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Hydro projects to get faster environmental clearances

New Delhi: Large hydro power projects held up for want of clearances would get a leg-up soon. The Planning Commission and the Union ministry of environment & forests have reached an informal understanding that the projects found to have little potential for environmental damage under preliminary assessments can be allowed to take off without waiting for more comprehensive studies of the whole basin.

Confirming this to FE, Planning Commission member BK Chaturvedi said broader studies often took too long and made projects commercially unviable.

A fourth of India’s planned expansion in generation capacity is in hydro power. While there is already a huge slippage on the generation targets set for the current Five Year Plan—the target was revised from 78,700 mw to 62,000 mw—the hydro segment is one where a large number of projects have hit the environmental hurdle.

Chaturvedi said faster clearances would enable the government to meet the 12th Plan target. Under the next Plan, the power ministry aims to add 30,000 mw of hydro capacity with Rs 1,50,000 crore.

In a meeting last week, the ministry and the commission decided that in-principle approvals be given to hydro projects for the 12th Plan period on a priority basis.

Over 13 projects with a combined capacity of 3,990 mw are awaiting environmental clearances. Most are based in Arunachal Pradesh, HP and Uttarakhand.

Chaturvedi said a broad approach was expected from the environment ministry, under which larger basin studies could continue even after grant of in-principle nods. Such studies would help assess the potential of the hydro power sector to contribute to the sector’s capacity addition programme.

Concerned about the large number of projects held up due to environmental concerns, the prime minister had formed a panel headed by Chaturvedi to find ways to appropriately address these concerns. The idea is to ascertain how best the adverse environmental impacts are mitigated without putting so many projects in jeopardy. It is important to ensure that the procedures do not lead to undue delays and the studies come to conclusion quickly. It also needs to be ensured that if a forest area is affected, its impact is minimised through afforestation. Chaturvedi said environmental concerns needs to be balanced out, given the country’s energy requirements. The hydro power target for the 11th Plan was 15,627 mw, but it is now estimated that the actual capacity during the period would be some 8,000 mw.

“The green signal form the environment ministry can make funding of these projects easier. Greater clarity on clearances will make them commercially viable and their financial closures would be achieved sooner,” said Sombitosh Mahopatra, executive director at PwC.

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