The Karnataka forest department has instructed Shivamogga, the Jog Management Authority to seek environment clearances before beginning construction of a five-star Jog Falls hotel. This is a new set document that The Indian Express has accessed.
Vijaykumar Gogi Chief Wildlife Warden, Karnataka, ordered Shivamogga Wildlife Division inform the user agency to apply Environment and Wildlife Clearances (EWC) for the same project.
The Sharavathi Valley Lion Tailed Macaque Sanctuary is just 2.7km from the site of this project, as acknowledged by the department.
The office of the Chief Executive Officer, Jog Management Authority, and the Deputy Commissioner had requested the diversion from Nadawada Talakalale village of Shivamogga district of 0.8536 hectares forest land to construct the hotel in place of the existing PWD guesthouse.
The area is located within the ecosensitive zone (ESZ), and is within 10km radius from Sharavathi Valley Lion Tailed Macaque Sanctuary. Therefore, it is necessary to obtain environment clearance. Before you begin any development activities within the ESZ, it is important to obtain all necessary environmental clearances through both Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife as well as Karnataka Wildlife Board via Parivesh (Proactive and Responsive facilitation using Interactive, Virtuous Environment Single window Hub, the letter read by the chief wildlife warden).
The development comes in the wake of opposition raised over the project by wildlife conservationist Giridhar Kulkarni who last year had submitted a detailed explanation to the Additional Chief Secretary (Forest, Environment and Ecology), State Forest Department, Karnataka Biodiversity Board and Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) about the project’s ramifications on the ecology. MoEF&CC based on his objections has directed Karnataka’s state government to take the appropriate action. It was learned that Jawaid Akhtar, the Additional Chief Secretary for Forest, Ecology and Environment, had asked Sanjay Mhan, the Principal Chief Conservator in Forest (Headof Forest Force), on September 16, 2021, to verify Kulkarni’s objections and to submit a report immediately to the government.
Rajiv Ranjan, Principal Chief Conservator for Forests (Forest Conservation), and Nodal Officer, (FCA), wrote on October 4, 2021 a letter to Manoj Tripathi, chief conservator of Shivamogga Circle (CCF), and to the office of the deputy conservator (DCF) in Sagar Division, asking them to take appropriate action and submit the report as soon as possible. He also asked KB Shivakumar (also CEO of Jog Management Authority), to reply.
Major fauna found within and around the project area include Semnopithecus entellus (“Hanuman Langoor”), Axis axis (“Spotted Deer”), Suscrofa [Wild boar], Bos gaurus (“Gaur”), Suscrofa [Wild boar], Bos gaurus (“Gaur”) Ratufa indica—Malabar giant squirrel), Ophiophagus hannah” (King hornbill), Pavo cristatus” (Pecock), Pavo cristatus” (LTM), Pavo cristatus (“Pecock”) among others.
Apart from the hotel’s development, plans are in place to build a ropeway connecting the Sharavathi River’s left and right banks. This will be located directly in front of the Jog Fall. The state government is also planning to develop Jog Falls and the surrounding areas with a dedicated transit hub and grand entrance, retail outlets as well as view decks, central islands, landscape work, and view decks.
Kulkarni stated that any attempt to recommend the current commercial tourism project proposal would have an adverse effect on the flora or fauna of the region. He stated that any attempt at recommending the current commercial tourism project proposal would go against the MoEFC guidelines.
Earlier this month, the state cabinet decided to go ahead with the developmental project on design-build-operate-transfer (DBOT) model.
Kulkarni also mentioned in his objections, that a similar proposal was also rejected by the union environmental ministry in 2014. This stated that the project is not site specific and not in the interests of conservation of forests. Therefore, it should be rejected now. In 2014, the Karnataka government sought approval from the Centre for diversion 0.4046 hectares forest land at the same site for development, wellness for tourists, and an ayurvedic center.
MoEF&CC states in its circular that a number of construction activities have been started or are being considered with funds, particularly from the Tourism Department. These activities can be used to up-grade/renovate existing structures or to promote tourism. The Central Government will not consider proposals to divert forest land for the construction of residential or dwelling homes. Normally, the Central Government will not consider any proposal to dilute forest land for the construction of other buildings.