Following Shukla report activists demand suspension of new hydro projects

Shimla: Taking note of the Shukla report on the fallout of hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, environmentalists are demanding a temporary moratorium on environmental clearance to new projects.

In a letter signed by 15 action groups, highlighting concerns of people across the state over threats to the environment, they demanded Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh to stop granting environmental clearance to hydro projects.

State Additional Chief Secretary (Forests) Avay Shukla, in a 30-page report placed before a ‘green bench’ of the high court last month, asserted that in the entire 70 km stretch of the Ravi river between Chamba town and Bajoli, only 3 km of the river would flow in its original bed and the rest would disappear. 

‘There are four hydro projects sanctioned on the 70-km stretch. These are Bajoli-Holi, Kuther and Chamera II and III. When all these projects will be commissioned, the entire river would meander through tunnels of the projects,’ Shukla observed.

Rahul Saxena of the Lok Vigyan Kendra, an NGO fighting for the cause of the people affected by the upcoming projects, said that it is for the first time that any government official has studied the impact of hydropower projects on environment.

Shukla, who has examined the environmental fallout of big projects of over 100 MW, has recommended that a minimum riparian distance of five km be maintained between two hydropower projects on the same river.

According to the report, which studied the Satluj, Beas and Ravi river basins, the main valleys in the state have been saturated with projects. Now projects are being allotted along side valleys of the tributaries.

The report recommends that the government should declare some areas as protected zones to help maintain ecological balance and also conduct studies to know the carrying capacity of each river basin.

The high court had initiated suo motu proceedings after the media reported that about 10 lakh trees have been axed during the execution of 150 mini and mega hydropower projects in the state since 1990. It appointed Shukla in December last year to examine the impact of projects on nature.

R.S. Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch, also a signatory to the memorandum, said the Shukla committee report, though limited in mandate and scope, is critical because for the first time we have official recognition of the fact the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej river basins have been saturated with hydel projects.

According to forest department estimates, over 9,000 hectares of forest land has so far been diverted to non-forest use. Of this, 7,000 hectares were used for hydel projects.

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