Freeze on Maheswar hydel project lifted

Ramesh, whose decision to halt the project was sternly opposed by two MP Chief Ministers including Congress veteran Digvijay Singh, said he had no other option but to lift the stop-work order on the construction of last five spillway gates after the issue was reviewed at various levels including by the Prime Minister's Office.

Despite not making any direct references to political pressure behind his decision, Ramesh had given enough hints in his statement to imply the pressure he was in, stating that he is clearing the project even though the progress report from the state regarding relief and rehabilitation plan was far from satisfactory.

The Maheswar project on Narmada river envisages setting up of a 400 MW hydro-power unit in west Madhya Pradesh. An integral part of the Narmada valley development plan, the run-of-river project has an additional benefit of supplying drinking water to Indore and Dewas cities

The project had its strong backing both from the present state Chief Minister -- Shivraj Singh Chauhan of the BJP--  and from his predecessor -Congress party’s Digvijay Singh. The latter was at the helm when the project was launched.

Ramesh stopped the work on April 23, 2010 after receiving complaints on the poor relief and rehabilitation work for the residents of the nine villages which will be submerged by the dam.

Though the state claimed it had completed 70 per cent of the relief and rehab work, it had also admitted that only one of the nine affected villages had been relocated to a fully developed site.

Despite this, Chauhan and Singh claimed that no community would be submerged when the power project becomes operational.  

Political pressure apart, the upcoming monsoon also played a role in the Environment Minister’s decision to allow the project’s completion.

In a technical report submitted to the environment ministry on May 4, the Central Water Commission has recommended installation of the rest of the five gates to avoid damage to existing construction in the event of a breach of the coffer dam during monsoon floods.

Ramesh said that the gates shall not be lowered until the state government completes the relief and rehab work in a satisfactory way. Only after its completion, the minister said, would the filling up of the reservoir up to 154 metres be allowed.

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