33 water harvesting structures already exist in Kalesar forest & wildlife sanctuary: RTI

The RTI reply revealed that these 33 dams have a total catchment area of 2,173.25 acres, along with a pondage area that spreads over 308.03 hectares of forest land.

Nine months after the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, red-flagged the construction of earthen dams inside the Kalesar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (KNP&S), The Indian Express, through an RTI reply, has learned that there are 33 such water harvesting structures (dams) that are already present inside the Kalesar forests that were built by the Haryana Forest and Wildlife Department since 1984.

The RTI reply revealed that these 33 dams have a total catchment area of 2,173.25 acres, along with a pondage area that spreads over 308.03 hectares of forest land.

These dams were constructed at a cost of around Rs 4.27 crore between 1984 and 2015 and sprawl over a total command area (area around the dam/project that benefits from it directly by receiving irrigation water, electricity).

The RTI was filed by The Indian Express in the backdrop of findings of WII, Dehradun, which had recommended relocating two of the six earthen dams proposed to be constructed in KNP&S to outside the forest area, besides flagging the overall adverse effects of these dams. WII had concluded that at least 1,59,034 trees and plants would be damaged due to the construction of these dams. A total of 222.52 hectares (549.93 acre) of land is required for the construction of the six dams. Ambawali and Chiken dams, which were recommended to be relocated out of forest reserve, would come up on 56.25 hectares and 27.31 hectares of land, respectively.

The WII had also observed that the construction of four of these six dams would affect the flow of water and thereby impact the terrestrial as well as aquatic biodiversity of the forest reserve.

As per the RTI reply received by The Indian Express on May 18, at least 22, out of the 33 dams, are located in the Kalesar Forest Range. 11 other structures are in the Chhachhrauli forest range. Despite the adverse findings of WII, Dehradun, the State Board for Wildlife (SBW), headed by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, had cleared the proposal about the six dams in August, 2020.

Sources in the forest department said, “The forest and wildlife department is also divided on the issue. Before sending the proposal to National Board for Wildlife by the SBW, it was decided that the size of certain dams will be reduced. The dams will be constructed by the state forest department instead of the irrigation department. The forest department will bear the cost of construction of these dams. The Haryana Irrigation and Water Resources Department had proposed construction of the six dams at a cost of Rs 125 crore on the tributaries of Pathrala river, which further meets Somb river before finally merging into Yamuna.”

Conservationist Shaminder Boparai said, “It is easy to make proposals on paper for replanting forests damaged due to the construction of dams. But practically that is not possible. A forest takes decades to get ready. Haryana has merely 3.59 per cent of forest area. The state should work on increasing the forest cover instead of chopping trees and diverting forest land for projects like this.”

Senior IAS officer, Ashok Khemka, who is also a green crusader, said, “The ongoing pandemic of Covid-19 is teaching us to respect nature. The construction of huge dams inside Kalesar national park is not advisable. If it happens, we will face drastic environmental problems in coming years.”

PCCF, Haryana, VS Tanwar, refused to comment on the issue.

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