The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) has asked the Uttarakhand government to ensure that the area around Vishnuprayag Hydroelectric Project on Alaknanda River in Chamoli is notified as a ‘no development activity zone’.
The letter (dated April 18) issued by Ajay Kumar, additional principal chief conservator of forest (APCCF) MoEFCC to chief secretary S Ramaswamy said that the centre took stalk of the project between January 6-9.
“It was observed during monitoring ‘no development activity zone’ is required to be declared in upper catchment as required under one of the conditions of the said Environment Clearance and also committee by the state government, considering fragile nature of the catchment area,” said the letter, a copy of which is with HT.
Declaring the area as a ‘no development activity zone’ will mean a ban on developmental activities around the site, including road construction work.
The 400 MW project was commissioned in 2007 but the state government is yet to comply with the ‘no development activity zone’ condition. A private company, Jaiprakash Power Ventures Ltd (JPVL), has the project.
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) had been also filed in 2015 demanding decommissioning of the project, one of the biggest in the private sector. Referring to the 2013 deluge that damaged the project and was later restored, the plea highlighted impacts of the project on the fragile ecosystem.
Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (NDBR) is nearly 40 km from the site. The PIL raises concern that the project will block movement of wild animals.
“According to the Supreme Court, unless it is declared as an eco-sensitive zone, developmental activities are banned only in 10km around the protected area. This site is far away from the reserve,” Digvijay Singh Khati, chief wildlife warden told Hindustan Times.
However, authorities are concerned that declaring it as a ‘no development activity zone’ will put a blanket ban on various construction activities.
“The zone will restrict activities like roads that are necessary for that area. We have recently received the letter and I am sending it to the conservator of forest for an analytical report,” said Jai Raj, principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) projects, who has been asked by the government to submit details.
HT failed to contact S Ramaswamy, chief secretary, after repeated attempts. Umakant Panwar, secretary hydroelectric projects is out of country.
Bharat Jhunjhunwala, who filed the PIL, in an email, said, “I will need to see the letter. But it could be a welcome step. But this could be a camouflage for approving other projects like the GMR’s Alaknanda Project near Badrinath”.
Meanwhile, the construction agency, JPVL, did not respond to HT’s e-mail query.