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Wildlife panel rejects UP govt’s plan for ‘religious and hi-tech smart city’ near Ganga

LiveMint logoLiveMint 17-08-2017 Mayank Aggarwal

New Delhi: The expert wildlife panel of the union environment ministry has rejected the Uttar Pradesh government’s proposal to create a “religious and hi-tech smart city” on the banks of the river Ganga near Garh Mukteshwar.

The panel cited concerns that the project “will kill approximately seven km of the holy river” and hinder the central government’s efforts to clean and restore the river.

Other concerns were that the project would affect the population of India’s national aquatic animal, the Ganges River dolphin, the critically endangered Gharial and several species of threatened turtle species.

The decision was made in a recent meeting of the standing committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) headed by the union minister of environment, forest and climate change Harsh Vardhan on 29 July. NBWL is the apex wildlife body of the central government.

According to the minutes of the meeting, which were reviewed by Mint, the Inspector General of Forests (IGF) of the environment ministry briefed the committee on the proposal and said it involved the development of Garh Mukteshwar as a “religious hi-tech smart city.”

As per the details, an area of 7,395 hectare of non-forest land (6,227 hectare agricultural land, 1,168 hectare other government land) would be developed under the project.

The IGF informed the panel that the site inspection committee had not recommended the proposal in its present form.

As per the site inspection committee, construction of the project “will change the morphology and hydrodynamics of the Ganga River at the proposed site and will kill approximately seven km of the holy river”.

“This will hinder the efforts made by Government of India in the restoration effort of the Ganga River and will negatively affect the success of making a clean and vibrant Ganga which is one of the main agenda of the Government of India,” the site inspection committee said.

It also said the construction of the barrage will cause disruption of the ecological process in Ganga and some of the proposed construction activities will violate the National Green Tribunal’s July 2017 order on cleaning of the river.

It held that the stretch of Ganga at the proposed project site were among the cleanest parts of the river in Uttar Pradesh, which is home to a significant population of the Ganges river dolphin, Gharial and several species of turtle. “The project will disrupt the population structure of these threatened species,” it added.

The inspection committee noted that the project will negatively affect the population of endangered swamp deer, sambhar and host of other rare and threatened species of the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary and that “this may also have negative impact on the adjacent to Ramsar Site”.

It also highlighted the problem of the Ganga river being water-stressed.

“The project is based on the premises of drawing a minimum of 6,000 cusec of water from the Ganga river for sustaining the project. The Ganga river is already water stress (stressed) … 48,527 cusec of water is already being extracted before the proposed site. Diverting 6,000 cusec of water from the barrage will render the downstream to the project site ecologically dead,” the site inspection committee said.

“After discussions the Standing Committee decided to reject the present form of the proposal and requested the State Government to submit the revised proposal for the consideration of the Standing Committee of NBWL,” the minutes said.

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