Strategically important Ujh hydroelectric project in J&K gets forest panel nod
The Ujh Multipurpose Hydro Electric Project in Jammu and Kashmir, a project of strategic importance, has got the green nod from the environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) according to the minutes of FAC meeting published earlier in the week.
The project will involve the loss of about 680ha of forest land with a large share—609.1ha—in Billawar Forest Division, and over 200,000 trees according to project documents on environment ministry’s Parivesh website.
The Ujh multipurpose project in Kathua district has been envisaged to utilise water from Ujh, a tributary of Ravi, which is one of the three eastern rivers of Indus Basin system. The project will involve the construction of a 116m-high concrete face rock-fill dam (CFRD) and power generation of about 186MW. The irrigation benefits will comprise annual irrigation to area of 31,380ha, besides providing 18.92 million cubic metres (MCM) of drinking water supply to the region.
“This project is of national importance, providing geo-political strategic advantage in form of much more effective use of water of Ujh river. This project will ameliorate the agricultural and power sectors in the otherwise barren Kandi area. It will also be a boon in the dry Kandi belt which is reeling under the peril of impending water crisis during dry season and also reduce the miseries of floods in the monsoons,” FAC stated in its minutes.
The project will involve the displacement of around 8,648 persons and the gross area under submergence is likely to be 34.50sqkm. Documents on Parivesh website dated suggest that the FAC had noted that there was marked difference in the number of trees enumerated for felling which was 296,000 in the online proposal and 338,000 as confirmed by the field officers during the site visit.
“Large number of trees are proposed to be felled due to the project. Every effort shall be made to ensure that trees are felled only when felling is unavoidable, and it shall be done in a phased manner. The Union Territory administration shall therefore also ensure that compensatory afforestation is taken up in the first year of the construction of the project, and adequate post-planting measures are taken to ensure healthy growth of regenerated forest,” the FAC noted in the minutes.
The minutes also state that the resettlement and rehabilitation plan shall ensure that no rehabilitation is proposed over forest land. A copy of the resettlement plan shall be submitted by the user agency to the UT administration who will monitor to ensure that no project affected person occupies forest land, FAC said.
"Any rehabilitation and resettlement exercise should be preceded by determining whether the land acquisition in question will serve public purpose. This cannot be determined by a government agency or an expert committee. The FAC’s observations don’t indicate whether this has been discussed with the 9000 people who will be directly affected by the project," said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.
"It is critical that the forest diversion process be planned carefully and slowly for J&K as the central laws have been made applicable only recently, and there needs to be a much more considered view of prevailing rights. Else, large scale land use change and acquisition can result in social and environmental injustices," she added.