Ban on construction work at Maheshwar dam lifted

This despite Jairam Ramesh himself accepted rehabilitation was slow

By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Published: Tuesday 10 May 2011

The Union environment ministry on May 6 lifted the ban on construction work at Maheshwar Hydel project in Madhya Pradesh. The relief for the project came despite little progress in the rehabilitaion of the project-affected people, the reason for which the work was stopped on the project.

The project is being constructed by Shri Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Limited on the Narmada River. It was given the environment clearance in 2001 on the condition that the rehabilitation work of the project will be at pace with the construction of the project. The work was stopped by the ministry in April 2010 on the grounds that negligible rehabilitaion was done. Till then, 22 out of the total 27 gates of the dam were already complete.

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The ministry has now allowed the project proponent to start work on the remaining five unfinished gates on the basis of the reports of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and Central Water Commission (CWC) recommending completion of the project. This despite the environment minister Jairam Ramesh himself accepting that there has been little progress in rehabilitation process. He pointed the state government's own report said that till March this year only one out of the total nine villages coming up in the submergance area were relocated.

It seems there was huge pressure on the minister from the state government and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to resume work on the project. Since the work was stopped there was repetetive correspondence between Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, former chief minister Digvijay Singh and the PMO. In fact PMO had called meetings on the issue on several occasions.

Refering to the reports of CWC and CEA and the interventions of Chauhan, Singh and PMO, Ramesh said, “I have no option but to agree to lift the stop work order.” He however said that the lowering of the five spillway gates and filling up of the reservoir upto 154 metres will only be allowed after the rehabilitaion work is completed.

“More than 90 per cent of the construction work has been completed while less than 10 per cent of the relocation and rehabilitation measures have been done.The order of allowing work is in clear violation of the environmental clearance given by the ministry that required rehabilitation to be in pace with the project's construction. It shows the crony nature of the current governance in India,” said a statement released by Narmada Bachao Andolan that is protesting against the project. It demanded the revocation of the environment clearance given to the project.

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