Shimla: The Ministry of Environment and Forests in a letter dated August 31, 2010 has rejected the application of HPPCL for diversion of forest land for Renuka Dam project proposed in Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh.
The project involved large-scale deforestation of almost 775 hectares of forest land required for the project. The project, which was being pushed strongly by the Delhi and Himachal governments, has seen much local opposition. The Renuka Bandh Sangharsh Samiti and other groups and activists who have been demanding that the project be cancelled have welcomed the MoEF’s decision. Members from the affected communities and other groups met environment minister Jairam Ramesh and Delhi CM Shiela Dixit last year in July 2009 to apprise them of their concerns.
Tarun Kapoor, director, Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd (HPPCL) executing the project, said that communication has been received from the MoEF and PUS for revising the proposal so that the number of trees to be axed could be minimised. He said a fresh survey to identify the forest land has been on and is likely to be completed by November 15. The amended proposal would again be sent to MoEF for clearance, he added.
Over the last year, the Samiti along with groups like Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, People’s Action for People in Need, Lok Vigyan Kendra, Jan Ekta Samiti, the Environment Research and Action Collective and South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People have written to the ministry pointing out that granting of forest clearance would be illegal and in violation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 since the local rights on the forests had yet to be settled.
The residents of the area, almost 1000 families from 37 villages, especially the poor and the landless, are the most dependent upon forest lands for grazing cattle and collecting fuel wood and other NTFPs. Apart from the lakhs of trees on the forest lands, there is thick vegetation on shamlaat forests (private forests) which would also be diverted to the project, however, the trees on these lands were not even being counted or considered to exist by the project proponents.
The environment clearance to the project, which was granted in October 2009, has also been challenged in the appellate authority. Despite opposition to the project, the Himachal government used the urgency clause to forcibly acquire land under the Land Acquisition Act 1894. The project was also being opposed at the national level on the grounds that Delhi is a wasteful user and it has better non-dam options to meet its justifiable water needs.
Manshi Asher, a researcher-activist working with Environment Research and Action Collective, welcomed the MoEF decision terming that the project was unnecessarily gobbling up a huge chunk of green cover.
Now the affected communities have demanded that environment clearance to the project also be withdrawn and all land acquisition procedures be brought to an immediate halt followed by complete and permanent cancellation of Renuka Dam Project.