In a curious submission, the Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that it turned “wiser” about the adverse impact of hydropower projects on the environment following the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, which killed hundreds and left thousands homeless.
“We are learning every day. We became wiser about the cumulative impact of the projects after the Uttarakhand tragedy. We did not know about several aspects earlier. We are in the process of knowing,” the government’s counsel told a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Uday U Lalit.
Irked over the statement, the bench asked the counsel why they gave clearances when they had no idea about the effects of mushrooming projects in the state, and what had prevented them from completing their study till date.
“You are still not taking a stand if you want to scrap all the projects since they are bad for environment. On one hand, you gave clearances for these projects and on the other, you say they adversely impact environment,” said the bench.
It asked the Centre’s counsel why it should not refund the money invested by the project proponents and protect the environment in absolute terms. It also pointed out that investments by PSUs such as National Thermal Power Corporation, National Hydroelectric Power Corporation and Tehri Hydro Development Corporation were stuck due to this indecisiveness. The counsel responded that the government was looking at a “middle path” and an “acceptable solution” for all stakeholders.
The bench also asked the counsel what actions the government proposed to take against officials who had given clearances to these projects.
The court said that many agencies supposed to look into areas of environmental concerns and clearances do not even have meetings for months, and hence granting the Centre more time to conduct another study was not acceptable.
The bench asked the Attorney General of India to show up and clarify the government’s stand on the issues on December 16.