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HP: Luhri Hydro Project Affected Villages Hold Dharna, Call for Rural Strike on Feb 16

Shubhojeet Dey |
Farmers are angry due to poor compensation, dust pollution-induced crop losses, and cracks in village homesteads caused by the blasting in the Satluj basin.
HP: Luhri Hydro Project Affected Villages Hold Dharna, Call for Rural Strike on Feb 16

In another case of protest against faulty implementation of the 2013 land acquisition act, affected farmers of eight villages flanking the Luhri hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh blocked the National Highway 5 near Rampur district’s Nirath panchayat on Friday under the banner of Himachal Kisan Sabha. Shop owners in the local market did not open their shutters, while labourers from the project also struck work to join the farmers in solidarity.

About 800 villagers, more than half of whom were women, voiced their concerns in the dharna about the State governments – both BJP and Congress – repeatedly bypassing the provisions written into the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR) 2013, which has worsened not only their livelihoods by denying adequate monetary compensation and permanent employment in the project but also allowed the unhinged destruction of local ecology and agriculture.

While the parent public-sector hydroelectric power generation company, the Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) and the area SDM called the local Kisan Sabha leadership and village pradhans for a meeting, it remained unsuccessful as the former sought time to resolve the various demands of the villagers. Given the deadlock, a call has been given to advance the movement with a rural strike on February 16 in case the administration fails to move on their demands.

Numbers have already swelled since the SJVN agreed to expanding the ‘affected villages’ tag to four more villages after the last protest held in December 2023, this reporter was informed by Prem Chauhan, president of Rampur Kisan Sabha.

A joint venture between the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and the SJVN, the Luhru Hydroelectric Project (HEP), in its first stage, is envisioned as a 210-megawatt (MW) run-of-the-river dam on the Satluj. This river has a total potential capacity to generate 13,336 MW and has more than 50 HEPs either already built, under construction or awaiting clearances on its basin at various points. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of Luhri was completed in 2017, and subsequently, the land acquisition process began for an estimated 50 hectares of land.


About 170 families or 1,005 landowners of Narola, Nirath, Rewali, Charonta, Naula, Bhadrash, Nithar and Gadej villages in Shimla and Kully districts lost a part (or entirety) of their agricultural lands. Some of these families were also displaced as even their homesteads fell under the project area boundary. Once the acquisition was deemed complete, construction began in 2021 when Patel Engineering, a private firm, bagged the Rs 976 crore tender.

While there were murmurs against the manner in which the acquisition was carried out since 2017, tempers only snowballed once the blasting began. “Since 2021, every time blasting takes place, a column of dust falls on the crops. The administration says it will give compensation for crop losses only for lands within 900 metres of the construction area. Even this they have only given for one year, while the farmers have suffered losses three years in a row,” Rakesh Singha, a popular leader here and former MLA from Theog-Kumarsain constituency, told reporters at the dharna in Nirath.

Not only is agriculture under threat, but even the houses of villagers have developed structural cracks, making them extremely risky to reside in. Singha decried the private firm, which was flouting “all pollution norms” by “using 135-kilo explosives where only 35-kilo ones would be adequate.” Ironically, in one case of blasting, Singha alleged that even their own infrastructure was damaged due to the disproportionate blasting. “If their cement structures can’t withhold the blasts, how can a poor farmers’ homestead survive?” he said.

Dumping of muck on the river bed has led to pollution of drinking water sources, he added.

Compensation, too, was awarded irregularly. While affected villagers lost their lands at Rs 40 lakhs per bigha, in other projects in the state, farmers were alleged to have received Rs 1 crore for the same land. As construction proceeds, agriculture yields may drop further, and the compensation amount does not reflect the precarity that is to come.

Given this, the villagers, over the last few months, have organised themselves into village-level Kisan Sabhas and created a common demand charter that includes, among other issues, permanent employment in the project for one member of each affected family, uniform compensation for farmers in both Shimla and Kullu districts, diversion of waters from the project for irrigation, disbursal of pollution compensation beyond 900 metres of construction area and the release of Local Area Development Authority (LADA) funds by the private construction firm as sanctioned by the LARR 2013.

At another HEP downstream at Sunni, where acquisition is underway, the bypassing of LARR 2013 is once again coming into the news. Land clearing has started even before the villagers have consented to the terms of the acquisition. With anger swelling here as well, the February 16 call for a rural strike may attract many villages along the Satluj basin affected by different hydropower projects.

On the same day, the farmers’ collective Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) gave the call for a nationwide ‘Grameen Bandh’ against the ‘pro-corporate’ policies of the BJP-led Union government. In this way, a local issue is being linked by the Himachali farmers to the larger agrarian issues afflicting the country. As of now, the farmers are waiting for the administration to heed their grievances.

The author is a researcher with P Sundarayya Memorial Trust and is a Central Kisan Council member of the All India Kisan Sabha.

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