K. Radhakrishnan, former Member (Generation) of the Kerala State Electricity Board said he fears that the latest report by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) on the Athirapally hydro-electric project smacks of a move to torpedo major power projects evolved by Kerala.
Reacting to the report, Mr. Radhakrishnan told The Hindu, that the recommendations appear to be highly biased in order to suit the interests of such a move. Mr. Radhakrishnan, who headed the KSEB team for the technical discussion with the WGEEP on the issue, said it is unfortunate that all major power projects planned by Kerala are being consistently stalled by objections from various groups.
Kerala is losing about 1,400 million units of electricity annually from the major projects stalled in this manner. This situation leads to more dependence by the State on power producers outside the State. It leads to a situation where large merchant power plants selling power at market driven costs benefit.
He said that the allegation by the panel that the KSEB had not countered or failed to answer questions pertaining to the technical feasibility of the project were totally baseless. All questions in this connection were sufficiently addressed.
Mr. Radhakrishnan said that a new approach towards power projects is the need of time. The environment has to be protected but development activities should not get stalled. Vested interest groups should not be allowed to take decisions on vital development projects.
The Athirapally project is conceived in such a manner so as to have only minimal environment impacts. All the authorities concerned have been adequately apprised o the same in several stages before obtaining the clearance. Unfortunately hurdles are being invented to stall the project.
It is a dam with comparatively small storage area which cannot do cannot do much harm to either the forests or the environment. The total area to be submerged is only 104 hectares of which natural forests cover only 28.4 hectares. The 163 MW project will give an annual yield of 233 million units.
Environmental clearance to the project was accorded in 1998 based on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) conducted by the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute and also after many site visits by experts deputed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) had approved the technical feasibility of the project and after all the necessary clearances; the project was tendered for execution in 2001. Mr. Radhakrishnan said it was after all this that efforts with the aim of torpedoing the project began. These even included public interest litigations.
This led to a fresh EIA study by the Water and Power Consultancy Services India Limited which led to the project obtaining a fresh environment clearance. After clearing all objections, the CEA again gave the techno-economic clearance for the project in 2005.
It was again question in court and after correcting procedural shortcomings the MoEF accorded environmental clearance in 2007. Thus with all hurdles removed, work for the Athirapally Hydro-Electric Project was again tendered for execution in 2007. But then too a hurdle cropped up in the form of litigation by one of the contractors. “And now a bigger hurdle in the form of the WGEEP report”.