People s power
Immediately after independence, the state government in Kerala focused on tapping the hydropower potential of the state. The efforts did bear some fruit. The lion's share of Kerala's power requirements is provided by 20 hydel power plants. In recent years, thermal power plants have also been pushed into service. However, Kerala is far from fulfilling its actual energy requirements.
At the same time, the vast hydel power resources of the state remain grossly under-utilised. There is some reason behind this neglect: environmentalists apprehend that use of Kerala's large waterways for power projects might inundate large stretches of forest lands, displace many who live alongside the water bodies and cause irreparable damage to the state's rich marine life. But there is a way out: mini hydel power (mhps) projects do not come with social and environmental costs that inevitably accompany large hydropower programmes. mhps in Kerala's Idukki district offer good examples of the sustainable use of hydel power.
There are 212 mhps in the district, spread over 35 gram panchayats. The units were started either by a group of people or by the local bodies. In a few cases, enterprising individuals also installed the mhps. A survey by the Kottayam, Kerala-based Centre for Rural Management (crm) revealed that a large percentage of these units were set up by people with no technical expertise. This is not surprising; the enterprise uses simple mechanics. Most mhps are powered by dynamos of motor-bikes or auto rickshaws; a number of other locally available components such as bamboo reeds were also used.
The uncomplicated units are highly effective. A majority of them provide power satisfactorily for more than nine months in a year. The installed capacity of a significant number of units is a little more than 200 watts per hour. Though this only provides for the lighting needs for a small family of four, the power is welcome relief for Idukki's residents