Depleting forests in Himachal worry green activists (April 22 is Earth Day)

April 22nd, 2011 - 3:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, April 22 (IANS) Depleting green cover, receding water resources and frequent change in climatic conditions are worrying the environmentalists in Himachal Pradesh. The reason is obvious. The small hill state is the storehouse of biodiversity.

“Thousands of trees have been axed and thousands would soon meet the same fate,” said R.S. Negi, who is heading the Him Lok Jagriti Manch (HLJM), a people’s movement in Kinnaur district against upcoming hydro projects.

“A large number of micro and major hydropower projects are coming up on the rivers and their tributaries, blocking the regular flow of the water. Traditional water sources have almost dried up due to massive constructions,” he told IANS.

“The days are not far when there is only a concrete jungle,” added Negi, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, who is settled in Nesang village near Rekong Peo, Kinnaur district’s headquarters town.

In Kinnaur district, the 1,000-MW Karcham-Wangtoo hydro project, 100-MW Tidong, 195-MW Kashang, 402 MW Shongtong-Karchham and 100-MW Shorang are among the major hydro power projects under execution on the Satluj and its tributaries.

Puran Chand, secretary of the Renuka Bandh Jan Sangharsh Samiti, said the government should scrap the Renuka dam project.

“The government is ready to axe thousands of trees at the cost of supplying water to people of Delhi,” he said.

The project in Sirmaur district is facing massive protests these days.

An environmental clearance proposal for the Renuka dam was rejected by the union environment and forests ministry last year because it involved cutting 1.77 lakh trees.

Said Kulbhushan Upmanyu, who is heading the Himalaya Niti Abhiyaan: “The successive governments in the state were hell bent on plundering natural resources.”

“We want the government to stop allocating these forest-guzzling hydro projects, especially in the Satluj river basin where land is fragile,” he added.

Said another environmentalist, Guman Singh: “Even the big colonisers are eyeing to set up ultra-luxurious housing projects deep in the forests.”

In the recently-concluded 40-day state budget session, the opposition Congress alleged that a housing project in Shimla forests was allotted to Bemloe Development and Infrastructure Company which recklessly axed a large number of trees overnight.

It also questioned the government on permission granted to another coloniser, Karnal-based Optima Construction Private Limited, for setting up a housing project in the picturesque resort of Kasauli in Solan district.

Taking note of a report on the fallout of hydropower projects in the state, the environmentalists last year shot off a letter to union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh demanding a temporary moratorium on environmental clearance to new projects.

State Additional Chief Secretary (Forests) Avay Shukla, who superannuated in December last year, in a 30-page report placed before a ‘green bench’ of the high court in August, 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. These are Bajoli-Holi, Kuther and Chamera II and III. When all these projects will be commissioned, the entire river would meander through tunnels of the projects,” Shukla observed.

The report recommends that the government should declare some areas as “protected zones” to help maintain ecological balance and also conduct studies to know the carrying capacity of each river basin.

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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