Forest Department in a fix over land allocation fearing ecological imbalances in the Tiger Reserve

The Kerala Irrigation Department has sought permission for the transfer of forest land for constructing the Periyar dam.

The executive engineer of the Minor Irrigation Department (MID), Kumily, has approached the Kerala Forest Department (KFD) with a request for allotting 50 hectares for the project. The KFD, however, is in a fix over the allocation of the land as it fears widespread environment and ecological imbalances in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, which is one of the 38 reserves dedicated to the big cats, and an elephant reserve, where the dam has been proposed. The new site is 366 metres away from the Mullaperiyar dam.

The MID has stated that the site identified for the new dam, which is “inside the national park sanctuary area, is the only feasible site approved after joint inspection by Kerala and Tamil Nadu.”

The new dam is considered as an alternative to the 115-year-old one. The area of submergence will be 50 hectares. Of this, 24.37 hectares will be submerged on construction of the dam and the rest will come under the area that will be additionally submerged. The Rs. 600-crore project will have no biodiversity impact and there will be no displacement of people, the Irrigation Department has stated.

Obtaining clearance for the construction of the dam will be a cumbersome process as the permission from a number of State and national agencies and officials have to be sought. The final clearance for the allocation of land should come from the National Board for Wildlife, which is chaired by the Prime Minister.

DFO clearance

As per the procedure laid down for allotting forest land for non-forest purposes, a report from the Divisional Forest Officer of the area will have to be obtained. The field reports from the Forest Range Officer of the region will also be considered for the preparation of this report. It will also have to be considered by the Field Director of the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

The views of the Chief Wildlife Warden and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest of the State will follow and the reports by these officials will be placed before the State Wildlife Advisory Board. The Board, on its part, will forward the report to the National Board. The clearance of the National Tiger Conservation Authority will have to be sought in this case as the proposed site is the core critical tiger habitat of the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

The State Forest Department has not formed its opinion on the proposal and the department, whose mandate is to protect the forest and its ecology, is concerned about the implications of the project, said a senior official of the department. Incidentally, the Kerala government had been campaigning for a new dam highlighting the safety issue of the ageing Mullaperiyar dam.

Besides the impact of massive constructions on the fragile ecosystem and biodiversity-rich area of the tiger reserve, conservationists are worried about the possible fallout of the de-commissioning of the existing dam on completion of the new dam. The decommissioning will also leave widespread impact on the forest reserve and aquatic habitats, which evolved over a century, pointed out a forest official.