MoEF for U'khand hydel projects after flood disaster

MoEF favours six Uttarakhand hydropower projects six months after flash flood disaster

In the wake of the Kedarnath disaster caused by one such flood in 2013, the apex court put a halt on all hydropower projects in Uttarakhand

Aerial view shows washed away Tapovan hydel power project plant after Sunday's glacier burst, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Credit: PTI Photo

Six months after the Dhauliganga flash flood that killed nearly 200 persons, the Union Environment Ministry has informed the Supreme Court that it favours going ahead with six hydropower plants in ecologically sensitive Uttarakhand including the 520 MW Tapovan-Vishnugud project that was washed away by the devastating flood.

In an affidavit before the SC, the MoEF said that the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Ministry of Power and Uttarakhand government were on board in allowing these projects after incorporating certain design improvements as considerable investment has already been made.

The affidavit doesn't have any reference to a 2019 PMO decision on not having any more hydro-power plants on Ganga and its tributaries. The PMO decision was taken when environmentalist G D Agarwar was on fast to save the mighty river.

Seeking to delink the February accident with the Kedarnath disaster, the ministry now said the calamity was triggered by hydro-meteorological conditions (heavy snowfall followed by a warmer climate) that triggered the rock avalanche and there was no evidence of a glacial lake outburst flood.

In the wake of the Kedarnath disaster caused by one such flood in 2013, the apex court put a halt on all hydropower projects in Uttarakhand.

The MoEF affidavit didn’t discuss whether the construction of hydropower plants had impacted the ecology of the river basins as claimed by the ecologists over the years. It cited an expert committee report that suggested going ahead with the hydropower plants after certain design modifications.

The committee headed by B P Das was formed in 2015 – a year after the Narendra Modi government was sworn in – following the rejection of six other hydropower plants by an expert panel headed by environmentalist Ravi Chopra and a consortium of the IITs.

"The mandate of the BP Das committee was to suggest design modifications for the hydro-power plants and not to examine whether such projects are sustainable,” Mallika Bhanot, who works at Uttarakhand-based NGO Ganga Ahvaan told DH.

The biggest of the six projects that were rejected by those two panels was a 300 MW unit of GMR. But the units that are now being favoured by the MoEF include the much larger Tehri Stage-II (1000 MW), Tapovan-Vishnugad (520 MW) and Vishnugad-Pipalkote (444 MW) in the Alaknanda basin. These projects were under construction when they were stopped by the court.

Other projects being pushed by the ministry are Phata-Buyong (76 MW), Kaliganga-II (4.5 MW) and Madmaheshwar (15 MW). Being small hydro projects, the last two don’t need environmental clearance while others have such an approval in place. A seventh project (Singoli-Bhatwari) has already been commissioned.

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