Silence broken, again

The Kerala government makes yet another attempt to destroy the tranquillity of the Silent Valley

Published: Wednesday 15 August 2001

 The unique biodiversity of th it is not all quiet in the Silent Valley. Still resounding with the echoes of India's first environment movement, this precious tract of rainforests in Kerala's Kundali hills of Western Ghats, is threatened once more. As the Kerala government plans to revive a hydroelectric project in the valley, which was shelved in 1981, environmentalists across the country are in a tizzy.

"The project is being revived because of the rising cost of power generation in the state," claimed Kadavoor Sivadasan, the state's electricity minister. Justifying the move, R Balakrishna Pillai, former electricity minister of the state said that at the time of shelving the project, the then Union government had promised to reconsider it 20 years later. "Hence it is time to do so." The state government has asked the Kerala State Electricity Board to formulate a proposal for the Union government which would incorporate technologies such as subsurface dams and 'run of the river'.

The environmental community is up in arms against the state government. "The statement made by Pillai is not true. The project was rejected forever. The valley is an integral component of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and the project will affect the entire Western Ghats," M K Prasad of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishat ( kssp ), a grassroots organisation, told Down To Earth . "Even though the power situation in the state is improving, the government comes up with such ridiculous ideas. The technologies suggested by the government are not viable. They will not help in generating electricity but will destroy the environment," he added. "The government has scant regard for the unique biodiversity of the region," said environmentalist Sugatha Kumari. "The labour union of the state electricity board says that they are hired hooligans of the thermal power industry and can do whatever they want. The proposal is a consequence of such an attitude," alleged Kumari. According to her, there is a lot of corruption in the administrative set-up. The lure of money makes politicians come up with such proposals, which reflect lack of sensitivity towards the fragile ecosystem of the valley.

Eminent scientist M G K Menon, who headed the technical committee in the 1980s that recommended scrapping of the project, said that the Silent Valley area is a declared biosphere reserve and any encroachment into its core area is a violation of the law. "The Union government has to now decide whether it is serious about protecting biodiversity," opined Menon.

V Rajagopal, joint secretary with the Union ministry of environment and forests ( mef ), said that once the state government submits the proposal, the state pollution control board will be asked to conduct a public hearing and an environment impact assessment study. They will then submit their findings to the Union government. An expert committee of the mef will evaluate and then the decide on the fate of the project.

Meanwhile, the environmentalists are hoping that the Union government will reject the project once again. kssp, which has passed a resolution condemning the move, is planning to organise a large convention against the project. Kumari said that a big fight is ahead as the political parties are against them. "We are planning to hold public meetings against the project," she added.

In the 1970s, the government tried to push for the power project. But a five-year campaign led by the kssp along with several other organisations forced the Indira Gandhi government to shelve the project in 1983. And thus it went down in the annals of history as one of the first victories for environmentalists in the country.

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