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Villagers rise against Luhri II Hydropower Project, reject half-baked Social Impact Assessment report

Allege that they were not given sufficient notice or complete information about the dam project prior to the public hearing
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By Navneet Rathore, Shimla
PUBLISHED ON DEC 08, 2019 11:11 PM IST

Residents of Nanj village in Karsog termed the Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL) 172 megawatt (MW) Luhri II Hydropower Project a farce and rejected the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) report prepared as part of the rules preceding the land acquisition process during a public hearing on Sunday.

The villagers alleged that they were not given sufficient notice or complete information about the dam project prior to the public hearing. They said a copy of the report was not made available to the public representatives.

Residents claimed that the SIA report made by two private consultants did not include any details about the impact of the project and were sketchy and half-baked. Upset over the damage to houses caused due to landslides during the survey work for the project, the villagers claimed the area is fragile and unsuitable for construction that involves dynamiting.

Luhri II is one of the three projects being built on the last free-flowing stretch of Sutlej river between Rampur and Kol Dams, the other two being Sunni Dam and Luhri 1. A total of 174.35 hectares of land is required for the Luhri II project alone, of which about 150 hectares is forest land and the remainder is private agricultural land.

Residents said the 1,741.65 crore project will impact eight villages and submerge 119.79 hectares of land spread over 7.5 kilometres. The project involves construction of an underground power house and tunnel.

Nek Ram Sharma, an organic farmer and social activist from Nanj, while submitting his objection to the panel, comprising of officials of the district administration, said “The people of the area, including several Gujjar pastoral families, had their community rights over the 150 hectares of forest land and the rights had not been recognised under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.”

Zila Parishad member Shyam Singh Chauhan said “SIA is creating falsely claiming that the area is rife with unemployment and has no source of water, which is impacting agriculture. On the contrary, the area is known for its forest conservation initiatives as well as farm produce.”

“Any impact assessment should be conducted in consultation with the affected communities,” he said. Deputy Pradhan Tejender Nanj Panchayat said public hearing should be stalled as it did not follow due process.

Chairperson of the Public Hearing Panel, Karsog sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Surendra Thakur said the SIA report had several shortcomings and assured the people that the report will only be sent to the central authorities after revision and the locals’ inputs will be incorporated in it. He also said that there will be no attempt to acquire land by force for the project.

The women of the affected area sloganeered outside the Public Hearing pandal and asserted that their livelihood and lives was dependent on land and forests and that the project would spell doom for their community.

SIA is carried out for large projects, involving land acquisition as part of the Himachal Pradesh Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Social Impact Assessment and Consent) Rules, 2015. The process is separate from the Environment Impact Assessment Public Hearing, which is still pending for the project.

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