More than 1000 people gathered at the Gopalakrishna Auditorium, Chalakudy on the 15th June 2006, Thursday to record their strongest ever opposition to the proposed 163 MW Athirappilly HEP. The Hearing, which started at 11. a.m. continued upto 5 p.m.
The Public Hearing was declared by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board based on the High Court Judgment of 23rd March 2006 that had quashed the Environmental Clearance granted to the project in 2005 based on an EIA by WAPCOS. Further the High Court had ordered the Kerala State Electricity Board, the project proponent to hold a public hearing and seek people's opinion on the project before applying for a fresh clearance.
Altogether, around 70 people presented their views including the presentation of the merits of the project by the KSEB official. Except for the KSEB official and the all the other representations vehemently opposed the project from different angles. The Chalakudy MLA was not allowed to complete his speech by the emotionally charged people.
Meanwhile, the downstream MLA from Mala Constituency, Sri. A.K.Chandran demanded that the project proposal be abandoned due to the drinking and irrigation problems it would create in downstream areas. Sri. Jose Thettayil, the Angamaly constituency MLA also expressed reservations about the project. The panel, led by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board Member Secretary first invited the petitioners, Geetha from the Vazhachal tribal settlement, then President of Athirappilly Grama Panchayath and C.G.Madhusoodhanan, Civil engineer to submit their views in front of the panel.
People from different parts of the river basin who expressed their views both written and oral included, representatives of *Kada *tribals, canal beneficiaries, Vana Samrakshana Samithi members, shopkeepers in tourism zone, hotel and restaurant owners associations, merchants associations, drinking water scheme beneficiaries, local, state and national level NGOs, farmers, school and college students, experts and researchers working in the field of environment, EIA procedures, fisheries, reptiles, hornbills, Western Ghats, dams etc.
Representations of prominent people includes Medha Patkar, Dr. V.S.Vijayan (Ex- Director of SACON), Dr. Sathis Chandran Nair, Ashish Kothari (Kalpavriksh, Pune), Dr. S. Sankar (KFRI), Himanshu Thakkar (SANDRP), Dilnavaz .S. Variava (National Wild Life Board) Drs Divya Mudappa
and T.R. Shankar Raman (Nature Conservation Foundation), Debi Goenka (Conservation Action Trust) etc. Prominent social activists from Kerala like Prof. M.N.Vijayan, Dr. Sukumar Azhikode and poets Sugathakumari teacher and Vishnu Narayanan Namboothiri also sent their submissions opposing the project.
A glimpse into some of the important points raised in the representations include,
1. The EIA study carried out by WAPCOS is not comprehensive or participatory and has excluded the actual impact on the environment, the project affected people and the different needs of downstream panchayaths.
2. The new EIA has not addressed any of the apprehensions raised by the public at the 2002 Public Hearing.
3. The Irrigation Department and Forest Department were not approached or consulted before conduct of EIA by the KSEB or the WAPCOS (both the departments have produced letters in front of the PH panel testifying the same)
4. The consistent violation of the MoEF Guidelines by the KSEB itself warrants rejection of further clearance to the project.
5. There has been fudging of data on the hydrology of the river, extent of displacement, cost estimate for the project, benefits projected etc.
6. The KSEB has not invited either the local bodies or the River Protection Forum and people in the river basin so far for an open discussion on the project inspite of the consistent opposition.
7. The impact on the drinking and irrigation needs in downstream areas if the dam is operated as a peak load station will be severe due to alternate flooding (2-3 hours in the evening hours from6-8 p.m) and drying up of the river.
8. The project has to be abandoned for the sake of the future generation. They also have the right to see a flowing river and waterfalls. 9. The submergence of elephant corridor will result in elephants and other wild animals crossing the reserve forest boundaries and entering human settlements in nearby villages leading to man- wild life conflicts.
10. There is no reference to the ecological uniqueness of the area in the EIA with respect to endemism of all four species of hornbills, endemism of cane turtle, Project Elephant area (Reserve No.9) and recommendation for fish sanctuary by NBFGR etc.
11. Rather than the extent of forest area to be diverted for the dam, the high conservation value of the Vazhachal Reserve forests (75%) especially the 'riparian forests' connecting the 'high' and 'low elevation' forests in the region is more important, second only to Mankulam RF in Kerala Western Ghats.
We are waiting for a positive peoples' panel report that has considered all the points raised by the people. We will keep you updated. Thank you for the consistent support extended to us.
S.P. Ravi/ A.Latha/ S.Unnikrishnan/ Janaki from Athirappilly and all others,
Global Alternate Information Applications(GAIA)