Monday, April 14, 2014

India News: Committee rejects 23 of 24 proposed Uttarakhand hydro project (9 April 2014)

Committee rejects 23 of 24 proposed Uttarakhand hydro project

DEHRADUN: The Supreme Court monitoring committee formed by the ministry of environment and forests to study 24 proposed hydro projects on the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers in Uttarakhand has published minutes of meetings on the MoEF website, and unanimously decided not to recommend 23 of the new projects, worth 2683.6 megawatts. 

The committee was set up in October 2013 after the SC took note of a Wildlife Institute of India report that pointed the extensive threat to biodiversity because of these projects. The court directed the MoEF to set up a committee to examine the projects. The committee's recommendations could hit Uttarakhand's ambitious plan for self-sufficiency in the power sector. 

"We compute the cost of producing one megawatt of power at anything between Rs 8 crore to 10 crore," a senior Uttarakhand Power Corporation Ltd official told TOI on condition of anonymity on Tuesday. By his reckoning, the cost of shelved projects could be as high as around Rs 20,000 crore. The minutes of the meetings were uploaded on UPCL website a few days ago. 

Members of the committee approved only one of the 24 projects, Kotlibhel (195mw), saying it was in a "comparatively low biodiversity sensitive area", and would not significantly impact wildlife. However, they noted that the project could impede the free flow of the river up to 20 km downstream. 

The 13-member committee comprises experts from various fields. Member-secretary YKS Chauhan told TOI that immense pressure is being exerted on members from various quarters not to recommend closure of the projects. The committee has rejected most of the projects, as they are proposed in either eco-sensitive zones or within forbidden zones of wildlife sanctuaries or parks, in habitats of rare, endangered and threatened species. 

Some are in ecologically sensitive zones. The site of the proposed Rambara Project (24mw) on Mandakini river was washed out during the June 2013 deluge. Alaknanda project (300mw) and Khairon Ganga (4mw), are proposed within 10 km of the Valley of Flowers National Park, a World Heritage Site, in violation of SC directions. 

Lata Tapovan project (170mw), Malari Jhelam (114mw), Jelam Tamak (126mw) and Tamak Lata (250mw) on Dhauliganga river also fall within the Nanda Devi National Park, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. 

Two projects on the Rishi Ganga river, with a capacity of 105mw, have also been proposed within a 10-km radius of Nanda Devi National Park. Hemant Dhyani, a member of the committee, said, "These 24 projects will leave a serious negative impact on the biodiversity of the surrounding areas. The state government should revoke these projects immediately." 

Speaking of other projects not listed along with these 24, the members expressed concern that approval was granted to Lakhwar (300mw) and Vysai (120mw) recently, without the mandatory clearances, and also without an approved disaster management plan.

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