Shimla, May 5 (IANS) In a setback to an Asian Development Bank-funded hydroelectricity project in Himachal Pradesh, a judicial panel hearing a petition on diversion of forest land to the upcoming project has directed the government to get the issue resolved first with the affected people.
The judgment was passed by the National Green Tribunal on a plea of the Paryavaran Sanrakshan Sangarsh Samiti of Lippa, one of the project-affected villages, which challenged the forest clearance.
State-run Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd. (HPPCL) is undertaking the execution of the 130-MW Integrated Kashang Stages II and III hydroelectric project in Kinnaur district.
The tribunal, in its May 4 order, directed the state forest department and the ministry of environment and forests, which allowed diversion of 17.6857 hectares of forest land, to ensure that the entire proposal pertaining to the forest clearance is placed before the gram sabha of Lippa, Rarang, Pangi and Telangi villages for its perusal.
The villagers said the project would require diversion of a large area of forest land measuring about 119.6 hectares from the cold desert region at an elevation of 2,000 to 3,155 metres.
During the past decade, there had been a gradual decrease in the forest cover in Kinnaur which now is spread over only 10 percent of the district’s geographical area, the villagers said.
The judgment, which was reserved on February 11, was passed by the principal bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar.
The appeal challenged the forest diversion as it had violated the provisions of the Forest Rights Act of 2006, which requires a mandatory no-objection certificate of the affected gram sabha(s).
Moreover, the villagers had expressed apprehension that the project would not only damage natural resources and but also affect their livelihood.
“The gram sabha shall consider all community and individual claimsthe livelihood of the villagers caused by loss of forest land, landslides and possible loss of water sources due to the (Kashang) project,” said the 20-page judgment.
The judicial panel fixed a time frame of three months to complete the entire proceedings.
Hailing the decision, local villager S.S Negi said: “The judgment upholds the right of the people under the Forest Act.”
The project is proposed on the Kashang and Kerang streams, the tributaries of the Sutlej river in Morang tehsil, some 350 km from the state capital.
Earlier, the National Green Tribunal, in its interim order in 2012, had stopped the Kashang project authorities from utilising the forest area.
In October 2010, a team of the National Environment Appellate Authority, another judicial panel in the country, visited the Kashang project site and heard the local people’s arguments against the project.