The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday gave its go-ahead to the Kanhar Irrigation Project in Sonbhadra district, primarily on the ground that a lot of investment has gone into it. However, it directed that a committee be set up — which will report to it — to look into aspects related to ecology, bio-diversity, environment and rehabilitation and resettlement policy.
The project, which was virtually abandoned for well over 30 years, was taken up in December 2014. It, however, soon landed in trouble with villagers set to be affected by the construction resorting to violent protests, prominent being one that took place during its resumption in December 2014 and another in April this year. Following the latter, the work remained suspended for nearly a week, and resumed only after the administration assured the protesters that their complaints would be looked into.
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Earlier, Om Dutt Singh of People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Debadityo Sinha of Vindhya Bachao Abhiyan, had moved the principal bench of NGT, led by Justice Swatanter Kumar. They had sought stoppage of work on the ground that the material facts of the project — envisaged in 1976 — had changed in 2014 and, therefore, fresh environmental and forest clearances were required, as the project was abandoned.
On December 24, last year, the NGT had passed an order directing restraint on construction. A related application was filed seeking action against those concerned for going ahead with construction despite the ‘stay’. The NGT had accepted most issues raised in these applications.
However, the bench on Thursday said: “Another factor that has persuaded us to pass an equitable order is the fact that huge amount of public funds have already been spent on the project… largescale construction and digging has already taken place… Any direction for stoppage of work or demolition of the project would certainly not serve either the ends of justice or the environment. The project also contemplates to provide water to drought-prone areas.”
The NGT also accepted that the environmental clearance given in the 1980s was merely a formality (neither the project proponent nor the MoEF could present the original forest clearance granted for the project). However, it said that with the cost of the project going up from the initial Rs 27-odd crore in the 1970s to Rs 2,252 crore in 2013, it will not be proper to stop the project at this point.
Sinha, one of the co-applicants, said: “Most issues raised by us have been accepted by the court. It is now up to the committee to be set up to ensure that all conditions are met.”
Sonbhadra DM Sanjay Kumar said: “We are yet to read the order in detail. From what we have gathered, the project will continue, but no new activities will be taken up. We will abide by all recommendations that the committee makes.”
Kanhar Irrigation Project, envisaged in 1976, entails construction of a dam on the confluence of Pagan and Kanhar rivers at Sugawaman in Sonbhadra. It envisages providing irrigation for over 4,000 hectares of land in the district. At least 19 villages — 11 in Uttar Pradesh and four each in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — are likely to get submerged once the dam is constructed at a height of 39.9 m. It may be increased up to 52 m, if it has to provide water to Rihand dam. While 980.4 hectares has been acquired, another 441.07 hectares is left.