Concerned over depleting environment, tribals in Kinnaur district have outrightly rejected a draft report of a central study on the impact of hydropower projects in Sutlej basin.
The 'Cumulative Environment Impact Assessment' study was compiled by the Indian Council of Forest Research and Education in collaboration with other agencies. Residents of Kinnaur district, particularly those affected by the power project constructions, have decried the report terming it as "biased" towards hydro project promoters.
More than 500 tribals participated in a public hearing and registered their written objections to the finding.
"People were severely critical of the report and challenged its contents as being incomplete and incorrect," said RS Negi, a retired bureaucrat who heads the Him Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur.
"Tribals regretted that the report did not make a mention of the damage already caused to environment by the three major hydel projects -- 1500 MW Nathpa Jhakri, 1200 MW Karchham Wangtoo and 300 MW Baspa," he said while adding that the study also skipped the major issues being faced by the locals residents in this regard.
"The report has no baseline data. It is unclear as to how consultants arrived at various conclusions without availability of baselines" said Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara, Environment Research and Action Collective. The report did not look intovery critical issues, for instance the impact of tunneling carried out for these projects.
"The study has completely overlooked the damage caused to the houses by explosives used for boring tunnels" he said and added that the majority of the tribals present at the public hearing complained about the damage caused by blasting.
The locals also questioned the study's silence on the issues like impact of massive muck dumping and air pollution due to dust during the construction period.
Tribals observed that during the 18-month long study period, no consultations were conducted to gather the viewpoint of the locals about the impact of the hydle peojects .
"Public hearings and consultations have been reduced to a sham and none of the recommendations that are given in these meetings are addressed or taken up by the government and departments," said Negi.
Criticising the recommendations made in the study, he said, "The study has been done with an ecosystem approach by dividing the Satluj basin in three zones -- upper, middle and lower. But the experts have not taken into account specific zones and their characteristic features. The blanket recommendations fail to address the complexities and differences in each of these zones".
However, the recommendation which turned out to be the most controversial was on the "no-go areas" for hydropower projects.
The study report recommends declaring certain areas as "no-go" zones for hydropower projects given the biodiversity, impact on fish, fauna and the fragility of trans-Himalayan region. "But this point in the report has been deliberately kept ambiguous and not put under the section titled recommendations," he said.
Representatives from Hangrang valley in the upper Kinnaur insisted that this be included as a recommendation, else they would boycott the entire proceedings.
Shanta Kumar, a representative of the Hangrang Ghati Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, said that there was severe opposition in the valley to hydropower projects. "We are very clear that the experience of project-affected villages in the lower Kinnaur and other areas in the river basin has been negative," he added.