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‘Flawed’ EIA notification behind death of most rivers

Serious flaws in the Environment Impact Assessment Notification (EIA) 2006 have killed most of the rivers of the country, environmentalists opined.

The 2006 notification that makes mandatory prior environmental clearance (EC) for various categories of projects require only the hydroelectric power projects and command area projects (irrigation systems) on river valleys to secure prior EC, while exempting all other structures on or along a river valley from seeking such ecological clearance.

The mesh of bridges across various rivers in several cities and towns of the country, coupled with strings of roads, highways and expressways have come up along the river systems as a result of their exclusion from the ambit of river valley projects(category 1(c)) seeking prior EC as per the notification.
Unbridled permanent constructions have also mushroomed on the riverbeds and floodplains of almost all rivers in the country as they had remained outside the purview of river-valley projects requiring EC under the 2006 environment notification.

The Uttarakhand disaster, in which the concrete structures, debris and other erections were washed off, is also attributed to the lack of their inclusion in the spectrum of projects requiring EC. Manoj Misra, a retired IFS officer, now steering the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan campaign, said, ‘EIA Notification 2006 is an absurd legal framework that does not view river as an ecosystem but just a water body meant only to be used. The notification assumes that only hydro projects or command area projects have a bearing on the river system whereas all other structures like bridges, roads, highways or expressways do not have any environmental impact on the river.’

‘The Uttarakhand episode was a direct consequence of this. The disaster could have been averted had the environment assessment of those structures on the riverbed would have done. But the ministry has not been realising this,’ he said.

‘Bridges cause serious havoc on the natural ecosystem of rivers. The Eastern National Highways in Odisha got washed off in 2008 as it obstructed the natural drainage system and was raised without any environment assessment,’ Misra added.

Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said, ‘We have written to the government at least ten times on this. There is no sense excluding such projects from the EIA. Even embankments, river linking projects have profound environmental fall-outs. Besides, all hydro projects above 1 MW (presently more than 25 MW need EC) need to be brought under EIA as they may displace a huge local population.’

Amid rising clamour for the inclusion of bridges, roads, highways, expressways and all kinds of constructions on river valley projects within the EIA framework, the environment ministry quelled off any move to bring about changes in the 2006 notification in the immediate future.

‘Including such activities in the EIA is direly needed but it is yet to be done. We would take it up with the minister and take it for action soon,’ said a top official of the national river conservation directorate in the environment ministry.
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