Kochi: Notwithstanding strong opposition from a section of political leaders, the Kerala government has decided to revive the controversial Athirappilly hydel power project proposed in the ecologically sensitive Chalakkudy river basin in Thrissur district.
Considering a letter from the authorities of Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) seeking to proceed with the project and to obtain a fresh environmental clearance, the state government on June 4 issued a 'No Objection Certificate' for a period of 7 years, permitting it to proceed with implementation of Athirappilly Hydro Electric Project.
The government gave the go ahead nod after the KSEB, the project developer, approached it citing that the dates of statutory clearances including environmental clearance and Techno-Economic Clearance obtained earlier for the project have expired.
The state government's decision has been criticised by 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.
Targetting the state government over the issue, Jairam Ramesh warned that a Silent Valley type protest in 1970s, an ecological movement aimed at the protection of Silent Valley, an evergreen tropical forest in the Palakkad district, will erupt in Kerala if the left government went ahead with the Athirappilly project.
"It is another Silent Valley type situation and I hope people of Kerala will ensure that this madness will not proceed", he said.
In a series of tweets, Ramesh noted that he had put stop to the Athirapilly in early 2010 during his stint as the Environment Minister in the UPA government after consulting various people in Kerala both in government and outside.
"I had personally visited the area as well. It is atrocious that the LDF is reviving this project", Ramesh tweeted.
"I thought that after the 2018 floods disaster at least LDF would get some environmental sense. But clearly my thinking was wrong. This project will cause immense ecological damage," he said.
Chennithala declared that the Congress-led UDF would not allow the government to implement the project.
"... we will not allow the government to implement the project," Chennithala said addressing a protest meet at Thiruvananthapuram.
CPI leader Binoy Viswam asserted that the project would not be implemented in the state as a decision to abandon it was taken earlier by the ruling LDF.
"The decision is taken at the bureaucratic level. They don't know the LDF culture. The project would be an environmental disaster. And also it is financially unviable", he said.
Viswam, a former state forest minister, said 168 hectares of biodiversity rich forests in the Western Ghats would submerge if the project was implemented.
"It is home to rarest of rare bird, animal and plant species. Moreover, two tribal settlements in the forests will be destroyed. The project violates the rights granted to the tribals under Forest Rights Act," he told PTI.
The proposed Athirappilly Hydro Electric Power project with an installed capacity of 163MW is located in Chalakudy river basin in Thrissur District.
Previous Congress-led UDF and CPI(M)-led LDF governments had also pressed for its clearance but faced strong resistance from ecologists and some politicians including leaders like Ramesh and Viswam.
Ramesh observed that then Principal Chief Conservator of Forest T M Manoharan, who was the Chairman of the Kerala State Electricity Board under three Chief Ministers, had opposed the project citing the harm it could cause to the environment.
The senior Congress leader also said in a report in 2007, the Kerala State Biodiversity Board headed by B S Vijayan had also pointed out that the power project would adversely affect the ecology of the fragile land.