February 2012: When a project that was rejected twice by a Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in May 2011 and again in October 2011 and that was recommended against by a Ministry of Environment and Forests commissioned study by the Wildlife Institute of India, is approved by the Environment Minister, Jayanti Natarajan, something is clearly not right.
The project in question is the 300 MW Alaknanda-Badrinath Hydro Electric Project proposed by the GMR group. It involves construction of an 18 m. high dam (measured over the riverbed level, the height would be much higher than the deepest foundation level) across the Alaknanda river three kilometres downstream of Badrinath town in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand.
The dam will destroy part of the buffer of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (BR), which comprises two core zones – the Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers National Park. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, rich in biodiversity. An existing project, the Khiron Ganga Hydro Electric plant, also falls within the same stretch.
In rejecting the project, the FAC concluded that “the prior approval of the Central Government in accordance with Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 for diversion of forestland required for construction of Kotlibhel-IB, Kotlibhel-II and Alaknanda-Badrinath Hydro Power projects may not be accorded (emphasis added).” The evaluation was based on the WII report. The project is likely to cause the severe fragmentation and degradation of important wildlife habitats that harbour endangered species such as the snow leopard, brown bear and 16 Red Data Book plant species. The proposed project will seriously hamper the movement of wildlife in the Nanda Devi BR as this is an important corridor for them. Between habitat loss and degradation and the adverse impacts of galloping climate change, the future of these high altitude species is bleak.
The detailed Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared for the project highlights the impact climate change and mismanaged development has already had on glaciers in the region. It makes mention of 136 glaciers in the Alaknanda river catchment and several glacial lakes and how debris-ridden glaciers in the Himalaya are now common. The number of roads needed to facilitate construction and its location in an area that is a highest risk category V seismic zone were other key reasons against the project. Additional warnings included the impact on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems as the project will dry up 5.8 km. of the river downstream from the dam.
The forest clearance letter does not even mention the serious risks the project poses and the Minister has not bothered to explain her decision.
Write a letter to the Prime Minister of India asking that the clearance be revoked and that an independent enquiry be launched into why the findings of the WII and the advice of the FAC were disregarded and overruled. State the following points:
The construction of the Alaknanda-Badrinath Hydro Electric Project will fragment and degrade key wildlife habitats.
Hydro Electric projects on the rivers Alaknanda, Khiron Ganga and Laxman Ganga will adversely affect the region.
The projects will impede animal movement in Nanda Devi BR, a vital wildlife corridor.
A restoration plan to tackle the damage already caused by existing projects in the region also needs to be devised in coordination with conservation organisations and local people.
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