Dear Sisters, Please Help Us To Protect Athirapally River And Forest
By Geetha and friends
20 July, 2015
I am Geetha. I belong to a Primitive tribal community called Kadars. As the name implies my people live in the forests and are totally dependent on the rainforests and river that is part of the Chalakudy river basin in Thrissur district of Kerala. I represent the settlement as its head woman, a title that I hold proud to be the voice of my people. Hence this letter is also written for the women, children and men in our settlements who are anxious about our future.
I have grown in one of the main 2 settlements where we are located now close to the Vazhachal part of the river that cuts across an immense rocky gorge before emerging as one of the biggest waterfall – the Athirapally. This river which has been feeding our community for generations with fishes and water, honey and other forest produce originate from the green and verdant rainforests of the Western Ghats mountains. The 97 families including my own realize that we have our right to continue living in the forest as a Community –Community Forest Right- the denial of which is akin to losing a Constitutional Right.
I came across a whole new world that the so called “civilized modern human” creates when I first travelled to Kochi to file a case in the Kerala High Court against the Athirappally Hydroelectric Project that will destroy 28.5 hectares of riparian (riverside ) forests that sustain our way of life. It is then that I studied the Community Forest Rights of my community that will be negated when the development comes. My father had told me the story of how many times we have been displaced by the series of dams that have come upstream and about how our compensation and rehabilitation was ignored. We survived all these onslaughts because we know how to live with little and to live with what Nature offers us free. But the unfair nature in which development is being done makes us angry and desperate.
I have traveled to the capital city of Kerala many times to present our view point in venues organized by sympathetic people. In overnight bus rides looking out of the window as we pass many town ships on the way, I have seen lights glaring on sign boards and other wastages of electricity. My parents lived in the forests with no electricity. The sun and moon are their sources of energy. They might not have had computers and net connections, mobile phones to charge and communicate. But they were happy and content. But when I see the terrible wastage and misuse of energy produced after killing our way of life I do not agree to this development at all. When I think that the 163MW electricity produced from this project from a river that has been proven to lack the right amount of water to make this possible will cost Rs 15/unit due to high capital cost and low energy output it seems outrageous and unfair. Is it not time we thought of other, simpler, less exploitative means of producing energy that will benefit all?
We along with concerned people from nearby areas, the River Research Centre, the Western Ghats Hornbill foundation and support groups from all over the State have been highlighting the issue. We have had sit-ins, strikes and seminars and debates all over the State.
I now write this letter to you to speak up for us- the 98 families of Kadars who do not know or want a life away from this river and forests, the 108 species of fishes in 130 km stretch of the river, the 264 species of birds including 4 species of hornbills in the rainforest habitats, the 10 lakh tourists whose access to visit and view the beauty of the falls (that will be telescoped into the tunnel of the project), the livelihoods of many people and the downstream villages and towns which are dependant on the water from this river for agriculture, irrigation and all daily activities. For us the River is Life in all senses of the word- it is not just a few megawatts of electricity.
This urgency has arisen because the Ministry Of Environment and Forests is convening the Expert Appraisal Committee for River valley and Hydroelectric Projects on July 20th and 21st to reconsider giving Environmental Clearance to the Athirapally Project which has been denied clearance thrice!
I request you to write to the Chairman firstname.lastname@example.org asking him to restrain from giving clearance to a project that has been proven by accredited agencies to be unviable economically, energy-wise, ecologically and socially too.
We are dreaming of a time when human development would include the protection of irreplaceable components like forests, rivers, biodiversity and living endemic communities that sustain the richness of life on Earth.
Hoping you will stand by justice and truth
Geetha and friends
( Anitha.S in conversation with Latha Anantha and Geetha. Please mail Latha at email@example.com for details and copy the mail to her too.)
Photos By Rajasree and Bachan
Comments are moderated