The Himachal Pradesh government’s bid to get environment ministry on board to achieve its hydropower potential of over Rs 20,000 MW may hit green roadblock.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has asked the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on hydropower to consider a petition from people’s organizations across Himachal saying no approvals should be given until cumulative environment assessment of all river basins, where projects are envisaged, is done.
The state government is set make a presentation before the EAC seeking approval of the projects, where cumulative environment assessment has not been done, on the ground that the construction work will not start till the assessment is done. “What is the use of an assessment being done by an association of project proponents. They will not give a negative report,” said Mansi Asher of a local NG Him Dhara.
The fear arises from state government plans such as to allow only three km free flow of river Ravi, in Chamba district, in a 70 km long stretch. Similar fate is also being foreseen of rivers such as Sutlej and Beas, where number of hydro projects have been proposed. “Most rivers would be dead if all the projects are allowed,” said Rahul Saxena of Lok Vigyan Kendra in the state Kangra district.
To achieve this, the state government is set to seek waiver for ministry’s notional criteria of minimum distance of 1-2 kms between two dams on a river even though a state government committee, headed by Additional Chief Secretary Avay Shukla, had recommended minimum distance of 5 kms.
The EAC in its last meeting violated the ministry’s criteria by allowing 260 MW Khulair hydel project in the state, which people organization from Himachal say indicates flaws in environment approval process of the ministry.
“Minimum distance of free flowing river is necessary from many different perspectives…the MoEF can do is to stop clearances in over developed basins and in unavoidable cases, leave at least 5 km of free flowing river between two adjacent hydropower projects,” the people’s organizations said, in their petition.
Ministry sources said the concern expressed in the petition was genuine and the government was considering river basin studies, like the one done for Ganga River Basin. Even a planning commission had recommended that no new hydel projects should be approved till basin studies are done, an official said.