IN THIS ecologically fragile tribal district, where the Sutlej River flows down from Tibet region, as a hope to generate around 6,000 MW of power, with 2,950 MW already tapped, who is talking about environmental issues in the run-up to the Assembly polls? Not the politicians, at least.
However, R S Negi, 70, a retired IAS officer, has been busy faxing a 26-point memorandum to political parties and candidates, including Jagat Singh Negi, incumbent Kinnaur MLA and his BJP rival Tejwant Negi. With his mission ‘Kinnaur Bachao’, Negi, who heads Him Lok Jagriti Manch, an NGO, wants Spiti and upper Kinnaur area of the trans-Himalaya region to be declared as ‘no-go river’ for hydro-power projects as damage had already been done to the river, its catchments by dams and tunnels.
The project-affected people, in 15 panchayats at Karcham Wangtoo and five at Shongton Karcham, are protesting damage to their houses, land and water sources. Some of the companies concerned, that allegedly have political backing, refused to budge.
But R S Negi’s list of issues is vast, ranging from seeking enforcement of Forest Rights Act 2006 to give rights to tribals, grant of Nautors – nearly 10,000 cases pending, getting surplus government land returned by the hydro-power companies, ban on mining along Sutlej (including stone crushers) and taking measures to protect the apple economy of Kinnaur.
He admits that none of the candidates have got back to give any assurance and says political parties have their own agenda devoid of long term sustainability of Kinnaur, natural resources and of course, the local economy’s main-stay which is tourism, apples and dry-fruits .Hundreds forest trees were felled for the project .Villagers opposing Kashong project had to knock the doors of the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
Growing environmental pollution, dust generated by the projects and heavy movement of machinery has hit Kinnaur ‘s apple crop hard. “We are known for growing best apple varieties. But for want of requisite chilling hours, the plants don’t give us optimum produce. Pollination is affected by dust pollution, unpredictable/unanticipated changes in temperature. It’s all the result of hydel projects ruining our farm economy, “ says Sangratan Negi, an orchard owner at Kalpa.
This year, the apple crop this year has been just half of what Kinnaura harvested last year, which was down from 34 lakh boxes to 23 lakh. The horticulture department of late have also providing relief to apple growers based on field assessments for crops affected by seasonal changes. But that’s not a long-term measure to sustain the economy.
As debate on development, particularly roads connection during past five years, has become a focus of the poll campaign, locals say it is clear that ‘sadak’ was a basic need in the tribal villages. “Such as been a success in road constructions that we have linked highest Kinnaur village Tashigang (13,500 feet) has been linked by road. There is bus service started to villages such as Thangi. There are, I think, only two villages left without roads now,” Jagat Singh Negi claims.
Tejwant Negi terms this claim as a “half-truth.” In fact, the major advantage of course was due to central government decision to ease norms for forest clearances for development projects like roads, institutions and water/irrigation supply schemes .Now, upto one hectares of land ,the approval is granted by DFO .Further losts of funds came under PMGSY .But, there is separate tribal budget ,which is almost nine percent of state’s tribal areas having population just five percent that of state.
“In Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti, MLAs head the Local Area Development Authority (LADA). They have funds to the tune of crores at their disposal for roads and other projects. He used/misused funds to benefit certain villages and individuals. There is resentment against him for doling out funds and benefits to a contractors’ lobby,” Tejwant alleges.
Allottment of patta benefitting 700 people, who have been given land ownerships, is the ‘highlight’ of Congress MLA ‘s campaign but non-allotment of Notaurs (free land) has become an issue against the government. Officials say there is no available for allotments of notaurs.
The issue of development, which Jagat Singh Negi sees as a poll plank, is being countered by charges of corruption and favouritism by his political rivals. The presence of a CPM candidate has given the contest a new edge, especially in highlighting the issue of labour workers’ rights.