Gaumukh-Uttarkashi Ganga stretch declared eco-sensitive

Govt declares stretch of Ganga between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi as an eco-sensitive zone.

New Delhi: In a significant step, the government has given in-principle nod for declaring the 135-km stretch of the Ganga between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi as an eco-sensitive zone seeking specific activities to protect the rich biodiversity of the region.

The National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in its meeting held yesterday also approved discontinuation of three hydro projects -- Bhaironghati, Pala Maneri and NTPC`s Loharinag Pala proposed on the river.

A few months back, a three-member panel headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had suggested to the government to shelve the three dams proposed on the Ganga river following opposition by locals and religious leaders.

"The three projects will not be allowed to come up. This was decided yesterday at a meeting of the NGRBA chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said today on the sidelines of a function here.

He said as desired by his ministry, the Authority has also given nod for declaring the river stretch between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi as eco-sensitive zone under the Section 3 of the Environment Act according to which only those activities as approved by the eco-management plans for that region could be undertaken there.

"There will be a monitoring committee which will oversee the implementation of the plan. We will consult the state governments in this regard," the Minister said indicating that hydel projects would not be allowed in the zone once declared as eco-sensitive.

The second meeting of the NGRBA, which was attended by Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia besides Ramesh and four Chief Ministers of the states where river Ganga flows, also discussed the Ganga Basin Management Plan and the World Bank loan to clean the river.

"By March next year, we are likely to finalise a billion dollar loan from World Bank to be spread over the next five years for restoring the river system by minimising its pollution level," Ramesh added.

The meeting also approved a Conservation Action Plan for the Gangetic dolphin which just a few months back was declared as a national aquatic animal by the government.

`There are less than 2,000 gangetic dolphins in the country and one of the aims of the Ganga river cleaning programme will be increasing the number and distribution of the aquatic animal," Ramesh added.

In another important decision, the NGRBA members also approved a proposal wherein the Central government and state government will bear the operation and management cost in the ratio of 70:30 in all the projects being taken up under the NGRBA programme.
"So far it was the state governments that were bearing the entire cost for the operation and maintenance. But now the cost will be shared in the ratio of 70:30 for the next three years which could be extended to another two years," the Minister said adding that all the projects will be audited by a third party to ensure transparency.

The Authority in the last one year since its inception has sanctioned Rs 14,000 crore worth of projects of which around Rs 800 crore went to Uttar Pradesh alone.