a farce,” Dandekar says.

The parties (locals and the company) reached an out-of-court settlement. The manner in which the settlement was arrived at was “suspicious,” according to Dandekar. The locals told her that they had to do this as the court put the onus of proving that these two were different projects on the them, and assigned AHEC Roorkee for the job. The amount that AHEC Roorkee asked for consulting was too much for the villagers to pay.

Adds Himanshu Thakkar, “There are many impacts of any such 50 MW dam projects on a biodiversity-rich river like Netravathi. The fact that the project developers got away with fraudulently showing them as two separate projects when they had a common dam, power station and everything else shows complete failure of  the environmental governance by MoEF, MNRE, UNFCCC, KREDL and Karnataka environment department.”

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