Eco concerns land mega Himachal projects in jeopardy

December 16th, 2010 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, Dec 16 (IANS) At least four hydropower and cement projects worth Rs.6,000 crore (over $1.3 billion) have got stuck in Himachal Pradesh in less than four months due to green concerns. Local people as well as environmentalists say these will gobble up a considerable chunk of forest land and cause immense damage to natural resources.Cement maker Harish Cement Ltd, a subsidiary of Grasim Cements Limited, is the latest in a series of projects to be caught in a logjam.

The Himachal Pradesh High Court Monday cancelled the environmental clearance granted to it by the union environment and forests ministry for a Rs.1,200 crore project near Sundernagar in Mandi district.

The court also struck down a 2009 notification issued by the state government for acquiring land for the unit while disposing of a bunch of petitions filed by local people.

The division bench of Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Rajeev Sharma said the central government had committed an illegality by waiving off a public hearing - ahead of the grant of environmental clearance in 2005 - at the request of the then Congress government in the state.

The bench also took note of the location of the Bandli Wildlife Sanctuary that lies in close proximity to the upcoming plant.

The state has recently diverted 173 hectares of forest land to the company.

The high court order comes less than three months after the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) revoked the ministry’s environment clearance to Lafarge’s Rs.1,000-crore greenfield cement plant in Mandi district.

NEAA noted that the ministry, while granting environment clearance June 8, 2009, ignored the fact that the project would affect the wildlife of the Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary.

“Both the environment impact assessment and the ministry have not correctly assessed the impact of the project on land, water and air and failed to appreciate its effects on the livelihood of the people of the area,” the NEEA noted.

Other projects that have run into trouble are the Rs.2,700-crore 40 MW Renuka dam project in Sirmaur district and the Rs.1,000-crore 800-MW Kol dam project in Bilaspur district.

The environment ministry has objected to the transfer of 775 hectares of forest land, comprising over 150,000 trees, to build a dam on the Renuka river - a tributary of the Yamuna.

The ministry’s communication to the project executing agency, the Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd (HPPCL), said the proposal involved high-density forest and required the felling of a very large number of trees.

It directed the HPPCL to submit a revised proposal with minimised diversion of forest land.

Likewise, the ministry has rejected the proposal of the National Thermal Power Corp (NTPC) - the country’s largest power generation company - for the diversion of 124.054 hectares of forest land from the Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary in Solan district to build the project.

The project’s foundation stone was laid June 5, 2000, by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Another hydro project that caught the attention of the NEAA is the 195-MW Kashang in Kinnaur district.

An NEAA team visited the project site Oct 2 and heard the grievances of the local people. The locals alleged that the HPPCL is violating environmental laws by indiscriminately felling highly-endangered pine trees and dumping debris haphazardly.

HPPCL got the environment and forests ministry clearance in April.

However, the NEAA is yet to announce its order in this regard.

According to forest department estimates, over 9,000 hectares of forest land have so far been diverted to non-forest use. Of this, 7,000 hectares were used for hydel projects.

Environmentalist Guman Singh, coordinator of the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, a group of NGOs fighting for the cause of those facing displacement due to development activities, said: “We are not against development. Our fight is against those projects that are destroying the pristine beauty of the fragile hills and playing with the livelihood of the local people.”

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

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