DAINIK NATION BUREAU
Two big dams i.e. Pancheshwar, 315 mts high and Rupali, 95 mts high are proposed on Mahakali river in Uttarakhand have become bone of contention between environmentalist and Environment Assessment Committee (EAC). On the basis of the reports of the public hearings of the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, the Environmental Assessment Committee (EAC) assigned with clearances for “river valley and hydro power projects” met on October 24th and decided the thousands hectares of land to be submerged and more than 40000 affected families, in less than an hour.
The committee postponed the final decision for the next meeting and constituted a committee of seven members led by Sharad Kumar Jain, Chairman, EAC and Member Secretary & Director Dr. S Karketa. The Committee made a secret visit to the site without informing or meeting any of the Project Affected Families (PAFs) or social organisations protesting the dam. Their report will be submitted before the next meeting and will also be considered in taking final decision. It is important to note that many organizations and eminent people had sent their objections to the EAC. However, the EAC meeting minutes reflect that none of those objections were considered at the meeting.
As for the Rupali Dam, given that it is now being shifted 2 kms downstream, from the proposed location, the committee has asked for a new study, along with the Environment Impact Assessment Report of the Nepal side of the project. The Committee with regard to other approvals has sought more clarifications from the project proponent. The committee has also sought clarifications on the Ministry of Water Resources Notification of October 2016, which prohibits construction in the Greater Ganga river valley.
It is being alleged that the committee did not pay any attention to the complaint letters written by people. Even meeting the member secretary of the EAC in person, was completely disappointing.
Where will all the displaced people be given land? Till today, the rehabilitation of displaced people from Tehri is incomplete and is ongoing. The question of climate change and its dangerous consequences are facing us, and no one seems to be worried about it. On one hand, Ministry of Power is emphasising that there is surplus electricity in the country, but still we are pushing for more Hyde projects. Same is the issue with Uttarakhand Government, which is trying to stop migration by creating a Migration Ministry but on the other hand is planning displacement of 40,000 families. 350 villages are already displaced due to land slides in Uttarakhand. Kumaon’s densest forests, prime agriculture land all are faced with the direct or indirect submergence or other related impacts. Markets of Jhoolaghat-Jauljibi, symbols of Indo-Nepal socio cultural ties are facing submergence. There are many such issues, which have been ignored by the EAC in its present assessment. SIA done in haste is completely farcical, and has been blindly accepted by the Committee without any verification. All this rush will prove dangerous in future for everyone.
Separately, 45 eminent environmentalists and river activists of the country wrote in a letter to the Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), head of EAC and member secretary and all the members of EAC, raising their reservations with regard to the public hearing process. The environmentalists included prominent names like Ravi Chopra, Dunu Roy, Dr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala, Manoj Mishra,Himanshu Thakkar amongst others. According to them, public hearing held on August 9, 11 and 17 (in Champavat, Pithoragarh and Almora) were not as per the guidelines of the 14 September 2006 Notification. 134 affected villages are very remote and accessibility is very difficult, with hardly any reach of the newspapers, where public hearing notice was given. Hence, the information given by affected people was limited in nature, and without complete knowledge of the SIA, EIA and EMP studies. This is highly unethical and illegal practice for the beginning of an international project of this magnitude. They added that, whatever may be the motivations behind the project, whatever may the advantages or disadvantages be, the procedure used for holding Public Hearings by withholding crucial information from project affected people and further ignoring the objections raised by many, the continued process of clearance by EAC is completely unacceptable and will only cause severe damage to environment.
The letter demanded that:
- EAC must consider the continuance of the Clearance process for the Pancheswar Multipurpose Project
- It must re-conduct the Public Hearing after giving adequate information of EIA, EMP and SIA reports in local languages and a month notice.