At a time when prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has been appealing his voter saying that his government will build Pancheswar Dam to bring the economic prosperity of the region, a group of Environmentalist gathered in Nainital protested against the proposed India-Nepal Pancheshwar Hydropower project.
The project has gained traction after nearly 45 environmentalists, including Ravi Chopra of Himalaya Foundation, Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams and People and Bharat Jhunjhunwala, have written to the Union environment ministry registering their objections against the public hearings for the project.
According to a new of The Times of India, the letter by these environmentalists states: "The way the public hearings were conducted, while ignoring the environment impact assessment (EIA) notification, is a wrong message at the start of an international project."
Himanshu Thakkar said, "There are a lot of irregularities in the EIA report prepared for this project. And, there is no credibility in the assessment because of conflict of interest. WAPCOS is a company of the ministry of water resources that has prepared the EIA, and, therefore, even if the project is not viable and against the environment, the company might not prepare any EIA which the ministry doesn't want. The EIA of this project should be prepared by an independent institution, in order to properly assess the environmental impact the project will have."
Thakkar said that the process of public hearings held for the environmental clearance of this project was also wrong. He said, "We have demanded in our letter that on the basis of EIA notification — after providing complete information to the people who will be affected by the project— the public hearings should be done again."
The Times of India said the project, once complete, is expected to submerge around 134 villages. Villagers here are protesting against the project and alleged that the hearings by the authorities did not factor in their grievances.
Meanwhile, villagers opposing the dam said that, with prominent environmentalists backing their cause, their movement will gain momentum. "So far, there was no clear statements from the intellectual section regarding the project under which a huge dam is to be built in a region that is geographically and geologically sensitive. Now since many prominent environmentalists have come forward and have started raising questions about the irregularities associated with this project, our movement will get a lot of thrust," said Shankar Singh Khadayat, convener of people's group Mahakali Ki Awaz.