The news

• The Kerala power department gave a no-objection certificate (NOC) to the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) to apply for fresh financial, technical and environmental clearances for the Athirappally hydroelectric project. Athirappilly Dam Controversy

Athirappilly Dam Controversy

• The proposed project 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.

Athirappally hydroelectric project

• Planned hydel project across Chalakudy River in Kerala. It flows through the districts of Palakkad, Thrissur and Ernakulam before it meets the Periyar not far from the sea.

• The project idea was mooted in 1979, and the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) moved a formal proposal in 1982.
• It has been in limbo owing to strong opposition from environmentalists and locals of Athirappally.

“The Niagara of India”

• Athirappally Waterfalls, a favourite getaway and sought after shooting location for films
• It is the largest waterfall in Kerala (India), which stands tall at 80 feet
• Popular tourist attraction

• A gravity dam of 23 m height and 311 m length was proposed 6.7 km upstream from the Athirappally waterfalls and 400 m upstream from the Vazhachal falls
• The proposed dam will take away 138 hectares of forests and have a water spread area (submerged area) of 104 hectare.

• A gravity dam of 23 m height and 311 m length was proposed 6.7 km upstream from the Athirappally waterfalls and 400 m upstream from the Vazhachal falls
• The proposed dam will take away 138 hectares of forests and have a water spread area (submerged area) of 104 hectare.
• 1970s • 1980s • 1990s

A long History of controversy

— Kerala reeled under electricity shortage — Formal proposal — Opposition from locals

• 2001 — Courts directed the KSEB and the MoEF to conduct a public hearing and follow all mandatory procedures for environmental clearance. In the public hearings, activists and local people opposed the project on the grounds that it would adversely impact the endangered fauna and flora of the region.

• 2005 – MoEF gave clearance again, based on the environmental impact assessment report prepared by Water and Power Consultancy Services (India) Limited. The activists and Chalakkudy River Protection Committee moved the High Court in 2006, which junked the clearance. Athirappilly Dam Controversy
• 2007 – LDF government made a fresh proposal

• 2011 – Western Ghats Ecology Experts Panel of Madhav Gadgil declared the Western Ghats region, including the Athirappally belt, an ecologically sensitive zone, banning mining, quarrying, thermal power plants and huge projects.

• 2012 – Kasturirangan report on the Western Ghats gave conditional sanction to the KSEB to pursue the power project.

  • The MoEF (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change) assigned the Central Water Commission to examine the water flow in the Chalakudy River.
  • The commission reported that the dam would have 1,055 million cubic m water in the lean season, and the project would not affect the flow of water.

2015 – the tribal community in the project area moved the High Court, saying it infringed upon their rights under the itit – Rights Act of 2006.

Kadars, a primitive hunter and food gatherer tribe originally restricted to the forests and hill tracts of the Chalakkudy river basin. They are considered to be the most primitive of the south Indian forest tribes with a population of fewer than 1,500.

The Impact of Dam construction

• An irreversible impact on the rich biodiversity in the region

• The WGEEP has pointed out that the project area is the last remaining low-land evergreen forests of the Western Ghats and that no such riparian vegetation so rich in endemic and endangered species is found anywhere else in the Western Ghats.

• It is also a globally important area for birds (with 234 of the 486 species of birds recorded from Kerala).

• The dam is expected to lead to the diversion of about 138 hectares of forest land, which is the habitat of the tiger, Asiatic elephant, the Great Indian Hornbill, Malabar Giant Squirrel, lion-tailed macaque and other species.

• An elephant corridor will be affected by the submergence of a large forest tract.
• The hydel project would take away water from an existing irrigation system, which covers 20,000 acres of farmland downstream.

• About 5 lakh people depend upon the river for drinking and
irrigation purposes.
• Tribal settlements in the project region would be submerged
• The project could mean the end the Athirappally waterfalls which attract lakhs of tourists every year.

The straw that broke the camel’s back

• Six dams for hydel power and one for irrigation have already been constructed along the 145km Chalakkudy river.
• The river has many small and big dams and it cannot
withstand more, green activists claim.

Is the Project even feasible anymore?

  • According to the environmentalists, the claims of water availability in the Chalakkudy river system is far less than what has been stated in the project report for the proposed power generation of 163 MW. The current flows wouldn’t sustain even a fraction of that power output.
  • Original project cost of Rs.993 crore has skyrocketed
  • The cost of power generated from it will be high.
  • Cheap power is now available freely from many other sources — Solar, wind etc

Floods in 2018 and 2019

Environmentalists have said that the state government is yet to learn a lesson from the last two floods. Athirappilly Dam Controversy