India to relax 'green' norms for big power projects

The Indian government, keen to boost power output in the electricity-starved country, is likely to bypass environmental hurdles for 'ultra mega power projects' (UMPPs).

The cabinet committee on investment (CCI), set up to fast-track projects worth over Rs1,000 crore, is likely to take up this week two stalled power projects with investments worth Rs35,000 crore.

The power ministry has already approached the CCI to exempt the plants from a key provision of the Forests Act, 1980, that requires companies to identify land for compensatory reforestation.

The Dibang project of the National Hydrothermal Power Corp (NHPC) and Reliance Power's Tilaiya project are stuck because of environmental hurdles, and the power ministry has sought the CCI's intervention.

The 3,000 megawatt (MW) Dibang hydro project in Arunachal Pradesh has been stalled for a long time. The estimated cost of the project is over Rs15,000 crore.

The project was originally scheduled for commission by 2017, but the delay in clearances will push it back by a couple of years and lead to a rise in costs, officials said.

As many as 94 hydro power projects are languishing owing to a tardy progress in granting clearances. Sources said the power ministry might also approach the CCI for other hydel projects.

If approved, they can generate 37,000 MW. Hydro power contributes 39,623 MW to the total 2,25,793 MW capacity in the country.

The CCI may decide whether private producer Reliance Power's 4,000 MW project at Tilaiya in Jharkhand should be exempted from providing non-forest land to compensate for the acquisition of forest for the project.

At present, only government undertakings are exempted from the obligation to earmark funds and non-forest land for reforestation.

The provision helps state companies such as National Thermal Power Corp (NTPC) the country's main power producer, but private producers face a number of obstacles in securing approvals and clearances required for identifying the appropriate patch of land to plant trees.

The power ministry now wants the same provision to be applied to all companies. It has proposed that developers of ultra mega power projects be asked to pay for reforestation but the onus of finding the land should rest with the state government.