“If they want to implement the Athirappilly power project then they should bury all of us including the broods in the walls of the dam. If the officials have such temerity then they can go ahead with the project”. When Geetha, the chieftain of Vazhachal tribal settlement says this we can see the fire to fight in her eyes.
Geetha along with the other adivasi’s of the Kadar community in the Athirappilly- Vazhachal region is all set to protest against the proposed project which the Pinarayi Vijayan led Left democratic Front has placed in the forefront. The Kadar community which is majority in this particular area will be affected in a grander scale once the Athirappilly hydroelectric project kicks off. Even before the ink gets dried out after being sworn in as the Chief Minister of the state, Pinarayi has come up with a project which would cost the life of a particular civic itself. It’s not only about the people but also about the environmental damage that may occur.
For a common man, the decision taken by the LDF government may appear to be one which has been taken in haste. CM’s choice cannot be seen as a sudden decision and one must go back to 1998 and the stand of the then Electricity minister, Pinarayi Vijayan.
It is not a surprise that huge projects especially power projects are attached with the environment in catch 22 situations. The place or the projects may change but the victim remains the same and sadly it’s the tribal who are victimised again here. An important area where the officials keep silence is where these people would be accommodated or rehabilitated. It is sure that a cliché answer would be there for this question- ‘government will provide everything for them’. When the ‘Kochi Post’ team met the affected people, we realised none from the tribal community was ready to believe in such promises.
The tribal community in Vazhachal narrated out their history and it was found that these people were made to wander from everywhere they settle. The story starts from Parambikulam electric project. When such a mission was started in Parambikulam, they were shifted to Peringalkoothu. But again the Peringalkoothu dam turned villain. They were forced to settle in the areas of Athirappilly this time. Some among the tribal went to Malakkappara region and some to the colonies in Vellikkulangara. For a civic who depends on the forest and its resources, a life without that eco system would be really difficult and hard to survive as it plays a key role in the life of the tribe.
The area which would be affected more with the Athirappilly project is the colonies of Vazhachal and Pokalappara. 72 families in the Vazhachal region and 28 in the Pokalappara region are under the threat of rehabilitation because of the project. Moreover they are concerned for their forest which is their place of survival and living.
The one thing that the government would see as a barrier in coming up with the project would be the Forest Rights Act. Such an Act provides the breathing gap for the Kadar, as it gives complete power to administer and conserve the forest themselves. If the government follows the rule, it may take some time to fight with the tribe and stride over them as the Forest Act is in Kadar’s favour. The community approval is a must for the State Government to go ahead with the project.
“Forest Right Act gives us the right for the woodland, social forest rights and individual forest rights. We are fully confident that we can defend the Government’s stand in the Court. There are 13 adivasi colonies in Athirappilly panchayath in total. Out of that 9 are included in this Forest Right Act (8 Kadar community and 1 Malayan community). In the earlier reports given by the agencies and board who came for the survey didn’t mentioned the tribal school, Anganvadi and even forest headquarters in their reports. This itself was wrong. Their aim is to delude the public and go ahead with the project. They do not lose anything if we are uprooted. Don’t think Adivasi can live anyway. If such an intent is there in the minds of the officials better understand that it is not going to happen anymore”, says Geetha.
The tribes of Vazhachal settlement says in uniformed voice that if the Chief Minister of Kerala has said something in relation with the Athirappilly electric project, he must take note of the fact that he has never made a visit to their place before on this regard. One among them says, “At least he has to come here and understand how the people will be affected by the project.” He adds, “Why these Ministers and others do not consider us as humans?”
Chalakudy River supplies water to 7 dams including an irrigation dam. Its quiet evident that if another dam comes to add on to the number, the water may not be sufficient. The local people are aware of this fact. But not the officials! Often during the summer, the people residing near Peringalkoothu take water from the pits. And an emotional side to the Athirappilly project is that the starting point of the project (In between Vazhachal and Pokalappara) is the place where the Kadar community practises their customs after the funeral of a person in their community. In all sense, the cultural and humanitarian rights of a particular community are in a call of danger in Athirappilly.
Social worker and retired ICDS supervisor P. V. Geethalakshmi who has worked in close with the colonies of Athirappilly and Attapadi shared the view that, “How the powerful hands tries to conquer the tribes looks very sad. It is just like taking out and throwing a maggot from a plant. The culture of these people are being destroyed.”
Subran, the chieftain of Pokalappara also opined that, “We cannot survive without forest. We depend upon forest for food. These projects are not going to help us. We are strongly against this.”
All of us should realise the fact, how the last summer made us suffer. A number of deaths were reported from various parts of the state. Kerala hasn’t faced such a summer never before. Still the Government and officials are turning the face against the nature. Everyone should start thinking that if a single tree can be protected, it would be a relief for the future. Only by spreading this message the environment can be protected. If we cannot do this, then what ever we do on an Enviornmental day or how much ever saplings we plant, it would not be enough to save this planet earth.
Kadar-This civic is one now. They know otherwise there are hands which are ready to exploit them. Geetha, the chieftain of Vazhachal is leading them the right way now, for a right cause. “I do not have politics. I want to rescue my society. I know my community don’t have education, nor knowledge. But I won’t allow anyone this time to drive us away. We understand things little bit now”.