Environment ministry to allow hydropower projects in Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone

The environment ministry has agreed to “consider” the requests of Uttarakhand government and permit 10 hydroelectric power projects (HEPs) of a total capacity of 82.3 MW in the area notified as the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) in the Hill State’s Uttarkashi region.

According to the Central government notification of December 18, 2012, a 100 kilometre stretch of the river Bhagirathi from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi covering an area of 4,179.59 square kilometres was to be declared as eco-sensitive. The notification mentions that HEPs of only upto 2 MW can be built in the notified area.

The State government had sought amendments in the 2012 notification to incorporate in it HEPs of upto 25 MW capacity.

According to the State government data on the Bhagirathi river, 16 HEPs with a capacity of 1,743 MW are in various stages of development.

“The ESZ notification [in its current form] prohibits us from setting up HEPs beyond 2MW capacity. If the [16] HEPs are left unexecuted, it could result in an annual loss of Rs 2,040 crore to Uttarakhand,” Additional Secretary (Forest and Environment) Meenakshi Joshi told The Hindu.

In a meeting held with the environment ministry officials on August 31 in New Delhi, the State government officials discussed the problems with the ESZ notification of 2012, which included the HEPs.

After the meeting the environment ministry has agreed to “consider” the State government’s request and to “permit the 10 HEPs [of] less than 25MW capacity [and] of a total combined capacity of 82.3 MW which were approved prior to the date of notification”.

However, the ministry has said that cumulative impact assessment study of the Bhagirathi basin must be carried out for it to decide whether the 10 projects were viable.

The ministry has also asked the Uttarakhand government to “initiate” a Carrying Capacity Study “for carrying out a Bhagirathi River Basin Cumulative Impact Assessment Study for establishment of HEPs in the Bhagirathi River Basin for taking a decision on whether the 10 HEPs approved prior to the date of the Notification could be commissioned”.

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