We don’t want ski village, Himachal residents tell officials

June 6th, 2009 - 7:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Manali (Himachal Pradesh), June 6 (IANS) Locals voiced their discontent Saturday before a government panel against the setting up of the $300 million Himalayan Ski Village project in upper Manali. They alleged that the project would take away their rights to natural resources, affect their livelihood and impact the environment adversely.
Himachal Pradesh’s high-power committee comprising revenue, legal, tourism, forest and other officials heard the views and grievances of the locals Saturday.

The committee, headed by state tourism secretary Manisha Nanda, spent more than two hours at Kothi village near here to listen to the views of the locals, the panchayat representatives and other stakeholders affected by the project.

As the committee reached the spot, the people started raising slogans against the government. It took almost half an hour to convince the people that the officials were here to hear and record their views about the proposed project.

Maheshwar Singh, the three-time former MP who represented the locals, raised issues during the hearing regarding impact of the project on environment, land, local rights and use of natural resources.

“We are against the proposed project as it will take away our rights on natural resources, livelihood and deteriorate the environment. It’s against local culture and it hurts the sentiments of the people, majority of whom are dependent upon natural resources for their livelihood.

“The proposed project would force the locals to migrate to other areas… the rights of the local people would be eliminated,” Singh told IANS.

Former local legislator Chandersen Thakur said the project was a conspiracy to favour a foreign company.

“We have asked the government to provide the affected people documents regarding the project like the detailed project and the implementation agreement between the government and the company, but nothing has been provided. Both (the company and government) are trying to befool the innocent villagers,” Thakur said.

Questioning the government’s intention, Janjagaran Evam Vikas Sanstha (awareness and prosperity group) president Lal Chand Katoch also expressed apprehension about the project.

“No one knows that how much land would be acquired and how many people would have to face rehabilitation in the name of project,” Katoch said.

After listening to the views of the people, tourism secretary Nanda told the gathering: “We (officials) are here on the direction of the (Himachal) high court. We have heard and recorded your grievances and views and collected memoranda submitted by the people. We will soon submit our report to the court.”

She refused to talk to reporters, saying: “We are here only to listen to the views of the public.”

The court had directed the government to hold a public hearing and submit the report to it.

Ski Village’s top official John Sims, who was also present at the meeting, said: “The project is eco-friendly and would not affect the livelihood of the locals. We will ensure that full care would be taken to protect the environment and rights of the people. It will be beneficial both for the government and the locals in terms of revenue and employment.”

“Till date we have invested Rs.60 crore in the project. We are hopeful of completing the project within the time frame,” he added.

Alfred Ford of the Ford Motor Company has shown interest in setting up the high-end ski resort project in the Himalayas in April 2004. The state government entered into an agreement with Himalayan Ski Village Company in December 2005 for establishing the project.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - then in the opposition but now in power - had demanded that the project be scrapped.

When it came to power in January 2008, the BJP said the project was sanctioned by the previous Congress government in a hush-hush manner and raised doubts on the project’s adverse impact on environment and livelihood of the people.

State Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal recently told reporters that the there was no transparency about the funding in the project.

“We still have doubts about the project’s adverse impact on the environment,” he said.

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