Undeterred by the criticism that the Athirappilly hydroelectric project may cause irrevocable environment damage, the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) continues to bat for it.
The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), appointed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), has recommended that the proposal should not be cleared citing its environmental impacts. The KSEB proposes a project with an installed capacity of 163 MW across the Chalakudy river.
Responding to the panel's recommendations, the KSEB says that all the contentions against the project “are the offshoot of the issues already discussed, considered and settled by the Expert Appraisal Committee, MoEF, and the High Court of Kerala.”
“No fresh issues have been raised by the panel” against the project, says a report prepared by the Member (Generation-Projects) of the KSEB.
According to the KSEB, the issues highlighted in favour of the project did not find a place in the panel report.
Accusing the panel of “acting with a closed mind and under the influence of other agencies,” the KSEB states that Kerala has no fuel reserves other than hydel. “Kerala is struggling for cheaper and eco-friendly energy. Lion's share of Kerala's hydel potential remains untapped. All the proposed hydel projects can come up only in Western Ghats, which is declared to be a biodiversity hotspot by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Hence, a rational\reconciliation between the competitive claims put forth in support of power generation and biodiversity conservation is absolutely necessary,” it argues.
Lamenting that the existing protected areas have forced the State to shelve some of the very essential hydropower projects for the sake of protecting the environment, the KSEB says that power sector stakeholders were not consulted regarding the demarcation of ecologically sensitive zones by the panel. A close scrutiny of the ecologically sensitive areas, as marked by the panel, reveals that all the proposed schemes identified in Kerala come under the sensitive areas.
The Expert Appraisal Committees, which visited the project area twice, have come with the uniform conclusion that the project is viable and beneficial. Environmental clearance has been given three times and the High Court of Kerala has not found any legal infirmity about the clearance but for certain procedural aspects, the KSEB points out.
All the aspects mentioned in the report regarding the biodiversity of the Athirappilly project have been voiced by its opponents including the verbatim of the report forwarded to the Prime Minister's Office by V.S. Vijayan, a member of the panel, the report says.
The State should look into the panel report realistically while identifying the ecologically sensitive areas. It should clarify the uncertainties in the power sector with the Union Ministry and the report should be kept in abeyance till a detailed scientific study is undertaken to clarify the concerns raised against the report, it argues.