25 years after the environment ministry cleared the controversial Srinagar hydro-power plant, the Uttarakhand high court has asked the ministry to decide, within three months, whether the height of the dam can be increased from 63 to 90 meters.
The court has also asked the project proponents not to construct the dam beyond 63 meters, for which the ministry gave approval in 1985 to the then Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board.
The clearance was transferred to the Alakananda Hydro-Power Corporation in 1999, when the project design was changed to increase the height to 90 meters and capacity to 330 MW. The company claimed that in the transfer letter the ministry gave approval to the enhanced capacity, but the letter did not mention any change in scope of the project.
The court, however, struck down the contention claiming that the ministry's transfer letter did not mention clearance for additional capacity and citied an order of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court.
The CEC had said asked the ministry to consider, whether in the case of the Srinagar power project, revised clearance was required or not, because of change in scope of the project. The ministry had, however, taken no action resulting in the high court order. It had also taken months to file an affidavit in the court on whether it approved the project up to 90 meters.
Srinagar hydro-project is on the river Alakananda, which joins the Bhagirathi at Devprayag to form the Ganga. Although the central government, under stewardship of environment minister Jairam Ramesh, had cancelled hydro projects on the river Bhagirathi, it had refused to take cognizance of similar projects on the Alakananda river.
"They (environment ministry) are not even discussing it," said Bharat Jhununwala, who has been fighting to save the ecology on river Alakananda because of hydro projects.
The Srinagar project was conceived in 1981 and the construction started only in 2007. Part of the dam constructed is above 63 meters and rest is below the environment clearance limit.
While the Uttarakhand high court refused to grant stay on construction of the dam up to 63 meters, it asked the project proponents to stop the work for construction above 63 meters.
Following the court's order, the ministry may have to conduct an environment clearance process, as increasing the height of the dam will have a greater impact on the ecology than considered, when approval for 63 meters was given.
The ministry's own order of 2004 says that fresh clearance will have to be taken if scope of the project is changed, which has been the case in Srinagar project.