New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal has given its nod to the Madhya Pradesh government and the promoters of the 400 MW Maheshwar Hydro Power Project over Narmada river to increase the water level of the dam for three months on a trial basis.

The bench headed by the tribunal's acting chairperson Justice A S Naidu also directed the state government to ensure that rehabilitation and resettlement of the villagers who have been displaced is also completed within three months.

The tribunal's directions came after the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) assured that adequate measures have been taken for the protection of the displaced villagers. "We feel ends of justice and equity would be better served, if the Project Proponent (Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Ltd) is permitted to fill up the reservoir at the dam site up to 154 m and commence generation of 40 MW power on trial basis for a period of three months.

"The Madhya Pradesh government is also directed to complete the entire process of rehabilitation and resettlement work, supply of drinking water and electricity to the affected persons within three months," the bench also comprising member G K Pandey said.

The tribunal, however, made it clear that "if there is any likelihood of submergence of abadi lands, then the process will be stopped and discontinued forthwith".

In order to ensure that the environment is protected and directions regarding rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced persons are properly implemented, the tribunal has directed that the matter be listed again after three months.

On May 31, the tribunal had restrained the authorities from filling water in the reservoir of the Maheshwar dam on a plea by two project-hit villagers of Maheshwar tehsil in Khargoan district of Madhya Pradesh.     The Maheshwar dam, the country's first privately-financed hydro power project, is one of the big dams of the Narmada Valley Development Project, which entails construction of 30 big and 135 mid-size dams in the Narmada valley.

Villagers Antarsingh Patel and Sanjay Nigam had challenged the MoEF's May 1 order, allowing partial filling of the reservoir, contending that submergence caused by filling it would cause irreparable damage to the life and livelihood of the people living there and is "likely to cause death to hundreds of people".

Singh and Nigam had moved the tribunal for quashing of the MoEF's May 1 order.
The May 1 order had modified the ministry's earlier orders of May 2011 and April 2010, which had allowed construction on five gates of the dam but had forbidden their closure or submergence till completion of the rehabilitation.

The petitioners had stated that as per the environment clearance to the project, the resettlement of the proposed oustees had to be completed within six months prior to submergence of their villages but the rehabilitation of the "oustees of the Maheshwar dam is far from complete".    


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