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Here’s What Needs to be Done to Help Kerala’s Santhivanam Live

SALIM ALI FOUNDATION CALLS UPON GOVT, KSEB TO CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES

In light of the controversy surrounding Kerala State Electricity Board’s (KSEB) proposed Mannam – Cherai 110 KV power line that has been designed to pass through the centre of Santhivananam, an immensely ecologically rich area, the Salim Ali Foundation has mooted a set of alternatives so as to help the eco zone live on.

The Foundation has said that if the power line goes straight, the damage would be much less, and so it has suggested a route just five meters on the north of the straight line which will not cause much damage to the age old forest system of Santhivanam. 

The Foundation has also suggested that a deviation just opposite the one being implemented (from the eastern tower to north east and then from there to join the tower on the west) could be looked at as an alternative. The distance for the alternative route is less than that of the present design. Moreover, no forest and natural vegetation will be affected by this alternative route.

Further, laying of underground cable may also be explored, though it could be expensive. Exploring the feasibility of using 33 kV aerial bunched cables, if required two or three of them, supported on standard electric posts, has also been suggested.  These insulated cables would avoid the hazards of bare conductors causing faults while tree branches touch them.

The Santhivanam row had been raging in Kerala’s public space ever since the KSEB lined up plans to construct a tower at the centre, irrespective of the protest by the land owner and other nature lovers. Dr V S Vijayan, renowned environmentalist, and chairman of the Salim Ali Foundation, in a note said that it appears quite illogical that the line from east to west instead of passing straight, taking a deviation from east to south and then south to north-west.  The construction of the tower and pulling the line are disastrous to the integrity of the forest ecosystem and the total biodiversity of the area, he pointed out.

Santhivanam is a 1.98 acre forest is a sacred grove, at less than 4 km south of North Parur town along the west of NH 66 towards Ernakulam. A privately owned forest patch conserved traditionally by the same family, for the last 200 years, has Meena Menon as its current owner. Menon has dedicated herself to conserve this patch of forest forever for kindling the love for nature among the children – a certainly remarkable vision and commitment rare to be seen when the whole world is blindly following the pursuit of amazing wealth, the Foundation note said.

Scientific studies by Salim Ali Foundation, Kerala Forest Research Institute, Malabar Natural History, Cochin natural History  show that it is a rare combination of the elements of evergreen, semi evergreen, lowland and midland vegetation with a closed and dense canopy clothed by the dense growth of phytogeographically unique woody climbers.

The area is quite rich in biodiversity with 206 species of plants, 49 of Odonates (damselflies and dragonflies), 131 of Butterflies, 12 of Amphibians, 20 of Reptiles, 138 of birds. Such a rich biodiversity, that too only in the recorded few taxa, shows the immense significance of the area for long-term conservation. The peculiar type of forests and the rich biodiversity therein reflects the past diversity and ecosystem in the area – remnant of the past ecosystem.

The Salim Ali Foundation stated that it is not clear why a deviation was made over the Santhivanam instead of taking the line straight. The explanation given by the KSEB at the time of the meeting called by the District Collector was that if it goes straight, a sacred grove would be affected. It is to be noted that the sacred grove is not just a stone adorned by sandal and turmeric paste. It is with the surrounding forests with all its associations including plants and other biota, the note added.

Dr Vijayan, in his note on behalf of the Salim Ali Foundation, called upon the KSEB and the government to consider the proposed alternatives. He added that the Foundation looks forward to a prudent decision in this regard.

Pointing out that the Government of Kerala under its Haritha Keralam Mission has been implementing a project to create Pachathuruthu (green zone) in every Panchayat of Kerala, he added that KSEB’s present work destroying the already existing Pachathuruthu will be diametrically opposite to this creative and beneficial programme of the Government.                                                                

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