Coimbatore

Public appeal against proposed hydroelectric project in Nilgiris

The agriculture land which is now under cultivation at the proposed the dam site for the Sillahalla hydro- electric project near Udhagamandalam.

The agriculture land which is now under cultivation at the proposed the dam site for the Sillahalla hydro- electric project near Udhagamandalam.   | Photo Credit: M_Sathyamoorthy

Around 400 conservationists, scientists, people’s groups, members of Non-Governmental Organizations and the public have together signed an appeal to the government to scrap the proposed Sillahalla pumped hydro-electric storage project (PHESP).

In the appeal made to the Expert Appraisal Committee for River Valley Projects, it was pointed out that the Sillahalla PHESP was one of two major pumped hydroelectric projects planned to be constructed in the Nilgiris, with another project – the construction of the Kundah PHESP already in its incipience.

Explaining the potential impact of the project, the signatories pointed out that “The Kundah watershed region in the Nilgiris supports important last remaining vestiges of the Shola-grassland mosaic vegetation, which is one of the most endangered vegetation types in India. This region has crucial amounts of green cover in terms of forested tracts (plantations) which have been naturalised and serve as important habitat and corridors for endangered populations of wildlife.”

The proposed Sillahalla project, once implemented will result in the construction of an upper and a lower reservoir along the Sillahalla stream and also past the existing Kundah Palam dam, and could lead to the direct submergence of 170 hectares of land.

The appeal outlines fears that the Sillahalla PHESP project could have a drastic impact on more than 10,000 families whose livelihoods depend on the land which will come under submergence because of the project. This project could have huge social ramifications, the activists fear. “The Nilgiris has already seen several layers of social unrest and injustice due to forced evictions, improper, and failed compensations for resettlements,” the authors of the appeal note, adding that the Kundah and Sillahalla PHESPs are being pushed through without adequate consultations with local stakeholders.

Gokul Halan, from the Keystone Foundation in Kotagiri said that the lands which are being considered for the project are ancestral lands of the Todas, an indigenous tribal community in the Nilgiris. “Once more they stand to lose their cultural and sacred territories if this project is approved,” he said.

Godwin Vasanth Bosco, a restoration ecologist from the Nilgiris, and one of the signatories, said that not only was the project extremely harmful to the fragile Nilgiris ecosystem, but is also highly inefficient. “Not only are we destroying ecosystems, but are also implementing projects which will bring no discernible benefit in terms of availability of power,” said Mr. Bosco. “A much simpler, effective solution will be to simply upgrade the existing infrastructure at the powerhouses, and better power resource management,” he said.

Another Nilgiris-based conservationist, N. Mohanraj, said that Pumped Hydroelectric Storage Projects have a checkered track-record. “These power plants are operated to meet peak demand, which means that even if they meet their targets, it would mean that there is a net loss in power in the grid,” said Mr. Mohanraj. “Moreover, there is no excess water in any of the dams in the Nilgiris except during the monsoon. The construction of these two projects could lead to a lack of water in the entire watershed and exacerbate droughts during low rainfall seasons,” he added.

“The Nilgiris is home to a variety of endemic, endangered plants and wildlife, and requires protection. We need to be mindful of these aspects as well,” said Anita Varghese, deputy director of the Keystone Foundation.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 3:39:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Coimbatore/public-appeal-against-proposed-hydroelectric-project-in-nilgiris/article32206564.ece

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