Greetings from Chalakudyriver Protection Forum
A Campaign to save Chalakkudy River in Kerala India.
The Immediate target of the campaign is to stop the proposed
Athirappilly Hydro Electrict Power Project in Chalakkudy River.
The proposed HEP & Dam will destroy the remaining biodiversity & lives &
livelihoods of people based on river
We send herewith an article by Sri.G.Krishnan
WHY PEOPLE OF CHALAKUDY RIVER BASIN OBJECT TO
ATHIRAPPILLY HYDRO-ELECTRIC PROJECT
"The kings of Kali Yug will be addicted to corruption and will seize the property of their subjects. Then property and wealth alone will confer rank; falsehood will be the only means of success. Corruption will be the universal means of subsistence. In the end, unable to support their avaricious kings, the people of the Kali Yug will take refuge in the chasms between mountains''
- ‘Vishnu Purana’
The proposed 163 MW Athirappilly Hydro Electric Project (AHEP) is to be located across the Chalakudy river at Vazhachal, 35kms away from Chalakudy town. The 140Km long Chalakudy river is the fifth largest river in Kerala and drains the runoff from a catchment area of 1704 Sq.km. The free flow of the river is already blocked by the construction of 6dams - Thunacadavu, Peruvaripallam, Parambikulam, Upper Sholayar, Lower Sholayar and Poringalkuthu. The first four of these dams are controlled and utilised by Tamil Nadu as per the Parambikulam - Aliyar Project Agreement and entails an annual transfers of atleast 16 tmc water to Tamil Nadu, since the 1960s. Subsequently, in the early 1990s a diversion canal from the Poringalkuthu reservoir was constructed to divert the monsoon flows from the Chalakudy river to Edamalayar dam. In turn, over the past 50years, these water diversions have caused an alarming fall in the flow of water through the Chalakudy river by approximately 40% to 45%. Thus, the newly proposed Athirappilly dam, will be the 7th across an already water starved river!
The project authority, Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) has a one point justification for the project. They point out to the increasing demand for power and the need to bridge the demand - supply gap. They cry wolf and claim that without implementing projects such as Athirappilly and Pathrakadavu, the economic development of Kerala is doomed. While this claim can be effectively countered, no attempt is made to do the same in the present article as the same will require a separate article by itself. So, at this juncture, I will merely point out two facts : i) This is the same argument which KSEB raised in the 1960’s to justify the Silent Valley Project. But today, even without Silent Valley Project, KSEB and Keralites have survived! ii) Assuming that the death -wish of KSEB is granted, one has to ponder over the question: What after Athirappilly and Pathrakadavu? Even if all the possible hydro-power sources in Kerala are dammed and damned, it will not yield more than an additional 700-800 MW.! So, where does the KSEB go thereafter? Surely, the answers lies elsewhere - alternatives and renewable sources of energy!
The ongoing struggle against the Athirappilly project by the people of the Chalakudy River Basin spearheaded by the Chalakudy River Protection Forum (CPF), an apex body of 40 odd organisations, is based on well researched and well established technical, economic and environmental factors. Let us examine them briefly.
Technical and Economic Factors
The first and foremost among them is the half truth that project will generate 163MW of electricity. Please remember that the figure of 163MW being frequently bandied about by the authorities is only the installed capacity of the project. The actual production of power will be 233 Million units which is the approximate equivalent of 27MW of power! The fundamental reason for this alarming variation between the installed capacity and actual production is the insufficiency of water in the river, except during rainy season. In fact, while briefing SNC - LAVALIN which had at one point acted as a Consultant to the KSEB, the latter had accepted that 163 is not the optional sizing for the project. The Consultant was also told that 163 MW installed capacity should not be changed and must be accepted by them (Source : Athirappilly Study : Start-Up Document, Document No.360-02/985, KSEB/SNC-LAVALIN). The net result is that, the actual power generation from the project will be only 16% of its installed capacity, thereby bestowing on it the dubious distinction of being the least efficient power project in Kerala! This also explodes the myth of cheap electricity from Athirappilly!
A related aspect is the cost of the project. It has varied from Rs.151 crores in 1992 to around Rs.700 crores in 2007. But even in January, 1998 SNC - LAVALIN had placed this figure at Rs.675crores. As pointe out by LAVALIN, "This is definitely an area of uncertainity”. Moreover, while calculating the cost of power from the project, it is to be borne in mind that an analysis of cost escalation incurred by the 12 KSEB projects completed during the period 1985-2000 indicates a cost overrun of 326%. Therefore, it is clear that if and when the Athirappilly project is completed, it will not cost the people of Kerala anything less than Rs.2000/-crores! In this context, it must also be pointed out that the techno-economic clearance for the Athirappilly project accorded by the Central Electricity Authority, New Delhi mandates the completion of the project at a total cost of Rs.385.63 crores! (Incidentally, the current Technical Clearance has expired on March 31, 2008 and as such the KSEB will have to obtain a fresh Technical Clearance for the project)
The water flow data pertaining to the Chalakudy River used by the KSEB for formulating the project is a figment of fertile imagination. To cite an example: According to the KSEB, the average monthly flow/discharge of water at the Sholayar reservoir has remained steady at 11.04(m3/sec), every year from 1941 - 42 to 1995-96, without any variation at all! Moreover, the river flow data used by the KSEB does not show the average annual transfer of 15.74 tmc of water to Tamil Nadu under the Parambikulam - Aliyar Agreement, and the consequent reduction in the availability of water in the Chalakudy River. Nor does it take into account the annual transfer of about 8% to 10% of the river water to the Periyar River, via the Idamalayar augmentation scheme since 1993. The apparent result is that the Athirappilly project has been designed without taking into consideration the fact that since the 1940’s the water flow in the river has dropped by about 40% to 45%!
The economic viability of the project is also very much in doubt. While the annual recurring expenses for the project on account of repayment of loan, maintenance, salaries etc. will work out to a minimum of Rs.150 crores, the total revenue from the sale of electricity will be only around Rs.50crores. This means that the project will impose an additional annual burden of Rs.100crores on the KSEB, the State Government and ultimately, the people of Kerala who pay taxes and bear all the burden - financial and environmental!
Effect on the Twin Waterfalls
The Athirappilly dam proposed to be located a mere 400 meters upstream of the Vazhachal rapids will eventually kill both the Vazhachal rapids and the framed Athirappilly falls, located about 5kms downstream. This is obvious from the fact that whereas the flow of water through the twin penstocks to the 160MW main powerhouse will be, as per KSEB estimates, about 1,25,000 lit/sec.The water released through the 3MW dam - toe power house proposed for maintaining the Vazhachal rapids and Athirappilly waterfalls will be a mere 7650 lit/sec!This implies that, out of the total water flow in the river, more than 80% will be diverted away from the Athirappilly falls and will join the river about 1.5km downstream of the Athirappilly falls. The consequent, slender, ribbon - thin waterfall will only destroy the magnificient falls and drive away the tourists, thereby paving the way for the destruction of the local tourism driven economy.
Impact on Tribal Population
KSEB holds that there are no tribal families in the project area. This is once again the old Goebbelean principle at work or a case of selective amnesia. Anyone who has visited the project area could see the Pokalappara Tribal Settlement which have 22 tribal families. And tragically, these are families who have undergone dislocation twice earlier, on account of the construction of dams upstream. It is merely a fact that can be observed even by a casual visitor that the Full Reservoir Level (FRL) of the Athirappilly dam will submerge at least most of their colony.
Another disturbing fact is that the project authority and their masters have chosen not to look at the existence of the Vazhachal Colony with its 50 odd families, Tribal School and Hostel. Though, technically this area may not fall within the project area, the fact is that it is merely 400 mts away from the dam site. Therefore, it will be practically impossible for these families to continue their stay in the present location when the project work begins and more than 2500 odd workers make their presence felt in the area. However, the KSEB and the government have chosen not to look into the matter. In fact, the EIA conducted by WAPCOS does not even make a mention of this fact. And the earlier study of TBGRI puts the distance between the colony and dam site as 4 kms!
Meanwhile, acting on a petition submitted by a local tribal woman, the State Tribal Commissioner, after visiting the project area has recommended that as the tribal settlement is a mere 400mts. away, the massive construction activity will adversely impact the life of the local tribes and that they should therefore be honourably resettled at least six months prior to the commencement of any dam construction activity. However, the project authorities have turned a blind eye to the recommendation!
Impact on Irrigation
Both KSEB and WAPCOS which conducted the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) admit that due to the paucity of water in the Chalakudy River, the AHEP has been designed mostly to address the peak load requirement. As far as farmers who depend on the Chalakudy River Diversion Scheme (CRDS) for their irrigation and drinking water requirements are concerned, this very peak load station nature of the project is its major pitfall and destructive core. The peak load factor of the project becomes more pronounced in the December - May months. During these six months, the operation of the 160MW capacity main powerhouses will be possible only for less than 2hours in the evening. The dam-toe powerhouse is said to operate for 24hours. However, even according to the admissions of KSEB/WAPCOS, during December - May the total daily water flow through the toe - powerhouse will be only around 37% - 38% of the water available in the river. This directly implies that for almost 22 hours a day, water available at CRDS, Thumburmuzhi for distribution through the Left Bank - Right Bank canal systems would be about 62% - 63% less than what is available today. In practical terms, the water availability at Thumburmuzhy would drop to about 6200-7600 liters per second whereas according to the calculations of the CRDS authorities, the reasonably efficient working of CRDS requires about 20,000 - 25,000 liters of water per second at Thumburmuzhi. For an already water starved CRDS, this positively spells disaster and destruction. Therefore, the contention of WAPCOS/KSEB that AHEP will not adversely impact on the CRDS is factually incorrect and ludicrous.
Another reason for this potentially disastrous situation is that during the months of December - May, when the main 160MW power house operates during the peak evening hours (6 pm - 8pm), almost 68% - 70% of the daily flow of water in the river will be received at Thumburmuzhi during the night, in a time span of 2 - 2½ hours. This amounts to approximately 1,32,000 liters of water per second arriving at the Thumburmuzhi check - dam. The small check - dam cannot accept and store such a large quantity of water and almost 80% of the water received during this period is sure to spill over the dam and flow down stream. The Thumburmuzhi dam is not designed as a storage dam. It is only intended to divert the river water to the Left - Right Bank Canals. The left and right bank canals can accept only a maximum of 25,000 liters per second. CRDS officials stationed at Chalakudy point out that if the project is to be run effectively, they require a constant, steady flow of water in the river at Thumburmuzhi. The EIA said to have been conducted by WAPCOS has conveniently neglected this critical aspect of water budgeting. In fact, in their wisdom, they have cleverly concealed this problem by showing the monthly cumulative water availability/discharge of the CRDS. (Table 4.11, Page 4.37 of the EIA by WAPCOS). WAPCOS have not even attempted to discuss this critical and vital matter with either the CRDS authorities, local panchayaths or the water users in the project affected area!
Chalakudy river especially the Vazhachal Forest Division, within which the proposed Athirappilly project area falls is unique in many respects for long term conservation as pointed out by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board. Further the riparian vegetation (special vegetation along the river) offers a uniqueness unparallelled anywhere else in the state or even the country.
Loss of several endemic species
The Athirappilly area has not yet been subject to any intensive studies and hence, the bio-diversity of the area is not completely documented. However, the occassional studies conducted by various agencies indicate a very high proportion of endemic species in the area. Even the short, inadequate Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted by WAPCOS, shows that a large number of endemic species of plants, butterflies, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals occur in the area. The report does not cover several species including those which are nocturnal. Even the endemic and threatened species such as the Travancore Flying Squirrel, Petinomys fuscocapillus fuscocapillus occuring in the area is not recorded.
Loss of high fish diversity and connectivity
The area is so rich in fish diversity, including endemic and endangered species, that the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources has recommended the area to be declared as a Fish Sanctuary. Five new species and 18 critically endangered species have been recorded. Population of one species of fish found only in the Chalakudy river has reduced 99% during the last two decades. Construction of the dam prevents both upstream and downstream migration of some of the fishes which is a vital activity for their survival.
Unique area for bird conservation.
i) All the four species of hornbills found in Kerala, namely Malabar Grey Hornbill, Grey Hornbill, Malabar Pied Hornbill and Great Indian Hornbill occur in the Athirappilly - Vazhachal area; a very rare phenomenon ii) 12 of the 16 species of the endemic species of birds seen in the Western Ghats are present in the Athirappilly - Vazhachal area. Recognising the high diversity in birds, Birdlife International (based in Cambridge), in a process of identifying important areas for bird conservation all over the world in 1995, identified the Vazhachal - Sholayar areas as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Loss of overall biodiversity
According to the Biodiversity conservation strategy and Action Plan for Kerala prepared by French Institute, Pondichery, the conservation value of the Vazhachal (project area) is as high as 75%, (one of the highest!) which itself justifies the importance of the area for conservation.
Loss of ecological functions and characters of the river system :
Construction of the dam will completely alter the ecology of the river system, both upstream and downstream of the proposed dam site (from the dynamic and vital ecosystem to merely a physical water transporting system devoid of various ecological functions). One of the vital reasons for the high species richness and endemism of the area is the total volume of water flow and the fluctuation in it from a minimum of 7.26 cumec in May to 229.97 cumec in August (average of 50 years). Regulation of the flow to 7.65 lit/ sec, as specified in the project proposal, will destroy the original ecosystem characteristics.
Alternative to Athirappilly Dam
The most frequently asked question by the proponents of the Athirappilly project is : Without Athirappilly project, what do we do for power? The truth is that there are varied alternatives to cope with the peak load shortage of power. Experts suggest the following:
According to the estimates of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad if the 67-70 lakh consumers replace their ordinary 60W bulbs with CFL’s, about 300-350 MW of peak power can be saved. This will not cost more than Rs.140-150 crores. Further, cutting down the transmission loss of KSEB from 25% by a mere 5 percent will save about 130-150MW of power and earn for KSEB about Rs.600 crores! Moreover, there is a definite limit to the exploitation of hydel power sources and the time has come to look at alternates such as wind power and solar power which together hold the potential of generating about 6500MW of power! The technology is available and costs are coming down. Only the willpower seems to be lacking.
G.Krishnan is an economist by profession. He started his career as an Executive in the National Dairy Development Board, Anand. Later he moved on to the Co-operative League of the USA where he worked as Project Officer. Subsequently, he moved on to the Financial Sector. In 2000, at the time of seeking voluntary retirement from service, he was the Chief Economist with a leading Bombay based Public Sector Financial Institution. Presently, he is engaged in farming in the Chalakudy River Basin. Since 2002, he has also been engaged in the ongoing people’s struggle against the controversial Athirappilly Project.