Himachal villagers protest in Delhi against dam

Monday, November 22, 2010

NEW DELHI/SHIMLA - Around 100 villagers from Himachal Pradesh began a two-day protest in New Delhi Monday against the construction of a hydroelectric project in Sirmaur district that also aims at providing drinking water to Delhi. The project would displace hundreds of people, the protesters said.

The Rs.2,700 crore ($560 million) Renuka dam to be built on a tributary of the Yamuna river in Sirmaur will quench the thirst of people in the national capital and also generate 40 MW of electricity for the hill state. But villagers say it will submerge their fertile agricultural land and affect their livelihood.

“Around 100 people who will be affected by the Renuka dam began their two-day protest in Delhi. Our only demand is scrapping of the project that is not only affecting our livelihood but also environment,” Puran Chand, secretary of the Renuka Bandh Jan Sangharsh Samiti, told IANS.

He said that the national-level protest was organised by various environmental groups against the proposed Land Acquisition (amendment) Bill, 2009, and the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2009, of the central government.

In a petition sent to Congress president Sonia Gandhi last week, the Renuka dam affected people have questioned the purpose of setting up the project.

“We have written to Sonia Gandhi not to allow the construction of the dam that will submerge 1,630 hectares of prime agricultural land. Since agriculture is the main source of income of the locals, it would be an injustice to those who get displaced,” said Guman Singh, coordinator of the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan.

The Abhiyan is a group of NGOs fighting for the cause of those facing displacement due to development activities. Over 700 families of 37 villages would be affected by the construction of the Renuka dam, activists said.

The project, being developed by the government-run Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL), has already run into trouble with the union environment and forests ministry. It has objected to 775 hectares of forest land being used for constructing the dam.

The ministry’s Aug 31 communication said: “The recommendations of the forest advisory committee were placed for approval before the ministry, which has declined to accept…as the proposal involves high-density forest and requires the felling of a very large number of trees.”

Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal met Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh in Delhi last week to present a revised proposal of the Renuka dam with minimised diversion of forest land.

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