A decision on the Athirappilly and the Pooyamkutty hydroelectric projects of the Kerala State Electricity Board will be delayed as the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel has put them on the back-burner.

The panel, which met in Thiruvananthapuram last week, has decided to focus on identifying and protecting eco-sensitive areas in the Western Ghats and take up additional responsibilities only at a later stage.

“The additional responsibilities like the decisions on hydel power projects of Kerala will be taken up after the completion of the primary mandate of the panel,” Madhav Gadgil, eminent ecologist and chairman of the panel, said.

Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh had recently announced the decision to leave the issue to the panel following conflicting demands from the State government and environmentalists.

While the State government has sought an early clearance for the projects, environmentalists fear that the projects would cause irreparable damage to the environment and the forest ecosystem of the State. 

“As the term of the panel will end in March, the focus is on completing the mandate. The issue of hydel power projects was referred to us just a few weeks ago. It may take at least four to five months for the panel to consider the power projects,” Mr. Gadgil said.

No decision taken

“Though a discussion was held regarding the additional responsibilities, no decision or definite plan on how to go about regarding the power projects was taken. The committee is in the process of compiling and collecting information regarding the ecologically sensitive areas in the Western Ghats region. This information may come in handy when the panel takes up the issue of the hydel power projects,” he said.

Besides the 163-MW Athirappilly power project that is proposed across the Chalakudy river, the board has planned a 210-MW project on the Pooyamkutty river in the Periyar basin. The estimate of Rs. 1,367.13 crore for the project is based on the 2008 price level. The State Cabinet recently accorded administrative sanction for the project.

Studies conducted by the board have estimated that 1,400 hectares of forest land would be submerged if the power project is implemented. The original proposal was to set up a project with an installed capacity of 750 MW, leading to submersion of 2,800 hectares of forest land. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had denied permission for the project in 1991 and 1996 citing violations of the Forest Conservation Act.

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