Karfog (May 9): Sutlej Jal Vidyut Ligam’s ambitious and partly World Bank financed 775 MW Luhri Hydro-electric Project came under the public scanner in the last three days. The Environment Clearance Public Hearings for the project were organised back to back on 5th, 6th and 7th May in Shimla, Kullu and Mandi districts respectively. While the first two public hearings saw severe local opposition as well as objections by environmental activists, it was the hearing held yesterday at Theksu, Kullu which really faced the heat and had to be finally cancelled by the administration.
The very fact that the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board organised three separate hearings indicates the magnitude if the area which will be affected as a result of the project. The proposed project involves construction of an 86 m high concrete gravity dam (with gross reservoir capacity of 35 million cubic meter) from which 38.14 km long twin tunnels of 9 m diameter would bring water to an underground power house about 40 km downstream of the dam site. The reservoir of the project will submerge 153.04 ha of land. Total land to be acquired is 290.967 ha, which does not include the 77.99 ha of river bed. More than 27 villages of 3 districtic will be impacted by the project.
Local residents have been raising a lot of crucial issues relating to the impacts of this project. The disappearance of Satluj in a stretch of nearly 20 kms, will reportedly impact local climate. In the first public hearing, the residents of Seraj, Kumarsain tehsils also raised concerns about facing a drought and their apple crop being impacted as is the case in upper reaches of Satluj valley where similar projects have been constructed. Several Gram Pradhans raised a question about why they are asked to sacrifice for the country. The woman Pradhan of Chhebri Panchayat in Shimla district said, “If the projected earning from Luhri HEP is estimated to be around 800 crores per year, then the affected panchayats shoould also get a 10% share as royalty”. “Commission micro-hydel projects which the panchayats can implement, so that we can generate our own income”, she added.
Manoj Sharma, BDC member, Shimla, resident of village Nirath, Shimla, where the first hearing was held, said, “Nirath will be severely impacted from the reservoir of the project. We will have to bear the impacts throughout our lives. In that case, the provision of free electricity shou;d be extended to us for our entire life.” Local Congress leader Atul Sharma opposed the public hearing saying that detailed documents were not provided to general public one month in advance. He demanded that the public hearing be cancelledd and another date be set so that people are well informed about the project impacts and come prepared. At the Kullu public hearing, Rakesh Singha, leader of the CPM, presented his strong objections to all such tunnel projects and critiqued the EIA in detail highlighting several inadequacies.
Shyam Singh Chauhan of Paryavaran Gram Vikas Sansthan, Karsog, Mandi, said that there is widespread discontentment regarding the list of project affected villages given in the EIA. He said that these public hearings were a fraud since none of the villages above the tunnel have been included in project affected villages, hence SJVNL should first provide details of the survey conducted as well as include the villages above tunnel in project affected villages list and then conduct any such hearing.
It was at Parlog, Karsog (Mandi), the area to be affected by the tunelling of the proposed project where the real opposition unfolded. Approximately 1000 people gathered here on 7th May and shouted slogans against the project. They refused to have a dialogue with local administration and expressed their opposition vehemently – so much so that the administration had to pack up and leave. “It is high time that the government opens its eyes to the adverse impacts of hydropower projects instead of promoting them in the name of public interest and clean energy” the people demanded.