2.14 lakh trees to be cut, 680ha forest land used for hydroelectric project in J-K

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Over 214,502 trees will be cut in the ecologically sensitive in Kathua region after India’s environment ministry’s expert panels have recommended clearance for the Ujh multipurpose hydroelectric project.

The project is envisaged on River Ujh, which is a tributary of River Ravi that flows into Pakistan and is part of the Indus river basin system, Mongabay India reported.

The Ujh project was considered for environment and forest clearance by the ministry’s expert appraisal committee and forest advisory committee respectively in December 2020. Both the expert panels have recommended clearance to the project. Once a project gets a nod from the expert panels, it usually gets the final clearance from the ministry.

Ujh Project is a multipurpose project (hydropower, irrigation and drinking) and the total land required for the project is about 4,350 hectares (ha) – over twice the size of Delhi airport. Of the total land required, the submergence area is 3,450 hectares which comprise 329 hectares of government land, 680.1 hectares of forest land and 2,441 hectares of private land.

According to the report, the minutes highlighted that that the panel accepted the “justification” given by the authorities of Jammu and Kashmir regarding “considering a patch of compensatory afforestation area that is of less than five hectares after detailed deliberation on the overall proposal.” This is when the amount of forest area being considered for diversion is much larger.

The expert forest panel recommended the project after “thorough deliberation” and noted that a large number of trees are proposed to be felled due to the project. “Every effort shall be made to ensure that trees are felled only when felling is unavoidable and it shall be done in a phased manner. The administration shall therefore also ensure that compensatory afforestation is taken up in the first year of the construction of the project, and adequate post-planting measures are taken to ensure healthy growth of the regenerated forest,” the minutes noted.

According to Hindustan Times newspaper, the project will involve the loss of about 680ha of forest land with a large share—609.1ha—in Billawar Forest Division, and over 200,000 trees according to project documents on environment ministry’s Parivesh website

The minutes of the EAC’s meeting observed that in all 52 villages with 3,700 families are likely to lose their homesteads as a result of the process of land acquisition due to construction of the dam and subsequent submergence area.

During the meeting, it was claimed that the project has provision for the supply of 10 cusec of drinking water to the Ujh Command area and it will “solve the drinking water problem of the people in the area.”

It stressed that the construction of the project will open a large number of jobs to the local population during the project construction phase and various types of indirect business opportunities like shops, food-stall, tea stalls, besides a variety of suppliers, traders, transporters will come here and benefit the locals immensely.

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