Uttarakhand govt to allow completion of 7 hydel projects

Published on Mar 19, 2021 05:53 AM IST
  • The decision has been taken by the ministries of environment, power and Jal Shakti, and will be communicated to the Supreme Court, which is hearing a matter on hydropower projects
The projects at Tapovan Vishnugad (520 MW) on Dhauliganga river which was completely destroyed in the February 7 glacier breach (PTI)
The projects at Tapovan Vishnugad (520 MW) on Dhauliganga river which was completely destroyed in the February 7 glacier breach (PTI)
ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi

The Centre has decided to allow the completion of seven under-construction hydropower projects in Uttarakhand, a top official in the environment ministry said, indicating the government’s desire to push ahead with these projects despite opposition from activists and local residents, which has resurfaced again in recent weeks following the February 7 flash flood on the Rishi Ganga that claimed at least 72 lives and damaged two projects.

The decision has been taken by the ministries of environment, power and Jal Shakti, and will be communicated to the Supreme Court, which is hearing a matter on hydropower projects, this person added on condition of anonymity.

“Those hydropower projects which have completed 50% of construction will be allowed to go ahead,” this person said.

Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar, too, tweeted on March 15 his response to a question in Rajya Sabha that sanctioned projects will be allowed to go ahead, but no new projects will be initiated in the upper reaches on Ganga.

The projects at Tapovan Vishnugad (520 MW) on Dhauliganga river which was completely destroyed in the February 7 glacier breach; Vishnugad Pipalkoti (444 MW) on Alaknanda river; Tehri Stage II (1000 MW) on Bhagirathi river; Singoli Bhatwari (99 MW) on Mandakini river; Phata-Buyong (76 MW) on Mandakini river; Madhyamaheshwar (15 MW) on Madhmaheshwar Ganga; and Kaliganga II (6 MW) on Kaliganga river all meet this criterion.

“Most of the under-construction projects that the Centre plans to go ahead with are located in extremely sensitive areas in the vicinity of the paraglacial zone and are to the north of MCT. These include Tapovan Vishnugad, Vishnugad Pipalkoti, Phata Byung, Singoli Bhatwari, Madhmaheshwar and Kaliganga. Phata Byung was completely buried in the 2013 disaster, Singoli Bhatwari was also destroyed. The Centre should have decommissioned these under-construction projects immediately after the 2013 disaster. The focus should shift to conserving the Himalayas and not making them further vulnerable to disasters by allowing these projects,” said Hemant Dhyani, member of the Supreme Court-appointed expert body to study the environmental impact of hydropower projects.

MCT or main central thrust is a geological fault that lies along the Himalayas.

Following the 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods which killed at least 5,000, the Supreme Court on August 13, 2013 ruled that no new hydroelectric power projects should be set up in the state. In all, 69 projects were envisaged in the region at the time; 24 had been granted environmental clearances, which were also stayed by the apex court.

The court sought a detailed assessment of the cumulative impact of hydropower plants in the state. Following the order, a committee headed by Ravi Chopra, director of the People’s Science Institute, submitted a detailed report which warned that glacial retreat in the state, coupled with structures built for hydroelectricity generation and dams, could lead to large-scale disasters downstream.

It also underlined that paraglacial zones (above 2,000 metres) and areas north of the main central thrust are extremely vulnerable to landslides, Glacial Lake Overflow Floods, and hence not ideal locations for hydropower projects.

Subsequently, the top court, in its order dated January 24, 2015 in Alaknanda Hydro Power Co. Ltd Versus Anuj Joshi & Ors, directed a common policy framework to be created by the ministries of environment, Jal Shakti, and power for implementation of projects in the upper reaches of the Ganga.

That process took time.

Minutes of a meeting held in the chamber of the principal secretary to the Prime Minister on February 25, 2019 said that no new hydropower project would come up on the Ganga or its tributaries in Uttarakhand, but made an exception for the seven projects under construction where 50% of the work was complete.

Now, the ministries are ready to present their conclusion to the court.

“This shows that the government is turning a blind eye to recurrent disasters. The only rationale to allow these seven is that the money has already been spent but that doesn’t mean you have to go ahead with faulty and risky propositions,” said Mallika Bhanot, an Uttarakhand based environment activist associated with Ganga Ahvaan.

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