Told to “place the correct picture” before the Supreme Court on the “critical need” for hydel projects in Uttarakhand, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) first contradicted the recommendations of its own panel, which ruled against six hydel projects, and is now unable to submit it in writing to the court.
The ministry, which was asked by the Supreme Court on December 16 to examine the cumulative and individual status of six of the 24 hydel projects seeking clearance from the court for the upper Ganga region, set up a four-member expert panel on December 30.
At the next hearing on February 17, the ministry said the committee did not find the six hydel projects deficient on procedural and substantive requirements for the clearances issued to them.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the court that “an affidavit is ready” and he had instructions to state that the six projects “are worthy of clearance”.
This was diametrically opposite to the expert committee’s conclusion that “the six projects may not be taken up as they have potential of causing significant impacts on the bio-diversity, riverine system, wildlife and other fragile eco-systems in the areas where these projects are located due to altered (by 2013 floods) hydrological parameters”.
The ministry neither shared this nor the committee’s other recommendation for a review of the “entire process of according clearances” with the court.
Not satisfied with the oral submission, the court asked the ministry to submit the “ready” affidavit in four days. Until Wednesday, the ministry had not submitted any.
Sources said the ministry is in a spot over instructions issued at a PMO meeting on January 13 — a month after the Environment Ministry told the Supreme Court that dams aggravated the 2013 Uttarakhand flood.
At the meeting, the Environment Ministry was asked to finalise clearance norms by February 15, in time for the February 17 hearing.
It was asked to coordinate with the Power Ministry and the Uttarakhand government because it was “necessary to place the correct picture regarding the critical need of the projects in Uttarakhand for green power and for livelihoods before the court”.
But the Environment Ministry had already formed its expert panel on December 30, comprising Vinod Tare of IIT-Kanpur, V B Mathur of Wildlife Institute of India, Brijesh Sikka of National River Conservation Directorate and Dalel Singh of the NHR.
In its report on February 12, the panel ruled against the six projects — 171 MW Lata-Tapovan of NTPC, 195 MW Kotlibhel-IA of NHPC, 108 MW Jhelum Tamak of THDC, 300 MW Alaknanda of GMR and two sub-25 MW projects of Super Hydro at Bhyundar Ganga and Khirao Ganga.