Editor's Note: A discussion on whether the Athirappilly hydel project could really materialize. Onmanorama presents all the views.
Whenever the Kerala government or the Kerala State Electricity Board tried to revive the Athirappilly hydel power project, the CPI was quick to raise its objections. The party, currently a partner in the ruling alliance, is against the project in principle and in practice. What prompts the party to block the project? Party state secretary Kanam Rajendran speaks.
When the CPM says that the government would go ahead with the Athirappilly project only after forming a consensus within the Left Democratic Front, they mean that the CPI has to agree to it. Is the CPI the only hurdle to the project?
There are disagreements related to several matters including environmental clearance. That is why the Left Democratic Front decided to have a relook on the implementation of the project. The project was deliberately kept out of the election manifesto because of the disagreements within the alliance. Everyone is aware that the project is not essential for Kerala right now. The KSEB keeps flaunting it no matter who is in power.
Are you objecting to the project purely out of concern for the environment?
Not only that. Our situation has changed since 1998 when the project was mooted. If hydroelectric projects were economical during the period of the Idukki project, they have become costly now. We might be able to generate electricity of Rs 15 per unit after 12 years. But why do we need it when we have a contract to buy electricity for Rs 4 per unit for 25 years. The Rajasthan government has a solar power project that costs only Rs 2.48 per unit. Kerala lags in that field.
The government and the CPM point out that the project has received all clearances including environmental clearance.
All those things happened a while ago. Our current challenges are not exactly the same as in the 1990s or 2000s. We are more aware of environmental degradation after suffering from two floods. We cannot be blind towards climate change. We have a responsibility to conserve nature for future generations. If you ask me what is wrong in cutting two trees, I have to ask you back why you are so adamant on cutting trees.
Though there is strong objection to the project, it keeps coming back. Is it because of CPM’s interests?
These are unnecessary affairs. The KSEB has a division working exclusively for the Athirappilly project since 1998. We spent about Rs 14 lakh every month for that division which has 22 employees. They keep preparing some study or the other. They have to justify their salaries after all. We have to stop spending crores of rupees on a project that we all know is not going to happen. That division has to be disbanded. A construction lobby is also behind this. Their interests lie in prolonging existing projects and starting new ones.
There have to be some political interests too. Minister M M Mani has repeatedly said that he was in favour of the project.
That is because he is still maintaining old notions about electricity. When we are assured of cheaper electricity, why insist on producing it ourselves?
Do you agree to the clarification by the chief minister and the electricity minister that the renewing of the NOC was just a routine procedure?
No. Renewing a NOC maybe just a procedure when it is about an existing project. But why keep renewing it for a project which cannot be implemented. We have enough electricity. Isn’t it wise to let the forest in Athirappilly be as it is? They know that the CPI is against the project. They also know that forming a consensus is an impossibility. Still, they want to give it a try. Our stand is not illogical as minister A K Balan says.
Minister Balan says that the project will not affect the environment in any way.
That is not right. Why do 11 panchayats on the banks of the Chalakkudy river object to the project? They have pleaded not to block their source of drinking water by constructing a dam. Talks about the environment cannot be limited to the World Environment Day on June 5. It is not enough to plant a tree once a year.
Balan also said that several CPI leaders and the AITUC have supported the project.
I had worked as a state general secretary of the AITUC. The organisation has never supported the project. The union in the KSEB has asked that the project be advanced through a consensus without affecting the environment. That is not the opinion of the AITUC. Let Balan reveal the name of the CPI leader who had supported the project. Our party’s state conference and the district conference in Thrissur have taken a clear stand on the matter.
Does the CPI suggest any change in the environmental policies of the CPM?
The documents and resolutions taken at the CPM’s party congress have the same stand as that of the CPI. That is a stand taken by communists. We are trying to solve a problem in which resolutions and administrative decisions do not match.
Will the CPI try to put paid to this controversy by raising a demand to drop the project in a meeting of the LDF?
The Athirappilly project is not on the agenda of the LDF. Then why talk about it? I do not think that any ruler will insist on a project that cannot be implemented and that does not benefit the state in any way.