Failure to explain environmental compliance off Narmada: Green tribunal's fresh concession to Gujarat govt
|Women protest against the weir next to the Narmada river|
The National Green Tribunal (NGT), India’s powerful quasi-judicial environmental watchdog, has agreed to a Gujarat government plea for “more time” to replay to the case filed by senior environmentalist Rohit Prajapati demanding immediate stay on the construction of Garudeshwar weir, which he has alleged is being constructed without complying with the environmental protection Act, 1985, not to talk of going into formalities such as taking a nod of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA). The weir is proposed as part of the effort to turn downstream areas of Narmada dam into a tourism spot, even as providing water to industries in the belt around Ankaleshwar and Bharuch.
In a statement, Prajapati has said, the very fact that the Gujarat government had to seek more time suggests that the state officialdom “is not in a position to give any clear cut explanation / information whether Garudeshwar Weir has environment clearance or not or under which law of the land or notification or permission the construction of Garudeshwar Weir is going on”.
Prajapati added, “This reflects the so-called efficient administration of the Government of Gujarat. Not just today but to provide such information about environment clearance and issues raised by us in our petition Government of Gujarat needs two month time to prepare the reply. That clearly indicate that even prima-facie all is not well with Garudeshwar Weir and there are lots of problem with legality of the ongoing of Garudeshwar Weir."
The NGT order allows the state government to submit its reply by April 17. This was for the second time that the government sought more time and was allowed. Earlier, on January 31, the NTG allowed the state government to file its reply by February 25. However, the government failed to do so. The petition alleged that the weir would lead to the submergence of 11 villages -- Garudeshwar, Gabhana, Kevadia, Vagadia, Navagam, Limdi, Gora, Vasaantpura, Mota Piparia, Nana Piparia and Indravarna, directly or indirectly affecting 11,000 villagers.
The petition is based on the fact that the original Narmada Project got permission in 1987 but did not “concretely envisage” the weir, not did it include assessment of social or environmental impacts of the weir. Random land acquisitions for the weir first took place in 1991 in the submergence areas of the Garudeshwar weir” but “substantial acquisition” took place over the last one decade.
In March 2012, the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), implementing the Narmada project, handed over contract of the weir to Ritwik Project Limited for Rs 299 crore and in September 2013 the work for the weir began. The petition is based on a letter by Shekhar Singh of the NCA to the Union ministry of environment and forests, which says that environmental and social impact for the construction of the Garudeshwar weir had not been taken, hence the weir cannot be constructed.
Singh, in his letter had also warned against potential adverse effect on fisheries in the upstream and downstream areas, and also impact on biodiversity of the area. Meanwhile, the state government kept saying that the Garudeshwar weir was part of the Narmada Project or it was a separate project altogether. It said, the Narmada Project has a relief and rehabilitation package which is not applicable to the Garudeshwar dam affected villagers.
A senior activist said: “If they were part of the Narmada Project they would have been offered this package. When they protested, a high level committee meeting took place on October 10, 2013 of the Government of Gujarat which included various ministers from the cabinet and concerned bureaucrats and a new relief and rehabilitation policy was formulated for affected people of the Garudeshwar weir.”
The activist further said, “The Garudeshwar weir is part of the power component of Narmada Project in which Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra share is 57 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively, both in cost and benefit. The implementation of the Garudeshwar weir cannot be taken up without express consent from these states. The two states have not agreed to the weir, and have refused to part with the cost of the share.”