Significantly even after Supreme Court directive not to grant clearance for hydroelectric project in the State until further orders

The State Government is seeking forest clearance for the 300 MW Lakhwar hydroelectric power project even after the Supreme Court on August 13 directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the State Government not to grant clearance for hydroelectric power projects in the State until further orders.

Last week Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar met the MoEF Secretary Dr. V. Rajagopalan to get the clearance for the Lakhwar project.

Further, on August 12, the State Government had received the Ministry’s clearance for a 120 MW Vyasi hydroelectric power project.

Mr. Subhash Kumar said, “The Ministry gave the clearance to the Vyasi project on August 12. However, the Supreme Court’s order to prohibit work on the projects was given on August 13. We are seeking the advice of the law department on whether the work on the Vyasi project can begin or not even though it has received the Ministry’s clearance.”

These proposed projects are located in the Upper Yamuna River Basin in Dehradun district. Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP), said, “There is a risk of dam breakage since the spillway capacity of the Lakhwar project has been underestimated. This poses danger to Delhi, which is situated downstream of the river and can be flooded.”

Vimal Bhai, a member of Matu Jan Sangathan that works on dam related issues, said, “A village in the premises of the Lakhwar project is sinking due to geographical factors. The reservoir, if constructed, will exacerbate the situation and ruin the villages in its premises.”

Mr. Kumar said, “There is no ban on processing. We have given the file to the Ministry for forest clearance of the Lakhwar project.”

However, Mr. Thakkar said, “This seems like unnecessary pushing for project clearance even after clear instructions from the Supreme Court.”

These projects had received clearance in 1986 when they were under Uttar Pradesh’s Irrigation Department. Work continued till about 1992. At present the projects are under the Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (UJVNL). A change in the authority undertaking the project requires a new clearance, which is what the State Government is trying to seek.

Mr. Kumar said 3 kilometres of tunnelling was done when the project was under the Irrigation Department. Also, work for Lakhwar project’s power house had started before the project was transferred to the UJVNL.

“About 35 per cent work has been done in the Vyasi project,” Mr. Kumar said.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) considered the Lakhwar project in November 2010 for environmental clearance. However, many unresolved issues were raised by the EAC including the ones related to construction of the barrage and usefulness of the project. Mr. Thakkar said, “None of the issues have been resolved yet; there has been no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Lakhwar and Vyasi projects, then how can the government seek for project clearance?”

The State Government has been pushing for the projects even after facing objections from environmentalists. According to the data in SANDRP, in the Yamuna River Basin one project is under construction, 17 are completed, and 20 are proposed. While many are demanding for the revival and restoration of the Yamuna, no cumulative assessment of the impact of the hydro-power projects in the Yamuna River Basin has been done by the authorities, Mr. Thakkar said.

On April 22, 58 organisations and individuals issued a statement projecting concern over the proposed Lakhwar and Vyasi projects. The statement was sent to agencies including the concerned EAC members and the Planning Commission.