GUWAHATI, July 16 - It’s a paean to the Ganga and its tributaries by a Government that also should have sung paean to the Brahmaputra once it got elected. But that did not happen. The Government, which secured the votes of the north-easterners, particularly the people of Assam with a high-voltage anti-mega dam gimmick in 2014, has been singing paeans to the Ganga and its tributaries by saying – “The River Ganga is India’s identity, basis for universal faith and source of livelihood to more than 50 crore people”– before the Supreme Court of India.
But, at the same time, this Government has been leaving no stone unturned to make the entire world believe that sanctity of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries is not a significant matter for the Indian civilisation and that the river has nothing to do with the survival of the people in this part of the globe.
On top of this, it is also trying to impress upon the people of the NE region, particularly those of Assam, that the over 160 dams being constructed on the tributaries of the Brahmaputra are going to address the nagging problem of flood, which in fact is not based on facts.
The Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation while making its submission before the Apex Court in Civil Appeal No 6736 of 2013, stated that hydroelectricity generation has been given priority on the ground that tariffs are low and these HEPs (hydroelectric projects) provide for peaking power.
The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has estimated 9,000 MWs and planned 70 odd HEPs in Uttarakhand. However, the way these projects have been planned they raise big questions regarding the carrying capacity of the rivers. The adequacy of e-flow, longitudinal integrity of the river/streams and tributaries and competing needs of the society for water needs, and above all the wholesomeness and rejuvenation of Ganga have not been taken into account while estimating the “potential,” said the Union Ministry.
It further stated that reduction in river flow and break in its longitudinal connectivity caused by storage/ diversion structures have resulted in decline of biodiversity, fisheries, groundwater levels, soil fertility and waste assimilation capacity of the river.
Now, let us examine what stand has been adopted by the Union Government in the three cases related to the NE HEPs, in which the respondents include the Union Ministry of Power, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, Government of Assam, National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and the Brahmaputra Board. Except the Brahmaputra Board, the other respondents have submitted their detailed replies to the plaints.
Senior engineer Pradip Bhuyan, the plaintiff in two of these cases, has stated that the issue of the above affidavit of the Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation was raised by him and Abhijit Sarma, who has challenged the Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Power Project (LSHEP), in the Kolkata-based Eastern Zone Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). But none of the respondents have made any reply to this point.
“Union Government merely seeks unfettered/unhindered flow of the three main constituents – Bhagirathi, Alakananda and Mandakini for a flowing Ganga. For us, it is a corollary, --- for the Brahmaputra to flow unfettered / unhindered. The peaking HEPs that would hold up water for 20 hours, and would thus throttle the Brahmaputra, must be scrapped and replaced by naturally flowing Base-load HEPs’, Bhuyan said.