The people of Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, are fighting another battle besides the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic — saving their rivers and forests threatened by a hydroelectric project.
The residents of the valley have been protesting against the proposed 804 mega watt Jangi Thopan Powari hydroelectricity project (JTP HEP) over the Satluj since April 2021.
The run-of-the-river (ROR) project envisages construction of a concrete gravity dam of ±88 metre high above the deepest foundation level across river Satluj near Jangi village, and underground powerhouse on the right bank upstream of Tehsil boundary (Kashang Nallah).
The diversion of water will involve construction of a 12-km-long tunnel. The tentative land requirement for the project is 295.93 hectares, out of which 270.43 ha is forest land and 25.5 ha is private.
Construction of the dam will result in the submergence of about 156.2917 ha of land, out of which 143.2093 ha is forest land and 13.0824 ha is private. The length of the reservoir will be 10.6 km.
Multiple aspects of the tunnel will impact the Jangi, Akpa, Khadura, Thopan and Rarang villages in the Jangram Valley.
Kinnaur district is mainly marked by its cold desert, tribal population, fragile topography, rich and diverse culture, apple orchards, off-season vegetables and the Satluj river. The river has been dammed at multiple places along the valley to create an additional feature to Kinnaur’s identity as Himachal’s hydropower hub, which locals believe is a malediction.
An integral part of the old Hindustan-Tibetan Route, Jangram Valley, lies on the right bank of the Satluj river in the district.
This is not the first time that the cold desert has witnessed such a contestation. Over the past two decades, such struggles had become an annual phenomenon.
The Satluj has taken the biggest load of state hydropower ambition since the early 90s. Out of the total installed capacity, 56 per cent (5720MW) is done in the Satluj basin. According to the State of the Rivers of Himachal Pradesh Report 2017:
“A total of 142 Hydroelectricity projects of 10031 MW are either commissioned, under-construction planned on Satluj river. As a result of this, the main Satluj river from stem location where it enters India and up to Kol Dam, the river stretch affected length will be 220 km out of a total river length of 239 km which is 70 per cent (168 km) of the total river stretch diverted and the river submerged is observed to be 22 per cent (52.65 km).”
In other words, 92 per cent of the river will either be flowing through tunnels or will be part of reservoirs. Such a cumulative scale of disturbance with the river’s natural state drastically impacted the life, livelihood and ecology in the Satluj basin.