Hydro project site shift disastrous, admits Himachal government

Shimla, Aug 18 (IANS) The decision of GMR Hydro Power Ltd to change the location of its mega hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh would prove disastrous, the state government has admitted.

"The decision to shift the powerhouse and headrace tunnel sites from right to left bank by the project proponent GMR is flawed," says a report of state-run Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board Ltd (HPSEBL).

It said it would prove disastrous for people and the environment in the project area.

The company is developing the run-of-the-river 180 MW Bajoli Holi project on the Ravi river in Bharmour subdivision, some 70 km from Chamba town. It has secured permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forests to shift the location.

According to the HPSEBL report -- accessed by environmental activist Rahul Saxena last week through Right to Information (RTI), although constructing the project on the right bank of the river would result in additional construction time of one-to-two years, not doing so would result in avoidable losses to the locals and environment -- undoing which may not be possible in a long time to come.

The report, prepared by HPSEBL in July last year, says it's clear to anybody visiting the project site that it should be constructed along the barren and uninhabited right bank rather than the populated and green left bank.

"One cannot destroy an oasis in a desert only because it is more convenient to work there," says the report.

While discarding the company's contention of development of infrastructure for construction on the right bank, the report says such bridges have been constructed for the Chamera II and III hydro projects for access to the tunnels and can be sold off or sent to some other construction site after construction is over.

Saxena, associated with NGO Himdhara Environment Research Collective, said the report has discarded outright GMR's contention that the right bank is not suitable for the construction of the project as it is geologically weak and unsuitable.

Contrary to this, the report says exactly the opposite, and its view has been confirmed by a Geological Survey of India report, he said.

Official sources told IANS that HPSEBL had decided to conduct investigations after public outcry against the shifting of the project site.

HPSEBL director (civil) submitted the report July 30, 2012. The team visited the site July 18.

Saxena said felling of about 5,000 trees for the project has been going on in full swing at the project site.

He said axing of trees has not started only in the Holi panchayat area on account of opposition by local women.

The state government awarded the hydropower project to GMR Hydro Power on build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) basis for 40 years from the date of commissioning.

The company aims to commission the project by January 2018.

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court Aug 13 ordered the Ministry of Environment and Forests to form a committee to examine the role of hydropower projects in the recent natural disaster that hit Uttarakhand.

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