NEW DELHI: Who wouldn’t want to replace polluting energy with clean, renewable energy? Surprisingly, some wouldn’t. Because, sometimes they end up paying a heavier ecological price for it.
Communities in many parts of the country are fighting a war against ‘clean energy’ projects that have proved to be far from clean. If mini hydel projects have destroyed aquatic fauna and changed the course of streams, wind farms have cleared forests and taken land from villagers. People at these green-energy sites, mostly forest areas, are more concerned about how these projects have destroyed local ecology.
Five village panchayats in Malnad of Karnataka’s Western Ghats recently passed a resolution opposing the 200-MW Gundia Hydroelectric Power Project (GHEP). They worry the project, proposed in the Gundia River basin, will change the river’s hydrological cycle and submerge a large forest. Their fears are not unfounded. The Western Ghats Ecology Task Force headed by Madhav Gadgil has recommended scrapping of the GHEP because of its location.
Kishore Kumar, RTI activist and president of Malanadu Janapada Horata Samiti, has been fighting the mini hydel lobby for over five years. “The Karnataka High Court has stayed 72 mini hydel projects in the eco-sensitive regions of Western Ghats. That has been our biggest relief but the minihydel power lobby is strong in the region. Four projects are under way in Hassan for instanc,” says Kumar.
These have destroyed forest patches and fragmented the elephant corridors, he says. Man-animal conflicts, says Kumar, have increased after the implementation of these schemes.
Though these projects are supposed to be built on the run of the river stream, they have a strong impact on the river flow. The Yettinahole hydel project is also facing flak. The project is supposed to bring water from the Western Ghats to Bangalore Rural, Kolar and Chikkaballapur districts. But conservationists believe it will spell the beginning of river Nethravati’s diversion.
Wind farms are wreaking similar havoc in Andhra. Kalpavalli forest of Anantapur district is a unique case where communities had regenerated barren land, converted it into lush forests, only to lose it to the wind farm lobby.
“From wasteland, it became a forest. But on paper, it continued to be labelled a wasteland. In 2007, the wind energy firm started acquiring around 49 acres. They built roads which destroyed more forests. Local livelihood was gradually eroded,” says Leena Gupta of Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD).
The energy firm paid villagers a meagre compensation and offered small jobs at the 49 windmills that were installed. But the villagers are unhappy. N Gopalaswamy, a resident of Kalpavalli village says, “Villagers had to give them water tankers from forest streams. Animal husbandry collapsed because the grasslands were destroyed.”
Gopalaswamy says the road constructed has fourwheel traffic all the time. Further, livelihood opportunities have been impacted. “We made grass brooms, sold dates and toddy (palm wine), now all have gone down. The company has to compensate for this loss.”
Another case in point is a large solar energy company that had illegally procured contracts for nine solar projects in Rajasthan when they were supposed to develop just one. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) drew government attention to the erring firm.
Under the National Solar Mission, there is a policy to approve one-project-per-proponent. The solar firm grabbed nine. So, at the end of the first phase of the solar mission, the company had its hands on almost a quarter of the total 1,000 MW to be derived from solar radiation under the first phase. It pocketed about Rs 13,000 crore.
Strangely, all the nine projects in question are located in Askandara village in Jaisalmer. This is also because the Rajasthan government gave land at throwaway prices for the projects.
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