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Govt takes in-principle decision to ban all construction on Ganga

Water Resources Secretary Shashi Shekhar has been given a month’s time to conclude the committee’s report so as to apprise the Supreme Court of the government’s final decision at the next hearing on January 20.

Written by Amitav Ranjan | Amitabh Sinha & D K Singhnew Delhi, New Delhi | Published: December 8, 2015 2:33:36 am
The government proposed a new set of three imperative conditions: maintenance of a minimum quantum of environmental flow, longitudinal river connectivity and aviral dhara (continuous flow) for the river on which such a project is planned.  (Source: PTI) The Union Cabinet in May approved Rs 20,000 crore for use over the next five years for the flagship Namami Gange, which integrates the efforts to clean and protect the river in a comprehensive manner. (Source: PTI)

To maintain the river’s minimum environmental flow and protect the ecology dependent on it, no new construction would be allowed on river Ganga or any of its tributaries.

The decision was taken in principle last month at an Inter Ministerial Group (IMG) meeting to review an Expert Body report giving clearance to hydroelectric power (HEP) projects to be built on Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins in Uttarakhand.

Sources said a formal ban on construction would be conveyed to the Supreme Court after an IMG-constituted committee submits its “comprehensive view” on all aspects of environment flow and longitudinal connectivity in the two rivers, along with authentic figures of water availability.

The IMG — comprising Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar and Power Minister Piyush Goyal — formed the five-member committee chaired by Water Resources Secretary Shashi Shekhar, who has trashed the Expert Body report on giving clearance to five of the six HEP projects.

Shekhar told the IMG that the requirement of environmental flow and longitudinal connectivity, as recommended by the Expert Body, was “grossly inadequate”. “It will leave these rivers with almost no water during non-monsoon season,” he told the ministers.

Shekhar has been given a month’s time to conclude the committee’s report so as to apprise the Supreme Court of the government’s final decision at the next hearing on January 20.

Sources said the IMG is also agreed on refunding the money invested by project promoters and has asked the Power Ministry to “make available latest figures of expenditure on six HEPs, including the contractors’ pending claims”.

According to sources, Bharti has offered to compensate the six HEPs — NTPC’s Lata Tapavan, NHPC’s Kotlibhel IA, GMR’s Alaknanda, Super Hydro’s Khirao Ganga and Bhyunder Ganga and THDC’s Jelam Tamak — out of the Namami Gange funds.

The Union Cabinet in May approved Rs 20,000 crore for use over the next five years for the flagship Namami Gange, which integrates the efforts to clean and protect the river in a comprehensive manner.

Bharti, also the minister for Ganga Rejuvenation, is upset that the Environment Ministry filed the affidavit based on the Expert Body report in the apex court without consulting her ministry, even though the determination and maintenance of minimum environmental flow in Ganga and its tributaries was one of the “important mandates” of her ministry.

“Though chief engineer of Central Water Commission working under this ministry was included as technical organisation expert (in the Expert Body), CWC is not competent organisation to give opinion regarding e-flow and longitudinal connectivity,” she wrote to Javadekar.

After the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, the court took cognizance of the tragedy and prohibited setting up of any new HEP in the state till further orders. In December 2014, it asked the Environment Ministry to consider the six HEPs in a cluster for which a four-member committee was set up.

The four-member committee in February 2015 said “these six projects in their present form may not be taken up as they have potential of causing significant impacts on the bio-diversity, river system, wildlife and other fragile eco-systems in areas where these projects are located due to altered hydrological parameters”.

The court then asked the ministry to submit its final recommendations on the six projects through an Expert Body. The Expert Body in October overturned the previous recommendations.

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