Himachal denotifies sanctuaries for hydel projects

Himachal denotifies sanctuaries for hydel projects in march 2006, Himachal Pradesh gave the go-ahead to proposals denotifying four sanctuaries and redrawing boundaries of 15 areas, including protected areas. Not surprisingly, the areas are required for either mining or hydro-electric projects or roads.

Ridden by controversy The Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary in Shimla district is still caught up in the controversy related to diversion of the Kol hydroelectric project and another 14-year-old diversion of a protected wildlife area to make way for an Ambuja cement plant. The Central Empowered Committee has taken a stern view of the violation of the state regarding compliance with the Centre's conditions for the diversion. This matter came to light because Ambuja applied for permission to draw a drinking water pipeline from the Majathal Sanctuary.

The proposal for the Kol dam was passed in 1990 and the project was given to the state electricity board.But when the project did not progress for ten years, it was given to the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (nhpc). However, the total land that needs to be diverted is much more than what the Centre gave clearance for. "When it came to my notice, nhpc said that the portion had been deleted from the project, which is impossible because it falls right in the middle of the catchment area. The area required for the dam has increased from 80 to 103 ha,' said a forest department official. The 44,000 trees, worth Rs 2.5 crore, present in that area is also a matter of concern. Besides, no additional area has been added to the sanctuary against the area approved for diversion. This flouts the Wildlife Protection Act directly.

The Darlaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in the Solan district is also one of the four sanctuaries that is caught up in the diversion dispute. In 1992, Ambuja Cement had expressed interest in mining limestone and setting up a cement factory in a portion of the Darlaghat sanctuary. The ministry of environment and forests had cleared the de-reservation of the forest land under two conditions. One that, a new wildlife sanctuary be set up in the state, which is now known as the Kibber sanctuary located in Lahaul-Spiti. The second condition was that an additional 20 sq km be added to the existing 40 sq km of the Majathal wildlife sanctuary.

The second condition to add more area to Majathal was not complied with till about a decade later. In 2002, the forest department circulated a notification with the intention of adding 17.55 sq km to Majathal, instead of 20 sq km. But a new notification by the department in 2005 rescinded the 2002 notification.

Common excuse The state wildlife department cites regular human habitation as excuse. "It is a rationalisation process. There is a lot of pressure due to human habitation and their forest rights. Besides, we will add more area to the Kibber sanctuary,' says Vinay Tandon, chief wildlife warden, Himachal Pradesh.

Majathal and Kibber are quite diverse in the species they harbour. "Majathal has one of the highest densities of the Cheer Pheasant, one of the finest strongholds of the pheasants. Adding area to Kibber makes no sense,' says Rahul Kaul of the Wildlife Institute of India. Even the argument that human habitation is a hindrance is contested by forest department officials themselves. "Out of 17-odd kilometers, about 2-3 km has human settlements. It is very simple to delete such portions with human pressure from the notified area and just add the rest, which do not suffer from such pressure,' said a senior forest official.

Nargu, another sanctuary in the Mandi district, has also been selected for denotification. A road was constructed through the sanctuary without mandatory central clearance. No wonder, it is set for denotification. But that's not all. Ambuja has applied for permission to draw drinking water supply from the Majathal sanctuary. The cec has now asked for an explanation from the state on all diversion-related cases in Majathal.

"We can only hope that this time, the discrepancies in the diversions and illegalities will come out in the open,' said the senior official.

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