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Kerala 'gives in' to ecologically destructive project, wants no confrontation with Centre

Counterview Desk
India’s premier civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), has asked the Kerala government to immediately abandon what it calls “ecologically destructive” Athirappilly Hydel Project, thus leading by example in environmental and forest governance on the Western Ghats. 
Seeking protection of Chalakudy River and Adivasi livelihoods, an NAPM statement, endorsed by tens of prominent activists and environmental campaigners, including Medha Patkar, Prafulla Samantara, Aruna Roy, Sandeep Pandey and others, says that in over four decades of its controversial history, the project proposal has seen stiff resistance for its likely grave socio-environmental impacts.

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The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) calls upon the Government of Kerala (GoK) to immediately withdraw its ‘revived’ proposal to construct the ecologically destructive Athirappilly Hydro Electric Project (HEP) in the heart of the Western Ghats. 
We take strong exception to the recent No-Objection Certificate (NOC) for 7 years given by the state government to the Kerala Electricity Board (KSEB) permitting it to proceed with seeking ‘fresh clearances’ for implementation of the 163-MW HEP on the Chalakudy River in Thrissur District. 
The response of the government, in the face of widespread opposition, that the NOC is only part of a ‘routine procedure’ is patently unconvincing.
In over four decades of its controversial history, the project proposal has seen stiff resistance for its likely grave socio-environmental impacts. On at least two occasions, the project clearances were struck down by the High Court for environmental and procedural violations. Volumes of research and scientific evidence exists, making a strong case as to why the Project is not feasible.
Notable among these is the well-known Report by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), popularly known as Madhav Gadgil Committee, which categorically held that the Athirappilly HEP, located in the bio-diversity rich, Eco-Sensitive Zone-1 is undesirable and futile on environmental, technical and economic grounds.
As adivasi groups and environmentalists in the state have pointed out, the proposal is a blatant violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 and previous ‘clearances’ stand void in the face of the Community Forest Rights (CFR) pattas granted to the traditional adivasi community (Kadars) over 40,000 hectares of forests in 2014.
The nine Gram Sabhas, holding statutory CFR rights in Athirappilly Panchayat have passed decisive resolutions against the proposed project and the same has to be honoured in law by the KSEB in terms of Sec 5(d) of the FRA. The right of the gram sabha, as per this Act to ‘regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity which adversely affects the wild animals, forest and the biodiversity’ must be upheld, by all means.
Having faced two major floods in 2018 and again in 2019, the state can ill-afford more damage to its fragile ecology, especially in the Athirappilly-Vazhachal stretch
It is both ironic and deeply disturbing that the Forest Rights law which was passed in the Parliament with the active involvement and support of the Left parties (including CPM) is being violated and ignored in the current context.
Having faced two major floods in 2018 and again in 2019, the state can ill-afford more damage to its fragile ecology, especially in the Athirappilly-Vazhachal stretch. It is a matter of record that during the 2018 flood, maximum discharge was when the gates of Peringalkuthu reservoir (near Chalakudy River) was opened, with over a million litres discharge, per second. The unprecedented deluge that Kerala faced must be a wake-up call for the government to seriously review ecologically unsound ‘developmental projects’ that jeopardize the coastal state further.
We are also concerned about reports from some quarters that the KSEB plans to proceed with more dams, including Chalakudy-Sholayar tail-race and Peringalkuthu Right Bank, which is likely to result in submergence of large tracts of forest land in the buffer zone of Parambukkulam Tiger Reserve. 
Experience across the globe has demonstrated that large reservoirs are not necessarily the best and only mechanisms for flood-control. What Kerala needs is not new dams, but effective flood management plans that take cognizance of local riverine ecological concerns. 
Some media reports indicate that the immediate context for NOC by the state government is also linked with the Prime Minister’s questioning in a review meeting of electricity proposals as to why the Athirappilly project was not being implemented despite ‘previous approvals’ from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the Central Environmental Authority (CEA). 
And the State government is stated to have ‘given in’, not wanting a ‘confrontation’ with the Centre! We wish to state here that the Centre should respect federal decisions and not impose itself on a state government, despite public opposition.
It would be an irreversible travesty if the Project is pushed ahead, disregarding the overwhelming public resistance in the state, objections by opposition parties and even CPI (the ruling coalition member) and making light the expert views of conservationists, environmentalists, many a former bureaucrats and most important of all – the adivasis, whose homes and hearths would be affected by the project.
We call upon the Chief Minister of Kerala to make an immediate written announcement abandoning this destructive project once and for all and re-affirming the commitment of the State to the constitutional and legal rights of adivasis under FRA, 2006 as well as to environmental safeguards. This would also be in keeping with the electoral commitment of the Left Democratic Front to take steps to protect rivers and improve their water flow.
We extend our unflinching support to the adivasis of Athirappilly in their resistance and stand by the activist groups in the state, deeply concerned for a green and safe Kerala. We also warn the Centre that power allocation to Kerala must continue as per existing plans and not be adversely affected based on the decision of GoK to (not) implement the Athirappilly Project.
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Click here for those who have endorsed the statement

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