The residents of four panchayats in the tribal district of Kinnaur have once again boycotted the process for electing their Panchayati Raj Institutions' representatives.
Not a single inhabitant of the 22 wards in these panchayats came to file nominations even on the last day, officials said. There are 3,326 voters in Urni, Yula, Chagaon and Miru panchayats and it is for the second time that they have boycotted the democratic process. The panchayats were to go to the polls on November 30 along with the two Vidhan Sabha by-elections.
The residents have been protesting for a long time against the 1000-MW hydro electric project run by the private company Jaiprakash Associates. According to them, the project has directly affected the traditional sources of water and forests and has snatched the livelihood of hundreds of tribal families in the area.
The project has damaged a number of houses and spread massive pollution in the area, said Vinay Negi, president of the Karcham Wangtoo Sangharsh Samiti. The company failed to get an NOC from the panchayats before executing the project, he said.
Activist R.S. Negi of the Himlok Jagriti Manch said adequate compensation for damaged houses and standing crops was not provided by the company. The water sources in the villages have dried up, he said. “We would keep our panchayats unrepresented till the government and the project promoters address our legitimate grievances,' the villagers said on Sunday.
Chairman of the State Election Commission Dev Swaroop said the Commission would have to notify the polls again in these panchayats after some time.
The hills across the State are coming alive with the sounds of protests from villagers against the numerous hydropower projects that they say would further compromise their water and forest rights.
Such instances are becoming common in Kinnaur, Shimla, Kullu and Chamba districts.
The latest instance of a clash between local communities and project managements took place in June, when four functionaries of the state-run Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL) were taken hostage.
They were associated with the Asian Development Bank-funded 130-MW Kashang hydropower project in Kinnaur district. They were released the next day after the HPPCL's assurance that most demands, including on compensation, would be accepted.
The upcoming projects will not only damage natural resources and affect livelihoods but also use up a chunk of forest and agricultural land, argue locals and green activists.