Environmental impact assessment not needed for wind projects: panel
The government’s expert forest panel has given its approval to a 40 megawatt (MW) wind power project in Andhra Pradesh—on the basis of a single contested study on migratory birds—saying an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is unnecessary for wind projects. Its recommendation comes despite the wildlife division of the environment ministry advocating the need for an EIA.
This is not the first time the environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) has cleared a wind power project despite objections from other expert members. In June, the panel approved clearance of 297.38 hectares of forest land in Kutch district of Gujarat for a 400MW wind power project, overriding objections that it posed a risk to migratory birds that frequent the area in winters, as well as bats.
The present project was discussed in a meeting of the FAC on 17 August, whose minutes have been reviewed by Mint. The project involves diversion of 55.73 hectares of forest land in Ramagiri area of AP for establishing a 40MW wind power project.it had been referred to the FAC in Febru- ary 2012, but had failed to get the approval despite discussions by the forest panel in April 2012, July 2016, December 2016, and in March 2017.
In 2012, the FAC had sought a report assessing the impact of the proposed project on wildlife, especially birds and raptors and recommendations to minimize and prevent the impact. But no report was conducted by expert bodies suggested by FAC in four years.
Finally in December 2016, the FAC considered a study conducted on the subject by Krishnadevaraya University (Ananthapur area of Andhra Pradesh) and asked one of the members of the then advisory panel, Dr. Deepak Apte, to examine it. According to the minutes, Apte found a series of shortcomings in the study.
For instance, the study, done in early monsoon season, claimed that the project area “does not come in the path of migratory birds” but Apte questioned, “How was this inferred without the study being conducted in winter and post-winter, which is when the migratory birds arrive and depart from the Indian region?” He also highlighted the study mentions species such as “common toad and cricket frog that are not found in India”. In a March meeting, the FAC asked the environment ministry’s wildlife division to examine the study and Apte’s comments, and recommend adequate mitigative measures that would be binding on the project’s proponent.
The wildlife division, instead of recommending mitigative measures, said that considering Apte’s comments, “we may suggest that EIA of proposed wind turbines be conducted by SACON (Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History)”.
But FAC, in its latest meeting, disagreed with the wildlife division’s stand. It noted they feel the EIA “as recommended by wildlife division is not required for wind energy projects which produces green energy”.
Instead, the FAC recommended the proposal for in-principle approval.
The panel also said that “mitigation measures recommended by university of Krishnadevaraya (in) its report shall be complied with and monitored regularly”. This is despite Apte finding faults.
“The user agency shall also take all mitigation measures to avoid casualties of raptors/ birds/bats due to network of overhead power cables in consultation with institution having expertise on the subject and as recommended by the State forest and wildlife department from time to time,” the FAC directed.
The government’s expert forest panel also gave its approval to a 40MW wind power project in Andhra Pradesh.