Sucheta Dalal :Maheshwar hydro-power project lands up in environmental clearance mess again
Sucheta Dalal

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Maheshwar hydro-power project lands up in environmental clearance mess again  

May 17, 2010

This project—first proposed in 1983— continues to be marred by rehabilitation issues, with the MOEF issuing work-suspension orders and eminent activists demanding compliance with the missive

The controversies surrounding the much-delayed Maheshwar hydro-electric power project refuse to die out. In a recent development, the ministry of environment and forests (MOEF) has sent a construction work suspension order to Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Ltd. While meetings are being held to reconsider the MOEF order with the prime minister, eminent personalities have written to the prime minister seeking compliance to this missive.


In a letter dated 23 April 2010, the MOEF stated that the reply submitted by Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Ltd has been reviewed and found non-satisfactory. The reasons stated were involving negligible work on resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R). Thus, the ministry demanded immediate suspension of the ongoing construction work for the project.


Later, on 10 May 2010, the MOEF wrote to the company that the directions in the earlier letter are being amended to the extent that only seven gates, which are yet to be made functional and under installation may be completed before the onset of the monsoon.


According to Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, chief minister, Madhya Pradesh, has asked prime minister Manmohan Singh to cancel the MOEF order on grounds of it being “false and baseless.” The PMO had called a meeting in this regard on 7 May 2010 and they will be meeting again today.


In a release, the NBA stated that  Rajendra Sachar, retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court; Kuldip Nayyar, a veteran journalist and ex-Member of Parliament; Surendra Mohan, veteran socialist leader and ex-Member of Parliament and Swami Agnivesh, President, World Council of Arya Samaj have written a joint letter to the prime minister asking him to affirm the order of the MOEF suspending the construction of Maheshwar dam, and not to let the private project promoters trample on fundamental and statutory rights of the oustees.


This hydro-electric power project was first proposed in 1983. However, it was rejected by the concerned authority in 1986. The reason for rejection was stated as non-submission of environment management plans. Later in 1994 the project was awarded environmental clearance subject to certain conditions, based on the environment management plan (EMP) submitted by the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA). In 2001, the NVDA decided to hand over the project to a private player S Kumars and the environment clearance was transferred to the company.


During the same period, the MOEF constituted a monitoring committee to study the resettlement and rehabilitation compliance of this project. The committee after inspection suggested that the project authority should prepare a comprehensive R&R action plan with an implementation schedule and submit it before the financial closure is achieved after which construction work could be started. However, in 2006, the project authority started the construction work without submitting the comprehensive R&R action plan with time schedule. Thus, the MOEF ordered immediate suspension of construction work, on which the project authority managed to get a stay order from the Madhya Pradesh High Court.


Thereafter, the project was in constant tussle with the environment ministry and environment groups. The recent dispute was triggered by a visit from the monitoring committee’s visit to the site. The committee expressed dissatisfaction on the rehabilitation issue. — Moneylife Digital Team

-- Sucheta Dalal