Give faster clearances to hydropower projects: parliament panel

  • Expressing concern over slow pace of green clearances to hydropower projects, a parliamentary panel has now asked the Indian government to streamline and fast track the process of green clearances given by the environment ministry.
  • The parliamentary committee also called for the creation of a special cell to monitor and expedite the hydropower projects related cases in the Supreme Court of India and the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
  • The committee also recommended that all renewable power projects irrespective of their size should be declared as renewable power projects.

Calling for an increase in efficiency and speed of environmental clearances and better coordination among ministries, a parliamentary committee has pushed for the development of the hydropower sector in India which, it notes, has not got the deserved attention despite “having numerous benefits”.

The report by parliament’s standing committee on energy was presented in January 2019 and examines the issues leading to the “slow pace” of the hydropower sector. The panel observed that having only 45,399.22 MW of installed capacity of hydropower against the total potential of 241,844 megawatt “speaks volumes”.

As per the data of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), at present, the hydropower sector accounts for about 13 percent (45,399.22 MW) of India’s total installed power capacity (thermal, nuclear, hydro and renewables) of 349,288.22 MW. In 1947, when India got independence, it had a total of 508.13 MW of hydropower installed.

The parliamentary panel observed that the hydropower is “clean, green, sustainable and also a cheap source of power in the long run” and has a long, useful life. For instance, it noted that some projects like Bhakra in Himachal Pradesh are in operation for last 50 years while some others like Pykara, Mettur Dam in Tamil Nadu, Pallivasal in Kerala and Karnataka’s Sivasamudram projects are in existence for more than 70-80 years now.

The panel also observed that hydropower projects generate employment for local people in remote and lesser developed areas and also provide incidental benefits like development of road/rail, telecommunications, electrification, industrialisation and improvement of the quality of life which leads to overall development of the area.

The committee led by Bharatiya Janata Party’s member of parliament Hari Babu Kambhampati stated that “there is a need to strike a balance between the development and the environment as both are important for the country”. It recommended that hydropower projects should be seen in a broader perspective and a considered view may be taken while granting various clearances.

Push to declare hydropower projects as renewable energy projects

As per the present policy of the central government, hydropower projects above 25 MW capacity are not considered renewable power projects. But in the past few years, the demand to recognise hydropower projects above 25 MW capacity as renewable projects as well, has gained momentum.

On this, the committee said it found “no logic behind segregation of hydropower into renewable energy and conventional energy on the basis of its capacity”.

“It had been learnt that hydropower is a clean and green source of energy and as compared to the conventional thermal power source, have negligible carbon footprints. The greenhouse gas emissions from Hydro Power is 4-10 gram CO2/kWh which is even lesser than that from solar power (38 Gram CO2/kWh). Even, the ministry of power, in regard to such segregation of hydropower on the basis of its capacity have stated that all hydro projects are traditionally renewable in nature,” said the report.

Himachal Pradesh-based researcher- activist, Manshi Asher, said the narrative that big hydropower dams, which are being built in the geologically fragile region, are renewable projects, has already been broken.

“Private players are not even interested in pursuing hydropower projects. Numerous problems during the construction phase of such projects in Himalayas are well documented. There are also studies that indicate that one of every four hydropower projects in the Himalayas are prone to getting damaged by landslides. There are also protests and court cases from local people, which are often cited as reasons of delay, indicate that the impacts are real. What needs to be considered and acknowledged is that the landscapes where they are planned are socially and environmentally challenging,” Asher of Himdhara Collective, an environment research and action group, told Mongabay-India.

Hydropower projects in Himalayas often run into controversy due to social or environmental issues. Photo by Lingaraj G.J./Flickr(Creative Commons).

The panel observed that land acquisition for hydropower projects is becoming difficult day by day, is “time-consuming and fraught with many uncertainties.”

It noted that district administration plays a key role in resolution of issues related to “land acquisition and R&R (Rehabilitation and Resettlement)” and expects that the administration, where the hydro power projects/potential lies, will expedite the matter of land acquisition and R&R process to provide a fair deal to the affected people while fast tracking the hydropower projects.

Give faster green clearances to hydro projects

One of the major issues holding back the development of the hydropower sector is the slow pace of environmental and related clearances.

The committee’s report said that three types of clearances, environment, forest and wildlife, from three different wings of the union environment ministry are needed and that makes the “whole process very cumbersome which otherwise would be easier and less time consuming.”

It said that there is a “need to strike a balance between the development and the environment as both are important for the country” and want “hydropower projects be developed only after due consideration and assessing their impact on the environment and ecological system”.

However, the committee said, during such consideration, the “net effect” of hydropower projects to the environment should be taken into account, highlighting that the net effect these projects has always been positive for the surroundings in terms of groundwater recharge, flourishing of flora and fauna, flood mitigation, availability of water for various purposes, etc.

“Also, more power from hydro projects means less dependence on fossil fuel based power plants which emit pollutants to the environment. The committee, therefore, desires that the hydropower projects should not be seen as just any other development projects,” said the panel’s report.

The power ministry told the committee that they are in discussion with the environment ministry to streamline the process of environment and forest clearances.

The parliamentary committee wants all hydropower projects to be recognised as renewable power projects. Photo by Jaydantara/Wikimedia Commons.

The committee was also informed by the central government that the “environment clearance regime for hydro projects after 1970s has also become increasingly stringent due to world-wide focus on environmental, ecological and R&R issues, and consequent activism against the development of hydro projects by NGOs/environmental activists,” referring specifically to the Narmada Bachao Abhiyaan by Medha Patekar, Chipko Movement of Sunderlal Bahuguna and Silent Valley protests.

The power ministry also told the panel that such activism led to “widespread delays in development of hydro projects like Indira Sagar, Sardar Sarovar, Tehri etc.” and also led to cancellation of multilateral funding in projects like Sardar Sarovar (1450 MW), Upper Indravati (600 MW), Sharavathy TR (240 MW) and Kalinadi-2 (120 MW) and non-tie-up of World Bank loan in respect of others like Indira Sagar Project (1000 MW).

The committee further said that to “avoid issues related to ecology and environmental-flow issue as faced in some states,” hydropower projects should be identified and planned on the basis of “river basin studies instead of developing them in isolation”.

It also praised the Himachal Pradesh government for harnessing its hydropower potential while observing that against the potential of 23,500 MW, the state has already developed the capacity of 10,547 MW while 1,885 MW capacity is under construction and 9,136 MW capacity is under the stage of clearances and investigation leaving only 1,364 MW for allocation.

The committee said that “due to the keen and friendly approach of the state government of Himachal Pradesh towards the development of hydropower, they are having surplus power and earning additional revenue by exporting it”. It recommended that the central government should “encourage other states having hydropower potential to emulate Himachal model as this will not only help the nation to optimally harness the hydropower potential in the country but also bring prosperity to these states.”

The committee also enquired about concerns raised regarding geological disturbances at the project and the measures taken to ensure the safety of the dams from seismic activities. On this, the power ministry told the panel that “since no dam failure has been reported in the country after 1983, apprehension expressed on the safety concern of dam due to earthquake based on earlier incidents of dam failures, may not be well founded.”


Banner image: The parliament panel wants faster clearances for hydropower projects. Photo by Yelaya jyothi/Wikimedia Commons.

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