Deeply concerned about the recent tragedy in Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered fresh environment impact assessment of 24 hydro-electric projects on Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers and scrutiny of the disaster management plan.
A bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra ordered the ministry of environment and forests to constitute a multi-member expert body to examine whether these 24 under-construction projects and other existing projects "contributed to the tragedy that occurred in Uttarakhand in June".
It also intends to scrutinize the effectiveness and preparedness of the state's Disaster Management Authority in combating the recent tragedy. "The Disaster Management Authority, Uttarakhand, would submit a report to this court as to whether they had any disaster management plan in place in the state and how effective that plan was for combating the unprecedented tragedy in Uttarakhand," the bench said.
The bench ordered the environment ministry and Uttarakhand government "not to grant any further environmental clearance or forest clearance for any hydro-electric power project in the state until further orders". It asked the environment ministry and Uttarakhand to submit all reports in three months.
Though it cleared the 30-year-old Srinagar hydro-electric project by Alaknanda Hydro Power Company, EIA for which was repeatedly approved by the ministry, it ordered fresh environment impact scrutiny of 24 under-construction hydro-power projects, involving over Rs 20,000 crore investment.
Apart from this, the bench directed the ministry to examine "whether the proposed 24 projects are causing significant impact on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins", the two most important rivers which merge at Devprayag to flow down as Ganga.
The Srinagar hydro-electric project necessitated shifting of the Dhari Devi temple and a day after the temple was moved to a new location, the cloudburst struck the Char Dham area.
The bench of Justices Radhakrishnan and Misra said many large and small hydro-power projects were being proposed on the two rivers but "cumulative impact of those project components like dams, tunnels, blasting, powerhouse, muck disposal, mining, deforestation etc on ecosystem is yet to be scientifically examined".
"The adverse effect of the existing projects, under-construction projects and proposed ones, on the environment and ecology calls for a detailed scientific study," the bench said.
"Proper disaster management plan, it is seen, is also not in place, resulting in loss of lives and property," the bench said and referred to an environment ministry ordered study by Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, which reported that out of total 39 proposed projects, 24 were found to be significantly impacting biodiversity in the two sub-basins.
The report had it had considered the combined footprints of all 24 projects for their potential to impact areas with biodiversity values, both aquatic and terrestrial, critically important habitat of rare, endangered and threatened species of flora and fauna.
The court directed the ministry to set up an expert body comprising representatives of the state government, WII, Central Electricity Authority, Central Water Commission and other experts to make a detailed study on contribution of under-construction and existing hydroelectric projects to find out 'whether it had contributed to the present tragedy."
Source - TOI