The Kerala government has given the go-ahead to renew the no-objection certificate for the proposed 163-megawatt (MW) Hydro Electric Project (AHEP) near Athirappilly waterfall in the ecologically sensitive Chalakkudy river basin in Thrissur district.
Considering a letter from the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) seeking to proceed with the project and to obtain a fresh environmental clearance for it from the Centre, the state government on June 4 issued a 'No Objection Certificate(NOC)' for a period of 7 years.
The controversial 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. While the project was initially mooted by the Kerala State Electricity Board in 1996, it had been in limbo owing to strong opposition from environmentalists and locals of Athirappilly.
Many have pointed out that the Athirappilly waterfall could dry up in the future and the flora, fauna and fish varieties in the Chalakudy river would be impacted.
The state government's decision has been heavily criticised by conservationists, environmentalists, former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, Leader of Opposition in Kerala Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala and Kerala's ruling CPI's Rajya Sabha MP and former state Forest Minister Binoy Viswam.
"By approving Athirapally hydel project despite opposition & expert advice, Kerala govt is inflicting ecological disaster. Indira Gandhi saved the Western Ghats by stopping the Silent Valley Project in 1983. That commitment, concern & courage (3 Cs!) for the environment is missing today," former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh tweeted.
By approving Athirapally hydel project despite opposition & expert advice, Kerala govt is inflicting ecological disaster. Indira Gandhi saved Western Ghats by stopping the Silent Valley project in 1983. That commitment, concern & courage (3 Cs!) for environment is missing today.— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) June 10, 2020
In 2016, Ramesh, the then Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, had refused to give a nod for the project. However, it was given a go-ahead by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley and hydro-electric projects in 2015.
While the LDF government had announced the revival of the project in 2016, it had faced severe opposition, including from its own ruling ally – the Communist Party of India (CPI).
"This is an appalling decision @vijayanpinarayi @drthomasisaac. Pl look beyond immediate & reverse your decision. Kerala did well-fighting #COVID. It can do better-saving CHALUKADY," noted environmentalist, Leo Saldanha, tweeted.
He also cited the efforts of late environmental activist Latha who had fought against the implementation of the project.
This is an appalling decision @vijayanpinarayi @drthomasisaac. Late Latha fought to convince you all about futility of the project thru cancer until her demise. Pl look beyond immediate & reverse your decision. Kerala did well fighting #Covid. It can do better saving CHALUKADY. https://t.co/mDwlMcYwne pic.twitter.com/uNx5AsGMyM— Leo Saldanha (@leofsaldanha) June 10, 2020
Meanwhile, State power minister MM Mani said that renewing the NOC was a natural process and it didn't mean the project will be commissioned immediately.
We are not in a tearing hurry. All stakeholders will be taken into confidence. Activism is okay, but it should not be at the cost of the state's development," Mani was quoted by Hindustan Times.