Political storm hits Athirappilly project

Attempts of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) Limited, the public sector electricity utility in Kerala, to beat the August 18 deadline set by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), for beginning work on the controversy-marred Athirappilly hydel project, has sparked a political storm in the State.

Former Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, alliance partner Communist Party of India (CPI), and environmental activists who have been campaigning against the 163 MW project, have all come out strongly against the KSEB’s move, accusing the utility of having set up a transformer near the project office at Kannankuzhy two weeks ago to mark commencement of work on the project.

The KSEB had done this even as a writ petition is pending against the project at the Kerala High Court, and without going through the tender process. The hydel power project, which proposes the construction of the seventh dam along the 145 km course of Chalakudy river, will sound the death knell for what remains of endemic species of flora and fauna in the region, the project’s critics say.

A. Latha of the Chalakudy River Protection Forum told The Hindu that the KSEB’s was clearly attempting to hoodwink both the MoEFCC and the people of Kerala. “The attempt is to establish that they have already started the project before the expiry of the environmental clearance. Actually, the project currently does not have any clearance,” she said, pointing out that though handing over of 138 hectares of forest was cleared in 1999, the land had still not been handed over to the KSEB. The technical and economic clearance granted for the project had also expired in 2008.

The KSEB was trying to fool the government and the public because installation of the transformer is usually done in the final stage of a project’s construction, she alleged.

The 110 KW transformer had been set up in KSEB’s own land. The KSEB had spent almost Rs. 35 crore for maintaining an office for the project, despite it being a non-starter, she stated.

‘Status quo unchanged’

According to K.H. Amita Bachan of the Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation, almost all studies, including that by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, had noted that the project, which would affect 138 hectres of forest land and further dry up the already thin Athirappilly waterfall, was economically and technically unfeasible. “There is no change in status quo of the project to think that it could be feasible,” he said.

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