The Union Minister of Forests and Environment for India continued last week to express his opposition to a huge power dam on the Chalakudy River in Kerala State. Jairam Ramesh told reporters in the small Kerala city of Palakkad on Friday that permission to build the dam was now out of the question. He had come to the state to declare that the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary was now designated as a tiger reserve. A press conference followed that event.
Two major problems have hindered the dam-builders from devastating the Chalakudy River. One has been the wildlife that uses the area that would be affected by the dam and its reservoir. The other is a Kadar village, which lies directly in the path of the development. Mr. Ramesh cited both issues in his previous statement on the issue.
At this event, he referred to an earlier report from the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, which had unanimously condemned the proposed project in 2007 because of its adverse effects on the ecology of the river basin. Mr. Ramesh admitted that his agency had failed to take the state’s biodiversity report into account when it gave its approval several years ago. “It was a lapse on the part of the Union Ministry,” he admitted.
Mr. Ramesh described other opposition in Kerala to the hydropower scheme. He pointed out that T. M. Manoharan, who was Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in the state, had expressed his opposition. Other organizations plus the district panchayat are opposed as well.
He denied allegations by A. K. Balam, Electricity Minister for the state, that he was discriminating against Kerala. He cited earlier instances where his ministry had approved projects in other states but it had subsequently cancelled them as new evidence had shown that the construction was not wise.
The Kerala Electricity Ministry has not been quiet, however. On Saturday, Mr. Balan responded at his own press conference that the union minister had made his decision even while an Expert Appraisal Committee, appointed by the Union Ministry, was examining the issue but before it had submitted its report. The minister’s decision, he said, was therefore “a total farce,” part of a conspiracy to terminate the project.
Two other organizations, the Tropical Botanical Garden and the Water and Power Consultancy Services, had both found in 1998 and 2002 that the proposed power dam was an environmentally friendly project, he said.