Bid to torpedo power projects alleged

K. Radhakrishnan, former Member (Generation), Kerala State Electricity Board, says he fears that the latest report by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) on the Athirappilly hydroelectric project smacks of a move to torpedo major power projects planned by Kerala.

Reacting to the report, he told The Hindu on Sunday that the panel's recommendations appeared to be biased to suit the move.

Mr. Radhakrishnan, who headed the KSEB team that held a technical discussion with the panel on the project, said it was unfortunate that major power projects planned by Kerala were being consistently stalled by objections from various groups. The State was thus unable to generate the additional 1,400 million units of electricity a year planned from these projects, making it more dependent on private power producers outside that sold power at market-driven costs. He said the panel's allegation that the KSEB had either not countered or failed to answer questions pertaining to the technical feasibility of the project was baseless. All questions were sufficiently addressed.

Mr. Radhakrishnan said a new approach towards power projects was needed. The environment had to be protected, but development should not get stalled. Vested interest groups should not be allowed to take decisions on vital development projects. He said the Athirappilly project had been conceived to have a minimal environment impact. The authorities had been apprised of it in several stages. Unfortunately, hurdles were being invented to stall the project.

The dam would have a small reservoir, which could not do much harm to the forests or the environment. Of the 104 hectares of land to be submerged, only 28.4 hectares had natural forests. The 163-MW project would give an annual yield of 233 million units.

He said environmental clearance was accorded to the project in 1998 based on an environmental impact assessment (EIA) conducted by the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute and site visits by experts deputed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) had approved the technical feasibility of the project and after obtaining clearances, the project was tendered for execution in 2001. After all this, efforts to torpedo the project began. These even included public interest litigation.

This led to a fresh EIA study by Water and Power Consultancy Services India Ltd. and fresh environment clearance. The CEA again gave techno-economic clearance in 2005.

It was again questioned in court and after correcting procedural shortcomings, the Union Ministry accorded environmental clearance in 2007. Thus with all hurdles removed, a tender for execution was floated in 2007. But a hurdle cropped up in the form of litigation by one of the contractors.