WII red flags irrigation dams in Kalesar forest: ‘will impact biodiversity’

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

The wildlife institute of India (WII), Dehradun, has recommended relocating two of the six earthen dams proposed to be constructed in Kalesar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (KNP&S) to outside the forest area. The WII also observed that the construction of four other dams would affect flow of water and thereby impact terrestrial as well as aquatic biodiversity of the forest reserve.

The dams, recommended to be shifted out of KNP&S, include Ambawali Dam on Ambawali Khol and Chikan Dam on Chikan Khol. The other four dams include Nagli Dam on Nagli Khol, Darpur Dam on Palasi Khol, Kansli Dam on Kansli Khol, and Khillanwalla Dam on Khillanwalla Khol.

Spread over 26,000 acres, KNP&S in Yamunanagar and shares boundaries with Himachal and Uttarakhand.

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. The dams, including three big-sized structures, were proposed to help improve the underground water level and providing water for irrigation in the region. The State Board for Wildlife (SBW), headed by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, had cleared the proposal in August.

The Indian Express has procured the feasibility report of WII and minutes of the fifth meeting of the SBW. It was in the meeting, held August 17, that the government approved the construction of dams and forwarded the matter for clearance to National Board for Wildlife (NBW).

Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), RL Rajvanshi, told the Indian Express that WII, in its technical findings, had raised some important concerns towards the biodiversity of the forest reserve. “We are committed to take care of the concerns raised. We have decided to not construct the dams at one go even after getting green signal by the NBW. We will construct one dam and observe its impact on the biodiversity before proceeding with the construction of a second dam.”

WII had consulted Rajvanshi while conducting the study.

A total of 222.52 hectare (549.93 acre) land is required for construction of dams. Ambawali and Chiken dams, which were recommended to be relocated out of forest reserve, would come up on 56.25 hectare and 27.31 hectare land, respectively.

In its report, WII concluded that 1,59,034 trees and plants would be damaged due to construction of dams.

“Eight earthen dams are already constructed by the forest department and located near proposed dam sites. Fortunately, these dams are frequently used by most mammalian species found in the area. The construction of dams on the proposed sites would alter the natural water storage capacity of earthen dams during the monsoon,” the WII report states.

A three-member team of WII also observed that 13 villages are situated near the proposed dam sites. Due to proximity to villages, proposed areas are disturbed by anthropogenic activities such as logging, lopping, encroachment for agriculture and cattle grazing.

The team comprising Dr Salvador Lyngdoh, Dr Amit Kumar, and Dr Vinnet K Dubey, had surveyed the the sites for the all the six proposed dams.

The team recorded density of wild animals, including the mammalian species and prey species, around the proposed sites. The mammalian species included leopard, civets, hyena, jackals, jungle cat, spotted cat, common pam civet while species of prey included sambhar, chital, barking deer, wild boars in abundance.

In its observation about Khillanwalla dam site, the team found a dry river bed with sand, cobbles and pebbles at its base. The team inferred that during monsoon, the intermittent stream serves as a breeding and spawning ground for fish such as Mahseer, which are migratory in nature and require fast flowing turbulent water. Construction of dam will adversely hamper the connectivity and flow requirements to complete their life cycle.

The team observed, “In view of freshwater resources, all the proposed dam construction sites are non-perennial in nature. However, these streams are observed as important spawning and nursery habitats of fishes especially during monsoon season”.

Aquatic habitats observed during the survey were characterized as shallow riffles and pools, small cascades, optimum flow condition with low turbidity required for the survival of juvenile of varied fish such as Bariluis Bendelisis, Barilius barna, tot tor etc. The dam construction on the proposed sites will adversely effect survival of fishes, especially migratory fish, which use these unique habitats for their life history requirements.

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