By Nivedita Khandekar
New Delhi, Sep 26 (IANS): The extension of validity of environmental clearance (EC) given to two hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh's Tawang has been questioned by environmental experts, who claim the authority responsible went beyond its brief.
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for the River Valley and Hydroelectric projects of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has given extension to two hydropower projects of the NHPC Ltd till June 9, 2024.
Tawang Hydroelectric Project Stage-I of 600 MW as a run of river scheme and the Tawang Hydroelectric Project Stage-II of 800 MW, also as a run of river scheme, were put up before the EAC for extension of validity of environmental clearance during the meeting on September 7.
As per the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, the period of validity of the EC is 10 years and extendable for three years in case the project proponent applies within the expiry date of the EC. In this case, the EC was granted on June 10, 2011 to both Tawang I and Tawang II. Both projects could not commence due to non-accord of Forest Clearance by the Ministry.
Earlier, after the NHPC Ltd sought the extension of validity of environmental clearance, one of the observations during the deliberation - as documented in the minutes of the meeting - was: "It appears that the EC originally given in 2011 is for commencement of work and not completion of work. In the past 10 years, work has not commenced due to non-accord of Forest (Stage-I), which is reportedly pending for want of compliance under FRA, 2006 by the government of Arunachal Pradesh. Gram Sabha meetings under FRA 2006, are pending in six out of 13 villages since May 2015, due to local agitation. It may be prudent to firstly modify the condition that the validity is for completion of the project and not for commencement of construction- an approach being adopted in other similar cases."
The members, on their own, also discussed if the EAC may "also seek inputs from MoP (Ministry of Power) regarding status of the project and their comments on the likelihood of completion of project within the requested time period".
During the September 7 meeting, one of the members, who is a representative of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), informed the Committee that implementation of this project "is being actively monitored by the CEA/Ministry of Power with a view to encourage hydro power, particularly in northeast region of the country. CEA/Ministry of Power are of the view that the project may be implemented on priority and NHPC Ltd is also making lot of efforts to execute this project."
Following which, the minutes of the meeting document reveal, the EAC recommended that, "the Ministry may consider the proposal as recommended for grant of extension in validity of EC dated 10th June, 2011 to Tawang Hydroelectric Project Stage-I of 600 MW".
But it imposed two additional conditions that the project proponent shall submit Stage-I Forest Clearance for diversion of forest land to non-forestry activity prior of grant of extension in the EC and six-monthly compliance report including status of completion of project shall be submitted to Ministry's Integrated Regional Office and Ministry of Power.
Similar extension of the EC was sought for Tawang II project, similar discussion ensued, exactly a similar record from previous meeting about how the EAC may seek input from the Ministry of Power was discussed and in similar manner, the member, who is a CEA representative, informed that the "project is being actively monitored by the CEA/ Ministry of Power with a view to encourage hydro power particularly in North-East Region of the Country. CEA/Ministry of Power are in view that the project may be implemented on priority and NHPC Ltd is also making lot of efforts to execute this project."
And then, similar to Tawang I, the EAC "recommended the proposal for extension in validity of EC" subject to following additional conditions (again similar) that project proponent shall submit Stage-I Forest Clearance for diversion of forest land to non-forestry activity prior of grant of extension in the EC and six-monthly compliance report including status of completion of project shall be submitted to Ministry's Integrated Regional Office and Ministry of Power.
Opposing the move, Coordinator of the South Asia Network for Dams, River and People (SANDRP), Himanshu Thakkar, said: "The EAC mandate should not be dependent on the developer's viewpoint. It is none of their concern. EAC's concern should only be from the environmental compliance issues."
And it is not just the concern about the mandate, the very composition of the EAC is questionable, experts said.
Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) founder and lawyer Ritwick Dutta has challenged before the Karnataka High Court, the very formation of EAC wherein questions have been raised about Chairman K. Gopakumar's expertise - "which does not mention a single word about river or environment," as per Dutta - and also the presence of Balraj Joshi, the former CMD of NHPC Ltd - "which is a direct conflict of interest" for the EAC on River Valley and hydroelectric projects".
"The HC has, in one of the orders in this ongoing case, already stated that all decisions taken by the 'EAC on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects' are subject to the outcome of this litigation," Dutta told IANS.