This article was oiginally published in The Hindu.
Bowing to the pressure from farmers and environmental NGOs, Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited it is learnt to have decided to drop the idea of constructing a 38-km-long tunnel in the much-hyped 775 MW Luhri hydro project. Social activist Manshi Asher said Sutlej Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti activists have expressed relief as there has been a radical change in the design of the project with the dropping of the tunnel component that would have affected three districts of Kullu, Mandi and Shimla.
The tunnel if built would have been one of the longest for a hydro project in Asia and would have led to the disappearance of the Sutlej river in the 50-km stretch. Also, nearly 78 villages would have been affected. The villagers have been agitating against the project since its inception and had also challenged the environment clearance by the National Green Tribunal.
The issues with regard to tunnelling have been the destabilisation of slopes, cracks and damages to houses and drying up natural water springs, said Shyam Singh Chauhan of the Samiti. Last year, the World Bank, which was to provide a $ 650 million loan, had dropped the financial assistance owing to the environmental impacts of the project and local movement.
In the revised design, the SJVN plans to construct three reservoir-based projects instead of one large project with the tunnel component. In stage I, an 86-metre high dam is planned at Nirath village; in Stage II, a 43 MW dam project at Kepu and in the third a 330 MW project at Khaira.
Chairman cum Managing Director of the SJVN, R.N. Mishra could not be contacted for clarifications. However, SJVN officials said there was no information regarding cancellation or dropping of the idea of constructing the tunnel and the project DPR was not yet final. But they agreed that the project has now been reduced to 601 MW.
Meanwhile, in a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the Virbhadra Singh government allotted 960 MW Jhnagi-Thopan-Powari hydel project to Reliance Energy Limited and also allotted 217 micro projects to smaller promoters.