The Centre has fallen back on a century-old document signed between the British-India government and princely states in an attempt to save the Ganga, a key initiative of the National Democratic Alliance government.
Citing a 1916 pact, an affidavit filed by the ministry of environment and forest to the Supreme Court on Thursday said that hydroelectric projects on the Ganga will be subjected to a 100-year-old rule that they ensure the natural flow of the river does not fall below 1,000 cusecs.
Work on more than 24 hydroelectric power projects in Uttarakhand was stopped in 2013 shortly after vast portions of the state were devastated by flash floods. Much of the destruction was blamed on unplanned urbanisation that stifled the Ganga.
The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), while pushing for work to be resumed on three of the 24 stalled projects in the hill state, referred to a conference held in Haridwar in December 1916 which was attended by “eminent social leaders, including Bharat Ratna Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya”.
“It was concluded in the conference that a constant unfettered flow of river Ganga should be maintained and 1,000 cusecs water in natural stream and course in all seasons of the year will be ensured”, the government said, treating it as the basis for its new policy.
According to the ministry, the natural course of water in the river has to be maintained while designing any structure across the three main streams contributing to the Ganga – Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and Mandakini.
When the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice KS Radhakrishnan (since retired) stayed the clearances to the projects in 2013, he ordered fresh environmental assessment.The Bhyunder Ganga, Khirao Ganga and Lata Tapovan projects named in Centre’s affidavit are among five projects ready for operation. The remaining two – Alaknanda and Kotlibhel IA – need to undergo a “considerable design” change in to meet the policy stipulation, the government said while seeking nine months to cover the remaining projects.