DISMISSING A PIL that sought revocation of green clearances granted to Rishi Ganga and Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel projects in Chamoli district, where more than 200 people lost their lives in a flash flood this February, the Uttarakhand High Court has described the five petitioners as “merely puppets at the hand of an unknown puppeteer” and imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on each.
Of the five petitioners, Bhawan Rana is the sarpanch of Raini village, the closest settlement to the Rishi Ganga project and the site of the iconic Chipko movement in the 1970s. Sangram Singh, Rana’s predecessor at the helm of panchayat, and Sohan Singh, grandson of Gaura Devi, the founder of Chipko movement, were the other two petitioners from Raini.
The fourth and fifth petitioners, Atul Sati and Kamal Raturi, are from Joshimath town, the main urban junction in the upper Alaknanda region. While Sati has contested state elections for CPI(M-L), Raturi is a member of the Pradesh Congress Committee.
In its order on Wednesday, a bench of Chief Justice R S Chauhan and Justice A K Verma held that the petition “amounts to abuse the PIL jurisdiction”, was “highly motivated” and “filed at the behest of an unknown person or entity… merely using the petitioners” as a front, since the petitioners did not produce any evidence to establish that they were social activists.
Among the petitioners’ prayers were:
Cancel the Tapovan-Vishnugad and Rishi Ganga Hydro Projects in view of future safety and stability of the terrain.
Direct the hydel developers – NTPC and Rishi Ganga Hydro Power Ltd – to compensate the affected families, restore and rehabilitate the affected villages and area.
Fix accountability for criminal negligence in continuing with the unscientific and harmful construction and operation.
Direct the state government to ban blasting, river-bed mining and stone crushing activities in the entire area of Rishi-Ganga and Dhauli Ganga sub-basin.
Direct the MoEf to blacklist NTPC and Rishi Ganga Hydro Project Ltd. from Hydro Power Sector for inflicting irreparable damage.
In his submission to the court, NTPC’s counsel Kartikey Hari Gupta claimed Tapovan-Vishnugad was a project of great developmental importance for Uttarakhand and that NTPC was committed to sustainable development of the hills.