Kol Dam Threatens The Cheer Pheasant
February 2011: In October 2010, the 800 MW Kol Dam project in Himachal Pradesh was turned down by the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL). This project could drown 124.054 ha. of forest land within the Majanthal Wildlife Sanctuary which is one of best refuges and prime habitat of the Cheer Pheasant, a Schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act and a CITES Appendix I species.
However, it appears to have been a momentary reprieve for the pheasant. Intense political pressure had the Ministry of Environment and Forests convene a meeting subsequent to the Standing Committee decision and the executors of the project – the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) have reportedly been asked to take remedial measures and rework the height of the dam, which would reduce the area of submergence – and work out a compromise solution. The problem is, that the area marked for submergence lies in the heart of the sanctuary and even a reduced area will have an equal impact. Moreover, as is well-known, the impact and the devastation goes much beyond the actual physical area, with construction, debris, road for transport of material, labour settlement, etc. all playing a role. The NTPC has also been asked to carry out a survey of the submergence area along with the state Forest Department and to suggest alternative measures to minimise deforestation.
The Kol Dam Hydro Power Project is proposed on the Satluj river in Bilaspur district. The project, say proponents, will ensure annual energy generation of 3,054 million units and provide peaking capacity to the Northern Grid. The project was initially mooted by the Himachal State Electricity Board which was apparently accorded Environmental Clearance in 1989 and Forest Clearance in 1990. In 2000, the NTPC took over the project.
The proposal before the Standing Committee glossed over the presence of the Cheer Pheasant in the sanctuary. The Chief Wildlife Warden had also stated that no trees would be felled in the execution of the project. But this was clearly misrepresentation of facts. The CEC letter dated October 4, 2006 to the Chief Secretary, Government of HP had sought clarification on the number of trees to be felled, and the state government in its reply had stated that about 51,262 trees would be under the submergence area. Strangely, the NTPC had stated that they were unaware that the Kol dam would submerge any wildlife area. Interestingly, later in a letter in 2005, the NTPC told the Forest Department that “no wildlife sanctuary/protected habitat/forest would be submerged by the Kol dam.”
The NTPC also failed to submit a Biodiversity Impact Assessment report while seeking clearance from the Standing Committee even though it is mandatory for any proposal that requires diversion of more than 50 ha. of area.
Though the Committee was informed that environmental clearance was obtained in 1989, Supreme Court lawyer, RitwickDutta (Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment) points out that “the environmental clearance process was introduced in 1994.”
The pressure point is that expenditure has already been incurred. The NTPC has informed the MoEF that an expenditure of over Rs. 2,100 crore has been incurred on the large project, and hence permission must be given. This however seems to be the order of things: it has repeatedly been seen that large projects first make considerable investments and then seek mandatory clearances citing the investments already made as a basis for the green signal. Such a practice that circumvents the law of the land must be stopped.
As things stand presently, it is learnt that the NTPC is working on a modified proposal.
The writing is on the wall: if the project goes ahead, even with lower height, and reduced submergence area, the impact on the sanctuary will be devastating and experts fear local extinction of the Cheer Pheasant.
Write to the Minister of Environment and Forests, Chief Minister, Himachal Pradesh and the Minister of Power, stating the following facts:
An independent body involving field biologists and Forest Department authorities must carry out the Biodiversity Impact Assessment in a transparent and honest manner.
The Kol Hydro Project will submerge more than 124 ha. of forest land and prime Cheer Pheasant habitat and should therefore not be permitted and other alternatives must be considered.
Both the centre and the state governments should take on board the observations of the order of the High Court appointed Shukla Committee to look into various environmental aspects and impacts of hydel projects in Himachal Pradesh (which include Kol Dam). A small part is quoted here: “The Committee has strongly felt the government’s present practice of indiscriminately allotting hydel projects all over the state without considering their impact on the larger environment is short-sighted, unplanned and could result in serious depletion of the state’s natural resources in the long run. Protection has to be provided to dense forest areas, protected wildlife areas, critical catchment areas, critical wildlife areas outside PAs.”
The MoEF must work with state governments to promote alternative energy sources to meet power requirements.
Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF),
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex,
Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110 003.
PROFESSOR PREM KUMAR DHUMAL
Chief Minister, Himachal Pradesh,
Vill. and P.O. Samirpur, Distt. Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh – 177601.
Tel.: +91-0177-2625400, 2625819
Ministry of Power, Govt. of India,
Shram Shakti Bhavan,
Ministry of Power,
New Delhi – 110 001.