After the June 2013 floods and widespread destruction, the Uttarakhand government was widely criticised for illegal constructions and increasing hydro-power projects across its river beds. However, the state has sought permission from the Centre to increase its mandate for clearing an additional 50 hydro projects and also removal of eco-sensitive zones in the region.
According to laws, the state government can clear hydro-power projects up to 2 Mw on its own, beyond which it will need the Centre’s consent. According to a top official at the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the state government has asked the ministry to increase the mandate for clearance up to 25 Mw. This would lead to clearance of at least 50 more hydro projects. “The government also wants us to bring down the total eco-sensitive zone area in the region,” said the official.
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The Uttarakhand government plans to have a total of 336 hydropower projects with total capacity of 27,189 Mw. The largest number (122) of such projects are in the Alaknanda basin, and the largest capacity is proposed to be in the Sharda basin at 12,450 Mw. However, sources say that the state wants caps for clearances to be increased to 25 Mw in Bhagirathi basin.
On December 18, 2012, the Centre had declared an area of 4,179.59 sq km, covering the entire watershed around a 100-km stretch of the Bhagirathi from Gomukh to Uttarkashi, an eco-sensitive zone under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. “Even after the disaster, they are in no mood to save the environment and want to lift this declaration on eco-sensitive zone. The state government again asked for this late last month,” said the environment ministry official quoted above.
When asked about this, Himanshu Thakkar, country head, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said: “The state government is not showing any concerns for the common man and acting on behalf of vested interests. Even for 2-Mw clearances, the consent of gram sabhas should be made mandatory. However, the move itself is illegal as there is a court ban on clearance of any such projects.” The Supreme Court had directed the government in August 2012 to not give any clearance.
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A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report in 2010 had stated there was a hydro-electric project every five to six km in the area. Moreover, a study on hydro-projects by the Wildlife Institute of India under the MoEF two years ago had stated illegal constructions could affect river flow in 47 per cent of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins.