Silent Valley Movement
The densely-forested valley in the Palghat district of north Kerala is known as the ‘Silent Valley’. It has a triangular shape. On two sides are the Kozhikode and Palghat cities in Kerala and on the other side is located the Coimbatore city in neighboring Tamil Nadu.
How did the name ‘Silent Valley’ originate?
The forest is so deep and dark and peaceful that the slightest chirping of crickets can be heard. The general silence of the valley has given the name ‘Silent Valley’. It is told that the ‘Pandavas’ settled in this valley after they lost their kingdom. This valley extends over 90 square kilometers. The river Kunthipura flows across the valley from north to south. ‘Pura’ in Malayalam means river. The river originates from a height of 2400 m. after covering 15 km. of plain land, the river has abruptly narrowed down flowing along slopes about 1000 meters down.
Quite long back, the state government announced the construction of a dam at the upper reach of the sloping stream. A British technical expert suggested in 1928 and 1929 that hydel power can be generated easily from this stream. The first survey on this project was carried out in 1958. The Planning Commission approved this project in 1973. The project planned to generate 120 megawatt of electricity initially and 240 megawatt subsequently. There was not much protest initially. In 1976, the project attracted the attention of some environmentalists. A task-force was formed under the leadership of the then Vice-President of the World Wild-Life Fund, India. After one year, the task-force in its survey-report, advised not to undertake the project. The report observed that the implementation of the project would result in the destr4uction of ‘the richest expression of life that has evolved on this planet’. It, however, concluded that if the state government had no option but to go ahead with the project, the construction of the dam must comply the suggested 17-point guideline. Subsequently, in his letter of 9th October, 1979, the leader of the task-force owned his earlier proposal as a personal mistake and pleaded for a total banning of the project.
In 1976, Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), the largest popular-science organization in Kerala, engaged its serious attention on this project. A proposal to abandon the project was accepted in the State Conference of the organization and KSSP launched a mass signature campaign. Some members of the State Legislative Assembly were pressing for early implementation of the project. As a result, a resolution endorsing the project was accepted in the Legislative Assembly. The KSSP published a campaign booklet titled: “The Silent Valley Hydroelectric Project – A Techno-Economic and Socio-Political Assessment”. At one point of time, the KSSP movement made the state government postpones the implementation of the project. In May 1979, Morarji Desai, the then Prime Minister of India directed the state government to expedite the completion of the project. Many environmentalists including the noted ornithologist Salim Ali voiced their objections. The International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) also registered its disapproval. A public interest litigation case was filed in the High Court which was, however, dismissed subsequently. Finally, in December 1980, the Kerala Government announced the scrapping of the project. The Silent Valley was declared as a National Park, KSSP has never played an anti-developmental role, it only pleased that the usefulness or otherwise of a project be judged both from the perspectives of development and environment.