October 9, 2014 1:53:29 am
The NDA government plans to link hydro electric projects (HEPs) with its ambitious Ganga rejuvenation plan, for which it has proposed a new set of norms that all the project proponents will have to comply with before procuring environmental clearances.
In its affidavit to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) stated that it wanted to make sure that clearances to HEPs do not obstruct or hamper the Ganga clean-up plan in any manner since “they hold the key to the successful rejuvenation and restoration of the wholesomeness of the river.”
It said a “synergy and fine balance has to be established between the objective of the Ganga River Basin Environment Management Plan and the mechanism/ strategy to be followed by this ministry for deciding environmental clearances to the HEPs on Ganga and its tributaries.”
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. The three conditions, it said, are required to maintain ecological integrity and biodiversity of the river, non-disruptive biota movement and sediment transportation. These clauses are likely to be applicable across the board for all HEPs.
“Therefore, all HEPs on Ganga and its tributaries in Uttarakhand shall have to adhere to these specifications while designing and operating the plants,” the MoEF said. The SC will examine the proposal on Thursday.
The bulk of HEPs are either commissioned or being constructed in Ganga sub-basins in Uttarakhand. Twenty-four of the total 39 proposed projects in the state were stalled after the SC held that they were significantly impacting biodiversity in two sub-basins of the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers. Besides Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh also have HEPs.
Admitting that the aspect of environmental flow was “unfortunately not adequately addressed” while granting environmental clearances for the HEPs in Uttarakhand, the MoEF said it wanted to make such clearances mandatory for projects below 25 MW capacity also. The existing rules exempt these projects in a bid to promote smaller capacity HEPs. The ministry said at least eight of the stalled 24 projects were found to be causing significant adverse impact on biodiversity.
“The ministry proposes to bring these projects also under the purview of the environmental appraisal by making environmental clearances mandatory for them. Besides, the issue of aviral dhara and longitudinal connectivity shall also apply for all HEPs, regardless of the capacity and size, since they are essential for rejuvenation of Ganga,” it added.
The MoEF said the 24 projects should be subjected to fresh appraisal on the three-point criteria, as suggested by the IIT consortium, constituted to reconcile the two reports of the expert committee set up under SC orders.
“The critical appraisal may entail design modification and capacity alteration in the HEPs for ensuring longitudinal connectivity and release of suggested environmental flow all the time during lean and monsoon periods, besides other general environmental issues and concerns such as biodiversity, muck disposal, catchment area treatment etc,” said the MoEF, adding that grant of clearances and the goal of the Ganga rejuvenation plan should not be in conflict with each other.
It added that HEPs other than these 24 would also have to comply with these norms while all the projects, whether commissioned or under operation or for which construction is yet to commence, must also undertake the design modifications in the dams to fulfill these criteria.
The MoEF said it also proposed to conduct a full-fledged carrying capacity and cumulative impact assessment study of all the sub-basins of Ganga in Uttarakhand to get a holistic and integrated view on the impact of these projects.
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