Hydel project shadow on Dooars; Sankosh-Teesta Canal May Wreak Havoc On Forests
The Union government is reportedly planning a mega hydroelectric project on the Sankosh river in Bhutan that experts feel may lead to massive loss of greenery and wreak havoc on the biodiversity of the Dooars.
The mammoth Sankosh Multipurpose Project (SMP) is the biggest such project in Bhutan and when complete, will generate 4,060 MW of electricity. According to the detailed project report prepared by the Central Water Commission (CWC) of India, the project will comprise two dams to feed a 141 km canal, 128 km of which would be inside India. It would cut through Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and several other small forest tracts. The canal would connect the Sankosh in the east with the Teesta in the West.
The power generated would feed the entire northeast and reach as far as Meerut in UP. The canal would also irrigate fields and supply drinking water to parts of Bengal.
But environment experts feel that the project would take a heavy toll on the jungles of Dooars. Excavating the canal would destroy at least 450 sq km of forest land, of which over 100 sq km would be within core areas. The region has some of India’s most biodiverse forests: Jaldapara is one of India’s last reserves of the onehorned rhino, while Buxa is the only habitat of tigers in Bengal apart from Sunderbans.
“BTR houses Bengal tigers and nothing can be allowed to affect their natural habitat. The project will have a major impact on the ecosystem of the forest and the canal that they are planning will prove catastrophic for the wildlife here,” said R P Saini, the field director of BTR.
“This will have a direct impact on the elephant corridor as well. The railway tracks connecting Alipurduar to NJP have already affected the corridor from Sankosh to Teesta. Ifthe canal is dug, elephants will be bound to use the railway track to travel and it will further increase the possibility of elephant deaths,” said Raja Raut, honorary Wild Life Warden, who is also the secretary of Jalpaiguri Science and Nature Club.
Though the DPR by CWC was first handed over to the Bhutan government in December 1997, it did not get cleared due to protests. Now, the Union government wants to revive it after receiving a request from Bhutan. The agency that has been allotted the project is supposed to submit a revised DPR within this year.
“Once the dams are built, water supply to the Sankosh and the other streams will be drastically reduced. The downstream of Sankosh, which is one of the lifelines of BTR, will be greatly affected,” admitted a CWC official. He added that the work for the revised DPR had been completed in Bhutan but the work for the Indian portion was yet to start. CWC chief engineer K K Saha said, “We know the project had been planned a few years back, but there’s no news yet of it being revived.”
According to Animesh Basu, the co-coordinator of Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation, joining Sankosh with Teesta was an absurd idea. “The focus across the country is on saving tigers. If this project is implemented, it will finish off the possibility of reviving BTR as a tiger habitat,” he said.
State forest minister Ananta Roy said, “We will not allow any project that may harm the fragile biodiversity of Dooars. If the project is implemented in Bhutan, we’ll have nothing to say. But we’ll not let anyone destroy Bengal’s forests.”
WATER WAR BREWING?
Sankosh Multipurpose Project will comprise two dams to feed a 141 km canal, 128 km of which would be inside India. It will generate 4,060 MW of electricity and would feed the northeast and reach asfar as Meerut in UP. The canal would connect the Sankosh in the east with the Teesta in the west and also irrigate fields and supply drinking water to parts of Bengal.
It would cut through Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and several other small forest tracts.
Excavating the canal would destroy at least 450 sq km of forest land, of which over 100 sq km would be within core areas, say experts. It may have a severe impact on the elephant corridor.
Pinak Priya Bhattacharya | TNN