In a major setback to Asian Development Bank funded state run hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh, a judicial panel hearing environment-related cases has halted project authorities from utilising forest area.

The interim order was passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The tribunal in its order directed the Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd. (HPPCL), not to fell the trees standing over the disputed lands and not to utilise forest land for non forest activities until further orders. This order has effectively stalled the 120 MW Kashang run-of-the-river project (stage I and II) in Kinnaur district.

S S Negi, President of Paryavaran Sanrakhsan Samiti, a group of villagers affected by the project hailed the decision and welcomed the interim order which recognises that there are substantial environment issues related to diversion of forests.

Earlier, locals have challenged the project’s forest clearance granted by the ministry of environment and forests. They said the forest clearance was a violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, and that the unregulated diversion of forests for hydropower projects in the entire region in the last 10 years has had serious ecological consequences.

The petition also raised the threat to the native chilgoza pine tree species due to the project construction. In October 2010, a team of the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA), another judicial panel in the country allowed to hear grievances against environmental clearances, visited the Kashang project site and heard the local people’s arguments against the project.

Besides Kashang, the HPPCL’s other ongoing projects include the 100 MW Sainj in Kullu district, Sawra-Kuddu hydroelectric project (111 MW) in Shimla district, and Shongtong-Karchham project (402 MW) in Kinnaur.