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Kerala committee urges tough stance on Cauvery

D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram

A committee appointed by the Kerala state government to study electricity development has taken a defiant stand on the Cauvery waters dispute.

The 26-member committee headed by Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member E Balanandan has recommended immediate commencement of work on three hydroelectric projects proposed on the tributaries of the Cauvery without waiting for clearance from the federal government or other agencies.

The projects, proposed 20 years ago, have been held up due to an interstate dispute over the river waters. The initial cost of the ventures was estimated at Rs 9 billion.

The committee felt that the immediate implementation of the projects is now essential to establish Kerala's right to the Cauvery waters as the state has been excluded from the dispute negotiations.

The committee noted that though Kerala has a right to share the river waters, the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are attempting to settle the dispute bilaterally and apportion the waters between themselves without consulting Kerala.

The committee's report, submitted to the Kerala government on Sunday, January 2, said the state's inaction for 22 years, even after a 1974 understanding, is being taken advantage of by neighbouring states.

The report noted that both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have constructed irrigation and power projects downstream without consulting the federal government.

It pointed out that there are no strictures against Kerala's projects from either the government of India or the Cauvery Tribunal nor are there any legal compulsions on the state to ensure water for downstream projects in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The committee insisted that Kerala's stand of desisting from executing its projects pending amicable settlement of disputes with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka is wrong.

The report felt that the state could not afford to surrender its entire water resources of the Cauvery tributaries to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as the hydroelectric sources in the state are limited.

The committee has also rejected the memorandum of understanding executed by the government with various agencies to generate 4300 MW of power using naphta as raw material.

The committee noted that large-scale dependence on naptha based thermal power generation is not considered good for the state. "There is practically no need to depend on this costly source of power," the report claimed.

The committee has also accused the federal government of giving the state a step-motherly treatment whenever the issue of environmental clearance for its projects has come up.

It claimed that the federal and the state governments have failed to recognise the subdued opposition to Kerala's projects on environmental grounds.

The committee called upon the state and the federal governments to quickly initiate the Kerala schemes and get environmental clearance done.

It said Kerala has lost heavily by shelving of several major projects, including the Silent Valley project, all on environmental grounds.

The new projects like the Pooyamkutty, are also turning out to be a casualty to environmental objections, the committee said. "Had at least three of these projects been cleared in the early Eighties, the state would have escaped from the sustained and worsening power crisis," the report claimed.

The committee has also mooted a separate power generation and finance company under the government to finance and undertake power projects. It has suggested several steps to ensure the autonomy of the Kerala State Electricity Board and a rostrum of 10 per cent on its investments.

The World Bank had denied funds to the board for its failure to revamp the organisation and ensure a return of minimum 3 per cent.

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