Clamour against hydropower grows louder in Himachal

June 30th, 2011 - 11:33 am ICT by IANS  

Shimla, June 30 (IANS) The hills of Himachal Pradesh are alive with the sounds of villagers voicing their protest against the numerous hydropower projects that they say will further compromise their water and forest rights.

The upcoming projects will not only damage natural resources and affect livelihoods but also use up a considerable chunk of forest and agricultural land, argue locals and green activists.

The latest instance of a clash between local communities and project managements — such instances are becoming common in Kinnaur, Shimla, Kullu and Chamba districts — took place only last week when four functionaries of the state-run Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL) were taken hostage.

The four, who were associated with the Asian Development Bank-funded 130-MW Kashang hydropower project in Kinnaur district, were released only a day later after the HPPCL’s assurance that most demands, including on compensation, would be accepted.

Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said the government would protect the interests of those whose land was being acquired.

“We will not allow anybody to take law in his hands. But we will also ensure that the people who are losing their land would be suitably compensated. We (HPPCL) are giving the best possible compensation for all our projects,” Dhumal told IANS.

But people are unimpressed and say the government is sacrificing their interests in the name of harnessing the state’s hydropower potential.

Amongst the hydropower projects that have run into trouble are the 40-MW Renuka project in Sirmaur district, the 4.5-MW Hul project in Chamba, the 1-MW project at Jogini waterfall in Manali and the 100- MW Sainj project in Kullu.

In Chamba, locals have mobilised themselves under the ‘Saal Ghaati Bachao Sangharsh Morcha’ and have been protesting against the project since 2005. Last year five people were injured in clashes between the villagers and the hydropower company’s contractors.

The clamour has been steadily growing.

Voters of Urni, Yula, Chagaon and Miru panchayats in Nichar subdivision in Kinnaur district boycotted the panchayat elections in December 2010 to protest the upcoming 1,000-MW Karcham-Wangtoo hydropower project due to threats of environmental damage.

According to Nek Ram Sharma, secretary of the Satluj Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti, a group of locals protesting over the commissioning of the World Bank-funded 775-MW Luhri project in Shimla district, tensions are escalating. Now, he said, local women have also joined in.

“They are raising the slogan of ‘Prakriti Bachao, Pahad Bachao’ (save nature, save hills),” he said.

Around 27 villages in Shimla, Kullu and Mandi districts will be affected with the commissioning of the project being executed by country’s hydropower major Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (SJVNL).

SJVNL deputy general manager Vijay Verma said: “The company is committed to providing funds for local area development. In the Rampur and Nathpa-Jhakri hydropower projects, the company has spent Rs.105 crore as part of its social responsibility.”

He, however, said the company was facing problems in executing the projects in the state. “Since there is no government land acquisition policy, the locals are just blackmailing the companies. The government should provide administrative support in settling land acquisition cases.”

Said social activist Kulbhushan Upmanyu, who is heading the Himalaya Niti Abhiyaan: “Successive governments in the state are hell bent on plundering natural resources.”

Added R.S. Negi, who heads the Him Lok Jagriti Manch, a people’s movement in Kinnaur: Several areas where the projects are coming up are facing water shortage as most of the traditional water sources have dried up due to massive constructions.”

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

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