Maheshwar dam work to resume partially

Under pressure from the Madhya Pradesh government and the Prime Minister's office (PMO), the Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to allow partial construction of the Maheshwar dam to resume, modifying its own suspension order.

Sources from the Ministry told The Hindu that the decision was taken in light of technical advice from the Central Water Commission that certain parts of the project, including the seven gates that are now under construction, need to be completed in order to prevent the danger of flooding during the monsoons.

“Whatever is required to ensure safety will be allowed. The [suspension] order will still apply to all other civil works,” said a senior official. The modified order is likely to be issued on Tuesday.

The dam is being built in Madhya Pradesh by the private S. Kumar group, and construction was suspended by the Ministry on April 23 due to “negligible” relief and rehabilitation work.

The decision to modify the order was taken after a representation from Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prompted the PMO to convene a meeting on May 7. While the CWC gave its opinion in writing on the risk involved if the work was stopped completely, the M.P. Chief Secretary gave an assurance on behalf of the State government that R&R work would be completed. Incidentally, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh was out of the country on that date.

A Ministry source also indicated that a “political decision” on Maheshwar could only be taken by the PMO. “In view of the CWC's technical advice and the M.P. government's assurance at the level of the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary, the MoEF has no option but to modify,” said the source.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan, which is coordinating the protest on the failure to complete R&R work, has said that “since the earlier [suspension] order was under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, it cannot be modified and work cannot be resumed on the basis of assurances.”

According to the terms of the environmental clearance, R&R work was to have kept pace with the dam's construction, and should have been completed six months prior to submergence. However, the construction is now more than 80 per cent complete, and submergence was expected by November 2010, while less than 5 per cent of R&R work has been completed. More than 10,000 families will be affected by the submergence.

The Madhya Pradesh government has claimed that R&R work would have been completed already if it had not been for the agitation led by the NBA, a claim which has been refuted by NBA activists.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 1:07:30 PM |

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