Himachal Pradesh Governor Bandaru Dattatraya has urged the central government to grant the state a one-time exemption from forest laws in order to install water supply schemes under the Jal Jeevan Mission.
In a letter to Union Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar, Dattatraya said that there would be no felling of trees and no damage would be caused to the local ecology due to digging of trenches or installation of pipes or other components.
Himachal faces a peculiar problem in implementing the mission as most of the ridge lines in the state are forest lands and non-forestry activities, such as laying of water supply pipes and construction of tanks, are prohibited in these areas, the Governor said in the letter. The state is therefore, finding it difficult to install gravity-based water schemes and almost all the schemes under the Jal Jeevan Mission are currently lift water supply schemes, he said.
“Instead of holding the water along the ridges, it is first being allowed to drain to the valleys before being lifted up with electric power to be supplied to the villages. This adds to the cost and creates other problems as well. In order to install gravity based schemes, activities under JJM need to be exempted from the Forest Conservation Act and also the Forest Rights Act. If this happens, the state is expected to save an amount of Rs 700 to 750 crore annually,” Dattatraya said.
According to the state department of irrigation and public health, now renamed as Jal Shakti Vibhag, there are a total of 9,516 completed water supply schemes in Himachal, including 2,391 lift schemes, 6,721 gravity-based schemes and 404 tubewells.
Out of a total geographical area of 55,673 square kilometres, the state has a recorded forest area of 66.52 percent (37,033 sq km) and a forest cover of 27.72 percent (15,433.52 sq km), according to the India State of Forest Report released last year.
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