Shimla: In the past decade Himachal Pradesh has witnessed rapid growth in business and social infrastructure of mega proportions – be it cement plants, hydropower projects, SEZs or urbanization – which, besides accelerating the economy of the state, also seems to have resulted in social upheavals due to forced human displacement, widespread destruction and privatisation of natural resources. Though every now and then strong resistance movements have been witnessed across the state, whereby local advocacy groups claim that interests of local people are being compromised, now the movement seems to be snowballing as, for the first time, the people affected/proposed to be affected by various ‘development’ projects within Himachal Pradesh have decided to come together for ‘Himalaya Bachao Rally’ to ascertain their control and rights over their forest, land and water resources and to link up with similarly effected people from other areas in Himachal.
A state-level rally will be held in Bilaspur on April 9 to bring these issues to the notice of the authorities concerned and also the general public. The rally will be followed by a conference the following two days to discuss the issues at length and work out a strategy.
Activists believe that the current model of neo-liberal development of the country and states like Himachal Pradesh mainly aims at rapid exploitation of natural and human resources for unbridled consumption by the globalized economy. This development is at an enormous cost to the local, natural resource based communities, their economy and ecology, and even thriving rural economies are considered dispensable by governments whose only considerations are the projected revenues to the state, they claim. “Himalayas too have not been spared despite being vulnerable due to their fragile topography and unique ecosystems. The scale and attitude with which new projects are being implemented have left little scope for reviewing their impacts on local people, local economy and ecology and possible alternatives,” says Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Himalaya Niti Abhiyan.
“There is an ever increasing shift in the control of resources from communities and state to private companies for profit motive. The communities affected in many places have been actively resisting the government’s policies that propagate this shift by promoting mega projects overriding local people’s rights, concerns and consent,” adds Rahul Saxena of Lok Vigyan Kendra.
In Himachal Pradesh, various peoples’ movements have been condemning the use of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 for forced acquisition of local lands, the blatant handing over of forests and rivers for projects without consent of Gram Sabhas and demanding for recognition of their primary right over their resources. So now, representatives of communities affected by various projects have come together under the banner of the Himalaya Bachao Rally and Him Niti Abhiyan to highlight the issue. These include: Bhakra Dam Oustees, Bilaspur; proposed Harish Cement Plant, Sundernagar, Mandi; Jaypee Cement Plant at Baga, Bilaspur and Solan; industrial hub at Nalagarh, Solan; proposed Himalayan Ski Village, Kullu; hydroelectric projects in Kinnaur and Chamba districts; proposed SEZ at Gagret in Una district; Beas Satluj Link Project, Pandoh and Sundernagar; Renuka Dam project, Sirmaur; and Tower line affected communities in Manali and Bilaspur.