Environment ministry clears hydro project rejected twice by its advisory committee
THE UNION environment ministry has given in-principle clearance to a proposed hydro-project on the Alaknanda river, a tributary of the Ganga, in Uttarakhand. The 300 MW project had been rejected twice by the statutory body which recommends forest clearances, the forest advisory committee (FAC). FAC says the project lies in the buffer zone of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (NDBR), a home to many endangered species.
The project includes an 18-metre-high diversion barrage which would be constructed across the river, 3 km downstream of Badrinath town in Chamoli district. It will have a 2.87 km long tunnel and an underground power house near the Khirao Ganga. For the project, developer GMR had sought forest clearance for 60 hectares.
While reviewing the project in May last year, FAC observed it is located in the buffer zone of the reserve, which houses the Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers—two core zones also inscribed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Its decision was based on an interim report of a 2011 study by Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII). The study was commissioned by the environment ministry, which asked WII to assess the cumulative impacts of hydro projects in the Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basin. It focused on five projects, including GMR’s. In its report, WII stated the Alaknanda project should not be given clearance as it will seriously hamper the movement of snow leopards, brown bears and other species. Four months later, GMR resubmitted the proposal. FAC again rejected it, saying the company did not submit any new facts. However, the ministry’s forest division overlooked FAC’s recommendation and cleared the project on November 8.
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