“We will physically challenge if any one comes to cut the trees. Thousands of people will come forward and protest by hugging the trees if any attempt is made to cut the trees,” says Ravi S P of Chalakudy Puzha Samrakshana Samithi. His voice reverberate the tone of the several hundred in Anakayam region who protest against the Small Hydro Electric Project, proposed in the Vazhachal-Sholayar forests of Thrissur district.
The tribals, environmentalists, social activists and a lot many are up in arms against the Kerala State Electricity Board’s decision to go ahead with the hydro electric project in an ecologically important region.
VILATION OF FOREST RIGHT
Noting that everyone was against the decision to go ahead with the project, Ravi told www.indianf.com that they would not go back from their protest. “The protest is not now of the local sentiments alone. Even at the national level, the protest has its impact,” he said.
On the KSEB’s move to go ahead with the project despite protests, he said that they would not only take it physically but also challenge it legally, which is already taken up.
On the real issues for protesting the project, Ravi said, “the project itself is a violation of Forest Right acts. Vazhachal and the 400 square km area and the Adivasis of nine settlements in this region were given the Community Forest Rights CFR). As such, the Adivasis are bound to protect and regenerate forest, protect wild life, water bodies and biodiversity. If the project is implemented, it will be against their rights, responsibilities and duties of the Adivasis as per CFR. “
The Garma Sabha in the CFR region has the final call. No project can be brought in this region without their consent, he said and added that nine of the eight adivasi settlements have passed resolution against the project.
Pointing out that eight hectares of forestland is needed for the project, the environmentalist said “as per the data of 2013, about 1900 trees has to be cut that have a width of more than 70 cm. The largest tree in the region has a 740 cm width, he said and added one could imagine the abundance of trees in the project area.
Stressing that the specific forest stretch of Anakayam has ecological significance, Ravi said, “the first thing to note is that there is no EIA for this project. Without holding any EIA, they argue that it does not harm the ecology. This is a paradox.”
“Vazhachal and Anakayam are much in common as they are transit areas between Chalakudy and Periyar river basin. Anakayam, which is continuation of the Sholayar region, is a region where there is large movement of wild life. Anakayam is a critical region in the forest stretch,” he argued. The region also falls in the buffer zone of the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve.
Another thing highlighted is that the region was a landslide pone area. The area witnessed a few landslides in 2018 when the state was under floods. Moreover, the government has asked the people not to live in Anakayam region, as more landslides are feared. “The government itself says that the region is not fit for building homes for Adivasis and has asked them to vacate the region. It is in the region that the KSEB is going to cut the trees and construct a tunnel by blasting rocks. All these will only lead to further landslides in the future,” he said.
Moreover, he argued that the project was not viable. “It is a 7.5 MW project. During summer season, Kerala needs 4000 to 4400 MW of power. So 7.5 MW is much insignificant when looking at the State’s demand. The output from the project is less than 0.01 per cent. One should have to think of the need of the project with respect to the scenario of the state. For a single unit, the cost is also much high.”
Talking to www.indianf.com, tribal leader and in the forefront of the agitation Geetha reiterated that they would not move a bit from their agitation against the project. “We will strengthen the agitation if the government or the KSEB goes ahead with the project. What we have to ask the government is how the KSEB can go ahead with such a project without the knowledge of the tribal settlements in the region,” she said.
“As per the CFR, the tribal community holds the right of the forest. We are all bound to follow the CFR bestowed on us. So how can one go beyond the CFR , which emphasises that any development should happen only after consulting the tribal community,” she said.
“If they go one step ahead, we would go two steps against the project and defend our rights,” Geetha stressed. Noting that the issue was now discussed beyond politics, she hoped that the KSEB would never take a decision against the hopes and aspirations of the people who love forests and environment.
She also questioned the rationale behind the project in a forest region that was of utmost importance. She said that eight of the tribal settlements held “Ooru kootam” and passed resolution against the project.
On the KSEB’s arguments that two settlements had given their nod for the project, Geetha said that the KSEB talked about the consent several years back. “At that time, the tribals were not aware of the dangers of the project. The authorities have never told them about the real dangers. Now they know about the hidden dangers. It is because of this knowledge that eight of the settlements passed resolution against the project, which is much valid as per the CFR,” she said.
The settlements of Sholayar, VAchumaram, Malakkapara, Peringakuthu, Mukkumpuzha, Vazhachal and Pokalappara passed the resolution. She said that the resolution was given to Sub Division Level Committee, District Level Committee, political leaders, KSEB and the court. Thavalakkuzhippara is the only settlement that is yet to pass the resolution. Geetha was confident that Thavalakkuzhippara Oru Kootam would also pass a similar resolution soon.
She also said that the place where the project comes is close to a region where landslide occurred in 2018.
The KSEB is planning the project, which was sanctioned 30 years ago, on an area 15 km above Vazhachal. It is only a small hydroelectric project with an installed capacity of 7.5 MW. They are for building a tunnel to channel the water coming from the Sholayar hydroelectric project to generate electricity. Though no dam is built, the project involves a tunnel and powerhouse.