Tuesday, April 17, 2007

please find the press release from river research center on the athirapally project.

Athirappilly Hydro Electric Project

Expert Committee on River Valley and Hydro Electric Projects makes site visit and holds sitting with affected people

Five Members of the Expert Committee on River Valley and Hydro Electric Projects, the Committee constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests that recommends Environmental Clearance to river valley projects made a site visit to the proposed Athirappilly project and impact areas and held public interaction with the people during the 12 th and 13th April 2007. Dr. P.G.Sastri (Retd.Professor), the Chairman of the River Valley Committee was accompanied by Prof. S.Chanda, Dr. Satya.P.S.Kushwaha, Er. R.K.Khanna and Dr.S.Bhowmik (Member Secretary).

The site visit on 12th April that started at 10.15 a.m in the morning from Thumboormoozhi, culminated at 6.30 p.m at Pokalapara, the Kadar tribal settlement facing displacement. The Committee was accompanied by the Chairman, KSEB and other top officials, officials from the Kerala Water Authority, Irrigation, Eco Tourism and Forest Departments, Member Secretary, Kerala State Pollution Control Board and members of Chalakudy River Protection Forum. The Committee visited the key sites; the Chalakudy River Diversion Scheme (CRDS) site where the major irrigation project is located, the Kannankuzhy stream where the water would be released after power generation 7 km downstream of dam site, the Athirappilly waterfalls and eco tourism area, the Vazhachal rapids, the Vazhachal Kadar tribal settlement, the proposed Dam site and the Pokalapara tribal settlement. The Committee gave a patient hearing to the grievances raised by all the complainants, spending atleast 2 hrs at each spot.

A large number of problems and impacts related to the project were raised by the public throughout the site visit. The impact of flow regulation on irrigation and drinking water resources for the 19 panchayaths and 2 municipalities in the downstream area was the main topic of discussion at Thumboormoozhi. The members of CPF pointed out how the flow regulation would impair the operation of the CRDS scheme already working under low efficiency. The people demanded the KSEB to return the CRDS to pre 1990 situation when the Poringalkuthu HEP upstream was operating as a base load Power station and steady release of water was ensured.

At Kannankuzhy near the dam project site office, the Committee was greeted by the Athirappilly Vana Samrakshana Samithi members including women and children with posters of 'Abandon Athirappilly project' who were concerned about the future of the magnificent Athirappilly waterfalls and their tourism related livelihoods once the dam is constructed. They told the Committee that the project would take away the sheen from the waterfalls and reduce it to trickles.

At Vazhachal, the Committee gave a patient hearing to Geetha, the Kadar tribal volunteer, who had filed the PIL in the High Court of Kerala in 2005 challenging the WAPCOS EIA. The WAPCOS EIA had incorrectly depicted the location of their tribal residential school and omitted the Vazhachal settlement even without visiting the settlement! Actually the settlement of 58 families is located just 400 m downstream of the dam site. The significance of protecting and preserving the hunter gatherer Kadar tribes as a primitive tribal group and their habitat with just around 1500 individuals remaining on earth was pointed out. When questioned by the Chairman of the Committee as to what compensatory measures were required by the settlement when the dam would be built, the united response from the tribals gathered at Vazhachal was, "We do not want any compensation. Drop the dam project".

At the dam site, a brief background on the uniqueness of the area and the river in terms of riparian flora and fauna, elephant movement from Parambikulam to Pooyamkutty forests, the exceptionally high fish diversity and the several studies pointing towards the high conservation value of the forests and the need for raising the status of Vazhachal Division from its present Reserve Forest status was provided to the Expert Committee.

At Pokalapara Kadar settlement located in the proposed reservoir backwaters area, the same response as at Vazhachal was echoed. Though the KSEB tried to convince the Committee and the tribals that they would be given jobs as skilled labourers during the dam construction, Thankamma a senior citizen from the Settlement responded quickly that, "We have lost trust in the KSEB who have not kept any promises given to us all these years". "We have been displaced several times for dams in the upstream without any compensation, jobs or proper rehabilitation," she added. The deep rooted mistrust towards the KSEB was clear from her words.

The Committee did not receive a single representation during the entire site visit supporting the project. However, there was widespread complaint that the site visit and the public interaction was not properly publicized or informed to the people by the KSEB. Moreover, the venue of public interaction for 13 th April was kept 60 km away from the dam site so that the affected people cannot attend it.

The Public Interaction on 13th April saw a large turnout of people from Athirappilly grama panchayath, surrounding grama panchayaths, voluntary associations, environmentalists and the KSEB officials and media persons. The program which started at 10.30 a.m lasted till 4 p.m. in the evening. Apart from the five Expert Committee members, Dr. Sharma, former Director, KFRI and the Chairman of KSEB along with other State Department officials also listened to the people. Renown environmentalists, Prof. M.K.Prasad, presently Director, Information Kerala Mission and Dr. V,S,Vijayan, presently Kerala State Biodiversity Board Chairman, famous left thinker and energy analyst Prof. M.P.Parameswaran and social activist C.R.Neelakantan were among those who raised objections to the project being implemented. The 2006 Public Hearing panel members, Leena Davis (President, Chalakudy Block Panchayath), Sandhya Unnikrishnan ( former Athirappilly Grama Panchayath President) and Vijaya (Member, Athirappilly Grama Panchayath) expressed their deep dissent at the manner in which the Hearing report was manipulated by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board.

The public stance of opposing the project taken by the left ruling Athirappilly GP President Kanchana, a Kadar tribe herself, became the most significant event of the day. Geetha, the tribal leader from Vazhachal, representatives of the Vana Samrakshana Samithi from Athirappilly, representatives of local self governments Merchants Association representative, , downstream farmers, were among the others who raised their concerns about the impact of the project on their water needs and livelihoods. River Research Centre pointed out the violations and manipulations involved in the Clearance process from 1996 onwards and Convenor of the Chalakudy River Protection Forum demanded that the KSEB should take the responsibility of responding to the various queries raised by the people regarding the project.
Two officers from the KSEB, four grama panchayath representative and a District panchayath member spoke in favour of the project.

The Committee expressed its satisfaction in having heard the people's voices and remarked that the Athirappilly issue is a 'pointer towards dam construction in India'.
The Committee recommendation is awaited.
Report by A.Latha and S.Unnikrishnan


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