The State Wildlife Board on Thursday will decide on a request for conducting an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study for the new Mullaperiyar dam in the Periyar Tiger Reserve area and the declaration of eco-sensitive zones around wildlife sanctuaries of Kerala.
The first meeting of the recently reconstituted board will take up a proposal for an increase in the water level of the Peppara dam in Thiruvananthapuram.
The clearance of the board is required for pushing the State’s application for the new dam. The delay in reconstituting the board had delayed the proceedings in the case.
The Chief Wildlife Warden had earlier given his consent for conducting the study. It is estimated that 24.37 hectares of forestland will be submerged when the new dam came up.
The Forest Department decided to rush with the proposals for declaring the eco-sensitive zones around the wildlife sanctuaries following the Union government’s intervention. The Union Forest Minister had recently informed a meeting of the Chief Wildlife Wardens that the States would be asked to submit their proposals before February 15. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests would notify the zones based on the recommendations of the State government after invoking provisions of the Environment Protection Act.
Incidentally, the State government has been shying away from framing its views on the issue fearing public wrath. The declaration will empower the State government to prevent or regulate certain activities in the zone that are detrimental to the ecosystem of wildlife sanctuaries.
The government can ban mining on a commercial scale and polluting industries in the zone, and regulate felling of trees, commercial exploitation of water resources, and use of plastic. The responsibility for enforcing the regulations will be with the State government and its agencies. Master plans also have to be formed for each zone.
The State Forest Minister had recommended that the water level in the Peppara dam inside Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary should be raised to 107.5 metres instead of the earlier proposal of 110.5 metres. The proposal was considered for providing drinking water to Thiruvananthapuram city. If the level is raised to 110.5 metres from the existing 104.5 metres, 267 hectares of forestland and nine islands will be completely submerged. It will also result in the loss of 1,06,800 trees.
Limiting the water level to 107.5 metres will restrict the submergence to 107 hectares and loss of trees to 42,720. The clearance of the Union Minister for Environment and Forests is also required for increasing the water level.
The Minister has proposed annexing the 1,400-acre Bonakkad tea estate to the Peppara wildlife sanctuary for protecting the biodiversity of the area and increasing the water flow to the dam. He had suggested mining 60,00 cubic metres of sand from Chemmankala in the reservoir. The State will be able to earn revenue from the sale of the sand and increase the water flow to the dam, the Minister has said.