Two new power transmission lines through Jammu & Kashmir, one recently commissioned and the other nearly complete, have run into separate hurdles with petitions challenging them over environmental and health concerns. How significant are these projects, and what are the petitioners’ grounds for challenging them?
The two lines
The 400kV, Northern Region System Strengthening (NRSS) 29 line runs 414 km between Amargarh in North Kashmir’s Baramulla and Jalandhar, via Samba in Jammu. Set up by Sterlite Power, it was commissioned in August. The other line is of 220 kV, running between Srinagar and Leh. It is a Power Grid Corporation of India project; its construction is due for completion on October 25.
These will augment the Valley’s four existing transmission lines that are connected to the Northern Grid — Udhampur-Bemina (132 kV), Kishanpur-Pampore (220 kV), Kishanpur-Wagoora (400kV) and Kishanpur-New Wanpoh (400kV). “Both the projects are very important. It will help the state cater to the increasing demand in the Valley and Leh, especially during winters,” said Muzaffar Matto, Development Commissioner (Power), J&K.
Activist Altaf Lone, an advocate, has moved the J&K High Court against the Srinagar-Leh line, alleging that 14,561 trees are being cut down. Lone has prayed that the court ask the Forest Department to stop the felling of trees and direct the implementing agency to alter the alignment in order to avoid felling of tress. The court has served a notice to the government.
Activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir RTI Movement, has petitioned the State Human Rights Commission against the line between Amargarh and Samba. Claiming that the line is “hazardous for human health”, he has sought that the Commission ask for a status report from the executing agencies, and direct the Government Medical College (Srinagar) and Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences to jointly constitute a team to examine the health of “affected families” living near the transmission line. The SHRC too has served a notice to the government.
NRSS 29 will pass through the Pir Panjal range; an existing line passes over the Srinagar-Jammu highway but supply through this is often disrupted during snowfall. Sterlite Power says the new line would increase power transmission capacity by over 70%. “The state currently produces only 800 MW of power and within three years will require almost 4,000 MW of power. Our project will deliver over 1,000 MW of electricity from Punjab to the Kashmir Valley by strengthening the National Grid,” Sterlite told The Indian Express, by email.
The other line will connect Ladakh region to Srinagar and consequently to the Northern Grid, said S M Kandwal, GM (Project) Power Grid Northern Region 2. “At present, the Ladakh region is not connected with the Northern Grid… This line is very important because it will cater to defence personnel in Leh and they will be biggest beneficiaries,” Kandwal said. The project cost is Rs 2,300 crore, with 95% central funding.
The green cost
For the Srinagar- Leh project, documents accessed by The Indian Express show, the Forest Department has permitted the use of 148 hectares forest land with 14,561 trees/poles/saplings. The agency has paid Rs 17.11 crore as compensation. For NRSS-29, the department has allowed the use of 372.5324 hectares land that includes 40,035 trees, poles and saplings — of which 9,953 are expected to be cut. The agency for this project has paid Rs 46.42 crore as compensation. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Suresh Chugh said necessary approvals were taken. He said the Forest Department is collecting details of the number of trees cut down, and will submit a status report to the court.