The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, continued the ban on issuance of environmental and forest clearances to power projects in Uttarakhand.
The Supreme Court order dated August 13, 2013 said the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the State government must “not grant any further environmental clearance or forest clearance for any hydroelectric power project (HEP) in the State of Uttarakhand, until further orders.”
The same order directed the MoEF to constitute an Expert Body to “assess whether the existing and ongoing/under-construction HEPs have contributed to the environmental degradation and, if so, to what extent.”
The Expert Body submitted its report on which the second hearing was held in the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The Expert Body, in its report, had elucidated the catastrophic role played by the HEPs during the June, 2013 deluge in the State.
The Expert Body, in its recommendations in the report, rejected 23 HEPs with an installed capacity of 2,870 MW, out of the 24 HEPs that were proposed for reconsideration by the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII). Only one project – 195-MW Kotlibhel 1A – out of the 24 proposed projects was recommended for implementation by the Expert Body, but, with some modifications.
Taking cognizance of the recommendations of the report, the Supreme Court, on Wednesday, ordered that no construction work should proceed on the 24 projects.
Former IIM Bangalore Professor Bharat Jhunjhunwala, who is the petitioner in the case, said, “Since the Ravi Chopra report [the Expert Body report] recommended that Kotlibhel 1A could be only implemented after modifications, the Supreme Court, for now, has said that no construction work must be carried out in the 24 projects.”
In the fifth meeting of the Expert Body, which was held in the first week of March, two Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Electricity Authority (CEA) representatives withdrew from the Export Body after entering into a heated conversation with the rest of the Expert Body members.
The CWC and the CEA, then, submitted a separate report based on the ‘Terms of Reference’ mentioned under the Supreme Court order of August 2013.
Sources in the Expert Body said that in the Supreme Court the MoEF tagged the Expert Body report as an ‘activists’ report.’ However, Mr Jhunjhunwala pointed out that nine out of the 11 members in the Expert Body held PhD degrees, and that the body had experts in rock mechanics, glaciology, among others, so that the report could not be termed as an ‘‘activists’ report.’
On Wednesday, the MoEF requested the Supreme Court for the permission to form another Committee to review the Expert Body report. However, sources said that the Supreme Court has asked the MoEF to give reasons for the same.