The Supreme Court of India in the third week of August 2013 directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the State of Uttarakhand not to grant (any further) environmental/forest clearances to any of the hydroelectric power projects in Uttarakhand, till further orders.
The Supreme Court Bench that comprised two judges, Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra expressed serious concern over the growth in the number of hydroelectric projects being developed in Uttarakhand and its potential impact on the river basin of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi.
Justice Radhakrishnan, while writing his judgment pronounced that the Court was deeply concerned with the Uttarakhand tragedy of June 2013 that affected the Char Dham area in the state. He also said that the “Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology recorded 350 mm of rain on 15-16 June 2013. Snowfall ahead of the cloudburst also has contributed to the floods resulting in the burst on the banks of Chorabari Lake near Kedarnath, leading to large scale calamity leading to loss of human lives and property. The adverse effect of the existing projects, projects under construction and proposed, on the environment and ecology calls for a detailed scientific study. Proper Disaster Management Plan, it is seen, is also not in place, resulting in loss of lives and property.”
The Bench in its decision also quoted a study and said that 69 hydropower projects with a capacity of 9,020.30 MW are proposed in Bhagirathi and Alaknanda basins.
The projects include
• 17 projects which are operational with a capacity of 2295.2 MW
• 26 projects with a capacity of 3,261.3 MW (including 600 MW Lohari Nagpala hydropower projects, work on which has been suspended by the Government decision) which were under construction
• 11 projects with a capacity of 2,350 MW CEA/TEC clearances
• 16 projects with a capacity of 1,673.8 MW under development
Due to the implementation of the 69 projects the society and river has suffered extensive implications for other needs. Apart from this, the Supreme Court also noticed that due to the implementation of the 69 projects will affect 65 percent Alaknanda and 81 percent Bhagirathi.
The Bench said that the scientific examination of the cumulative impact of the 69 hydropower project components like dams, tunnels, blasting, powerhouse, muck disposal, mining, deforestation etc. on eco-system is yet awaited to be done.
The Supreme Court issued a series of directions to the MoEF and Uttarakhand for not granting the environmental clearances to further projects. It directed the MoEF to constitute an expert body to make a detailed study as to whether Hydroelectric Power Projects existing and under construction have contributed to the environmental degradation, if so, to what extent. The expert body will also study the contribution of environmental degradation to the tragedy occurred at Uttarakhand in June 2013. MoEF is directed to examine as to whether the proposed 24 projects are causing significant impact on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirath river basins. The expert body will include representatives of the State Government, Central Electricity Authority, WII, Central Water Commission and others.
The Disaster Management Authority of Uttarakhand has been asked to submit a report to the Supreme Court about their disaster management plan (if any) in place and the effectiveness of the plan to combat the tragedy that occurred in Uttarakhand.