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NGO demands to stop work on weir across Narmada river, begun "without environmental clearance"

By Our Representative
In a strongly worded letter to the secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, top Gujarat-based environmental body Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) has demanded that “immediately” should be taken to “stop the construction of Garudeshwar weir”, being constructed across the Narmada river, about 12 km downstream of the Narmada dam. Citing a letter written by a senior official attached with the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), responsible for giving clearances to the Narmada project, the PSS states, the work on the weir has begun “without any social or environmental impact assessment, public consultation and environmental clearance from the environmental sub-group (ESG) of NCA.”
“This is very clear if one looks closely at the letter dated March 24, 2013 written by senior member Shekhar Singh of the ESG of NCA to its chairperson Dr V Rajagopalan, secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India. Singh has expressed surprise over Gujarat government’s decision to start work for the construction of the Garudeshwar weir without obtaining necessary environment and social impact assessment and clearance from the ESG of NCA”, Rohit Prajapati and Lakhan Musafir, who have signed the letter, say.
Singh has been quoted as saying that “Garudeshwar weir, to be built 12 km downstream of the Narmada dam with a live storage capacity of 32.9 million cubic meters (MCM), is a component of the Sardar Sarovar Project, as was envisaged by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979”. Singh adds, “However, as far as I recollect, the environmental and social impacts of construction and operation of Garudeshwar weir (GW) have never been brought before the ESG of NCA,” Prajapati states.
Singh further states that, in his estimation, “the construction and operation of the weir will have significant social and environmental impacts, since it will entail a reservoir of about 12 km in length and unknown width and submergence area. The weir will have the potential of affecting the fisheries in the immediately surrounding areas and also of affecting the downstream river and its biodiversity, and other related aspects. This is especially because the weir will control the flow of water and silt downstream.”
He adds, “However, I do not know whether there has been a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the GW and its contribution to the cumulative impact of all the projects and activities in the area. And if there has been, I do not believe that this has been put up to the ESG for its approval.”
At the end of the letter, Singh demands, “If this is correct, I find this problematic as ESG has not yet cleared the construction of this weir. Under the circumstance, I urge you to:
"(1) Ask the Government of Gujarat (GoG) to immediately stop construction of the weir. All other activities related to the GW should also be stopped.
"(2) Ask Government of Gujarat/ Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) to submit the full feasibility report, environment and social impact assessment report including impacts during construction and operation of the GW to the ESG and seek clearance of the ESG for this work.
"(3) Ask Gujarat government not to start any work in this regard till the ESG clears this.”
In view of the “above facts on record”, the PSS has demanded that the Gujarat government should “immediately stop construction of the Garudeshwar weir, stop all activities other activities related to the weir, ask the SSNNL to submit the full feasibility report, environment and social impact assessment report, including impacts during construction and operation of the weir to the ESG after due public hearing process in the affected area.” A copy of the letter has also been sent to the chief secretary, Gujarat government, and principal secretary, environment and forests, Gujarat government.

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