Thousands in Himachal Pradesh have knocked on Congress president Sonia Gandhi's door, demanding the scrapping of a dam that threatens to displace them, submerge their fertile agricultural land and with it, their livelihood.
The Rs. 2,700-crore ($560-million) Renuka dam to be built on a tributary of the Yamuna river in Sirmaur district will quench the thirst of people in the national capital and also generate 40 MW of electricity for the hill state.
In a petition sent to Sonia Gandhi this week, thousands questioned the purpose of setting up the project.
"We have written to Sonia Gandhi not to allow the construction of the dam that will submerge 1,630 hectares of prime agricultural land. Since agriculture is the main source of income of the locals, it would be an injustice to those who get displaced," Guman Singh, coordinator of the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan said.
The Abhiyan is a group of NGOs fighting for the cause of those facing rehabilitation due to development activities. More than 700 families of 37 villages would be affected by the construction of the dam.
"The government is not sincere about the problems of the people who are facing rehabilitation. The rehabilitation package announced is not adequate," said Yoginder Kapila, convenor of the Renuka Bandh Jan Sangharsh Samiti.
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal on Wednesday said the state government is committed to protecting the interests of the people.
"Every affected family will get 100 units of power free of cost for 10 years after the commissioning of the project. To rehabilitate the people, 418 bigha (1 bigha = about 2,500 sq metre) of land has been purchased by the government and best land purchase rate would be offered to the land owners," Dhumal said while meeting those hit by the project.
Water from the dam will be released into the Yamuna river, from where it will reach Haryana's Hathni Kund barrage and finally Delhi.
Himanshu Thakkar, a water expert of Delhi-based NGO South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said, "Delhi has reduced the Yamuna river to a sewer, it cannot harvest rainwater and is suffering from 40 percent water distribution losses.
"If leakages are plugged, Delhi can get much more water than what the proposed Renuka Dam can supply."
Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL) managing director Tarun Kapoor, however, said the government would provide adequate compensation to the affected villagers. The HPPCL, a public sector undertaking, is executing the project.
The project has run into troubled waters since its inception. Even the union environment and the forests ministry have objected to the 775 hectares of forest land to be used for constructing the dam.
The ministry's Aug 31 communication said: "The recommendations of the forest advisory committee were placed for approval before the ministry, which has declined to accept as the proposal involves high-density forest and requires the felling of a very large number of trees."
The HPPCL is revising the proposal so that the number of trees to be axed would be minimised.
More than 30 environment activists, including Vandana Shiva, Rajendra Singh and Amita Baviskar, in their letter dated June 30 to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit also questioned the purpose of setting up the dam.