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the Supreme Court's Central Empowered Committee has ordered the Himachal Pradesh government to stop work on the Kol hydroelectric project in view of the controversies surrounding the diversion of the Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary for the dam. The order came in response to a public interest petition on the issue of miscalculation of diversion of forestland for the project.
The forest department failed to include some thickly wooded forest areas with 44,000 standing trees worth more than Rs 2 crore from the diversion map while seeking the mandatory forest clearance from the U nion ministry of environment and forests. The cec, which advices the Supreme Court on forestry cases, has asked Himachal's chief secretary and principal secretary, forests to reply within two weeks. The forest department has also been asked for accurate information about the plan.
Majathal is already embroiled in controversies. The forest department hid the fact that a portion of the sanctuary (habitat for the cheer pheasant) would be submerged under the dam ('Denotified', Down To Earth, August 31, 2006). Since a part of the diversion for the dam would be from the sanctuary, it requires both a forest clearance as well as clearance under the Wildlife Protection Act, which it has not applied for. The lack of the latter clearance makes the forest clearance useless, as without the wildlife clearance, the area cannot be cleared of the trees. Also, in event of diversion from a sanctuary, equivalent area has to be added to the same or a different sanctuary.
Some officials from the wildlife department have pointed out the discrepancies, but the forest department did not make any effort to obtain the clearances.