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The bends in our rivers

With two major victories under its belt, August is turning out to be a happy month for the green lobby: first, it forced the Centre to scrap the 600 MW Loharinag Pala hydroelectric project in Uttarakhand and second, it foiled Vedanta Resources’ dream of mining the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2010 21:31 IST

With two major victories under its belt, August is turning out to be a happy month for the green lobby: first, it forced the Centre to scrap the 600 MW Loharinag Pala hydroelectric project in Uttarakhand and second, it foiled Vedanta Resources’ dream of mining the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa. Despite these triumphs, it would be wrong to think that only an over-riding concern for the environment was behind these two decisions; the environment benefited thanks to the political necessities of the day. So these rulings will have limited effect if similar violations in other parts of India are not tackled with equal zeal. The decision to scrap Loharinag Pala is a positive one but there’s no doubt that ‘competitive populism’ forced the hand of the government. Will the government now actively look into the violations of hydropower companies in the North-east?

Protests have dogged the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydro Power project in the Congress-ruled Assam. An expert committee from the Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati, Gauhati University and Dibrugarh University had recommended a review of the dam. Is it being allowed to continue because it is away from the glare of the ‘national’ media? In 2009, the SDF-ruled Sikkim government came under the scrutiny of the Comptroller and Auditor General for its negligent approach in the construction of the Teesta V project. Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh is travelling to the North-east next month to take stock of the projects. Will he be equally proactive about the other rivers as he has been about the Ganga?

Coming back to the Ganga, if the government is seriously concerned about the national lifeline, it must show more interest in improving the overall health of the river and revive the bodies/plans that have been set up to do so. Take, for example, the National River Conservation Plan. The plan is managed by the National River Conservation Authority, which is headed by the prime minister. But the authority has not met since 2003. When South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, an NGO, asked the ministry about this, it replied that National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) was set up in 2009 for revamping of the river conservation strategy. “The NGRBA had met in 2009 and the revised approach would be adopted for conservation of other rivers.” Now decode that to understand what the government has in mind for the national river.