Himachal villagers protest over hydel project, want it shifted

Himachal villagers protest over hydel project, want it shifted

Hundreds of villagers on Wednesday staged a protest in Himachal Pradesh against the arrest of woman activists who were demanding shifting of a hydropower project.

The 180 MW Bajoli Holi hydropower project, located some 70 km from Chamba, has been facing a public outcry since 2010 as the locals say it could not only displace them but also affect the local ecology.

Twenty-five villagers were arrested on Tuesday evening on charges of forcibly stopping the project authorities to carry out construction activity, a police official told IANS.He said they have been booked under various sections including 332 (causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty) and 153-A (promoting enmity).

Local activist Mangni Ram said the women were staging a peaceful protest when they were arrested.

“We will not allow the project people to axe trees (from the project site) and carry out any construction activity,” he said.

Ram said the project has secured forest clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests without the consent of the local gram sabhas in violation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006.

“Holi and its nearby villages are going to be hit badly by the project resulting in deforestation, drying up of water channels and even forced displacement,” he added.

Environmental activist Rahul Saxena said the forest clearance was given merely on the basis of a certificate issued by the deputy commissioner of Chamba stating that there were no forest rights to be settled on 75 hectare forest land to be diverted for the project.

“The original survey of the project conducted by the state electricity board has proposed 15-km long tunnel and powerhouse of the project on the uninhabited right bank of the Ravi river but the company has shifted them to the left bank having dense forests,” he said.

He said over 3,000 population of four gram panchayats in Holi area would be affected.“The decision to shift the powerhouse by the project proponent GMR is flawed,” said Saxena, quoting a report of state-run Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board Ltd (HPSEBL).

According to the HPSEBL report, accessed by Saxena through Right to Information (RTI), although constructing the project on the right bank of the river would result in additional construction time of one-to-two years, not doing so would result in avoidable losses to the locals and environment.

“One cannot destroy an oasis in a desert only because it is more convenient to work there,” says the report.

The state government awarded the hydropower project to GMR Hydro Power on build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) basis for 40 years from the date of commissioning.The company aims to commission the project by January 2018.