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Local pressure to scrap project mounts

Should 749 hectares of natural forest, which includes 55 settlements in 34 villages and part of a wildlife sanctuary, be sacrificed to meet Delhi’s ever-increasing need for water? The Experts Assessment Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) will be meeting this week to decide just that. Nivedita Khandekar reports. See graphic

india Updated: Jul 28, 2009 00:42 IST
Nivedita Khandekar

Should 749 hectares of natural forest, which includes 55 settlements in 34 villages and part of a wildlife sanctuary, be sacrificed to meet Delhi’s ever-increasing need for water?

The proposed Renuka dam on the River Giri, a tributary of the Yamuna, in Himachal Pradesh’s Sirmaur district, 350 km north of Delhi will do just that. The Rs 2,700 crore project is to provide Delhi 437 million gallons per day (MGD), a little less than half of Delhi’s current demand of 900 MGD.

Not surprisingly, opposition is growing against the project. The Experts Assessment Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) will be meeting this week to decide its fate.

Said Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and People, “It has been established in Performance Audit Report of the DJB (Delhi Jal Board) that water distribution losses in Delhi are around 40 per cent. If just these losses were plugged, we would save more water than the Renuka dam is slated to provide.”

“Aren’t people here worth anything?” asked 70-year-old Jalmo Devi in Tikri village on the banks of the Giri. Hers is one of the 650 families which will be displaced if the dam is built. Said her son, Amar Singh, 45, “Ours is prime agricultural land. Apart from sugar and salt, we’ve never had to buy any groceries. Our land provides us everything. Without it, how will we live?”

Top Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd (HPPCL) officials, however, claim that Amar Singh’s family is in a small minority. “Only a fifth of the 1,650-odd hectares we’ve acquired so far is fertile land,” said P.K. Kathuria, deputy general manager, of HPPCL. “The rest is wasteland.”

“The Environmental Impact Assessment does not even mention anything about the Renuka Lake (a protected wetland) in the vicinity,” said Subodh Abbhi, an environmental activist from the region.

In 1999, the MoEF turned down the proposal, first made in 1994, as it would submerge part of the Renuka wildlife sanctuary. But the project authorities were able to obtain conditional approvals from several other authorities.

The matter was taken to the Supreme Court by environmentalists and in 2000, the apex court gave the Renuka dam its approval—subject to some conditions—in November 2006.

Though the MoEF has yet to give a green signal, local authorities appear eager to go ahead with land acquisition for the project.