Local tribals in rural Murbad, Thane district, are looking for the magician who rendered their entire forest belt invisible. How else, they wonder, could anyone begin work on a new dam across Kalu river here without permission ?
What is most intriguing is how the state’s revenue department calls this an eco-sensitive area in the Western Ghats region in the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) area of Murbad Tehsil in Thane District. Yet, this dam, with a storage capacity of 407.99 million cubic metres, will submerge an area of 2,100 hectares, including about 1,000 hectares of dense forests.
“Work has already begun on forested Adivasi land. As per an apex court order, work on non-forest land cannot proceed without a clearance,” points out Indavi Tulpule of Shramik Mukti Sanghatana, an organisation spearheading the fight for tribal rights in the region. Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation, which is executing the project, claims the contractor has undertaken only “temporary ancillary work”. However, on visiting the site, DNA found massive deforestation and destructive foundation excavations done with 30 bulldozers and nearly 100 backhoe loaders on the site!
A guest house for Project officers, staff and contractors has been constructed with AC and LCD TV sets. Though the scope of ‘ancillary works’ include shelter for workers, at Kalu they and their children sleep in the river bed, while the CRPF reside in rooms.
“The non forest land on which excavation is being done belongs to adivasis. No legal acquisition has even been started. With no EIA, no environmental clearance, no public hearing, local voices are stifled,” points out Parineeta Dandekar, of the South Asia Network on Dams.
The provisions of Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) require informed consent from Gram Sabhas “Gram Sabhas here have resolved to resist this project. The construction amounts to violation of PESA,” says B More, a tribal.
The submergence area of Kalu Project includes about 1,000 hectares of forest land. The area is inhabited by traditional forest dwellers, who depend entirely on the forest resources for their livelihood. Many have filed individual cultivation rights claims under the Recognition of Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA). “About 24 villages have their community forest rights over this land for food gathering, collection and sale of produce. None have been documented or re-settled yet, though the FRA, Section 4, subsection 5 states: “No member of a forest dwelling communities shall be evicted till the recognition and verification process under this act is complete.” This makes the work an FRA violation too. The Katkari, Thakur and Mahadev Koli tribes use these forests as grazing grounds, and fishing as a source of food.
The project contractor has already felled thousands of trees near the site without permission from the forest dept. After repeated agitations by Shramik Mukti Sangathana, the local forest officials confiscated one dumper and 178 stumps of timber. In fact, six NGOs have complained to the Union minister for environment & forests Jairam Ramesh, Maharashtra chief secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad and the chairperson, Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel Prof Madhav Gadgil.
MMRDA commissioner Rahul Asthana, brushed off responsibility saying, “We are simply funding the project, not executing it. All the responsibility for execution is with the KIDC.” KIDC chief Dr SS Magar said, “Sometimes when you want to reach some where fast you have to jump a few signals.”