Shimla: Protesting villagers in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district have taken government officials hostage, officials said here today. Villagers were demanding cancellation of a mega hydropower project being executed by state-run Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL).
HPPCL General Manager S.P. Gupta said that four government functionaries including three senior officials of the HPPCL have been kept under house arrest by the villagers since Tuesday. He said over the phone that the officials that have been kept in captivity included project’s executive engineer C.L. Dhiman. They have been kept at the ‘panchayat ghar’ in Pangi village. One official of the Himachal Pradesh University in Shimla was also kept in captivity.
“The university official was in the village along with the HPPCL to hear public on impact of the project on local environment when they were taken hostage,” Gupta added. Sub-divisional magistrate Naresh Thakur said the tense standoff is likely to be ended soon. “We are ensuring early hostages’ freedom,” he added.
The run-of-the-river project on a tributary of the Sutlej River, some 275 kms from state capital Shimla is being funded by the Asian Development Bank. The ministry of Environment and Forests has already granted an environment clearance to the project. Tribals of Kinnaur are up in arms against upcoming hydropower projects in the district, saying these are not only shrinking the water channels, but are also affecting livelihood.
Clashes over water rights between villagers and project managements are becoming common as most of the tributaries of the Sutlej have been allotted to companies to generate power. The 1,000-MW Karcham-Wangtoo hydro project, 100-MW Tidong, 195-MW Kashang, 402 MW Shongtong-Karcham and 100-MW Shorang are among the major hydro projects under execution in Kinnaur district. Taking note of a report on the fallout of hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, environmentalists last year shot off a letter to Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh, demanding a temporary moratorium on environmental clearance to new projects in the state.