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Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Let the elephants be, alter powerlines, says SC panel


NEW DELHI, FEBRUARY 18: Even as work commenced on the Tehri dam, a committee set up by the Supreme Court in November 2001 to study the impact of a 800 mw transmission line of the project on Rajaji National Park, recommended today that the power line be shifted eastwards, close to the Haridwar-Dehradun Road, to exclude the elephant habitat.

This corridor is already highly disturbed with two highways, two railway lines, three existing power lines, and industries such as the BHEL and IDPL.

The committee, charged with the task of exploring the possibility of an alternate route with least impact on the National Park, however, noted, ‘‘The length of the power line has already been built right up to the entry point on the north and south side.They added that, ‘‘Therefore, the situation is fiat accompli.’’

The 800 MW power-line will carry electricity from the Tehri Dam cutting through 36 kilometres of Rajaji Park, one of the country’s richest elephant habitats. There is a controversy surrounding the hydel project because on the one hand there lies a forest rich in its bio-diversity and on the other power lines will transmit 2,400 MW of power to Uttar Pradesh, a power-deficient state. The committee studied four alternate routes and came to the conclusion that the one originally suggested had to be modified a little to minimise damage to the Park.

The other three considered were either through the core area of the park, involved defence land, or meant disrupting an area of rich bio-diversity with rare wildlife. Local non-governmental organisations had recently alleged that nearly five lakh trees would be cut for the transmission lines.

‘‘The original plan had 90,000 trees. The exact estimates of trees that will be cut in the modified plan is still to be given,’’ said S.C. Sharma, Additional Director General (forests), Ministry of Environment and Forests. Although the Central Government had given permission in 1997, it revoked the order in June 2001 taking into account the damage it would cause to the flora and fauna of the Rajaji National Park. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had referred to the February 2000 SC order that prohibits removal of trees from national parks and sanctuaries.

This prompted the Powergrid Corporation to file a case in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then appointed a committee chaired by H.S. Panwar, Member, Indian Wildlife Board, and included S.S. Bist, Director, Project Elephant, and Azam Zaidi, Conservator Forest (Lucknow) to look into the matter.

The Powergrid Corporation has been also asked to increase the height of the tower by six metres, negating the chances of elephants being electrocuted. Apart from the money they have spent, the Powergrid Corporation will have to pay another Rs 40 crores as lease rent.

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