New Delhi: The government’s expert forest panel has given its approval to a 40 megawatt (MW) wind power project in Andhra Pradesh—on the basis of a single contested study on migratory birds—saying an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is unnecessary for wind power projects which produce renewable energy.
Its recommendation comes despite the wildlife division of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) advocating the need for an EIA.
This is not the first time that environment ministry’s forest advisory committee (FAC) has cleared a wind power project despite objections from other expert members. In June 2017, the panel approved clearance of 297.38 hectares of forest land in Kutch district of Gujarat for a 400MW wind power project, overriding objections that it posed a risk to migratory birds that frequent the area in winters, and bats.
The present project was discussed in a meeting of the FAC on 17 August, whose minutes have been reviewed by Mint. The project involves diversion of 55.73 hectares of forest land in Ramagiri area of Andhra Pradesh for establishing a 40MW wind power project.
It had been referred to FAC in February 2012 but failed to get the approval despite discussions by the forest panel in April 2012, July 2016, December 2016 and in March 2017. In 2012, FAC had sought a report assessing the impact of the proposed project on wildlife especially birds and raptors and recommendations to minimize and prevent the impact. But no report was conducted by the expert bodies suggested by FAC in four years.
Finally in December 2016 the FAC considered a study conducted on the subject by Krishnadevaraya University (Ananthapur area of Andhra Pradesh) and asked one of its members Deepak Apte to examine it, and he called it a “substandard study”.
As per the minutes, Apte found a series of shortcomings in the university study. For instance, the study, done in early monsoon season, claimed that the project area “does not come in the path of migratory birds” but Apte questioned: “How was this inferred without the study being conducted in winter and post winter, which is when the migratory birds arrive and depart from the Indian region”. He also highlighted the study mentions species such as “Common Toad and Cricket Frog which are not found in India”.
In March 2017 meeting, FAC asked MoEFCC’s wildlife division to examine the study and Apte’s comments and recommend adequate mitigative measures which will be binding on the project proponent.
The wildlife division instead of recommending mitigative measures said considering Apte’s comments, “We may suggest that EIA of proposed wind turbines be conducted by SACON (Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History)”.
But FAC, in its latest meeting, disagreed with the wildlife division’s stand.
It instead noted that they feel that EIA “as recommended by wildlife division is not required for wind energy projects which produces green energy”.
Instead, FAC recommended the proposal for in-principal approval. The final approval comes from MoEFCC but FAC’s recommendations are rarely rejected by the ministry.
The panel also said that “mitigation measures recommended by university of Krishnadevaraya (in) its repro shall be complied with and monitored regularly”. This is despite FAC member Apte finding several faults in the study.
“The user agency shall also take all mitigation measures to avoid casualties of raptors/birds/bats due to network of overhead power cables in consultation with institution having expertise on the subject and as recommended by the State forest and wildlife department from time to time,” the FAC directed.