Despite objections raised by Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, the Environment Ministry under Prakash Javadekar has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court allowing construction of hydel projects in the Upper Ganga stretch.
In an email to Javadekar on January 5, the day the Environment Ministry shared its draft affidavit with the Water Resources Ministry, Bharti said she was “unable to understand how the policy decision of the government as stated in the draft affidavit was arrived (at)” because an inter-ministerial committee, under Secretary, Water Resources, was still to file its report.
Listing four key areas of disagreement, Bharti requested Javadekar “not to submit the aforesaid draft affidavit” and instead ask the Supreme Court for “extension of time so as to enable the inter-ministerial committee to give its report which can form the basis of the considered policy of the government”.
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The Water Resources Ministry was of the view that the Environment Ministry “draft appears to be self contradictory” and “at variance with the common understanding reached” at the Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) set up to take a call on the matter.
Sources said Bharti received no response to her email. On January 7, the Environment Ministry submitted its affidavit in the Supreme Court and sent a copy to the Water Resources Ministry.
In its affidavit, the Environment Ministry referred to a conference held in Haridwar in December 1916 which was attended by “eminent social leaders, including Bharat Ratna Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya” where the consensus was to ensure that the natural flow of the river did not drop below 1,000 cusecs.
The affidavit went on to clear three of six projects — NTPC’s 171-MW Lata Tapovan, Super Hydro’s 4-MW Khironi Ganga and the 24-MW Bhyunder Ganga — for construction. It allowed two projects — NHPC’s 195-MW Kotli Bhel IA and GMR’s 300-MW Alaknanda — with certain design modifications. The sixth project, Tehri Hydro Power’s 108-MW Jhelum Tamak — is yet to get environmental clearance.
The IMG, with ministers of Environment, Water Resources and Power as members, was to take a call on the six hydel projects in the Upper Ganga which was struck down by the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the 2013 Uttarakhand flood.
In 2014, the Environment Ministry even told the Supreme Court that hydel projects exacerbated the Uttarakhand disaster and a number of committees set up by the ministry since had prescribed scrapping of the six hydel projects in particular and restricting hydel projects on the Upper Ganga in general.
At a meeting of the IMG on November 18 last year, Bharti even offered to compensate developers for the money already spent on the projects from the Nirmal Ganga funds.
In her email, Bharti pointed out four key contradictions and variances:
* After submitting that the entire flow of the Ganga in three major contributing streams — Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and Mandakini — and that of Ganga itself after Devprayag cannot be stopped at any location, the affidavit contradicts itself by saying that “in having regard to the spirit of 1916 agreement, free, unfettered and uninterrupted flow of natural course of water up to (emphasised) the level of 1,000 cusecs. has to be maintained while designing any major structure across these tree main streams”.
* The common understanding at the IMG was that apart from the three major streams in which flow cannot be fettered under any condition, projects in other tributaries of the Ganga can be taken up only after ensuring free, unfettered and uninterrupted flow of minimum 1,000 cusecs. This is nowhere reflected in the draft affidavit.
* The expression “up to the level of 1,000 cusecs” is very vague and will be open to a lot of misinterpretation apart from being at variance with the common understanding of the IMG and jeopardise the requirement of e-flow in the river and its tributaries.
* While these contradictions and variances are being submitted as the policy of the government, the IMG in its meeting dated 18-11-2015 decided to form an inter-ministerial committee under the chairmanship of Secretary, Water Resources, to give a report. The chairman of the panel sought extension of time in view of the complexity of matter and also for consideration of inclusion of a representative from Uttarakhand in view of the Chief Minister’s January 4 letter.
“I am surprised to note that there is no mention of this development in the draft affidavit though in the previous SC hearing on 24 November 2015, extension of time was sought from the Hon’ble court precisely on this ground,” Bharti wrote, adding “I am unable to understand how the policy decision of the government as stated in the draft affidavit was arrived (at)”.
The case comes up for hearing on January 20.
When his comments were sought Monday, Biswanath Sinha, Joint Secretary in charge of the matter in the Environment Ministry, declined to say if Bharti’s objections were taken into account. “If it was a letter written to the Minister, only he can comment,” Sinha said. Javadekar did not respond to email queries and his office said he was not immediately available for comment.