Almost a year after it restrained the central and state governments from giving any further environmental or forest clearance to hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court Tuesday said the prohibition cannot be in force forever and advocated a “balance” between environmental concerns and economic development.
“Everything cannot be stopped just like that and in perpetuity. There was a natural catastrophe and the restraint order was passed. Environmental concerns and economic propensity have to be balanced now. We have to strike a balance,” said a bench led by Justice Dipak Misra.
The court said: “Care and precaution have to be utmost while examining the feasibility of each hydro power project but to scrap all 24 projects could not be the intention of the court order. The judgment never said don’t ever give the clearance. The real question would be which are the projects that can go on without affecting the environment.”
The August 2013 judgment by the SC was passed following the concerns over the loss of lives and property in the last year’s Uttarakhand flash floods. The court had also ordered a comprehensive study of the impact of such projects in the state after underlining that 24 of the total 39 proposed projects had been found to be significantly impacting biodiversity in two sub-basins of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers.
On Tuesday, the counsel for the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) told the bench that a consortium of seven IITs had submitted their report recently and that the ministry was actively deliberating over it. The counsel said IITs were roped in after the 11-member expert committee gave two dissenting reports over viability of the 24 projects.
The bench asked the MoEF to take a call within four weeks on having a policy to regulate hydro-power projects in Uttarakhand and also submit feasibility reports with respect to each of the 24 projects.
The court also made it clear that its 2012 judgment covered projects impacting biodiversity in the two sub-basins of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers and that the central and state governments were at liberty to decide on the clearances for other projects.