As Trouble Spot
By K A Shaji
05 June, 2007
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, one of the world's top bio-diversity hotspots
which hosts several endemic species of plants and animals, might just
fall off the world biosphere map altogether if the proposed multi-dam
Pandiar Punnapuzha Hydro-electric Project comes up at Gudalur near Udhagamandalam,
better known as Ootty.
The controversial project
could not only result in large swathes of forests being submerged but
also in displacing about 2,000 families of Tamil repatriates and refugees
from Sri Lanka, who already have enough to tell on the tyranny of displacment
. What's more, the tunnels planned for the project at strategic positions
would result in the loss of elephant corridors and a further depletion
of bio-diversity in the highly vulnerable area. The disposal of the
debris caused by the construction activity would come as an additional
threat to the already fragile forest environment. Both human beings
and wild would not have any benefit out of the project, which promised
to be the answer to electricity and water needs of Coimbatore region.
When completed, the Pandiyar-Ponnupuzha
Hydro-electricity Project is expected to generate 442 MU of power with
an installed capacity of 3 X 50 MW. It involves four major dams, two
diversion weirs, a 36.3 km long subterranean tunnel, penstock laying
and two major power houses. Numerous roads and housing quarters would
also have to be built as part of the project. It was conceived to utilise
the west-flowing rivers which originate in Kerala. In 1965 an interstate
agreement between Kerala and Tamil Nadu on the project was arrived at.
The plant was to be built in Kezh Nadukani on the banks of Karakottupuzha,
close to the interstate boundary of Tamil Nadu.
The Planning Commission
cleared the project in 1968. In 1969, a new modified proposal was submitted
to increase the installed capacity from 3 X 50 MW to 4 X 50 MW. But
with the requests to study the feasibility of diverting the Pandiyar-Punnapuzha
waters for irrigation in Tamil Nadu, the project was stopped. Tamil
Nadu wanted the diversion of entire 14 TMC of water here into its region
so that it could set up a power house at Sirgur on banks of Moyar River,
instead of the Kezh Nadukani plant. Kerala objected to this. On its
part, it proposed an additional power house in its territory which would
not entail major construction.
This lack of unanimity on
the location and use of the project led to it being stalled. Now, following
a series of discussions between the chief ministers of the two states,
the project is once again being actively considered. Indeed, it has
gained considerable momentum of late, with expert panels visiting the
As often happens in situations
like this, the local people have been kept in the dark about the various
implications the proposed dams would have on their lives. According
to the People's Action Committee, their disadvantages far outweigh the
gains. The group is opposing the implementation of the proposed project
and has already staged a series of protests in Kerala. It believes the
project would hit the state badly as the entire water balance in the
Chaliar basin would be disturbed. The Chaliar river could even dry up
if the river's course is diverted, it fears.
It also claims that since
the project site lies bang in the Nilgiris biosphere reserve (which
was established in 1984) and at the crucial junction of the Eastern
and the Western Ghats, it poses a threat to all the four forest ranges
of the Nilgiris.
The forest areas which would
be submerged lie in the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary; Gudalur division
and the Nilgiri north division. At the same time, the proposed 27.2
km diversion tunnel connecting the two stages of the project lie underneath
the pristine reserved forest areas.
According to the Tamil Nadu
Electricity Board report, 160 hectares of reservoir area would be submerged
under the Segur Forebay Dam and the actual area that would meet a watery
grave would be twice the reservoir area which is about 320-350 hectares
(ha). Out of this, 160-175 ha would fall within the Avarahalla Reserve
Forest of the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. Another 16 ha of the Avarahalla
forest would be required for the construction of roads, dam, and power
The impact of the project
will also be felt on the wildlife of the region. Karnataka's Bandipur
national park, which is a declared tiger reserve, would be seriously
affected as the Segur power house falls within a few meters from the
park. A technical report done by Surendra Verma of the Asian Elephant
Conservation Centre highlights the adverse impact that the project would
have on elephant life in the region.
According to this report,
the 13-km-long Punnapuzha reservoir, with an average width of 0.8 km
lies right across the migratory path of the Asian elephant. This path
lies between the Mukurthy National Park, Gudal division, and the Nilambur
forest division on the southern edge of Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary.
The project could result in segregating the elephant population, and
confining them to non-viable patches. This, Varma points out, would
also increase human-animal conflicts in and around the forested areas.
The Asian elephant migrates
annually from the Wynad and Moyar plateaux to the Eastern Ghats (Moyar
valley and its surrounding hills) following the monsoon. In other words,
they pass through the very area that has been earmarked for this project.
Incidentally, the Project Elephant Action Plan has identified the Nilgiri
Eastern Ghats population as one of the most viable in Asia. The elephants
here number over 6,300 and they are spread over a habitat of 12,000
The dam site of Pandiar-Punnapuzha
power house, Pentstock and Surge Shaft which lie in the prime elephant
habitat also supports panthers, tigers and the sloth bear. Segur also
supports a very good population of the four-horned antelope, sambar,
chital, striped hyenas, sloth bears and wild dogs, panthers, civets
and pangolins. The submergence of forest in this area would lead to
the loss of habitat for these species. The riverine forest which connects
a lot of habitats would be affected by the submergence and this would
take a toll on frugivorous species like monkeys, squirrels, sloth bears
and various in the region. Many of the animals here find mention in
Schedule 1 of Wildlife Protection Act.
The last word on the project
should then go to Krupakar, a wildlife enthusiast and photographer.
``It is a `damned project', anyway you see it,'' he says.
(This article is part of a media fellowship awarded by National Foundation
Share Your Insights
it! And spread the word!
Here is a unique chance to help this article to be read by thousands
of people more. You just Digg it, and it will appear in the home page
of Digg.com and thousands more will read it. Digg is nothing but an
vote, the article with most votes will go to the top of the page. So,
as you read just give a digg and help thousands more to read this article.