The Athirappilly hydropower project must be “revaluated in terms of the generation of energy and whether the plant load factor expected in the project makes it viable against the loss of local populations of some species,” the High Level Working Group (HLWG) of Western Ghats has suggested.
Kerala had been campaigning for the 163 MW power project proposed across the Chalakudi river for quite some time. Denying permission for the project, the then Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh had decried it as a perfect recipe for an ecological disaster in the State.
His stand had invited criticism from A.K. Balan, the then Power Minister, who believed that some forces had worked against the project at the national level. The Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, appointed during the term of Mr. Ramesh, had said a firm no to the project.
The HLWG, which refrained from taking a stand on the project, observed that “while the importance of the Athirappilly project for meeting the peaking power requirements of the State cannot be disputed, there is still uncertainty about the ecological flow available on the riverine stretch, which has a dam at a short distance upstream of the proposed project”.
Given the increased variability due to the unpredictable monsoon, the proposal should be re-evaluated. If the State government desired to take forward the proposal with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, it should be on the basis of the “revaluation and collection of data on ecological flow”.
According to A. Latha, director of the River research Centre and one of the key campaigners against the project, the concerns raised by the group on the ecological flow available on the riverine stretchwas a welcome one.
Though the group had not adopted a categorical stand on the power project, it had pointed out the need for revalidation of data, assessment on generation of energy and plant load factor of the project, she said. The Kasturirangan-led HLWG had listed 122 villages in 24 taluks as ecologically sensitive areas (ESA). It arrived at the list based on remote sensing data to measure the contiguity of vegetation and population density in the villages.
The HLWG had recommended “a prohibitory and regulatory regime in ESA for those activities with maximum interventionist and destructive impact on the ecosystem. All other infrastructure development activities, necessary for the region, will be carefully scrutinised and assessed for cumulative impact and development needs, before clearance.”
Incidentally, the WGEEP report had listed 25 taluks of the State as sensitive areas, which had invited fierce criticism from various social groups, including some sections of the church.