Shimla, July 1 (IANS) Environmental activists claimed Monday that Himachal Pradesh's policy of promoting mega hydropower projects was being implemented in a fragile and eco-sensitive zone, without an appreciation of the cumulative impact of the works.
A fortnight after calamity stuck Uttarakhand state, after heavy and inbtense rain caused floods and landslides that have left hundreds dead and missing, six green groups wrote an open letter to Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. The heavy rains also caused major disruption in Himachal's Kinnaur district.
Green activists Monday demanded a moratorium on the construction of all new hydropower projects located in the Satluj and Chenab river basins till a study on the cumulative impact of the projects on the fragile ecology and livelihoods is done.
Three large hydroelectric projects have been built and are operational in the Satluj valley (in Kinnaur district). Many others, under construction, are central to the exacerbation of the fragility of the area, by bringing on deforestation and climatic changes and affecting land stability.
"Creating tunnels of several kilometres length, carrying out 24x7 construction, blasting, crushing, haphazard muck dumping along the river bed at the current scale has and will continue to play a destructive role if all the 30-odd projects planned in the Satluj basin are allowed to be constructed," the activists said.
Quoting the "India State of Forest Report 2011", they said in Kinnaur, out of the total geographical area of 6,401 sq km, less than 10 percent is under forest cover; and 40 percent of this small forest area is open forests.
This is the only district where there has been a gradual decrease in forest cover in the last 10 years, the activists said.
According to the report, in comparison to 2001 data, the total area under forest cover, especially dense and moderate forests, has reduced by 7.25 percent.
"We strongly believe that this decrease in forest cover is connected with the forest land diverted for hydropower projects and other development activities. And it is this which is exacerbating the phenomenon of global climatic change in an ecologically and geographically fragile region like Kinnaur."
"Even in the case of Uttarakhand, it has been pointed out ('Down to Earth' June 27 edition) that the areas which were destroyed by the floods are ones where there has been maximum forest loss and deforestation over the last few years. The same holds true for Kinnaur as well, thus establishing a direct link between deforestation and extent of devastation by the floods."
The letter points out that Lahaul-Spiti is another region of concern in Himachal, where more than 20 hydropower projects have been planned in the Chenab river basin.
The way the projects like Seli, Miyar and others are coming up, without assessing the cumulative impact of all the projects on fragile ecology and livelihood of people, similar issues are likely to crop up in the region too, the letter said, warning of an Uttarakhand-like situation.
The letter also quotes the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) findings which highlight failures of the state government to carry out compensatory afforestation in lieu of trees axed for constructing hydro projects.