One would think the large-scale devastation caused by floods and landslides for two successive monsoon seasons would have taught Kerala a lesson. Apparently not.
Though the presence of a large number of dams and extensive destruction of hills, forests, wetlands and water bodies in the name of development were the reasons for the man-made ‘natural’ disasters that crippled Kerala in 2018 and 2019, the state government has embarked on building another big dam.
Its logic for reviving the much-criticised Athirappilly hydel project at a time when all its energies are required for battling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is beyond anyone’s guess. Shockingly enough, it is willing to spend hundreds of crores to generate a mere 163MW of power, risking the ecological damage the project would invariably cause.
Kerala has about 80 dams, including barrages and diversion projects. During the monsoon of 2018, most of these filled up so fast that they all had to be opened at once, causing flooding in large parts of the state.
The last thing Kerala needs is another dam.
The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, headed by environmentalist Madhav Gadgil, had specifically mentioned in its report that the hydel project was undesirable. Gadgil is of the opinion that the project is also financially unviable as there won’t be enough water to generate electricity.
Besides, the 23-metre-high dam across the Chalakudy river will be built upstream of the famous Athirappilly waterfalls, and there’s an apprehension that the tourist attraction could lose some of its charm.
After the political uproar, Power Minister M M Mani clarified the issuance of no-objection certificate for the project was a routine affair and it will be implemented only if there’s a consensus. What he must understand is that a political consensus, even if the government manages one, cannot negate the ecological cost of the project.
The government must listen to the advice of experts and the fervent pleas of its people, and abandon the plan once for all. Kerala needs projects that satisfy the rules of sustainable development, not those that will damage its fragile well-being.