Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Power that ruined Uttarakhand

Power that ruined Uttarakhand
Smruti Koppikar , Hindustan Times Mumbai, July 03, 2013

The casual and indiscriminate approach of the expert appraisal committee
of the ministry of environment and forest has come under intense
criticism after the Uttarakhand floods.

A group of 51 environmentalists, scientists, academics and activists
across 15 states — six of them from Uttarakhand — wrote to the ministry
requesting that none of the present 14 members of its committee be
re-nominated. The committee's term is over.

"The current panel has had almost zero-rejection rate for the projects
it considered during its six years, ending December 2012… Secondly, the
committee has been at best inconsistent in applying basic parameters of
environment impact assessment, and has been sanctioning projects that
have been rejected by other government bodies without providing any
reasonable case," stated the letter, dated June 29.

The 14-member panel has given clearance to 262 river valley projects in
six years till December 2012, many of them without "applying its mind"
to critically appraise the projects and without undertaking a cumulative
impact assessment of a horde of hydropower projects in a river basin,
said the letter.

Only two projects were temporarily rejected till their proponents
changed some parameters to obtain final environmental clearance. A
ministry spokesperson declined to comment on the letter.

The letter has been signed by, among others, noted environmentalists
Vandana Shiva and Bittu Sehgal, former secretaries of government of
India Ramaswamy Iyer and EAS Sarma, lawyer and activist Prashant
Bhushan, professor emeritus of Jawaharlal Nehru University Amit Bhaduri
and Himanshu Thakkar representing South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and
People, and over 30 individuals/organisations associated with rivers and
dams studies. Bharat Jhunjhunwala, former IIM professor now based in
Tehri, leads the organisations from the flood-ravaged Uttarakhand that
endorsed the letter.

The panel is chaired by technocrat Rakesh Nath with BB Barman of the
MoEF as member-secretary. Nath was chairperson of the Central
Electricity Authority. Vice-chairman BP Das is a former engineer. "Both
have zero track record on environment or climate or societal issues,"
said Thakkar. Before Nath, it was chaired by P Abraham against whom
several environmentalists and organisations had petitioned the ministry
because he was associated with hydropower project companies. "It was a
direct conflict of interest," they pointed out.

In the context of Uttarakhand, the signatories stated, "It was shocking
to see the panel recommending final environmental clearance for the
108MW Jelam-Tamak hydropower project in Chamoli district in Alaknanda
basin… in spite of two government-appointed studies recommending that
the project shouldn't be cleared."

A separate analysis by environmentalists has shown how the panel was not
bothered that "the environment impact assessment reports of projects
that come to it are shoddy, dishonest jobs", was not concerned about the
lack of "credible public consultation process or serious anomalies in
public hearing processes". The panel, the analysis added, had not sought
a cumulative impact assessment even when a large number of bumper to
bumper hydropower projects were proposed on several rivers.

The signatories have demanded that the ministry evolve a code of conduct
for the panel members, that "they should be held accountable for their
actions" and they "should read the environment impact reports and send
it written comments".

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