HP village plugs hydel project

In an unprecedented development, the members of a gram sabha in Himachal Pradesh exercised rights conferred on them under the fifth schedule of the Constitution and disallowed the Rs 7,759-crore Karcham Wangtoo Hydroelectric Power Project

By Kushal Pal Singh Yadav
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Karcham makes its point forcef (Credit: Vimal / SANDRP)in an unprecedented development, the members of a gram sabha in Himachal Pradesh (hp) exercised rights conferred on them under the fifth schedule of the Constitution and disallowed the Rs 7,759-crore Karcham Wangtoo Hydroelectric Power (hep) Project. Permission was denied on the ground that the authorities were rushing through procedures without involving local inhabitants and activists. It was also alleged that the environmental impact assessment (eia) was peppered with flaws.

The 1000-megawatt (mw) project -- India's largest private venture in the sector -- is being executed by New Delhi-based Jaypee Karcham Hydro Corporation Limited. The company was awarded the contract on a built-own-operate basis in 1999. Under the project, a 98-metre-high dam will be built on Sutlej river at Karcham village in Kinnaur district. The structure is likely to be commissioned in 2009.

Since the site is located in a fifth schedule area, clearance from the gram sabha is mandatory. Despite this, the two public hearings -- meant to weigh up the pros and cons of the project at length -- were organised on June 18 in Karcham and Tapri villages within a span of a few hours and did not look into the local people's issues. As a result, widespread protests marked both the hearings.

Originally, they were scheduled for May 28. "Till May 26, we were not intimated about the meeting. Nor were we provided copies of the eia report," alleges V S Negi, a resident of Tapri which will be partially submerged due to the project. The villagers raised strong objection to this perfunctory treatment, forcing the district administration to reschedule proceedings.

"Even then, there were not enough copies of the eia document. Worse still, the report was written in English -- a language not many people in the region comprehend," says Rajeev Achal of Navrachna, a Palampur-based non-governmental organisation (ngo). The people have now demanded the Hindi version of the eia. Strangely, the authorities give a conflicting account of the event. S S Negi, member secretary, Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board (hppcb), refutes the allegations. But Kinnaur collector Maneesh Garg is reported to have admitted that the people demanded Hindi copies of the eia.

"At the subsequent hearing, only one local representative was present out of the stipulated six. He too walked out eventually, protesting against the authorities' ad hoc approach," discloses Vimal Bhai of Matu Gana Sangathan, an ngo based in Delhi. The proceedings ended with the project's outright rejection by local inhabitants. No final decision has been taken as yet on reorganising the hearings. "It is for the state government to decide," points out S S Negi who is currently preparing a report on the fiasco. Garg, however, feels that the hearings may need to be held again. But an official of Jaypee says: "There is no controversy involved. A high-powered committee of the state government is monitoring the progress of the project."

The language row apart, the content of the eia too was questioned. "This particular document completely favours the project proponents," contends Himanshu Thakkar, a member of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (sandrp), a non governmental organisation. The two-volume eia was prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (neeri), Nagpur. "It excludes the mandatory disaster management plan," states sandrp. This omission could prove costly in the long run because the Sutlej has witnessed several floods that have adversely affected existing dams. Carrying capacity studies, flood risk management and reservoir-induced seismicity studies have also not been done. In view of the fact that the project is sited in a high seismic activity zone, not conducting the latter is a glaring error as well.

Furthermore, sandrp observes that most of the details given in the eia are sourced from reports of the project promoters and no attempt has been made to crosscheck this data. Down To Earth's repeated attempts to contact the director of neeri proved futile. The Jaypee official claimed that "in principle environment clearance for the site has already been accorded by the Union ministry of environment and forests".

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