Ministry of Environment and Forests directed to constitute an expert body to make detailed study

The Supreme Court has directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests as well as the State of Uttarakhand not to grant any further environmental clearance or forest clearance for any hydroelectric power projects in Uttarakhand until further orders.

A Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra gave this direction while expressing serious concern over the mushrooming of large number of hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand and its impact on Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins.

Writing the judgment Mr. Justice Radhakrishnan said “We are also deeply concerned with the recent tragedy, which has affected the Char Dham area of Uttarakhand. Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIG) recorded 350 mm of rain on June 15-16, 2013. Snowfall ahead of the cloudburst also has contributed to the floods resulting in the burst on the banks of Chorabari Lake near Kedarnath, leading to large scale calamity leading to loss of human lives and property. The adverse effect of the existing projects, projects under construction and proposed, on the environment and ecology calls for a detailed scientific study. Proper Disaster Management Plan, it is seen, is also not in place, resulting in loss of lives and property.”

The Bench quoting a study said “69 hydropower projects with a capacity of 9,020.30 MW are proposed in Bhagirathi and Alaknanda basins. This includes 17 projects which are operational with a capacity of 2,295.2 MW. In addition, 26 projects with a capacity of 3,261.3 MW (including 600 MW Lohari Nagpala hydropower project, work on which has been suspended by the Government decision) which were under construction, 11 projects with a capacity of 2,350 MW CEA/TEC clearances and 16 projects with a capacity of 1,673.8 MW under development. The implementation of the above 69 hydropower projects has extensive implications for other needs of this society and the river itself. It is noticed that the implementation of all the above projects will lead to 81 per cent of Bhagirathi and 65 per cent of Alaknanda getting affected.”

The Bench said “The cumulative impact of those project components like dams, tunnels, blasting, powerhouse, muck disposal, mining, deforestation etc. on eco-system, is yet to be scientifically examined.” Hence the Court issued a series of directions, viz. direction to the MoEF and to the State of Uttarakhand not to grant any further environmental clearance or forest clearance for any hydroelectric power project in the State until further orders; “MoEF is directed to constitute an expert body consisting of representatives of the State Government, WII, Central Electricity Authority, Central Water Commission and other expert bodies to make a detailed study as to whether Hydroelectric Power Projects existing and under construction have contributed to the environmental degradation, if so, to what extent and also whether it has contributed to the present tragedy occurred at Uttarakhand in June 2013; MoEF is directed to examine as to whether the proposed 24 projects are causing significant impact on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirath river basins.

The Bench asked the Disaster Management Authority, Uttarakhand to submit a report to this Court as to whether they had any Disaster Management Plan in place and how effective that plan was for combating the present unprecedented tragedy in Uttarakhand.