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Opposition to Modi's "pet" dam proposed in Uttarakhand gains momentum amidst "fake" environmental public hearing

By Our Representative
As the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on the for River Valley Projects, under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), deliberated on the proposed Pancheshwar project in Uttarakhand as the world's second highest dam on Tuesday, a group dissenting protestors outside insisted, they too should be heard.
Talking with media persons, Vimal Bhai of Matu Jan Sangathan, which has been in the forefront in the campaign against the dam, said, "We are here to ask how the committee will take a decision in 45 minutes about a project on which Rs 40,000 crore are going to be spent, and which is going to determine the fate of 50,000 people in two countries -- India and Nepal."
"Several affected communities, environmental groups, and people's organizations have sent in written objections voicing serious concerns over the the 5040 MW Pancheshwar multipurpose project", said Vimal Bhai.
The EAC at its meeting is said to have discussed on how quickly to provide environment clearance for the project.
The scoping clearance for the dam, in the pipeline for decades ,was granted in October 2016. While the EAC in May 2017 seemed to raise some environmental issues, even set up a joint Indo-Nepal mechanism for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), it reversed its decision, apparently under political pressure, on the ground that it would "unnecessarily" delay the project.
"Since then it has become clear that the MoEFCC, the state administration, and the project proponents are in a rush to push the project", said Vimal Bhai.
Added Shankar Kharayat of the Mahakali ki Awaaz, another people's organization opposed to the project, "The project-affected villages in this part of Uttarakhand lack proper road connectivity and are suffer from landslides during monsoon. Yet, they held a public hearing for the project in August, in monsoon, when it was difficult for the affected people to reach the public hearing venue."
Said Kharayat, "There was lack of availability of complete information about the project, including relevant documents (EIA report in Hindi, executive summary in Hindi and Social Impact Assessment Report in Hindi), as well as lack of clarity about the objective of the public consultation process."
Informed sources estimated, 31,000 families would be adversely impacted by the project that would also submerge 11,600 hectares (ha) of land in 134 villages on the Uttarakhand side alone. Additionally, three districts of Nepal are going to be impacted.
Already, hundreds of people have protested against the earlier three public consultations that were organized in closed premises in Champawat, Pithoragarh, and Almora district headquarters. Very few people could make their submissions, and yet the written submissions alone go well into 650 plus pages.
"People made oral testimonies, which did not come on record even", said Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), who has in his submission critiqued the "shoddy" EIA study done by Government of India consultants, WAPCOS.
The Pancheshwar dam on Mahakali river is a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been singing its paeans at various fora at a time when the hydropower sector is in a massive slump. As many as 13 projects are being considered for a bailout package of Rs 26,000 crore due to their financial unviability, especially in the Himalayan region.
It is being undertaken despite the massive Kedarnath tragedy four years ago, which led experts to point towards the fragile ecology and geology of the Himalayas, which has been tampered with by large-scale construction and development activities.

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