While inaugurating a bridge in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday, Kerala Minister for Public Works G Sudhakaran said that the proposed waste to energy plant will not be set up at the ecologically sensitive Peringammala panchayat in the Ponmudi valley in the district.
A group of environmentalists and locals in Peringammala have been protesting for over a year citing the environmental hazards the plant would cause.
The Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve, under which Peringamala falls, is at the core of the Western Ghats, which is one of the eight hottest hotspots of biological diversity in the world. Sixty-eight per cent of the Agasthyamala Biosphere falls under a protected area and the remaining 32% is thickly populated with about 50,000 people living there, the activists protesting against the proposed plant cite. Also, according to them, 80% of the Myristica swamp (a type of freshwater swamp forest largely composed of species of Myristica) of the world is found in Peringammala.
The minister’s assurance, however, has not gone down well with the protesters. They demand either a cabinet decision or an official assurance from the government in this regard, saying that they would call off the strike only after that.
“Earlier ministers Kadakampally Surendran and AC Moideen had said the same, that the plant will not come up at Peringammala. Minister G Sudhakaran, while inaugurating the bridge, had said that the bridges were being completed to facilitate transport to the plant; though he corrected it immediately after he was alerted by local MLA DK Murali and district panchayat president VK Madhu,” wildlife photographer Sali Palode, who is part of the protesting group, tells TNM.
Sali asserts that the protest will not be called off unless the decision to shelve the plant comes as a notification or as an assurance from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
“It’s not a protest to be stopped at any time, it is a fight to protect the environment. This is a project that has been approved by the cabinet and hence we need an assurnce through an order,” Sali adds.
DK Murali, meanwhile, presented the issue twice at the State Legislative Assembly.
“The Peringammala plant is one of the seven cluster plants that were proposed in different locations in the state. The government issued the order for the cluster and hence it’s not possible to issue another order to shelve one plant in the cluster. Of the cluster, further action has been taken only for the plant at Njeliyamparampil in Kozhikode. It would take two more years to implement it once the agreement is signed. The government has been attempting to find another location owing to the issues cited in setting up the plant at Peringammala, hence the official decision has not come yet,” Murali tells TNM.
He further explains, “It’s only a proposal at Peringammala, it hasn’t moved further. The plant will not come up at Peringammala, however the plant will not be shelved but will be set up at an appropriate location. Local Self Government Minister AC Moideen, in a submission moved by me in the Assembly, said that the concerns of the people would be addressed. And the other plants would be set up after checking the functioning of the plant that would be set up first at Njeliyamparampil.”