In what seems like the first discord within the newly elected LDF government in Kerala, the proposed hydro-electric project in Athirappilly in Thrissur district has drawn flak from sections of the ruling coalition. The CPI has objected to the project.
What is the project about?
The 163-MW Athirappilly hydro-electric project was proposed in 1996 by the Kerala State Electricity Board, which was to include a dam of 23-metre height, with a storage capacity of 8.44MCM, on the Chalakkudy river in the Vazhachal Forest Division.
The project was in limbo for several years owing to widespread opposition from many quarters. To begin with, environment activists alleged that the waterfall could dry up in future were alleged and human rights groups pointed out that the primitive tribal group would be displaced in the process.
Though the Kerala Ministry of Environment and Forests approved the project in 2005 and Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) clearance was given, Kerala High Court quashed the clearance and ordered a public hearing the following year.
In 2011, Madhav Gadgil, chairman of Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, alleged that the clearance for the project was not properly issued and that the project could not be carried out until the Forest Rights Act was implemented in its true sense.
The then union environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh refused to approve the project. However, in 2015, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley and hydro-electric projects approved the project.
Earlier this year, Environment and Forest Minister Prakash Javadekar visited Athirappilly, which brought the discussion to the forefront once again. The eight settlements of Kadar tribal people opposed the project on the basis of Community Forest Rights (CFR). Representatives of the community had expressed their opposition to the project in a letter submitted to the Union Minister in February.
On Monday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan supported the new electricity minister Kadakampally Surendranās statements of reviving the proposed hydro-electric project.
"The LDF had already taken a stand on this. The move to seek environmental permission was initiated during my tenure as the electricity minister. Permission for the project was secured at that time itself. The project was shelved due to some political reasons,ā Pinarayi was quoted as saying.
Reiterating his earlier stance on the project, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said that the project is āa perfect recipe for ecological disasterā.
Saying that the Chief Ministerās stand would only harm the stateās interest, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala has called for a detailed debate on the issue.
Brushing aside the āneed to worryā, CPI(M) veteran leader VS Achuthanandan on Monday assured that the government would not take up any project against peopleās wish.