<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Despite being termed as “destructive” for water resources by the union ministry, the Uttarakhand government has stuck to its zonal master plan of the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) that proposes to open up the fragile area for hydropower projects above 2 MW, mining, and roads. The last pristine stretch of Ganga flows through this ESZ.At a meeting on Thursday with the union ministry for water resources, and union ministry for environment and forest, a posse of Uttarakhand officials justified these projects and objected to water ministry’s reservations.The meeting was convened as per National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) directions which asked water resources secretary Shashi Shekhar to sit down with Uttarakhand government and environment ministry to find a way ahead on the contentious zonal master plan. Members of the ESZ expert monitoring committee and two environment ministry officials were also present during the meeting. The Tribunal is hearing a plea on effective implementation of the Bhagirathi ESZ and on compensation for victims of 2013 Uttarakhand disaster.During the meeting, Uttarakhand chief secretary S.Ramaswamy and power secretary Umakant Panwar submitted to Shashi Shekhar that they were not in agreement with the water ministry’s opposition to the hydropower projects and riverbed mining as it will hit investments. According to sources present at the meeting, Uttarakhand officials said that there was little anthropogenic pressure on the resources and even population density was low, thus making it ideal for hydropower projects.They argued that small hydropower projects are ‘white’ projects that are non polluting in nature. The state government wants Centre to allow ten hydropower projects of 82MW total capacity. In August, the environment ministry agreed to consider these projects for approval and also allowed riverbed mining up to 2m depth and road construction on steep slopes.But, DNA reported last week that these decisions were termed “disastrous” by Shashi Shekhar in a letter to the secretary, environment ministry, as they were against the provisions of the ESZ notification.Pointing out to the restrictions on road building on steep slopes and riverbed mining, the officials also said in the meeting that “special rules” were being applied to Uttarakhand, sources added. To this, expert committee member Ravi Chopra said that the restrictions were in place since the stretch of Ganga between Gaumukh and Uttar Kashi is sensitive.Responding to the state government’s submissions, water resources secretary Shashi Shekhar said that in the present form the zonal master plan is in violation of the ESZ notification and any amendments could only be done only with the approval of the union cabinet and the Parliament. Interestingly, the environment ministry, which has agreed to consider Uttarakhand government’s proposal to allow ten hydropower projects in the ESZ did not make any submission during the meeting.”The zonal master plan violates the ESZ notification and the Uttarakhand government never wanted to prepare this master plan. There is no rationale in studying the impact of hydropower projects as the notification does not allow for such kind of development,” said Mallika Bhanot, member, ESZ expert monitoring committee.
<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday directed the Union ministries of environment and water resources to sit down and resolve their differences on the issue of Zonal Master Plan for the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone. The three-member principal bench, headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar, refused to listen to the reservations of water resources ministry, and instead directed them to come back only when the issue between the two ministries was resolved.“On Monday, the ministry of water resources will be meeting with the ministry of environment and the Uttarakhand Government to clarify objections and deficiencies of the Zonal Master Plan, submitted by the state,” said justice Kumar. “In the next meeting, the matter should be finalised and the ministry of water resources should specify the way forward. The applicant will also be present in the meeting.”The directions of the bench came after counsel for water resources ministry said that they had certain objections regarding the Zonal Master Plan that need to be addressed.As per ministry sources, the revised Zonal Master Plan on Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone is simply a compilation of activities of all departments of the Uttarakhand Government rather than scientific studies.Meanwhile, Colin Gonsalves, counsel for the petitioner said to the bench that the Zonal Master Plan is actually a plan for commercial activity. Gonsalves also pointed that the secretary, union water resources ministry Shashi Shekhar has made scathing remarks regarding the Zonal Master Plan and the plans of the environment ministry to permit 10 hydropower projects in the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone.A letter written by Shekhar to his counterpart in the environment ministry, questioned the plans to consider approving 10 hydropower projects and river-bed mining up to two metres depth in the eco-sensitive zone.The projects, the secretary said, signal the impending environment disaster in the eco-sensitive zone. The Bhagirathi eco-sensitive area was notified in 2012 to protect the 100kms Gaumukh to Uttar Kashi stretch of Bhagirathi, spread across 4,179 sq kms.