In a setback to Asian Development Bank funded state-run hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh, the National Green Tribunal, a judicial body hearing environment-related cases, in its interim order has stopped project authorities from utilising forest area, activists said Sunday.
“We welcome the interim order which recognises that there are substantial environment issues related to diversion of forests,” S.S Negi, president of Paryavaran Sanrakhsan Samiti, a group comprising project-affected villagers, said in a statement here.
The tribunal, in its Nov 23 order, directed the Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd (HPPCL), a public sector undertaking executing the project, “not to fell the trees standing over the disputed lands and not to utilize the forest land for non-forest activities until further orders” for the 120 MW Kashang run-of-the-river project (stage I and II) in Kinnaur district.
The locals have challenged project’s forest clearance granted by the ministry of environment and forests.
They said the forest clearance was a violation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006 and that the unregulated diversion of forests for hydropower projects in the entire region in the last 10 years has had serious ecological consequences.
The petition also raised the threat to the native chilgoza pine tree species due to the project construction.
“The project authorities first applied for diversion of 18.71 hectare of forest land in 2006 for stage I and then applied for diversion of 17 hectare of forests for stage II and II. Its application for stage IV is still pending. They have also applied for a separate forest clearance for transmission lines. The impacts of the entire diversion should have been assessed cumulatively by the ministry of environment,” says the petition.
In October 2010, a team of the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA), another judicial body in the country allowed to hear grievances against environmental clearances, visited the Kashang project site and heard grievances of the local people against the project.
Besides Kashang, the HPPCL’s other undergoing projects include the 100 MW Sainj in Kullu district, Sawra-Kuddu hydroelectric project (111 MW) in Shimla district and Shongtong-Karchham project (402 MW) in Kinnaur.
The upcoming projects in Himachal Pradesh – in private and public sectors – will not only damage natural resources and affect livelihoods but also use up a considerable chunk of forest and agricultural land, argue locals and green activists.