Silent Valley : No more dams
Silent Valley National Park Twenty years of constant efforts towards conservation of the Silent Valley National Park and its buffer areas by the Government of Kerala and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Silent Valley HEP has been revived in the form of proposed Pathrakadavu HEP...
Silent Valley: Photo K Subramaniam
The worldwide struggle to save the pristine Silent Valley Forests of the Southern Western Ghats is still fresh in the memory of all concerned. The Silent Valley forests threatened by the controversial Silent Valley HEP in the late 1970s gained worldwide attention due to its ecological, biological, geographical and evolutionary significance and uniqueness. The Silent Valley HEP was later abandoned thanks to world wide campaigns and appeals to protect and preserve it as an international natural heritage site that later led to the declaration of the 89 sq.km area of the Silent Valley as a National Park in 1984. Later it was included as core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, part of the Western Ghats which is one of the biological hotspots of the world. Inspite of twenty years of constant efforts towards conservation of the Silent Valley National Park and its buffer areas by the Government of Kerala and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Silent Valley HEP has been revived in the form of proposed Pathrakadavu HEP
. The new dam site is just 3.5 km downstream of the old dam site at Sairandhri
and 500 m below the National Park boundary. The Issue
The 64.5 m high and 275 m long large dam, with 70 MW installed capacity is planned across the Kunti River originating from Silent Valley, just outside the border of the National Park across a “V” shaped gorge on the highly steep southern slope below Nilikkal where the river flows down rapidly towards the Mannarkkad plains. The forest loss due to the project is claimed to be just 22.16 ha by the EIA study team, apart from the land to be acquired for a powerhouse in the human settlement area in Karapadam. The 84-sq.km catchment of the project area includes 79 sq.km of the Silent Valley National Park as per the EIA. The Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment for the Project was carried out during January to May 2003 by Thiruvananthapuram based Environmental Resources Research Centre and the report was tabled in December 2003.The project cost is estimated to be Rs.247.06 crores (1999 estimates).
The Public Hearing of the proposed Pathrakadavu Hydro Electric Project (70 MW) based on the Rapid EIA by Environmental Resources Research Center, based in Trivandrum is slated on the 21st May 2004 at Mannarkkad.
Reject the revised Silent Valley Hydro Electric Project for the following reasons:
=>Death of Bharathapuzha River:
- . The proposed HEP will severely reduce stream flow in Kunti, the only remaining perennial tributary of Bharathapuzha River, nailing the final coffin on the dying River.
- All other tributaries already dammed and diverted for irrigation through 11 dams in the 6186-sq.km catchment area of 209 km long Bharathapuzha River.
- Kunti flows only due to continuous efforts towards conservation of Silent Valley National Park.
- The recurring severe drought in Palakkad, a testimony to the state of Bharathapuzha, which flows through this district.
- . Downstream population depends on Kunti for domestic, drinking water and irrigation purposes.
- Survival of Silent Valley at stake:
- . Dam site proposed in the southwest buffer zone of the National Park (the Thenkara Range of the Mannarkkad Forest Division)
- The survival of Silent Valley rain forests - one of the most beautiful and pristine wild communities in the world - is supported by the natural protection provided by steep scarps of Mannarkkad and Nilambur Forest Divisions of Kerala in the south west and north, the Attappady Reserve Forest in the east and the heavily forested ridges of the Nilgiris in the north east - the buffer areas.
- . Buffer areas around the Park are already under severe stress due to forest fires, encroachments and plantations. The dam will prove disastrous to the very survival of the Silent Valley National Park.
- . Crores of rupees already spent for conservation and research studies in the National Park will go waste.
- . Irreparable damage through easy access:
The 1100 odd work force at dam site, powerhouse site, dam site colony, construction of approach road to dam site etc. throughout construction phase will open inroads into Silent Valley National Park.
Workforce intrusion through poaching, illegal tree felling, forest fires, quarrying, noise, air and water pollution to increase due to easy access.
. Nilikkal area cited as highly active wild life area in several studies - The Nilgiri langur, the Lion tailed macaque, the Nilgiri thar all endangered species frequently cited here very close to dam site.
- The best option if KSEB should remain a public sector unit:
. The cost of power from the proposed project to reach Rs.6-8 per unit.
. Kerala State Electricity Board is unable to purchase power at even Rs.4 per unit from already commissioned Thermal Power Stations in the State.
. The Board is already reeling under severe financial liability of Rs.5200 crores, out of which debt servicing alone for 2003-04 is Rs.1600 crores.
. Annual loss from transmission and distribution alone amounts to 380 crore units on an average (30 % of production).
So who will fund the proposed HEP whose investment will reach Rs. 500 crores plus at the current rate? Who will take the burden of liability?
>Is not reducing T&D losses a far better option than investing in huge dams?
- Projected power generation based on inaccurate data base
. Incorrect basis of calculation of stream flow of the Kunti River.
. Report of the Joint Committee set up by Government of India and Kerala in 1982 for Silent Valley estimated annual run off yield of Kunti River as 293 mcum - the rapid EIA in 2003 puts the same at 498.25 mcum (based on 5007 mm annual rainfall).
. Even if the entire rainwater of 84 sq.km of catchment area of project drains through the river, the maximum run-off expected is 420 Mm3 only.
. In reality actual stream flow will be much below this as decided by rainfall, vegetation, topography and watershed peculiarities of river and seasonal variations.
. The quality of database decides technical feasibility of a river valley project. Most rivers in Kerala lack accurate hydrological database. Hence KSEB is projecting highly over estimated power benefits from the project to the people. 6. Biased EIA agency
. EIA recommends the project inspite of more negative impacts than positive in the document!
. The EIA is silent about the extent of land and forest acquisition for the high-tension power lines and the actual forest lost and displacement is downsized.
There is little time left for us to save the Silent Valley for posterity and Bharathapuzha from further destruction and death.
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Human Rights and Right to Expression denied at the Public Hearing on revised Silent Valley (renamed Pathrakkadavu) HEP.
We are extremely thankful to you for the support and encouraging response that you gave us to build up the campaign against the revised Silent Valley HEP (Pathrakkadavu HEP) in the last few days.
The Public Hearing that took place on the proposed Pathrakkadavu HEP on the 21st May witnessed the complete violation of laws and procedures as prescribed in the Government guidelines (EIA Manuel). It also witnessed the violation of the right to express and violation of human rights. Since the issue involves the impact on Silent Valley National Park, an International Heritage, the only remaining pristine evergreen rainforests in the entire Western Ghats and the core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, every citizen of India has the responsibility to protect this area as per the Constitution of India and hence the fundamental right to voice his/her views at the Public Hearing on the proposed HEP. Since the issue also involves Bharathapuzha River, all the to be affected downstream people also have a say in this Public Hearing.
Actually the KSPCB is the agency authorized by the MoEF(Ministry of Environment and Forests) for conducting the PH. But, the One-sided Public Hearing stage show performed together by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and the local political parties took place thus….
10.a.m. People start assembling for the hearing at the venue, a small classroom in Cherumkulam School with hardly seating capacity for fifty.
11.a.m. The small room starts overflowing with people and more people are outside than inside. Atleast 500 odd public gathers outside including people from downstream areas, scientists, environmental groups, social movements and human right groups across Kerala. The Local Member of Legislative Assembly takes over the mike and announces that only the public from the two panchayaths (Mannarkkad and Kumaramputhur) can attend the PH and all others should leave the place (violation of procedure). Immediately the representatives of various groups seated inside are physically pushed out amidst slogans (again violation).
11.15 a.m. The representatives of various groups meet the panel members and request for shifting the venue to outside the room to accommodate all and to allow them to present their views at the PH as per the EIA norms. After consultation with panel members, the Chairman of the Panel (the KSPCB Chairman) agrees to shift the venue (reluctantly after heated debate) after the presentation of the KSEB and the EIA team is over. Meanwhile people claiming themselves to be ‘local villagers’ (in a drunken state) start directly confronting the groups outside, openly demanding them to leave the place. Arguments and protest slogans continue on both sides. The KSEB officials look on!
11.20 a.m. The Public Hearing starts. The KSEB and EIA team are allowed 30 mts for presentation. People who have come to speak opposing the project are blocked at the entrance and not allowed to enter. Police stands witness. The presentation continues for one hour.
12.20 p.m. The panel invites the public without shifting the venue to outside as promised. Aggressive outbursts from the so-called ‘local villagers’ break out when the panel announces that groups opposing the project will also be allowed to speak. A list of 43 representations opposing the Project from various parts of the State is submitted to the panel. After a few speakers ‘for the project’, the first speaker opposing the project starts speaking. The unruly crowd charges forward shouting slogans and someone snatches the mike. Police intervene and restrain the crowd. The panel looks on. Does not take any action. The second speaker is also not allowed. After a few ‘for the project speakers’ once more, the panel invites famous poetess Sugathakumari who was actively involved in the Save Silent Valley Campaign in the 1970s to present her view. The crowd again charges forward amidst booing and she is not allowed to speak against the project.
12.45.p.m.The District Collector enters the scene of utter humiliation to one of the prominent cultural icons of Kerala. The Collector though a member of the panel had deputed his junior. Sugathakumari is not allowed to complete her presentation and is escorted outside under police protection. We complain to the Collector on the denial of the right to speak and demand cancellation of the Hearing. The Collector intervenes, asks the Panel Chairman to invite ‘opposing the project’ speakers as well. The list of 43 is missing from the Chairman’s podium! All the three invited by the Collector who try to present their views against the project in front of the Collector are again humiliated. Abuses galore.
1.00.p.m. District Collector leaves in distress.
1.30.p.m. The Chairman of the panel winds up the Hearing after allowing a few ‘for the project’ presentations again. Note that the total time allowed for hearing is just one hour when there are 38 other representations ‘opposing the project’ waiting outside (violation of procedure). Noted scientists like Dr.V.S.Vijayan (Director, Salim Ali Centre for Conservation of Nature) and Dr. S.Sankar (Kerala Forest Research Institute) who have carried out studies in the Silent Valley and Sri. Indanoor Gopi, President, Bharathapuzha River Protection Council were not allowed to speak. The crowd is asked to disperse forcefully by the police. A few among the ‘opposing the project’ group are manhandled and abused even after the stage show is over.
What happened on 21st cannot be called a Public Hearing.
It amounts to gross violation of the Environmental Laws and human rights.
All the concerned people met after the hijacked hearing and decided to demand for cancellation of the hearing and hold a fresh hearing only after conducting a comprehensive EIA that should be transparent and participatory.
We need your help once again. Please write protest letters to the Secretary, MoEF and the CM of Kerala, Sri.A.K.Antony demanding cancellation of the PH and disciplinary action against the Chairman of the Panel in the addresses given below.
CGO Comple, Lodhi Road,
Chief Minster of Kerala
The latest news about the project is interesting. The District Collector is complaining that he has not been informed about the contents of the report the 10 member committee submitted yesterday recommending the project's implementation, in which he is a member! But then he had sent RDO as his representative to attend the meeting. What should one make out from these two facts? The ways of bureaucracy are indeed perplexing
1 PATHRAKADAVU Hydro electric Project is not a revival of the Silent valley Hydro Electric Project. The Silent valley dam was proposed in side the Silent Valley forest .The PATHRAKADAVU Hydro electric Project is proposed outside the Silent Valley forest. The reservoir of PATHRAKADAVU Hydro electric Project shall be around 500 m away from the silent valley boundary. The Silent Valley reservoir had a storage capacity of 252 MCM (Million Cubic Meter) and Water Spread Area of 7.35 Sq KM inside Silent Valley forest . But the PATHRAKADAVU Hydro electric Project has Storage capacity of 0.82 MCM only and The Water Spread Area is only 0.04 Sq KM ( 4 hectare) out side Silent Valley forest .How can one with any sense argue that PATHRAKADAVU Hydro electric Project is a revival of the Silent valley Hydro Electric Project ?
2 Negative impacts on Silent valley? The people who are making a lot of noise on the negative impact of Pathrakadavu project on silent valley forest have not taken pains to visit the project site . Thick forests are not damaged by the proposed Pathrakadavu project . Even though the distance from the silent valley forest to the new project site is only 3KM or 4KM, the nature of the forest , flora and fauna in the project area where the dam is to come up are totally different. There are no endangered species like languor, macaque, nilgiri tahr etc in the Pathrakadavu project site. Some people are engaging in false propaganda on the biological impact of the project.
3 Dam Reduces flow in the RIVER? The Dam of Pathrakadavu project is a small one and the Reservoir capacity is minimal. Actually the flowing water in the river is temporarily stored and used to generate power So it is called a Run Off The River project.. Only a small amount of water stored here at any time. . This water after running the Turbines flow to the same river again. All the excess water coming down the river flows over the dam. So the project will not result in Water scarcity in down stream areas. The campaign that Pathrakadavu project will result in scarcity of drinking water ,irrigation, and domestic requirements in the Panchayaths in the downstream is totally false . This is a classic case of misinformation campaign.
4 Access to SILENT VALLEY will be opened ? Even the tail end of the reservoir of the dam is 500M away from the silent valley forest . So there need not be any access to the Silent valley forest due to this project. However the concern on this account is genuine and should be addressed . We can effectively block all the road approaches to the forest area after the project is completed. The forest authorities can provide additional check points in the area and prevent access as is being done at MUKKALI now. During the construction time there should be PEOPLES VIGILANCE SQUADS to prevent unauthorized access. The Construction workers and ENVIRONMENTALISTS can join together to form such squads.
Save Silent Valley & Bharathapuzha
Write to the Ministry of Environment & Forests Immediately.
As all of us are aware by this time, the Public Hearing that took place on the proposed Pathrakkadavu HEP on the 21st May 2004 witnessed the complete violation of procedures as prescribed in the Environmental Impact Assessment Manuel of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India (based on Notification on EIA of developmental projects issued on 27-01-1994 and subsequently amended on 4th May 1994,10th April, 1997 and 27th Jan 2000). It also witnessed the violation of the right to express. Since the issue involves the impact on Silent Valley National Park, an International Heritage, the only remaining relatively untouched evergreen rainforests in the entire Western Ghats and the core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, every citizen of India has the responsibility to protect this area as per the Constitution of India and hence the fundamental right to voice his/her views at the Public Hearing on the proposed Pathrakkadavu HEP which is nothing but revised Silent Valley HEP.
Since the issue also involves Bharathapuzha River, all the to be affected downstream people and grama panchayaths also have a say in this Public Hearing. Hardly 100 sq.km of the 6186 sq.km of the catchment of Bharathapuzha River has intact forest cover and out of this 79 sq.km falls in Silent valley National Park. The catchments of all the other tributaries namely Gayatri, Chitoor and Kalpathi puzha are heavily degraded. Inspite of 11 irrigation schemes across these tributaries Palakkad district faces acute drought in summer a testimony to the severity of catchment degradation.
Actually the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) is the agency authorized by the MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests) for conducting the PH. But, the one-sided Public Hearing stage show performed together by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), KSPCB and the local political parties did not allow anybody who had to say something opposing the project to speak out at the Public Hearing.
What happened on 21st cannot be called a Public Hearing. This gross injustice has to be immediately brought to the notice of the MoEF. The hurried manner in which the panel recommendation gave unanimous decision to go ahead with the project on the 21st itself amidst so much controversy is self-revealing. The MoEF should know what really
happened at the Public Hearing. So please draft your individual letter focusing on the below points and on the above background and send the same by post to the Secretary, MoEF (address below) and send copies of the same letter to the Chief Minister, Kerala and the Chairman, KSPCB immediately.
1. The Public Hearing on the proposed Pathrakkadavu HEP that took place on the
21stof May 2004 witnessed gross violation of procedures for conducting Public Hearing as prescribed in the EIA Manuel and the denial of right to speak. It was a completely one-sided hearing jointly organized and managed by the KSEB, the KSPCB and local politicians using local miscreants. Just five representatives among the list of 43 (opposing the project) who had submitted their names to the Chairman were invited to speak. The 43 representations included serious concerns with regard to the social, economic and technical viability of the project and indepth analysis of its environmental impacts. Including famous poetess Sugathakumari, they were not even allowed to speak out
their opinion by the violent crowd. Even eminent scientists and researchers who have more than twenty years of experience working in Silent Valley National Park were not allowed to speak. We strongly condemn this organized hijacking of the public hearing on the 21st May 2004. We also demand that the Ministry of Environment and Forests
should not consider the proposed HEP for clearance based on this ‘organized show’ called ‘public hearing’ and should order the project proponents to conduct a fresh public hearing.
2. In their REIA report, the EIA agency themselves have claimed that the comprehensive EIA is progressing. Moreover the impact of the dam, powerhouse and
HT lines on the Silent Valley National Park close by, internationally recognized, as one of the only remaining relatively undisturbed rainforests all over the Western Ghats, one of the ‘Biodiversity Hotspots’ of the world simply could not be assessed by just five months data collection from records. It requires years of very exhaustive field studies based on consultations with experienced people in the area. The hurried manner in
which the EIA and public hearing was organized itself reveals the hidden agenda. Hence we demand that the new Public Hearing can be held only after a comprehensive, exhaustive study is carried out on the impact of the project. The study area should cover 10 km radius of the proposed project site, which includes the entire Silent Valley
National Park and its buffer zone, to understand the real impacts.
3. The role of the KSPCB Chairman is just an agency entrusted by the MoEF to conduct the Public Hearing and to document the opinions of different sections of the public and to submit the same to the MoEF. In the case of the Pathrakkadavu PH the chairman was evidently acting as an agent of the KSEB, not giving space to the people who had come to express their concerns about the various impacts of the project including people living downstream of Kunti River. Moreover, given the international value of the Silent Valley National Park and Kunti
River, the issue cannot be oversimplified to a panchayath level impact. There were even people from Mannarkkad area who wanted to present their grievances on the High Tension power lines that would cause displacement. They have been conveniently omitted from the resettlement list in the REIA! Moreover this is not the first time that the Chairman and the KSPCB is behaving like an Agent of the project proponents at Public Hearings. It maybe kindly brought to your notice sir, that Public Hearing is the only venue in our democratic set up, when people get a chance to express their views on the project. Denying them this only chance knowingly amounts to criminal offence. We demand immediate stringent disciplinary action against the Chairman, KSPCB the agency entrusted with
carrying out Public Hearings in Kerala by the MoEF.
4. Moreover, in any electricity generation project the financial viability of the project is a major criterion. It has a direct bearing on the tariff hence the people all over the state have a say in it. It should be assessed whether
this is the best option available under the present electricity scenario of the State. In the case of Patharkkadavu HEP no options assessment has been carried out. According to the EIA manual of the MoEF options assessment should be a part of any EIA. Meanwhile a mere three percent reduction in the T&D loss will provide electricity equivalent to the projected generation of 183 MU from Proposed Pathrakkadavu HEP. We demand immediate action to reduce the T&D losses and reduce the financial burden on the people of Kerala. Hence the people of
Kerala cannot afford any more power projects until T&D loss reduction materializes.
5. All the rivers of Kerala are on the brink of extinction. Heavy deforestation of river catchments starting from dams and related interventions, plantations and encroachments has severely fragmented the river course and reduced the streamflow. The plight of Bharathapuzha, the largest river basin is itself very pathetic. “The 89 sq.km. Silent Valley forests are the only plateau part of the entire catchment. Because this still remains under evergreen forest cover, Kunthi has some lean season water flow, the only live tributary in the entire river basin. Excluding Silent Valley, within the 400 odd sq.km. of forest land, there is no compact patch of evergreen forest covering even 10 sq.km. In other words, within the 6186 sq.km. basin with a hill area upper catchment extending over about 1500 sq.km., there is only less than 100 sq.km. of live catchment regulating run off into the river. Even of this 100 sq.km. more than 70 sq.km. falls within Silent Valley. Hence Bharatha Puzha as a river is dead”. To sustain
the regional climate and river flow, to meet the increasingly severe water scarcity and to sustain the variety of natural resource based livelihoods, Kerala Western Ghats cannot simply afford to lose anymore forests. The people
of this tiny state demand rejection of any such project that will cause loss of forest.
Send your personal letters to the following addresses by post.
Sri Pradipto Ghosh
Ministry of Environment & Forests,
CGO Complex, Lodhi Road,
1. Sri. A.K Antony
Chief Minster of Kerala
Sri. Paul Thachil,
Kerala State Pollution Control Board,
Please circulate this letter at all possible venues.
Also send a copy of your letter your in this address
One Earth One Life,
Kanjirapuzha - 678591