Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Western Ghats

Huge Impacts, but no assessment? Groups urge MoEF to correct its blunder on Yettinahole

Yettinahole Diversion Project is being planned in the Western Ghats and Eastern Plains of Karnataka, by the Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited (KNNL) purportedly as a drinking water supply scheme to supply 24 TMC water to Kolar and Chikkaballapur Districts. The scheme involves 8 dams in Western Ghat forests, 250 kms long canals, 80 and 50 kms long raising mains, a reservoir that will submerge 1200 hectares of land and 2 villages.  A closer look at the Project Report of the scheme indicates that of the 24 TMC to be diverted, assured drinking water to Kolar and Chikkabalapur is just 2.81 TMC! Rest is planned to be allocated for uses like river and tank rejuvenation, irrigation, industries, urban supply etc.

DSC03697
Gundia River, formed of headwaters of Yettinahole, Kerihole, Hongadhalla and Kadumanehole which will be diverted for the Yettinahole Diversion Project Photo: SANDRP

The Project has escaped appraisal by the Expert Appraisal Committee of the MoEF, claiming that it is a drinking water scheme ( as per the EIA Notification 2006, Drinking Water Supply Schemes are exempt from Appraisal and Environmental Clearance process.)

But analysis of the Project report indicates a different picture.

More than 14 individuals, mainly from Karnataka have written to the Union Environment Minister, Secretary, MoEF and Director, Impact Assessment, River Valley Projects Division to appraise the Yettinahole Diversion Scheme entirely. Signatories include Dr. Ullas Karanth, former non-official member of the Forest Advisory Committee, MoEF, Praveen Bhargava from Wildlife First, Dr. T.V. Ramchandra from Indian Institute of Sciences, noted rainwater harvesting expert Vishwanath Srikataiah, Niren Jain of Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation, amongst others. While the signatories support long term and sustainable solutions to legitimate drinking water demands of drought affected regions in Karnataka, as the letter clarifies, Yettinahole Diversion Project does not seem to be an answer to that.

 

To,

Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan,

Union Minister of State (IC) of Environment and Forests,

Paryavaran Bhawan, Lodhi Road, New Delhi, jayanthi.n@sansad.nic.in

 

Dr V Rajagopalan,

Secretary,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, vrg.iyer@nic.in

 

Maninder Singh

Joint Secretary,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, jsicmoef@nic.in

Mr. B. B. Barman

Director (IA) River Valley Projects,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, bbbdx.dy@gmail.com

 

Subject: Appeal for fresh Appraisal of the Yettinahole Diversion Project in Karnataka and withdrawal of the Letter/NOC which has been issued by the MoEF on the basis on inaccurate/insufficient information.

Respected Madame and Sirs,

In the 63rd meeting of the EAC for River Valley and Hydropower projects, the committee considered Yettinahole Diversion Project by Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited, Government of Karnataka (Agenda Item: 2.11 (b) “Clarification on Drinking Water Supply Scheme to Tumkur, Bangalore (Rural), Kolar & Chikaballapur Districts by M/s. Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Ltd, Government of Karnataka for applicability of EIA Notification, 2006.)

The EAC concluded (emphasis added): “In view of the above, the EAC expressed its inability to consider the project for the purpose of TOR/EIA/EMP etc as this does not fall within the preview and mandate of the  EAC although, there appear to be  some environmental and R&R issues involved which may be appropriately addressed. Outcome of the WGEEP report may also have to be factored. The drinking water schemes, in fact, do not attract the provisions of EIA Notification, 2006 and its subsequent amendment, 2009… The project neither proposes any hydro-electric power generation component nor comprises of any irrigation component and thus has no command area.”

The EAC also recommended: “The Ministry of Environment & Forests may write to Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Ltd (KNNL), Government of Karnataka that the instant project does not attract the provisions of EIA Notification, 2006 and its subsequent amendment, 2009.” We understand the MoEF sent a letter to KNNL on these lines.

This recommendation of the EAC and MoEF decision are both incorrect. Looking at the facts mentioned below, the scheme is Category A project and needs to be appraised by the EAC not only because it falls under the purview of the EIA Notification 2006, but also due to   serious ecological and social impacts. This letter is based on a site visit to the region, discussions with local communities, perusal of the Project Report of the scheme as well as the minutes of 63rd EAC Meeting.

EAC considered the project only on the basis of the proponent’s statements, without studying the Project Report.

An analysis of the Project Report (Version June 2012, prior to EAC Meeting) it is clear that:

1. Irrigation Component: The project aims to supply water to 337 minor irrigation tanks and Zilla Parishad Tanks in Kolar and Chikkaballapur. The command areas of these 337 minor irrigation tanks, as mentioned in the Project Report (Voulme I, Annex 3) come to 29,182 hectares. This is higher than command area of 10,000 hectares; hence this is a Category A project which comes under the purview of EIA Notification 2006 and will have to be considered for Environmental Clearance by Expert Appraisal Committee of the MoEF.

2. Hydropower Generation: The Project Report claims that it can generate 125-150 MW of power through gravity canals. Location details are also made available in the Project erport (Page 59, Volume I). As this is higher than 25 MW, the project comes under the purview of EIA Notification 2006 and will have to be considered for Environmental Clearance by the Expert Appraisal Committee of the MoEF.

Thus, the Project comes under the purview of EIA Notification 2006 and should be considered by the EAC, urgently taking back any letter sent to Karnataka Government to the effect that the project does not require an EC as per EIA notification 2006.

In addition to technicalities about qualifying under the EIA Notification 2006, the project has severe socio ecological impact, which cannot be sidelined by the EAC and the MoEF.

  1. Majority of the project falls in Ecologically Sensitive Zone I as per the WGEEP, where any large infrastructure project is banned. In addition, WGEEP bans any inter-basin transfer of water. MoEF has as yet not decided on WGEEP recommendations. In the absence of this, the MoEF cannot provide any letter to the state about not requiring an Environmental Clearance. MoEF will need to consider the WGEEP Report while making its recommendations, as also directed by NGT, which MoEF has not done.
  2. The project plans to divert 24.01 TMC water from 4 streams in Western Ghats, without making any study of eflows for the downstream Eco Sensitive Zone.
  3. The project does not divulge forest land required. Only by estimating heads under ‘cutting thick forests’ in its estimates, it will require 107.27 hectares land with thick forest cover only for laying raising mains. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has formulated Guidelines in the Lafarge Judgment which mandate that projects that require both forest and environment clearance must first secure forest clearance. This has not been complied with.
  4. Gravity Canal from Harvanahalli (Sakaleshpur) to Tumkur will require a minmum of 400 hectares land
  5. Reservoir at Devarnyadurga will require 1200 hectares of land, including 50% forest land and will submerge at least 2 villages.

Though the project claims to be a scheme for drinking water of Kolar and Chikkaballapur Districts, actual dedicated drinking water allocation of these districts is only 2.81 TMC of the 24.01 TMC diverted which works out to less than 10%. Rest will go for irrigation, river rejuvenation, urban areas, industrial areas, etc. Signatories support long term and sustainable solutions to drinking water crisis. While provision of drinking water to the said districts is a legitimate necessity that we do not object to, what we are questioning is the justification of this ill conceived project whose cost-benefit analysis is extremely skewed and the ecological and social impacts are horrendous.

Alternative and feasible proposals that will provide the 2.81 TMC feet of water for the said districts have, in our considered view, not been explored. Furthermore, the feasibility of large-scale land acquisition required for the project must be considered in the context of the amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill that has just been passed by Parliament.

Considering all these serious issues, the EAC’s appraisal of this project has been incorrect technically as well as wrong on facts and law.

We urgently request the MoEF to:

1.  Withdraw any letter/NOC etc., that it may have sent to Karnataka Government in this regard as the current decision of the EAC and MoEF  may not stand the test of legal scrutiny and may lead to some wholly un-necessary litigation.

2. Direct the State of Karnataka to present a detailed project report that includes the plans for phase II and III that are sure to follow.

3. Ensure that the EAC considers the DPR and appraises  project for Environmental Clearance in its entirety.

Looking forward to your response and appropriate action to points raised above.

 

Thanking you,

 

Yours Sincerely,

Niren Jain, Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation, Mangalore, Karnataka (kudremukh.wildlife@gmail.com)

Dr. Ullas Karanth, Director, Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore

Praveen Bhargav, Trustee, Wildlife First, Bangalore

Kishore Kumar Hongadhalla, Malanada Janapara Horata Samiti, Sakaleshpura, Karnataka

Panduranga Hegde, Parisara Sanmrakshana Kendra, Appiko Movement, Sirisi, Karnataka

Dr. T.V. Ramachandra, Energy and Wetlands Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Karnataka

Vishwanath Srikantaiah, Water and Rainwater Harvesting Expert, Bangalore, Karnataka)

Dr. Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Eco-hydrologist, Bangalore, Karnataka

Dr. Shriniwas Badiger, Water and Irrigation Expert, Bangalore, Karnataka

Dr. Bhaskar Acharya, Bangalore, Karnataka

Dr. Sharad Lele, Atree, Bangalore, Karnataka

Nachiket Kelkar, Wildlife researcher, Bangalore, Karnataka

Vidyadhar Atkore, Fisheries Scientist, Bangalore Karnataka

Neeti Mahesh, Mahseer Trust, Karnataka

Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com,09860030742), andHimanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com, 09968242798) South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, Delhi and Pune

 

 

Expert Appraisal Committee · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Reconstituted Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects: MoEF has neither environment sense, nor guts: Unacceptable Committee

Press Statement                                                                                             September 7, 2013

Reconstituted Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects:

MoEF has neither environment sense, nor guts: Unacceptable Committee

On Sept 5, 2013, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests came out with “Re-constitution of Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley & Hydro Electric Project” (see: http://envfor.nic.in/sites/default/files/EAC-Order-05092013.pdf). Mr Alok Perti, former Coal Secretary, has been made chairperson of the committee that appraises all major irrigation projects, dams, hydropower projects and river valley projects for Environment clearances at two stages (TOR and final). It is shocking to see that Mr Perti who has absolutely no environment credentials, who has been known to be anti environment, who has been accusing the environment ministry to be in road block of coal mining and who has shown his ignorance of environment issues on several occasions has been selected as chair person, putting aside basic environmental sense. This reconstituted EAC on RiverValley and Hydropower projects is completely unacceptable.

It is equally disturbing to see that the committee has no woman representation, no sociologist, no one from non-government organisations. All ten members are either from government, government organisations or government funded academic organisations. This means that none of them would be in a position to take a stand independent of the government stand. The committee also has no river expert, climate change-water expert or disaster management expert, all of which are crucially important issues for a committee like this that decides the fate of India’s rivers, even more so after the Uttarakhand disaster. P K Chaudhuri, one of the members of the new committee also has had nothing to do with rivers, water or environment. Hardip S Kingra, who was involved in Commonwealth games organisation and also chairman of National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation has had no work related to rivers or environment.

Specifically, Mr Alok Perti, who has been senior functionary, including secretary of currently controversial Coal Ministry from Oct 2009 to earlier this year and before Oct 2009 in ministries like defense and family welfare, clearly has had no background on environment or rivers. As coal secretary, he had accused MoEF for stalling the growth by not giving clearances to coal mining projects automatically. The Economic Times quoted Perti as saying in a report[1]: “India has to decide whether she wants electricity or tigers.” Such simplistic statements reflect he has absolutely no understanding of environment, biodiversity, leave aside rivers. Perti’s anti civil society stance was also exposed when he refused to discuss issues with activists and asked them to go and file RTIs[2]. These are only a couple of examples we are giving here, there are many others. By appointing such a person as chairman of the EAC on RVP, the MoEF has shown it has no guts or interest in protecting the environment or forests which is supposed to be its mandate. This committee is clearly unacceptable and will also not stand legal scrutiny.

Ritwick Dutta (ritwickdutta@gmail.com, 09810044660, ERC and LIEF, Delhi)

Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com, 09860030742, SANDRP, Pune)

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com), 09968242798, SANDRP, Delhi)

Manoj Mishra (yamunajiye@gmail.com, 09910153601, YJA, Delhi)


[2] http://environmentaljusticetv.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/greenpeace-india-protest-at-the-coal-ministry/

FOLLOWING LETTER HAS BEEN SENT ON SEPT 9, 2013:

9 Sept 2013

To,

Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan,

Union Minister of State (IC) of Environment and Forests,

Paryavaran Bhawan, Lodhi Road, New Delhi, jayanthi.n@sansad.nic.in

 

Dr V Rajagopalan,

Secretary,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, vrg.iyer@nic.in

 

Maninder Singh

Joint Secretary,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, jsicmoef@nic.in

 

Mr. B. B. Barman

Director (IA) River Valley Projects,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, bidhu-mef@nic.in

 

Subject: Urgent concerns about reconstituted Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Proejcts

 

Respected madam and sirs,

 

On Sept 5, 2013, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests came out with “Re-constitution of Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley & Hydro Electric Project” (see: http://envfor.nic.in/sites/default/files/EAC-Order-05092013.pdf). Mr Alok Perti, former Coal Secretary, has been made chairperson of the committee that appraises all major irrigation projects, dams, hydropower projects and river valley projects for Environment clearances at two stages (TOR and final). It is shocking to see that Mr Perti who has absolutely no environment credentials, who has been known to be anti environment, who has been accusing the environment ministry to be in road block of coal mining and who has shown his ignorance of environment issues on several occasions has been selected as chair person, putting aside basic environmental sense. This reconstituted EAC on River Valley and Hydropower projects is completely unacceptable.

 

It is equally disturbing to see that the committee has no woman representation, no sociologist, no one from non-government organisations. All ten members are either from government, or from government organisations or government funded academic organisations. This means that none of them would be in a position to take a stand independent of the government stand. The committee also has no river expert, climate change-water expert or disaster management expert, all of which are crucially important issues for a committee like this that decides the fate of India’s rivers, even more so after the Uttarakhand disaster. P K Chaudhuri, one of the members of the new committee also has done no work with rivers, water or environment, going by his CV. Hardip S Kingra, who was involved in Commonwealth games organisation and also chairman of National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation has had no work related to rivers or environment.

 

Specifically, Mr Alok Perti, who has been senior functionary, including secretary of currently controversial Coal Ministry from Oct 2009 to early 2013 and before Oct 2009 he has been in ministries like defense and family welfare, clearly has had no background on environment or rivers. As coal secretary, he had accused MoEF for stalling the growth by not giving clearances to coal mining projects automatically. The Economic Times quoted Perti as saying in a report[1]: “India has to decide whether she wants electricity or tigers.” Such simplistic statements reflect he has absolutely no understanding of environment, biodiversity, leave aside rivers. Perti’s anti civil society stance was also exposed when he refused to discuss issues with activists and asked them to go and file RTIs[2]. By appointing such a person as chairman of the EAC on RVP, the MoEF has shown it has no interest in protecting the environment or forests which is supposed to be its mandate. This committee is clearly unacceptable and will also not stand legal scrutiny.

 

Under the circumstances, we demand that:

1. The notification (No. J-12011/EAC /2010-IA-I dated Sept 5, 2013) of reconstitution of the EAC be cancelled;

2. A participatory process be initiated for reconstitution of the EAC with the norms some of suggested in our letter to you dated June 29, 2013, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/lessons-from-uttarakhand-disaster-for-selection-of-river-valley-projects-expert-committee/;

3. The EAC meeting slated for Sept 23-24, 2013 should be cancelled.

 

We will look forward to early reply from you.

 

Thanking you,

 

Prof. M. K. Prasad, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, Cochin prasadmkprasad@gmail.com

Ramaswamy R. Iyer, former secretary, Government of India, Delhi. ramaswamy.iyer@gmail.com

Madhu Bhaduri, former ambassador, Delhi. madhu.bhaduri@gmail.com

Ravi Chopra, People’s Science Institute and member NGBRA, Dehra Doon psiddoon@gmail.com

Ritwick Dutta, ERC and LIEF, Delhi.  ritwickdutta@gmail.com

Manoj Mishra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi yamunajiye@gmail.com

Prof. S. Janakarajan, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, janak@mids.ac.in

Vimal Bhai, MATU jansangathan, Uttarakhand bhaivimal@gmail.com

Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune, manthan.shripad@gmail.com

10. Latha Anantha, River Research Centre, Kerala latha.anantha9@gmail.com

Sujit Patwardhan, Parisar, Pune patwardhan.sujit@gmail.com

Debi Goenka, Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai debi1@cat.org.in

Souparna Lahiri, All India Forum of Forest Movements, Delhi. souparna.lahiri@gmail.com

Rohit Prajapati, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat   – rohit.prajapati@gmail.com

Soumya Dutta, Climate & Energy Group, Beyond Copenhagen collective, Delhi soumyadutta_delhi@rediffmail.com

Joy KJ, Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management, Pune joykjjoy2@gmail.com

Anurag Modi, Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, Betul, Madhya Pradesh sasbetul@yahoo.com

Dr Brij Gopal, Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia, Jaipur, brij44@gmail.com  

Rahul Banerjee, Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, Indore rahul.indauri@gmail.com

20. Subhadra Khaperde, Kansari Nu Vadavno, Indore subhadra.khaperde@gmail.com

Shankar Tadwal, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, Alirajpur shankarkmcs@rediffmail.com

Samantha Agarwal, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, Raipur, Chhattisgarh. samsnomadicheart@gmail.com

Dr V Rukmini Rao, Gramya Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad. vrukminirao@yahoo.com

Tarun Nair, Researchers for Wildlife Conservation, Bangalore. tarunnair1982@gmail.com

Shankar Sharma, Mysore shankar.sharma2005@gmail.com

C.G. Madhusoodhanan, Research Scholar,Indian Institute of Technology Bombay madhucg@gmail.com

Pushp Jain, EIA Resource and Response Centre, New Delhi ercdelhi@gmail.com

Gopakumar Menon, Wildlifer, Bangalore. gopakumar.rootcause@gmail.com

Gopal Krishna, Toxics Watch Alliance, Delhi. gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com

30. Jai Sen, CACIM, New Delhi, jai.sen@cacim.net

Samir Mehta, International Rivers, Mumbai samir@internationalrivers.org

E Theophilus, Malika Virdi, K Ramnarayan, Himal Prakriti, Munsiari, Uttarakhand, etheophilus@gmail.com

Neeraj Vagholikar, Kalpavriksh, Pune, nvagho@gmail.com

PT George, Intercultural Resources, Delhi, ihpindia@gmail.com

Akhil Gogoi, President, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, Assam, secretarykmss@gmail.com

Subir Bhaumik, Veteran Journalist and author of “Troubled Periphery: Crisis of India’s Northeast” (Sage, 2009), sbhaum@gmail.com

Ravindra Nath, Rural Volunteers Centre (RVC), Akajan, Dhemaji, Assam, rvcassam@gmail.com

Sanjib Baruah, Professor, Bard College, New York, baruah@bard.edu

Shashwati Goswami, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, shashwati.goswami@gmail.com

40. Mrinal Gohain, ActionAid, Guwahati, mrinalgohain@gmail.com

Keshav Krishna Chatradhara, Peoples Movement for Subansiri & Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV), Assam, pmsv_subansiri@yahoo.com

Girin Chetia, North East Affected Area Development Society, Jorhat, Assam, neadsjorhat@gmail.com

Azing Pertin, Echo of Arunachal, Arunachal Pradesh, azingp@gmail.com

Parag Jyoti Saikia, SANDRP, Delhi.

Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, Pune. parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

Additional names in letter sent independently by CORE (namdithiu@coremanipur.org on 190913) :

46. Centre for Organisation Research and Education (CORE)

Reformed Education and Development Society (READS) Manipur

Forum for Indigenous Perspective and Action (FIPA)

Action Committee  Against Tipaimukh Project (ACTIP)

50. All Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union Manipur (ALLAFUM)

All Manipur Thanga People’s Welfare Association (AMTPWA)

Rural Education and Action for Change Manipur (REACH-M)

All Tribal Women Organisation(ATWO)

Weaker Section Development Council(WSDC)

Rongmei Luh Phuam (Assam, Manipur and Nagaland)

REACHOUT North East

River Basin Friends North East

58. Anthony Deb Barma of Borok Peoples’ Human Rights Organisation (BPHRO), Tripura

Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, c/o 86-D, AD block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi)ht.sandrp@gmail.com

Free flowing rivers · Western Ghats

Ecological value of free flowing Aghanashini for estuarine communities and beyond

Comparing ecological goods and services of a dammed Vs undammed river estuary is important for a number of reasons. This sort of post facto analysis is seldom done in our country. That is why a case study by Mahima Bhat, V. N. Nayak et al (Mahima Bhat, 2012) comparing Aghanashini and Sharvathi estuaries titled “Impact of Hydroelectric Dams on Fisheries in the Sharavathi Estuary of Uttara Kannada District, South-West India” is an important study (http://www.ces.iisc.ernet.in/energy/lake2012/fullpaper/mahima_fullpaper.pdf). The researchers are a part of Wetlands and Energy Group of the Centre for Ecological Science, Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore. The study went on for one year in which the researchers studied and compared productivity, ecological goods and services and fish diversity of Aghanashini and Sharavathi Estuaries. They have talked with the fisher folk and listened to what they had to say about impacts of dams on Sharavathi on the fish catch and productivity of the Sharavathi estuary.

Estuary of River Aghanashini Courtesy; The Hindu
Estuary of River Aghanashini Courtesy; The Hindu

Due to a number of peoples protests supported by some well-researched studies by Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc, Aghanashini River, small west flowing river of the Western Ghats is as yet in a free flowing, undammed condition. The stretches river also has recently been declared conservation reserve. In many senses, West-flowing River basins of Western Ghats in Karnataka have set inspiring examples. Plans of building a hydel dam on BedthiRiver, also in coastal Karnataka were dropped due to extensive studies and advocacy of groups which demonstrated that the river is of higher value than the dam. (Read Vijay Paranjpye’s book on the subject: Foresight at Bedthi)

Free flowing rivers are the rivers which do not have any dams or barrages on their course. In its dam onslaught, India has few free flowing rivers left. We do not have any policy or law to protect these last remaining free flowing rivers. Many countries across the world have specific laws to protect free flowing rivers that they have. To know more about free flowing rivers and policy tools across the world to protect these, see: http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/where-rivers-run-free-1670

Western Ghats has few free flowing rivers like Shastri (Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra) and Aghanashini (Uttar Kannada district of Karnataka). The range of services provided by these rivers is often neglected. In reality, they support livelihoods of communities around them as well as rich biodiversity. Studies indicate that free flowing rivers are more resilient to challenges posed by Climate Change than their dammed counterparts.

Collection of mussels from Aghanashini Estuary. Not only a significant source of income, but also protein
Collection of mussels from Aghanashini Estuary. Not only a significant source of income, but also protein Photo: CES, IISc

The paper tries to evaluate the ecological as well as economic status of Aghanashini/ Tadri river estuary and that of Sharavathi Estuary. River Sharavathi has cascade of hydel dams on its main stem and tributaries, most of them belonging to the Karnataka Power Corporation Limited, together with an installed capacity of 1469.2 MW (for a map of the basin with HEP locations, see: https://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Sharavathy150411.jpg). The dam that is closest to the estuary is the Gerusouppa HEP (240 MW), the dam that is farthest is Linganamakki (55 MW).

Table 1Flow Chart of 1469.2 MW Sharavathi Hydroelectric Projects Source: KPCL

 flowchart

These dams submerged a huge area of land, forests and villages. Linganmakki Dam submerged 326.34 sq km, Talakalele: 7.77sq km and Gerusoppa submerged 5.96 sq. km respectively. The Linganamakki reservoir resulted in the full or partial submergence of 99 villages in the Sagar and 76 villages in the Hosanagar taluks of Shimoga district, also causing the displacement of 12000 people. The Talakalale reservoir resulted in the full or partial submergence of 3 villages in the Sagar taluk. Whereas, the Gerusoppa reservoir the submerged 5.96 sq. km of tropical evergreen to semi-evergreen forests. In addition, for the Sharavathi Tail Race project, 4.72 sq. km of forest and 0.08 sq. km of other lands was also acquired for the township, roads, etc. (http://www.ces.iisc.ernet.in/energy/water/paper/Cumulative/studyarea.htm) The land taken for Chakra dam, Savehaklu dam (both upstream of Linkanmakki dam) and Kargal Anicut and Sirur balancing reservoir would be additional.

Submergence area of Linganmakki Reservoir Photo: Sabarish Raghupathy

The dams have no system of releasing environmental flows, mimicking the natural hydrograph of the river for people and communities in the downstream.

Geographically the Uttar Kannada district of Karnataka has 4 estuaries. From north to south, these are Kali, Bedthi/ Gangavali, Aghanashini/ Tadri and Sharavathi estuaries. Distance between Kali and Bedthi estuary is 32 km, just 10 km further south, we have Aghanashini/ Tadri estuary and further 24km south we have Sharavathi estuary.

Projects on Sharavathi Map: SANDRP
Projects on Sharavathi Map: SANDRP
Sharvathi Projects: CES, IISc
Sharvathi Projects: CES, IISc

Important findings of the study:

Please note that the comparison given below is only with respect to some specific aspects of estuaries of the two river basins and not with respect to the whole river basins and cost benefits of the hydropower projects in case of Sharavathi basin. The implied impacts mentioned here on the Sharavathi basin is not with respect to what was the situation before the projects were taken up. It needs to be added that such impacts were not taken into account while taking decisions about the projects, while doing cost benefit analysis of the projects, while undertaking social and environmental impact assessments or while formulating social and environmental management plans.

1.    Free flowing river supports more biodiversity:

90 fish species were observed in Aghanashini estuary while the number of different fish species observed in Sharavathi estuary is only 43, nearly 50% less than Aghanashini. Sharavathi had specifically lower populations of marine species migrating up river. This is attributed to near-freshwater salinity of Sharavathi Estuary, maintained due to constant inflow of water from upstream hydel projects, even in peak summer.

2.    Free flowing River supports more river dependant livelihoods, than its dammed counterpart

Aghanashini Estuary supports 20 fishing villages, while there are only 10 fishing villages in Sharavathi Estuary. Fisherfolk in Aghanashini are more than 6000, while Sharavathi estuary supports only 283 fisherfolk. Gathering of edible bivalves, a major economic activity in Aghanashini estuary has gone extinct in Sharavathi.

3. Estuarine salinity is highly modified in the river with hydel projects:

Aghanashini’s salinity increases during non-monsoon months – since it is a rain-fed river. This salinity makes conditions favorable for marine fish and other animals to travel upstream the estuary. The salinity of the Aghanashini reaches the peak value of 24-34 ppt[1] during April- May.

Sharvathi: the study finds that even in peak summer months, the salinity of Sharavathi Estuary remains under 1 ppt, due to the continuous release of dammed freshwater from the turbines into the river while producing power. Hydropower projects affect the hydrograph as well as salinity in a river. Due to this drastic change in salinity, only the organisms which have a high tolerance for freshwater are found in Sharavathi estuary. Fishes and estuarine organisms such as crabs, bivalves etc. have a specific range of tolerance towards salinity.  These freshwater conditions affect the species of fish that migrate upstream in the Sharavathi estuary.

4.    Estuary of a Free flowing river is highly productive in ecological terms than its dammed counter part

The open estuarine part of Aghanashini, measuring 1977 ha, excluding saltpans, rice, and aquaculture, has annual fisheries (including bivalves) income to the tune of estimated Rs 1,095,072,000 or about Rs 1095 million, at Rs 553,905/ ha, in Sharavathi, 977 ha of open estuary produces only Rs 12,852,500 income or Rs 12.85 million, at an abysmally low rate of Rs 13,155/ ha in comparison. Shrimp aquaculture is widespread in Aghanashini, while practically non-existent in Sharavathi.

The study recommends exercising caution in “execution of hydroelectric projects in the west flowing rivers from Western Ghats to avoid fisheries collapse and dislocations in local livelihoods and economy.”

The study mainly attributes fall in fisheries to salinity changes in Sharavathi following cascade of dams. There may be other major underlying reasons contributing to this, including change in entire hydrological regime of the river and estuary, which affects fisheries, change in sediment load, sediment trapping by upstream dams, blockage to upstream and downstream migration of fish, pollution, differing and changing water use pattern, including groundwater uses, etc. The study mentions some of these reasons, although it’s done rather sketchily. There needs to be more thorough analysis of these factors.

In conclusion Value of a river is not only limited to the hydropower it can produce. Rivers have been providing free and invualble services to communities and societies at large since time immemorial. These services cannot always be converted into monitory terms, due to their complex and interconnected nature. At times, it is also not advisable to attempt that. However it is high time that free flowing rivers are at least recognized as important repositories of biodiversity and as highly useful ecosystems from anthropogenic view, offering goods and services for free, in addition to providing habitat for aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity.

Unfortunately, India’s environmental impact assessments, costs and benefit analysis surrounding dams and hydel projects do not give any value to a flowing river. The value of a river is assumed to be zero! The social impact assessment also needs to take into account the impact of the project on livelihoods of the people dependent on downstream river and rehabilitation plans needs to take such impacts into account. None of this is happening today.

There is an urgent need of a policy to protect the last remaining free flowing rivers in our country and understand the range of goods and services such Rivers can provide to communities and ecosystems currently and in future with changing climate.

Estuary of the free flowing Shashtri River in Maharashtra
Estuary of the free flowing Shashtri River in Maharashtra Photo: SANDRP

About Wetlands and Energy Group, CES, IISC: Wetlands and Energy Group of the IISc, currently under the leadership of Dr. T.V. Ramchandra has been working on groundbreaking research which is connected to the real challenges faced by regions like Western Ghats.  When the gap between research and challenges faced by biodiversity on the ground is widening day by day, such research by IISc is indeed laudable.

Their initial study on Aghanashini Estuary: http://wgbis.ces.iisc.ernet.in/biodiversity/pubs/ETR/ETR35/ETR35.pdf

On impacts of Gundia Hydel Project: http://www.ces.iisc.ernet.in/biodiversity/pubs/ces_tr/TR122/introduction.htm

On Cumulative Impact Assessment of Sharavathi projects: http://wgbis.ces.iisc.ernet.in/energy/sharavathi/svati.htm

On impacts of Kukke I and Kukke II Hydel projects: http://wgbis.ces.iisc.ernet.in/biodiversity/pubs/ETR/ETR54/intervention.htm

 

-Parineeta Dandekar, Damodar Pujari


[1] Parts per trillion: 1 ppt= 10-12