Another Himachal dam project caught in logjam

Shimla, Nov 4 (IANS) Another mega hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh has been caught in an administrative logjam after the central environment and forests ministry objected to the transfer of a large chunk of forest land to it.

The ministry is against the diversion of 124.054 hectares of forest land from the Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary in Solan district to build the 800-MW Kol Dam project on the Satluj in Bilaspur district.

The National Thermal Power Corp (NTPC), India’s largest power generation company, is developing the project, whose foundation stone was laid June 5, 2000, by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

NTPC spokesman Vishwanath Chandan told IANS: ‘We have received the objections raised by the environment and forest ministry’s high-powered committee. We are in the process of filing a reply.’

The committee took a serious view of the submersion of more than 50,000 trees due to the construction of a reservoir and the threat to the sanctuary’s flora and fauna.

‘The committee has refused to accept the NTPC proposal in the present form and asked it to come out with a modified proposal,’ said an NTPC official requesting anonymity.

However, Chandan said though some portion of the sanctuary would submerge, it would not largely affect any major wildlife.

‘The sanctuary was notified after the dam construction started,’ he added.

The NTPC claims that more than 60 percent of construction work has been done and the project was likely to be commissioned by March 2012.

This is not the first project in the state that has come under the environment ministry’s scanner.

The ministry earlier objected to the transfer 775 hectares of forest land, comprising over 150,000 trees, to build a dam on the Renuka river, a tributary of the Yamuna, in Sirmaur district.

The ministry’s communication said the proposal involved high-density forest and required felling a very large number of trees.

The National Environment Appellate Authority also revoked the environment clearance granted to cement maker Lafarge India for its greenfield project in Mandi district.

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

The Authority is the only judicial body in India allowed to hear grievances against environmental clearances given to projects by the environment and forests ministry.

Additional Chief Secretary (Forests) Avay Shukla has warned that the effect of large-scale axing of trees, dumping of muck and diversion of river water in the entire basin has not been studied by the government.

Shukla noted that a 67-km-long stretch of the Ravi river would simply disappear in a few years in Chamba district as its flow will be diverted through tunnels to pave the way for hydropower generation projects.

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.

Himachal Pradesh has abundant water resources with a power potential of about 23,000 MW. About 6,480 MW have been harnessed by the central and state governments, private players and joint venture companies.

Currently, 13 hydropower projects in the state sector, six in central and joint sectors and 19 in the private sector with a combined generation capacity of 5,809.1 MW are being executed.

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

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