Board seeks return of ₹4.11 crore it had deposited as seigniorage rate of trees
Its curtains for the controversial Athirappilly Hydro Electric Power project proposed across Chalakudy, it seems.
Kerala State Electricity Board Limited (KSEB), the project proponent, conveyed its in-principle decision not to go ahead with the project to the Forest Department two years ago, while seeking ₹4.11 crore it had deposited with the department as the seigniorage rate of trees that were to be axed at the project site.
Though proposed in 1996, KSEB could not take the project ahead as it was faced with a series of protests and litigations. The proposed 163 MW project had invited the wrath of environmentalists, who feared that it would destroy the riparian ecosystem of Athirappilly. Jairam Ramesh, the former Union Environment Minister, had castigated the project as a perfect recipe for an ecological disaster in the State.
The Western Ghats Ecological Expert Panel led by ecologist Madhav Gadgil had also denounced the project it its report. The Ooru Sabha (tribal council) of the Kadar tribe of Vazhachal forest had denied permission for the project by invoking the Forest Rights Act conferred on the community.
KSEB officials first conveyed their decision to drop the project at a meeting convened by the Chief Secretary on October 25, 2019. Later, the decision was reiterated at a meeting convened by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (forest management), where the proceedings for the repayment of seigniorage were prepared, said senior forest officials.
Responding to the developments, B. Ashok, the Chairman and Managing Director, KSEB, said one cannot say that KSEB had withdrawn from the project, though the seigniorage was sought back. The board was of the view that the project should be implemented though a consensus process guided by the State government, he said.
The seigniorage was remitted during the first phase of the environment clearance (EC) of the project as the value of trees that were to be cut down and related works. Even if the Forest Department remitted the money back, the board could resubmit the application for counting the trees and estimating the cost of the trees that were to be axed, he said.
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