As the old Tehri town drowns in the water impounded by the Tehri dam, some way upstream another hydroelectric power project is making an unwelcome appearance. Work on a hydel project, located on the Bhilangana river, a tributary of the Bhagirathi, is being carried out with heavy protection -- under serious protest.
In the latter part of November 2005, about 30 villagers were arrested for protesting against the project. This is not the first time that such incidents have taken place. Earlier this year, a large number of people were arrested on at least six occasions. "Last month police surrounded and cordoned off the entire village," says Trepan Singh Chauhan of Chetna Andolan, an NGO working in the area. Chauhan had himself been arrested in January and is cur-rently externed from the affected villages. "There is a standing order to arrest me if I enter the area," he says.
Villagers of Phalenda, Saruna, Raunsal, Dhabsor, Jhanet and Thyeli of the Tehri Garhwal district in the state of Uttaranchal have been protesting against the project. "Women were beaten. Villagers are not allowed to enter their fields," says Dev Singh Ramola, resident of Phalenda. Ramola was arrested in May with 14 others.
The roject is being executed by a private company, Swasti Power Engineering Limited. Sources say the company is owned by Y S Raveendra Reddy, brother of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Rajashekhara Reddy, and the dam will affect seven villages with a population of 5,000-plus people. They depend on Bhilangana for drinking and irrigation water. Villagers say that this supply will now be controlled by Swasti Power and released according to the company's calculations of requirements. What's worse is that the manner in which the project has been issued environmental clearance raises doubts.
A contract was signed between the state government and Swasti Power on March 21, 2001, sanctioning an 11-MW project with a 35-year lease, on the basis of a survey, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report and environmental clearances from the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF). However, on October 16, 2003, another contract, this time for a 22.5-MW plant, was signed between the Uttaranchal government and the company for a 40-year lease. Though project parameters were drastically altered, the project did not have to get new clearances.
"It now appears that the Uttaranchal government considered the short-term profitability of the proposed investment and ignored the social and environmental costs that the communities living in that area would have to endure as a result of this project," says a November 30 release from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). "This is reflected in the absence of any analysis of the socio-economic profile of the local population or mention of the impact on their livelihood, health and other aspects. The impact upon the environment too has been ignored. Apart from the fact that there is no EIA for the new project, which is essential, the present EIA makes no mention of the location of quarries required for construction materials, release of oils, greases, the nature of ribbon and ancil-lary development, the likelihood of heavy metal releases from turbine erosion and the impact of all these on the environment," it adds.
The AHRC has condemned this "brutal behaviour by the police which is supported by the district administration and in the larger picture by the state government" and has called for "the government of Uttaranchal to stall this project immediately until the new EIA for the 22.5 MW plant is conducted and cleared". "Villagers arrested in November have now been released but a large contingent of police and revenue officials is still present at the dam site and in villages. Villagers are living in terror," says Chauhan. He says that nine different cases have been registered against villagers. A case challenging the project has been filed in the Uttaranchal High Court and is scheduled to come up for hearing on February 7, 2005. Work is, however, continuing.
THICKER THAN WATER
At least three people were reported killed and more than 25 injured on December 14 when security forces opened fire to disperse protestors agitating for compensation and rehabilitation packages for those displaced by the Khuga dam, meant to supply water to Chandrachurpur town in Manipur.
The incident occurred even as a memorandum of understanding on rehabilitation was signed between the state government and the Dam Action Committee (DAC) the same evening, claim government sources. But the situation was certainly not helped by statements made in the past by a minister delinking the issue of the construction of the dam from rehabilitation.
The protesters damaged an Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) post located near the Khuga dam; and a part of a Border Security Force (BSF) post was also destroyed by the crowd, allege official sources. Reports say around 500 people had been staging a dharna on the route to the Khuga dam from around 8 p.m. waiting for an outcome of the meeting between DAC and the state government.
But, when the representatives of DAC came back from Imphal after holding a meeting with the chief minister, the people marched towards the dam site shouting slogans apparently without any knowledge of the outcome of the talks. Some agitators allegedly began stoning the BSF and IRB posts guarding the site. The security forces retaliated. According to reports, one security personnel was hurt in the stoning, prompting others to open fire. "Security personnel fired indiscriminately to prevent people from getting near the dam," says Eche Aram Pamai of the Citizen's Concern for Dams and Development, an NGO. The firing occurred at around 11 pm. A fact-finding team, comprising of civil society and human rights group, which visited the area on December 17, have said that "IRB and BSF personnel manning the dam, among whom there were no female personnel, also misbehaved with the women protestors". The groups have decided to file a petition with the National Human Rights Commission to probe the incident. Earlier that day, DAC representatives had negotiated with the chief minister to set a deadline of December 14 for implementing the demands, which included compensation for cultivable land in the submerged area that was not paid earlier. Both sides agreed on compensation for families earlier neglected.
In the meantime, additional security forces have reportedly been provided at the dam. Since the past few years, the Manipur government has proceeded with the construction of the dam despite opposition. The negotiations were aimed to sort out these problems.
A n organisation representing villages affected by the Mapithel-Thoubal project in Manipur has reacted strongly to the deployment of forces to continue construction of the dam. The cover was provided when the organisation gave a call to suspend work on the project till the consent of the affected people was obtained.
In a statement, the organisation has said about 800 BSF and 200 Assam Rifles personnel have been deployed. "Resorting to military deployment to aid construction of the dam is in derogation of all democratic principles and practices upheld nationally and internationally, and an absolute violation of the human rights of indigenous people of the state," a statement says.
Close observers of the project, including the watchdog Citizen's Concern for Dams and Development, claims the deployment of the security forces is against the demand of the affected people to suspend construction activities till a review of rehabilitation and resettlement programmes, pending since 1990, and other agreed conditions are finalised. They also demand a detailed assessment of the environmental impact of the project and the impact on people downstream.
The organisation alleges that the construction of the dam is proceeding without either a clearance from MoEF, or a no-objection certificate from the Manipur Pollution Control Board as required under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 1994.
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