Uttarakhand: Nod likely for hydro project washed away in 2013 floods | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Uttarakhand: Nod likely for hydro project washed away in 2013 floods

ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi
Apr 18, 2024 06:06 AM IST

The Phata Byung project aggravated damage caused by the 2013 cloudburst and flash floods by constricting flow of Mandakini river, one of the headwaters of Ganga

The environment ministry has started the process of granting environmental clearance to rebuild a hydropower project in the upper reaches of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand that was almost completely washed away during the 2013 flash floods that killed over 6,000 people, according to documents seen by HT.

Part of a three storey building is washed away in flash floods in the Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand. (AP/FILE)
Part of a three storey building is washed away in flash floods in the Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand. (AP/FILE)

The ministry’s expert appraisal committee for river valley and hydroelectric projects on March 20 approved the grant of terms of reference (ToR) to the Phata Byung Hydroelectric Project (76 MW), one of the first steps in the process of environmental clearance.

The Phata Byung project aggravated the damage caused by the 2013 cloudburst and flash floods by constricting the flow of Mandakini river, one of the headwaters of the Ganga, an expert panel constituted by the ministry found. The expert committee, headed by Ravi Chopra, now director of the People’s Science Institute, was set up in 2013 to assess the impact of hydropower projects on aggravating floods downstream.

The flood level at Sitapur near Phata Byung started rising rapidly in the morning of June 16, 2013, and by 5pm, the dam with its crest at 1,635m was overtopped and passage of large boulders were blocked by its vents. This led to a temporary formation of a lake that swept away a bus stand, several vehicles, houses and hotels, the panel’s report said.

To be sure, the report had two dissenting voices, one each from the Central Water Commission and Central Electricity Authority, which submitted a separate report supporting the construction of high-altitude hydropower projects in Uttarakhand. The ministry had accepted the majority view, as communicated in its December 5, 2015, affidavit to the Supreme Court.

Despite the ministry’s report concluding that high-altitude hydropower projects aggravate damage of environmental disasters, the expert appraisal committee on March 20 went ahead and recommended the Phata Byung project for grant of standard ToR for conducting environment impact assessment study with public consultation and without public hearing to Mandakini Jal Urja Private Limited.

The exemption from public hearing based on a 2021 guideline for projects where the environment clearance has expired.

The environment ministry did not immediately respond to HT’s queries as to why an environment clearance was being considered for a project that was so severely damaged and also aggravated the 2013 floods.

“The environment ministry has already recommended the project for TOR. We have started data collection process. Very soon environmental appraisal will begin,” said Ravinder Bhatia of R S Envirolink Technologies Pvt. Ltd, the environmental impact assessment consultant for the project.

The Prime Minister’s Office held a meeting in 2019, when it was decided that no new hydropower projects will be taken up on the Ganga or its tributaries in Uttarakhand and all projects on which work has not started on the ground shall be dropped.

The Centre decided to allow the completion of seven under-construction hydropower projects in Uttarakhand, a top official in the environment ministry said on condition of anonymity, indicating the government’s desire to push ahead with these projects despite opposition from activists and local residents, HT reported on March 19.

Protests against the project have resurfaced in recent weeks following the February 7 flashflood on the Rishi Ganga river that claimed at least 72 lives and damaged two hydropower projects.

“Why should this project be exempt from public hearing? The project cannot recuse itself from hearing people who are the worst impacted. A decade after the 2013 disaster, many things have changed, and people have witnessed the varied impacts of climate change. In the same area, the government has brought Char Dham road widening and Char Dham Railway and Singoli Bhatwari hydro project is also there on Mandakini. We need a cumulative impact assessment of such projects, which was also recommended by the SC after the 2013 floods. To say that the project is 74% complete is wrong and is purposefully being said in order to push the project. The tunnel is going underneath Hat village, which is a sinking zone as described by the Ravi Chopra committee. There is no construction of a powerhouse yet...how can it be 74% complete? This seems to be in complete opposition of the 2019 PMO decision to conserve the entire Ganga basin,” said Mallika Bhanot, environment activist and member of Ganga Ahvaan.

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