New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday expressed its anxiety on lives being endangered due to hydroelectric projects and batted for sustainable models for generating electricity.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant observed: “There is a need for power and there is also need for protecting the lives of the people.”
The observation from the top court came on GMR’s application on resuming the construction of Alaknanda Hydro Electric Project in Uttarakhand, suspended since May 7, 2014, in Uttarakhand, following the 2013 flood in the region. The state government said the project is benign and it is extremely essential for a region, which has become a power deficit from power surplus.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing intervener Emmanuel Theophilus, an environmentalist in the state, opposed the construction of this project, as the project may have a harrowing impact on local livelihoods and aquatic biodiversity. He insisted the government, instead of investing in large-scale hydro projects, should explore alternative forms of energy – wind and solar.
The top court observed that it is a natural tendency of the state governments to grab projects, and maybe the government considers these projects in public interest.
The Chief Justice asked the government if it could consider relocating the power project.
The Chief Justice also queried the counsel for the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF). “You, as a national body, could look at the overall requirement, which includes power requirements and additional cost etc. Consider relocating it. Power can be transmitted across the states and countries.”
The Chief Justice cited the adverse effects of illegal sand mining in Kerala. “You know what happened in Kerala, there is something called sand mining, which eroded the bed of the river. That mud does not go down, instead, it piles up then it is a problem in Periyar River… Our anxiety is for the lives, and they should not be endangered (in hydro projects),” he said.
The top court said if it is necessary to relocate then the Centre could request the state government, as there is a larger interest to guard the interests of the people.
“We are not talking about abandoning it, instead suggesting relocating (the project).”
The counsel for GMR, however, insisted the project of national importance is lying stranded and it is in the public interest – environmentally and economically.
The counsel for the private parties, involved in hydro projects in the state, said the idea of relocation may not succeed. The state government counsel reiterated it was a power surplus, but not anymore.
Bhushan contended that wind and solar efficiency is increasing, and the usage of energy-efficient devices is also increasing, therefore, the state government should explore wind energy and solar energy. Citing the usage of renewable energy, the Chief Justice suggested: “This thermal power plant should be stopped, you cannot breathe in that city.”
The top court also emphasized on adopting energy models which comply with principles of sustainable development. The MoEF has insisted that the entire Ganga River Basin is a seismic zone and no adverse construction should be carried out to make it unstable. The top court has asked the MoEF to file a detailed reply and adjourned the matter for four weeks.