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Hydro projects can get in-principle clearance before impact study: Govt to states

ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi
Jan 01, 2024 09:44 AM IST

To be sure, the 2013 order said results of cumulative impact and carrying capacity studies will be considered while considering environment and forest clearance

​ Proposed hydropower projects can be given in-principle approval before studies are conducted on carrying capacity and cumulative impact assessment of a river basin, the environment ministry has informed state governments, raising concerns by environmental experts.

The cumulative impact study of a river basin would take into account environmental flow, biodiversity, muck disposal sites, traffic flow in the region and resettlement and rehabilitation, among other issues, the ministry had said in 2013 (Shutterstock)
The cumulative impact study of a river basin would take into account environmental flow, biodiversity, muck disposal sites, traffic flow in the region and resettlement and rehabilitation, among other issues, the ministry had said in 2013 (Shutterstock)

“Since grant of approval under the Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, 1980 is a time taking process, the Forest Conservation Division of the MoEFCC may consider grant of ‘in-principle’ approval under the Adhiniyam following due process subject to the conditions that Carrying Capacity Studies(CCS) and Cumulative Impact Assessment Studies(CIS) as per the OM NoJ-11013/I/2013-IA-I dated May 28, 2013 shall be carried out, except for the first hydro-electric Project in a river basin where such study CCS and CIS need not be carried as mentioned in the aforesaid OM, and based on the outcome of such study the ‘final’ shall be granted for taking up any hydro-power project in a basin,” the ministry said in a note to state governments that was published on ministry’s Parivesh website on December 27.

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It was in reference to grant of approvals under the Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, or forest conservation amendment act of 2023, especially for small and medium hydropower projects proposed in various river basins.

To be sure, the 2013 order had said results of cumulative impact and carrying capacity studies will be considered while considering hydropower projects for environment and forest clearance.

Carrying capacity and cumulative impact studies are essential if more than one hydropower project is to be sanctioned in a river basin, the ministry added. These provisions shall apply prospectively for sanctioning of new projects, the ministry said, adding that details of available river basin studies shall be shared by the impact assessment division of the ministry with the concerned state governments.

The cumulative impact study of a river basin would take into account environmental flow, biodiversity, muck disposal sites, traffic flow in the region and resettlement and rehabilitation, among other issues, the ministry had said in 2013.

“It should be incumbent on the developer of the second/other project(s) to incorporate all possible and potential impact of other project(s) in the basin to get a cumulative impact assessment done. This condition shall be stipulated at the ToR (terms of reference) stage itself during the EC (environment clearance) process. Once such a cumulative impact study has been done, the same could be shared by EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee) with FAC (Forest Advisory Committee),” it had said. “The cumulative impact study in respect of biodiversity component may be separately got done by one of the specialized institutes…. While making recommendation on EC/FC for such projects, the EAC/FAC will consider the results of such cumulative studies.”

“Granting in-principle approvals for any such project without a cumulative impact assessment of the river basins as mandated under the law will only encourage fait accompli (something that has already happened or been done and cannot be changed), rendering the purpose of the rules infructuous (pointless),” said Debadityo Sinha, lead of climate and ecosystems at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, a think tank. “Not only are these actions ultra vires (beyond the powers) due to the excessive jurisdiction of the executive, but they also contravene the mandates of the Forest Conservation Act and the rules, weakening environmental safeguards.”

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