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Cloud over Uttarakhand hydropower projects remains

SC recently gave a ruling on hydropower projects in the state but suspense on fate of the projects in Bhagirathi and Alaknanda valleys is still hanging in balance

Shishir Prashant  |  Dehradun 

Clouds of uncertainty continue to hover over scores of hydropower projects in the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda valleys in Uttarakhand, with capacities of more than 6,000-7,000 megawatts (Mw) facing legal and environment hurdles.

The Supreme Court recently gave a ruling on the hydropower projects in the state but the suspense on the fate of the projects in the two valleys is still hanging in balance. Chief Minister Harish Rawat said, "We are studying the Supreme Court judgment on the hydropower projects."

The apex court has removed the ban on hydropower projects from all areas, except Bhagirathi and Alakananda valleys.

"We are preparing ourselves for the next hearing," said a senior official of the state-run Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (UJVN), which bore the brunt of the ban.

A meeting of senior officials of the central hydropower public sector undertakings and UJVN was held at New Delhi this week to discuss the legal hurdles.

The hydropower sector, which is considered to be a key growth driver, has remained neglected during the past few years in the state. So far, Uttarakhand has harnessed 3,622.14 Mw of hydropower against a potential of 26,000 megawatts.

The government chose to focus on small hydropower projects as well as gas and renewable power projects in the wake of the cloudburst in June 2013. However, it did not give details on the plans it has for the development of hydropower projects after the devastating floods that crippled the economy of most of the areas in the state. The chief minister said his government will bring a separate policy for the allotment of one to two megawatts hydel projects.

So far, the government has said that it will study the Supreme Court's ruling on hydel projects. The apex court's order last year had called for a review of 24 hydropower projects on which the Wildlife Institute of India had given its report.

The Supreme Court, in its order, had also asked the state government not to grant fresh permissions to new projects till further orders and called for setting up of an expert committee to study the 24 hydel projects. The committee later gave a negative report on these projects.

Significantly, the centre had declared an eco-sensitive zone in Uttarkashi district along the 100-km stretch of Bhagirathi river that had sounded a death knell for 1,743 Mw of power projects. Moreover, the final report of the inter-ministerial group (IMG) headed by B K Chaturvedi had also badly impacted the hydropower sector in the Ganga river basin to the tune of 6,000-7000 Mw.

A total of 69 hydropower projects with a capacity of more than 9,000 Mw were under review by the inter-ministerial group which was set up following agitations by environmentalists and religious leaders against the development of scores of hydel projects on the holy river Ganga. In its recommendation, the Chaturvedi committee said no new hydropower projects should be taken up beyond the 69 projects. And among the 69 projects, the committee has set certain limitations. The group had recommended the construction of hydropower projects of 3,000 Mw only, that too with tough riders.

Pending a long-term perspective on the Ganga basin management plan, the committee also proposed that small tributaries of Ganga like Nayar, Bal Ganga, Rihsi Ganga, Assi Ganga, Dhauli Ganga, Birahi Ganga and Bhyunder Ganga would be kept in pristine glory without developing any hydel projects.

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First Published: Fri, August 29 2014. 20:49 IST