Kochi: Environmentalists and nature enthusiasts are battling against KSEB project to install towers in Shanthivanam which may prove destructive to the rich flora and fauna that the 1.98 acres grove at Vazhikulangara in Ernakulam district holds.
The Mannam-Vypeen power line of 110 KV will pass across the groves and a electricity tower will be constructed right in the middle of Shanthivanam. Five pits extending to a depth of 50m have to be dug and some 30 cent land will be covered in sludge on which no vegetation will grow. Further, the safety area on both sides of the power line will take up 11 metres land each and will be kept bare of trees and plants. Opposition to the project arises due to the blatant destruction of the ecologically important space which rather deserves protection and conservation.
Bountiful with Nature’s creations
A rich diversity of trees and creepers alike, migratory birds and butterflies, Shanthivanam groves is the ideal spot to experience Nature at close quarters. The patch of land houses 124 kinds of trees and medicinal herbs, some ancient and rare. Of the 138 species of birds spotted here, three species have been found only in the Western Ghats and 8 other kinds listed to be on the verge of extinction. Unchecked encroachment of forest lands has forced birds, insects and snakes to take refuge in the groves, itself located near a national highway. The hotspot also boasts of 49 varieties of dragonflies and butterflies species numbering to 147.The figures were verified by a study conducted by Kerala Forest Research Institute,
Shanthivanam- A community forest and heritage site
Comprising of three naturally rich groves, the 200 year old biodiversity site is the ancestral property of the renowned environmentalist P R Ravindranath’s wife. Ravindranath who was part of the Save Silent Valley Project and Kakkakuttam ( a children’s drama group) has conducted many a classes in Shanthivanam instilling awareness about ecology and nature. He is fondly remembered as Shanthivanam Ravi.
The ecological site is today owned by Ravindranath’s daughter Meena Menon who lives with her daughter within Shanthivanam premises.
KSEB atrocities, unhelpful administration: Meena Menon
The initial demand for land was 0.62 cent to erect pillars but as the project progressed approximately 30 cent land came under sludge. The KSEB had promised only one tree would be axed but now the expected numbers are to go beyond 48, with already 11 being cut.
“I came to know about the power line only when the KSEB officials came to earmark the area for the tower in 2013. A complaint was lodged with the District Collector but there was no relief from the district administration. Later, I filed a petition before the High Court which was rejected on April 5 this year. The very next day, the KSEB started construction work at Shanthivanam without asking for permission,” says Menon. She also remarks how her application to the Panchayat to include Shanthivanam on the biodiversity list met with cold enthusiasm. Menon is also unaware of any alternative plans that the KSEB may have.
Menon adds that she was informed that the power alignment had been altered to suit the needs of some people and wonders why the same cannot be done to protect Shanthivanam. She plans to discuss the issue with the district collector.
KSEB remarks that maximum precautions have been taken to execute the project with minimum damage to Shanthivanam. The power lines will be aligned at a height of 19.4 m to protect the trees. A smaller foundation has been designed to save maximum land and instead of the usual 3 cent land for the tower only 0.62 cent will be used.
The KSEB argues that even the alternative plan proposed to change the alignment of the lines towards the north side of Shanthivanam was rejected by the complainant. The project had got government approval way back in 1999 and the work had commenced only after receiving confirmation from the district collector and high court, remarked the Board Officials.
Unrelenting KSEB puts future ecology in danger
Shanthivanam can be saved provided the KSEB agrees to make a slight change in the alignment of the power lines and more discussions with the organisation is needed, opines Dr V S Vijayan, former head, State Biodiversity Board. Further studies by the Kerala Forest Research Institute can help identify more species in the groves and also make it an important site for environmental research. The sludge and debris resulting from the construction work will ruin chances of vegetation growth in the place, warns Dr Vijayan.
Urgent Need to Conserve
Menon and other enthusiasts hope to leave behind the enriched diversity and nature spot for future generations to enjoy. Menon considers it a prized possession and can never think of selling the plot.