In an interesting development, the BJP govt. in the state has fixed June 6, 2009 as the day for hearing public grievances against the project, even as the company is yet to submit its detailed project report. The govt had earlier constituted a high level committee headed by the Tourism Secretary to examine the Himalayan Ski Village project. This MOU was signed by the previous Congress govt. and the BJP, then in opposition had furiously opposed this project.
The main concern of the BJP was that no global tenders were floated and had also raised ‘security’ concerns regarding the project’s proximity to border area.
Himalayan Ski Village is to be set up at a cost of Rs. 1500 crore, a 700 room resort along with villas, condominiums, spa facilities, a convention center, shops and restaurants offering holiday experience to 4500 visitors at any point of time. An estimated 3000 jobs will be offered to the locals. The project claims to promote Manali as an all weather international tourist destination and set standards for sustainable eco-tourism.
Since the resort will be developed in the upper Manali region and close to the mountains, local villagers have been opposing the project as some of the clause in the MOU are damaging to the local communities. Section VII of the MoU gives Ski Village “the water rights in the Project Area, including the tapping of unused nallas/ground water and for building retention ponds for snowmaking and supply to the resort village.” The MoU also grants the company an “irrevocable license for the use of ski trails and making of snow and ice on such trails for the duration of the [land] lease and for the construction of trail markers, retention ponds, underground water lines and water pumps. The MOU also gives permission to the company to sell or sublease to any person the commercial residential buildings or sites within the project area, under a special exemption from the HP Land Reforms Act. Also the govt. will help the Himalayan Ski Village in acquiring approximately 65 hectares of land on a 99-year lease, 60 of which will be privately owned.
These are major concerns for the local people as streams are the major source of water in the hills. If streams are diverted it will cause severe problems in the area forcing people to move from their villages even if they are allowed to stay back. Avay Shukla, former Principle Tourism Secretary and being long associated with this project disagreed and said, Himalayan Ski Village will ensure zero displacement. Another major concern is of access to the forests surrounding the Ski Village. The locals depend for firewood and fodder and they are not the only users of the forests in the valley. Gaddis, from the state migrate to this area to graze their animals, rights for which have been recognised traditionally.
Himalayan Ski Village is too big an investment opportunity to be missed but concerns of the local people have to be taken into account. It is the local people who will be surrendering their land and rights for this mega project and the state has a duty to protect their interests. It is against this back drop the govt has to find a way out. Simply opposing for the sake of opposition or just gifting away the hills will serve no purpose. The govt will have to tread cautiously and methodically. I wonder if Mr. Ashok Thakur is in this committee? Being one of the best administrator in the state and a local of the area his presence can make a difference to approaching this whole issue.