A Posco in Himachal: Locals oppose hydel power projects

As the world watches peaceful protests of villagers against land acquisition for Posco project in Orissa, a silent protest is brewing in Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh against number of small hydro projects in the Saal valley of the district. Since April this year the villagers from
eight panchayats have prevented the construction of small dam hydro projects on Hull river, a tributary of river Ravi.

“We have been sitting on a dharna as the state government has refused to act on our petitions against the projects,” said Rattan Chand Sharma, who heads the Saal Ghaati Bachao Sangharsh Morcha.

The Himachal government has approved two hydro projects of 2.35 MW and 1.40 MW on the river to Delhi based companies and allowed construction despite resolutions passed by affected Panchayats. The state government had promoted run of the river small hydro projects to harness the hydel capacity but the policy had evoked protest from ecologists.

But, has irked the locals in Chamba is that the water will be diverted for the projects affecting their drinking water supply and will affected the local ecology. They also claim that the dams will kill the few kms of the Hull river, vital for their livelihood. “We don’t want compensation and want that the dams being scrapped,” Sharma said.

The protest against Hull hydel projects is just one of the several going on in the Himalayan region from Himachal to Assam in north-east. Akhil Gogoi of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) was recently arrested after a protest over hydel projects coming up in Arunachal Pradesh turned violent.

Already, the Central government had scrapped two projects on river Ganga in Uttarakhand following protest by locals and religious leaders and refused permission to three more. Similarly, locals are up in arms against small hydro projects in Uttarakhand, like the one being seen in Chamba.

Unlike the big hydel projects for which the Central government’s environment clearance is must, the environmental approval for small hydro projects is domain of the state government. Both the projects in Hull river have state government’s approval.

Sharma said the people of eight panchayats are protesting as they believe that these projects will have adverse impact on local forests, water resources and environment, a claim refuted by the state government. But, their protest has not received the attention as of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti in Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa.

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