Within a month of approving the 600 MW Loharinag Pala dam on Uttarakhand, a group of ministers on Friday scrapped the National Thermal Power Corporation project following intervention by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The GoM headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had approved the project in July on the ground that NTPC had already spent Rs 600 crore and ordered equipment worth Rs 2,000 for the project.
A large number of religious organisations and former IIT professor G.D. Aggarwal asked Singh to review the decision. Aggarwal was on his third fast unto death against the decision in Dehradun.
“The group is now recommending that the Loharinag Pala hydel project, the work on which has been under suspension, should be scrapped,” Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said in a statement
issued in the presence of environmentalists and religious gurus, including former BJP general secretary Govindacharya.
The decision would mean that the Ganga would flow freely on a 135-km stretch from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand. “It will be a no-dam area and the government will declare it an ecologically sensitive zone in the next four to five weeks,” Environment and Forest minister Jairam Ramesh said.
This stretch of the Ganga will become India’s first river zone to be declared a no-dam area.
The GoM also decided to constitute a technical committee to recommend specific safeguards to be undertaken at Loharinag Pala to protect the environment and to maintain eco-geological balance.
“It is just a small step in saving Himalayan ecology,” said Madhu Kishwar, a senior fellow at Centre for Studies of Developing Societies. “We have to work to project Himalayan ecology….”
The dam became a national political issue with Hindu religious groups and the BJP government in Uttarakhand demanding that no new big hydel project should be allowed on the Ganga.
Before the 2009 elections, the Prime Minister had told these groups the environment issues would be looked into and had suspended work on the project.