//Koorumala project in Kerala – Environmental impact a study by Dr. P. R. Sreemahadevan Pillai

Koorumala project in Kerala – Environmental impact a study by Dr. P. R. Sreemahadevan Pillai

Prepared by  Dr. P.R.Sreemahadevan Pillai, President, Indian Environment Congress  
Phone: 0-9447490572, E-mail: [email protected]
The proposed rock crusher and artificial sand manufacturing unit to be set up at Koorumala has invited severe protest from local inhabitants and environmentalists.  Invited by the stakeholders, the undersigned have visited the site of the proposed unit and the surroundings for a first-hand inspection of the locality as a fact-finding mission.  The study has made the undersigned to conclude that the proposed project at Koorumala is disastrous to the environment and will spoil the serene and sensitive ecosystem of the area, if implemented.  
Koorumala is geographically located at 760 33’ E Longitude and 90 52’ N Latitude.  It is situated 4 kms west of Koothattukulam in Ernakulam Dist.  It is located in the western part of Muvattupuzha drainage basin and is a part of the Idukki segment of Western Ghats.  The ecosystem in the area is centred on Koorumala and its ridges.  Ultimately, the water in the area drains to Vembanad backwater, the biggest in Kerala, through a network of brooks and rivulets.  The average rainfall in the area is of the order of 3,500 mm and the maximum relief of the Koorumala ridge is 159 mtrs. 

The project area is comprised mostly of Precambrian crystalline rocks, specifically granitic gneiss dominating the formations.  The over burden over the rock formation is at places natural up to a depth of 2 mtrs. and at places filled by the local inhabitants.  The rock formation has got a dip varying from 500 to 700 and have two major trends, NW-SE and N-S.  Many joints are observed, intersecting at varying angles.  Weathered rocks, including laterite is observed on the top of the formations, which act as a porous surface aquifer for storing water during monsoon.  There are surface tanks, both natural and man-made, over the formations, which are used by the inhabitants as a source of drinking water in the monsoon period.  


A Company by name M/s. Luxury Sand Kerala Pvt Ltd. has acquired 22 acres of land initially and now the acquisition is gradually spreading to the near by areas, by offering high land value.  The company is proposing to have quarrying activities in an area of 13 acres and 66 cents, targeted at the Northwestern corner portion of the exposed rock sheets.  They propose to form roads of 1:20 gradient and the machinery to be deployed include two nos. of 140 Atlas Compressor, 4 Jack-hammers, 1 Tipper and 1 L&T Excavator, as projected by the Company.  In reality, the equipments to be employed will be much more than this.  For exploding the rocks they propose to use Nitrate mixture / gun powder for high power blasting.  The project includes quarrying, crushing, screening and transporting.  The Company is not very specific about the quantum of quarrying and there is a chance for even sub-surface quarrying, once the hillocks vanish.  

Over the Koorumala ridges, 35 families have settled and most of them rear cattle, especially goats.  There are numerous natural springs coming out of the rock formations, which dry up in summer.  Perennial springs are available only at the foot of the hillock and hence the hill inhabitants have to come down to the plains to fetch water in summer.  The walking distance is over a km.  The hill is fully covered with flora, both natural and planted.  The area now procured by the Company is mostly rubber plantation or bushy. The soil on top of the hill is highly fertile and the inhabitants have high yielding crops including coconut.  The plains below are proposed to be irrigated by the Muvattupuzha Valley Irrigation Project (MVIP), for which the canal has been already constructed at the foot of the hill.  Not far from the hill, paddy fields are available which also render as a drainage basin for Koorumala.  The plains below are highly cultivated with  
all common varieties of kharif and rabi crops.  The hill cultivation includes ginger, turmeric and kacholam (Kaempferia galanga), a highly sought after indigenous medicinal species.  Much of the slops of Koorumala are covered by rubber plantations, mostly owned by medium and small-scale cultivators.  The acquired area also has deciduous forest plants of typical midland varieties.  Much of the low-lying area is mainly of paddy cultivation. The fauna in the area includes natural hill varieties and those reared by the inhabitants, both uphill and down hill.  

The uphill dwellers are mostly daily wage workers in the agricultural sector and construction sector.  They supplement their marginal income by cultivating in the small land holdings around house holds.  The plains below are mostly occupied by middle level farmers with their income supplemented by some earning members in different services.  Most of the hill sides have got rubber plantations owned by these farmers and some of the families fully depend on these land holdings for their livelihood.  The people are in general peace-loving and their opposition to the proposed Company is almost total, since it tells upon their livelihood.  
  a.       Water Pollution  
The project report of the Company prepared by Mr. S. Mamallan itself admits that the debris generated from the crushing unit may cause serious threat to the water bodies in the area.  Moreover, the MVIP canal is at the foot of the quarrying hill, which may get dumped at the earliest.  The first order stream of Perumpadavam thodu (which later joins Muvattupuzha river) is originating from this hill valley.  If the project is implemented, the entire area will be filled with debris of the Company, transported by the natural water, ultimately reaching Muvattupuzha river, and thus to the Vembanad lake.  In the course of its flow it will fill the paddy fields and the irrigation canal.  Since the hill has got very high slope, preventing the debris from flowing out is practically not possible.  The area is having acute shortage of drinking water and this debris may pollute the entire sources of water, both surface and transmitted.  
In addition to the above, artificial sand requires washing to the order of 2000 ltrs. per metre cube of sand, which will lead to huge discharge of polluted wash-out water, containing which will be practically impossible in this peculiar terrain.  Moreover, the high concentration of soluble minerals in this wash-water will pollute the natural waters downstream and may cause detrimental effects to the plantations and the paddy fields.  To add, the area is already facing acute shortage of drinking water, which would be worsened by the water requirements, and pollution of the proposed project.  Nearly 120 families depend on the natural spring water originating from this hill and their fate will be detrimental.  
  b.  Land Pollution  
The debris accumulated in the land will cause a perennial problem since much of the rock formations here have got silt layers in it.  The dumping of this will affect the vegetation in the area and fertility of the land.  Transporting this will cause the spread of this to already cultivated area, which will again be detrimental and an environmental tragedy.  
  c.  Sound Pollution  
  The sound level expected from a crushing unit of this much capacity is above 60 decibels, beyond the permitted level of 55 decibels by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board for such industrial units, 1 metre away from the boundary of the site.  Moreover, being a rural semi forest area, a sound level beyond 40 decibels may be hazardous to the fauna in the area.  
   d.  Far reaching consequences  
Blasting the hill may lead to irreversible failure of the rock formation, thus telling upon the fate of the inhabitants on the top of the hill.  The acquired area for the project is a vital part of the hill itself and its removal will ultimately result in the collapse of the hill formation and its subsequent vanishing along with the surrounding ecosystem.  Quarrying with explosives will make the area unfit for the local inhabitants.  The economic activities and livelihood of hundreds of families will be jeopardized by the proposed project.  Since most of the inhabitants belong to the vulnerable social groups, this may ultimately result in unemployment and subsequent genocide.  
Considering the environmental impact and the socio-economic aspects, it is advisable that the authorities concerned prevent the proposed rock crusher and artificial sand manufacturing unit at Koorumala with immediate effect.  The area may be left alone to maintain its serenity and fragile ecosystem.  This area is not supposed to be an industrial area and rather it should be a cultivation area, as it is now.  Any infringement on this ecosystem will be of far reaching consequences to the people and environment.  Every effort may be taken to block the proposed project in this area and shift it to some other less sensitive area.