Except for Kotibhel 1A project on the Bhagirathi, all other projects would have negative impact on the environment and biodiversity, says panel
Blaming hydro power projects for the Uttarakhand disaster in June 2013, an expert panel of the Union ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has sought complete revamp of the environment clearance policy for such projects in ecologically sensitive areas.
The expert committee was set up by MoEF on the order of the Supreme Court last August to determine if hydroelectric power projects contributed to the flood disaster that hit Uttarakhand in June last year.
The panel in its report submitted to the Supreme Court on Monday, said that the there should be laws to protect rivers and designate eco-sensitive zones for all rivers in the state. The panel also sought immediate notification of a river regulation zone by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
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The bench, on the same day, had also ordered Uttarakhand government not to clear any hydroelectric projects in the state till further orders. It, however, had given the go ahead to the controversial Srinagar Hydro Electric Project on the Alaknanda river.
MoEF constituted the committee on October 15 and asked it to submit its final report by January 14, 2014. The 17-member committee, with Dehradun-based People's Science Institute’s Ravi Chopra as its chairperson, was also asked to draft a Himalayan policy for the state.
Redesign Kotibhel 1A
In its fourth meeting in February, the panel decided that except for the 195 MW Kotibhel 1A Hydroelectric power project (HEPs) on Bhagirathi river all other hydropower projects would have negative impact on the environment and biodiversity. About the Kotibhel 1A HEP, the panel observed that the project would not have a significant impact on biodiversity but will curtail the free flow of Bhagirathi river. So, the panel recommended the project should be redesigned to increase the length in which the river would flow free.
Projects with negative impacts
The projects that the panel held responsible for environmental damage include 530 MW Kotibhel II on Bihari Ganga river, 250 MW Tamak Lata, 170 MW Lata Tapovan, 114 MW Malari Jhelum and 126 MW Jhelum Tamak on Dhauli Ganga river, 140 MW Karmoli on Bhagirathi river, 320 MW Kotibhel 1B and 300 MW Alaknanda HEP on the Alaknanda river. The report was submitted to the ministry on April 16.
“All projects > 2 MW, which entail tunneling, barrages and construction of reservoir, shall require prior Environmental Clearances (EC) from MoEF and subsequently, such projects falling in the eco-sensitive zones of notified National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries of Uttarakhand should take prior permission from National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), as per the Hon’ble Supreme Court order on Goa foundation case dated 4.12. 2006. Construction activities in all under-construction HEPs which have failed to obtain clearance from NBWL must come to a stop immediately till such clearance is obtained and considered by expert appraisal committee,” the report states.
The Environment Impact Assessment notification of 2006 currently stipulates prior environment clearances only for hydro power projects producing more than 25 MW.
The report also says that areas above 2,200 metre altitude in Uttarakhand should be kept free of hydropower projects. The panel also observed that since environmental flow is very less in Uttarakhand’s rivers, it should be ensured that there is minimum of 50 per cent flow in the lean season and 30 per cent during the non-monsoon period.
The next date of hearing of the case in Supreme Court is on May 7.
Book Chapter: Havoc in the Himalaya
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