Community-led agitations against hydropower dams are nothing new to Kerala. In 1985, Kerala observed the first set of protests against the Athirappilly Hydel Power Project, which took place in Chalakudy. This time, it is against the Anakkayam hydel project.
On September 3, the Kerala State Electricity Board has sanctioned an order to axe nearly 2000 trees across 20 acres of forest land for a project in the Anakkayam forest area of Athirappilly in Thrissur. The news created uproar among the nine oorus or adivasi settlements in the area. According to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, they are the forest’s protectors as referred to in the Forest Rights Act. Under this law, they have claimed their Community Rights (CR) and Community Forest Rights (CFR) over the forest area which they have been using traditionally. In the nearly 2000 trees marked for felling, there are endemic ones too.
Renowned ecologist Dr S Faizi, who was honoured with the Lifetime Achievements Award at the third edition of World Biodiversity Congress, said, “The CFR is shared by nine adivasi settlements, which are immediately around the forest area that the proposed project will be built on. They were living peacefully in harmony with nature. The proposed project will be disturbing 400 square kilometres of forest, which was recognised as community forest rights to the Kadar community in 2014.”
“KSEB or even the Forest Department cannot undertake any activities there without prior approval from the Grama Sabha, which is composed of the tribals, both Kadars and Malayars, from five oorus- Sholayar, Anakkayam, Perumbara, Thavalakkuzhippara and Vachumaram. That is the law,” he stressed.
According to another source, the locals will not permit the Athirappilly Hydel Power Project from happening. The source added that it is shocking to know that the KSEB is planning to undertake another project close by.
The project is not only affecting two nearby settlements of Anakkaayam and Sholayar, but three other settlements completely dependent on the forest produce as well. Although their livelihood will be affected, it seems to be the least of concerns for the government.
Meanwhile, the proposed project will upset the buffer zone of the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve. Anakkayam and Vazhachal are habitats of the wild elephant. As it is, the wildlife movement is already interrupted by the establishment of dams and other physical barriers in the Chalakkudy river.
Also, the area is prone to landslides. Tunnelling for the new project can have an adverse effect. It needs to be highlighted that during the 2018 Kerala floods, people living on either side of the Sholayar banks had to shift. The government has yet to rehabilitate the ones who lost their homes to the flood.
Following a meeting, eight of the nine settlements had discussed the KSEB project and passed a resolution. They have submitted their resolution to the Thrissur District Collector and officials in the Forest Department. They have even approached the Kerala High Court.
The government needs to understand that their fears are not without a valid reason. It is a sad reality, in this so-called ‘God’s own country,’ a community, which considers even a single tree as a god, needs to fight hard for survival. Let’s hope that the government realises the negative impact the project can have on one of the most particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) in Kerala- the Kadars.