Sahyadri Conservation Series: 24 ENVIS Technical Report: 54,  April 2013
Kumaradhara River Basin, Karnataka Western Ghats: Need for Conservation and Sustainable Use
1Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore – 560012, India.
2Member, Western Ghats Task Force, Government of Karnataka, 3Member, Karnataka Biodiversity Board, Government of Karnataka
4Member, Tree Authority  Mangalore (Rural),  Government of Karnataka
*Corresponding author:

The Western Ghats of the Indian peninsula constitute one of the 34 global biodiversity hotspots along with Sri Lanka, on account of exceptional levels of endemism among plants and animals by serious levels of habitat loss. This hotspot contains unique flora and fauna and scores of threatened species.The central Western Ghats of Karnataka, from 12°N to 15°N, involving the districts of Coorg, Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Hassan, Chikmagalur, Uttara Kannada and Shimoga districts and parts of Mysore, Chamarajanagar and Belgaum, all in Karnataka, and the State of Goa, is an exceptionally rich biological region. Whereas the elevation from 400 m to 800 m, is covered with evergreen to semi-evergreen climax forests and their various stages of degradation, especially around human habitations, the higher altitudes, rising up to 1800 m, in south-west Karnataka make a mosaic of evergreen forest clad water courses interspersed with rich grasslands. South-west Karnataka is extremely important agriculturally and horticulturally. The rice fields in valleys are often irrigated with perennial streams from forested hill-slopes. Many valleys served by water courses and riparian plains are the seats of the famed spice gardens growing crops like, coconut, arecanut, banana, cardamom, black pepper, cocoa, ginger and vanilla. The Western Ghats of southern Karnataka also support cultivation of coffee, tea, rubber, pine apple and various fruit trees and vegetables. From the point of productivity, revenue generation, employment potential and subsistence the Western Ghats are extremely important. Farming and forestry, including conservation of devarakadus or sacred groves go hand in hand in this region.

Kumaradhara River, is an important landmark of the spice garden and forest rich rugged terrain along the western side of the Western Ghats. The river basin is spread over an area from 12o29’4” to 12o58’33” N and 75o9’58” to 75o47’48” E with the catchment area of 1776 Kumaradharariver originates in central Western Ghats at an elevation of 1480 m AMSL at Kodagu. Winding its way through a steeply descending terrain the river reaches the coast at  33m AMSL at Uppinangadi in Puttur taluk where it  joins river Netravathi. In short, Kumaradhara has its individual existence within the Western Ghats itself. At Kunturu-perabe village in Puttur taluk Gundia River joins Kumaradhara. The river basin is spread across three districts: Hassan, Kodagu and Dakshina Kannada.

Interventions in the River Basin -24 MW Mini Hydel Scheme: A 24 MW hydro power unit is proposed across Kumaradhara near Kunturu-Perabe village at 74 m altitude in the Puttur Taluk of Dakshina Kannada district, about 64 km downstream from its origin in Coorg district. The catchment has an area of about 1412, where the rainfall varies from 3100 mm to more than 4250 mm resulting in an annual hydrological yield of 5600 Mcum. The proposed barrage site across the river is located at Dolpadi village, which is about 750m downstream of the confluence of Kumaradhara and Gundia River near Koodige. The valley is narrow and the abutment has a slope of 1:1 at proposed site. The width of the river bed is about 250 m and the bed level is 64m.

The Mini Hydel Scheme (MHS) envisages construction of a power house with an installed capacity of 24 MW. The main components of Kukke MHS as planned are i) barrage/dam across the river with radial and Stoplog gates, FRL is 83.5 m, ii) coarse trash rack structure adjacent to barrage right side, iii) intake structure on downstream of coarse trash rack structure, iv) power house of 8 generating units of 3 MW each with service bay, control room, office, etc., v) tailrace pool and open Tail race channel including the regarding of riverbed on down streams and outdoor yard (ODR) of 67m X 94m. Submergence area at FRL 83.5 m would include 878 hectares of forests, 123 hecatres of rubber plantation, 522 hectares of areca gardens and 35 hectares of agriculture. Provisioning services provided by these ecosystems (paddy, rubber, areca and forests) amounts to Rs.470,803,919. This amount is about 1.92 times higher than the annual revenue of Rs. 245,622,000 from the sale of 71.13 million units (GWh).

The proposed plan to set up 24 MW Mini Hydel Scheme in KumaradharaRiver needs to be shelved, considering

Significance of the region Prevailing norms that prevents activities detrimental to the sustenance of the ecosystem
Kumaradhara river basin is part of Western Ghats, one among 34 global hotspots of biodiversity Karnataka High Court judgment (February 2013) restricting mini hydel projects in the ecologically fragile Western Ghats, in response to the writ petition (number 9333/2009)
Region is Ecologically Sensitive based on species  and ecosystem based criteria Eco-sensitive region as per sub-section (1) with clause (v) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986)
Region is part of Ecologically Sensitive Zone –ESZ 1 Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP).
Kumaradhara - A hotspot of plant endemism. The region is a cluster of biodiversity rich terrestrial and aquatic sites
Terrestrial biodiversity - home to large number of endemic plant species of Western Ghats (around 70 species documented in sample surveys). Most notable of the evergreen species is the riparian evergreen tree Madhuca insignis, a Critically Endangered species according to the IUCN Red List, and Kumaradhara River bank is the only place in the world where it occurs today. The tree was thought to be extinct for long time but rediscovered after a long gap of 120 years by Krishnakumar, HS Shenoy and Kaveriappa (2004).Until its rediscovery there were only two type collections of the species in the world (as herbarium specimens),  one in Germany  and the second in the British Museum of Natural History, London. Syzygium travancoricum is yet another tree species, also considered extinct from the world once, but was rediscovered from the forests of Dakshina Kannada, mainly Netravathi basin, by Krishnakumar and Shenoy (2006). This tree, also Critically Endangered as per IUCN,  occurs very sparingly in the threatened submersion area of Kumaradhara.  Associates of M. insignis include also the Endangered and endemic species such as Hopea ponga and Vateria indica and Ochreinauclea missionis and Gymnacranthera canarica (both of Vulnerable stauts according to IUCN). Other notable riparian species include Euonymus indica, Carallia brachiata, Madhuca neeriifolia, Calophyllum apetalum, Elaeocarpus tuberculatus, Vitex leucoxylon Kingiodendron pinnatum(Endangered), Hopea spp etc. The presence of over 40% and above tree endemism in 10 of 12 transects is something remarkable for any riparian vegetation of Western Ghats etc. T8-Dolpadi and T9-Dolpadi transects were not only endemically rich but also had very good populations of large sized Myristica malabarica or wild nutmeg trees of high economic value.
That the region threatened with submersion is a hot bed of several more rare species is evident from the discovery a rare fern Helminthostachys zeylanica from the areca gardens of Kumaradhara-Gundia basin in Dakshina Kannada. This fern discovery by Shenoy and Krishnakumar (2007) is altogether a new record to Karnataka. The fern is attributed with medicinal and food values as well.
Under section 37 of Biological Diversity Act, 2002, areas rich in biodiversity, cultural importance, etc. are considered as Biodiversity Heritage Sites (BHS).

MHS at Kumaradhara amounts to to the violation of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

The term 'Forest land' mentioned in Section 2 of the Act refers to reserved forest, protected forest or any area recorded as forest in the government records. Lands which are notified under Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act would also come within the purview of the Act. (Supreme Court's Judgement in NTPC's case). All proposals for diversions of such areas to any non-forest purpose, even if the area is privately owned, would require the prior approval of the Central Government.

(ii) The term "tree" for the purpose of this Act will have the same meaning as defined in Section 2 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or any other Forest Act which may be in force in the forest area under question.

T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpadu vs. Union Of India & Ors on 12 December, 1996 [I.A. Nos. 7,9,10,11,12,13 and 14 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 202 of 1995 and I.A. Nos. 1,3,4,5,6,7,8 & 10 inWrit Petition (Civil) No. 171 of 1996] banning the felling of trees in all forests irrespective of whetherthey are so notified, recognised orclassified under any law, andirrespective of the ownership of the land of such forest;irrespective of whether they are so notified, recognised or classified under any law, and irrespective of the ownership of the land of such forest.
Presence of rare swamps: The region is home to endangered Myristica swamps, of which few survive to this day. Swamp specific and Critically Endangered Syzigium travancoricum and Gymnacranthera canarica (Vulnerable) are amongst many other species. The swamp ecosystem of Western Ghats is highly threatened one. Under section 37 of Biological Diversity Act, 2002, areas rich in biodiversity, cultural importance, etc. are considered as Biodiversity Heritage Sites (BHS).
Presence of Sacred Groves – community reserves Community Reserves under WLP Act, 2002GOI and in which the management and ownership will vest with the local people who will become the wardens of those community reserves.
Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act of 2002(the amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972)
Medicinal plants and NTFP species: Area has large number of medicinal plants and non timber forest product (NTFP) yielding plants. Every year lakhs of rupee worth Myristica malabarica aril is collected from the riparian forest. Deprives the local people of plants with medicinal and NTFP value.
The Biological Diversity Act 2002 was born out of India's attempt to realise the objectives enshrined in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 1992 which recognizes the sovereign rights of states to use their own Biological Resources. The Act aims at the conservation of biological resources and associated knowledge as well as facilitating access to them in a sustainable manner.
Aquatic biodiversity - 56 different fish species from Kumaradhara River  (especially in its constituent Gundia) out of which 23 are endemics, 11 are Vulnerable and 8 are Endangered as per IUCN Red List of threatened species (   Fish like Horabagrus brachysoma– Gunther’s catfish (Vulnerable) and Etroplus canarensis  (Endangered) are among the fishes of Kumaradhara.  Two very important community conserved fish sanctuaries, one  barely 5 kilometres upstream (Yenekal  Fish Sanctuary) and one 2-3 kilometres downstream of this site (Nakur Gaya Fish Sanctuary). These fish sanctuaries too protect a number of endangered fish species (Mahseer and endagred fish like Pearl spot, etc.), apart from their huge cultural significance. Considering the rich fish biodiversity the river basin to be declared as a sanctuary and protected area. (
Kumaradhara appears to be among the last of the exceptional diversity areas and need to be conserved for sustainable development.
Declaration of sanctuary.- Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972)2 [(1) The State Government may, by notification, declare its intention to constitute any area comprised within any reserve forest or the territorial waters as a sanctuary if it considers that such area is of adequate ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural or zoological significance, for the purpose of protecting, propagating or developing wild life or its environment].
Schedule-I, II and III animals under Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972) prevents any activities that threatens the wildlife.
A reserve forest in a wedge of land between Kumradhara River on the southern side and Gundia River on the northern side (the rivers join at 12°45’ N lat)  is one of the critical links of the Malnadu-Kodagu Wildlife Corridor Section 36-A of The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 as amended by The wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002
Average above ground stored carbon/ha of forests, as per the samples studied, is to the tune of 427.27 t/ha. Removal of 878 hectares of forests will amount to the emission of  375395 t of Carbon. Loss of annual carbon sequestration potential will be 1.13 t C /ha /yr. Contrary to the country’s commitment for an emission-reduction or emission-limitation under the Kyoto Protocol (Annex B Party)
Fails to attract any incentive under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), defined in Article 12 of the KYOTO Protocol (
Impacts due to submersion: Affects the livelihood of local people (submersion of agricultural and horticultural land) Impinges on the rights of forest dwelling people and violates Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, GOI
Submersion of existing functional MHS at Hosmata KUKKE stage II when implemented would affect the current 4.8 MW MHS  at Hosmata as the region gets submerged at 83.5 m MSL.
Similarly, KUKKE Stage I at 76 m MSL would submerge the generator house
Provisioning services provided by these ecosystems (paddy, rubber, areca and forests) amounts to Rs. 470,803,919. This amount is about 1.99 times higher than the annual revenue of Rs. 245,622,000 from the sale of 71.13 million units (GWh).
The proposed MHS is economically unviable as per the Planning Commission, Government of India.

Government approval EN126 NCE 2011 (1), dated 22/03/2011 and EN 126 NCE 2011, 26/03/2011 highlights that the bureaucracy is kept in the dark about ecologically richness and fragility of the Kumaradhara River basin.  Hydrological yield in a river basin depends on the landscape structure or land cover in its catchment. Rivers are a natural resource and reaping the benefits of an aquatic ecosystem is the fundamental right of all biological organisms including humans. The Constitution of India ensures clean water as a fundamental right of all citizens. First right to plan and manage water lies with the local community which inhabits the river basin. Leasing rivers / water courses to a private company impinges on the fundamental right of local residents, whose livelihoods are linked to the river and forests since generations. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure the sustainable management of natural resources in the region for the maximum benefit of the economy of a highly productive spice garden-rubber based farming system, than leasing out the vital portion of a river, the lifeline of the local economy, and with threatened flora and fauna for a hydel project. This kind of enterprise for short term gains, destabilizing the local livelihoods and ecosystems, would amount to nothing less than short-sightedness and unwillingness to consider the ground realities.  The premium should be on conservation of the remaining native vegetation of evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, which are vital for the water security (perenniality of streams) and food security (sustenance of biodiversity). In view of this, ecologically and economically unviable Kukke MHS to be shelved as it would also threaten the livelihood of ecosystem people by weakening the food and water security of the region.

Keywords: Kumaradhara river, Western Ghats, food security, watershed, conservation, endemism, people livelihood, forest rights

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