EAC against entertaining ‘anti-development’ representations The expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydel projects of the Union Environment Ministry has decided “not to take any cognizance of such representations” received by its members. In its Dec. 30, 2016 meeting, the committee concluded that once a project proposal reaches the EAC for appraisal, it has crossed the stage of public consultation and “the EAC should not go back in time, and should not reopen it, by entertaining unsubstantiated representations received from the people”.
The EAC noted that in case of any clarification regarding action taken on such representations under the RTI Act, the EAC prescribed that a standard reply “action has been taken in accordance with the decisions taken in the 1st meeting of the EAC for River Valley and HEP on 30.12.2016” should suffice. “It was also felt that many of the objections raised are repetitive. Many such kind of representations have an anti-development attitude so that the projects are kept on hold or delayed. This has financial implications to the developers in particular and to the nation in general.
The committee emphasized that relevant ministries scrutinised every aspect of a project and proposed it for final appraisal only when all details were in place. If not satisfied that public consultation had been completed properly, the EAC said it could ask the project promoter to do the needful. The committee also made allowance for representations with “new points” and “grave consequences” on which comments from project proponents could be sought. The EAC considered 13 projects in its December 30 meeting and cleared eight of them.
Environmental activists, however, pointed out the impracticality of the contention that representations should be restricted to the 30-day public consultation window. Sripad Dharmadhikari also, in his blog has mentions various reasons to counter the EAC’s suspicious justifications. He also says that the fact that a body which is supposed to represent the environmental perspective displays such an attitude is the biggest critique of the EAC and the environmental clearance process that it is a part of. The newly constituted MOEF’s EAC on River Valley Projects has in their very first meeting shown anti people, anti democratic and anti environment attitude.
Above: Pipelines which supply water to Pune City from Khadakwasla Dam (Photo: Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP)
Urban narrative of Maharashtra revolves predominantly around cities of Mumbai (along with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region i.e. MMR), Pune, Nagpur and Nashik. Dominance of these large urban centres or the big cities over raw water sources is apparent. These cities have per capita water supply much more than the prescribed norms and continue to seek more water allocations. As Maharashtra gears up to fund more and more dams tapping finances from different sources, big cities with growing footprint of water consumption are all set to claim more water from these dams. Read More
Above: Pandhapur wari, the yearly pilgrimage on Bhima banks (Source: pandharpurwari.com)
Bhima River, the largest tributary of Krishna River holds a special significance for the state of Maharashtra. The river is closely woven with the spiritual fabric of the state. The river is also referred to as Chandrabhaga River, especially at Pandharpur- the famous pilgrimage city, as it resembles the shape of the Moon. Bhima basin occupies nearly 70% area of the Krishna Basin falling in Maharashtra. Though the river originates in Maharashtra, it merges with Krishna river in Karnataka state, thus can be viewed as an independent basin.
In recent years Bhima basin has been subjected to excessive pressure of anthropogenic activities such as religious festivals attracting millions of pilgrims through the year, growing pollution by urban centres, growing sugarcane cultivation and over extraction of the river water to feed the water guzzling crop. These activities are taking toll in the river’s health and its water availability. Maharashtra state’s haste of building more and more dams in Krishna basin is most prominently visible in Bhima basin.
In this sense this sub-basin of Krishna River Basin, is its perfect miniature.
The first part of 3-part blog series throws light on impact of dams and hydro projects in upper reaches of the River and the imminent dangers of climate change that have jeopardized the entire eco-system around the Yamuna rivers.
The second part would bring forward the plight of severely polluted and threatened Yamuna tributaries in the mainland of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (MP). The third and concluding part would detail the status of ongoing and planned cleaning and rejuvenation projects launched in 2016.
In a welcome move Western Zone Bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued an interim stay on the proposed portion of the metro route passing through the Mutha river bed in the Pune city.[i] This directive was passed in an Environmental Interest Litigation (EIL) filed in the NGT on May 26 last year by a group of citizens contending that in the proposed metro rail alignment, a 1.7 km stretch passing through the left bank of the Mutha river could cause an irreversible damage to riverbank ecosystem along that route.
In the first phase two corridors of metro have been proposed in Pune. Corridor-I is of 16.59 km length from Pimpri-Chinchwad to Swargate and Corridor-II is of 14.6 km from Vanaz to Ramwadi. The petition before NGT Pune bench is against the 1.7 km stretch of Vanaz-Ramwadi corridor proposed through left bank of river Mutha. The metro route is proposed to enter the Mutha riverbed behind Savarkar memorial on Karve Road and proceed towards Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) Bhavan and further to Food Corporation of India godowns behind Shivaji Nagar District Court.[ii] Two Metro stations are also proposed on the riverbed, one near Deccan Bus Stand and the other behind Sambhaji Park. Presently soil testing work for the project is in progress.
It certainly seems a good news for Pune’s rivers which have routinely made headlines for their pollution and poor state in general. Closer look towards the details however would cast a shadow on this development. The alignment through the river bed has been proposed despite PMC recently facing and losing a petition in NGT against 2.3 km long (and 24 m wide) road from Vitthalwadi to NH-4 bypass which was being constructed illegally right in the Mutha Riverbed. In its final judgment in July 2013 NGT ordered the road to be realigned. Subsequently a contempt petition was filed when PMC failed to comply with the orders where the NGT in January 2015 again ordered removal of the constructed road.[iii] Read More
Ever since its land mark judgment on February 27, 2012, the Supreme Court (SC) of India is not hearing any particular case pertaining to River sand mining regulation. In 2012 judgment SC had directed all Union Territories and State Governments to seek Environmental Clearances (EC) from Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for mining minor minerals even in less than 5 ha or renew the same after prior approval from the MoEF&CC. Before this order, mining areas of less than 5 ha were exempted from EC enacted under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)-2006.
On Aug 5, 2013, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), has passed an important decision ordering a ban on sand excavation across the country without permission from State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and MoEF&CC. Further in November 2013, interpreting environment as Central Government subject and directing MoEF&CC to frame uniform sand extraction rules, the NGT prohibited State Governments to form mining rules separately.
Since then, in pursuit of compliance to aforesaid orders, NGT and the High Court (HC) in several States have been frequently directing respective Government agencies to facilitate sustainable River sand removal. In this context, these courts have issued a number of orders and decisions all through 2016.
In the second part of three-part blog series SANDRP presents an overview of steps taken by Central and State Governments on this issue of river sand mining practices in the year 2016.
The year 2016 started with a welcoming development when none other than the Prime Minister of India, Sri Narendra Modi himself, while delivering inaugural address at 103rd session of Indian Science Congress, in Mysuru on January 06, 2016 cited the importance of rivers in human history. Emphasizing the value of rivers, he stressed on the use of science and technology to understand the impact of urbanization, farming, industrialization and ground water use and contamination on the river eco-system. Revering the Rivers as soul of nature, the PM emphasized to make renewal of Rivers an element of a larger effort to sustain Nature.
Contrary to this, on January 06, 2016, the Union Transport Minister revealed Government plans considering use of river sand for national highways construction. The minister particularly mentioned sand of river Yamuna to be used in construction of national highways and agreements would be signed with states to seek approval for using sand from their rivers. The report ironically mentioned it as innovative moves to boost infrastructure development. Interestingly the Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines 2016 from Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) condemned the use of sand in concretization including its burial under highways despite very high value of minerals found in the sand.
In the same month the MoEF&CC came out with a draft notification for a new sustainable sand and minor mineral mining policy applicable form January 1, 2016. Proposing to decentralize the process of granting environmental clearance the draft notification prescribed creation of District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) for screening mining proposals followed after district level survey report. As per the draft policy District, State and Central level authorities were eligible to approve environment clearances (EC) for mining up to five ha, 5-50 ha, over 50 ha respectively.