Uma Bharti’s appointment as Minister for Water Resources and, more significantly, Minister for River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation is likely to have huge implications for the hill state of Uttarakhand.
Bharti is best known in the state for opposing hydel projects along Ganga as part of her ‘Save Ganga’ campaign.
She took charge on Wednesday. Incidentally, her elevation comes at a time when the Uttarakhand government is preparing to move the Supreme Court to request clearances for its hydel projects, banned after the 2013 flash floods.
The list of projects stuck due include more than 20 by the NTPC. The apex court is expected to hear the case next month, with both NTPC and the state pleading to lift the ban and PIL petitioners alleging contempt of court on part of the state government.
In 2011, Bharti went on a fast unto death demanding a review of all hydro power projects in the Himalayan region, declaring the Ganga as national heritage backed by a legislation and withdrawal of the plans to shift the Dhari Devi temple at Srinagar Garhwal due to construction of 330 Mw Alaknanda project.
Ultimately, the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh was forced to write to Bharti, asking her to end the fast. To press for her demands, Bharti even met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the UPA government eventually set up a consortium of IITs to launch a ‘Clean Ganga Mission’.
With the Mission hardly making any difference to the quality of river water, Narendra Modi, who promised to clean the Ganga while campaigning in Varanasi, will now aim at delivering the same. But his choice of Bharti is likely to bring Uttarkhand’s river projects under a cloud. Bharti, however, is more favourable to small hydel projects. The state government is of the opinion that hydel projects are essential for development in the state.