The Central government's bid to stream-roll 70 hydel projects on river Ganga in Uttarakhand received a setback on Tuesday with independent experts not agreeing to a draft report seeking approval to most of these projects.
The twin pressure of former IIT professor GD Aggarwal sitting on dharna outside the Planning Commission, where an inter-ministerial group (IMG) met, and agitated independent members forced the committee headed by plan panel member BK Chaturvedi to revise its draft report.
"There was lot of opposition on suggested environment flow for river Ganga and its tributaries and go ahead to 70 hydel projects in which some sort of work has started," said one of the independent members, who was not willing to be quoted.
Rajender Singh, another independent member said, the draft IMG report was not acceptable as it aims to ensure construction of dams on the river instead of ensuring sound environmental flow.
"We have agreed to only ongoing projects and want minimum 75% flow during winters and 50% during summer months," he said after the six hour long "intense" meeting.
The IMG had suggested 25% environmental flow in Ganga and its tributaries during October-November and April-May. During June to September, the draft report had suggested 20% flow and during December to March 30% flow.
Another committee member said environmental flow was discussed at length and expected higher flow levels in the final report to be adopted by IMG by end of this month. But, what Singh has sought may not be accepted in the final report.
A certain level of environmental flow of water in the river is must to sustain its ecology and marine life. Higher environmental flow is good for ecology but bad for hydel projects, which need stored water, to generate electricity to its full capacity.
The report said an "appropriate" balanced approach needs to be taken to ensure hydro power needs of the state and water flow to meet the societal requirements including for social, cultural and economic growth.
"It is important to see that the flows do not result in exorbitant cost of power which the people of the region may not be able to afford. This would make these power projects uneconomic and un-implementable," the draft report said.
There are 70 hydro projects with a capacity of 9,550 MW proposed in the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda basins - two major tributaries of river Ganga. Their implementation would lead to 81% of river Bhagirathi and 65% of river Alaknanda getting affected.
The committee suggested that while implementing these projects it should be ensured that not more than 60% of the river length is affected and distance between two projects is one to three kilometers. It would have meant that about 80% of these projects getting clearance, which was not accepted by non-official committee members.