Close to 1,000 representatives of environmental action groups, locals and academics have asked the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change not to grant extension of clearance to the state-run Kashang hydropower project in geologically fragile Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh.
Citing April 30 natural calamity, they said a large portion of a steep mountain in Kinnaur district slipped down to Pangi village, destroying apple orchards and killing a Nepali migrant worker.
This area in the high Himalayas, falling in the Satluj Valley, which is known for its geological and ecological vulnerability, is the site of Stage I of the 243 MW Integrated Kashang Hydropower Project, which is already operational.
The entire project is being funded by the Asian Development Bank.
Stages II, III and IV are to be constructed in the same area and have faced massive opposition from the locals, mainly tribals, on the ground that these will spell doom for their lives, livelihoods and biodiversity, says the letter.
The project is on the Kashang and Kerang streams, the tributaries of the Sutlej river in Morang tehsil, some 350 km from the state capital.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had granted an environment clearance to the four stages of the project in April 2010 with the condition of 10-year validity.
Only stage I of the project has been completed and now project executor Himachal Pradesh Hydropower Corp Ltd is seeking an extension of the validity of the environment clearance from the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC).
On the hazards and risks of large-scale construction in a fragile terrain, the letter says underground blasting and tunnelling for hydropower projects disturb the local geology and soil erosion triggering slope failures and exacerbating landslides in an area already hazard and disaster prone.
Citing non-compliance of safety and environmental laws by the company in Stage I, it says the project is falling in the Lippa Asrang Wildlife Sanctuary that is home to the Himalayan brown bear and the snow leopard, besides rich in floral biodiversity.
Also it is a threat to local tribal livelihoods and land-based economy.
More than 1,000 families in eight villages of this area will be impacted as their livelihoods are completely dependent on commercial horticulture and farming of peas, potatoes, rajma, etc.
They depend on forest produce like chilgoza pines and akala jeera’ which will also be impacted with the project commissioning, says the letter.
The prominent signatories include Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan; Goldman Environment Award winner Prafulla Samantara; Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams rivers and People; Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh; and Roma Malik of All India Forum of Forest Working People.
From the state, the letter was signed by S.S. Negi of the Lippa Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti; N.S. Negi of the Him Lok Jagriti Manch; Kulbhushan Upmanyu of the Himalay Bachao Samiti; Prem Katoch of the Save Lahaul-Spiti; and Tenzin Takpa of the Spiti Civil Society, among others.