Stop Athirappilly Hydro Electric Project - Save Athirappilly
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Athirapalli is one of the most bewitching waterfalls in Kerala having a high percentage of aquatic and eco-diversity in the State. The outlay for the entire project is estimated at Rs 675 Cr. The expected power production arrives as 163 MW. The dam is supposed to come up in the east of Chalakudi, along Chalakudi Annamalai inter-state highway (Vazhakal forest division). The dam is expected to have a height of 23m and will have a width of 311 m. The dam is projected as a peak load station where Water will be diverted via penstock (pipe) to turbines downstream. A dam toe powerhouse downstream of the dam will be built to maintain Athirapally-Vazhachal Waterfalls. On the basis of the expert committee of River valley projects, power should be generated only between 7-11 p.m. during Feb1-May31 which are the driest months in the Kerala calendar. It has also ordained that 7.65 cubic metre/second (cumec) of water over the Atirapalli falls must be maintained always.
Environmentalists and public spirited hydrologists argue that the river experiences the maximum flow during July (102 cumecs) During the dry months of Feb, uptoMarch and April, its flow is reduced to 14-15 cumec, and if the water level be reduced to 7.65 cumec during the dry months, there will be no waterfall at all. It is also argued that for power generation, 7 Km long penstock will absorb 86% of water from the dam, which indirectly will leave people live up to7 kms devoid of drinking water, as no alternate sources exist. The project being a peak loading station, Chalakudi River will experience heavy fluctuation in its flow during the 4 hours when power is generated during which time the release of water can be as high as 130 cumec. Overflowing problems and affliction to downstream Chalakudi River diversion scheme which irrigates and provides drinking water to way side villages and panchayats in Trichur and Ernakulam district will cease. The riparian forests of the Chalakudy River have revealed the existence of a thick riparian vegetation of more than 10 metres width for a distance of 10.5 km downstream from Peringalkuth, covering an area of 58.5 hectares. Out of this, 26.4 hectares lie within the Vazachal area, including three large islands densely covered by riparian forests.
The riparian forests of the area have been found to be characterised by the presence of typical riparian species of plants, in addition to evergreen and semi-evergreen species. Out of the 319 species of flowering plants identified from the study area, 24 are endemic species of the Western Ghats and 10 are rare and endangered.
Moreover, the Chalakudy River is known for its diversity, as it contains 85 species of fresh water fishes out of the 152 species known from Kerala. Among these, 35 are endemic species of the Western Ghats and nine are considered to be endangered. Highly endangered Cochin Forest Cane turtle and the river bed is the nestling site of Malabar pied hombele birds. The area is supposed to be the best elephant conservation spot. . Any disruption to this ecofragile ecosystem will spell disaster.
The Power Engineers also feel that reduced water flow would not even help production of 26.7 MW as against 163 MW envisaged (234 million units of energy). In such a case, the cost: benefit analysis vis-à-vis the investment costs, running costs, maintaining costs, and recovery of costs would be unviable. The notional cost for the destruction of ecology and ecosystem would be unimaginable. Kerala’s density of forests has come down because the estuaries have been destroyed. Sea and Coastal erosion is taking a heavy toll due to unscientific dredging. Our fish sanctuaries have vanished, and bird habitats have disappeared. As per the state records, there is a transmission loss of 3020 million units. Why don’t we try to curb transmission losses by at least 10 to 15%, which will allow a nett energy of 303 million? The other way, is increase productivity of the existing hydro electric projects by up-grading the machines. Hydro electric projects are no answer for restoring balance to the power needs of the state. Mr Nehru called Bakranangal as the temple of India. Today, there are many alternate sources to produce electricity. And the cost of producing power is also cheaper. Therefore we request all the authorities to stop the procedures for this project.
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