Where environmental activists failed, former BJP leader Uma Bharati had succeeded, although partially.
She had got construction of 330 MW hydro power plant in Uttrakhand stopped on the ground that it will lead to submergence of the centuries old Dhara Devi temple in the Srinagar valley but failed to convince environment minister Jairam Ramesh to scrap the project.
The Srinagar Hydroelectric project in Uttarakhand got environment ministry’s clearance in 1987 and its capacity was increased to 330 MW in 1995. Recently, the Uttarakhand government had stayed construction beyond 200 MW asking environment ministry to re-examine environment clearance for increasing its capacity to 300 MW.
The controversy got political this month with Uma Bharati sitting on a fast since May 9 and demanding that the temple should be saved at any cost. She also demanded a law to protect river Ganga and a committee to review all hydel projects on river Ganga.
The environment ministry on Monday asked Alaknanda Hydro Power Company Limited to stop construction of the dam, under discussion for over 30 years, immediately. The dam is being constructed on river Alaknanda, tributary of river Ganga, in the Srinagar valley.
With the stop work order, the ministry has also decided to conduct site inspection and Ramesh has asked the officials to submit a report to him by June 21 to take a final call.
Bharati has not budged from her position and continues to be on fast saying unless the Prime Minister intervenes.
Ramesh also told Bharati that not only Alakananda but other hydel projects coming up on river Bhagirathi in Uttarakhand are also under review. "The ministry will stipulate minimum environment flow for rivers linked with Ganga in the next two weeks," Environment minister Jairam Ramesh said.
The ministry had asked IIT Roorkee in 2010 to conduct a study to indicate minimum environmental flow to be stipulated for individual projects so that adequate water is available for aquatic bio-diversity and for meeting aesthetic objectives.
The IIT has submitted its report and has recommended minimum river flow of three to four times of what is required for getting environment clearance. "This minimum flow will ensure that there is water in both Alakananda and Bhagirathi river around the year," Ramesh said.
Construction of dams on river tributaries of Ganga in upper Himalayan region has become a political issue before the state assembly elections slated for early next year.