Power company takes Water Ministry to court over Ganga notification

Small hydro-power projects are often promoted as a cleaner alternative to large projects as they are assumed to have little or no environmental impact.  

The Alaknanda Hydropower Company (AHC) has taken the Union Water Ministry and the Uttarakhand State government to court following a 2018 notification by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), a Union Water Ministry body, that requires hydropower companies located on the Ganga’s tributaries to release more water than from previous years. Located on the Alaknanda river — a major source river for the Ganga — the 330 MW project was commissioned in 2014 and is among the 19 hydropower projects functioning along various stretches of the Ganga and its tributaries.

‘Financially detrimental”

Company officials said that the notification was financially detrimental to the company and that the government ought to be compensating it for the losses that would accrue due to the notification.

“The matter is in the court. Any losses to the company have to be reimbursed by the State government (Uttarakhand) as this is a change in law,” G.V.K. Reddy, Chairman, GVK Group, told The Hindu in a text message. AHC is run by GVK Power & Infrastructure Ltd.

The hydropower plant has been developed as a run-of-the-river project and is expected to supply 12% of the energy to the Government of Uttarakhand for free. The balance 88% power generated will go to the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited under a Power Purchase Agreement.

Flow mandated

The 2018 e-flow notification specifies that the upper stretches of the Ganga — from its origins in the glaciers and until Haridwar — would have to maintain: 20% of the monthly average flow of the preceding 10 days between November and March, which is the dry season; 25% of the average during the “lean season” of October, April and May; and 30% of the monthly average during the monsoon months of June-September.

This would require existing and upcoming projects to change their design to accommodate greater flows. Companies are reluctant to release water because it impedes power generation.

The 2018 order by the NMCG gave companies three years — until October 2021— to make necessary changes but site visits to 11 companies by the Central Water Commission, which is tasked with measuring flows, showed that most companies did not need to make major changes to the design to comply with the new ecological flow requirements. The NMCG therefore advanced the compliance date to December 2019.

Health of river

The AHC says that it is only required to release 15% flows as “environmental flows” according to an Uttarakhand High Court order in June 2018. The NMCG, in a counter affidavit to the petition, avers that from May 15-21, 2019 only “5% of daily inflows are being released [by AHC].” This when it should have been releasing 25% of the average of last ten daily flows for May. Environmental flows are necessary, the affidavit says, for the health of the river, and that the minimum numbers required have been computed by committees consisting of multiple experts.

An NMCG official, who did not want to quoted, said that GVK had claimed losses of nearly ₹4,000 crore, adding, “We have had some meetings at the Prime Minister’s Office and the government is considering making good the losses. We will have to see how the case proceeds.”

Mr. Reddy did not confirm this number to The Hindu.

AHC filed its petition in July but has not been reported on. Future dates on the case hearings are unavailable.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 2:27:33 PM |

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