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MoEF supports fresh Zonal Master Plan for Bhagirathi eco-zone

The MoEF clarified its stand on the directions of the Tribunal, who had observed in the last hearing that there seemed to be conflict between the environment and water ministry

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After initial differences, the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) told the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday that it supported the stand of water resources ministry to prepare a fresh zonal master plan to regulate development activities in the Bhagirathi river eco-sensitive zone (ESZ), Uttarakhand.

The NGT is currently hearing the matter regarding the implementation of a sound zonal master plan (ZMP) in the ESZ. The MoEF clarified its stand on the directions of the Tribunal, who had observed in the last hearing that there seemed to be conflict between the environment and water ministry.

The MoEF affidavit, reviewed by DNA, said, “It is humbly submitted that there is no conflict between the two ministries. They are in regular consultation on the subject. The report of water resources ministry on the revised Bhagirathi ESZ, ZMP has been received on February 8, 2017 during the hearing at NGT. The ministry agrees with the way forward shown in the report. As multi-disciplinary experts are required to prepare the ZMP of Bhagirathi ESZ, the state government of Uttarakhand may constitute an expert committee involving experts from renowned institutions.”

It added that public consultations should be held on the ZMP and it should be kept in public domain for 30 days for suggestions and objections. After MoEF clarified its stand before the Tribunal, the state government requested for time to respond, which was granted till April 10.

The MoEF’s stand is a reversal of their plans from August 2016. The ministry had then accepted the Uttarakhand government’s ZMP, and was mulling to dilute the ESZ notification by permitting hydel projects above 2MW and riverbed mining, both prohibited under the notification. This was opposed in October 2016 by Shashi Shekhar, former secretary, water resources ministry, who termed the plans for throwing open the sensitive area for such development as an “impending environmental disaster.”  

Later, in December, NGT chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar directed Shashi Shekhar to sit down with the two central ministries and the Uttarakhand government to arrive at a consensus on the ZMP. Shekhar submitted his report on December 30, 2016 and recommended that the ZMP be prepared again by forming an independent expert committee. After taking the Uttarakhand government’s views on board, the NGT will hear the matter on April 10.

PROJECT DETAILS

Spread across 4,179 sq.kms on a 100-km long stretch between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi, the eco-sensitive zone was notified in 2012 and prohibits hydel projects above 2MW, riverbed mining among other things. The ESZ notification also mandated preparation of a zonal master plan (ZMP) and the NGT is hearing cases on the non-implementation of the ZMP.

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