Green clearance norms eased for hydel projects

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 20 2013, 05:32am hrs
After delinking the environment and forest clearances for highway projects, the environment ministry is mulling over a proposal to relax clearance norms for hydro-power projects.

The ministry is considering a proposal that allows hydro-power projects to initiate the forest clearance process without even completing comprehensive river basin study.

The relaxation is expected to speed up the work on setting up hydro-power projects that have been a big embarrassment for the government on poor record in achieving capacity addition targets. Against a target of 15,627 MW in the 11th Plan (2007-12), actual hydro-power capacity added in the Plan stood a mere 5,544 MW. Most delays have been on account of environment and forest-related issues.

River basin is a larger landscape than a forest and there is a consideration that the biodiversity impact may not be seen at the forest level and only be seen at the environmental clearance level. This will speed up the overall process as statutory clearance could be processed along with basin studies. The power ministry had asked us to examine these changes and we are thinking on these lines, said an MoEF official on the condition of anonymity.

Under the current system, a hydro-power project that requires forest clearance needs to complete river basin study before it gets green nod. This would change under the new system.

The river basin study would now include the environment management plan of a project, thereby, giving relief to developers from duplicating their efforts.

River-basin study is a critical aspect of approving any infrastructure project that is set up in the vicinity of a river. In case of hydro-power projects, these studies include a thorough study on the areas biodiversity and the impact a project would have on water flow, the aquatic life of the river and flora and fauna of the region, including the impact on local population.

The power ministry had earlier proposed forest diversion for at least the initial set of projects in each river basin without insisting for completion of comprehensive basin studies. This, they felt, would provide the necessary impetus to the project orted. However, given the experience, it might be difficult to achieve. The matter has already been taken up with the environment ministry, said a power ministry official.

The proposed changes come after the forest advisory committee (FAC) of the environment ministry had suggested a cumulative study on the Tawang basin in Arunachal Pradesh be delinked from stage-I forest clearance in February.