Following up with the Supreme Court’s directive of August 2013, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has set up an expert committee to ascertain whether the hydroelectric power projects (HEP), both existing and under-construction, are contributing to the environmental degradation in Uttarakhand. Moreover, the committee is to investigate whether the HEPs were a contributing factor in the unprecedented devastation left in the wake of massive floods and landslides in this Himalayan State in June this year, and to what extent.
The committee, in its report, will examine whether the 24 of 39 hydro projects, as proposed by the Supreme Court, are causing significant impact on bio-diversity along the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins and will review their status. This examination will be observed by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
The committee will be headed by Prof. Ravi Chopra, Director of the Peoples’ Science Institute and member of NGRBA (National Ganga River Basin Authority) and will consist of representatives from the WII, MoEF, Uttarakhand government, Central Water Commission, Central Electricity Authority, Central Public Works Department, and experts from leading environmental research institutes.
The detailed study will look extensively into the near and far ranging consequences of the extensive HEP activity in the region. The Supreme Court Bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra had expressed concern over the “mushrooming” of hydro power projects in the region, both small and big. The Bench had directed the MoEF to not give further environmental or forest clearances to any hydroelectric power projects in Uttarakhand.
The committee is set to study the current state of Himalayan glaciers and the impact of HEP activity on these glaciers, and review the compliance of existing protocols on construction activity along Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins. It will also ascertain places and areas where the damage by the activities of the HEP is irreversible and will propose measures to preserve the biodiversity of these regions. After determining the extent and type of damage in the identified regions, as future course of action, the committee will suggest environment friendly measures for sustainable development keeping in mind the cultural background and characteristics of the State. It will also examine the extent of progress made by the ongoing and under-construction hydroelectric power projects as on the date of the tragedy, with respect to compliance with environmental conditions and safeguarding measures.
While the committee is all set to carry out its tasks, activists’ group Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan (YJA) urges the committee to not only toe the Supreme Court directive line but also to put on hold proposals for any previously abandoned HEPs in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh until the committee comes up with its report.
“We hope that the committee keeps an open mind on all options including recommending a ban of any construction of dam over rivers in Uttarakhand. We also hope that the committee shall carry out its deliberations and minuting of meetings in a transparent and consultative manner so that varied opinions can find a place in it,” said Manoj Misra, convener of YJA.