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Biodiversity & Environment

Athirapally Hydel Electric Project

  • 11 Jun 2020
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Kerala government has approved the proposed Athirapally Hydro Electric Project (AHEP) on the Chalakudy river in Thrissur district of the state.

  • There are already five dams for power and one for irrigation and it will be the seventh along the 145 km course of the Chalakudy river.

Chalakudy River

  • It originates in the Anamalai region of Tamil Nadu and is joined by its major tributaries Parambikulam, Kuriyarkutti, Sholayar, Karapara and Anakayam in Kerala.
  • The river flows through Palakkad, Thrissur and Ernakulam districts of Kerala.
  • It is the 4th longest river in Kerala and one of very few rivers of Kerala, which is having relics of riparian vegetation in substantial level.
    • A riparian zone is the interface between land and a river or stream. Plant habitats and communities along the river margins and banks are called riparian vegetation, characterized by hydrophilic plants.
  • It is the richest river in fish diversity perhaps in India as it contains 85 species of freshwater fishes out of the 152 species known from Kerala only.
  • The famous waterfalls, Athirappilly Falls and Vazhachal Falls, are situated on this river.
  • It merges with the Periyar River near Puthenvelikkara in Ernakulam district.

Key Points

  • The total installed capacity of AHEP is 163 MW and the project is supposed to make use of the tail end water coming out of the existing Poringalkuthu Hydro Electric Project that is constructed across the Chalakudy river.
    • AHEP envisages diverting water from the Poringalkuthu project as well as from its own catchment of 26 sq km.
  • Kerala state government has given a no-objection certificate (NOC) to the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) for a period of seven years and has permitted it to proceed with the project’s implementation.
  • KSEB officials are confident that they can manage approval from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change as it was approved in 2012 by an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for river valley and hydro-electric projects.
  • Opposition:
    • The government’s move to revive the already controversial power project has gained opposition from various political leaders and environmentalists.
      • KSEB first mooted the project in 1996 but it had been suspended due to strong opposition by the local community backed by environmentalists and politicians with green concerns.
      • A report by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board pointed out in 1997 that the power project would adversely affect the ecology of the fragile river ecosystem at Athirappilly.
    • It is feared that it will cause people to organise a protest on the lines of Silent Valley in the coming days.
      • Silent Valley was an ecological movement with huge mass participation that forced the Kerala government to abandon dam construction across the Kunthri River in Palakkad district during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
  • Environmental Threats:
    • Athirappally is home to some rarest species of birds, animals and plant species which will be impacted.
      • Apart from being home to hornbills, tigers and leopards, the forests also host the Nilgiri langur, the lion-tailed macaque and the rare Cochin forest cane turtle.
    • Fish varieties in the Chalakudy river would be impacted.
    • Around 168 hectares of biodiversity-rich forests in the Western Ghats would be submerged.
    • Kadar tribal settlements in the forests will be dismantled and displaced. The move seems to be violative of the forest rights granted to the Kadars under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
    • It would sever the only link between the Peechi Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary, Thrissur and the Idamalayar basin of the Periyar river.
    • The vital elephant corridor between the Parambikulam Sanctuary (also a tiger reserve) and the Pooyamkutty forests would also be affected.
    • On the tourism front, the project would wipe out the majestic Athirappally and Vazhachal waterfalls, which draw 0.6 million domestic and foreign tourists every year.

Source: DTE

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