Special Correspondent

Environmentalists oppose any hasty clearance

  • Court twice rejected environmental clearance
  • People unanimously rejected the project

    NEW DELHI: Environmentalists have called for an immediate stay on the Environmental Clearance under consideration of the Expert Committee for the Athirappilly Hydro-electric project, proposed to come up along the Chalakudy river basin in the Vazhachal Forest Division of Kerala.

    A meeting, convened by World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-India and Kerala-based River Research Centre here, on the proposed 163 MW project, said that it should be considered afresh given the consistent violations of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 1994 by the Kerala State Electricity Board in regard to the proposed project and in the light of the significant gaps in the assessment of the costs, benefits, impacts and options of the project.

    The EIA report had not considered the impact on the sensitive ecology and unique biodiversity of the area. The report grossly underestimated the avian and fish biodiversity of the region, which has been declared an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International and recommended for a fish sanctuary by the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources. Two High Court judgments had rejected the Environmental Clearance, whereas in the court-ordered public hearings, the people had unanimously rejected the project and the High Court order was yet to be fully implemented, the participants said.

    Repeated requests made by affected local communities for a hearing before the River Valley Expert Committee did not evoke any response.

    Concern over alleged reluctance of the Ministry of Environment and Forests to give an opportunity for the project- affected communities was also raised at the meeting. It recommended that the Environmental Clearance should not be provided on the basis of the current EIA and also without giving adequate opportunity to hear the project-affected communities.

    Presently, Kerala had sufficient power to meet all its requirements and was even selling power to other States. Hence, there should be no urgency to clear the project. The meeting concluded that this was an opportune moment for the KSEB to urgently take steps to ``repair, restore to full capacity, all existing hydro-electric projects in Kerala, minimise transmission and distribution losses, and prevent theft" as per the High Court Order 2001 on the Athirappilly HEP case, and the River Valley Expert Committee and the Ministry must reconsider the need for the project.

    This Peninsular Indian Hill Range stretching over 1,400 km north to south was undoubtedly the basis of the socio- economic and cultural survival and development of the five southern States of India. It also decided the climate of this region. The Southern Western Ghats is estimated to hold tropical moist forest areas of potential conservation value scattered over more than 20,000 sq. km.

    The Kerala part of the Southern/Western Ghats had a long history of deforestation for several purposes that took place in several phases. In the earlier phases, ecologically sensitive lowland forests along the foothills of the Western Ghats and on the hillocks in the midlands were cleared for cultivation. In the second phase, climax evergreen forests above 900 m altitude were cleared extensively for coffee, tea and later cardamom plantations. In the third phase, extensive moist deciduous forests along the foothills, outer slopes and lower plateaus were cleared for forest plantations such as. In the fourth phase, came river valley projects and associated developmental measures. Some of the dams came up after forests were already lost to encroachment.

    44 rivers

    Kerala has 41west-flowing and three east- flowing short rivers originating from the Western Ghats. Over the last 60 years, Kerala had built around 60 dams with Periyar, Bharathapuzha, Chalakudy and Pamba rivers being the heavily dammed rivers. While most of the irrigation projects came up in the foothills, the hydro-electric projects were mostly replacing the evergreen tracts. Many more like Athirappilly, Pathrakadavu and Kuriyarkutty-Karapara were on the anvil, it said..