Kerala must lead by example in environmental & forest governance: Protect Western Ghats, Chalakudy River & Adivasi Livelihoods
National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) calls upon the Govt. of Kerala 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” 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 Govt, 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, 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. 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 Govt. 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 the ‘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 MoEF & 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.
Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM); Dr. Sunilam, Adv. Aradhna Bhargava, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti; Rajkumar Sinha, Chutka Parmaanu Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, NAPM, Madhya Pradesh;
Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), National Campaign for People’s Right to Information; Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL); Kailash Meena NAPM Rajasthan;
Prafulla Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan; Lingraj Azad, Samajwadi Jan Parishad & Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, Manorama, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti; Lingaraj Pradhan, Satya banchor, Anant, Kalyan Anand, Arun Jena, Trilochan Punji, Lakshimipriya Mohanty and Balakrishna Sand, Manas Patnaik, NAPM Odisha;
Sandeep Pandey (Socialist Party of India); Richa Singh & Rambeti (Sangatin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan, Sitapur); Rajeev Yadav & Masihuddin bhai (Rihai Manch, Lucknow & Azamgadh); Arundhati Dhuru & Zainab Khatun (Mahila Yuva Adhikar Manch, Lucknow), Suresh Rathaur (MNREGA Mazdoor Union, Varanasi); Arvind Murti & Altamas Ansari (Inquilabi Kamgaar Union, Mau), Jagriti Rahi (Vision Sansthan, Varanasi); Satish Singh (Sarvodayi Vikas Samiti, Varanasi); Nakul Singh Sawney (Chal Chitra Abhiyan, Muzaffarnagar); NAPM Uttar Pradesh Chennaiah,Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union-APVVU, Ramakrishnam Raju,United Forum for RTI and NAPM, Chakri (Samalochana), Balu Gadi, Bapji Juvvala, NAPM Andhra Pradesh;
Jeevan Kumar & Syed Bilal (Human Rights Forum), P. Shankar (Dalit Bahujan Front), Vissa Kiran Kumar & Kondal (Rythu Swarajya Vedika), Ravi Kanneganti (Rythu JAC), Ashalatha (MAKAAM), Krishna (Telangana Vidyavantula Vedika-TVV), M. Venkatayya (Telangana Vyavasaya Vruttidarula Union-TVVU), Meera Sanghamitra, Rajesh Serupally, NAPM Telangana;
Sister Celia, Domestic Workers Union; Maj Gen (Retd) S.G.Vombatkere, NAPM, Nawaz, Dwiji, Nalini, NAPM Karnataka
Gabriele Dietrich, Penn Urimay Iyakkam, Madurai; Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation; Suthanthiran, Suthanthiran, Lenin & Arul Doss, NAPM Tamilnadu;
Vilayodi Venugopal, CR Neelakandan, Prof. Kusumam Joseph, Sharath Cheloor, Vijayaraghavan Cheliya, Majeendran, Magline, NAPM, Kerala;
Dayamani Barla, Aadivasi-Moolnivasi Astivtva Raksha Samiti; Basant Hetamsaria, Aloka Kujur, Dr. Leo A. Singh, Afzal Anish, Sushma Biruli, Durga Nayak, Jipal Murmu, Priti Ranjan Dash, Ashok Verma, NAPM Jharkhand;
Anand Mazgaonkar, Swati Desai, Krishnakant, Parth, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti; Nita Mahadev, Mudita, Lok Samiti; Dev Desai, Mujahid Nafees, Ramesh Tadvi, Aziz Minat and Bharat Jambucha, NAPM Gujarat;
Vimal Bhai, Matu Jan sangathan; Jabar Singh, Uma, NAPM, Uttarakhand;
Manshi Asher and Himshi Singh, Himdhara, NAPM Himachal Pradesh
Eric Pinto; NAPM Goa
Gautam Bandopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha; Kaladas Dahariya, RELAA, NAPM Chhattisgarh;
Samar Bagchi, Amitava Mitra, Binayak Sen, Sujato Bhadro, Pradip Chatterjee, Pasarul Alam, Amitava Mitra, Tapas Das, Tahomina Mandal, Pabitra Mandal, Kazi Md. Sherif, Biswajit Basak, Ayesha Khatun, Rupak Mukherjee, Milan Das, Asit Roy, Mita Bhatta, Yasin, Matiur Rahman, Baiwajit Basa, NAPM West Bengal;
Suniti SR, Sanjay M G, Suhas Kolhekar, Prasad Bagwe, Mukta Srivastava, Yuvraj Gatkal, Geetanjali Chavan, Bilal Khan, Jameela, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan; Chetan Salve, Narmada Bachao Andolan, NAPM Maharashtra;
Faisal Khan, Khudai Khidmatgar, J S Walia, NAPM Haryana;
Guruwant Singh, NAPM Punjab;
Kamayani Swami, Ashish Ranjan, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan; Mahendra Yadav, Kosi Navnirman Manch; Sister Dorothy, Aashray Abhiyan, NAPM Bihar;
Rajendra Ravi, NAPM; Bhupender Singh Rawat, Jan Sangharsh Vahini; Anjali Bharadwaj and Amrita Johri, Satark Nagrik Sangathan; Sanjeev Kumar, Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch; Anita Kapoor, Delhi Shahri Mahila Kaamgaar Union; Sunita Rani, National Domestic Workers Union; Nanhu Prasad, National Cyclist Union; Madhuresh Kumar, Priya Pillai, Aryaman Jain, Divyansh Khurana, Evita Das; Anil TV, Delhi Solidarity Group, MJ Vijayan (PIPFPD)
For any further details, contact E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org