New Delhi: The Congress government in Himachal Pradesh has moved the Supreme Court against a recent National Green Tribunal order that stopped the 130 megawatt (MW) Kashang hydropower project in the state until gram sabhas of 19 villages cleared it.
Ironically, it was the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance which established the primacy of gram sabhas (village councils) and forest dwellers through the Forest Rights Act 2006.
As per the Act, a forest area cannot be diverted for non-forest purpose until gram sabhas clear such a plan.
On this principle, the Supreme Court in 2013 had ruled that 12 gram sabhas would decide whether to allow Vedanta Ltd’s bauxite mining proposal in Odisha’s Niyamgiri hills which is inhabited by tribals. All 12 village bodies unanimously voted against the proposal which led to the refusal of green clearance to the project.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had famously supported the Odisha tribals.
In May 2016, NGT stopped work on the 130 megawatt (MW) Kashang Integrated Hydro Electric Project in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh until it obtains clearance from the gram sabhas of 19 villages that will be affected by it. The decision came while hearing a case filed by Paryawaran Sanrakshan Sangarsh Samiti, Lippa regarding green clearance given by the Union environment ministry to the Kashang project.
Requesting the SC to set aside the NGT order, the Himachal Pradesh government in its application said, “the procedural provisions of gram sabha cannot itself vitiate the entire proceedings of the forest clearance".
The government, in its application, also said that despite alternative remedies available with the NGT it had put the rider on the forest clearance subject to the approval of gram sabhas of village Lippa, Rarang, Pangi and Telangi, which it said was against the principle of natural justice and transparency in public administration.
The government also says that NGT wrongly held and directed the gram sabhas to consider all community, individual claims and cultural claims on account of the construction of the project, which also includes impact on places of worship, livelihood, loss to the forest land and possible loss of water sources.
The government argued that the “Gram Sabha is the deciding body to comply the directions of the National Green Tribunal but the Gram Sabha consists of the unskilled persons/local residents" and hence it is not possible for Himachal Pradesh to comply with certain sections of the NGT’s order.
The government sought an urgent intervention in the case stating that project is in advance stages of execution.
The green tribunal in its order also expressed concern at the large number of hydel-power projects coming up in Himachal Pradesh, and hoped that the state government would reconsider its decision for projects where work has not commenced or just commenced.