Bajoli- Holi Hydrpower Project in Chamba
Women Activism for Environment
Rajiv K. Phull (Cover Story)
Kinkri Devi had waged a war on illegal mining and quarrying in Sirmaur district. Taking a cue from her, women in Bharmour have taken up the challenge to safeguard their interests. As a result, Rs. 1800 crore Bajoli-Holi hydropower project has not moved an inch. Women have collectively declared a war to save their water, forests and land resources despite facing threats and pressure from all quarters. They are ready to go to any extent to achieve their objective. Their main concern is regarding the construction site of the project. As per the agreement, the state government had allotted the hydropower project to the GMR Company with construction site on the right bank of Ravi River as per the proposal finalized by the HPSEB. However, the project site was reportedly changed during the previous government’s tenure. As a result, mahila mandals of five panchayts in tribal area of Bharmour took up the challenge to save their water, forest and land resources for environment conservation. This is probably the first project in the country in which women activists are demanding the change of the site of project construction.
Mahila Mandals Stop Construction of 180 MW Project
A simmering discontent came to the fore after men succumbed to the power of money and political pressure. Women in the area took up the challenge to save their water resources, forests and land once a dozen people awakened them about the impending dangers of changing the site of a hydropower project. Now they talk about their rights at every possible platform. They also question the developmental model at the cost of their water, forests and land resources. Doesn’t survey of the hydropower project on the right bank of Ravi River has any value, they ask everyone, including administrative officers, politicians and representatives of the company implementing the project. They point whether the comparative report of both banks of the river prepared and submitted to the district administration by the HID has no meaning. The contentious project under fire is 180 MW Bajoli-Holi hydropower project and site was changed during the previous BJP government tenure. The activism initiated by mahila mandals of Holi to safeguard their rights is exemplary. Fighting unitedly, they have not allowed the company to start its work here. The work at the dam site has begun after company allured influential people of the area by offering three times the price for construction work. However so-called brokers have no courage to mediate between the company representatives and irate women for starting work in Holi panchayat. The number of men participating in these protests is very less and women come to the forefront when it comes to stop company’s work. The company also sought police assistance for starting work but this ploy also failed as protesters are not ready to budge an inch. Whatever may be the results of their agitation but they have proved that Himachali women can also wage a war to protect their rights.
The Contentious Issue
The state government had allotted the180 MW Holi-Bajoli hydropower Project in Bharmour to the GMR Company. As per agreement, the construction was proposed on the right bank of Ravi River but the company was able to get the site of construction changed during the previous BJP tenure. Mahila mandas allege that the company got the no objection certificate (NOC) in connivance with panchayat pradhans. The NOC doesn’t mention about the construction site of the project, they add. They accuse the company of obtaining people’s land on the place of constructing a colony on the left bank of the river. The High Court decided the matter in favour of company management but women are carrying on with their agitation.
Initiation of Agitation
Nayagran panchayat pradhan, Mangani Niwalia first raised the matter after knowing about the construction of the project on the left bank of Ravi River. Owing allegiance to the BJP, the paradhan was under tremendous pressure to grant NOC under FRA for construction but he declined. The company tried to allot tenders to influential people of the area but the move was scuttled as villagers protested. The protesting villagers’ sidestepped as pressure mounted and a Holi Ghati Bachao Sangharsh Samiti was formed. A dozen of youth awakened people in many villages to unite against the adverse consequences of construction of project on the left bank of Ravi River. Mahila mandals launched an agitation after discussing with samiti.
* Women take up the challenge to save water, forest and land resources
* Women activists of five panchayats launched agitation keeping in view the impending adverse consequences of shifting of project’s construction site
* Men reportedly succumb to money power
* Women activists forced stoppage of construction work of the project
* Affected panchayats include Holi, Nayagran, Deol, Kuleth and Bajol
*Construction site was changed during previous government’s tenure
We are not opposing project but it is wrong to construct it on left bank as it would adversely affect the population in the area. We will continue our agitation to save the valley
We are opposing the construction as the government had changed the site to save company’s expenditure. What happened to hundreds of objections against construction on left bank
We are not opposing the construction of project. All people in the valley will support the construction of the project on the right bank of Ravi River as per the survey
Forest Minister Faces Women’s Ire
Himachal Forest Minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri had to face agitating women’s ire as they blocked his cavalcade while he was returning from Bharmour to Holi. The protesting women asked the minister to clarify his stand on construction of the hydropower project. Thakur Singh Bharmouri had to sit in a park for two hours as he was unable to reply satisfactorily to the women.
Police Cases Didn’t Deter Them
The company management and contractors sought police assistance while starting construction of the project but women reached the site and stopped the work. Cases were registered against women on a complaint lodged by a contractor. This incident couldn’t deter women as a mahila mandal approached Bharmour SDM and submitted a memorandum to book all the agitating women members.
Union Minister of Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj V. Kishore Chandra Deo in a letter earlier this year to Himachal Chief Minister had pointed that data indicated that Forests Rights Act 2006 is not being seriously implemented in the state. Himachal should have been one of the leading states in recognition of rights of the forest dwellers specially that of Community Forest Resources Rights, it added.
Funding of the Agitation
They are not disappointed after High Court decisions and mahila mandals are carrying on their agitation in the valley by pooling in money every month. They believe that they will get justice after placing sold proofs concerning project before the court. Mahila manadals say they will help the petitioners by pooling in every possible financial resource.