Following the decision of Group of Ministers, the union government has scrapped three big hydel projects — Loharinag Pala, Bhairon Ghati and Pala- Maneri on holy river Ganga. While work is yet to begin on the 381-Mw Bhairon Ghati and 480-Mw Pala Maneri projects, considerable work has already been done at NTPC's 600-Mw Loharinag Pala.
The government also decided to declare the natural course of the Ganga in 135 km stretch from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand as India’s first “eco-sensitive” zone on a major river. This will ensure that this stretch of the river cannot be disturbed for any projects.
“No development projects except those in local villages will be allowed,” said a government official after the meeting of National Ganga Basin River Authority chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The decision comes after Environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s assurance to religious gurus and environment experts that river Ganga will be allowed to run its natural flow in the 135-km stretch. The non-official members of the Authority have been advocating that no dams — small or big — be allowed on the river.
The PM was also apprised of various steps taken to reduce pollution levels in river Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.
A Group of Ministers earlier this year had shelved the Rs 2,000-crore Loharinag Pala project following protests. The hydropower project on Ganga in Uttarkashi district is under development on the upstream path of the river, 45 km from Gangotri. It was cleared by environment ministry in 2005.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal had sought compensation of free power of 2,000 MW in lieu of scrapped project and funds for preserving the eco-system. The PM agreed to give 2,000 MW of power from the Central government’s pool to Uttarakhand but not for free sewage treatment plants (STPs).
World Bank's proposal for $1billion loan for Ganga cleaning was also discussed. The environment ministry estimates it will require $4 billion to implement the project.
The meeting was attended by Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh, and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, among others.