After a Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change sub-committee raised issues regarding the project affected people and environmental impact assessment report of the Pancheshwar dam, an expert appraisal committee (EAC) of the ministry has deferred green clearance of the project. Last month, the EAC on hydroelectric projects had asked a sub-committee to visit the site of the dam project in Uttarakhand. The sub-committee visited the project site on November 24 and found that issues regarding the modalities of rehabilitating displaced villages were unresolved and thus asked for more information from the project authority.The Pancheshwar multipurpose project is a joint venture of India and Nepal that involves construction of a 315-m tall rock-fill hydropower dam across Mahakali River, 2.5-kms downstream at the confluence of Mahakali and Saryu River. The project would have a total installed capacity of 5,040 MW with the inclusion of a smaller 240MW hydropower dam.After interacting with Champawat officials and project affected people, the sub-committee informed the EAC that a uniform criteria should be adopted for enumerating the project affected in holistic ways. It said that villagers staying below or at 680-m full reservoir level (FRL) shall be displaced and villages located just above at 681-m FRL shall not be displaced.Even as the sub-committee has said that there was no opposition to the project it made no mention of local protests during the statutory public hearings that posed questions on safety, employment and ecological concerns.The EAC also deliberated on objections of civil society. It played down concerns regarding seismic vulnerabilities faced by the region. “Observations such as “a seismically uncertain context” are alarmist because seismic activity is always uncertain. Nothing can be 100 per cent risk free,” the minutes of the meeting stated.
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