Excerpt from an article by Hindustan Times (Dec 2014)
Concerned over depleting environment, tribals in Kinnaur district outrightly rejected a draft report of a central study on the impact of hydropower projects in Sutlej basin that came out in 2014.
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, criticized 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 local residents in this regard.
As per Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara, Environment Research and Action Collective , the report lacked baseline data. It was unclear as to how consultants arrived at various conclusions without availability of baselines. The report did not look into the very critical issues, for instance the impact of tunneling carried out for these projects. The study also completely overlooked the damage caused to the houses by explosives used for boring tunnels.
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 projects .
Mr Negi criticised the recommendations made in the study, although it had been done with an ecosystem approach by dividing the Satluj basin in three zones -- upper, middle and lower but the experts had not taken into account specific zones and their characteristic features. The blanket recommendations failed 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 recommended 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 had been deliberately kept ambiguous and not put under the section titled recommendations.