Himachal dam meant for parched Delhi in troubled waters

August 4th, 2011 - 4:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, Aug 4 (IANS) The much-delayed construction of a multi-billion rupee hydroelectric project in Himachal Pradesh, which was supposed to provide drinking water to Delhi, has received another setback — this time over land acquisition.

The Renuka dam project, on the cards for almost 20 years, has not only been caught in a political spat between the hill state and the Delhi government but also had its fair share of environmental and legal wrangles.

The Rs.3,600-crore project, to be constructed on a tributary of the Yamuna river in Sirmaur district, is meant to provide 23 cubic metres of water per second to Delhi and also generate 40 MW of electricity for Himachal.

But in a major setback, the National Green Tribunal, a judicial body hearing environment-related cases, in an interim order July 28 directed the Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL), a public sector undertaking executing the project, to stay the land acquisition process under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

Ritwick Dutta, counsel for a petitioner, told IANS that a bench headed by Justice C.V. Ramalu has directed the project authorities to stop awarding land compensation to the affected villagers in view of the dispute in total land requirement and the project’s social impact.

The order was passed on a petition by Durga Ram, a project-affected villager, challenging the environmental clearance awarded to the dam by the ministry of environment and forests in October 2009.

This is the second major setback for the project in less than a year.

The ministry had on Aug 31, 2010, objected to submersion of 775 hectares of forest land with the construction of the dam.

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

K.K. Goel, the project general manager, told IANS: “A fresh forest clearance proposal with minimum forest land diversion was submitted with the ministry in April. It has sought more information in this regard and we are on the job.”

Water from the Renuka dam, a national status project, will be released into the Yamuna river, from where it will flow to Haryana’s Hathinikund barrage and finally reach Delhi.

The Delhi government has already given Rs.214.83 crore to Himachal Pradesh to start the construction work.

As per an initial agreement between Himachal Pradesh and Delhi, the hill state will only bear the cost of installing the electrical and mechanical equipment, including turbine generators.

But the state government retracted last month. “The central government should meet the entire expenditure on the project,” Irrigation and Public Health Minister Ravinder Singh Ravi said in a statement July 21.

“As the project is being constructed in the state, it’s the legitimate right of the state that it gets the entire income from it as the water will be utilised in Delhi,” the minister added.

Even Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said in November last year that the Delhi government should not expect any cooperation in the Renuka project unless it stops charging extra commission from the state’s apple growers.

“How is Delhi expecting that we will quench their thirst by providing them water when they are fleecing our apple growers?” he said.

The project has already been facing protests from villagers.

Under the banner of the Renuka Bandh Jan Sangharsh Samiti, the project-affected villagers claim the government has not taken them into confidence before starting the land acquisition process. They are claiming that more than 700 families of 37 villages would be affected.

According to them, the project many have ecological repercussions and endanger the Renuka lake that lies downstream of the proposed dam and is of religious importance to them.

More than 30 environment activists, in a letter to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit June 30 last year, questioned the purpose of setting up the project.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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