By: Rahul Saxena
The under construction 100 MW Tidong I project in the Kinnaur district is proving to be the latest graveyard for valuable trees that not only act as local climate regulators in this dry zone but also are an important source of livelihood for the people of the area. In a blatant act of violation of the land code of the state, it has come to light that the company has begun work without the government land in the project area having been officially transferred to it through a lease by the state government. This is a violation of the provisions of the HP Lease Rules, 1993 and amounts to de facto encroachment over state property. The local villagers allege that trees are being damaged by the project authorities, by far exceeding the numbers that have been officially sanctioned by the central government.
Site before construction
It is pertinent to note that the Environment impact Assessment report for the project had specified requirement of 13916 trees to be felled for the construction of this 100 MW project which is much on the higher side. After this issue was raised by local environmental groups, another survey was conducted by the forest department and the number was surprisingly reduced to just 1261 trees, the number for which the clearance was finally granted by the central ministry of Environment and Forests under the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act. The villagers of Rispa village, where the company has begun the construction of a road to a project site, allege that the company has already destroyed more than this permitted number of trees despite the fact that the work on the project has just begun. Bhuvneshwar Negi, President of Paryavaran evam Van Sanrakshan Samiti of Rispa village puts the figure of trees that have been either felled or damaged by the project authorities at more than 2500.
Damages done to the trees due to road construction
Most of the damage to the vegetation is being caused due to boulders being rolled down the hill slopes by the construction company after uncontrolled blasting which is also raising huge amount of dust and causing accelerated soil erosion. Most of the trees in question belong to the rare and endangered Neoza pine variety, a mainstay of the rural livelihoods in this area which is only found in certain areas of Afghanistan, Kashmir and Kinnaur. Every year, each of these trees used to yield an average of 10 kgs. of Neozas, worth Rs. 3000 in today’s terms. By the current estimates, if the ecologically destructive activities of the project continue unabated, then an immense and irreparable damage to the local livelihoods, soil cover, agriculture and horticulture of the area would take place.
The company had paid Rs. 2.5 crores to the villagers of Moorang, Rispa and Thangi for compensating the projected loss to their livelihoods and obtaining no objection certificates in order to begin the construction on the project. The Pradhan of Gram Panchayat Rispa, Sh. Narender Negi, said that this permission given by the villagers was only for the loss of forest property that had been allowed by the central government and not beyond that.
Debris rolled down the slopes
If these activities of the company are not checked now, environmentalists fear that permanent damage to the ecology on the lines of Alain Duhangan project near Manali and Parbati project in Kullu district might result. RS Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch said that the government was only eyeing enhanced central grants while harping on the fact that Himachal is forgoing profits by preserving its forest wealth. He said that if the government is really serious about climate change then it should take decisive and exemplary against such violations of environmental laws and tribal rights occurring in its backyard rather than just providing lip service to the cause at big conferences. He said that the forest officials only chose to impose fines for the destruction of the forest property by hydro-electric projects whereas these cases should be dealt under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, just like what a villager has to face if he cuts even one tree.
The beginning of construction by the project authorities is also in violation of the land laws of the state that prescribe that the a lease deed needs to be executed upon the payment of lease money for any land in the custodianship of the government before any project can be initiated thereupon. Short of this, any activity on such land amounts to an encroachment over government land irrespective of the fact that the project has obtained environmental and forest clearance.
The villagers have been writing to the government authorities regarding these violations regularly but no decisive action has been initiated yet.
(The above provision has been communicated to all the DCs and Administrative Secretaries within the state through a communication by the Secretary Revenue through letter no. Rev. D(G)6-2004-3 dated 30/1/2005)
Contacts for further information :
RS Negi – Him Lok Jagriti Manch – 094180 02562
DFO Kinnaur – 01786 223358/ 252207
Conservator Forests, Rampur Circle – 01782 233068
Secretary Revenue – 0177 262 1902
Gram Pradhan, Rispa Panchayat (Narender Negi) – 98164 52022
Bhuvneshwar Negi – 98053 90153
Note: Rahul Saxena is an environmentalist associated with Lok Vigyan Kendra and Himalaya Niti Abhiyaan