Expert Committee following SC order of 13 Aug 13 on Uttarakhand: Needs full mandate and trimming down

Over two months after the Supreme Court (SC) of India order of Aug 13, 2013[1], the MEF has now constituted an expert committee, see MEF order no: L-11011/14/2011-IA.I (Vol-II) dated Oct 15, 2013[2].

The constitution of the committee under the chairpersonship of Ravi Chopra is welcome, with the inclusion of some independent and expert members. At the same time, the committee is unwieldy with excessive inclusion of government members and members with conflict of interest. This raises doubts if the committee will be allowed to function in an independent way. The committee has not been given the full mandate as required by the Supreme Court order.

1. The MoEF order says in the very first para of the order, “Ministry of Environment & Forests hereby constitutes an Expert Committee to make a detailed study as to whether Hydroelectric power projects existing and under construction in the river basins of Alkananda, Bhagirathi and their tributaries”. It also says that the expert committee has been set up following Supreme Court orders dated Aug 13, 2013. But why limit to Alaknanda Bhagirathi (AB) basin and its tributaries? That leaves out a huge area of Uttarakhand that also suffered damages, including Ganga, Yamuna and Kali-Gori basins and where too hydropower projects are present and under construction. The SC order was not limited to AB basins, but was applicable to the entire UttarakhandState“Hydroelectric Power Projects existing and under construction have contributed to the environmental degradation, if so, to what extent and also whether it has contributed to the present tragedy occurred at Uttarakhand”. This committee’s mandate to look at only Alaknanda and BhagirathiBasins is limited does not comply with the SC order.

2. Mr BP Das, a member of this expert body, is former vice chair of Ministry of Environment and Forests’ (MoEF) EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects). He has been a member of EAC for many years and many of the projects cleared by the EAC that he was member of will now be reviewed by the committee this is clearly wrong. He has also presided over decisions to clear projects that WII had recommended be dropped. By making him member of this committee he will be now sitting on judgement over those same projects. Mr. B.P. Das has also been the head of committee constituted by MoEF which looked at environmental compliance of 330 MW Srinagar HEP of GVK company. To make Mr. Das a member of the committee is clearly inappropriate.

3. Similarly Mr G L Bansal has been a member of the EAC and hence his selection in this committee involves conflict of interest and should not have been done.

4. The second TOR of the committee says: “Examine, as observed by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in its report, as to whether the proposed 24 projects in Uttarakhand are causing significant impact on the Biodiversity of Alaknanda & Bhagirathi river basins.” The Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 had asked MoEF to take a view on these projects, which the ministry so far has refused to do. it has passed the hat to this committee.

This TOR too is very limited. It asks if the 24 projects are causing “significant impact” on biodiversity of AB basins. Do we need another expert committee to opine if big hydropower projects are causing significant impacts on biodiversity, when an expert body like WII has already concluded the impacts are so serious that the projects need to be dropped? This seems to be making fun of the WII report and attempt to not to respond to the SC order.

5. It seems some of the government members have been added just to make the committee loaded with government persons. Some such member includes Chief Engineer of Uttarakhand Water Resources Department, Expert representatives of NIRM, ICFRI, NDMA and CPWD. They were not part of the SC order. These bodies also do not have any expertise or direct involvement in hydropower projects. If the committee needed their expertise, they can in any case be asked to depose before the committee. Their presence is unnecessary and makes the committee unwieldy and difficult to manage.

6. Several respected women have been working on issues related to sustainable development, hydropower, its impacts on communities and ecosystems. However, the present committee does not have any representation from women. This is a serious concern.

This committee has a serious task ahead of it and for completing it effectively and in an unbiased manner, its mandate needs to be expanded to include whole of Uttarakhand as per the SC order. The constitution needs to be streamlined and members with conflict of interest as well as unnecessary government representation, as mentioned above need to be dropped.

SANDRP

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