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World Bank-funded project runs into local resistance in Himachal

Local farmers are resisting the Luhri power project that will drastically alter the course of the Sutlej river and bring about environmental changes that will affect the all-important apple crop

The World Bank-funded 775 MW Luhri project on the Sutlej river in Himachal Pradesh is set to become yet another flashpoint with protests growing daily over the environmental impact of the dam and the displacement of villages.

Local people, NGOs and voluntary groups oppose the project, especially the 86-metre-high concrete gravity dam (with a gross reservoir capacity of 35 million cubic metres) from which 38.14-km-long twin tunnels with a 9-metre diameter will bring water to an underground powerhouse about 40 km downstream of the dam site.

Guman Singh, coordinator of the Himalaya Neti Abhiyan, an umbrella organisation of a dozen NGOs and environmental groups, says the entire river will disappear if this feature continues to be part of the project design.

The reservoir will submerge 153 hectares of land and impact at least 27 villages in the three districts of Shimla, Kullu and Mandi.

As in other parts of the country where land is being taken away from local communities and used in a variety of industrial projects, the local people here have been raising basic issues about compensation and the project’s impact on the environment and their livelihoods.

The project is being executed by the Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (SJVN), a joint venture between the state and central governments.

On May 7, officials of the Himachal Pradesh State Pollution Control Board, which has begun the process of public hearings on behalf of SJVN, had to cancel the third public hearing in Rampur town following strong public protests and anger brewing among the villagers.

Raising crucial issues during the public hearings, local residents said the disappearance of the Sutlej river over a stretch of nearly 20 km will affect the local climate. Apples are an important crop in the area; changes in temperature as a result of increased industrial activity will affect the crop and their livelihoods, say farmers. They also fear it could lead to drought, as has happened in the upper reaches of the Sutlej valley where similar projects have been undertaken.

Taking note of a report on the fallout of hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, environmentalists last year wrote to Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh demanding a temporary moratorium on environmental clearance to new projects in the state. The multi-crore Renuka dam project is on hold, while the 800 MW Kol dam is under the environment ministry’s scanner. There are constant protests too against Hul (4.5 M), a private sector project in Chamba.

According to the forest department, more than 9,000 hectares of forest land have so far been diverted to non-forest use in Himachal Pradesh. Of this, 7,000 hectares have been used for hydel projects.

Source: www.indianexpress.com, May 9, 2011
             www.thehindu.com, May 8, 2011
             www.sify.com, May 8, 2011