The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has refused to consider two Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) projects in Buldhana, Maharashtra, for environmental clearance for violating EIA Notification (2006) and Environment (Protection) Act 1986.
During its meeting on March 22 and 23 for granting terms of reference, EAC found that construction work at VIDC’s Ar-Kacheri and Alegaon larger minor irrigation projects had started without environmental clearance. Work was stopped after residents resorted to agitation. During discussions, VIDC admitted starting construction without the clearance.
Together, both the projects would submerge 436 hectares of forest, and irrigated and cultivated land. Eighty per cent of the land under submergence is cultivated and irrigated by groundwater. However, according to the projects’ pre-feasibility reports (PFR), they will not cause submergence or affect people. The EAC pointed out: “In both the projects, in PFR Chapter VIII on submergence, the population affected has been shown as ‘Nil’. But it cannot be so since private land will be affected. This should be corrected.” Alegaon project is only 1.75 km from the core boundary of Melghat Tiger Reserve while Ar-Kacheri is 4.75 km away. The projects had received stop work order from the forest department in 2012.
Prior to the meeting, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), a non-profit working in water-related issues, had demanded EAC to set up an enquiry into the violations and asked the officials responsible for it to be held accountable before considering any clearance. Agreeing that the violations have taken place, the EAC directed the project proponent “to submit an affidavit with an undertaking not to execute works without obtaining environmental clearance and furnish photographs of the site from all four sides of the project”.
The state government will have to take necessary legal action against the violations as per the Environment Protection Act. In case of serious violations, MoEF reserves the right to reject the projects altogether.
Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of SANDRP, alleges that even as the white paper on irrigation projects points fingers at green clearances as one of the reasons for time and cost overruns of irrigations projects in Maharashtra, the functioning of water resource department itself has been responsible for these delays and irregularities. “All irrigation development corporations in Maharashtra have been breaking this law with impunity. This was observed in case of Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation for several projects, Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation for numerous lift Irrigation schemes on Ujani and Vidarbha Development Corporation for Lower Painganga Project,” he says. With this decision, there is hope that VIDC and other irrigation development corporations in Maharashtra will become less callous about issues relating to environment and affected communities, he adds.