To reduce the outflow of Ravi river water to Pakistan, a central green panel has decided to let go of the mandatory norms of compensatory afforestation for the diversion of forest land for the construction of the Shahpurkandi Dam project in Punjab.
The Forest Advisory Committee of the environment ministry considered the proposal seeking prior approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 for use of 275.16 ha of forestland for the construction of Reservoir for the ShahpurKandi Dam Project in Punjab.
According to officials, the project will reduce the water flowing into Pakistan drastically and will help save the critical water resources that could be utilised for irrigation in Punjab and UT of Jammu and Kashmir.
“Being a national project and considering its high significance, FAC decided to accept the justification of the State Government in identifying few compensatory afforestation (CA) patches each of which is less than 5 hectare,” noted the panel.
The panel decided to relax provisions that no non-forest land having an area less than 5 ha area shall be accepted for CA purpose as under the isolated patches having an area less than 5 ha are difficult to manage as forests.
Under the Indus Water Treaty signed in 1960, the waters of the western rivers — the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab — was given to Pakistan and those of the eastern rivers — the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej — to India. India has been unable to utilise the complete share of water allotted under the treaty and there have been growing demands to stop the flow of India’s share of Indus water to Pakistan.
The Rs 2,700 crore Shahpurkandi dam project will generate 206 MW of power and have the potential to irrigate 5,000 hectares of land in Punjab and 31,000 hectares of land in Jammu and Kashmir's Sambha and Kathua districts.
The forest type of forest area proposed for diversion in Punjab's side is “Northern Dry Mix deciduous forest”. As per the legal status, the proposed forest area consists of a protected forest (211.06 ha).
After detailed examination and deliberations on the proposal with officials of Regional Office, Chandigarh, PCCF (HoFF) Punjab and Nodal Officer (FCA), Punjab, FAC observed that it is a national project of immense importance.
“The project proposal has two inter-dependent components, the northern side is located in J&K and the southern side is in Punjab. FAC analysed the part of the project proposal submitted by the Government of Punjab. After detailed analysis and deliberation with PCCF (HoFF) Punjab, FAC agreed to recommend the project (Punjab part of the project) for in-principle approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 with some conditions,” said the panel.
The total reservoir area of the proposal is 952.26 ha out of which the reservoir area in Punjab is 333.91 ha, while the reservoir area in Jammu & Kashmir is 618.35. The proposal is for diversion of forest area in the project falling only within the State of Punjab.