Himachal villagers take officials hostage

June 22nd, 2011 - 9:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, June 22 (IANS) Protesting villagers in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district have taken government officials hostage, officials said Wednesday.

The protesters are demanding cancellation of a mega hydropower project being executed by state-run Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL).

“Four government functionaries, including three senior officials of the HPPCL have been kept under house arrest by the villagers since Tuesday,” S.P. Gupta, HPPCL general manager, told IANS.

The run-of-the-river project of 130 MW is called Kashang hydropower project. It is being made on a tribuatry of the Sutlej river, some 275 km from state capital Shimla, and is being funded by the Asian Development Bank.

Tribals of Kinnaur are up in arms against all the upcoming hydropower projects in the district, saying these are not only shrinking the water channels but also affecting their livelihood.

Gupta said on phone that the officials kept in captivity included project’s executive engineer C.L. Dhiman along with an official of the Himachal Pradesh University. They have been kept at the ‘panchayat ghar’ in Pangi village.

“The university official was in the village along with the HPPCL to listen to the public on the impact of the project on local environment when they were taken hostage,” Gupta added.

Sub-divisional magistrate Naresh Thakur said the tense standoff is likely to be ended soon. “We are ensuring early freedom of hostages,” he added.

The ministry of environment and forests has already granted an environmental clearance to the project.

Clashes over water rights between villagers and project managements are becoming common as most of the tributaries of the Sutlej have been allotted to companies to generate power.

The 1,000-MW Karcham-Wangtoo hydro project, 100-MW Tidong, 195-MW Kashang, 402 MW Shongtong-Karcham and 100-MW Shorang are among the major hydro projects under execution in Kinnaur district.

Taking note of a report on the fallout of hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, 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 in the state.

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

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