Protests mark hearing on Athirappilly project

Staff Reporter

KSEB says the State is badly in need of such projects

Chalakudy (Thrissur): A public hearing on the proposed 163-MW Athirappilly hydroelectric project was held here on Thursday under a directive of the Kerala High Court. It was the second public hearing on the project ordered by the court. The venue, Gopalakrishnan Nair Memorial Auditorium, was packed with hundreds of protesters against the dam. They held anti-dam placards and shouted slogans throughout the proceedings.

When sparks flew and emotions ran high, Collector K.S. Premachandra Kurup, who chaired the event, told the protesters that a public hearing should democratically permit different opinions.

Geetha, a member of the Kadar tribe, which has nearly 20 families near the project site, who filed a suit against the clearance for the project from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, alleged that Water and Power Consultancy Services (India) Ltd. did not consult local communities and study the problems of tribal displacement.

Pushpangadan and Madhusoodanan, co-complainants, said that optimum flow of water in the Chalakudy river in minimum time as a result of the construction of the dam would cause environmental problems.

S.P. Ravi, convener of the Chalakudy River Protection Forum, cited some of the disadvantages of the project: destruction of forest land that was home to rare flora and fauna; ecological problems out of the submergence of the only remaining riparian forests at such altitude in the entire Western Ghats; damage to the vital elephant corridor between the Parambikulam sanctuary and the Pooyamkutty forests and the Athirappilly waterfalls; displacement of Kadar tribesmen; depletion of irrigation and drinking water resources for about five-lakh people in 19 panchayats and two municipalities; and impairment of the Thumboormozhi irrigation project.

A.K. Chandran, Mala MLA, and Jose Thettayil, Angamaly MLA, submitted memorandums against the project.

Representing the KSEB, S. Babukutty, Assistant Engineer, said the State badly needed such projects. "The number of consumers in the State has increased from 85,000 in 1950-51 to 82 lakhs in 2005-2006. Of the current number, 80 per cent are domestic consumers, using 45 per cent of the total energy. On the other hand, the gap between demand and supply has been growing alarmingly," he said.

KSEB promise

He said the KSEB was committed to fulfilling the conditions set for environmental clearance: completion of the catchment area treatment plan in three years; operation of the dam toe powerhouse throughout the day from January to May by releasing the current minimum flow (220 cusecs); protection of the waterfalls; resettlement plan for Kadar tribesmen, including provision of one acre for each of them; action plan for saving endangered species; long-term ecological monitoring; and formation of a multi-disciplinary committee to oversee implementation of safeguards. B.D. Devassy, MLA, said: "There should be transparency in the implementation of the project." The writers Sukumar Azhikode, M.N. Vijayan, Sugathakumari, Vayala Vasudevan Pillai and Vishnunarayanan Namboodiri sent memorandums.