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Penalized by NGT for violations, MoEF panel extends green clearance for Uttarakhand hydel project

The minutes of the EAC meeting, though, did not make any mention of the NGT judgment and the environmental compensation it imposed. The minutes were reviewed by DNA.

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The Environment Ministry's Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on river valley and hydroelectric projects has recommended a three-year extension to the validity of the environmental clearance (EC) for the Vishnugad-Pipalkoti hydel project in Chamoli district. The EAC's recommendation, though, comes even as the National Green Tribunal's (NGT's) principal bench imposed a Rs 50-lakh environmental compensation in April on the project proponent Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC) for illegal muck-dumping in the Alaknanda river.

The Vishnugad-Pipalkoti hydel project is a 4x111MW capacity project on the Alaknanda river, near Helong village. According to THDC, Rs 1,187.54 crore has been spent on the project till now. THDC has filed a plea before the NGT to modify its order, and the next hearing is on July 3.

In its detailed judgement, the NGT had noted that disposal of muck not only polluted the river and harmed aquatic health, but also violated the EC granted to the project. The EC had stated that muck should be disposed of above the high-flood level.

The minutes of the EAC meeting, though, did not make any mention of the NGT judgment and the environmental compensation it imposed. The minutes were reviewed by DNA.

THDC also submitted a letter to EAC for the appraisal meeting and said that the muck generated from the construction of the project is being dumped at designated muck disposal sites along with detailed muck disposal plan. It added that presently it had deployed 20 dumpers for disposal of muck that were installed with GPS. Curiously, THDC did not make any mention of the NGT's fine in its letter and as per the minutes, seem to have concealed the fact that it in their judgement, NGT had directed them to fit the dumpers with GPS.

The Matu Jan Sangathan, a non-profit organization, that was the petitioner in the NGT case had written a letter to the EAC, detailing the need for a relook at the project in light of the NGT judgement and also due to what it claimed to be serious ecological damages to neighbouring villages due to dam structures.

"The NGT order dated April 13 put many conditions on the project proponent, but EAC did not even consider the order. MoEFCC is also a party in the NGT case, and is bound to comply with that order. I am surprised, what Ganga rejuvenation is the ministry is doing?” said Vimal Bhai of the Matu Jan Sangthan. 
 
The EAC’s decision to not consider the NGO’s letter comes in the backdrop of its decision in December, that they would not take into cognizance any civil society representations during final appraisal, unless the representations have grave consequences. Members of the EAC were not available for comment. 

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