Shimla: A study carried out by Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group, New Delhi, and Lok Vigyan Kendra/ Navrachna, Himachal Pradesh, along with information sought under the Right to Information Act have revealed gross irregularities in the execution of 800 MW Parbati II hydel project being executed by the National Hydro Power Corporation. Not just this, even the agencies responsible for monitoring violations of set guidelines have been found napping, thus giving NHPC a free hand in taking liberties in following set norms.
As per the report, the most glaring violation has been in case of clams made on human displacement. The environment clearance (EC) for the project was granted on 4th June 2001, in which it was stated that no population would be displaced due to this project. However, the first compliance report by NHPC dated 1st October, 2003 indicated that an R&R plan for affected families was being worked upon and a final R&R plan of Rs 2.374 crores was prepared to benefit 386 families effected by the project. The subsequent compliance and monitoring reports gave a differing break up of affected people. And over the years, protests by affected people, who allege harassment and negligible compensation, too have made headlines from time to time.
According to the report, another anomaly that could have disastrous impact has been irregular reporting on compliance. All river valley and hydro electric projects need to seek mandatory environment clearance as per the procedures laid out under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification issued under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. While granting EC, the nodal impact assessment agency i.e. the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) puts down a set of conditions based on which clearance is granted. In the case of river valley and hydro electric projects like PHEP, these conditions include parameters around muck/debris disposal, road construction, catchment area treatment, fuel supply to labourers, conservation efforts, etc. These conditions are to be mandatorily adhered to by the project authority and its sub contractors.
Therefore, NHPC needed to submit six monthly compliance reports to the MoEF. The Northern Region Office (NRO) of MoEF, situated at Chandigarh, needed to regularly monitor the compliance/adherence of these conditions by NHPC, along with independent field verification. However, in response to a RTI application filed by Rahul Saxena, a social activist, the response received on September 17th 2007 stated, “The thumb rule applicable to all Regional Offices of MoEF is that all projects accorded environmental clearance should be visited once a year and highly polluting industries as identified by CPCB are to be monitored twice a year. This office has/had only two field officers for inspection of projects to monitor environmental compliance conditions in our jurisdiction against sanctioned posts of four. Hence project visits are done barely once a year.” The same letter indicates towards a complete lack of procedures prescribed by MoEF for its inspecting officers.
There is ambiguity even on information about the height of the dam. According to the NHPC website, the project consists of an 85 m high concrete gravity dam across river Parbati. This stands in contradiction to the EC letter issued by MoEF which says that the height of the dam is 91m.Another interesting finding in the report has been that preliminary work for the project began before forest clearance was granted. In a letter dated 5th August, 2003, NHPC wrote to NRO that the infrastructure works for the project started on 20th July 2001. If one is to go by the admission that the forest clearance was granted on 4th September, 2001, then such construction becomes illegal since no construction can begin on a project before the forest clearance is obtained.
The report further states that despite strong observations of non-compliance by NRO, work on the project continued without any action. “Despite very strong observations by the inspecting officer of the NRO in his report of 2nd April, 2007 on issues of improper muck disposal, unregulated discharge of effluents in the natural water sources, non-provision of free fuel to labourers, etc., no action was taken by MoEF, Delhi or NRO,” it states. While NHPC repeatedly denied allegations of non-compliance, the monitoring NRO officials continued to report the complete non-compliance of some very critical conditions. For example, continued dumping in rivers and down the hill slopes was observed in monitoring reports and site visits from September 2003 onwards till April 2007), but NHPC denied all such reporting, and no action was taken.
The study notes that gross violations have been observed in MoEF’s own monitoring records and those of state agencies including HPSE, PPCB and HPFD, and have also been verified by researchers through field visits and interviews. It may be borne in mind that PHEP-II is being constructed in a highly fragile area, adjoining the Great Himalayan National Park, and if there is any truth in the findings, the project has already unleashed irreversible destruction in the area.