Himachal voters ask tough questions on green issues

May 8th, 2009 - 11:34 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, May 8 (IANS) Politicians campaigning in the Lok Sabha polls seem unconcerned about environmental degradation in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, but their voters are so worried about shrinking water channels, declining flora and fauna or increasing air and water pollution that they are asking the candidates some tough questions on green issues.

For instance, to highlight their concerns about robbing of the greenery in the name of development and power generation, tribals of Kinnaur district, under the banner of the Him Lok Jagriti Manch (HLJM), have come out with a 28-page ‘green’ manifesto, posing questions to the Lok Sabha candidates.

Ranjit Singh Negi, a retired IAS officer who is heading the HLJM, said: “It’s time to sensitise our leaders about the importance of natural resources and the dependence of the tribals on them.”

“We (the tribals) are posing questions to the politicians about violations of environmental laws in the execution of multimillion-rupee hydropower projects. Several areas are facing water shortage due to construction of the run-of-the-river power projects. There is non-implementation of catchment area treatment plans.”

The manifesto also pointed out that the government has been lax in implementing the Forest Rights Act of 2006 in the tribal areas and it has failed to settle any claim from Kinnaur in this regard.

“Most tributaries have been allotted for micro-hydro projects, resulting in clashes between villagers and the companies over water rights,” Negi told IANS.

Kulbhushan Upmanyu, an environmental activist who is heading the Himalaya Niti Abhiyaan (HNA), said: “We won’t allow any government to plunder our natural resources in the name of development.”

The HNA, a conglomerate of more than 20 action committees, has launched protests against the mega projects coming up across the state.

“What is most painful is the fact that while the common man has been denied timber distribution rights, hydropower majors like Jaypee Karacham Hydropower are being given rights to axe thousands of trees in the name of setting up projects,” Upmanyu said.

Jaypee is setting up a 1,000-MW project in Kinnaur district.

According to Upmanyu, at least six cement projects and 12-15 major hydropower projects are in the pipeline in the state.

“Both the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the Congress are equally responsible for the robbing of greenery of the hills. They prefer to keep quiet on environmental issues to avoid any controversy,” said Upmanyu, a man who has participated in environment-related agitations in the state since the early 1980s.

Another green activist, Guman Singh, told IANS: “Formulation and implementation of a Himalayan development policy that is based upon sustainable utilisation of natural resources is the need of the hour.

“It is time for the politicians to understand the nuances of ecology and environment. If we don’t show urgency about the need to protect natural resources, there might not be enough resources to worry about or protect later.”

Himachal Forest Minister J.P. Nadda admitted that a forest cover of 78 sq km is estimated to have been gobbled up in the state because of development activities, primarily hydropower projects.

“We (the government) are serious on green issues as the hills are warming up faster than any other part of the world. The state would soon have its environmental master plan to tackle critical areas of environmental degradation,” Nadda said.

The hill state has already taken various initiatives towards ecology conservation. As part of its first micro-level drive, residents across the state planted 1.5 million saplings on a single day, Aug 3, 2008, he added.

Himachal Pradesh has 66 percent of its geographical area under forest cover.

Polling for the four Lok Sabha seats in the state - Shimla, Kangra, Mandi and Hamirpur - is scheduled for May 13.

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

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