New Delhi: Clearing the decks for the Lower Subansiri hydroelectric project on the Assam- Arunachal Pradesh border, NGT on Wednesday dismissed a plea seeking reconstitution of the Environment Ministry committee which was set up to study the project.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said it not found any material on record justifying the plea of “bias” with regard to the existing committee on the 2000 MW project.
“The EAC has conducted the appraisal. The competent Authority has agreed with the same. The mere association of organisations with the project in a professional capacity is not enough to hold that any expert who worked in such association will have an institutional bias,” said the bench also comprising Justices S P Wangdi and K Ramakrishnan.
It is not the case of the applicant that any of the experts have any “pecuniary interest or personal interest”, NGT said. “Pre-disposition which may disable a person from going into the merits may also be bias but no such predisposition has been shown. The plea of the applicant is farfetched. Moreover, the present Committee has only a recommendatory role. There is a safeguard of further evaluation by experts. The project is to advance the public interest,” it said.
The tribunal was hearing pleas filed by activists Aabhijeet Sharma and Guwahati-based Tularam Gogoi seeking directions to reconstitute the expert committee on the ground of bias. The committee comprises Prabhas Pande, Engineer in Geology, I D Gupta, Seismologist and PM Scott, Hydrologist from North-East. The plea challenged the constitution of the committee with the objection that Gupta had been consulted by the earlier Project Oversight Committee and Scott was a Member of Brahmaputra Board and his inclusion will result in a conflict of interest.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), in an affidavit filed before the NGT, said the names of the experts were finalised by the ministry in consultation with Ministry of Earth Sciences, Central Water Commission and they are from fields of Seismology, Geology and Hydrology. They did not suffer from any bias and were experts in the field, it said. National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited also opposed the prayer by stating that the members of the expert committee are highly qualified and there was no basis for attributing any bias to them.
NHPC said: “The cost of the project as assessed in December 2002 was Rs 6,285.33 crore. Due to delay, the cost has already gone to Rs 18,000 crore. A sum of Rs 9,610 has already been invested. 50 per cent of the work has been completed till December 2011. Each day delay was causing a loss of Rs 10 crore. The project has been duly cleared by all the statutory authorities and is for flood moderation and electricity generation which is to promote the public interest.” An NHPC official said it will now take a three-and-a-half year to build this project and start the generation. Subansiri Lower Hydro Electric Project has been set up by NHPC over the river Subansiri at Assam, Arunachal Pradesh border to generate 2000 MW of power.
Environment Clearance for the project was given by the MoEF in the year 2003. The EC was subject to certain conditions, including the ecological flow downstream of the river Subansiri.
The tribunal on October 16, 2017, in a detailed judgement, noted that neither the project nor the EC was under challenge and the only challenge was to safety and downstream impact in the course of operation of the project.
“Having regard to the sensitive location and the precautionary and the sustainable development principles, the tribunal had directed the MoEF to constitute a committee of three Expert Members to give their opinion with regard to the Terms of Reference for which Project Oversight Committee was constituted,” it said.