Kathua: Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district, considered to be an ecologically sensitive area, will have to lose 2,14,502 trees as India’s Environment Ministry’s expert panels have recommended clearance for the Ujh multipurpose hydroelectric project.
Ujh Project is a multipurpose project (hydropower, irrigation and drinking) and the total land required for the project is about 4,350 hectares (ha) – over twice the size of Delhi airport. Of the total land required, the submergence area is 3,450 hectares which comprise 329 hectares of government land, 680.1 hectares of forest land and 2,441 hectares of private land.
The project, according to a report by Mong India, involves the construction of 116-metre high concrete face rockfill dam, a powerhouse of installed capacity 186 megawatts and a barrage 11.5 kilometre downstream of the dam. The irrigation benefits from the project will comprise annual irrigation of about 31,380 hectares.
The project was considered for environment and forest clearance by the ministry’s expert appraisal committee and forest advisory committee respectively in December 2020.
Both the expert panels have recommended clearance to the project. Once a project gets a nod from the expert panels, it usually gets the final clearance from the ministry. It is a rare occurrence when any recommendations of these panels are overturned. Wildlife clearance was already granted to the project in August 2020.
The report said that minutes highlighted that that the panel accepted the “justification” given by the authorities of Jammu and Kashmir regarding “considering a patch of compensatory afforestation area that is of less than five hectares after detailed deliberation on the overall proposal.” This is when the amount of forest area being considered for diversion is much larger.
The expert forest panel recommended the project after “thorough deliberation” and noted that a large number of trees are proposed to be felled due to the project.
“Every effort shall be made to ensure that trees are felled only when felling is unavoidable and it shall be done in a phased manner. The administration shall therefore also ensure that compensatory afforestation is taken up in the first year of the construction of the project, and adequate post-planting measures are taken to ensure healthy growth of the regenerated forest,” the minutes noted, according to the report.
The panel asked the authorities to ensure that the resettlement and rehabilitation plan is not proposed over forest land and told them that authorities monitor the area to ensure that “no project affected person occupies forest land.”
In this regard, Jammu and Kashmir-based social activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat remarked that “in Jammu and Kashmir, every year hundreds of thousands of trees are cut for one project or another such as highways, roads, dams.”
“No one is against development but what we want is green development – a development that takes into account concerns related to forest, tribal people, and environment. It needs to be sustainable. A rough estimate states that over two million trees have been cut over the last 15-20 year in the region. This could impact the microclimate of the area as well. While taking up the developmental projects, the government of India must ensure that they don’t violate the commitments India made vis a vis environment and climate change under the sustainable development goals,” the report quoted Bhat as saying.