Rudraprayag hydel project PIL: Uttarakhand HC issues notices to MoEF, Jal Shakti, state govt

Uttarakhand high court has issued notices to the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC), Jal Shakti ministry, Central Electricity Authority (CEC), Uttarakhand government and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) Uttaranchal Hydropower Ltd in a public interest litigation (PIL) alleging violations in Singoli-Bhatwari Hydroelectric Power Plant in Uttarakhand’s Rudraprayag district. The court has directed them to respond to the notices within three weeks.

The PIL, filed by Bharat Jhunjhunwala, a 70-year-old assistant professor at Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bengaluru, who originally hails from Tehri district, has alleged violations by carrying out construction beyond the expiry of environmental clearance and not informing authorities concerned on time about change in the design parameters of the project, said Ajay Veer Pundir, counsel of the petitioner. HT has a copy of over 400-page PIL.

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Situated on Mandakini river in Rudraprayag district, the 99 MW project features a barrage, with a medium-sized intake pond near Ukhimath, a 12-km-long headrace tunnel and a surge shaft over 180 metre in depth.

The project was awarded to L&T on Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) basis following a competitive bidding process by the Uttarakhand government in 2006.

The PIL alleges that environment clearance, which was issued for ten years and then extended by another three, expired on August 24, 2020, and as such, any construction beyond that was a violation of the norms.

“Also, the project had to start its commercial operation in March 2020 but that also didn’t happen. The fish ladders which allow movement of fish were not constructed despite the same being part of the agreement with Uttarakhand government,” he said.

Pundir said environmental clearance had expired on August 24, 2020, while the project completion and readiness for commissioning was announced on September 21, 2020.

The PIL alleged that the hydroelectric project is “being constructed without an environment clearance”, adding, “change in scope (design parameters of the project due to 2013 floods) beyond the approved environment clearance and techno-economic concurrence issued earlier (in 2008 by Central Electricity Authority) with respect to old project which has not been implemented… and now in the garb of earlier environment clearance and techno-economic concurrence, respondents are continuing with the changed project which is not permissible as per law.”

The PIL seeks the project to “obtain fresh environment clearance…because the ground reality has changed”. The PIL has also sought directions for installation of fish ladders for the conservation of aquatic biodiversity.

The PIL pointed out that the project was hit by the floods of 2013 which apparently led L&T Uttaranchal Hydropower Limited to make changes in design. “However, L&T Uttaranchal Hydropower Limited disclosed these changes to Central Electricity Authority only on February 6, 2019,” it alleged.

On September 21, L&T announced completion and readiness for commissioning of 99 MW Singoli-Bhatwari Hydroelectric Power Plant, saying the commissioning of this run-of-the-river plant along the Char Dham route will be a major boost to the state of Uttarakhand, with the plant’s capability of providing over 400 million units of renewable energy per annum.

Jhunjhunwala’s PIL says he has also submitted a representation to MoEFCC regarding change in scope of the project.

L&T spokesperson refused to comment on the development.

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