Fearing drying up of traditional water sources and depletion of flora and fauna due to massive construction of hydropower projects, people of over two dozen villages of the remote Lahaul Valley on Tuesday staged a massive protest in this district headquarters town.
They said the protests were planned to apprise the authorities on World Environment Day about the threat being posed by the upcoming projects to the Chenab river basin, the least exploited basin for hydro-power generation in the state.
World Environment Day is celebrated every year on June 5 to raise global awareness about the need to take positive environmental action.
"The Chenab river basin is under threat. The government has allocated more than two dozen mini and mega projects in the past four-five years," Ravi Thakur, president of Jispa Bandh Jan Sangharsh Samiti, told IANS.
He said the threat is more from the mega projects being constructed by private firm Moser Baer Projects Private Limited and state-run Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL).
"These would severely hit the local flora and fauna and would dry up the traditional water resources. It will also hit the livelihood, directly or indirectly, of more than 6,000 people settled in 26 villages in the Lahaul Valley," he said.
The reservoir of the 300 MW Jispa project of the HPPCL on the Chenab would displace more than 200 families of seven villages, the protesters said.
The mega projects, two by Moser Baer and one by the HPPCL, coming up in Lahaul are in Miyar, Seli and Udaipur areas.
The Chenab basin falls largely in the high-altitude region (above 2,500 metres) in Lahaul and Spiti district. The area is characterised by difficult terrain, fragile and loose mountains, prone to avalanches and landslides and falls in seismic zone-IV.
"Of late, abnormal rise in temperatures, receding glaciers and increase in precipitation in these cold deserts indicate that something has gone wrong with nature," Thakur added.
According to Himachal Pradesh's micro-hydel policy, the consent of the affected gram sabhas (local bodies) is necessary before constructing any project.
"The locals have not been taken into confidence before allocating the projects," Jeewan Lal, a villager from Udaipur, said.
Environmentalist R.S. Negi said the hydroelectric projects would severely affect local natural water sources in Lahaul like in another remote district of Kinnaur.
"Before allowing the projects, the government should conduct carrying capacity study or assessment of environmental impacts of the projects," said Negi, who is heading the Him Lok Jagriti Manch (HLJM), a people's movement in Kinnaur district against upcoming hydro projects.
Like the Lahaul Valley, protests over hydro projects are becoming common in Kinnaur, Shimla, Chamba and Kullu districts.
According to forest department estimates, over 9,000 hectares of forest land have so far been diverted to non-forest use. Of this, 7,000 hectares were used for hydel projects.