Hydro project will ruin Himachal river catchment: Report

January 15th, 2012 - 2:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Chamba (Himachal Pradesh), Jan 15 (IANS) The Hul hydropower project near this town will ruin five km or one-fourth of the catchment of the Hul stream, a tributary of the Saal river, environmentalists say. It will also affect the livelihood of over 6,000 locals.

Seven mini and micro hydro projects have been proposed on the Saal river alone, a tributary of the Ravi, environmentalists Manshi Asher and Prakash Bhandari said in a report published in Civil Society in its recent edition.

Since 2003, the people of eight panchayats in the Saal Valley of Chamba, under the banner of the Saal Ghaati Bachao Sangharsh Morcha, have been demonstrating against the Hul Hydro Power Private Ltd (HHPPL), the company executing the 4.5 MW project.

“The Hul stream has been supporting the livelihood of nearly 6,000 people directly or indirectly,” said the report quoting Ratan Chand, a member of the Saal Ghaati Bachao Sangharsh Morcha.

“It is used for irrigation, drinking water, fishing and running water mills. The projects coming up on the Hul are planned in some of the most pristine oak forests of the valley,” it added.

According to Himachal Pradesh’s micro-hydel policy, the consent of the affected gram sabhas (local bodies) is necessary before constructing any project.

“Despite the local gram sabhas passing resolutions against it, the state government has been trying to push this project,” Asher and Bhandari, both members of the Himdhara, a Himachal-based environment action collective, said in the report.

In February 2010, five people were injured in clashes between the locals and HHPPL contractors.

HHPPL is a joint venture of Astha Projects (India) Ltd and Indus Power and Infrastructure, a Mauritius-based company. Through Indus, a US-based company holds stakes in HHPPL.

The report said the son of an Andhra Pradesh-based politician has stakes in the project. A US-based hedge fund, Wexford Capital LLC (Wexford), also has stakes in it.

State additional chief secretary (forests) Avay Shukla, who superannuated in December 2010, in a 30-page report placed before a ‘green bench’ of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, asserted that in the entire 70-km stretch of the Ravi river between Chamba town and Bajoli, only 3 km of the river would flow in its original bed and the rest would disappear.

“There are four hydro projects sanctioned on the 70-km stretch (of the Ravi) — Bajoli-Holi, Kuther and Chamera II and III,” Shukla observed.

“When all these projects will be commissioned, the entire river will meander through tunnels of the projects,” he added.

The report recommended the government declare some areas as “protected zones” to help maintain the ecological balance. Chamba town is known for oak woods.

Like the Hul project, instances of clashes between local communities and project managements are becoming common in Kinnaur, Shimla and Kullu districts.

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.

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