Splitting Nepal’s major political parties during the approval of the treaty, the Pancheswar Multipurpose Project has been politically controversial in Nepal from the start. The recent decision of the Indian Ministry of Environment to waive its EIA will add another controversy.
An expert panel of India’s environment ministry has waived the requirements of the joint mechanism to assess its environmental impacts to expedite work on the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, a bi-national scheme primarily aimed at energy generation and irrigation benefits in India and Nepal.
According to reports published in the Indian media, the environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for river valley and hydroelectric projects in May last year had called for a joint mechanism for the environment impact assessment (EIA) of the project.
Interestingly, the treaty was ratified by Nepal’s parliament during the first tenure of current prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in 1996 despite vehement opposition in parliament. Even the main opposition party CPN-UML was split on the basis of pro and anti-treaty camps.
Indian media have reported that the decision has been taken to avoid the delay in the project, which is strategically important for India. In a recent meeting, the EAC was of the view that setting up of a joint mechanism would delay the progress of the project.
“The EAC is of the view that as of now and considering the progress of preparation of EIA reports, setting up of the joint mechanism would rather delay the process of this important international project. Hence, let the public hearing be conducted based on the EIA report for Indian portion and the project proponent may approach the Ministry for final appraisal for environmental clearance,” said the minutes of the meeting.
The 5,600 MW Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project will be located in Uttarakhand and Nepal and will be implemented by M/s Pancheshwar Development Authority, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.
The proposed project is envisaged on river Mahakali (known as Sarada in India) which forms the international boundary between India and Nepal, dividing the Far Western Development Region of Nepal from the Uttarakhand. It is a bi-national scheme, primarily aimed at energy generation and with other benefits too.
“As far as the joint mechanism is concerned, the EAC is of the view that as of now and considering the progress of preparation of EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) reports, setting up of the joint mechanism would rather delay the process of this important international project,” noted the EAC in its latest meeting.
The EAC had also observed that “skill mapping of the project affected families shall be carried out and suitable provisions should be made in R&R (Resettlement and Rehabilitation) plan."
According to media reports, the project includes a rock-fill dam, which is 315 metres in height from the deepest foundation level, and is proposed to have two underground powerhouses with an installed capacity of 5,600MW. one on each bank of the river. The total submergence area is 11,600 hectares (India’s 7,600 hectares and Nepal’s 4,000 hectares). The project is primarily aimed at energy production; in addition, it will provide water for irrigation.
The Pancheshwar Development Authority (PDA) was constituted under Article 10 of the Mahakali Treaty between India and Nepal.