Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh staring at negative impacts of altered land use

Debate on degradation of environment in ecological sensitive hill terrain bound to gain momentum

Updated - July 27, 2021 01:18 pm IST

Published - July 26, 2021 08:08 pm IST - CHANDIGARH

A bridge collapsed after a landslide at Batseri of Sangla valley in Kinnaur district on July 25, 2021. 9 people died in the landslide.

A bridge collapsed after a landslide at Batseri of Sangla valley in Kinnaur district on July 25, 2021. 9 people died in the landslide.

After nine people lost their life in a landslip in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district, a debate surrounding the degradation of environment in this ecological sensitive hill terrain is bound to gain momentum, even as a recent study suggests that both hydropower projects and compensatory afforestation plantations, carried out in lieu of the forest land diverted for hydropower projects in the name of ‘mitigation’, have altered land-use and are negatively impacting the forest ecosystems.

The study, Impacts of Hydropower Development and Compensatory Afforestation on forest ecosystems in the high Himalayas by Manshi Asher and Prakash Bhandari, environmentalists associated with the Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective, an advocacy and research group working on issues of environmental justice and forest rights in the Himalayan region, has been recently published in ScienceDirect – Elsevier.

This study conducted between 2012 and 2016 uses information from government data and ground research to examine the extent, nature and impact of forest diversion for hydropower projects in Kinnaur.

“Our study found that not only have construction activities for hydropower projects impacted existing land-use, disturbed forest biodiversity and fragmented the forest landscape, but the related compensatory afforestation plantations are also ridden with problems. These include abysmally low presence of surviving saplings [up to 10%], inter-species conflict, infringement on local land usage and damage by wildfires and landslips. The study critically examines the role of state-led institutions and global green growth policies in driving and legitimising these developments in the name of ‘mitigation’, ultimately causing more harm to fragile local ecosystems and communities dependent on these,” said Ms. Asher.

Ms. Asher said hydropower is considered renewable because of the nature of its power source — water. “However, this fails to take into account that this source is a part of a river basin environment that comprises land with forests, flora, fauna and people — all of which, in some form or another, are instrumentalised and disturbed by this development. The surface construction involved in these projects comprises construction of a high concrete gravity dam, approach roads, a powerhouse, colony and labour camps, as well as a submergence area and the installation of towers for transmission lines. The building of underground tunnels and powerhouses, also have repercussions on the surface.”

She said studies show that the tunnelling in mountain areas will result in the risk of more landslips as large amounts of water percolates into surfaces. “The use of dynamites for blasting through the surfaces and underground components of the projects disturb existing slopes and the fragile geology.”

‘Climate change is visible’

Shanta Kumar Negi, president of the Kinnaur-based environment conservation organisation — Hangrang Sangharsh Samiti, told The Hindu that over the years climate change is visible. “We have young mountains stretch here, which is ecological very fragile.. the conditions of Kinnaur they are not favourable for hydro power projects. Construction activities include blasting, which has to be done in scientific manner, but the ground reality is that there’s hardly any check on the frequency of blasting. We are not against development, but Kinnaur is environmentally fragile, and this fact should not be ignored. Development at the cost of human lives is not acceptable,” said Mr. Negi.

Nine tourists were killed after heavy boulders fell on their tempo traveller in a landslip near Basteri in Kinnaur district on July 25.

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