Green concerns cloud Himachal dam project


Shimla : The union environment and forests ministry has turned down Himachal Pradesh’s proposal to transfer a huge chunk of forest land to build a multi-billion-rupee dam, an official said Wednesday.

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Over 1.5 lakh trees would have faced the axe for the purpose, the official said.

The ministry has objected to 775 hectares of forest land to be used for constructing a dam on Renuka river, a tributary of the Yamuna river, in Sirmaur district.

The project would also provide drinking water to Delhi, the official said.

The ministry’s Aug 31 communication, a copy of which was accessed by the IANS, said: “The recommendations of the forest advisory committee (of the ministry) were placed for approval before the ministry, which has declined to accept…as the proposal involves high-density forest and requires felling of a very large number of trees.”

The state had sent the proposal to the ministry for its approval April 30, 2009. The 775 hectares of land under question is a small portion of the total land required for the project, the official said.

Tarun Kapoor, director of state-owned construction agency Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd (HPPCL), told IANS: “A communication has been received from the ministry. Now we are revising the proposal so that the number of trees to be axed would be minimised.”

He said a fresh survey to identify the forest land has been undertaken and it was likely to be completed by Nov 15.

“The amended proposal would be sent again to the ministry for clearance,” he added.

However, the environment appraisal committee of the ministry has already given environmental clearance to the HPPCL to start the dam construction, he said.

Manshi Asher of the Himalayan Niti Abhiyan, a conglomerate of NGOs fighting for the cause of those facing rehabilitation due to development activities, told reporters Wednesday that the ministry’s decision showed that “the project was unnecessarily gobbling up a huge chunk of green cover”.

She said the local villagers, who will be affected by the dam’s construction, met Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit last year and apprised them of their concerns.

As per an agreement between Himachal Pradesh and Delhi, the hill state will bear the cost of installing the electrical and mechanical equipment, including turbine generators, while Delhi will pay for the rest of the project.

The water from Renuka dam, to be built at a cost of Rs.27 billion ($561 million), will be released into the Yamuna river, from where it will flow to Haryana’s Hathinikund barrage and finally reach Delhi.

The project has been facing protests with affected families rejecting the compensation being offered for their lands that will be submerged by the reservoir.

More than 30 environment activists, including Vandana Shiva, Manoj Mishra, Himanshu Thakkar, Rajendra Singh and Amita Baviskar, in their letter of June 30 to Dikshit questioned the purpose of setting up the project.