Over 20,000 trees face the axe in Himachal

December 4th, 2009 - 1:20 pm ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, Dec 4 (IANS) Himachal Pradesh could lose as many as 20,000 trees, thanks to apparent lapses on the part of the state forest department, which has given the green signal to a power transmission corridor in a highly eco-sensitive zone.

The forest department has recently allowed Jaypee Powergrid Ltd (JPL), a joint venture of the Jaiprakash Hydro-Power Ltd and the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd, to lay the power transmission corridor from Karcham in Kinnaur district to Abdulhapur in Haryana.

The 230-km long corridor will cost around Rs.932 crore.

A senior forest department official told IANS on condition of anonymity that it was a lapse on the part of the department to allow the JPL to lay the transmission lines from the thickly wooded area.

“The forest department was caught in a piquant situation when it allowed JPL to lay the transmission lines from the left bank of the Satluj river, which is under a thick forest cover, whereas the right bank is almost barren,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

“Now simply because of the lapses on the part of the forest department, more than 20,000 trees will face the axe,” he said.

JPL had submitted its proposal to the forest department for the diversion of forest land located on the left bank of the river for constructing the power corridor.

The department apparently forwarded the proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for final clearance without studying the impact of the transmission network on forests.

Acting on the recommendations of the state government, the ministry also gave its nod to the corridor.

State Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Vinay Tandon admitted that the laying of transmission lines on the left bank of the river would lead to cutting more trees than on the other bank.

“By the time we approached the MoEF (to relocate its transmission lines to avoid maximum felling of trees), the JPL had got green signal from the ministry,” Tandon said.

He said 320 hectares of forest area would be diverted for the project.

Additional Chief Secretary (Forests) Avay Shukla also admitted that it was an error on the part of the forest department.

“Between 15,000 and 20,000 tress will be axed now. But if the lines pass through the other side (of the river), the forest loss would be just 10 percent of the total estimated loss,” Shukla said.

A source in the forest department said JPL had opted for the left bank of the river as the construction cost was higher on the right side.

“Since the right bank was not connected to the road, the development of infrastructure like roads and bridges would escalate the cost of laying the lines by Rs.100 crore. So JPL opted for the left bank,” the source added.

Environmentalist Ranjit Singh Negi, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, called it legalised plunder of the forest wealth in the name of tapping hydropower.

“A large number of mega and small hydropower projects that are coming up across the state, especially in Kinnaur district, are gobbling up trees and destroying natural water resources. The government is playing with nature,” he said.

Negi 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 about the 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.

Shukla, however, said the government would now be stricter while diverting forest land for development purposes.

“No new hydro project would be sanctioned above 3,000 metres in the state. The entire area should be declared eco-sensitive to protect flora and fauna of the Himalayas,” he said.

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