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:

  1. =>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.
  1. 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.
  2. . 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.

  1. 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?

  1. 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.