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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Driveway hits river wall

The brains behind the Rs 2,234.46-crore Ganga Driveway project allegedly completely ignored the environmental factors, including possible changes in the course of the Ganga over the next 100 years.

Environmental clearance is crucial for the project that entails construction of a 20.5-km-long four-lane road along the river from Digha in the west to Didarganj in the east. The road construction department went ahead with the project without procuring the clearance, for which various factors about the Ganga needed to be considered.

Sources said during a meeting last Saturday, the State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC), the technical committee of State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), Bihar, postponed its final decision on issuing the environmental clearance by a fortnight. The decision would depend on the SEAC’s assessment report. The final selection of firm/s for the project’s execution is slated for October 19.

The project has received a no-objection certificate from the Bihar State Pollution Control Board, though.

SEIAA chairman Ramesh Chandra Sinha told The Telegraph on Tuesday: “The hydro-geological aspects of the Ganga Driveway project submitted by the road construction department have been assessed by V.K. Singh, a professor at National Institute of Technology (NIT), Patna. IIT-Roorkee has conducted a separate hydro-geological study on the project, the corresponding report of which came last week. Now, SEAC is considering both the assessments and would give its final decision after two weeks.”

Experts have claimed that the change in the Ganga course is unpredictable. R.K. Sinha, an SEIAA member and a professor of zoology at Patna University, said: “Like all tropical rivers, the Ganga is also expected to complete its natural shifting period in 70 years. At present, the river has been shifting to the north from its natural course along Patna. But I am not sure whether or not it would come back to its original course close to Patna because of human encroachments, including sand mining and brick kilns.”

Road construction minister Nand Kishore Yadav told The Telegraph: “Progress in the project has only been made after the Centre’s approval. I am not aware of the technicalities.”

L.P. Singh, the director (planning), Ganga Flood Control Commission, said: “The Ganga is shifting to the north from its natural course right from Buxar to Farakka. The condition is worse in Bhagalpur. Though rivers shift in an oscillating way from their natural courses during the shifting periods, this (oscillation) happens when the river is not affected by encroachments. In case of Patna, there are widespread encroachments along the river. Thus, it is difficult to predict whether the Ganga would go back to its natural course or not.”

An SEIAA member said: “The driveway project proposal was put before the authorities in September for seeking the corresponding environmental clearance. Though the proposal contains a hydro-geological forecast on the change in the river course over the next 100 years based on the present trend of the shift in the river course, SEAC was not sure about it. Accordingly, the committee decided to get it assessed by Singh, the NIT professor.”

SEIAA is a three-member body comprising chairman, member and member-secretary (an officer of the department of environment and forests), while SEAC comprises seven members with relevant experience. SEIAA is entrusted with the responsibility of conducting environment impact assessment and giving environment clearance to applications for projects of less than Rs 5,000 crore.