The news of Kerala Govt’s plan to revive Athirappilly hydel power project has given rise to debates from all quarters for and against its viability. There’s absolutely no doubt about the fact that the state is facing acute power shortage, and that the govt is forced to look into all options to improve power production.
At this precarious juncture, it is rightful to look into various facets of the feasibility of the Athirappilly project, as it was mooted years ago, but ran into trouble and was kept in abeyance by the successive governments due to protest from various quarters. The situation is no different now. Will it be a wise move or a disastrous mistake to build a dam on one of Kerala’s most beautiful rivers, upstream from the Athirappilly waterfall, which is a picturesque tourist spot that attracts lakhs of foreign and domestic tourists?!
Let me state point blank my assessment of the project – it is going to be a disastrous step to build a dam! In my opinion it would be wise for the state to adopt alternative methods, like solar power projects, as has been successfully done in Cochin International Airport, for the following reasons:
First and foremost, dependence on hydro projects should be limited in the future as monsoon is getting weaker year after year. Certain studies done on the project show that the project would help generate only 26.7 MW of energy as against the proposed capacity of 163 MW. The power generation would be affected mainly due to the reduced flow in the river. It would reduce further during the dry summer season. The project could also mean losing the splendid view of the Athirappilly waterfall which attracts around 8-10 lakh local and international tourists every year. In fact, years back I had proposed to the govt about setting up a cable car across the waterfall and a safe walkway at the bottom of the falls to attract more tourists to enjoy the enviable scenic beauty. Whatever it be, no harm should to come to the waterfalls!
As per studies, the dam is expected to lead to the diversion of about 140 hectares of forest land, which is the habitat of the 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. Moreover, Tribal settlements in the project region would be submerged and the Tribal group would be displaced in the process. The govt can’t overlook the fact that eight settlements of Kadar Tribal community opposed the project on the basis of Community Forest Rights (CFR).
I think it time we think of other, simpler, less exploitative means of producing energy that will benefit all and won’t harm the environment. Certainly, infrastructure development is important, and sometimes compromises have to be made. However, time is also ripe for us to dream of a time when human development would include the protection of irreplaceable components like forests, rivers and biodiversity that sustain the richness of life on this planet.
Economically, too, I believe the investment needed to produce 163MW energy at the cost of destruction of ecology would be equivalent to producing the same amount of energy by setting up solar power projects. Moreover, I’m sure the final construction cost of the proposed dam will be double of the present estimate; whereas the cost of solar projects is reducing as technology improves.
Hope our responsible leaders will take a wise decision!