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Norconsult looking for business: Threatens indigenous people and enironment

A consortium headed by Swedish company Skanska, in which Norconsult is participating, has signed a memory of understanding with the Indian authorities, to build a hydropower plant on the Kishen Ganga river in the turbulent Indian state of Kashmir. Norconsult's part in the consortium, is to design the plant. The project threatens to forcibly evict the remaining 25.000 members of the Dard Shin people, who are strongly opposing the damming of the Gurez valley. Norconsult does not wish to comment on the criticism that is raised against the project, but refers to Skanska, who view the project as positive.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
A consortium headed by Swedish company Skanska, in which Norconsult is participating, has signed a memory of understanding with the Indian authorities, to build a hydropower plant on the Kishen Ganga river in the turbulent Indian state of Kashmir. Norconsult's part in the consortium, is to design the plant. The project threatens to forcibly evict the remaining 25.000 members of the Dard Shin people, who are strongly opposing the damming of the Gurez valley. Norconsult does not wish to comment on the criticism that is raised against the project, but refers to Skanska, who view the project as positive.


By Morten Rønning
Norwatch

All together 25 villages, farmland and forest areas are threatened by inundation if the 330 MW Kishen Ganga Hydro-electric Project is built. The reservoir will be eleven kilometres long and one kilometre across at its widest. The water is to be led through a tunnel to the Wular sea, the site of the planned power plant. Norconsult's job will be designing the power plant, which amounts to 4% of the tender offered by the consortium. The total tender from the consortium will possibly be about NOK 150 million (Approx. 20 million USD).

According to the Express News Service in Mumbai, the local magistrate issued warnings in January to the Badwan, Fakirpora, Wampora, Khandiyal, Mastan Khopri, Markote and Dawar villages, that their land would be expropriated.

- At Skanska we have made our own evaluation of the Kishen Ganga project, concluded that it is a good project, says Thomas Pehrson, head of the project at Skanska International to NorWatch.

Forced resettlement
According to the Indian Power Development Corporation (PDC), 961 families will be forced to move from their homes in the first round. However, the local people themselves, estimate the figure to be 1200 families, corresponding to 10.000 people. The local population fears that the forced resettlement will begin already this summer. When the project is finished, 25 villages will have been left vacant and in all 25.000 people will have lost their homes. An additional six summer high altitude habitats for herders and eight camping sites will be lost, according to the Kashmir Environmental Watch Association (KEWA), in Srinagar.

Skanska's figures are somewhat lower: seven hundred families and seven thousand people. But they admit that the numbers above are within the margin of error. Pehrson also emphasizes that those threatened by forced resettlement come from different ethnic groups, and that there is no question of resettling any unique groups living in the Gurez Valley only.

On the other hand, The Chief Ministers Secretariat of Kashmir, informs NorWatch that the people being forced to move in fact is Dard Shin, but assures that their living standard will be increased by the project.

The local people have set up a committee that has arranged several demonstrations against the project. They have also threatened to initiate a non-violent campaign to stop it. The committee will try to have the project halted in the supreme court of the state. According to Inter Press Service, Indian authorities had not been in contact with the Dard Shin people until the agreement with Skanska was signed.

Says Pehrson of Skanska:
- Relocating people is not our responsibility, but that of our employer, Power Development Corporation. However, if conditions regarding forced resettlement are tied to the project financing, I believe we may influence the process. He explains that the PDC is trying to find an area to which the entire resettled population may be moved.

Memory of Understanding
In November last year, the consortium signed a memory of understanding with the Indian authorities. Head of the project at Norconsult, Trond Westeren, explains to NorWatch that they hope their tender will be ready before summer.

The cost of the project, which includes a dam seventy metres high, is estimated by the Financial Times Business Report at USD 500 million (corresponding to NOK 3.7 billion). 85% of the costs are to be covered from outside of India. The Nordic Investment Bank and the International Monetary Fund are mentioned as possible sources of financing.

- It is not realistic that an agreement will be reached before summer, and forced resettlement will not have to begin until five or six years after construction work has started, says Pehrson of Skanska.

Archaeological treasures
The Dard Shin people is the last remaining of the Dard peoples that has kept its original culture and way of life. Until now, they have lived more or less isolated from the outside world in the inaccessible mountains of northern India. They are also the last to speak the Shina language. This people and their ways of life has not been studied by any anthropologists, and possible archaeological sites have also not been mapped, according to the KEWA environmental NGO.

Previously, the Dard people inhabited large areas from Afghanistan to Tibet. Other descendants of this people have lost a lot of their original culture and language.

The silk road used to go through this area and the Dawar village, now threatened by inundation, was the capital of the Dard people. A road to the Gurez Valley is planned in connection with the project. The local people think that this is yet another threat to their traditional ways of life. Until now, the area has been accessible only by jeep for two months of the year.

«We will not let ourselves be sacrificed for a developmental project that has least benefits for us»
Darida, collegestudent of Dawar, in the Indian Express Newspaper

Endangered species
Because of the valley's inaccessibility, the animal life of the area has been very well protected. A lot of endangered species still live in the Gurez Valley. Among these are the snow leopard, hangul deer, barking deer, musk deer, black bear, markhor, ibex and marmot.
The flora of the valley is also rich, but according to Kashmir Environmental Watch Association, little studied. However, the effects of a reservoir in the area is feared, also because it may lead to lower temperatures in the area.

Damming the Kishen Ganga would lead to the drying up of the riverbed downstream, and would cause negative efface in the Neelum Valley in the Pakistani part of Kashmir. Furthermore, the project would lead to an increased water level in the Wular sea, which would force the settlements along its shores to move.

"Minefield"
Through their participation in the consortium, Norconsult is headed for a "minefield" in Kashmir (the state's full name is Jammu & Kashmir). At the time of liberation of India and Pakistan fifty years ago, the state was an independent principality. The majority of the Kashmiri population are moslems, but the prince, being a Hindu, chose to make political ties to Hindu India rather than Moslem Pakistan.

As a result of UN negotiations, there was a military control line drawn through the state in 1948, giving India control over 60% and Pakistan 40% of the area. During the Indo-Chinese war in 1962, China occupied a small area in the eastern part of the state.
The 1948 agreement included plans for the two countries to withdraw their military presence from the area, and for holding a popular vote among the inhabitants of the state, on the question of Kashmir's political alliance.

So far, India has refused to accept holding such a popular vote, which they would probably loose, and claim that their annexation of Kashmir at the time of liberation was legal. The unrest that has haunted the area ever since, flared up into war in 1965 and 1971. The latest, serious violent unrest broke out in 1989, and since then 25.000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to Indian media. Most of the shootings occur between Indian security forces and groups fighting either for a Kashmiri annexation to Pakistan, or for independence for the Kashmiri state.

Today, the people of Kashmir fear the future because of the increased tension between India and Pakistan, after both countries carried out nuclear bomb tests in May this year.
The Gurez Valley lies in the northern part of the India-controlled part of Kashmir, slightly north of Srinagar. The project effects will be felt also in Pakistani-controlled areas. Skanska has previously worked with an other dam project in the area. The company headed a consortium which finished the Uri project in May last year. In connection with this, one of Skanska's employees was kidnapped, but later released.

- When it comes to the disturbances of the area, I believe the local people have seen the Uri project as a good one for the region, and therefore they have left us in peace. I believe the same applies to Kishen Ganga, rounds off Thomas Pehrson of Skanska.

Norconsult in Kashmir
Norconsult is a participant in a consortium headed by the Swedish company Skanska. The consortium is currently bidding on the construction of a 330 MW powerplant on the Kishen Ganga-river in the state of Kashmir, India. Norconsult wishes to design the powerplant; this will amount to 4% of the total costs. These are expected to amount to USD 500 million.

Norwatch Newsletter 12/98

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