The new government’s stated resolve to go ahead with the 163-megawatt Athirappilly hydel power project across the Chalakudy river may run into trouble with the vulnerable tribal group of Kadar, who believe it will wipe out their livelihood, preparing to oppose it.
The forest is the pivot of Kadar life. The tribe, estimated to have around 2,000-odd people, seldom farm and mostly subsist on collecting minor forest produce, including honey, which they trade with outsiders for essentials. Many work as labourers too.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Power Minister Kadakampally Surendran had announced that the project mooted by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) would be pushed, while factoring in objections and opinions.
Council to meet soon
The Oorukoottam (tribal council) of Kadar tribesmen would be convened soon to take stock of the situation and decide on the future course, said V.K. Geetha, the Oorumooppathy (female tribal chieftain). The Supreme Court had also endorsed the rights of the tribal people to decide on the projects, she said. “We won’t let the government play with our lives anymore,” said Ms. Geetha.
“No State or the Central government can implement any project here without our consent. The permission of the tribal people is mandatory even for plucking a leaf from here. We will go to any extent to protect our rights,” she said.
Several environmental groups are also expected to back them in this issue. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 confers on tribal people the legally enforceable Community Forest Rights (CFR). The permission of the council is a prerequisite for clearing any projects in the area where the CFR has been notified.
The council had in August last year, rejected the Athirappilly project and passed a resolution declining permission to it. The decision of the meeting attended by 73 tribal representatives was also officially recorded.
Incidentally, a recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Niyamgiri Hills case, which upheld the rights of the village panchayat to decide on a bauxite mining project, has come as a shot in the arm for the Kerala tribespeople opposed to the project.
Upholding the decision-making powers of the village councils of Rayagada and Kalahandi of Odisha under the Forest Rights Act, the Supreme Court had asked them to decide on the fate of the Vedanta group’s $ 1.7 billion bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri Hills.