Anantpur district which is barren and arid today was once upon a time an area of massive dense forest cover. Timbaktu Collective was formed in 1990 by a young team of highly qualified individuals who believe that agriculture was the key to progress and that if the poor were organized in a collective to do organic farming even the barren wastelands of Anantpur district could be transformed. These young idealists purchased 32 acres of land, established a school, did organic farming, marketed organic cereals and pulses without the use of pesticides and established a weaving unit.

By 1993, Timbaktu Collective began very close collaboration with the 8 villages of Kalpavalli and other villages as well in an attempt to plant indigenous plant species and revive the forests in the area. Together with the villagers the planting of trees and eco-restoration work began and slowly over time one could see the beginnings of what would eventually become a dense forest. The eco restoration work consisted of the restoration of water bodies, soil moisture conservation, nursery development, fire prevention and de-siltation of tanks and other water bodies.

Kalpavalli: Ecstasy of range of micro-macro habitats and species association:

To understand the eco-services of Kalpavalli forest in terms of life support system and also to understand the impacts of Wind Energy project operations done in Kalpavalli region, a detailed study was done. Line transects were laid in different habitats like wetland, valley, hilltops, streams, cliffs, dense and degraded patches, grass patches, sacred groves, paddy fields, Toddy and Date palm groves, spring proximities, Windmill operation areas (in Kalpavalli), adjoining Guttur Reserve Forest, Wind Farms and Gold mine dumps of Ramagiri and other open areas. Attention was given to the Windmill legal (on purchased-authorised land) and illegal operations (on unauthorised area for road constructions without legal permissions) to understand the impacts of such projects on local vegetation, catchment area, streams and water flow towards tanks.

Surveys were conducted in terrestrial and aquatic (lentic and lotic) ecosystems. Trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, climbers were reported and specimen collected for herbarium. Threats, pressure on resources, community dependency on the forest, interlinkages between the forests, agriculture, pasture lands, windfarms were also studied to understand the status of the forest. Information on the historical profile of the area was collected from local community of Kalpavalli, authentic documents and members of Timbaktu Collective.

Kalpavalli: A saga of development in tune with Nature:

Kalpavalli has an enormous variety of plants and animals, both domesticated and wild, as also a wide array of habitats and ecosystems. This diversity meets the food, medicine, shelter, spiritual as well as the recreational needs of local people in and around the Kalpavalli region. It also ensures that ecological functions such as the supply of clean water, nutrient cycling and soil protection are maintained (soil erosion started due to irresponsible, illegal and unsystematic Windmill operations).

The diversity and richness of genes, species, habitats and ecosystems are the real wealth, far more important than money. Perhaps the most important value of biodiversity, particularly in a region like Anantpur, is that it meets the basic survival needs of a vast number of people. A large number of traditional communities depend, wholly or partially, on the surrounding natural resources for their daily needs of food, shelter, clothing, household goods, medicines, fertilizers, religious customs, economy etc.

In the preliminary survey a total of 387 species were reported from Kalpavalli forest, pasture patches, sacred groves, agriculture fields, Guttur RF fringe area (border area) and other outside areas of Kalpavalli. Out of 387 species, 3 belong to Cryptogamous group and 384 species belong to angiosperms. The plant diversity of Kalpavalli is expected to be well over 500 plant species, including cultivated and ornamental plants. The dominance of Poaceae family is because of the rich grasslands everywhere in the hillocks in Kalpavalli.

Fauna diversity is dependent on the flora of the area. The rich vegetation of Kalpavalli supports a range of non-chordate and chordate fauna diversity (more than 150 fauna species were recorded from the area). Non-chordate fauna recorded in Kalpavalli including Mantis, Grasshopper, Crickets, Dragonfly, Damselfly, Ant, Beetle, Honey Bee, Flies, Moths and Butterflies, Water bugs and Water skaters, Dragonflies and Damselflies (Odonates group-indicators of quality of the biotope), Centipedes and Millipedes, Mollusca (fresh water and land Snail species- feed on litters, fungi, dead plants and animals and help in their decomposition thereby enriching the soil; therefore often called as ‘Soil engineers’). Among the Chordate group, fish, amphibian, avifauna, small and big mammals were reported from different habitats.

Large numbers of local and migratory birds and animals are indicators of good habitat and food security in Kalpavalli. The Mushtikovila tank and adjoining plains are playing a role of corridor for the wildlife of Guttur Reserve Forest. There is a site in this corridor area where the local people discard dead bodies and thus it is a food zone for vultures, small and big carnivore animals and scavengers. In an easy language one can say that the Kalpavalli tanks and valleys provide food and water whereas Guttur RF provides safe hiding for animals.

The regenerated Kalpavalli forest area becomes a strong and sustainable life support system for the local community. About 86 agricultural crops grow in the fields. From the 8,000 acres on the Kalpavalli under regeneration, close to 7,000 carts loads of fodder were carried away by 3,000 farmers in 40 villages of Roddam, Ramagiri, Chennakothapalli and Penukonda mandals. Farmers even came from Thirumali of neighbouring Karnataka State. Additionally, the hills welcomed around 40,000 sheep from 23 villages. The regenerating hills had yielded Rs 27.50 lakhs of produce, and over 34,000 work-days of employment. The availability of fodder supports a great genetic diversity of cattle and small ruminants. Kalpavalli provides fuelwood, NTFPs, and many more ecoservices to the local community.

Clean Energy, Dirty Business:

Enercon, a company specializing in wind energy began negotiations with Government of Andhra Pradesh for the setting up of windmills and generation of wind energy in 2007. The company chose Kalpavalli and the surrounding areas for the setting up of 48 windmills because studies showed that the area had high potential for wind energy. Despite the area then being covered by forests, both the government as well as the company ignored this and referred to obsolete revenue records which showed the area as “wastelands”. Subsequently, the company and the government entered into purchase agreements for one acre plots at 48 strategic locations at throw away prices. Despite the introduction of Part IX in the Constitution of India dealing with the Panchayats (The smallest unit of Governance comprising of a group of villages) and powers given to the Gram Sabha (A meeting where all members of the village above voting age are eligible to attend and give their opinion) and Panchayats, neither the state government nor the company thought it fit to discuss the setting up of windmills in the Gram Sabhas and thereafter in the Panchayats. Meetings were held with government officials and with elected representatives and occasionally with some of the Sarpanch’s (Elected Head of the Panchayat). The State Government and the elected representatives were most keen to promote windmills as the investments were considerable and certain benefits would accrue to these officials personally.

Windmill intervention in Kalpavalli without proper Community perspective:

The cutting of top of the hill to create a flat area for the construction of the windmill, the making of the roads, the incessant heavy traffic up and down the hills and through the villages by trucks carrying the massive parts of the windmills, all created heavy dust pollution which settled on the trees and on the agricultural fields causing tremendous inconvenience to the people, the rise of temperature in the area, and the decline of agriculture. As road building required the mountains to be cut, the internal water aquifers were also cut and destroyed leading to a drastic decline in water availability through traditional sources. Even the main streams of the villages began to slowly dry up.

The Kalpavalli area was widely known for the abundance of grass that grew on the hill slopes which was more suitable for sheep and goats. Even during the drought periods Kalpavalli was one area where the grass grew in abundance and animals could graze and survive. The livelihood of the people of Kalpavalli depended, in no small measure, on these pasture lands which brought them livelihood and income. With the making of the roads, the cutting of the mountains, the destruction of the groundwater sources, the cutting of the trees for the construction activity, and the erection of 48 huge steel structures reaching high into the sky; the grass of Kalpavalli began to mysteriously diminish and now, in many parts, has disappeared altogether. The cattle are unable to graze on the mountains because the slopes of the mountains have been disrupted by the making of massive roads and by deep cuts made in the mountain side which make it impossible for the cattle to climb up. Grazing of cattle has therefore come to an end completely and with that a major source of livelihood for the people of Kalpavalli.

The construction work also caused huge amount of debris to spill into the adjacent fields and to fall into the tanks and water bodies thus destroying the water bodies wholly or partially and affecting livestock. The putting up of the windmills resulted in plastic and metal debris spread all over the area. Cattle ate this debris and died. To make matters worse the construction activity needed a huge amount of water and even afterwards windmills need a constant supply of water for the cooling of windmills. This water was taken by the company from the traditional water bodies of the villages without bothering to take permission and most often without payment and occasionally on the payment of some paltry amount. Water was also taken by the excessive drawing of water from the tube wells on private lands which depleted the water table even further.

Low Benefit-Huge Negative Impact:

Yet, Enercon has submitted this windmill project at the UNFCCC to receive Carbon credits under the UN offsetting scheme Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Under this scheme, projects can receive Carbon credits if they reduce emissions and contribute to sustainable development. If approved, the project will receive about 360,000 Carbon credits, which compared to other CDM projects, a relatively small amount.

Despite serious concerns explained above, the Indian government has confirmed that the project contributes to the social, environmental, economic and technological well-being in the region. This is without any effective Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) being done in the area.

Moreover, the UN approval process requires a thorough stakeholder consultation process, including a local stakeholder consultation where local communities are consulted about the project. This was not done in the case of Kalpavalli. It was only when the roads needed to be constructed that a process of involving the community was followed by making many promises with the idea of dividing them. When concern was raised about the effect on the cattle grazing near by the project after 4 to 5 years down the line from the commencement of project, villagers were assured that the project would not have any impact on grazing.

From the above it is clear that windmills have a cost to the local community apart from diminishing valuable biodiversity. The study done by the author, documents more than 500 flora and fauna species in the region, including a number of rare and endangered ones. The study also shows that the region is acting as a corridor to the nearby Guttur Reserve Forest, which is the only wilderness area in the region. The following needs to be done.

  1. Restoration of the damage caused by the construction of roads.
  2. Compensation for the loss of the livelihood potential due to the restricted grazing access and loss of other livelihoods from Non Timber Forest Produce.
  3. Consideration of the local community as the primary stakeholder for the preservation of the biodiversity which includes many rare and endangered species having world-wide significance.
  4. Providing a mandatory provision of Environment Impact Assessment ( EIA) and Social Impact Assessment ( SIA) for the construction of windmills which would ensure that there is a proper assessment of the potential damage before giving permission to the windmill company.
  5. Rejection of the request for registration as CDM project by the UNFCCC Executive board due to breach of local stakeholder consultation rules.

Windmills are being promoted as an alternative to thermal power and big dams that are considered destructive of the environment besides causing huge displacement of people. The use of windmills is an age old practice, however the way in which wind power projects are being implemented under CDM without a proper EIA and SIA process is defeating the purpose for which it is intended. The Kalpavalli case study of the CDM project: Clean Energy generation from wind energy in the State of Andhra Pradesh shows that wind is part of a larger energy system. Indiscriminate tampering with this, results in destruction of other forms of energy. The impact on the life support systems of the local people have therefore to be considered as an integral part of any project and must be factored into the assessment of the benefits and costs. 

This paper was written by Dr. Leena Gupta under the title ‘Kalpavalli – Green versus Clean Development’. Dr. Gupta is a Senior Scientist at the Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development, New Delhi.