After a decade, Athirapilly project gets green light

The 163-MW Athirappilly hydroelectric project, proposed across the Chalakudy river, has received the go-ahead from the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects.

Proposed by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) a decade ago, the project stirred political controversies and agitations with various environmental groups opposing it. While most of the Congress and the CPI (M) leaders were in favour of it, Jairam Ramesh, the former Environment Minister, had termed it as a perfect recipe for ecological disaster.

Though the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel rejected it, the High-Level Working Group suggested that the project must be revaluated in terms of the generation of energy and whether the plant load factor expected in the project makes it viable against the loss of local populations of some species. The proposal had also run into a series of litigations, thus delaying its implementation.

The EAC, which focused on 15 concerns raised against the project, including the loss of forestland and displacement of tribes, felt that there were no tribal families in the submergence area of the Athirappilly reservoir.

“There are 22 tribal families living in the upstream of the submergence area. The Ministry has already stipulated that no tribespeople are to be displaced while implementing the project,” it said.

The panel observed that there was no endemic species specifically of project area. There were no species for which mitigation methods were not available. The damage due to submergence of flora and fauna of the area was mitigable.

The committee felt that there was not enough data and reason to go against the recommendations of the EAC for environmental clearance for the project. “No fresh issues have been brought to the attention of the EAC or the Ministry with any convincing data. The EAC also concluded that the forest clearance issued by Ministry of Environment and Forest is subject to the obtaining requisite environmental clearance and hence valid from the date of issuance of the same.”

It faced political controversies and agitations by various environmental groups

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