Silent Valley National Park - History
The Silent Valley region is locally known as "Sairandhrivanam", which in Malayalam means Sairandhri's Forest. Sairandhri is Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas in the epic Mahabharata, who disguised herself as Sairandhri, the maid of a queen named Sudeshna’s, while her family was in exile. The Pandavas, deprived of their kingdom, set out on a 13-year exile. They wandered south, into what is now Kerala, until one day they came upon a magical valley where rolling grasslands met wooded ravines, a deep green river bubbled its course through impenetrable forest, where at dawn and twilight the tiger and elephant would drink together at the water's edge, where all was harmonious and man unknown. Beside that river, in a cave on a hill slope, the Pandavas halted.
In the 1950s, the Kerala State Electricity Board wanted to build a dam across the Kunti River, which flowed in the deep forest. Nationwide protests in India by environmentalists and mass publicity by the media led the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi to order the state government to abolish the hydroelectric project. The area was declared a National Park.
The park is actually named Indira Gandhi National Park, and Silent Valley is the name of the place, but it is also called Silent Valley National Park. It is a wonderful place to visit for tourists.
The first Western investigation of the watersheds of the Silent Valley area was in 1857 by the botanist Robert Wight. The British named the area Silent Valley because of a perceived absence of noisy cicadas. Another story attributes the name to the anglicisation of Sairandhri. A third story, refers to the presence there of many lion-tailed macaques Macaca silenus.
In 1914 the forest of the Silent Valley area was declared a reserve forest, however, from 1927 to 1976 portions of the Silent Valley forest area were subjected to forestry operations. In 1928 the location on the Kunthipuzha River at Sairandhri was identified as an ideal site for electricity generation and in 1958 a study and survey of the area was conducted and a hydroelectric project of 120 MV costing Rs. 17 crore was proposed by the Kerala State Electricity Board.
Silent Valley is home to the largest population of lion-tailed macaques, an endangered species of primate. Public controversy over their habitat led to the establishment of Silent Valley National Park.
In 1973 the valley became the focus of "Save Silent Valley", India's fiercest environmental movement of the decade, when the Kerala State Electricity Board decided to implement the Silent Valley Hydro-Electric Project (SVHEP) centered on a dam across the Kunthipuzha River. The resulting reservoir would flood 8.3 km2 of virgin rainforest and threaten the lion-tailed macaque. In 1976 the Kerala State Electricity Board announced a plan to begin dam construction and the issue was brought to public attention.
Romulus Whitaker, founder of the Madras Snake Park and the Madras Crocodile Bank, was probably the first person to draw public attention to the small and remote area.
In 1983 the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, decided to abandon the Project and on November 15 the Silent Valley forests were declared as a National Park. On September 7, 1985 the Silent Valley National Park was formally inaugurated and a memorial at Sairandhri to Indira Gandhi was unveiled by Sri. Rajiv Gandhi, the next Prime Minister. On September 1, 1986 Silent Valley National Park was designated as the core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Since then, a long-term conservation effort has been undertaken to preserve the Silent Valley ecosystem.
In 2001 a new hydro project was proposed and the "Man vs. Monkey debate" was revived. The proposed site of the dam (64.5 m high and 275 m long) is just 3.5 km downstream of the old dam site at Sairandhri, 500 m outside the National Park boundary.
The Kerala Minister for Electricity called The Pathrakkadavu dam (PHEP) an "eco-friendly alternative" to the old Silent Valley project. The claim was that the submergence area of the PHEP would be a negligible .041 km2 compared to 8.30 km2 submergence of the 1970s (SVHEP). From January to May 2003, a rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out. On November 15, Minister for Forest Binoy Viswam said that the proposed buffer zone for Silent Valley would be declared soon.
On February 21, 2007 ex-Chief Minister A. K. Antony told reporters after a cabinet meeting that "when the Silent Valley proposal was dropped, the centre had promised to give clearance to the Pooyamkutty project. This promise, however, had not been honoured. The Kerala government has not taken any decision on reviving the Silent Valley Hydel Project".
On April 18, 2007, Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and his cabinet approved the Pathrakkadavu Hydro-electric project and sent it to the Union Government for environmental approval.
Territorial forests located around the national park have been subject to a working-plan to accomplish revenue oriented objectives such as extraction of bamboo and reed which affect the long-term conservation of the park. In addition Illegal activities such as ganja cultivation, setting forest fires, trapping and poaching wild animals, frequently occur in the territorial forests located in the immediate vicinity of the national park. This has resulted in degradation of habitat and reduced forest cover, which has adverse effects on the long-term survival of the core area of the national park.
On November 21, 2009, Union Minister of Forest and Environment Jairam Ramesh and Kerala Forest Minister Binoy Viswam declared, while inaugurating the silver jubilee celebration of Silent Valley National Park in Palakkad, that the buffer zone of the Park would be made an integral part of it in order to ensure better protection of the area. This means that the total park area is now increased to 236.74 square kilometers (91 sq mi).
On June 6, 2007 the Kerala cabinet approved the buffer zone proposal. The new 147.22 km2 zone will include 80.75 km2 taken from Attapady Forest Range, 27.09 km2 from Mannarkkad Forest Range and 39.38 km2 from Kalikavu Forest Range and consolidated to form a new range, Bhavani Forest Range, of 94 km2 and 54 km2 would be brought under the existing Silent Valley Range of the National Park. The Cabinet also sanctioned 35 staff to protect the area and two new forest stations in Bhavani range at Anavai and Thudukki. Forest Minister Benoy Viswom said "the zone would have reserve forest status and tribals in the area would not be affected. The decision reaffirmed the commitment of the LDF Government to protection of environment. The zone is a necessity, not just of the State but also of the nation."
The proposal was then sent to Kerala Minister for Electricity, Mr. A.K. Balan, who has voiced the need for setting up the Pathrakadavu hydroelectric project in the proposed southwest buffer zone of the National Park, the Thenkara Range of the Mannarkkad Forest Division. As of May 9, 2007 Mr. Balan has not given his opinion on the buffer zone proposal.
In August 2006, the new Minister for Forests, Benoy Viswom, approved a proposal from the Conservator of Forests for a 148 km2 buffer zone around the core area of the park. The proposal says: "It is felt absolutely essential that an effective buffer of forests should be immediately formed around the national park in order to save the world famous Silent Valley National Park from all potential dangers. This can only be achieved by bringing the management of Silent Valley National Park as well as the proposed buffer zone under one management umbrella to insulate the park from all possible dangers." The proposed buffer zone will have 94 km2 in Attappady Reserve Forest east of the Kunthipuzha and 54 km2 taken from the Mannarkaad range and Nilambur south division west of the river.
In January 2006, the former Kerala Minister for Forest and Environment, A. Sujanapal, said the Government would consider the demand for a 600 km2 buffer zone for Silent Valley National Park made by Bharathapuzha Protection Committee, Malampuzha Protection Committee, One Earth One Life and Jana Jagratha. A buffer zone proposal was made in the 1986 park management plan but not implemented.
In 1979, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, then Secretary to the Department of Agriculture, visited the Silent Valley area and suggested that 389.52 km2 including the Silent Valley (89.52 km2), New Amarambalam (80 km2), Attappadi (120 km2) in Kerala and Kunda in Coimbatore (100 km2) reserve forests, should be developed into a National Rainforest Biosphere Reserve.
· UCN (Ashkhabad, USSR, 1978) passed resolution recommending the protection of the lion-tailed macaque in Silent Valley area and Palakkad.
· In 1979, government of Kerala passed an enactment viz. Silent Valley protection area (protection of ecological balance) act. 1979.
· Dr. Salim Ali, eminent ornithologist visited the valley and appealed for abandoning the hydel project.
· Kerala Sasthra Sahithya parishath published a techno- economic and socio-political assessment report on the Silent Valley hydroelectric project.
· A writ petition was filed against the clear felling of forests in the hydroelectric project area before the Hon. High court of kerala and the Hon. Court ordered to stop the clear felling.
· Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the renounced agricultural scientist visited the Silent Valley area and suggested to develop the Silent Valley and the adjoining forests as a national rain forest Biosphere Reserve.
· In January 1980, Hon. High Court of Kerala lifted the stay order on clear felling.
· In 1980, Smt. Indira Gandhi, the then Hon. Prime minister of India requested the government of Kerala to stop further works in the project area till all aspects were fully discussed.
· In December 1980, government of Kerala declared the Silent Valley area, excluding the hydroelectric project area, as a National Park.
· A multi-disciplinary committee, with prof. M.G.K. Menon as chairman was constituted to examine, whether the hydroelectric project is feasible without any significant ecological damage.
· In early 1983, Prof. Menon committee submitted its report.
· After the careful study of the Menon report, the then hon. Prime minister of India decided to abandon the hydroelectric project.
· On 15th November, 1984 the Silent Valley forests were declared as a National Park.
· On 7th September 1985, the Silent Valley national park was formally inaugurated by Shri. Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India.
· On 1st September 1986, the Silent Valley National Park was included in the core area of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
· On 11th June 2007 a Buffer Zone of 148 Sq. KM added to Silent Valley National Park.
· On 23rd September 2007, Sri. V S Achuthanandan, Hon. Chief Minister of Kerala, dedicated the Buffer Zone to the nation