MOEF flouts SC or­der by clear­ing hy­dro projects in Ut­tarak­hand

Min­istry’s own panel says it should not have given clear­ances to two Ut­tarak­hand projects

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - SOMA BASU

THE fu­ture of two hy­dropower projects in Ut­tarak­hand has be­come un­clear af­ter a Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment and Forests ( MOEF) ex­pert panel sub­mit­ted its re­port to the Supreme Court last month. The re­port says MOEF’S de­ci­sion to give clear­ances to the Lakhwar and Vyasi projects in Fe­bru­ary this year is a vi­o­la­tion of an apex court or­der in Au­gust last year that called for a ban on hy­dropower projects in the state.

The Ut­tar Pradesh Ir­ri­ga­tion Depart­ment had started an in­te­grated Lakhwar-Vyasi project in the 1980s af­ter tak­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ances. The project was shelved in 1992 be­cause of fi­nan­cial crunch and ac­ci­dents. Later, the Ut­tarak­hand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited de­cided to split the project into two and ap­proached MOEF for fresh clear­ances. The min­istry gave a nod in Fe­bru­ary this year say­ing the two projects were not new and only the im­ple­ment­ing agency had changed.

Talk­ing about the clear­ances, the re­port says, “This ( the clear­ance) is in vi­o­la­tion of the spirit of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s or­der of Au­gust 13, 2013. It is also no­ticed that these projects were ap­proved more than 25 years ago. Con­se­quently, they do not have any EIA/ EMP ( en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment and en­vi­ron­ment man­age­ment plan) stud­ies that are manda­tory to­day.” The 300-MW Lakhwar and 120MW Vyasi hy­dropower projects are lo­cated in the Up­per Ya­muna River Basin in Dehradun district.

The ex­pert panel has also said hy­dropower projects were re­spon­si­ble for the large-scale floods and land­slides in Ut­tarak­hand last June. The panel was set up af­ter a di­rec­tive by the court ask­ing for a com­mit­tee to de­ter­mine role of hy­dropower projects in the catas­tro­phe that claimed over 5,000 lives in the state.

The panel, in its re­port sub­mit­ted to the court on April 18, has rec­om­mended a com­plete over­haul of the en­vi­ron­ment clear­ance pol­icy for hy­dropower projects in eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive ar­eas. “All projects > 2 MW, which en­tail tun­nel­ing, bar­rages and con­struc­tion of reser­voir, shall re­quire prior En­vi­ron­men­tal Clear­ances from MOEF and sub­se­quently, such projects fall­ing in the eco- sen­si­tive zones of no­ti­fied Na­tional Park and Wildlife Sanc­tu­ar­ies of Ut­tarak­hand should take prior per­mis­sion from Na­tional Board for Wildlife ( NBWL)... Con­struc­tion ac­tiv­i­ties in all un­der- con­struc­tion HEPs ( hy­del projects) which have failed to ob­tain clear­ance from NBWL must come to a stop im­me­di­ately till such clear­ance is ob­tained and con­sid­ered by ex­pert ap­praisal com­mit­tee,” the re­port states. Ear­lier, projects with ca­pac­ity of more than 25 MW needed en­vi­ron­ment clear­ances. The panel re­port has also called for the set­ting up of an in­de­pen­dent author­ity to com­mis­sion EIAs.

The re­port says hy­dropower projects should not be al­lowed in ar­eas that are lo­cated at al­ti­tudes higher than 2,200 me­tres in Ut­tarak­hand. The panel ob­serves that since en­vi­ron­men­tal flow (min­i­mum flow in the river re­quired to sus­tain ecol­ogy) is less in Ut­tarak­hand rivers, it should be en­sured that a min­i­mum of 50 per cent flow in the lean sea­son and 30 per cent dur­ing the non- mon­soon pe­ri­ods is main­tained.

The panel re­port has sur­prised en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who were ques­tion­ing the cred­i­bil­ity of the panel as it in­cluded sev­eral govern­ment of­fi­cials who were re­spon­si­ble for hy­dropower clear­ances in the state. “The fi­nal re­port which came out de­spite so many dis­sent­ing voices and in such short pe­riod of time shows how se­ri­ous the is­sue of hy­dropower projects in Ut­tarak­hand is. But, it leaves a lot to be in­ter­preted by the court of the min­istry,” says Manoj Mishra, con­venor of Ya­muna Jiye Ab­hiyan. In fact, it has also made the min­istry jit­tery. MOEF on May 7 asked the apex court to form an­other panel to re­view the re­port. The court, how­ever, asked the min­istry to give rea­sons why it wants an­other com­mit­tee. The mat­ter will be heard in July.

Ut­tarak­hand has the sec­ond high­est hy­dropower po­ten­tial in the Hi­malayan states af­ter Arunachal Pradesh. The state has been push­ing hard to achieve an am­bi­tious pro­gramme of de­vel­op­ing 450 hy­del projects to har­ness its po­ten­tial of 27,039 MW. The ex­pert panel says sev­eral hy­del projects are sit­u­ated in eco-sen­si­tive zones and in the vicin­ity of na­tional parks and sanc­tu­ar­ies.

The panel has blamed hy­del projects for last year’s floods and land­slides in Ut­tarak­hand. The Sri­na­gar hy­dropower project on the Alak­nanda dumped de­bris into the river that caused ex­ten­sive dam­age in Sri­na­gar town dur­ing the floods

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