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Power projects to hit ecology: Bodies

The clamour for declaring high-altitude areas above 7,000 feet as the eco-sensitive zone is gaining momentum following the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) process of consultations with the local people to study the impact of power projects coming up on the Sutlej basin.

The ICFRE, which has been assigned the Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment Study (CEIAS), is holding a public hearing on December 7 at Jhakri to ascertain the views of the people regarding the impact of the already commissioned, under-construction and proposed power projects on the basin.

People have been more concerned about the massive construction activity being undertaken for implementation of projects on the basin in the wake of the calamity which devastated the Kedarnath area and large parts of tribal Kinnaur district. People and environment advocacy organisations have warned that “too many power projects” will spell doom for the ecosystem and the inhabitants in the ecologically fragile hill areas.

The Sutlej basin accounts for 13,332 MW (revised upwards from 10,355 MW under digitised plan) of the state’s total identified hydropower potential of 27,436.35 MW.

If the plan to set up a cascade of a dozen projects is fully implemented, the 230-km stretch of the fast-flowing river from Shipki La (the entry point at China border) to Koldam will be virtually wiped out. While the 135-km-long power tunnels will effectively kill 160-km length of the river, another 70 km will be subsumed in reservoir.

It will have far-reaching implication for the ecosystem and in turn the livelihood of the local people.

The Himalaya Nitit Abhiyan, apex body of NGOs pursuing environment issues, is demanding implementation of the Shukla committee, which recommended that no projects be constructed beyond 7,000 feet and a minimum riparian distance be maintained between two projects, for all the projects. It wants the government to review all the projects on which construction work has so far not been started.

Convener of the Himachal Professional’s Forum RL Justa says even the small projects have become a matter of concern as they are coming up virtually one over the other, which will create serious problems for the hill people who are largely dependent on small streams for all their water needs. In countries like Sweden and Norway, 20 per cent of the total hydroelectric potential has been kept on hold as an environmental safeguard.

Till date, projects of 8,417 MW capacity, including the Bhakra Dam, have been commissioned, and out of these, projects of about 5,800 MW are in Sutlej basin. Two more projects, 800 MW Kol Dam and 412 MW Rampur, are nearing completion and another 27 projects aggregating 4,700 MW are in various stages of implementation or proposed in the basin.

The Tribune (05-12-2013)