Himachal hydro projects run into peoples’ protests

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Rekong Peo (Himachal Pradesh) : Tribals of Kinnaur are up in arms against upcoming hydropower projects in the district, saying these are not only making water channels shrink but also affecting livelihood.

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Clashes over water rights between villagers and project managements are becoming common as most of the tributaries of the Sultlej river have been allotted to companies to generate power.

“You see, thousands of trees have been axed in the name of constructing projects and the river (Satluj) and other water channels are being used to dump the project debris. Several areas are facing water shortages and most of the traditional water sources have dried up due to massive construction,” R.S. Negi, who is heading the Him Lok Jagriti Manch (HLJM), a people’s movement in Kinnaur, told IANS.

“It’s simply rape of the mountains,” said Negi, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, who is settled in Nesang village near here.

The 1,000-MW Karcham-Wangtoo hydro project, 100-MW Tidong, 195-MW Kashang, 402 MW Shongtong-Karchham and 100-MW Shorang are among the major hydro projects under execution on the Satluj in Kinnaur district.

“Now we have made up our mind to wage a war against those companies which are hell bent on destroying our natural water resources,” said Brighu Devi from Urni village, uphill of Tapri where Jaypee Karacham Hydropower’s Karcham-Wangtoo hydro project is under execution.

Kulbhushan Upmanyu, who is heading the Himalaya Niti Abhiyaan, said: “What has happened has happened. Now we will not allow anybody to plunder our resources. We want the government to put a full stop to allocating projects, especially in the Satluj river basin where land is fragile.”

“The indiscriminate use of explosives for the tunnel construction has also increased the risk of landslides and is endangering the rural people inhabiting this geologically sensitive mountains,” said the environmental activist.

Another environmentalist, Guman Singh, said: “The entire stretch of the Satluj near the Karcham-Wangtoo project has been merely reduced to a dumping ground for project debris. The retaining walls made on the riverside to dump muck are mere eyewash. At some stretches the haphazardly dumped muck is hampering the smooth flow of the river.”

Singh said the diversion of the river and streams for the projects would affect the water flow crucial not just to the river fauna but to communities dependent on them for irrigation and drinking.

Governor Urmila Singh, who toured Kinnaur district last month, has directed the local administration to solve the problems being faced by the project-affected people.

She said that illegal dumping should be stopped by enforcing the environment management plan.

Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal told IANS: “The government was alive to the problem and it had directed the pollution control board to ensure scientific dumping of the debris.”

Himachal Pradesh has abundant water resources with a power potential of about 23,000 MW. About 6,480 MW have been harnessed till now.

However, the failure of the government and companies to stick to environmental and rehabilitation norms has forced the local people to get organised against the projects.

Local communities in Kullu and Chamba have also been opposing construction of hydroelectric projects due to their impact on the forests, water resources and environment.

In Chamba, they have mobilized themselves under the “Saal Ghaati Bachao Sangharsh Morcha” and have been protesting against Hull Hydro Project in the Saal Valley since 2005.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])