Kerala’s hornbills need protection from poorly planned hydel projects

The Hindu today has a piece on the Kerala Forest Department effort to document the status of the hornbills of the Western Ghats. In this context, it is important to recall the representation submitted to the Kerala State Pollution Control Board, on the proposal for power generation using the Athirapilly – Vazhachal region.

Here is the petition.

Nature Conservation Foundation

3076/5, IV Cross, Gokulam Park, Mysore 570 002, INDIA

Web: www.ncf-india.org

E-mail: ncf

Tel.: +91 821 2515601
Fax +91 821 2513822

Sri K. S. Govindan Nair
Environmental Engineer
Kerala State Pollution Control Board
Pattom P.O.
Thiruvananthapuram – 695004.

12 June 2006

Dear Sri Nair,

Subject: Submission for the Second Public Hearing of the proposed Athirappilly HEP in Chalakudy River in Kerala to be held on 15 June 2006.

We are wildlife biologists who have been working in the Western Ghats region for over a decade on issues related to forest fragmentation, disturbance, and ecology and conservation of endangered species. We learn that the KSPCB is holding the second Public Hearing for the proposed 163 MW Athirappilly HEP on 15 June 2006 at Town Hall, Thrissur.

Based on our research and conservation experience, and out of deep concern for the ecological future of the people and wildlife in this region, we believe that the proposed project, if implemented, will lead to irreparable ecological damage and harm. In this connection, we would like to bring to your notice the following facts:

  1. The Athirappilly-Vazhachal-Chalakudi riverine area and the contiguous reserved forests are one of the most important conservation areas in the Western Ghats, which has been recognized as a globally important Biological Diversity Hotspot by Conservation International—a fact that has been widely recognized by scientists, policy makers, the judiciary, media, and the general public. The Western Ghats streams and rivers, of which this area forms an important exemplar, is also recognized among the Global 200 Most Important Ecoregions listed by WWF and now recognized internationally.
  2. The stretch of forests containing and adjoining the project site represents one of the last few remaining low- and medium-elevation tropical rainforests in the southern Western Ghats and are of immense intrinsic conservation value. These areas provide vital and essential continuity with other forest tracts in the Anamalai region in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and their disruption or fragmentation due to such ‘development’ projects will have detrimental effects in the short- and long-term. The detrimental effects will not be restricted to the submergence area, but will extend over tens of square kilometers and indefinitely into the future because of associated disturbances to the habitat and ecology as is clearly evidenced from earlier such projects along the Western Ghats.
  3. The river course, where the project is planned, is one of the last remaining habitats for a magnificent bird species, the Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthrococeros coronatus), which is an endangered species listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. The species has declined or disappeared in many areas along the Western Ghats, for many reasons, including the destruction of their favoured low-elevation riverine forest habitat by hydel projects, agriculture, and other exploitative forces.
  4. The region of the proposed project is home to all four species of hornbills (all of which are in Schedule I) known to occur in the Western Ghats: Malabar Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros griseus, endemic to Western Ghats), Malabar Pied Hornbill (endemic to India and Sri Lanka), Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornis), and Indian Grey Hornbill (O. birostris, endemic to India).
  5. The project will have severe effects on wildlife populations by additional fragmentation of forest habitat affecting endangered mammals such as Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), lion-tailed macaques (Macaca silenus), tiger (Panthera tigris), among a multitude of other native plant and animal species.
  6. In addition, such ecological disruption will also lead to losses to people due to increased human-wildlife conflict, loss of ecosystem services, and loss of opportunities for sustainable, regulated, non-consumptive uses of these areas.

We therefore believe it to be essential that you recommend to the concerned authorities to halt the project immediately and entertain no further applications for this or other similar projects in this area.

It is a measure of our maturity, vision, and pragmatism as a nation that we prevent such harmful projects, which will only impoverish our natural heritage and renege on our social responsibility to present and future generations.

Yours sincerely,

Drs. Divya Mudappa & T. R. Shankar Raman
Senior Scientists
Nature Conservation Foundation

Field Address:

Drs. Divya Mudappa & T. R. Shankar Raman
Rainforest Restoration Research Station
8/364 Cooperative Colony
Valparai 642 127
Tamil Nadu

Tel.: 04253 221527
E-mail: podocarp

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