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Source: The Hindu, Dated 20th June 2006

The Rs.1.5-crore dynamic lighting scheme is part of the Rs.5-crore waterfall development project.

THRISSUR: The move to illuminate the Athirappilly waterfalls by dynamic lighting, ignoring warnings of ecological damage by the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), is worrying environmentalists and local communities. The Rs.1.5-crore dynamic lighting scheme is a part of the Rs.5-crore Athirappilly waterfalls development project proposed by the Department of Tourism and promoted earlier by the former Chalakudy MLA Savitri Lakshmanan.

Replying to a Government query about the feasibility of the dynamic lighting scheme, the KFRI, in a letter dated April 27, 2005, stated that the move was not desirable. The KFRI pointed out the ecological importance of the region and warned that any such move would have its impact on biodiversity. Artificial lighting affects aquatic invertebrates through changes in photoperiodic behavior, the KFRI wrote.

Impact of artificial lighting

Electric light can severely affect the behavior of nocturnal insects. In 1950, the Robinson Brothers stated that a high general level of illumination causes night-flying insects to settle as they would normally do at daybreak; so feeding, breeding and egg-laying activities cease. Artificial light can affect mating of moths and the behavior patterns of birds. Nocturnal mammals would be deterred from using established foraging and breeding areas. Light pollution can disorient various reptiles and amphibians and kill them. Research has shown that artificial sky glow from cities disorients migrating birds and is responsible for high mortality.

UDF Government move

In August 2005, the United Democratic Front Government wrote to the KFRI to re-examine the scheme and suggest permissible levels of lighting, duration, and safeguards to the followed. The information we gave the Government in April 2005 on the impact of artificial lighting on the wetland ecosystem was based on international studies, which were applicable to Athirappilly as well. In September, the KFRI wrote to the Government that it could not give information on permissible levels of artificial lighting as it had not conducted studies in this regard," says J. K. Sharma, director, KFRI.

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On March 21, 2006, the Government issued an order that artificial lighting may be limited to one hour every day, between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. The order said the equipment for artificial lighting and related structures should be installed outside the forest and that the work is executed through the Vana Samrakshana Samithy. The VSS should maintain the scheme in accordance with Participatory Forest Management rules. The project report stated that 1,000 watt and 90 lm lights should be used and the intensity should be brought to the lowest levels possible.

The Government ordered that the equipment should be kept outside the forest to evade clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest under Section II of the 1980 Forest Conservation Act, environmentalists allege. "How can you justify the scheme maintaining that the equipment is kept outside the reserve forest when its effect can be felt inside? Keeping the source of light outside the forest does not solve the problem so long as the light is there. Moreover, the Athirappilly waterfall is not wide and dynamic lighting will hardly enhance its beauty. The flow of water will further be reduced if the proposed Athirappilly hydroelectric project is implemented," says an environmentalist.

The dynamic lighting scheme is being implemented in order to cater to the interests of a few private tourist resort companies and water theme parks, environmentalists allege. They urge Forest Minister Benoy Viswom to revoke the dynamic lighting scheme considering its severe ecological impact. On June 8, a meeting was held at Chalakudy to discuss the Athirappilly waterfall development project. It was attended by Ecotourism Director K. G. Mohanlal, Chalakudy Divisional Forest Officer M. I. Varghese and representatives of Kerala Irrigation Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (KIDCO). On June 9, Conservator of Forests N. Sasidharan wrote to the Government, calling for a re-examination of the dynamic lighting scheme considering KFRI's warnings about ecological damage.

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