The Renuka Dam project has been conceived as a drinking water supply scheme for the National Capital Territory of Delhi and envisages the construction of 148 m high rock fill dam on river Giri at Dadahu in Sirmaur district and a powerhouse at toe of the dam. While 90 per cent of the project cost will be borne by the Delhi government, Himachal Pradesh will bear 10 per cent of the cost. The project was scheduled for completion by November 2014. The project construction was stayed by the National Environment Appellate Authority/National Green Tribunal in 2010-11 due to objections on the Environment Clearance granted to the project. The project costs have shot up from ~3,572.19 crore to ~ 5,000 crore over the past few years. The origins of the project in fact go back to May 1994, when the governments of Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the utilisation and allocation of the waters of the upper Yamuna River which included the Renuka storage dam to be constructed in Sirmour district of HP. The MoU says that the state agency, HP Power Corporation Ltd (HPPCL), will construct, operate and maintain the project while Centre will fund it. However, there is evidence that this dam had been proposed back in the '60s as a 40MW hydroelectric plant that was found not viable at that time. Later on, the purpose of supplying drinking water to the capital was added to the project proposal. As of today, the dam is being promoted as an "urgent" measure to tackle Delhi water crisis (the “urgency clause” -Section 17-4 of the Land Acquisition Act 1894- was used during the land acquisition process and this way the dam authorities did away with the landholders’ right to file objections against land acquisition). Critics of the project have raised questions about the “urgency” associated with the project and its connection with Delhi’s water scarcity . To justify the project, local politicians from both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been making promises about bringing much-needed development to the "backward region”. What was unmentioned was the land to be acquired by the project, be it private, common or forest land. This has become the main issue, which is still debated. The total agricultural land to be diverted for this project is 1,231 hectares belonging to 32 villages. The dam and its reservoir will submerge 909 ha of reserved forestland, including 49 ha of the Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary (RWLS) .
A large part of the land to be acquired, nearly 40%, is forestland of which 49 hectares belongs to RWLS. When authorities requested to acquire this land in 2001-02, the proposal was first rejected by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) based on the Supreme Court orders related to protected areas. In 2005, the National Wildlife Board and later the Supreme Court cleared the diversion of the protected area conditional to some recommendations. The forest clearance for the project is the most complex issue of the affair, as most of the 450 hectares of private land to be acquired falls under the category of shamlaat lands,(private forests) . Although, as per a Supreme Court order (the 2009 T N Godavarman case), the felling of these trees and non-forest use of this area also needs a forest clearance, they have not been included in the survey for the forest clearance for the Renuka Dam. The environment clearance is being challenged in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) by Mr. Sharma, a resident of Mohtu, one of the project-affected villages, but representing the interests of 30 villages in total. The main claims are regarding the effects of the project on the local ecology and the absence of a social impact assessment study. The EIA has also been challenged for having inaccurate data with regard to the amount of land required for the project. The petitioners have also accused the project proponents of not including in the environmental impact assessment a large number of forest lands and the trees that will be submerged by the project and to have the lowest compensation rates in the state of Himachal. Mr Sharma declared: “We learnt through Right To Information appeals that the dam proponents purchased land by paying Rs 6,80,000 per bigha while they are paying compensation for uncultivable land at Rs 60,500 per bigha. When we enquired about the disparities in the land prices, they said that land prices have been stagnant as people hardly buy or sell land. It is not clear to them that nobody wants to sell the land since it is so fertile and lucrative to stay here. The people have not moved from here for last 100 years or so,” . The oustees of the Renuka dam have come together in local collectives like Renuka Dam Sangarsh Samiti (especially since 2009) to completely oppose the project. Apart from the resettlement-related issues, they have also started questioning the very basis of the project. They argue that if Delhi wants to use the waters of the Giri river, there is no need for the dam; the same water in any case flows into the Yamuna and then onwards to Delhi. In March 2015, although the appeal is still pending at the National green Tribunal, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has given clearance for the diversion of 909 hectare forestland, also after the pressure in summer 2014 by Himachal's state Power Minister Sujan Singh Pathania on Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti to get the matter expedited . There's a serious issue with official data provided around the project. Official documents present different sets of figures of the Renuka project: the website of the HP Power Corporation, the environmental impact assessment report, the various responses to right to information (RTIs) queries provide non-homogenous information on submergence areas, the land to be acquired and the number of affected families. Such confusion contributes to creating an unpredictable situation at the community level. According to Manshi Asher , the voices of those people depending on a "thriving agricultural economy based on cultivation of a wide variety of traditional, subsistence, and cash crops like ginger, garlic and tomatoes" have been "submerged by the vocal, influential persons in the community, who will lose small portions of their farms and forests, and who look forward to the fruits of “development”. Scientists and activists ask why is Delhi not taking other possible demand side management options to discourage avoidable misuse of water and note that Delhi has been using its current water supply in a most inequitable way. In fact, while the vast majority of the population struggles to get water for their daily basic needs, there are islands that use water most wastefully. The city is already drawing water from the Bhakra dam, it also gets water from the Tehri project and now it is looking to the Renuka dam. Moreover, it expects to draw its remaining share of Yamuna waters from the Kishau and Lakhawar-Vyasi Dams in Uttarakhand . The World Bank had already noted that as much as 40 per cent of Delhi's water was lost, mostly due to old and leaking pipes, compared to the international best practice of 10 per cent. Given that Delhi supplies somewhere around 720 MGD of water, the losses work out to 288 MGD, more than what the Renuka project is expected to supply . Asher finally observes that "Amidst this entire cacophony, the questions of whether the Renuka Dam is the only answer to Delhi’s water crisis, whether there is indeed such a “crisis”, and if so, what are its underlying causes, remain unaddressed." (See less)