Former Electricity Minister A.K. Balan has urged Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan to reject the Madhav Gadgil report cautioning against giving environmental clearance for Kerala's 163 MW Athirappilly hydroelectric project.
In a letter to the Union Minister on Friday, Mr. Balan said the report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by Dr. Gadgil, submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests recently, was a prejudiced one.
Mr. Balan said Kerala was heavily dependent on water resources for power generation. The Union Ministry had repeatedly examined all aspects of the ecological impact of the proposed project and had given the project clearance three times earlier. Three entirely different teams of experts had given the proposal clearance at the level of the appraisal committee constituted to do the job.
Various agencies such as Tropical Botanical Garden Research Institute, Kerala Forest Research Institute, and WAPCOS (an international consultancy organisation in water and power infrastructure development) had done studies on the proposal and found that the project involved no consumptive use of water. There was no adverse comment on the proposal in the report of the Central Water Commission too, Mr. Balan said.
He further argued that the Athirappilly project would not result in the destruction of any stretch of virgin forests. It would lead to the submergence of only 40 hectares of land that included the riverbed and some teakwood plantations. The construction of the dam would be limited to an area that had already been cleared of trees, though that area came under the definition of forests.
“There is no hydroelectric project in India with much minimal forest use per mega watt. But from the [Madhav Gadgil] report it seems that the panel is already biased and did not consider these facts…,” Mr. Balan said.
He said the report did not come as a surprise to him “because the members of the panel were known anti-project campaigners.” V.S. Vijayan, ecologist, who was publicly opposing the project was one of the prominent members of the panel, he said. The minutes of the panel showed the panel's reliance on Dr. Vijayan's arguments at its meetings while formulating its report, Mr. Balan alleged.