The State government’s NOC permitting the Kerala State Electricity Board to obtain the statutory clearances for the Athirappilly hydroelectric project has evoked strong response from tribespeople and ecologists who have been campaigning against it.
The Ooru Sabha (tribal council) of the Kadar tribe in Vazhachal will be convened to shortly to discuss the new development, said V.K. Geetha, chieftain of the Vazhachal tribal settlement.
The issue will be first discussed in the Forest Rights Committee. Later, the issue will be placed before the council for a decision, she said. There is no change in the position of the tribespeople in opposing the project. The project will be stiffly opposed, said Ms. Geetha.
Incidentally, the tribal council, the agency which can decide on the fate of a project coming up in a tribal majority area, had rejected the project twice.
Reiterating his position that the project shall not be taken forward, eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil said the Athirappilly power project was not an ecologically and environmentally feasible one.
The possible impacts of the project were discussed in detail in the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) report. Besides being economically and environmentally unviable, the power project would infringe upon the rights of the Kadar tribe as guaranteed under the Forest Rights Act, he said.
There will not be enough water in the river system to sustain the project. The implementation of the project will also affect the waterfall and tourism activities in the region, Mr. Gadgil said.
Jairam Ramesh, former Union Minister for Environment and Forests, noted that the Kerala government was inflicting an ecological disaster by approving the hydel project despite the opposition to the project and expert advices.
The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had saved the Western Ghats by stopping the Silent Valley project in 1983. That kind of commitment, concern and courage for environment is missing today, said Incidentally, it was during the term of Mr. Ramesh as the Union Environment Minister that the WGEEP was constituted and Athirappilly project was referred to it.
Leaders of the Opposition have demanded the government to repeal the NOC for the project.
Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said in Thiruvananthapurma on Wednesday that the new move was in violation of a promise Power Minister M.M. Mani made in the Assembly that the project would be implemented only through consensus.
KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran demanded the government relinquish the move to implement the project in haste. The decision shows that the the CPI(M)’s concern for nature was just a show, he said.
BJP State president K. Surendran said that the move to implement the project in the last year of the government’s tenure was aimed at making money.