Athirappilly project renews biodiversity debate

The Environmental Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is set to consider a project proposal mooted by the Kerala State Electricity Board.  

The debate over the possible biodiversity impact of the Athirappilly hydroelectric project has resumed with the Environmental Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment all set to consider the project proposal mooted by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB).

The KSEB had recently submitted a report to the Ministry on the availability of water in the Chalakudy river system. The board is hopeful that the project would be cleared, J. Baburaj, Director (Generation), KSEB, said. Once the Ministry approves the proposals, the project will take off, he said.

Renewed bid

It was following a report of the High-Level Working Group (HLWG) on the Western Ghats that the KSEB renewed its attempt to get the project back on track.

Incidentally, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel had rejected the project, highlighting its impact on the riparian ecosystem of the region.

Meanwhile, a group of scientists had questioned the biodiversity impact report, prepared by a scientist of the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, Thiruvananthapuram, which was used by the board for piloting the project.

They had also written to the HLWG stating that the “project – the seventh dam along the 145-km course of the river – will no doubt be a death knell to the last remaining population of endemic species of flora and fauna of the river as the reservoir will be a totally unconducive habitat for the specialised and adapted species.”

The report was prepared on a request from K. Kasturirangan, the chairman of the HLWG, after a debate on the biodiversity impact of the project, T.V. Sajeev, Head, Entomology Department, Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Peechi, said.

The habitats of dragonflies, spiders, a host of fish varieties, snakes, and amphibians, including fossorial fossil frog Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, and the migration routes of elephants would be impacted by the proposed dam, Dr. Sajeev said.

Unique location

According to the report, the riparian forests along the river are a location in the southern Western Ghats where three important hornbill species coexist.

The proposed dam will have compounded impact on biodiversity caused by the existing dams, which have resulted in loss of riparian forest continuity, change in river flow and vegetation type, and local extinction of low elevation riverine species, the report said.

A few scientists from the KFRI and the Zoological Survey of India, Kozhikode, and activists of the Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation and Malabar Natural History Society had contributed to the report, he said.

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 1:36:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/athirappilly-project-renews-biodiversity-debate/article6806941.ece

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