Pong dam Eco-Sensitive Zone: 58 villages may face displacement, HP assembly takes notice
Dharamshala (Tapowan), Dec 22
The Pong Dam, which uprooted around 25,000 families in 1972, is now set to impact 58 more villages as the Union Ministry of Forest, Environment, and Climate Change has announced the Draft Policy for the Pong Dam Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ).
A member of the assembly from Dehra (Kangra district) today drew attention to the house by initiating a discussion on the Draft Policy of ESZ for Pong Dam Wildlife Sanctuary.
In response to the issue in the house, Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu stated that the State government would review the draft policy regarding the ESZ of Pong Wildlife Sanctuary in a meeting scheduled for December 27, 2023. He added that in the meeting, the government would advocate for the cause of the 58 villages expected to be impacted by the draft notification, aiming to reduce the ESZ area.
The Chief Minister explained that according to the rules, ESZ is to be declared around the Wildlife Sanctuary, and until its limits are determined, only a 10 km area within its radius will be considered as ESZ. He held the previous government responsible for the current draft of Pong Dam, stating that this government has exacerbated the situation.
While justifying the concern of MLA Hoshiar Singh, the Chief Minister said that first, the Bhakra Beas Management Board built Pong Dam, and now it is being declared an ESZ, which is a serious issue. He mentioned that the government was expected to submit a reply to the Central Government and the Supreme Court regarding the ESZ, but the previous Government could not prevent the creation of an ESZ. He assured that the government would work to reduce the activities of ESZ to protect the people from its impact.
Earlier, highlighting a calling attention motion in the house, independent member Hoshiar Singh said that the issue of Pong Dam Sanctuary is related to five assembly constituencies.
He mentioned that the land was acquired first for the construction of Pong Dam in 1972; however, the displacement of people did not stop until the Dam. Later, it was notified as a wildlife sanctuary, which has now been converted to an ESZ, forcing people to be displaced twice in a project, which is against the norms.
Hoshiar Singh informed the house that as many as 25 thousand families have already been uprooted due to the construction of Pong Dam. He stated that around seven thousand people have not received claims till date, and now 58 nearby villages are going to be affected by the ESZ.
The legislator alleged that oustees located in the Marabas region of Rajasthan were chased away at gunpoint, and many of them, after the notification of the Wildlife Sanctuary and ESZ, are deprived of farming activities and are being booked for intruding in the sanctuary area.
Hoshiar Singh said that the 114 square kilometer area of Pong Dam Sanctuary was declared an ESZ without conducting a public hearing or taking anyone into confidence.
Members expressed dissatisfaction with the move, stating that following the notification, no activities could be done in the ESZ, and each activity, including construction, farming, and development, would require the consent of the union government.
Singh mentioned that people of 58 villages are opposing the move and demanding a rollback of the decision to declare Pong Dam as an ESZ. He said that Pong Dam should be removed from the list of wetlands, and the land should be transferred to the name of Himachal.
It is worthwhile to mention that the Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over an area of 207.96 square kilometers and is located in Nurpur, Dehra Jawali Subdivision of Kangra District in Himachal Pradesh.
The Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was given the status of a Wildlife Sanctuary with effect from June 7, 2013, and Pong Dam Lake was declared a wetland of international importance in 1994 and an international Ramsar site in 2002. The notification of ESZ was issued on April 28, 2022.
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