Cabinet clears funding for Lakhwar, Renuka projects, e-flow for Yamuna promised

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The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved central funding of 90 per cent of water component for two hydro projects – the Renukaji Dam Project (Himachal Pradesh) and Lakhwar Multipurpose Project (Uttarakhand).

“Among other benefits, the decision will help Yamuna have a defined e-flow,” Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat told a media briefing after the cabinet meeting, describing it as a permanent solution to the problem of pollution in Yamuna.

Environmental activists, however, have criticised the government move.

Pending since 1976, the Lakhwar dam project was considered by the Cabinet for approval of central funding. Along with Lakhwar, Renukaji project will ensure irrigation for 13 lakh plus Ha farmland, and there would also be power production.

“The two projects would provide beginning of storage in Yamuna basin benefitting six states of upper Yamuna basin, augmenting water supply to Delhi as well Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan and a major step towards rejuvenation of Yamuna,” a cabinet release said.

Both the projects – Lakhwar and Renuka -were declared national projects about a decade ago and the Centre had agreed to the 90:10 funding model. The two projects and a third one, Kishau, have been pending for at least two decades for lack of funding and some pending statutory requirements.

Lakhwar is a 300 MW project involving construction of a 204-metre concrete dam with a 40-km-long reservoir on the Yamuna near Lohari village in Dehradun. The three dams together envisage storage that will be useful for power generation and provide water to Delhi in non-monsoon months.

To a question as to when the work on Lakhwar will start, Shekhawat said: “In the era of the Modi government, it is us who would lay the foundation stone, get work done and also inaugurate the project in the designated timeframe.”

But, some activists assailed the government plans.

“How can you depend on dams to provide e-flows? Dams actually destroy rivers,” said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).

In another decision, in view of the importance of rejuvenation of water bodies, the Cabinet has approved a paradigm shift in funding of their rejuvenation in both urban and rural areas, with significant expansion of their inclusion criteria, and enhancement of central assistance from 25 per cent to 60 per cent in general area.

Further, the Ground Water component of Har Khet Ko Pani (HKKP), approved provisionally for 2021-22, targets creation of irrigation potential of 1.52 lakh hectares.

“Watershed development component focuses on development of rain-fed areas towards soil and water conservation, regeneration of ground water, arresting runoff and promoting extension activities related to water harvesting and management,” it said.

The approved Watershed Development component of Department of Land Resources envisages completion of sanctioned projects covering 49.5 lakh hectare rain-fed/degraded lands to bring additional 2.5 lakh hectares under protective irrigation during 2021-26.

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