Eye on Kumbh, Ganga panel term extended

The high-level panel constituted by the Prime Minister to review hydel projects on river Ganga has extended its term by three months in a bid to defer publication of its final report.

The panel under Planning Commission member B K Chaturvedi took the decision to avoid political backlash during the Maha Kumbh Mela to be held in January, 2013.

Panel members said their findings are likely to tick off a confluence of millions of Ganga devotees and Hindu religious groups and activists who arrive at the mela. It was clear from the latest meeting of the panel last week that the draft final report raises more differences within the panel and needs to be weeded out.

Apparently the draft doesn't address the issue of ensuring 'aviral dhara' (unobstructed flow) of the river and its tributaries, a key demand put forward by religious activists, in a way that would assuage their ire.

While an IIT Roorkee report pegs the minimum flow of the river after all hydel projects are implemented to 14 per cent, activists and non-official members in the panel want at least 72 per cent flow to make Ganga a Class A river. The committee report suggests a minimum 30 per cent flow. This is unacceptable to some members who say it would downgrade the river's status in the water pollution index. The IIT report also says that hydel projects in itself are not detrimental to the river's health.

The draft report avoids suggesting scraping of the 200-odd upcoming hydel projects but stresses that the minimum distance between two dams or barrages should be about 5 km to give the river some breathing space.

The move to overlook demand to scrap projects has already fuelled politics along the upper reaches of the river, The BJP has turned the Hindu religiosity surrounding the river's conservation into a political plank.

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