Prime Minister Narendra Modi will step in to resolve a wrangle between three ministries over the construction of hydropower projects on the Ganga, sources say, in what has come as a major dilemma for the BJP government that took office vowing to conserve the holy river and provide electricity to 1.2 billion Indians.
The environment ministry that is backed by the water resources ministry has cited likely adverse ecological impact to express its disfavour for the proposed half a dozen projects on the river’s upper reaches, while the power ministry says the ventures are essential towards ensuring the country’s energy security.
With the ministries failing to firm up a stand, the government recently told the Supreme Court the issue will be settled by the PM, who returned from a three-nation tour on Saturday, and sought two more weeks to file an affidavit.
Sources say the environment ministry is not keen on the construction of major hydropower projects on the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers that meet in Uttarakhand’s Devprayag town to form the Ganga, while the Uma Bharti-headed water resources ministry agrees that these projects will destroy the ecology in the higher reaches.
The power ministry, however, has advocated the projects be allowed with more stringent environmental norms so the adverse impact on ecology can be minimised.
The Piyush Goyal-led department has strongly opposed a proposal to scrap six such projects, though government scientific bodies say the ventures would reduce the mighty Ganga to a mere stream near its source where its natural flow is still largely unhindered.
The apex court is hearing a plan from project developers seeking relief from the court over its ban on hydropower projects in the Ganga’s upper reaches in Uttarakhand, a state that witnessed its worst flash floods in June 2013 with hundreds of people killed.
The court asked the Centre to decide on a four-member expert panel’s view that the six projects should not be allowed because of the potential detrimental bearing on biodiversity, riverine system and wildlife. The committee had a member representing the water resources ministry.
Experts say if the government rejects the panel’s proposals it would be another blow to the ecology in the Ganga’s upper reaches as the Prime Minister’s Office has already asked the environment ministry to dilute its notification of eco-sensitive zones along 135 km of the river in Uttarakhand.
The ministry in December 2012 had identified around 4,000 sq km of the Ganga river basin as no-construction zone, also called eco-sensitive zone, for several activities including hotels and resorts.
The Uttarakhand government, however, has not implemented the notification saying it was issued without consulting it, despite the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asking the state to enforce the order strictly.
Sources said the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Nipendra Mishra, had asked the environment ministry to examine the reservations expressed by Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat at a recent meeting of the Ganga River Basin Authority.