NEW DELHI: Sidelining several concerns of experts on allowing construction of hydropower projects in ecologically fragile Himalayas, the Union environment ministry has recommended allowing completion of 7 hydroelectric projects on upper Ganga in Uttarakhand, including the one that was damaged in flash floods in Chamoli in February this year killing several people.
These projects were put on hold by the Supreme Court after the Kedarnath tragedy in 2013, killing over 5000 people with several still missing.
An affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court on August 17 by Sujit Kumar Bajpayee, joint secretary, in the Union Environment Ministry, said that the decision has been based on a joint decision by three union ministries.
“Following responses from the ministry of Power and the Ministry of Jal Shakti, the matter has been reviewed and it is observed that there is a consensus on 7 projects amongst the three ministries and the state Government of Uttarakhand. These 7 projects also form part of the 26 projects recommended by the expert body -II for implementation, duly incorporating certain improvements,” said the affidavit.
The affidavit of the ministry, a copy of which is with this newspaper, says that devastating flash floods on February 7 in the Dhauliganga River damaging the Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric project, was initiated by an avalanche and not by glacial lake burst. The ministry said that is in an advanced stage of construction and nearly 75 percent of project work had been completed on Feb 7, 2021.
The seven projects include Vishnugad Pipalkoti (444 MW) on Alaknanda river; Tapovan Vishnugad (520 MW) on Dhauliganga river; Singoli Bhatwari (99 MW) on Mandakini river; Phata-Buyong (76 MW) on Mandakini river; Tehri Stage II (1000 MW) on Bhagirathi river; Madhyamaheshwar (15 MW) on Madhmaheshwar Ganga; and Kaliganga II (4.5 MW) on Kaliganga river.
The ministry said these projects are those where over 50 per cent work has been completed and that the project proponents will meet all the necessary conditions imposed during the environment clearance process.
Environment experts questioned the ministry's decision.
“This approval for the dams on Ganga is the most unfortunate and regrettable decision by the government. While the mountains are crumbling, UN has announced a "code Red" and the disasters like ones in Feb are claiming hundreds of lives, govt is giving a nod on dams and infrastructure that are accentuating this climate change - shows how unconcerned and oblivious the govt is!” said Mallika Bhanot, an Uttarakhand based environment activist associated with Ganga Ahvaan.