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Kadar's community rights not recognised: Gadgil

Staff Reporter

Ecology experts committee visits Athirappilly dam site

Decision-makers:The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Committee led by Madhav Gadgil visits the site for the proposed Athrirappilly hydro-electric project on Saturday.

Athirapilly, Chalakkudy: The proposed Athirappilly hydro-electric project cannot be approved until the Forest Rights Act is implemented in its true spirit for the Kadar tribal community of the area, said Madhav Gadgil, head of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Committee.

Talking to reporters after visiting the project site on Saturday, Mr. Gadgil pointed out that the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional

Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act provided for individual land rights as well as community rights to manage, protect

and conserve forests. “The preliminary inquiry with the members of the Kadar tribes shows that the community rights of the tribes were not yet recognised. Though forest rights committees have been formed, they are not functioning properly,” he said.

No comprehensive study had been carried out so far on the natural riparian forest vegetation along the Western Ghats, he noted.

The Western Ghats Ecology Expert committee was constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to identify the ecologically fragile areas of the Western Ghats and evolve a conservation strategy for the region.

The panel interacted with the tribespeople, people's representatives, members of Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and the River Research Centre (RRC) during the visit.

Report by March

The committee would submit its environmental impact assessment to the Ministry of Environment and Forests by March-end, Mr. Gadgil said.

Mr. Gadgil sought to allay fears that the panel was against giving clearance for the Athirappilly project.

Mr. Gadgil said his team was not against the project. Preserving the environment is our main concern, he added.

Representing the concerns of the Kadar tribes, V.K. Geetha, a member of the community, said the proposed dam would displace about more than 90 Kadar families from the Vazhachal and Pukalappara settlements. “The proposed site for the dam is hardly 400 metres from the Kadar settlements. Our livelihood is solely dependent on the forest and the river,” she noted.

She said the proposed dam would lead to the destruction of the Athirappilly waterfalls similar to the death of Poringal waterfalls caused by building of the Poringalkuthu Dam.. Hundreds of local people depend for their livelihood on tourism at Athirappilly and Vazhachal, she said.

Environmentalists said the dam would cause damage to the vital elephant corridor between the Parambikulam sanctuary and the Pooyamkutty forests and the Athirappilly waterfalls and it would lead to man-elephant conflicts.

An interactive session with people's representative elicited mixed reactions. While Chalakkudy MLA B.D. Devassy supported the project citing the ever-increasing power demand in the State, Athirappilly grama panchayat president Baby K. Thomas and Chalakkudy block panchayat vice-president Leena Davis and many others opposed the project citing various ecological, social and economic reasons. However, all the 27 people who spoke at the public interaction opposed the project.

During the technical session held at Chalakudy in the afternoon, the KFRI officials opposed the project highlighting the adverse impacts on biodiversity. The KSEB team tried to convince the panel that the project could be implemented without much impact on the ecology. The

River Research Centre opposed the project citing several disadvantages, including destruction of forest land that was home to rare flora and fauna and ecological problems caused by submergence of the only remaining riparian forests at such altitude in the entire Western Ghats.

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