Union water resources minister Uma Bharti has warned against construction of new dams on river Ganga. (File photo)
Union water resources minister Uma Bharti has warned against construction of new dams on river Ganga. (File photo)

NEW DELHI: Government has set the ball rolling by taking many decisions on its ambitious clean Ganga mission but it may find it difficult to keep it moving in absence of e-flow (ecological flow) of the river. Flagging her concerns against the major culprit (hydro-power projects), the Union water resources minister Uma Bharti has asked different ministries including environment and power to take a cautious approach while allowing construction of any new dam on the river.

Her ministry is particularly against the six contentious hydro power projects in Uttarakhand which, it thinks, would severely affect the e-flow of the Ganga. Environmentalists had already pitched for scrapping of such projects that they believe may lead to another June, 2013-like disaster in the region.

Bharti even invoked a 99-year old agreement while arguing against any major construction along the river. The agreement was signed between the British government and a group of Hindu leaders, led by educationist and Banaras Hindu University (BHU) founder Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, in 1916 when it was decided to maintain uninterrupted flow of the river while constructing irrigation canals near Haridwar.

The agreement had noted that how any obstruction would affect the flow of the river and therefore may hurt sentiments of the Hindu community.

Taking note of this and many other concerns including those expressed by environmentalists, social activists and religious leaders, Bharti is learnt to have urged both the environment and power ministers not to rush with the six proposed hydro-electricity projects in Uttarakhand and instead explore options like solar energy.

The water resources ministry has argued that big dams pose major hurdles in maintaining the e-flow of the river which is important to keep it clean once the ministry gets industries and urban bodies to stop discharging untreated water into the river.

It also noted that even the zero-discharge policy can’t move unless the government ensures e-flow of the river through multiple measures.

The ministry in its note also pointed out said that these hydro power projects have either not started or under very initial stages of construction and therefore the loss to the exchequer may not be very large.

Bharti is learnt to have even agreed to pay to the companies\stakeholders from the ‘Namami’ Ganga’s kitty (Rs 20,000 crore) for the expenditure if the government decides to scrap these projects.

The ministry has argued that the installed capacity of these six proposed project is not very high. It said these power projects would in the lean season generate merely 100 to 150 MW which is quite negligible as compared to the damage it caused to the river.

Quoting the 2014 report of an expert committee, the note says the negative impacts of these hydro power projects are enormous. These projects are situated in a very fragile eco-sensitive zone area. Besides, these projects are being carried out on the basis of faulty carrying capacity study of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers and their tributaries.

The environment ministry has, meanwhile, formed an 11-member expert panel to assess the cumulative impact of hydroelectric projects on the upper reaches of the Ganga. An earlier panel, however, had already recommended scrapping of new proposed hydropower projects to save the ecologically fragile region.

The ministry would submit report of the new panel to the Supreme Court which had asked the Centre in May to clarify its stand on the stalled hydro-power projects.