Shimla: Facing resistance from environmentalists and conservationists, the Himachal government by doing a u-turn in recommending diversion of forest lands for a private sector medium sized hydropower project in the Bara Bangal wildlife reserve area of Kangra district after first having opposed it has come as a surprise to many.
When contacted additional chief secretary forest Sudipto Roy said, â€œsubject to clearances by the executive council set up by the Supreme Court about diverting land from wildlife reserve areas, the state wildlife board has recommended diversion of forest land for the 200 MW Bara Bangal project.â€
He also said that â€œKishan Sabha Tehsil Committee, Baijnath had separately filed a petition before the High Court that sought to de-notify the Dhauladhar Wildlife Sanctuary as a large resident population in Chota and Bara Bangal areas were facing forest related obstacles in laying roads, power lines and drinking water schemes.â€
Sources claimed that the wildlife board at its meeting on 17th December recommended diversion of 21.46 hectares of forest lands in the wildlife reserve for setting up the power project.
“Earlier the government after giving due consideration had rejected such a proposal,” said a source privy to the matter.
In 2007 the state government without obtaining any forest clearance had allotted the 200 MW project to Malana Power Corporation, a private power producer who already operate two power projects in the state, he said.
When the promoters applied for diversion of forest land for constructing the project, the government after due consideration struck it down, he added.
The projects diversion dam is proposed just below Bara Bangal village on River Ravi, from where a 7 Km long head race tunnel is to be constructed to a power house near Nayagram in Chamba.
â€œThis would cut right through the heart of this untouched forest area and would involve blasting, dumping debris, road construction and entry of thousands of labourers with all the attendant poaching and deforestation,â€ said the source who has retired from government service but did not want to be named.
The promoters approached both the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) and the Supreme Court, but the Himachal government in its reply is said to have placed documents before the apex court reiterating that such a project cannot be allowed in a wildlife sanctuary.
â€œWhat has come as a surprise is that with the matter still being sub-judice, the government has chosen to recommend the diversion of forest land in a wildlife reserve,â€ said Billy Malhans, an environmentalist.
â€œBara Bangal area is the source of River Ravi and MOEF earlier also in another valley had cancelled Parbati stage I hydropower project because it infringed upon a wildlife reserve,â€ said Malhans.