Kerala govt gives NOC for Athirappilly dam project, environmentalists object

Sources in Kerala’s Power Minister’s office however claim that extending NOC does not mean that the state government is going to implement the project now.
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The call to drop the much controversial Athirappilly hydro-electric project of Kerala has resurfaced again, as the state government has extended its no-objection certificate for the project.

Many environmentalists and political leaders have slammed the state government for the move. It was first reported by K Balakrishnan of Mathrubhumi. The 163-MW Athirappilly hydro-electric project includes the construction of a 23-metre high dam across the Chalakudy river in Vazhachal Forest Division of Kerala, with a storage capacity of 8.44MCM.

The project had been in limbo with the strong opposition it faced from local residents, environmentalists and certain political parties. The project’s environmental clearance and Techno-Economic Clearence had expired a few years ago. Documents available with TNM show that the LDF government has now given no objection certificate (NOC) for 7 years to the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) so that it may apply for the required clearances anew.

In the order dated June 4, state government says, “Government have examined the matter in detail and are pleased to issue No Objection Certificate for a period of seven years and hereby permit KSEBL to proceed with implementation of Athirappilly Hydro Electric Project.”

Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament and the former Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, raised strong criticism against the state government.

“By approving Athirapally hydel project despite opposition and expert advice, Kerala govt is inflicting ecological disaster,” wrote the MP on Twitter on Wednesday.

The project which was initially mooted by the Kerala State Electricity Board in 1996, had been in limbo with the recurrent strong opposition from environmentalists and local people of Athirapally. Many alleged that the waterfall could dry up in the future and the flora and fauna and even fish varieties in the Chalakudy rover would be impacted. Human rights groups also pointed out that the primitive tribal group would be displaced in the process.

In 2011, Jairam Ramesh being the Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, had refused to give a nod for the project. But in 2015, it was given a go ahead by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley and hydro-electric projects.

In 2016, the LDF government had also announced the project's revival. But it had faced strong opposition again, even from the CPI which is part of the LDF government.

Noted environmentalist, Leo Saldanha, also took to Twitter asking the government to back off from the project. “This is an appalling decision. Please look beyond immediate and reverse your decision. Kerala did well fighting COVID. It can do better saving Chalakudy,” he said while citing the efforts of late environmental activist Latha who had fought hard against the implementation of the project.

Meanwhile, speaking to the media, Kerala Minister for Power MM Mani on Wednesday made the stand of the state government on the issue clear.

“CPI(M)’s stand is to implement the project. Our stance was earlier explained by Kodiyeri Balakrishnan - CPI(M) state secretary - and there is no change in it. Since there are differences of opinions, it can only be taken forward after further talks” said MM Mani, Minister for Power.


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