To fast-track hydro-power generation, Himachal Pradesh government seems to have compromised with major socio-ecological issues by waiving mandatory clearances to do away with the process of public consultations.
The move is a complete U-turn by the government on its earlier decision to involve locals users of water and other right holders in sanctioning new hydro-power schemes. It’s more seen as a short-cut measure instead of expediting the process for granting NOCs (No-Objection certificates) to the power producers, of which 70 percent are private investors. Himachal Pradesh has a power potential of 27,000 MW of which only 10,000 MW has been tapped so far.
The power producers had been alleging delays in grant of sanctions and department NOCs, compelling the government to remove the clause of NOCs.
For any project coming up in Himachal, the investors will not be required to get NOCs of Public Works Department (PWD), Irrigation & Public Health department (IPH), Revenue, Fisheries and Wildlife. All the clearances which were earlier mandatory as per state government’s power policy, is now a bygone thing.
“Most of these clearances (NOCs) made mandatory to avoid legal disputes, deprivation of locals of their rights to use water for irrigation, drinking, washing and rearing cattle, besides protecting their rights to fishing, using roads, bridges and other village common lands. All the socio-ecological aspects are well protected under this policy. But, now the private lobby wants to take control of all natural resources. It’s a retrograde step,” claims retired IAS officer.
Exactly, three years back the BJP government shelved several big and small projects of 450 MW capacity in Himachal’s Tirthan valley in Kullu district because the fisheries department objected to the projects. A project sanctioned on Tirthan, a tributary of Beas river was canceled as locals had objections since the tributary was considered the best breeding place for trout fish. It was ensured that NOC from fisheries department is made mandatory. Five other projects in Kinnaur were also scrapped after reports about their adverse impact on ecology and rights of locals.
The state government move is bound to increase local’s conflict with project promoters and result in limitations delaying the projects execution. The government could have made the clearances a time-bound process instead of limiting the public’s say in the project’s.
“The concept across the world is to make public partners in the development and increase consultation process. I am surprised Virbhadra Singh government, which is already facing charges of corruption,nepotism and mal-governance, has compromised with the important process of clearances. The government is cheating the public and at the same time selling out our natural resources,” alleged former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal.
Some local and national Environmental groups have already written to state Chief Secretary raising strong objections against Himachal’s Hydropower Policy.
“These NOCs are critical because they recognise the fact that the Hydro power projects, both small and large, have serious environmental and social impacts. A thorough investigation and NOC by the IPH is critical in determining whether the design of the project is feasible from the point of view of the impact on water sources”, said members of Himdhara, Environment Research and Action Collective, one of the signatories of the memorandum.
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