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Pending wildlife clearance risks Koldam HEP commissioning

Mrinalini Prasad ,  Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 12:20 Hrs  [IST]

Koldam HEPPending clearance from National Board of Wildlife to NTPC’s 800-mw Koldam hydroelectric project is hindering project implementation. The project, located in Himachal Pradesh, is in advanced stages of completion is expected to be commissioned during 2014. However, with the pending clearance it will not be possible for the utility to impound the reservoir, which is critical to project commissioning. Impounding was scheduled to start in September this year.

The construction activities on the Koldam project were initiated based on the diversion of 954.69 ha of forest land by environment ministry to NTPC in November 2000. During survey and demarcation of the area, forest department informed NTPC that 124.054 ha of forest land falls in Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary. The matter was discussed with Himachal government and based on their advice, NTPC submitted proposal for diversion of forest land falling in Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary before Central Empowered Committee (CEC) during Dec 2008. CEC advised NTPC to get the approval of State Wildlife Board, which was obtained by State Forest department and its recommendations were forwarded to National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) in May 2010.

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The 800-mw Koldam HEP represents NTPC’s diversification into hydropower generation. NTPC had also planned to develop the 600-mw Loharinag Pala HEP in Uttarakhand. The project was shelved in 2010, even after significant capital expenditure was made, following protests on environmental and even religious grounds. Another project underway is the 520-mw Tapovan Vishnugad HEP in Uttarakhand. NTPC also has a subsidiary NTPC Hydro Ltd (NHL), which undertakes smaller projects, with installed capacity of up to 250 mw. NHL is currently implementing two projects – Lata Tapovan Stage III (171 mw, Uttarakhand) and Rammam Stage III (120 mw, Sikkim and West Bengal).
The Standing Committee of NBWL in its meeting in October 2010 considered the proposal and rejected it on the ground that large numbers of trees are getting submerged. Since substantial progress on Koldam Project had already been made, NTPC approached the environment ministry for re-consideration of the proposal. Accordingly, the environment ministry advised NTPC to calculate the area and corresponding trees that can be saved in different scenarios if dam height reduced by 2m, 3m and 4m respectively.

Koldam HEPA joint survey was done which revealed that no substantial saving in submergence area and trees would accrue by considering dam height reduction. Based on the findings of the Joint Survey revised proposal, seeking clearance for the entire area was submitted to the State Forest department in March 2011. State forest department in their recommendations to environment ministry in March 2012 observed that no construction activities or felling of trees or displacement of people is envisaged in the area under reference and the trees to be submerged are mostly bushes, shrubs and fast growing spices. Accordingly, State department recommended the proposal to accord approval for diversion of 124.054 ha of forest land falling in Majathal wildlife sanctuary. However, State government’s proposal was considered by Standing Committee of NBWL on in March 2013 and the proposal was rejected again.

NTPC has requested power ministry to intervene and resolve the matter at the earliest. The utility argued that it has not defaulted in taking clearance of wildlife area before commencement of project activities. Now, almost all the activities of the project have been completed with investment of around Rs.5,400 crore and impounding of the reservoir is scheduled to start in September 2013 for project commissioning during 2014.
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