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Ministries reach consensus on hydropower projects in Himalayas

A bounder of ice believed to have rolled down from the Raunthi glacier, a landslide caused due to the breaking caused floods downstream in Rishiganga river. File   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Six months after a devastating flood of rock, ice and debris gushed down the Rishiganga river in Uttarakhand and killed at least 200 and severely damaged two hydropower projects, three Central Ministries, which initially had dissenting views on the future of hydroelectric power projects have agreed to a consensus.

According to an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court this month, as part of an ongoing case on the feasibility of hydroelectric projects in the aftermath of the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, seven—one of them being the 512 MW Tapovan project by the NTPC that was severely damaged this month—have been allowed to complete construction primarily on the grounds that they were over “50% complete.” No other new projects would be allowed in the upper reaches of the Ganga and those sanctioned would have to abide by environment regulations that prescribe a minimum flow in the river at all times of the year to preserve its health.

On the same page

In 2016, the Union Water Ministry, then led by Uma Bharti had contested the establishment of these projects and taken a position opposed to the Environment and Jal Shakti Ministries. However, in 2019, documents show, the Ministry had changed its views to accommodate seven projects. The affidavit this month is the first formal document that reveals all three Ministries to be on the same page.

The seven projects are the Tehri Stage 2, Tapovan Vishnugadh (which was impacted by the February flood), Vishnugadh Pipalkoti, Singoli Bhatwari, Phata Bhuyang, Madhyamaheshwar and Kaliganga 2.

Hearings on the case are expected to continue. There have been multiple expert committees set up by the government over the years to examine the feasibility of the projects and their construction has frequently provoked agitations, most notably in recent times led by the late GD Agrawal, who went on a hunger fast and ultimately died of a heart attack in October 2018. He had pressed for the framing of a ‘Ganga act’ as well as a stop to sand mining and hydropower project construction in the upper reaches of the Ganga.

‘Illogical’

Environmental activists say that the water Ministry’s stand and the government’s pushing ahead with the project revealed that the floods of February had failed to jolt the government into realising that hydropower development in the fragile Himalayas was “illogical”.

“There were two projects, Singoli Bhatwari and Phata Bhuyang, which were specifically linked to the Kedarnath tragedy. Both have been allowed. The Vishnugadh project damaged in the February floods too has been allowed to progress even though 200 plus people died due to the criminal negligence of their not being a disaster warning system. The affidavit has the government admitting that the floods have damaged the tunnels and topography of the projects. All of this has changed. These projects got their environmental clearance based on very different conditions. So how are they being allowed on the same environmental clearance? ” questioned Mallika Bhanot, a critic of the hydropower development in the Himalayas. “This clearly shows the government has no intent to look at these activities in the context of climate change and anthropogenic activity,” she stated


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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 9:09:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ministries-reach-consensus-on-hydropower-projects-in-himalayas/article36140459.ece

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