NIH Roorkee’s Workshop on Eflows: Where is the credibility?

National Institute of Hydrology (NIH), Roorkee, an organisation under Union Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) is organising a workshop on Assessment of Environmental flows (E-flows) in Rivers in Roorkee on the 2-3 October 2013.

Any serious engagement with e-flows, from any quarter is a welcome sign. However, NIH’s engagement with eflows is a bit ironic, looking at its past work and support for hydroelectric and large infrastructure projects, without any consideration for environmental flows.

Not surprisingly, NIH has refrained from inviting almost any voices that have been critical about MoWR’s Large Dam agenda. On the other hand, main ‘stakeholders’ invited are representatives from Hydroelectric dam projects! Expectedly, the workshop is looking at environmental flows in a role adversarial to “development”, without understanding the role the rivers play in a society. In fact there is no session on value of rivers, which forms the basis of the concept like eflows.

Let us have a quick look at NIH’s track record and its response to the concept of eflows so far.

Following the Uttarakhand Disaster, Supreme Court on the 13th of August, 2013 said in no uncertain terms that the Cumulative Impact Assessment Study done by AHEC, Roorkee on Upper Ganga Projects “has not made any in-depth study on the cumulative impact of all project components”, practically rejecting AHEC Study. Even the members of the MoEF’s (Ministry of Environment and Forests) EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee) on River Valley Projects have said that e-flows estimated in the AHEC report are unclear. Inter-ministerial Group Report (The BK Chaturvedi Committee) on Upper Ganga Projects has rejected most of the AHEC recommendations for eflows.

National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee (NIH Roorkee) was a part of the study team of the AHEC Report on Upper Ganga[I] and hence, what this SC order and other agencies have said about AHEC report applies to NIH too.

NIH is supposed to be India’s premier institute on hydrology, but a closer look at the research and projects its done so far makes it clear that NIH is a also an integral part of the lobby that pushes large dams as the only solution to all of India’s water-related problems. The lobby includes the Ministry of Water Resources and the Central Water Commission. These organisations form an integral part of NIH’s organisational structure. Chairman of the governing body of NIH[II] is Secretary, MoWR. Its members include MoWR Joint Secretary and planning commission members. Its Standing Committee is comprised exclusively of MoWR representatives.

NIH introduces Environmental Hydrology as its area of specialisation. One of its tasks is[III] “Estimation of surplus and deficit water availability considering water demand and available water supply”. This concept of surplus and deficit has been used to support Interlinking of Rivers, which is ecologically one of the most destructive water projects in India. This too is explicitly supported by NIH. Note that while doing the studies related to ILR, NIH has assumed NO water for the environment!

It has estimated[IV], “In India, the estimates put a requirement of 10 BCM (billion cubic meters) for the year 2025 and 20 BCM for the year 2050 for EFR purpose.” This estimate, coming from an institute which is supposedly India’s Premier institute on hydrology lacks any ecological, social and scientific justification.

NIH’s thrust on ‘Water Resource Projects’ is so strong that its ‘water resources section’[V] pushes projects like the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri HEP, in Brahmaputra basin, without even mentioning that work on the project has stalled since Dec 2011 and  it is facing the biggest anti dam protest in India, mainly due to downstream impacts and non-transparent decision making processes.

As hydropower projects are being built in cascades in vulnerable regions, NIH has been conspicuously absent from the discourse. It has not taken a stand about e-flows, distance of free flowing rivers between projects and other environmental measures when hydropower projects are being built from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh with high disaster potential. On the other hand, through its studies like GLOF Analysis for Jelam Tamak Hydropower project [2] in Alaknanda basin in Uttarakhand, NIH has been largely supporting these projects, underplaying their impacts.

In fact, NIH did a eflows study for Loharinagpala HEP in Bhagirathi, where it assumed that Bhagirathi is a highly degraded river and recommended that 10% MAR will suffice as e-flows[VI], using the Tennant Method. Bhagirathi, which is hailed as the original stream of Ganga is not a ‘highly degraded’ river by stretch of imagination upstream of Maneri Bhali projects, but it will be ‘highly degraded’ if projects pushed by institutes like NIH are implemented. Significantly, Loharinagpala HEP was scrapped because of issues related to e-flows and aviral dhara of Ganga.

Strangely, NIH workshop on Assessing E-flows program starts not by addressing the importance of e-flows, but by stressing the importance of dams! The first session will be on Water Resources Development in India – need for power, irrigation, water supply and dams, to be conducted by NIH itself. It seems that this workshop is an attempt to get more eflows consultancies from private and government hydel projects.

Groups like WAPCOS (also a MoWR institute) and CIFRI have been churning out studies after studies with shoddy analysis and wrong biodiversity assessments, helping the project proponents and destroying the river further. However, communities, groups, and even judiciary are now putting its foot down about these shoddy studies.

NIH should realise that eflows are not one more of their studies which can be carried out excluding wide range of stakeholders: from communities to ecosystems. NIH has poor track record on eflows and it will have to do much more than organising workshops on eflows, if it is looking to establish its credibility on the issue.  


[1] Environmental flows or E-Flows are defined as: ‘Environmental Flows describe the quantity, quality and timing of water flows required to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems and the human livelihoods and well-being that depend on these ecosystems.” (Brisbane Declaration 2007)

[2] which has been rejected by Wildlife Institute of India and even BK Chaturvedi committee has suggested that the project should be taken up only after Ganga Basin Management Plan from IIT Consortium

[VI] “The E-Flow value computed by the Tenants method, considering it as 10% of the MAR, is 3848 Cumec Days for a calendar year” (NIH: Concluding Remarks No 10): Source: Dr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala’s Letter to IITR xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/8723444/2093659328/name/iitr