Court issues notice to Himachal government on felling of trees

December 9th, 2009 - 7:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, Dec 9 (IANS) The Himachal Pradesh High Court Wednesday took suo-motu notice of media reports regarding thousands of trees facing the axe in Himachal Pradesh over the construction of a power transmission corridor.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice R.B. Misra and Justice Rajeev Sharma directed the state government to give its reply within three weeks.

IANS too in its report “Over 20,000 trees face the axe in Himachal” dated Dec 4 highlighted that the state could lose the trees due to apparent lapses on the part of the state forest department, which has given the signal to a power transmission corridor in a highly eco-sensitive zone in Kinnaur district.

The department has 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.

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 through the thickly wooded area.

“The forest department was caught in a piquant situation when it allowed JPL to lay the 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.

“Now because of this, 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.

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