The main natural resources of Himachal Pradesh are its rivers and forests. As with the other hill state, Uttarakhand, the bourgeoisie of our country has looked at the rivers of Himachal as the potential source for massive profits through generation of electricity as well as for other uses.
Many large and small hydel projects are coming up on the rivers of Himachal Pradesh. The Sutlej has over 135 projects planned, under construction, and operating on it. This includes the country's largest Public Sector Naptha Jhakri Hydro Electric Project (HEP), and the largest private sector HEP, at Karcham Wangtu. At these project sites, the villagers whose homes have been destroyed, as well as others who have lost their livelihood, have organised themselves to expose and oppose the unbridled loot of the resources of the people, and the destruction of their livelihood and environment. When these 135 projects are completed, the people fear that most of the river Sutlej will vanish under the cascade of projects, one running into the other.
The SJVNL, the corporation set up under which these projects are coming up, has appointed the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education to do a cumulative impact assessment of the Sutlej basin as a result of these projects. The study is supposed to prepare a list of the flora and fauna, endangered species found in the area, breeding grounds of fish, human settlements which will be disturbed, and the forests affected. It is claimed that the forest and environmental clearances would be given based on these studies, and measures to reduce adverse impact on human beings and the natural environment would be taken. However, the people of Himachal are not accepting this. Past experience has taught them that the state assigns such studies to organisations with the clear direction to get the projects approved.
In the Lahaul Valley too, the villagers have organised themselves to fight the destruction of their livelihood, and plunder of their resources, through the establishment of a number of big and small hydro-electric projects.On June 5, people of 26 villages staged a massive protest at the district headquarters, Keylong.
Over 24 mega and mini projects have been sanctioned in this area over the past five years. This area constitutes the basin of the river Chenab. Mega projects constructed by the private capitalist Moser Baer Projects Private Ltd, and the state run Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation (HPPCL) are expected to lead to drying up of the traditional water resources and affect the livelihood of over 6,000 people living in 26 villages in the Lahaul valley. The reservoir of the 300 MW Jispa project of the HPPCL on the Chenab would displace more than 200 families of seven villages, the protesters said.The mega projects, two by Moser Baer and one by the HPPCL, coming up in Lahaul are in Miyar, Seli and Udaipur areas.
The Chenab basin falls largely in the high-altitude region (above 2,500 metres) in Lahaul and Spiti district. The area is characterised by difficult terrain, fragile and loose mountains, prone to avalanches and landslides as it falls in seismic zone-IV.According to Himachal Pradesh's micro-hydel policy, the consent of the affected gram sabhas (local bodies) is necessary before constructing any project. However, this is not implemented in practice, and the villagers in the project affected areas have denied that they have been consulted.
Like in the Lahaul Valley, protests over hydro projects are becoming common in Kinnaur, Shimla, Chamba and Kullu districts.
The people of Himachal are questioning the unbridled loot of their wealth. The power generated from these projects is sold by the power companies, private and state owned, for maximum profits to various distribution companies of other states. The people of Himachal do not benefit from this. There is a growing feeling that within the present Indian Union, the peoples of smaller states like Himachal are being discriminated against. Within Himachal, there are numerous tribal peoples, who are awakening to the need to defend their rights, in the face of capitalist development.
It is the right of the people of Himachal to have control of their state's natural resources and to use it for their own benefit. Leaders of political parties like Congress and BJP have amassed wealth by selling off the state's natural resources to big capitalists involved in the power, cement, and other such industries and getting a share of the loot. In the present Indian Union, the big bourgeoisie uses its control over the central state to plunder the natural resources of the peoples of the whole country for its own benefit. The struggle of the people of Himachal to stop the plunder of their natural resources, and instead ensure that it benefits them, is a just struggle.