Hydro projects could make Ravi river stretch disappear

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Shimla : It meanders through the country’s history and hills, but Himachal Pradesh’s prominent Ravi river may soon lose some of its glory. A 67-km long stretch will simply disappear in the next couple of years in Chamba district as its flow will be diverted through tunnels to pave way for hydropower generation projects.

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Additional Chief Secretary (Forests) Avay Shukla in a report on the impact of hydropower projects on environment has asserted that in the entire 70-km stretch between Chamba town and Bajoli, upstream in Bharmour, only 3 km of the river will flow in its original bed and the rest will disappear.

“There are four run-of-river hydro projects sanctioned on the 70-km stretch. These are Bajoli-Holi, Kuther and Chamera II and III. When all these projects will be commissioned, the entire river would meander through tunnels of the projects,” Shukla observed in the 30-page report that was placed before a ‘green bench’ of the high court last week.

Shukla, who has examined the environmental fallout of big projects of over 100 MW in the state, has recommended that a minimum riparian distance of 5 km be maintained between the two hydropower projects on the same river and the projects which do not conform to this requirement should be put on hold until the entire issue is examined and a proper policy framed.

According to the report, which studied the Satluj, Beas and Ravi river basins, the main valleys in the state have been saturated with projects. Now projects are being allotted along side valleys of the tributaries.

“The effect of large-scale cutting of trees, dumping of muck and diversion of river water over the entire basin has not been studied by the government so far. There is a need for studying the impact of projects on flora, fauna and the ecosystem,” the report pointed out.

The report recommends that the government should declare some areas as “protected zones” to help maintain ecological balance and also conduct studies to know the carrying capacity of each river basin.

“Even the forest advisory committee of the ministry of forests and environment has asked the Uttarakhand government to carry out basin-wise environment impact assessment in respect of more than 100 proposed hydroelectric projects,” he said.

The report has also highlighted deficiencies pertaining to environment management not only in private sector projects but also those being executed by government agencies like NHPC Ltd and the National Thermal Power Corp.

The high court had initiated suo motu proceedings after the media reported that about 10 lakh trees have been axed during the execution of 150 mini and mega hydropower projects in the state since 1990. It appointed Shukla to examine the impact of projects on nature in December last year.

Environmentalist R.S. Negi called the setting up of mega projects a legalised plunder of forest wealth in the name of tapping hydropower.

“The government is playing with nature. It should immediately stop sanctioning new hydro projects,” Negi told IANS. He is associated with the Him Lok Jagriti Manch, a conglomerate of over 20 action groups that are highlighting the concerns of the tribals in Kinnaur over dangers to the environment.

According to forest department estimates, over 9,000 hectares of forest land has so far been diverted to non-forest use. Of this, 7,000 hectares were used for hydel projects.

Himachal Pradesh has abundant water resources with a power potential of about 23,000 MW. About 6,480 MW have been harnessed till now by the central and state governments, private players and joint venture companies.

Currently, 13 hydropower projects in the state sector, six in central and joint sector and 19 in the private sector with a combined generation capacity of 5,809.1 MW are being executed.