Dehradun: Twenty power projects, with a combined capacity of more than 2,100 MW, are being considered for revival by the Uttarakhand government as it looks to cut down electricity bills that run into nearly Rs 1,000 crore annually.
These projects are part of the total 44 projects that were stopped by the Supreme Court soon after the catastrophic 2013 flash floods that majorly affected Rudrayaprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts.
The top court also had constituted an expert body (EB-I) to study environmental and ecological impacts of the projects in Bhagirathi and Alaknanda Valleys that suffered immensely in the 2013 deluge.
In its report submitted that year itself, the EB-I cleared 10 projects as undisputed and banned 24 others proposed in the two valleys. The other 10 projects got adverse remarks from EB-I and another expert body, and were later found to be located in eco-sensitive areas.
The second expert body (EB-II) was formed in 2014 for the evaluation of the proposed Hydro Electric Projects (HEPs) on Ganga and Alaknanda Valleys. In its report, the EB-II did not make any adverse remarks against 10 of the 24 banned HEPs.
Apart from the 10 undisputed projects taken up with the Supreme Court, the Uttarakhand government has also approached the Centre for their mandatory clearances. It will be also taking up another 10 projects that did not get adverse remarks from the second
“We are pursuing the revival of 20 hydropower projects… It will be done on a case-to-case basis as desired by the Union power ministry. The green signal for these projects was given by EB-II in 2014 and other agencies by not passing adverse comments,” Uttarakhand power secretary R Meenakshi Sundaram told ThePrint.
“Subsequently, the Centre listed the projects for implementation, subject to the Supreme Court lifting the ban,” he added.
As of now, the power secretary said, the government is actively pursuing two undisputed projects with the Centre.
Of the 10 banned projects taken up with the Supreme Court, three are under construction, one in pre-construction stage and six are under development. The other 10 undisputed projects are under development, officials said.
The important hydropower projects to be revived include 300 MW Bowala Nandprayag, 300 MW Alaknanda, 320MW Kotlibhel 1B, 190 MW Tamak Lata, 100 MW Nandprayag Langasu, 171 MW Lata Tapovan and 128 MW Jelam Tamak. All these HEPs will come up on Alaknanda and its tributaries.
Other projects on the Pushkar Singh Dhami government’s radar are 252 MW Devsari on Pinder and 195 MW Kotlibhel 1A on Bhagirathi.
There are 11 projects, including 24.3 MW Melkhet (on Pinder), 24.3 MW Bhyundar Ganga (on Bhyundar Ganga), 24 MW Bhilangana IIA and Bhilangana IIB (on Bhagirathi), which fall under the small category, i.e., those less than 25 MW each.
“Of the 70 hydropower projects in Uttarakhand, 20 are already functional while six are under construction. Forty-four projects were kept on hold by the SC which also constituted an expert panel to study the ecological impacts on Alaknanda and Bhagirathi valleys. The panel had identified 10 projects undisputed and banned 24 projects,” Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (UJVNL) managing director Sandeep Singhal said.
UJVNL is responsible for monitoring hydropower projects in Uttarakhand.
“As the second panel did not make any adverse remarks against 10 of the 24 projects banned earlier, we have pleaded with the Supreme Court to lift the ban on them. An affidavit has been filed for getting approval to these 10 projects which the power ministry wants to implement,” Singhal added.
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Centre not averse to state’s initiative
The Centre is also willing to give clearance to these 10 projects as there is no adverse comment by any agency.
“Those HEPs, in respect of which, there is no adverse recommendations of EB-II or have not been cancelled by National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), or have not been banned by the SC or any other organisation, may be allowed for implementation subject to compliance with statutory clearances,” the power ministry wrote to the Uttarakhand government on 24 January.
“A list of 10 HEPs, out of 24 HEPs, whose construction activity have been banned by the Supreme Court but have not been adversely commented upon by any executive agency is placed in annex-II. The projects may be available for the implementation if the court decides to lift the ban in future,” it added.
On the other hand, the government will shelve the two dozen projects that the NGRBA banned after adverse observations from the Wildlife Institute of India. These projects were to come up in Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone (BESZ) and certain protected areas of Alaknanda Valley.
“Twenty-four projects will be shelved as the sites fall either in BESZ or in the protected areas of Alaknanda Valley. There is no point in pursuing them,” stated Sundaram.
The power secretary also explained how Uttarakhand had tapped less than even one fifth of its hydropower potential in the last 22 years.
“When the state was created in 2000, its total power generating capacity was estimated at about 21,000 MW. We have been able to harness only 4,000 MW, which is less than 20 per cent of the total potential. If these projects materialise, it will be a big leap forward for the state’s economy as well as be a big contribution to the national power generation,” said Sundaram.
As the hydropower potential is not being tapped fully, Uttarakhand purchases power from outside to fulfill its needs. This, the officials assert, puts a drain on the economy of the state.
In his letter to PM Narendra Modi on 23 June, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami had informed him that Uttarakhand purchases power worth nearly Rs 1,000 crore from the open market every year. “This expenditure causes additional burden on the financial resources,” Dhami wrote, urging the PM to help get the Centre’s clearances for the projects put on hold.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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