A grim picture of devastation of Attapadi hills for installing windmills.
Nanji is a deeply worried woman and has lost hope at the twilight of her life. The wind farm being set up by market leader Suzlon Energy Ltd, at Attapadi, a major tribal habitat in the Palakkad district of Kerala, has deprived her of land for farming and cattle grazing. But she is not the only victim of `development'. The main livelihood -- farming and cattle rearing -- of over 35,000 tribals in this beautiful valley on the north end of Western Ghatts has withered off with the coming up of the wind farm.
The Pune-based firm has chopped up the peaks of nearly 20 towering hills at Attapadi to set up windmills and constructed 20-metre-wide roads through these hills to transports towers and turbines to the windmill sites on the hilltops. The debris from the demolition is strewn precariously around the hills, threatening to reach the Bhavani River. Bhavani is the only water source of the area as well as for the neighbouring Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu.
As an aftermath, the brooks and streams originating from these hills have dried up, making cultivation on the hills impossible for the tribals. Their cattle that grazed on these hills are now starving. In fact, the local tribes of Irula and Muduva are already facing extinction.
A hilltop being leveled to set up windmill in Attapadi
This indiscriminate human intervention in this ecological hotspot has worsened the climate situation which had already got affected due to massive denuding of forests in the area.
"We have lost our rain with the coming of these windmills. The hills have dried up and no seed will sprout here. We and our cattle will starve to death. There is no one to take care of us," Nanji complains to Mother Earth raising both her hands to the sky.
|Suzlon, meanwhile, paints a rosy picture of its effort to protect the hills. "We have taken enough precautions in consultation with various government departments to prevent any environmental damage. Proper care has been taken to see that in no way does our wind farm affect the local population. We have even adopted soil conservation programmes like planting saplings on the hills,'' claims Suresh Kumar, Suzlon representative in the State.
||"We have lost our rain with the coming of these windmills. The hills have dried up and no seed will sprout here. We and our cattle will starve to death." - A tribal from Attapadi
Sadly the scene at the site contradicts the firm's claim.
A ROAD TO DISASTER: This newly constructed road along several hills in Attapadi to transport windmill towers and turbines to hilltops is posing threat to man, animal and nature.
The green tag attached to windmills exempts them from environmental clearance, which has led to the mindless devastation of nature with impunity. "There is no need for environmental clearance for windmill projects," claims Kerala Pollution Control Board and Agency for Non-Conventional Energy and Rural Technology (ANERT), the state nodal agency of the project, in unison.
Astonishingly, the project that's inflicting such irreparable damage to nature is not even capable of generating steady power. The generation fluctuates widely depending on the wind speed. The dossier at the local power house adds credence to this. It says that the 24-hour combined generation from the installed 27 windmills (of the proposed 31) varies from 97,949 units to 12,450 units.
"While thermal and hydel plants can generate as much as seven million units, the windmill is capable of generating only 15-20 per cent of this," points out K.R. Unnithan who was a deputy chief engineer with Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and leader of KSEB Officers' Association.
A log view of a chopped up hill top and the road under construction to transport the windmill towers and turbines
Instead of a power-generating venture, the windmill seems more like a tax-free fund parking avenue for businessmen, film stars, sportspersons and corporate houses. Under the present policy of the Centre, each windmill can be sold to investors. 80 per cent depreciation, 10-year tax holiday, and various indirect tax benefits offer an attractive tax-saving option to high earners and businesses to invest in windmills. From the second year, the investment is accounted as expenditure. However, the revenue from the power sales never comes close to the "expenditure". As a result, the company is perennially in the red, enabling the investors to escape the tax net.
Suzlon sells a unit -- 650 kw machine and 1.2 acres of land at the site area -- for Rs.3.8 crore at Attapadi. It is estimated that each unit sells power worth Rs. 60 lakh to the KSEB annually. The
sale deeds show that most of the units have been set up on tribal or forest land.
Local tribals allege that decades ago, non-tribals, mostly Christians from Central Kerala, and Gounders, an agrarian community in Coimbatore had migrated to Attapadi in large numbers and encroached on forest and farming land. They allegedly fabricated title deeds by greasing the palms of revenue officials. Now, a large chunk of tribal land belongs to them. The pleas of the numerically, socially and politically backward tribals to retrieve their land fall on deaf years.
With tourism and realty sectors flourishing in the State, there is a mad scramble for grabbing the land in Attapadi -- an idyllic hill station near Ootty. This race for land is taking a heavy toll on the tribals. Many windmill investors have business interests in tourism. Famous jewelery merchants Bhima Brothers and Poppy Umbrella who have invested in two units each are already in the hospitality business.