After initial hiccups and extension of project implementation periods, the Attapady Wasteland Comprehensive Environmental Conservation Project has achieved many of its objectives. Trees are now growing on the hills, rendered barren in the past, and rivers are flowing even in summer.
Much of the Attappady hills, once covered with evergreen forests, had become wastelands owing to encroachments, unwise agricultural practices and consequent soil erosion, cattle grazing and felling of trees. The project was started in 1995 with funding from the Japan Bank for International Corporation (now JICA) received in 1996, but field work took off only in 2000. The project was targeted to be completed in 2005. However, the situation was not rosy as an extension of project was considered. There has been misuse of funds and corruption and targets were far from achieved.
However, project implementation improved from 2005 and a peak performance in expenditure was achieved by 2010. Then continuation of the project became an issue and further extensions were granted. Another extension with new projects under the implementing agency Attappady Hill Area Development Society is under consideration. It is pointed out that about 5000 hectares more remained to be developed and the trees planted need to be protected from fire and plunder.
A decade is hardly the time for forests to grow back. Patches of barren fields could still be seen amidst the planted trees. (Planting was done in government owned forest land as well as in private lands as conservation measure). Resumption of grazing and felling of trees for fire wood can reverse the trend. However, protection will ensure further regeneration without fresh planting and other project operations.
The fact that restoration is far from complete can be gauged by looking at both banks of Bhavani River. The River, which originates in Silent Valley National Park of Kerala, flows through Attapady for about 25 km and then through the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border for about seven km. If you look across the River into Tamil Nadu side (see photo below), you can see the riparian forest trees growing there whereas the bank on the Kerala side is almost barren. Compare this with the restored hill on the Kerala side close to the River in the photo above.
The re-forestation of Attapady hills would reduce threat of degradation to the buffer areas of the Silent Valley National Park. It would also benefit Tamil Nadu as it increases the flow through the Bhavani River which courses through Coimbatore and Erode districts of Tamil Nadu after leaving Kerala. It is a boon to Tamil Nadu as was the declaration of the Kurinjimala Wildlife Sanctuary in Idukki district. (Covering about the same area of Periyar lease (for Mullaperiyar dam), the shola grasslands of the Sanctuary is capable of retaining about the same quantity of water as could be stored in the Mullaperiyar reservoir and release them gradually throughout the year. Thus Kerala gifted a second Mullaperiyar to TN by conserving water.)