IBC Recommendation to MoEF: Safeguarding Riverine Biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services of rivers and inland water bodies
Dams, hydropower projects, diversions and hydrological modifications to rivers and inland water bodies are having a huge negative impact on biodiversity and dependent livelihoods across India. Biodiversity Assessments for such projects is nonexistent or fundamentally inadequate or flawed including in in ecological hotspots like Himalayas and Western Ghats. Environmental Impact Assessments are severely flawed. Credible mitigation measures for endangered, threatened, endemic or rare fish and other biodiversity are not in place, even Endangered and iconic species like Ganges River Dolphins are under threat from absence of flows in the downstream and hydrological obstructions. Downstream impacts are neither part of social impact assessment nor part of resettlement and rehabilitation measures. All these gaps are leading to incremental, cumulative negative impacts on biodiversity and local communities which depend on riverine biodiversity for their livelihoods.
IBC recommends that:
- EIA notification 2006 should be amended urgently to include all hydel project above 1 MW capacity, all large dams including those for drinking water, industrial use, irrigation above 1000 hectares and flood control structures under its purview
- Cascade of Hydropower dams in any river basin, including in the Indian Himalayas and Western Ghats should be reviewed, cumulative impact assessment including carrying capacity and river basin studies should be mandatory. No further projects should be considered before such studies in any basin having two or more projects. The studies should be done by credible independent agencies having no conflict of interest.
- Recommendations of studies like Wildlife Institute of India’s report on Cumulative Impacts of Hydel Development on terrestrial and aquatic ecology of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins should be accepted and 24 hydel projects should be immediately scrapped for their irreversible negative impacts on biodiversity, as recommended by the WII study.
- Process of Environment Impact Assessments should be made stringent, consultants with conflict of interest should be blacklisted. More scientific inputs and peer reviews should be brought in these studies.
- Participatory Studies about environmental flow requirements of rivers, free flowing distance of rivers between two dams (should be more than 5 km as suggested by additional chief secretary of Himachal Pradesh in a report to high court) and downstream impacts of dams should be undertaken by the MoEF with participation from scientists and communities across the country. In the absence of these studies, more projects should not be sanctioned.
- Fish Diversity and dependent livelihoods of inland fisherfolk are being greatly jeopardized by current dam development, in the absence of any mitigation measures. We urge the MoEF to undertake studies about efficacy of current fish farms and hatcheries, studies on fish ladders and passes and impacts of dams on fish diversity in India and not sanction new dams in areas of great fisheries diversity like Western Ghats and Indian Himalayas in the absence of mitigation measures and studies
- Dams affecting community conserved areas and conservation reserves should be scrapped like 780 MW Nyamjangchhu Project in Arunchal Pradesh affecting last wintering sites of Black-necked Cranes, a community reserve.
- Free-flowing rivers of India need legal protection as reservoirs of rare biodiversity.
- Ramsar and other wetlands should get legal protection from impacts due to upstream abstractions.
- In every state and ecological zone, certain rivers should be left as no go zones for dams and hydropower projects.
- Community conserved riverine stretches and community fish sanctuaries should get legal protection.