Why Environmental Clearance for Ganga Waterway has Been Delayed 14 Times?
Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river systems are not on the list of projects that need prior environmental clearance, raising concerns among the environmentalist in India
Announced in July 2014, Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) for National Waterway 1 lies on the Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river systems. The completion of this project is scheduled for December 2023. However, the Ganga waterway and river systems are not included in the list of projects that need prior environmental clearance, which it is highly concerning for the environmentalists.
A group of environmentalists has even filed a petition against inland waterways that are not part of the environmental clearance. However, documents analysed by IndiaSpend showed that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) have postponed the case for environmental clearance of Ganga and other rivers 14 times.
In 2014-15, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented the budget. During the session, he also announced the need for the project to raise the capacity of vessels plying across the Ganga by up to 1,500 tonnes.
The NGT and the MoEF&CC – the two major institutions commissioned to safeguard the nation’s environment, have been debating since 2015, whether or not this project needs environmental clearance. However, activities suggest that these inland waterways need an environmental clearance due to the practice of dredging on the rivers.
EIA Notification of 2006
Around 111 inland waterways have been declared by India as the ‘National Waterways’ under the National Waterways Act, 2016. The NGT has considered the serious environmental impacts on the waterways due to these projects. However, they are still debating whether or not a legally binding impact assessment under the 2006 EIA Notification is significant. Based on that, the decision for the case of the Ganga waterway would become a precedent for various projects on inland waterways.
According to many experts, an amendment is crucial for the EIA Notification 2006. The authorities have to make environmental clearance essential for the inland waterway projects in the interest of environmental sustainability.
No Environmental Clearance for Ganga waterway
The EIA Notification 2006, as altered from time to time, states the type of projects or activities that need prior environment clearance. As per the prescribed process, an EIA report needs data collection for environmental baseline over a period of time, as well as via the public hearings.
After that, it’s approved by the Expert Appraisal Committee at the Union or state government level. The project proponent then submits the compliance report that’s further accessed by the public. However, things are not working as planned.
In 2018, the NGT directed the authorities to constitute a committee for examining the matter. The Supreme Court authorized the ministry to report and file objections. The case went back to the NGT on January 10, 2020. Now, the MoEF&CC again has to submit a report within three months while consulting the ecological experts.
Since then, the NGT’s Principal Bench has addressed the case 16 times and delayed it 14 times. The NGT has twice given the reminder to the MoEF&CC for report submission and mentioned that ministry has just ignored the issue for an agonizingly long time.
Environmental impact of the project
The Jal Marg Vikas Project aims to build the fairway for providing around 1.5–3 metres of depth and 30-45 metres of width clearance. However, it is one of the siltiest riverine systems across the world as this fairway sees periodical dredging of mud, as per the required depth and clearance. However, the dredging and associated works have the potential to adversely impact the environment of the system and the lives of people residing near the rivers.
Furthermore, the project needs the construction of jetties, terminals, freight villages, and so on – all of which are likely to cause water pollution due to the release of heavy metals, like arsenic and various other bio-contaminants. Aside from impacting the lives on the land, it will also affect the marine creatures. For instance, underwater noises will impact the wave action of fishes and other creatures.
Therefore, NGT needs to imply environmental clearance to inland waterways in the country, including the Ganga waterway.
Via: Business Standard