Silent Valley Hydro-Electric Project, Kerala, India

The Save Silent Valley movement is a source of inspiration for many later anti-dam movements in the country. Back in the '80s it led to the scrapping of a hydro plant and to the declaration of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve


Silent Valley is located at Mukkali, Mannarkkad, Padavayal in Kerala, at the core of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve [1].

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Basic Data
NameSilent Valley Hydro-Electric Project, Kerala, India
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Establishment of reserves/national parks
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsSilent Valley Reserve Forest can be classified under four forest types. The types are West-coast tropical evergreen forest (600 to 1100 m), Southern subtropical broad leaved hill forest (1300 to 1800 m), Southern montane wet temperate forest (above 1900 m) and Grassland. According to the Kerala Forest and Wild Life Department, the rich flora of the valley include about a 1000 species of flowering plants, 107 species of orchids, 100 ferns and fern allies, 200 liverworts, 75 lichens and about 200 algae. Beside this it also have about 34 species of mammals, 292 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles, 22 species of amphibians, 13 species of fishes, 500 species of butterflies and moths, besides a multitude of lower forms of animal.

The Valley has a natural boundary from all sides with high and continuous mountains. So the area is closed and shielded from the extremes of climate as well as anthropogenic interventions. Hence it remains an ecological island with a special micro climate. According to the Kerala Forest and Wild Life Department ‘the Silent Valley National Park is probably one of the most magnificent gifts of nature to mankind, a unique preserve of tropical rain forests in all its pristine glory with an almost unbroken ecological history’. A river named ‘Kunthi’ descends from the Nilgiri Hills above an altitude of 2000 m and flows throughout the valley and finally rushing down to the plains through a deep gorge [1].

The Kerala Minister for Electricity called The Pathrakkadavu dam (PHEP) an "eco-friendly alternative" to the old Silent Valley project. The PHEP was designed as a run-off-the-river project with an installed capacity of 70 MW in the first phase (105 MW eventually) and an energy generation of 214 million units (Mu) with a minimal gross storage of 0.872 million cubic metres. 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).
Project Area (in hectares)8950
Level of Investment (in USD)4,167,379 (25 Crores in 1973)
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected PopulationMany biological Species
Start Date01/01/1970
End Date01/01/1985
Relevant government actorsGovernment of Kerala

Government of India
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSilent Valley Samrakshana Samiti

Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad

Kerala Nature History Society

Citizens, Environmentalists, Scholars
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Land demarcation
Project cancelled
Development of AlternativesAs the Silent Valley is rich in natural habitat, people from different corner of the society put immense pressure to the concerned official to stop the project. Although the campaign did not have any centralized planning, but the way the protest was organized can be considered as ‘an ecological Marxists resort to Gandhian techniques to fight against environmental injustice’. This way of protest was highly effective and due to the sustained pressure exerted on the government by citizens. People used every possible way of protest available at that time. It was letters to the editors of newspapers, seminars, widespread awareness programmes, and the petitions and appeals in court and other high offices. Using all these means the people were able to put pressure on the government and it proved ultimately successful. In 1986 Silent Valley was declared a National Park. The lessons from this inspiring and hard-fought campaign are still relevant today [3, 4].
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.Looking at the public demand, in January 1981the then prime minister of India Indira Gandhi declared that that Silent Valley will be protected. In November 1983, the hydroelectric project was stopped. In 1985, the then prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi inaugurated the Silent Valley National Park. The area is now considered as 'hot spot' [3]. The 'Save Silent Valley' movement was a grand success for all time environmental movement in India. Beside this, it is a source of inspiration for similar agitations. The ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ and the ‘Tehri Dam’ protests are highly motivated by that campaign [2].
Sources and Materials

Biological Diversity Act
[click to view]


The Saving of the Silent Valley : A Case Study of Environmental Education in Action
[click to view]

[click to view]

Silent valley: whispers of reason T. M. Manoharan, Kerala (India). Forest Dept, Kerala Forest Research Institute

Kerala Forest Dept. in association with Kerala Forest Research Institute, 1999 - Silent Valley National Park (India) - 421 pages

Manoharan, T. M. Silent valley: whispers of reason. Kerala Forest Dept. in association with Kerala Forest Research Institute, 1999.

Guha, Ramachandra. "Ideological trends in Indian environmentalism." Economic and Political Weekly (1988): 2578-2581.
[click to view]

Economic and Political Weekly (1979): 1117-1119.

7th July 1979 - Parameswaran, M. P. "Significance of Silent Valley."
[click to view]


[1] Silent Valley National Park
[click to view]

[2] 1976- Silent valley movement: The genesis of green
[click to view]

[3] Silent Valley – A People’s Movement That Saved A Forest
[click to view]

[4] Gandhi and Ecological Marxists: A Study of Silent Valley Movement
[click to view]

[5] The Hindu-Business Line. - Silent Valley redux?, by K.G. Kumar. May 24, 2004
[click to view]

Media Links

Seven Wonders of India: Kerala's Silent Valley National Park (Aired: December 2008)
[click to view]

Other Documents

View on the Kunthipuzha river Source:
[click to view]

The lion-tailed macaque Because of concern about the endangered lion-tailed macaque, the issue was brought to public attention.

[click to view]

Other CommentsDespite the original project was scrapped, in 2001 a new hydro project (the Pathrakkadavu dam -PHEP-, of 64.5 m high and 275 m long) was proposed, just 3.5 km downstream of the old dam site at Sairandhiri, 500 m outside the National Park boundary. The Kerala Minister for Electricity called the project an "eco-friendly alternative" to the old Silent Valley project, claiming that the submergence area of the PHEP would be a negligible, only 0.041 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 by the Thiruvananthapuram-based Environmental Resources Research Centre and its report was released in December 2003. The EIA study team claims that the forest loss due to the project will be just 22.16 hectares. However, the report was critizised by engineers and environmental scientists from the River Research Centre (RRC) and the Bharathapuzha Samrakshana Samithy. They said that the hydrological data had been fabricated and the stream flow calculations were grossly over-estimated. They argued that the Joint Committee set up by the Government of India and Kerala in 1982 had estimated an annual run-off yield of the Kunthi river at 293 Mm3. However, the Water Resources of Kerala Report-1974 had put the annual average run-off from the Kunthi River at 202 Mm3. Also, "The estimated cost of the proposed project (Rs 247.06 crore at 1999 estimates) would now cost Rs 450 crore at the current schedule of rates. Taking into consideration the high (30 per cent of production) transmission and distribution (T&D) losses in the KSEB system, the actual power available for end consumption will be further reduced and much costlier."[5] It took several years to come with the design and delimitation of a buffer zone; on 18 April 2007, Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and his cabinet finally approved the Pathrakkadavu Hydro-electric project and sent it to the Union Government for environmental approval. The new project is still under negotiation.
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ContributorSwapan Kumar Patra and Daniela Del Bene - ICTA-UAB
Last update28/03/2018