The Kerala government’s decision to renew a no-objection certificate to the Athirapally hydro-electric project in Thrissur district has kicked off a fresh debate on the project with the state government and green activists at loggerheads. With the government saying it will not succumb to green activism, environmentalists have retorted that the state government is yet to learn a lesson from the last two floods.
The proposed project across Chalakudy River has triggered fresh protests with even the junior partner in the ruling Left Democratic Front, the CPI, saying it will not allow the power project to be implemented. However, state power minister M M Mani clarified that renewing the NOC was a natural process and it doesn’t mean the project will be commissioned overnight.
At the same time, Mani made it clear the government really wants to implement the project but nature-lovers are against it. “We are not in a tearing hurry. All stakeholders will be taken into confidence. Activism is fine but it should not be at the cost of the state’s development,” said the minister. When asked about the opposition to the project from the CPI, he said the media had better ask the party’s leaders about this.
The hydel project along the famous Athirapally Waterfalls, a favourite getaway and sought after shooting location of Bollywood, was conceived in the early 1980s when the state was reeling under a severe power crisis but got shelved due to stiff opposition from conservationists. In 2010, then environment minister Jairam Ramesh said no to the project adding Athirapally was another Silent Valley and the project was a sure recipe for disaster.
There was a demand to build a similar dam in the Silent Valley rain forests in Palakkad also but former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had scuttled it after scientist M G K Menon submitted a report saying it will destroy the rich biosphere. Today Silent Valley National Park is one of the largest tropical rain forests in the Western Ghat mountain ranges, a favourite habitat of lion-tailed macaque and elephants.
Athirapally project with an installed capacity of 163 mw was planned along Chalakudy River – it will spread to 6.7 km upstream from Athirappilly Waterfall to Vazhachal Waterfall, both well known tourist destinations. Votaries of the project argue it will be built without disturbing the course of the waterfall and surrounding lush green areas but opponents say it will deliver a death blow to the picturesque landscape and submerge large tracts of forests and displace many tribal families.
The 145-km long Chalakudy River that flows through three districts – Palakkad, Thrissur and Ernakulam — before joining the Arabian Sea has many small and big dams and it cannot withstand more, green activists claim.
“It seems the state has failed to learn a lesson from two consecutive floods that claimed many lives — its greed is not on the decline. It has kept its eyes peeled on some of the remaining green cover. Votaries of the new dam should think about the upcoming generation also,” said Dr V S Vijayan, an environmental scientist who was in the team of Madhav Gadgil, who had prepared a report to save the fragile ecology of the Western Ghats.
Besides the green landscape many tribal families are living along the fringes of the forests and they also face evacuation if the dam is built. “They will have to kill us before building the dam. It is a ploy to plunder green cover and destroy the serene waterfall,” said Kadar tribe leader P Kaliappan. The thunderous waterfall has in the past featured in many Hindi films like Raavan, Bahubali and Dil Se among others.
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