The Luhri hydroelectric project is planned to come up between the villages of Nathan and Chaba (about 80 km from Shimla (HP). Himachal Pradesh. It would have been a run-of-the-river plant, with the world's longest tunnel for water diversion (38.14 km), bypassing the last 50 km stretch of the flowing Sutlej river, in addition to submerging 6.8 km of the river's path in the reservoir. However, after severe opposition of the last five years from the local communities and environmental groups the project proponents are now in the process of re-designing the project by dropping the tunnel component.
The site had been identified by the State of Himachal Pradesh and the central government as suitable for developing the hydropower potential of the state, which is known as the “hydrostate of India”.
This stretch of the mighty Sutlej river is the last one which is still flowing, in an otherwise overdeveloped river basin. The Sutlej basin has seen perhaps highest concentration of bumper to bumper hydropower projects, more than any other basin in India, aided also by World Bank funding to the 412 MW Rampur Project (see EJOLT sheet on the map) and the 1500 MW Nathpa Jakhri project, both developed by the same company SJVN Limited.
Residents of at least 78 villages of Kullu, Mandi and Shimla districts to be affected by the Luhri project and its earlier design involving the 38 km-long tunnel that would divert water from the river and leave at least 50 km stretch of the river dry. They had been agitating against the project from the beginning. The World Bank was also going to fund the project, but last year (2014) withdrew its support. This decision followed an inspection carried out by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) team which visited India in November-December last year and interacted with all stakeholders including the project developer SJVN Ltd, the World Bank, affected people from the surrounding villages and concerned non governmental organizations like the Himdhara Collective in Himachal Pradesh and SANDRP in Delhi. Local NGOs also allege that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project, carried out by The Centre for Inter-disciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environment, was flawed and the public hearing was more of a charade. While the project’s environmental clearance had been challenged in the National Green Tribunal, local non-profits have appealed to the government to scrap the project.
In a move to appease the environmentalists and the Ministry of Environment SJVNL had reduced the capacity of the project from 775 MW to 612 MW, in 2013. “Reduction in capacity is not a solution. The project must be scrapped,” said the representatives of the front. The project proponent on 27th July 2015 submitted an application to the Ministry of Environment and Forests for the issuing of a fresh terms of reference for the Luhri project whose capacity has been now reduced to 219 MW. In the revised design the SJVN plans to construct three reservoir based projects instead of one large project with the tunnel component. Stage I involves a 86 m high dam to be built at Nirath village. In the new design there is also a reduction in the land area required for the project to less than half of what was required before. Stage II is proposed to be a 43 MW dam project at Kepu and the third stage of 330 MW at Khaira.
Environmental groups and activists however continue to be skeptical. "The Sutlej basin has seen possibly the highest concentration of bumper to bumper hydropower projects, more than any other basin in India. With three reservoir dams of more than 80 m, upstream of the Bhakra and Kol, ultimately, the river is being obstructed and massive construction activity undertaken on the Satluj. The riverine ecology and fish migration is bound to be disturbed. The Cumulative impacts have to be taken into account because this is now the only stretch of free-flowing Satluj". According to many experts in India, the Uttarakhand flooding disaster of June 2013 have clearly shown how the vulnerability of the hilly region has increased due to the development of hydropower projects. It also made more urgent, the need for a comprehensive review of energy and water management schemes in the region as well as the improvement of environmental impact assessments, including cumulative impact assessments that must take into account local people’s claims, warnings and wills.
|Name of conflict:||Luhri Hydro project on Sutlej river, HP, India|
|State or province:||Himachal Pradesh|
|Location of conflict:||Area by Village Nathan and Village Chaba (about 80 km from Shimla).|
|Accuracy of location||HIGH (Local level)|
|Type of conflict. 1st level:||Water Management|
|Type of conflict. 2nd level:||Deforestation|
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
The plant was planned to generate 775 MW
One tunnel for water diversion (38.14 km), bypassing last 50 km stretch of flowing Sutlej river submerging 6.8 km of the river in the reservoir
Following the opposition to the project, the proponent submitted an application to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (July 2015) for the issuing of a fresh terms of reference for the Luhri project whose capacity has been now reduced to 219 MW. In the revised design the SJVN plans to construct three reservoir based projects instead of one large project with the tunnel component. Stage I involves a 86 m high dam to be built at Nirath village. In the new design there is also a reduction in the land area required for the project to less than half of what was required before. Stage II is proposed to be a 43 MW dam project at Kepu and the third stage of 330 MW at Khaira.
|Level of Investment for the conflictive project||Originally, US$ 1150.00 million, out of which US$ 650.00 million from WB. Now design is restructured, thus budget as well.|
|Type of population||Rural|
|Affected Population:||78 villages|
|Start of the conflict:||2010|
|Company names or state enterprises:||Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVN) from India|
|Relevant government actors:||National Green Tribunal|
HImachal Pradesh State
|International and Finance Institutions||The World Bank (WB) from United States of America|
|Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:||Sutlej Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti is the major local social movement working against this project.|
Many other EJOs have been supported and actively being involved; the following have endorsed, together with many other individuals and groups, a letter to the Union Minister of state of Environment and Forests Smt Jayanthi Natarajan, Secertary MoEF and members of the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects, urging them to reject the Environment Clearance:
Kalpavriksh, SANDRP, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad, Bharat Jan Andolan, National Alliance of People's Movements, All India Forum of Forest People, People's Science Institute, Save Rivers Campaign of Uttarakhand, Matu Jan Sangathan, River Research Centre, River Basin Organisation, People's Union of Democratic Rights, Socialist Party, Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha, Nature Conservation Foundation and ATREE.
Others have supported the cause and the mobilization in different forms and times, like the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan and Himdhara.
|Intensity||MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)|
|Reaction stage||PREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)|
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
|Forms of mobilization:||Development of a network/collective action|
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
|Environmental Impacts||Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation|
|Other Environmental impacts||All impacts have been picked as Potential because the project has not been completed.|
|Socio-economical Impacts||Potential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement|
|Project Status||Planned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)|
|Conflict outcome / response:||Court decision (undecided)|
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Withdrawal of company/investment
Project temporarily suspended
|Proposal and development of alternatives:||Himachal Pradesh should not become the source of electricity of large regions of India. Local development of facilities and alternative sources of income and employment should become government political priority.|
|Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:||Yes|
|Briefly explain:||The case reported is for sure a case of successful environmental justice for two main reasons: first, local groups opposing the plan defended their arguments in front of the World Bank authorities and led to the withdrawal of WB funds. Second, in July 2015 the project proponent has completely changed the design for the project and has dropped the 38 km. long tunnel component. They are now applying for a fresh environmental clearance for the new project. |
However, the project has not been scrapped by the government, and no change in hydropower policies has been envisioned by the state authorities. The environmental groups are now demanding that the last stretch of the free flowing Sultej river be left untouched.
|Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)|
|References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries|
|Contributor:||Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective, Himachal Pradesh, India (www.himdhara.org) and Daniela Del Bene, ICTA - UAB ( d.delbene_at_gmail.com)|
Map of HEP on the Satluj river
Local people protesting during a sit-in in March 2012 by Luhri
Site chosen for the HEP plant on the Satluj river
Credits: World Bank