Supreme Court order dated August 13, 2013, directed ‘the MoEF as well as State of Uttarakhand not to grant any further environmental clearance or forest clearance for any hydroelectric power project in the State of Uttarakhand, until further orders.’

Environmental clearance was granted to a 300-MW hydroelectric power project on February 3 even as a Supreme Court order dated August 13, 2013 clearly 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 in the State of Uttarakhand, until further orders.”

The 300-MW Lakhwar project, which received the clearance from the MoEF, is located in the Upper Yamuna River Basin in Dehradun.

In 1986, a 420-MW Lakhwar-Vyasi hydroelectric power project was granted environmental clearance. The project was then under the Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department. Work continued till about 1992. The projects are now under the Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (UJVNL). Once the projects were divided into a 120-MW Vyasi project and a 300-MW Lakhwar project, a separate environmental clearance was sought for the Vyasi project.

Regarding the forest clearance for the Lakhwar project, a highly placed source in the Forest Department said: “The MoEF’s version was that this is not a new permission. Permission was earlier granted for the diversion of forest land [when the project was under the Irrigation Department] and only the agency has changed.”

For environmental clearance, the Expert Appraisal Committee considered the Lakhwar project in November 2010. However, many unresolved issues were raised by the EAC, including those related to the construction of a barrage.

Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP), said: “The issues raised by the EAC have been left unresolved. There has been no Environmental Impact Assessment of the Lakhwar project. If there is no EIA, then there is no Environment Management Plan. This implies no monitoring. How can the project be granted environmental clearance without these basic requirements?”

After the Supreme Court order, a committee was formed by the MoEF in October last year to “assess whether the existing and ongoing/under-construction hydropower projects have contributed to the environmental degradation and, if so, to what extent.”