Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India recently published a report on ‘Developmental Impacts and Sustainable Governance Aspects of Renewable Energy Projects’. Around the same time, Karnataka High Court upheld Elephant Task Force’s recommendation about impacts of Small Hydro Projects (SHPs) on Elephant habitats and directed Karnataka Government to review clearances of all such projects affecting elephant habitats[i]. SHPs are hydel projects between 2 MW-25 MW installed capacity. Looking at the unaddressed impacts of SHPs, such a report by MNRE was sorely needed and was looked at as a welcome initiative.
Unfortunately, the MNRE Report has entirely excluded the small hydel sector from its assessment.
SHPs can have and are having severe impacts on communities and ecosystems. They fall under the MNRE and are exempt from environmental impact assessment, public hearing, and environmental management plan as EIA Notification 2006 restricts itself to projects above 25 MW. They get subsidies, tax rebates, tax holidays from the MNRE, apart from other benefits and preferential tariffs from states. Most of the SHP sector is crowded with private investors, wanting to make a quick buck from rivers, without any regulations. The rush is most prominent in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and now Kerala, where cascades of such dams are coming across pristine rivers.
Despite MNRE’s supposed intention, most SHPs are not supplying electricity to any “remote and inaccessible areas”.[ii] Most projects are grid connected, so the local communities do not get electricity from the projects in their backyards, across their rivers which have significant impacts on local water availability, habitat loss, submergence and fraudulent practices.
Following a petition from Western Ghats Forum, Karnataka High Court has ordered a ban on SHPs in Western Ghats, Uttarakhand High Court had cancelled as many as 56 SHPs. In Himachal, communities fought a long and lonely struggle against the 4.5 MW Hul project affecting drinking water security and irrigation of 6 villages, as well as ancient oak forests. [iii]Projects like 24.75 Kukke I in Dakshin Kannada can submerge a massive 388 hectares, including extremely biodiverse forests, plantations and houses.[iv] Greenko’s Perla and Shemburi Projects[v], Basavanna and Mauneshwara SHPs in Karnataka are examples where two 24.75 MW SHPs are fraudulently shown as separate projects, but are single projects on the same river with a common dam. Maruthi Gen projects, also in Karnataka were not only clubbed together, but also hid their significant impact on forest land[vi] . Submergence data of SHPs is routinely hidden & affected communities are kept in dark till water actually floods their lands.
The issues are serious and have been raised by many. As the projects are outside the purview of EIA Notification, none of their impacts are studied; neither do the communities get a platform to record their protests. Hence, a study on the environmental impacts of renewable energy projects was needed to address these issues.
Considering these serious aspects, it is very surprising that MNRE Report on impacts of Renewable Energy projects has chosen not to look at this sector at all. The report does not assess impacts of any such projects, neither does it offer any recommendations for this sector under MNRE. It only makes a sketchy study of wind and solar energy projects. The report makes incorrect statements like: “All hydroelectric power projects have to get environmental clearances which under two categories: category B if capacity of projects is between 50 to 25 MW”, effectively refusing to acknowledge hundreds of SHPs, under the purview of MNRE not requiring any environmental regulation.It states incorrect facts like “There are institutions and processes governing every operational aspect of RE project development and local institutions, in the form of democratic bodies, to safeguard micro level ecological and social concerns.” This is patently untrue for SHPs, which are highly unregulated and non-participatory.
The TORs of the study stress assessment of impacts of solar and wind projects, but do not exclude hydel projects. While TORs should have stressed on impacts of SHPs, looking at the number of protests and inherent problems, that does not warrant report writers’ complete neglect of this sector. Executive Summary states that this study has been done in response to WGEEP and HLWG report recommendations. Despite the fact that WGEEP specifically banned SHPs in Ecologically Sensitive Zone I, this report has chosen to turn a Nelson’s eye to the sector.
Even with regards to solar and wind projects, the report seems inadequate. For primary data, the authors visited 6 wind energy farms and 1 solar energy site. At the solar energy site, interaction was exclusively with project management and engineers. Social and environmental impacts cannot be understood through interviews with project management alone. While the report documents the devastation around wind energy farms in Maharashtra, it is not reflected in conclusions and recommendations.
The report is entirely silent on Clean Development Mechanism applications of SHPs, which are routinely full of lies and incorrect information. CDM credits give project additional pocketable profits, while the affected communities get only unaddressed impacts. Considering the forest land submerged by Small hydel Projects, and their impacts on adaptation and mitigation potential of local communities, they are also problematic from perspective of climate change.
The report ends with unacceptable conclusions and recommendations, most surprising being: “The RE project development is regulated by environmental and social governance system. The current regulatory mechanism is strong… No new changes are required in the legal framework or the governance structure to mitigate environmental and social impacts.” It even pushes for a “fast channel for quick clearances”.
The report says that environmental impacts of RE projects “are not significant” and social impacts of are “not negative”. Report writers need to visit SHPs in Himachal, Uttarakhand and Karnataka where people have lost irrigation channels, water mills, plantations and even lives, when sudden water was released from projects like Perla-Shemburi in Bantwal[vii], Karnataka.
Sweeping conclusions and recommendations for the entire RE sector is highly problematic, especially when there are several examples of unaddressed impacts, which depend on specific site and project.
The report does include some welcome recommendations. These include: siting policy for projects including zonation and increased participation of local communities in planning and decision making about natural resources, affected by the projects. It recommends issuing clear guidelines such that community welfare is not compromised due to RE projects and about proponent’s responsibilities in the zone of influence of the RE project. The report recommends zonation of projects in go-green (no objection), go slow and no go areas for RE project development. These need to be implemented by the MNRE. If the report would have looked at the entire RE sector, it could have made some valuable observations and recommendations.
There is a very urgent need to bring projects between 1 – 25 MW under the purview of EIA Notification 2006. Several representations and evidences later, it is clear that MoEF does not have the will to do so. It was expected that MNRE will raise these issues, but if this report is an indication, MNRE too is not willing to accept the challenges of SHP development, or regulating the impacts.
Lower installed capacity does not always mean lower social or environmental impacts. Targeted efforts are needed to assess, address and mitigate impacts. For this, the first step will be to acknowledge impacts, not brush them under the carpet. World over, impacts of small hydro projects are being highlighted.
As India is looking at expanding its renewable energy sector, it needs to be truly sustainable and clean, not just an assumption. Hence, MNRE’s effort at addressing environmental and social impacts of renewable energy projects is a welcome move. But by refusing to acknowledge the impacts of Small Hydel Projects in its report, MNRE reminds one of Nero, playing his fiddle, when the forests around are being submerged or destroyed in the name of clean energy.
It was pretty surprising to see the front page headline in The Times of India on Oct 24, 2013[i], claiming that an India China “MoU on Dams Among Nine Deals Signed”. The Hindu headline[ii] (p 12) claimed, “China will be more transparent on trans-border river projects”. Indian Express story[iii] (on page 1-2) claimed, “The recognition of lower riparian rights is a unique gesture, because China has refused to put this down on paper with any other neighbouring country”. It should be added that the news stories on this subject in the Economic Times and the Hindustan Times took the MoU in more matter of fact way.
Additional information for second half of May However, the actual language of the Memorandum of Understanding on “strengthening cooperation on trans-border rivers” available on website of Press Information Bureau[v] and Ministry of External affairs[vi] gives a very different picture. There is no mention of dams, river projects or lower riparian or rights there. One additional feature of the agreement is that the current hydrological data (Water Level, Discharge and Rainfall) in respect of three stations, namely, Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia located on river Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra from 1st June to 15th October every year[vii] will now be extended to May 15th to Oct 15th with effect from 2014. While this is certainly a step forward since the monsoon in North East India sets in May and also in view of the accelerated melting of glaciers in changing climate, it should not lead to the kind of hype some of the newspapers created around the river information MoU. Moreover, it should be remembered that India pays for the information that it gets from China and what Indian government does with that information is not even known since it is not even available in public domain. How this information is thus used is a big state secret!
Over-Optimistic reading of the MoU? The specific feature of the new MoU about which media seemed excited read as follows: “The two sides agreed to further strengthen cooperation on trans-border rivers, cooperate through the existing Expert Level Mechanism (for detailed chronology of ELM formation, meetings and earlier MoUs on Sutlej and Brahmaputra, see annexure below) on provision of flood-season hydrological data and emergency management, and exchange views on other issues of mutual interest.” The key words of this fifth the last clause of the MoU were seen as “exchange views on other issues of mutual interest”, providing India an opportunity to raise concerns about the Chinese hydropower projects and dams on shared rivers. However, the clause only talks about exchange of views and there is no compulsion for China to share its views, leave aside share information about the Chinese projects in advance or otherwise. On the face of it, the hype from this clause misplaced.
This was read with first clause: “The two sides recognized that trans-border rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development of all riparian countries.” Here “riparian countries” clearly includes lower riparian. But to suggest that this clause on its own or read with clause 5 mentioned above provides hope that China will include the concerns of the lower riparian in Chinese projects on shared rivers seems slightly stretched. The clause only recognises the asset value of rivers and related natural resources and environment for all basin countries and it is doubtful if it can be used to interpret that Chinese will or should take care of the concerns of lower riparian.
Thus the rather optimistic interpretation does not seem to emanate from the actual wording of the MoU, but the rather over optimistic interpretation by the Indian interlocutors, possibly including the Indian ambassador to China, who has been quoted on this aspect.
Real Achievement: GOI recognises value of Rivers! What is most interesting though is that Indian government has actually signed a Memorandum that recognises that “rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development”. This is absolutely amazing and joyful development for rivers. Since there is nothing in the laws, policies, programs, projects and practices of Indian government that says that rivers are of any value. Now that Indian government has actually signed an MoU agreeing to such a value, there is sudden hope for rivers, it seems. Only lurking doubt, though is the word “trans-border” before rivers! We hope the Government of India applies this clause to all rivers, not just trans-border rivers, though we know from past that this hope is one a rather thin ice!!
1. Formation and Meetings of Expert Level Mechanism (ELM) on Trans-border Rivers
20-23 Nov, 2006
During the visit of the President of People’s Republic of China to India in November 20-23, 2006, it was agreed to set up an Expert-Level Mechanism to discuss interaction and cooperation on provision of flood season hydrological data, emergency management and other issues of trans-border rivers between the two countries. Accordingly, the two sides set up the Joint Expert Level Mechanism(ELM) on Trans-border Rivers. The Expert Group from Indian side is led by Joint Secretary level officers. Seven meetings of ELM have been held so far.
19-21 Sept, 2007
In the 1st meeting of ELM the issues related to bilateral cooperation for exchange of hydrological information were discussed.
10-12 April, 2008
In the 2nd meeting of ELM work regulations of the ELM were agreed upon and signed. It was agreed that the ELM shall meet once every year, alternatively in India and China.
21–25 April, 2009
The 3rd meeting was focused on helping in understanding of each other’s position for smooth transmission of flood season hydrological data.
26-29 April, 2010
In the 4th meeting the implementation plan on provision of hydrological information on Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra River in flood season was signed.
19-22 April, 2011
In the 5th meeting the Implementation Plan in respect to the MoU on Sutlej was signed.
17-20 July, 2012
The 6th meeting of ELM was held at New Delhi where both the countries reached at several important understandings and a significant one of those understandings is – “The two sides recognized that trans-border rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development of all riparian countries.”
14-18 May, 2013
In the 7th meeting held at Beijing, China where in the draft MoU and Implementation Plan on Brahmaputra river was finalized.
2. MoUs on Hydrological Data Sharing on River Brahmaputra / Yaluzangbu
Government of India and China signed a MoU for provision of hydrological information on Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra River in flood season by China to India. In accordance with the provisions contained in the MoU, the Chinese side provided hydrological information (Water Level, Discharge and Rainfall) in respect of three stations, namely, Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia located on river Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra (see the map above) from 1st June to 15th October every year, which was utilized in the formulation of flood forecasts by the Central Water Commission. This MoU expired in 2007.
On 5th June, India signed a new MoU with China on provision of hydrological information of the Brahmaputra /Yaluzangbu river in flood season by China to India with a validity of five years. This was done during the visit of the External Affairs Minister of India to Beijing from June 4-7. Under this China had provided the hydrological data of the three stations for the monsoon season from 2010 onward.
During the visit of Chinese Premier Li Kegiang to India the MoU of 2008 has been extended till 5th June 2018.
3. MoUs on Hydrological Data Sharing on River Satluj / Langquin Zangbu
A MoU was signed during the visit of the Chinese Premier to India in April for supply of hydrological information in respect of River Satluj (Langquin Zangbu) in flood season. Chinese side provided hydrological information in respect of their Tsada station on river Satluj (Langquin Zangbu in Chinese, see the map above).
In order to supply flood season hydrological information on River Sutlej a new MoU was agreed in August 2010
On 16 Dec 2010, during the visit of Prime Minister of China to India a new MoU was signed to provide hydrological information of Sutlej/Langquin Zangbo River in flood season by China to India with a validity of five years.
During the 5th ELM meeting held in April, 2011 an MoU on Sutlej containing the Implementation Plan with technical details of provision of hydrological information, data transmission method and cost settlement etc. was signed in Beijing. The hydrological information during the flood season has been received in terms of the signed implementation plan.
Annexure compiled by Parag Jyoti Saikia
Post Script: Further reading: http://www.thethirdpole.net/2015/11/06/tibet-dams-hold-back-silt-not-water
A typical irrigation project comprises of dam, reservoir, main canal, distributaries, minors, sub minors, field channels & farms. Components from reservoir to minors/sub minors are termed as Irrigation Main System [IMS]. The main purpose of IMS is to store & convey water to irrigation outlets. IMS, at present, is up-stream controlled, manually operated, mostly open channel system. Water Governance of projects critically depends upon IMS. Good governance of irrigation projects is practically impossible without compatible physical system & adequate legal support. This paper makes an attempt to highlight this basic fact with particular reference to M&MIP in Maharashtra.
Water Resources Development in Maharashtra Water sector in Maharashtra is passing through a difficult period. Following exposure of the irrigation scam in 2012, the Maharashtra Government had to publish white paper on irrigation. But that created more problems. Appointment of Special Investigation Team (SIT) further aggravated the controversy. Several public interest litigations have been filed. Investigation by CBI is being demanded. And opposition political parties have been keeping the issue alive in legislative council & assembly. The message is loud & clear. Water Governance is conspicuous by its absence.
Issues that have become controversial are listed below & they do substantiate the absence of water governance.(1,4,6,7)
1) Validity of water availability certificates
2) Completion of irrigation projects in the truest sense of the term
3) Accurate, credible figures of Created Irrigation Potential (CIP)
4) Reduction in CIP
5) Truth about Actual Irrigated Area (AIA)
Present Scenario of Water Management in Maharashtra: The present scenario of water management in irrigation projects in the State is equally disturbing (2,3,4,5). Cropping pattern dominated by perennial & hot weather crops, inefficient water use, illegal lift irrigation schemes, diversion of water from irrigation to non-irrigation, absence of water – & crop area – measurement and non implementation of water laws are some of the important challenges before water governance.
Infrastructural Constraints Water governance demands compatible infrastructure. Infrastructure, in irrigation sector, includes reservoirs, canals & distribution network (DISNET), that is, mainly Irrigation Main System (IMS). Better the IMS better will be the water governance. IMS comprises of earthwork, structures & measuring devices. Earthwork & structures help store & convey water. Gated structures, in addition, facilitate control & regulation of water. Measuring devices, measure water & make possible other three most important & basic things of water governance, namely, monitoring, evaluation & water audit. Control, regulation & measurement together create “Water Control Situation” (WCS).WCS facilitates water level- & discharge- control which is the heart of canal operation. WCS, at least in Maharashtra, is largely conspicuous by its absence. That is a big infrastructural constraint from Water Governance point of view. Listed below are the highlights WCS in Maharashtra. The list is indicative & not exhaustive.
(1) IMS is an open channel system which, by its very nature, is difficult to control & regulate.
(2) IMS is an upstream controlled system. Such a system, by design, works as per the logic of supply side management & is operator – friendly. Here, the operator means officials of WRD. Participatory Irrigation Management is, not provided for in the design.
(3) IMS is basically designed for flow irrigation purposes. Lift irrigation & non-irrigation have not been considered in the original design. But IMS, in practice, is used for all purposes.
(4) Actual capacity of canals & DISNET is significantly less than design capacity; defective construction & lack of maintenance & repairs (M & R) being the main reasons.
(5) Actual conveyance losses of canals & DISNET are far more than generally expected. Overall Project Efficiency (ratio of water received at root zone & water released at canal head) is hardly 20-25% in most of the systems.(2,3)
(6) Less carrying capacity & more losses make mockery of irrigation schedules. Timely & predictable water supply remains on paper. Inordinate delays & grossly inadequate water supply inevitably lead to water conflicts.
(7) Gates of different type & size at strategic locations in canals & DISNET are of vital importance to control & regulate water supply. But most of the gates are either out of order or simply missing. Poor M & R, tampering & vandalism are common.
(8) Gates at present are cumbersome to operate. Their manual operation limits flexibility of canal operation. In absence of real time data, gate operation becomes ad-hoc. There is hardly any water level- & discharge-control.
(9) Measuring devices are generally not provided at the head of canals & DISNET. Wrong design, improper location, defective construction & poor M &R of measuring devices and moreover, no reliable staff to record measurements are some of the features of the volumetric supply. Both officers & influential irrigators simply don’t like the idea of water measurement for well known reasons.
Even if the WCS does not exist as described above, WRD used to religiously publish Water Audit, Benchmarking & Irrigation Status Reports regularly. The author of this paper sent some objections in 2011(5). WRD did not respond.
Story of crop area measurement is similar to that of water measurement. It is not being measured. On the background of Irrigation scam, white paper & SIT, though GOM published its Economic Survey, it does not give statistics of irrigation. That is just “Not Available-NA”!
In view of above, one is compelled to agree with following two well known comments which have serious implications for Water Governance
(i) There is no management in irrigation, its only administration.
(ii) Whatever irrigation takes place, it is not the result of any planning as such. Its irrigation by accident.
Water Laws Maharashtra has enacted several Irrigation Acts. But those are not being implemented. Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), the first of its kind in India, has proved to be a failed institute. It has simply lost an opportunity to streamline water governance in the State in spite of having quasi-judicial powers. Lawlessness has become a hallmark of water sector in Maharashtra. Rule of Law is WANTED! (8)
Water Governance Constraints listed above lead to mismanagement in water sector which in turn gives rise to water conflicts. Absence of Rule of Law increases both number & severity of water conflicts. Given the situation, water governance then becomes virtually impossible. Good water governance is possible only if the infrastructure in water sector is improved & modernized and water laws are scrupulously implemented. Most importantly, when there is bottom up participatory process with key role for the local people. Implementation of water laws depends on political will & awareness amongst water users.
It’s time to switch over from “administration to management” in water sector & say good bye to “irrigation by accident”.
Till then good water governance may have to wait!
-Pradeep Purandare (Retd. Associate Professor, Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI), Aurangabad. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
1) WRD,GoM(1999): “Report of Maharashtra Water & Irrigation Commission”
2) WRD,GoM(2011): “Report on Benchmarking of Irrigation Systems in Maharashtra State, 2009-10”, Mar 2011, www.mwrdc.org
3) WRD,GoM (2011): “Report on Water Auditing of Irrigation Systems in Maharashtra State, 2009-10”, Mar 2011, www.mwrdc.org
Over two months after the Supreme Court (SC) of India order of Aug 13, 2013, the MEF has now constituted an expert committee, see MEF order no: L-11011/14/2011-IA.I (Vol-II) dated Oct 15, 2013.
The constitution of the committee under the chairpersonship of Ravi Chopra is welcome, with the inclusion of some independent and expert members. At the same time, the committee is unwieldy with excessive inclusion of government members and members with conflict of interest. This raises doubts if the committee will be allowed to function in an independent way. The committee has not been given the full mandate as required by the Supreme Court order.
1. The MoEF order says in the very first para of the order, “Ministry of Environment & Forests hereby constitutes an Expert Committee to make a detailed study as to whether Hydroelectric power projects existing and under construction in the river basins of Alkananda, Bhagirathi and their tributaries”. It also says that the expert committee has been set up following Supreme Court orders dated Aug 13, 2013. But why limit to Alaknanda Bhagirathi (AB) basin and its tributaries? That leaves out a huge area of Uttarakhand that also suffered damages, including Ganga, Yamuna and Kali-Gori basins and where too hydropower projects are present and under construction. The SC order was not limited to AB basins, but was applicable to the entire UttarakhandState“Hydroelectric Power Projects existing and under construction have contributed to the environmental degradation, if so, to what extent and also whether it has contributed to the present tragedy occurred at Uttarakhand”. This committee’s mandate to look at only Alaknanda and BhagirathiBasins is limited does not comply with the SC order.
2. Mr BP Das, a member of this expert body, is former vice chair of Ministry of Environment and Forests’ (MoEF) EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects). He has been a member of EAC for many years and many of the projects cleared by the EAC that he was member of will now be reviewed by the committee this is clearly wrong. He has also presided over decisions to clear projects that WII had recommended be dropped. By making him member of this committee he will be now sitting on judgement over those same projects. Mr. B.P. Das has also been the head of committee constituted by MoEF which looked at environmental compliance of 330 MW Srinagar HEP of GVK company. To make Mr. Das a member of the committee is clearly inappropriate.
3. Similarly Mr G L Bansal has been a member of the EAC and hence his selection in this committee involves conflict of interest and should not have been done.
4. The second TOR of the committee says: “Examine, as observed by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in its report, as to whether the proposed 24 projects in Uttarakhand are causing significant impact on the Biodiversity of Alaknanda & Bhagirathi river basins.” The Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 had asked MoEF to take a view on these projects, which the ministry so far has refused to do. it has passed the hat to this committee.
This TOR too is very limited. It asks if the 24 projects are causing “significant impact” on biodiversity of AB basins. Do we need another expert committee to opine if big hydropower projects are causing significant impacts on biodiversity, when an expert body like WII has already concluded the impacts are so serious that the projects need to be dropped? This seems to be making fun of the WII report and attempt to not to respond to the SC order.
5. It seems some of the government members have been added just to make the committee loaded with government persons. Some such member includes Chief Engineer of Uttarakhand Water Resources Department, Expert representatives of NIRM, ICFRI, NDMA and CPWD. They were not part of the SC order. These bodies also do not have any expertise or direct involvement in hydropower projects. If the committee needed their expertise, they can in any case be asked to depose before the committee. Their presence is unnecessary and makes the committee unwieldy and difficult to manage.
6. Several respected women have been working on issues related to sustainable development, hydropower, its impacts on communities and ecosystems. However, the present committee does not have any representation from women. This is a serious concern.
This committee has a serious task ahead of it and for completing it effectively and in an unbiased manner, its mandate needs to be expanded to include whole of Uttarakhand as per the SC order. The constitution needs to be streamlined and members with conflict of interest as well as unnecessary government representation, as mentioned above need to be dropped.
The Simang River is a tributary of the Siang River which originates at an elevation of 2950 m. The river is 44 km long (as mentioned in the EIA/EMP reports done by consultant R S Environ Link). Total catchment area of Simang River is 554 sq km. There are two projects proposed on the Simang River. The first one is Simang I with an installed capacity of 67 MW (3 x 22.33 MW) and catchment area of 494 sq km. The second one is the upstream project Simang II with an installed capacity of 66 MW (3 x 22 MW) and catchment area of 422 sq km. These two projects were jointly discussed in the 19th meeting of EAC in October 2008 for the first time. Then these projects were subsequently discussed in the 21st, 36th, 66th and 67th meeting of EAC. A diagram of the two projects on the Simang River is given below.
Troubled Figures of EIA/EMP
In order to prepare the above diagram EIA/EMP reports of both Simang I and Simang II has been consulted. A detailed analysis of the numbers and figures mentioned in the EIA/EMPs for the river shows serious inadequacies in both the EIAs and raises questions on the authenticity of the EIA studies being done on the river.
1. EIA Wrong about Length of Simang River: It is surprising to find that the EIA studies for the two projects cannot give the correct the length of Simang River and contradicts each other (e.g. paragrapgh 4 page 1.14 of EIA of Simang I). Even though the total length of the river has been mentioned as 44 km in EIA studies of both the projects, lengths of the river over different parts do not add upto that.
The EIA report of Simang I in map of ‘Figure 1.3: Project in Simang Basin’ of page 1.16 shows that the distance between the origin of the river and reservoir of Simang II HEP is 22.27 km. The EIA report of Simang II states that the distance between barrage axis of Simang II and Simang-Siang confluence is 19.66 km (paragraph 1 page 5.2). The stretch of the Simang River used by Simang II barrage is 1.05km (from page 4.6 paragraph 1 & 2 of Simang II EIA report). If we take the total of these three parts of the Simang River, the total length of the river will be 42.98km and not 44 km.
On the other hand if we take some other figures given for different parts of the river, then we get another length for the Simang River. The Simang I EIA shows that the distance between the barrage axis of Simang II and TWL of Simang I is 15.75 km (Figure 1.3). The distance between the TWL of Simang I and it’s confluence with Siang river is given as 3.29 km. From this the total length of the river comes out as 41.31 km excluding the Simang II reservoir area. The stretch of the Simang River used by Simang II reservoir is 1.05 km. So including this total length of the Simang River is 42.36 km, not 44 km.
This is a serious inadequacy on the part of the EIA studies since the studies are not clear even about the river length across different parts of the projects. Either the EIA consultants do not know the rivers or they are fudging figures. In either case, these EIA reports should not be accepted.
2. Incorrect Assessment of River Use for the Projects The EIA reports of both Simang I and II projects gives incorrect figures for stretch of river used for the projects. The stretch of the Simang River submerged by Simang II barrage is 1.05 km (from page 4.6 paragraph 1 & 2 of Simang II EIA report), stretch of river bypassed between Simang II barrage and TWL is 7.75 km. The EIA report of Simang I states that the stretch of river submerged by Simang I barrage is 1.48 km and stretch of river bypassed between Simang I barrage and TWL is 7 km. This concludes that the total length of the river used by the two projects is 17.28 km and not 15.75 km as claimed in the EIA reports. Not giving the correct information about the stretch of the river used for projects is a major lacunae on the part of the EIAs and hence these EIA should be rejected.
3. Incorrect Assessment Distance between Simang-Siang Confluence and Power House of Simang I: It seems the EIA/EMP consultant has no knowledge of the area since the distance stated between the Simang-Siang confluence and Power House also seems to be incorrect. The Simang I EIA in states that distance between barrage axis of dam and Simang-Siang confluence is 9.34 km. It also stated that the distance between barrage axis and power house is 7 km. This leaves the distance between the Simang-Siang confluence and Simang I power house as 2.34 and not 3.29 as shown in Figure 1.3 in page 1.16 of the EIA. This again proves that the EIA report prepared by the consultant is inadequate and it should not be accepted.
4. Assessment of river length for diversion is doubtful The diverted river length for Simang II HEP given as 7.75 km in the EIA seems to be doubtful. But tunnel lengths mentioned in the same document for Simang II are as follows:
In fact the bypassed length of the river is likely to be longer than this length of the various tunnel components since rivers do not flow in straight lines, unlike the tunnels.
Critical Issues Not Addressed by EIA/EMP The projects on the Simang River were first considered for TOR in 2008 in the 19th EAC meeting. The proposal that time was to construct three hydro electric projects (HEPs) on the river. In reply to this the EAC had asked, “Secretary (Power) and Secretary (Environment) of Government of Arunachal Pradesh should attend the next meeting to clarify the reason for allotting a series of hydroelectric projects on a river which subsequently flows only through tunnels and damage the aquatic ecology.” The Power secretary and Environment secretary attended the 21st meeting of EAC. Going through the minutes of that meeting, it becomes very obvious that Arunachal with its aim to generate more revenue was ready to dam every river or stream in the state. This strengthens the impression that the Simang I or Simang II HEPs are not going to be much beneficial for the local people, environment or the state.
After going through the EIA/EMP of both the projects we have found that there are several critical issues with these studies. There are several issues which are common in both the studies and several others which are particular to each project. Reading these documents thoroughly gives a feeling that the documents don’t have much of a difference from each other and lot of ‘copy-pasting’ has been done. Some of them are also mere replications (e.g. section 4.2 page 4.7 of Simang I EIA and section 4.1.8 in page 4.6 Simang II EIA). There are also many instances where names and words have been confused, e.g. in page 1.15 of Simang II EIA, in the title of the Table 1.1 “Simang I” has been mentioned instead of “Simang II’. This kind of issues raises question on the validity and authenticity of the EIA/EMP studies done. Some of the critical issues are listed below as an example, this is not exhaustive list.
1. EAC Recommendations not Followed: The EIA/EMP studies of these projects have not followed several of the EAC recommendations. EAC in its meetings had recommended the project proponent to address several important concerns but those were no followed.
“To maintain the aquatic life, a study to be conducted by National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee. Methodology followed for measurement of water flow to be given.” (19th EAC Meeting) – There is no mention of any study done on environment flows. The EIA/EMP report of both the projects does not give any details of how the environment flow was measured except mentioning what will be the environmental flow.
Between dam and power house how many streams/ tributaries join and what is their contribution in turn of water in the lean season and monsoon? (19th EAC meeting) – The EIA/EMP of none of the two projects responded to this. There are no accurate details about number the flow contribution of different streams or river joining Simang.
Seismic Studies, Slope Stabilization measures, Reservoir Rim Treatment should be included in the EIA/EMP studies. (36th EAC meeting) – The EIA/EMP studies of the two projects do not have any details ofseismic studies done in the project area.
Disaster Management Plan should be included in the EIA/EMP studies. (36th EAC meeting) – This is very surprising because none of the two projects in Simang River has any disaster management plan in their respective EIA/EMP documents.
2.Impact of Migration of Outside Workers on Local Communities not Assessed The EIA/EMP reports estimates that there will be migration of nearly 1000 persons for each project during the peak construction period to this very sparsely populated area. People who live in this area belong to several ethnic tribal groups with unique social, economic, political and cultural values. The EIA/EMP reports do not discuss what will be the impact of such migration on the social, political, economic and cultural lives of the people. Influx of such migration will also have impacts on their human rights as well on women. The EIA/EMPs make no mention of these impacts of migration and that is why the EIA/EMP report is incomplete. Besides, even though the projects had been considered together by EAC, no cumulative impact assessment of migration was done.
3. Shoddy Socio-economic Impact Study: The property surveys which the consultant claim to have done for both these projects are inadequate and shoddy socio-economic impact assessment studies. For Simang I a property survey of project affected families in 5 villages was done but it was found incomplete since it does not take into account two of the project affected villages. On page 6A-10 of the EIA report, these 5 villages are stated as Dosing, Lileng, Pareng, Rengo and Boleng. But out of these villages, there are only three villages mentioned in the property survey – Pareng, Rengo and Boleng. The two villages Dosing and Lileng were not found in the list and instead there were two different villages mentioned in the list – Yingku and Sine.
But after reading through the EIA study of Simang II, it becomes clear that project consultant had done only one survey for both the projects. The two villages Yingku and Sine are also found in the property survey list for Simang II EIA with the same number of affected families (page 6A-16).
It is also surprising to see how the opinions can be exactly similar for both the projects when the affected families are different for each project (See page 16A-15 of Simang I HEP EIA and page 16A-17 of Simang II HEP EIA). Besides, in the list mentioned in page 6A-17 of Simang II EIA, village named Yingku is mentioned twice but there is no justification provided for that.
This brings to light how recklessly these EIAs had been prepared. In fact, the whole concept of property survey is questionable. It takes into account very limited concerns related with the projects ignoring many serious issues. One important aspect of what is the value of the river and other common property resources for the people of the area finds no mention in the property survey. Such property survey cannot be taken as a full proof socio-economic impact assessment and hence EIA/EMP is incomplete and cannot be accepted.
4. Options Assessment not Done The EIA/EMPs of the proposed projects have not done any options assessment study. For example, the option of sub megawatt micro hydro project for a sparsely populated and pristine area like this has not been assessed. For ethnic tribal communities with small population micro hydro project is a better option. The option of solar power generation has also not been assessed by the EIA/EMPs of the projects. Options assessment is an important part of the EIA/EMP document and since this is not done the EIA/EMP reports are incomplete and cannot be accepted.
5. Environmental Flows Assessment not Done: The EIA/EMP reports of the two projects do not give any detail of how environment flow was calculated and how environment flow will be released. We have already mentioned that in the 19th EAC meeting, EAC had suggested that in order to maintain the aquatic life, a study should be conducted by National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee and the methodology followed for measurement of water flow should be made available in the EIA. But there is no mention about any such study in any of the documents.
EIA reports of both projects mentioned about the environment flow release exercise but that should have been done already and should have been a part of the EIA. Since the EIA reports do not mention about any study done on environment flow as asked by the EAC this EIAs cannot be taken as a complete impact assessment.
6. Socio-Economic Impacts of Reduced Flow Ignored: None of EIA/EMP reports mention about the socio economic impacts of reduced flow in the intermediate stretch between the barrage axis and power house. Besides, in questionnaire of the primary survey/property survey which the EIA consultants claim to have done, there is no question on impacts of the reduce flow of water in the river. Besides, the EIA/EMP studies do not discuss the importance of the river for the local people. This proves that EIA report is inadequate and cannot be accepted.
7.Impacts of Non-monsoon Peaking Power Generation not Assessed: EIA/EMP reports of the two projects do not assess how peaking power generation during non-monsoon period will impact the flow in the river downstream from power house. Peaking power generation will have significant impact in the downstream since there will be sudden flow of water in the river for a short period of the day and rest of times it will remain almost dry. This sudden release of water holds threat for the people living downstream as well as their livestock. There are many instances where large number of people and livestock dying due to sudden release of water from upstream dam. Most recently, on Oct 7, 2013, one person was washed away in Arunachal Pradesh due to sudden release of water from the Ranganadi HEP. Besides, this fluctuation in river water on everyday basis will have severe impacts on aquatic bio diversity of the river and use of the river by the people. EIA study ignores all these issues and that is why this study cannot be accepted as a complete study.
8. Impact Assessment of changing sediment releases not Done The EIA/EMP reports do not talk about how sedimentation will impact the reservoir. The EIAs should have included detail analysis of two main impacts – 1.Impact of changing silt flows downstream from desilting chamber and 2. Impacts of silt flushing in monsoon season on the downstream areas. The EIA/EMP report should also do a cumulative study of reservoir sedimentation because the sediment released from the upstream reservoir will affect the reservoir downstream.
9. Socio-economic Impact Assessment of Quarrying not Done: EIA/EMP of any of the two projects on Simang does not talk about the socio economic impact of quarrying on the local people and environment. EIA/EMP reports also have not assessed how the quarrying in a fragile hill range like Eastern Himalayas will increase the risk of landslide and disaster. Ignoring the disaster risk of quarrying in the hills can have disastrous impacts and the recent Uttarakhand disaster is a proof of that. Since EIA/EMP studies ignore all these issues, they cannot be accepted as complete and that is why EIA/EMPs of Simang I and II should be rejected.
10. False Claim about Height of the Dam: The claim made by the EIA/EMP of both the projects that 18 m high dam reservoir is “very low height” is misleading and false. In the 2nd paragraph of page 10.2, the EMP report of Simang I states “Because it is a run of the river hydro project with a small barrage with very low height (18 m), the inundation will be minimized during reservoir filling.” The same claim has been made in the same page of Simang II EMP. This claim is baseless because according to international standards any dam with a wall height of 15 m or above is a big dam.
11. Climate Change Assessment Not Done EIA/EMP studies of both the projects have not done any climate change impact assessment for the proposed projects. Today when climate change impact risks are increasing day by day, it is very essential for studies like these to do an assessment of possible climate change impacts on the project as well as impacts of the projects on local climate. In fact the word “climate change” is nowhere to be found in the EIA or EMP of the two projects. Without climate change risk assessment, an environment impact assessment cannot complete and that is why this report is unacceptable.
The EIA/EMP studies should also have done an assessment of methane release from the reservoir of the project. Since these important issues are not addressed by the impact assessment study, it cannot be accepted as a complete study.
12. False Claims about Flora and Fauna The EIA/EMP of the two projects makes a completely baseless claim that “There will be no negative impact on flora of region during the operation phase.” This cannot be accepted as truth since during the construction phase of Simang I and II, the forest area diverted will be 29.86 ha and 22.02 ha respectively. After such a diversion forest, the impact on flora and fauna is inevitable because the area is covered by dense forest. The EIA report of Simang I states that forests constitute the predominant land use in the 10 km area which was studied for this project and 67.66% of this area is covered by dense forests. Besides, none of the two EIA studies provide any data on how many trees will be cut down for the project. These are serious lacunas on the part of EIA/EMP of these two projects and that is why this report cannot be accepted as a comprehensive study.
14. Barrage Location not Clearly Stated for Simang I The EIA report of Simang I is not clear about where the barrage of proposed Simang I HEP will be located. In page 1.5 the EIA report states “The reservoir created by the barrage located near Boleng town will operate between FRL 339 m and MDDL 334 m.” But the same report in page 5.2 says “The proposed Barrage axis is situated about 9.34 Km upstream of confluence of Simang river with Siang river. The river Simang joins the SiangRiver near Boleng township.” Besides, the maps show that Boleng area is located near the confluence of two rivers not near the barrage site. This is a significant error of the EIA study and hence this study is inadequate and cannot be accepted.
15. Simang II does not assess the project impact on Protected Area EIA states that the distance between Mouling National Park and the reservoir tail at Subbung Nala and Simang River are 5.6 and 5.7 km respectively (page 1.2, paragraph 2). Being in so close proximity of a protected area there should have been impact assessment of the project on the protected area but the EIA/EMP does not mention any such assessment.
16. Threat to Nearly Threatened Mammals The Simang II HEP is a threat to some of the endangered mammal species listed in IUCN Red List. Common leopard (Panthera pardus) and Assamese macaque (Macaca assamensis) which falls in the “Near Threatened” and Gaur (Bos frontalis) falling in “Vulnerable” category of IUCN Red List are found in the project area of Simang II. There are 13 more species of mammals falling under the “Least concern” category of IUCN which are also found in the area. This has been stated in the EIA study of Simang II.
On the other hand, the EIA study of Simang I ignores some the species falling under IUCN Red List. Rhesus macaque, Indian Porcupine and Asiatic Brush Tailed Porcupine which are found in the area fall under the “Least concern” category of IUCN Red List but the EIA report completely ignores this.
The EIA/EMP reports of the two proposed HEP projects on Simang River have significant lacunas and those cannot be ignored. The EIA consultant also had not consulted the local people in preparing the EIA report. This is another significant lacuna on the part of the EIA because it is the local people who are more aware of the local environment and river as they have lived in that place for generations. It is shameful that on the basis of such studies and reports, public hearing for the two HEPs was held without even announcing the Public hearing dates on the AP Pollution Control Board website. If these dams are constructed on the basis of such shoddy reports and flawed public hearings then it will invite an uncertain future for the people of the area and people have to live at the risk of disaster. The EAC should consider these issues seriously and must not accept these reports. The EAC should also consider recommending the black list of the consultants for the serious lacunae in the reports.
Fresh water inland fisheries in Maharashtra contribute to over 1 lakh MT fish catch each financial year and generate around ₹ 600-800 Crores for dependent fisher folks[i]. As per the economic surveys (2011-12) for Pune region i.e. Pune, Satara, Sangli, Solapur and Kolhapur districts, there are over 20 thousand fisher folks supported by inland fisheries generating ₹ 8,722 Lakh for the fishing community in the entire Pune region.
Total area under inland fisheries (including river, lakes, and dams)- ha
Inland fisheries production (MT)
Economic wealth (Lakh Rs.)
Number of cooperative societies
Fisher folk supported
Though these are in the Bhima-Krishna Basin, the above records are only for reservoir fisheries! The fisheries department does not collect or maintain any data on riverine fish or fisheries in this region. In fact, the Fisheries Department clearly mentions that it concerns itself only with reservoir fisheries and not riverine fisheries.
Figure 1. Fishing in Khodshi Dam region
Why is this a problem?
Across India, the potential of riverine fisheries is decreasing rapidly. At the same time, it is the rivers which form the backbone of the nutritional and economic security of over 10 million marginal fisher folk in India. But, neither are the riverine fisher folk counted by Fisheries Department, nor is their fish catch is monitored.
This has resulted in chronic downplaying of riverine fisheries sector and concentration of attention on aquaculture and marine fisheries.
No regulation or appreciation of riverine fisheries also means that no attention is being paid to the crisis of riverine fisheries, fisher folk and fish diversity. Across the nation[ii] dams and barrages and related changes in hydrology: Dry rivers, stagnant reservoirs, increasing sedimentation in rivers, rising salinity of estuaries, have adversely impacted the fisheries and dependent people. But this is not very well documented and no attention is being paid to address these issues.
Fisheries Department and Riverine Fisheries in Maharashtra
Highlights of The Maharashtra Fisheries Act (1961)[iii]: The Act applies to inland, riverine as well as marine fisheries. However, the act does not have anything specific to offer to riverine fisheries. It does not talk about traditional fisher folk, their rights, water levels that need to maintained downstream dams, fish biodiversity etc. at all. It is only an Act about edible fisheries, mostly applicable for marine and reservoir fisheries.
The act is said to provide for protection, conservation and development of fisheries in Maharashtra
The word “fish” includes fishes, crustaceans, oysters and shell fish
The act provides for the appointment of “fisheries officers”, person not below the rank of sub-inspector to look after the welfare of the fisheries in the jurisdiction
It prohibits use of nets, gears or anything that is fixed in the soil for catching the fish, use of explosives, toxic chemicals, obnoxious material and arrows for catching the fish
The State Government is empowered to make rules to regulate or prohibit any discharge of solid or liquid material deleterious to fishes as long as it does not affect the powers of local bodies to discharge sewage water
Interestingly, the Act also empowers the State Government to enact rules for protection of fish in selected waters to “prohibit or regulate the construction temporary or permanent or weirs, dams and bunds.”
Unfortunately, the Act does not offer any specific protection to riverine fisheries or conservation of fish.
How does the fisheries department work?
SANDRP discussed issues surrounding riverine fisheries and fisher folk with Fisheries Development Officer of Pune Region. The Fisheries Development Officer said that fisheries department transfers fishing rights for a period of 5 years at a stretch, either to a fisheries cooperative society or contractors. Fishing rights[iv] on dam reservoirs with area more than 200 ha and less than 200 ha are leased out for the period of 5 years to fishing cooperative societies or to contractors if no cooperative society approaches to the department. The fishing rights on the tanks with less than 200 ha area are preferably leased out to local fishing cooperative societies.
According to the Fisheries Development Officer, Pune District alone has 87 water bodies, on which fishing rights are controlled by fisheries department. Out of them, 17 water bodies are more than 200 ha in area. On 7 of those 17 water bodies, there are local cooperative fishing communities while 10 are leased out. On the other hand, there are 70 water bodies which are less than 200 ha. Out of those, 38 are controlled by local fishing cooperative societies, while 32 are leased out to contractors.
He said that in case of marine fisheries in Maharashtra, annual reports[v] are available giving details of about species, fish catch, fish landing stations, number of mechanized boats and so on. However, the picture about fresh-water fisheries is very dismal with complete lack of basic data about number of fishermen, species, yearly fish catch, distribution and abundance of fish species etc. In the section of fresh water fisheries, the department only controls leasing out fishing rights in lakes and dams. Therefore, the aspects related to conservation and protection of riverine diversity remains untouched.
In fact, the fisheries development officer went to the extent of saying that we should not ask more questions about riverine fisheries as the mandate of the Fisheries Department is only to look at fisheries in reservoirs and not rivers!
There has been some research on fish diversity in various parts of the Pune region. For Warna basin, an exhaustive fish species abundance and cause-effect analysis is done by Dr. Mohite and Dr. J. Samant[vi]. For the Pune district, an organization named RANWA attempted to study riverine fish diversity. Interestingly, their initial records indicate that rivers flowing through Pune, once had over 110 fish species![vii]
The department breeds the healthy fishes (called as brood stock) in the controlled conditions and sells the young fires or fingerlings to the contractors or local fishing cooperative societies operational in the jurisdiction. The ponds are seeded with the cultures and the fishing continues to the next season.
The rare riverine fisheries cooperatives
Though the fisheries department of the state concerns itself with fishing in the dams and tanks, there are some rare exceptions, which provide a brief glimpse of the potential and richness of riverine fisheries.
In case of Sangli, Kolhapur and Nanded, the fishing rights on Krishna, Warna, Panchaganga, Dudhaganga, Bhogawati (Sangli and Kolhapur) Godavari (Nanded) are leased to the local fishermen. The reason is that, such leasing was being carried from the times of Patwardhan sansthaniks of Sangli and Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur. Even after the princely states were annexed by the British, such leasing of fishing rights in the open river continued and is going on till today.
However, in these cases too, the department has no clue about the distribution of fish species or the status of fisher folk.
Example of Kolhapur We interacted with 3 cooperative societies in Kolhapur which operate in the rivers to understand the situation and problems the fishermen face. We interacted with 1. Daulat Sahakari Macchimar Sanstha, Shirol, 2. Hatkanangale jalakshetra macchimar sahakari sanstha, Hatkanangale, and 3. Shirol Taluka Sahakari Macchimar Sanstha, Kurundwad
Figure 2. Fish catch in the Sangli Market. Credit:Mandar Paingangkar
Atmaram Apate, Chariman of Hatkanangale jalakshetra macchimar sahakari sanstha elaborated that “In the Kolhapur district alone, there are 52 different fishing cooperative societies fishing in the open river and there are around 4-5 thousand fishermen from the region. All the fishermen are traditional fisher folks who are genuinely familiar with the waters. Each fishing cooperative society has fishing rights decided traditionally on the rivers of Krishna and Panchaganga”.
Figure 3. Fishermen casting his net in Krishna River. Credit: Mr. Nerlikar
On a different note, Shirol taluka macchimar sahakari sanstha wrote a letter to Assistant Commissioner, Fisheries (Technical) of the Kolhapur district seeking “process of collecting revenue from the fishermen of the open river is unjustifiable and should be stopped. Fishermen are aggravated by the fact that such practice is followed in no other district of Maharashtra except these three, so they want such measure to be discontinued.”
However, there are some contrary opinions to this demand too. Atmaram Apte of Hatkanangale fisheries cooperative society feels that “it is by the very process of leasing, rights of fisher folks on the river are recognized and protected. If the process of such leasing is stopped, anyone could come in our area and do fishing while the local fishermen will not be able to make their ends meet”.
In fact, simply recognizing fisherfolk and leasing fishing rights is still an important function, as per Mansih Rajankar, who has worked extensively on fisheries in Vidarbha. According to Rajankar, “At least some user right of these fisherfolk on the rivers is thus recognized. In Vidarbha, dams like Gosi Khurd will destroy downstream fisheries and fisherfolk do not even have nominal user rights on the river and hence, are not even counted as being affected by the dam!”
Pollution It is important to understand that the significant problem fishermen face is about water pollution. The Shirol, Hatkanangale and Jaisingpur MIDCs release highly untreated and toxic effluents which results in fish kills and thereby hampers the fish catch. The fish death have been alarmingly high in the district and the causative agents are sugar mills as well which release their stored wastes in the water on the onset of monsoon[viii].
In Dec 2012 and January 2013, Kolhapur taluka fisheries cooperative society, Bhoiraj fisheries cooperative society, and those from Shirol, Shridhon, Awali had written to fisheries development officer of the Kolhapur district, seeking compensation against the reduced fish catch. The same request was forwarded to Kolhapur district collector by the fisheries department. The district collector dodged the ball in the respective Tehsildar’s court. Tehsildars said that they don’t have enough money to grant for compensation. However, no concrete action was taken against the polluters. Maharashtra Pollution Control Board did not intervene in the matter either.
Unfortunately, no government department is ready to act for betterment of riverine fisher folks in the district.
The fishermen from Shirol Taluka (which has Dutta Cooperative sugar mill, and Shriol MIDC) say that about a decade ago, they used to receive around 10-12 kg of fish catch a day, now they only get 4-6 kg of fish catch per day. They attribute this reduction to the polluted discharges.
Most of the seeding done in reservoirs is exotic fish. Although Tilapia is an exotic pest species which competes with native fish, Fisheries Department is using Tilapia seeds in many reservoirs, from where they enter into river systems, contaminating the rich gene pool. For information on exotic fish invasion in our rivers: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/silent-invasion
In fact, Mr. Suneel Koli from Daulat Macchimar Sangathana, Shirol, Kolhapur told us that they get around 60-65 fish varieties in their catch, indicating the richness of riverine fisheries. Dr. Nilesh Dahanukar of Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Pune has recently[ix] discovered a new fish species in the Krishna river basin of Maharashtra section of Western Ghats. Experts believe that fish diversity in the rivers of Western Ghats is highly understudied and more focus needs to be given to the same.
Maharashtra state government and the Maharashtra state Fisheries Department needs to pay urgent attention to welfare of riverine fish diversity, fisheries and fisher folk. When the Fisheries Act 1961 clearly states that it provides for conservation and improvement of fisheries in the state, why is state government turning a blind eye to riverine fisher folks? It is important that the state fisheries department starts identifying the fishing communities (at least-if not the individual fishermen) of the open river. This will also help in understanding the plight of fisher folk in Maharashtra. Inland fisheries should not just be confined to the seeded fishing in dams and reservoirs.
Riverine fisher folk also need to get user rights on the rivers in which they fish. They should also be part of social impact assessment when dams and other structure are built on rivers and also part of Rehabilitation plans.
Rules under the Fisheries Act 1961 about “prohibit or regulate the construction temporary or permanent or weirs, dams and bunds” need to be formulated and enacted.
The polluters (including municipal corporations) and sugar mills need to be penalized as per the Fisheries Act 1961 to safeguard the livelihoods of riverine fisher folk.
The fisheries department needs to acknowledge local biodiversity of fish fauna and take efforts to conserve and promote them instead of only focusing on common carps and major carp varieties of the fishes. The department is not entrusted to protect only these varieties.
It is crucial that the fisheries department and State Department shows some will and initiative to protect riverine fish diversity against the onslaught of more, taller and bigger dams, polluting industries, law defying barons so that riverine fishery would survive for generations to come. With Climate Change becoming a reality, biodiversity and resilience of small scale, riverine fisheries can provide an important adaptation measure, which needs to be promoted urgently.
[i] Maharashtra District Economic Survey 2011-12, page number 100
Gangtok, 9 October 2013: Deemed as the greenest state in India, the government of Sikkim has drawn flak of the national board of wildlife (NBWL) for blatant violation of the environmental norms and the standing order of the Supreme Court in implementation of several hydro power projects under different stages of construction.
The background: In its 28th meeting held on 20th March 2013, the proposal for 520 MW Teesta Stage-IV Hydroelectric Power Project, on River Teesta in North Sikkim to be developed by NHPC Ltd, was placed before the SC-NBWL (Standing Committee-National Board of Wild Life) for consideration. The Member Secretary had informed the SC-NBWL that the project location falls 4 km away from the Fambonglho Wildlife Sanctuary and was recommended by the State Board for Wildlife.
Following discussions, the SC-NBWL decided that a team comprising Dr M.K.Ranjitsinh, Kishor Rithe, Dr A.J.T Johnsingh and Dr M.D. Madhusudan would carry out site inspection and submit a report to the committee for its consideration. Following this decision, the above committee visited the project site and nearby areas from 15th to 21st May 2013. The committee met the representatives from the Sikkim Government’s Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management Department (FEWMD), the user agency, NHPC Ltd, and people from local citizens’ groups. The report of the committee dated Aug 2013 is now available online (http://envfor.nic.in/division/wl-orders).
The report raises serious concerns about a number of hydropower projects in Sikkim under construction without wildlife clearance in contravention to the Supreme Court order (in the Goa foundation case). The Chamling government in Sikkim has allowed blatant violation of the Supreme Court order, a situation compared by the report with what had happened in Goa with respect to mines which were operating without wildlife clearance in violation of SC orders (the subject of the Shah Commission report). The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is equally responsible for allowing continuing construction of these projects without legally mandatory clearances. The decision based on this report in the NBWL Standing Committee is still pending.
Both before and during site inspection, multiple stakeholders brought to the notice of the NBWL team that there were other proposed and ongoing hydel projects in the Teesta Basin located within the eco-sensitive zone (as defined by the Supreme Court in the Goa Foundation case), of the Khangchendzonga NP and Fambonglho WLS, which had not obtained the Supreme Court mandated clearance from the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife.
Besides this, the team in their journeys saw two projects under active construction—the Dik Chu and the Teesta III—that were clearly within the Supreme Court mandated eco-sensitive area. For Dik Chu HEP, the report says, “However, the accompanying FEWMD officials informed us that these mandatory wildlife clearances from the SC-NBWL had, apparently, not been obtained.” For Teesta III HEP, FEWMD officials were not aware of the SC-NBWL clearance, and the committee noted, we “must therefore conclude, on the basis of information available with us, that such a clearance was not obtained… we are deeply concerned about the advisability of this project.”
Deeply concerned about the likelihood of various hydel projects coming up in violation of the Supreme Court’s order in the Goa Foundation case, the team has requested the MoEF to write to the government of Sikkim, seeking a comprehensive list of completed, ongoing and proposed hydroelectric projects within the Supreme Court mandated 10-kilometre zone of the Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) and Fambonglho Wildlife Sanctuary (FWLS). For each project, details sought included: (a) location (latitude-longitude) and distance from KNP and FWLS; (b) current status of the project; and (c) if and when they had obtained the required Environment, Forest and Wildlife Clearances. Even after waiting for 10 weeks, the NBWL team did not receive either an acknowledgment, or a response from the Pawan Chamling government to their query.
The committee, left with no option was compelled to use publicly available information on Environmental Clearances (EC) (http://environmentclearance.nic.in), submissions and information provided by other stakeholders, and to examine minutes from the SC-NBWL’s meetings, to ascertain if there was merit to the allegations made about the violations of the Supreme Court’s order of 12/2006.
Key recommendations Based on examination of available information on legal compliances required for the projects in the Teesta basin, the committee concluded that, with the notable exception of the Teesta IV project (which has currently approached the SC-NBWL for clearance), none of the other projects appear to have sought/obtained this compulsory SC-NBWL clearance, as mandated by the Supreme Court. While the SC-NBWL is fully aware that there are many more proposed/ongoing hydroelectric projects situated within the Supreme Court mandated 10-km eco-sensitive zone of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Sikkim, it has not been able to ascertain whether Supreme Court stipulations in their regard are being followed, or being violated, and if latter be the case, the MoEF should take due cognizance of the same urgently.
“We are of the unanimous considered opinion that it is absolutely essential to assess the overall impact of these projects, both from the recent past and those in the pipeline, rather than deal with them in a piecemeal fashion. Hence, we urge the Standing Committee not to consider the Teesta IV project’s request for clearance separately, but treat it as part of a larger set of hydroelectric projects in the Teesta Basin, with vast ecological, social and legal portents”, the committee has recommended.
It further recommend that the Standing Committee direct the MoEF to write to the Government of Sikkim asking them to immediately investigate and submit a detailed report listing hydroelectric projects in Sikkim that are being constructed prima facie in violation of Supreme Court’s order. Based on the list provided by the government of Sikkim, if it is indeed ascertained that the projects are proceeding in violation of the said Supreme Court ruling, it further adds that the MoEF initiate action by asking the State Government to suspend ongoing work on those projects immediately and to direct user agencies to formally seek clearance for these projects from the SC-NBWL. It adds that the MoEF and the Government of Sikkim thoroughly investigate the circumstances under which the seemingly widespread bypassing of Supreme Court orders in the construction of dams within the 10-km ecosensitive zone of Sikkim has taken place, fix responsibility for the transgressions and violations, and punish the guilty.
About Teesta IV proposal from NHPC, for which the committee visited Sikkim, the report recommends, “Finally, in the light of the devastating June 2013 Uttarakhand floods, we are deeply concerned about the wisdom of such large-scale manipulations of mountain river systems that are being implemented, against all reasonable scientific advice (and thedisregard of the CISHME’s recommendation against the construction of Teesta III, is a case in point)… Hence, we urge the Standing Committee not to consider the Teesta IV project’s request for clearance separately, but treat it as part of a larger set of hydroelectric projects in the TeestaBasin, with vast ecological, social and legal portents.”
The report also recommends that projects already in the pipeline and that may be proposed in future in Sikkim, be placed before the Standing Committee, “chaired by a very senior official of the MoEF, Besides senior officials of the MoEF and the Sikkim Government, this committee must include legal experts as well as experts in hydrology/ geology/ seismology/ social science/ botany/ riverine ecology/wildlife ecology, from reputed research institutions and some representatives of local communities” whenever they fall within the purview of the Supreme Court-mandated 10 km eco-sensitive area around PAs. The committee report adds that much of the summary and recommendations section of Justice Shah’s report (pp. 189-200) is extremely relevant to the case of the hydroelectric dams in Sikkim, and that any committee constituted to examine hydroelectric dams in the eco-sensitive areas of Sikkim, pay close attention to this report.
No ecological flows from NHPC’s Teesta V What the report says about this subject makes disturbing reading: ”On 16th May 2013, driving upstream of the Teesta V powerhouse, we noted extremely low flow in the river, which was particularly so in the stretch of the river directly downstream of the Teesta V dam (Figure 1), where the river was diverted through a tunnel. Such low flows, where River Teesta has been diverted through tunnels, are a cause for serious concern in the context of maintaining the ecological function of a river. We enquired from NHPC officials about how details of ecological flows were determined, and learnt that ecological flow was not a parameter that was optimised in the planning process. We were told that downstream flows were effectively a consequence of maximising hydropower potential of various river basins as determined jointly by the Central Electricity Authority and the Central Water Commission. These values, in turn, were used as the basis for soliciting proposals for hydroelectric power projects. In other words, we learnt to our great dismay that absolutely no ecological consideration whatsoever was used in the process of determining the hydropower potential of river basins.”
Violations galore, government unresponsive In a submission made by Tseten Lepcha in his capacity as the then Honorary Wildlife Warden of North Sikkim to Jayanthi Natarajan in 8th October 2011, Lepcha had contended that how the 1750 MW Demwe Lower by the Athena group is being considered by the SC-NBWL for wildlife clearance, when a project by the same promoters (1200 MW Teesta III) is under construction in violation of Supreme Court orders (without wildlife clearance). The current NBWL report confirms that the 1200 MW Teesta III is under construction illegally, violating SC orders. In an earlier submission he had made to the SC-NBWL on April 19, 2011 he mentioned violation of the WLPA (killing of a Serow – Schedule I species) in the 1200 MW Teesta III project being developed by the Athena group. The developer of the project, Teesta Urja Ltd (a special purpose vehicle of M/S Athena Pvt. Ltd.), through its sub-contractor, SEW Infrastructure Ltd, was involved in the death of a Serow (Capricornis sumanntraensis), a Schedule I animal, at the project site on June 4, 2008.
Several attempts by this correspondent, to contact the PCCF –cum-Secretary of the FEWM department of Sikkim Mr. Arvind Kumar on his cell phone, and his official e-mail address to get the Sikkim government’s official version on the controversy, remained unanswered.
How IPPs are cheating by flouting norms Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC) convenor Tseten Tashi Bhutia, while speaking to this correspondent expressed immense joy at the NBWL report. “We have been protesting cultural and religious genocide being committed by the Sikkim government in the name of developing hydro power, apart from severely degrading the environment, this is a moral boost. I hope GOI takes strong action”, he said. Bhutia added that there are violations of the Places of Worship (special provisions) Act 1991, extended to Sikkim, and the gazette notifications of the Chamling government, in allowing the Tashiding project on holy river Rathong Chu.
SIBLAC along with another apolitical group Save Sikkim on September 28th, 2013 filed FIRs against an IPP, Shiga Energy Pvt ltd, developer of the 97 MW Tashiding hydro power project for alleged cheating, distortion of facts and violation of environmental norms and the SC order. This is in addition to an ongoing PIL at the Sikkim High Court.
The facts revealed by Tseten Tashi Bhutia in his FIR are startling and shocking. As per the requirement of the Environment Ministry (MoEF, Government of India), the executing agency i.e. Shiga Energy Private Limited, is required to submit a Six-monthly compliance report on the status of the 97 MW Tashiding HEP to the stipulated environmental conditions in a prescribed format .However, while going through the latest Six monthly report dated 22.11.2012 submitted by the executing agency to the concerned authority i.e. North Eastern Region Office, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Government of India , it is found that as against the IX necessary conditions required in the prescribed format, the executing agency have intentionally deleted Stipulation No. VIII, jumping to the next condition.
The Monitoring report of MEF regional office (signed by DR S C KATIYAR, SCIENTIST ‘D’) dated Oct 2012 says about Stipulation VIII: “the proposed site is about 5 Km away from the buffer zone of the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve as per Supreme Court order clearance from NBWL may be obtained (if required).” Status of Compliance: “Not complied with” and further writes; “the project also falls within 10 Kms from the Fambomgla Wildlife Sanctuary, as such; NBWL clearance needs to be obtained.”
Thus the agency has not complied to nor has obtained NBWL clearance yet as evident from the Monitoring Report on the Implementation Status of Conditions of Environmental Clearance dated Oct 4th, 2012. In other words, the executing agency has simply and swiftly been misleading and cheating the authorities till date by submitting wrong report to Ministry of Environment and Forest, Govt. of India. More surprising is to witness the lack of action by the MoEF on these manipulations and lack of action even after the Monitoring Report clearly reports non compliance.
Rathongchu is a sacred river according to the Denjong Neyig and Nesol texts having its source at various secret and sacred lakes at Khangchendzonga, Sikkim’s supreme guardian deity and runs independently till it meets River Rangit at the lower reaches; This sacred Rathongchu is the source to the annual Tashiding Bumchu ceremony which is held in the first lunar month, corresponding to the months of February and March. In fact, this Bumchu (Sacred Water) ceremony has been continuing for centuries and attracts thousands of devotees and pilgrimages from far across including Bhutan, Nepal, and entire Himalayas.
Ironically, a one-man Professor P S Ramakrishnan committee, of the JNU School of Environmental Sciences, submitted a report titled Ecology and Traditional Wisdom, on October 9th 1995, to the government of Sikkim where he categorically stated, “on social, cultural, and religious considerations, apart from the rich bio-diversity and fragile ecology of the Yuksom valley region, I strongly recommend that no hydro power or other projects should be allowed on River Rathongchu, deemed extremely sacred by Buddhists”. Under the circumstances, how was the Tashiding HEP allotted to the Shiga Energy Ltd by the Sikkim Government and cleared by the MoEF is moot question.
Some of the other proposed projects that are mentioned in the SC-NBWL committee that are also coming up requiring the SC-NBWL clearance include the 300 MW Panan HEP, the Ting Ting HEP, besides the ones mentioned above, see the accompanying map from the SC-NBWL report. Other hydropower projects of Sikkim that are being considered by the MoEF for clearances and that are also close to the protected areas include: 63 MW Rolep HEP on Rangpo river in E Sikkim (5-6 km from Pangolakha and Kyongnosla WLS), 126 MW Ralong HEP (4.05 km from Kangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve and 1.8 km from Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary), 96 MW Chakung Chu HEP inn North Sikkim district (1.8 km from Kangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve). Other such possible projects include: 71 MW Sada Mangder, 60 MW Rangit III, among others.
Let us hope now following the SC-NBWL report, the MoEF will promptly order stoppage of illegally ongoing construction of the guilty HEPs, not waiting for the SC-NBWL committee to meet, since the new Standing Committee of the NBWL remains to be constituted after the term of the earlier committee ended. The evidence provided by the SC-NBWL committee is sufficient to take prompt action. The fact that the MoEF has not take action yet, weeks after submission of the SC-NBWL report speaks volumes about the possible collusion of the MoEF in this murky affair.
 WP 406/2004, Goa Foundation vs. Union of India, Order dated 04/12/2006: “The MoEF would also refer to the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife, under Sections 5 (b) and 5 (c) (ii) of the Wild
Life (Protection) Act, the cases where environment clearance has already been granted where activities are within 10 km. zone”
 The Six monthly compliance report for Teesta III dated June 2013 also is quite on the issue of compliance with SC-NBWL clearance, see: http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Compliance/57_Teesta%20HEP-III%20_june2013.pdf, the condition for this was mentioned in the MoEF letter dated 30-04-2010 with additional condition: “Considering the proximity of Khangchendzonga National Park from the project site, clearance from the Standing Committee of theNational Board for Wildlife (NBWL) should be obtained”.
A new report named “Climate Change, Migration and Conflicts in South Asia: Rising tension and Policy options across the sub-continent” was published in December 2012 by Center for American Progress and Heinrich Böll Foundation. This report, authored by Arpita Bhattacharyya and Michael Werz has analyzed how migration and security concerns are overlapping in the era of climate change in South Asia. Even though the title of the report mentions South Asia, it is mainly focused on India and Bangladesh. The central argument of the report is that an inevitable threat of climate change will intensify migration from Bangladesh to Northeast India, in general and Assam in particular.
In this report the authors have examined the role of climate change, migration, and security broadly at the national level in India and Bangladesh. Discussing the focus and relevance of the report the authors write “In this paper we examine the role of climate change, migration, and security broadly at the national level in India and Bangladesh—and then zero in more closely on northeast India and Bangladesh to demonstrate the interlocking problems faced by the people there and writ larger across all of South Asia.” But the report falls short of indentifying a causal relationship between climate change, migration, and conflict. This report emphasizes on understanding climate change, migration and security as three distinct layers of tension and assesses scenarios in which the three layers will overlap. The report takes Assam, the central state of northeastern border of India as a case study where the three factors converge. But the elements related to this convergence are rather inadequate that required further probing.
The report discusses the Assam movement of 1983 and the clashes which occurred in the summers of 2012 between ‘members of the Bodo tribe and and Muslim community’. Bringing climate change into the framework the report states “In assessing the security challenges of climate change, Assam provides an example of several factors coming together in a complex way. Climate change will stress existing migration patterns both locally and internationally in Bangladesh. Even more importantly, the perception that there has been an increase in immigrants has the potential to stoke tensions over immigration in Assam.” It seems to be generalization of a very complex process. We have found towering claims like this have very less linkages with the situation on ground(please see our blog – 2012 Floods Displaced 6.9 Million in Northeast-IDMC: Staggering but Highly Exaggerated). The report also mentioned that “Floods in September 2012 displaced 1.5 million people in the northeastern state of Assam” this again is not beyond doubts. The data available from National Disaster Management shows that, highest number of people affected in the floods in September 2012 is 383421.
Climate Change Scenario in India: For India the report draws from the “Climate Change and India: A 4×4 Assesment” (2010) which was prepared by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests for examining climate change impacts and projections through 2030 across four regions of India (the Himalayan Region, Western Ghats, Northeastern Region, and the Coastal Region) and four key policy sectors: agriculture, forests, human health, and water.
Bangladesh Discussing the situation in Bangladesh the reports deals with rising temperatures which are likely to have severe effects on agricultural production in Bangladesh due to higher rates of evaporation and changing rainfall patterns. According to the authors “Bangladesh could see up to an 8 percent reduction in rice production and a 32 percent reduction in wheat production by 2050…. With 63 percent of the population dependent on agriculture for basic livelihoods, the rise in temperatures could be crippling.”
The report warns about increases both in extent and frequency of floods in the country. Talking about rise in sea level the report states, “The Bangladeshi government projects that the sea level will rise by 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) by 2030, 12.6 inches (32 centimeters) by 2050, and 34.7 inches (88 centimeters) by 2100. Predictions about the displacement of people resulting from a 1-meter (roughly 40 inches) rise in sea-level range from 13 million to 40 million in Bangladesh alone.” The report also discusses cyclone and storm surges, river and coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion. Bringing migration into the picture, the report first discusses rural urban migration within Bangladesh and describes a situation of migrants in the capital city Dhaka “When describing why they came, migrants tell stories of flood and famine in quiet rural towns where options dwindle by the day … these villagers pour into Dhaka at a rate of about 400,000 to 500,000 each year.”
Talking about international migration from Bangladesh, the report states “More informal—but still substantial—migration takes place from Bangladesh to India, especially to the far eastern Indian states of West Bengal and Assam….. It is estimated that approximately 12 million to 17 million Bangladeshi immigrants have come to India since the 1950s, with most residing in the northeast states of West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura.” In this situation presenting the interplay of migration and climate change the report says, “How climate change will effect migration to Bangladesh’s urban centers is not exactly determined. Even more uncertain is how climate change and Bangladesh’s urban growth will interact to shape international migration, particularly to India. But given the trajectory of available climate change projections and historical precedent, India may continue to be a popular destination for many Bangladeshi migrants.” However this seems to be an opaque statement without any substantiation. Instead of pitching their argument in the ahistorical categorization between an underdeveloped Bangladesh and an emerging India, the author should consider the present human development indicators of Bangladesh vis-à-vis India (please see “Social indicators of Bangladesh are better than India”).
As a part of the solution, it suggests building of sustainable urban areas where governments manage to guarantee food security, deliver required energy resources, and develop infrastructure to more effectively protect livelihoods in rural areas. However, its suggestion that “economic growth must be maintained to accommodate growing populations and allow society to better prepare itself to deal with the impacts of climate change” seems to suggest that the authors have not understood basics of both economic growth and re-distribution as well as climate change.
The American Perspective The paper does not provide any adaptation and mitigation measures for climate change. The paper argues for changing the pathways of growth towards greater sustainability. Talking about modern sustainable urban centers the paper focuses on the areas where U.S.-Indian cooperation can happen. The report is written in order to assess how United States can play a pivotal role in the threats and consequences of climate change arena in South Asia and that is why ‘the American perspective’ on the climate change in South Asia can be all pervasively found in the report. The report propose three policy collaborations that the United States can take up with South Asian partners as complex crisis scenarios unfold in the wake of climate change – 1. High-level climate-vulnerable cities workshop, 2. A dialogue on migration and 3. Ecological infrastructure development.
Pressing Critical issues
There are a lot of critical issues with this report which needs to be addressed.
How much migration is actually happening now: The report establishes its firm belief in the fact that large scale migration from Bangladesh to northeastern parts of India is still continuing. The report should have first questioned how much migration is actually happening rather than claiming that there will be increase in migration in the near future. There were several analysis available specially drawn from Government of India’s Census data which shows a complete different picture. In an article named “Riots & the Bogey of Bangladeshis”, published in Hindu on 8th August 2012, Delhi base researcher and activist Bonojit Hussain did an analysis of census data and reported that “Even though the religion-wise census figures for 2011 are not yet available, provisional results from the 2011 census show that the decadal growth rate of population between 2001-2011 for Kokrajhar district is 5.19 per cent, interestingly, marking a decline of 9 per cent as compared to the decadal growth rate of 14.49 per cent between 1991 to 2001. (The decadal growth rate for Assam between 1991 to 2001 was 18.92 per cent and 16.93 per cent between 2001-2011)……. The other possibility, which seems more plausible, is that there has been a considerable out-migration from Kokrajhar, especially after the formation of the BTAD in 2003. Since the Bodos (who constitute 20 per cent of the population in the BTAD area) hold a monopoly over political power in the area, it is unlikely that there has been any significant out-migration of the Bodo population from Kokrajhar district. The Koch Rajbangsis, who constitute roughly 17 per cent of the total population of the BTAD, have been campaigning for and demanding a separate homeland — Kamtapur — which territorially overlaps the BTAD, thus making it unlikely that they would out-migrate, abdicating their political claim over the territory. In all probability, the out-migration involves other non-Bodo communities, including Muslims.” The report seems to ignore this reality. It is also important to note that the report has very little to substantiate its assumptions.
Social indicators of Bangladesh are better than India: The report seems to ignore the substantial improvements in social indicators in Bangladesh. A recent review of Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen’s new book ‘An Uncertain Glory,’ states the improved social conditions of Bangladesh in the following way “even Bangladesh has better social indicators than India. It has higher life expectancy (69 vs India’s 65), better sanitation (half of all homes in India have no toilets compared to 10 per cent in Bangladesh), lower infant mortality (37 versus India’s 47) and lower fertility rate (2.2 against 2.6 for India). For those arguing that Bangladesh is a much smaller country, the answer is that its GDP per capita is roughly half that of India’s.”
Is urbanization the only option: The report is biased towards urbanization. The report shows no interest to discuss how rural areas can be prepared to face climate change better. Projecting sustainable urbanization as the solution for migration is presenting only one side of the story. The report also seems like an attempt to push forward American agenda in South Asia. The report laments the facts that the urbanization programmes like JNNURM is facing shortage of funds. But there are already several examples JNNURM programmes in India which are increasing the debt burden on the people and undermined the traditional sustainable systems.
Are thermal and large hydro-power projects climate friendly: The report on climate change shockingly, reemphasizes on coal based power generation. A study on climate change prescribing for coal based power generation is really very strange.
In another surprise the report, shows bias for (large) hydro power generation, even though hydro-power dams have very severe impacts on river ecology, bio-diversity and climate change. While discussing about water politics between China, India and Bangladesh the report mentioned about the fear of water diversion by China through hydro power dams and its severe impacts on flow of the Brahmaputra. But it makes no mention of more than 150 hydro power projects, which are being planned in Arunachal Pradesh and other north eastern states within the Indian territory and the downstream impacts of these. These projects will dam every major tributary of the Brahmaputra River. These tributaries collectively contribute at least four times more to the flow of the Brahmaputra than Yarlung Tsangpo or Siang, the part of Brahmaputra which flows from China. The report has no reference to any of this.
Internal migration within Assam and India: The report talks about migration from Bangladesh to Assam but it makes no mention of people migrating from rural areas of Assam to other cities due to severe flood and erosion. The report also does not take into account the case of char-dwellers (people living in sand bars) in Bangladesh and Assam. According to the Socio Economic Survey of 2003-04 in 14 districts of Assam, there were 2251 char villages with a population of 24, 90,397. People who live on chars in Assam and in Bangladesh will be directly affected by any change in flow pattern in the rivers.
Spreading propaganda? Though this report is on migration from Bangladesh to Assam, the report presents very little data to back up its claims. Besides, on the issue of increasing Maoist activity in India, the report does a shoddy job. The map showing maoist activities in India is questionable. Since this report accepts the current development path of coal based and large hydro-based power generation unquestionably, the discussion on Maoist activity in India resonate with Assam’s Chief Minister Tarun Goigoi’s unfounded attempts at colouring of anti-dam struggle of the people in Assam as Maoist activity. Such uncritical acceptance of Indian government’s unfounded assertions discredits the report.
Rivers in our times are facing many threats, most rivers are facing existential threats. This blog is a way of starting some conversation on Rivers and the threats that they face.
Since February 2013 (the blog was launched in June 2012, but till Feb 2013 there were just about six blogs, posted in June-July 2012, none after that) we at SANDRP have taken this blog a little more seriously in communicating conversations around rivers.
This is the 100th blog!
During the past about 9 months, we (SANDRP team as well as invited authors) have tried to write about issues surrounding our rivers. We’ve written about Large Dams (and mini hydels), Hydropower Projects, their impacts, their decreasing efficiency, the innumerable issues related to infrastructure projects affecting rivers, dependent communities and ecosystems and the governance process.
We’ve talked about Climate Change and its impacts on rivers and communities, topical issues like Maharashtra drought in 2012-13, the Uttarakhand disaster in June 2013, India’s flood forecasting and disaster management, Eco sensitive areas like Himalayas and Western Ghats and threats that relatively pristine rivers of North East India are facing. Most institutions and sections of society remain oblivious, unaffected by the fate of our rivers.
Looking at the crisis that our rivers, dependent communities and freshwater ecosystems are in, the need for increased and consistent engagement with the governance processes around rivers is becoming stronger. Most of the rivers in Himalayas are being dammed multiple times, riverine fisheries and fish diversity is severely affected, dam scams are surfacing from across the country: from Maharashtra to Andhra Pradesh to Karnataka to Arunachal Pradesh.
Looking at this, we sincerely hope that more and more people will get involved with issues surrounding our rivers.
We request you to share stories and issues surrounding your rivers.
CONVERSATIONS WITH RIVERThis is equally important, but more difficult. Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha provides one of the rare instances of conversations WITH rivers. So we have reproduced some quotations from that most remarkable novel along with some photos that provide, hopefully, instances of conversations AT rivers.
The river has something special to tell to all of us… only if we pause and listen…
The question is how many rivers we have with us still, to have such converstaions? How many rivers will the next generation have?
Do tell us about your conversations with rivers. In the meantime we will get back to conversations on rivers.
Bangladesh has come up a new flood forecasting and warning system with several amazingly useful features of forecasting floods available on their website from June 2013. Flood forecasting is a vital non-structural measure to mitigate flood losses which can be very useful for a deltaic nation like Bangladesh which face brunt of floods annually. The Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) is under the aegis Bangladesh Water Development Board and is supported by UNDP through the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (Phase II) and Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief. The website can be accessed at http://www.ffwc.gov.bd/index.php.
While the features have become available on website since June 2013, many of them have been otherwise available since 2011. In fact, Interactive Voice Response [Calling from mobile (phone no- 10941), flood and weather messages can be heard in Bangla (charge applicable)] facility is available since 2011.
The Deltaic Bangladesh Geographically, Bangladesh is country located in one of the biggest active deltas in the world with an area of about 1,47,570 sq km. The climate of the country is subtropical-monsoon climate where annual average precipitation is 2300 mm which varies from1200 mm in the north-west to over 5000 mm in the north-east. Bangladesh, as stated in its Annual Flood Report of 2012, has a total of 230 rivers out of which 57 are Transboundary Rivers. 54 of these transboundary river flows from India to Bangladesh which includes the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. Bangladesh consists of flood plains of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna rivers and their numerous tributaries and distributaries. The FFWC carries out monitoring of 86 representative water level stations and 56 rainfall stations across Bangladesh.
The FFWC Website The homepage of the FFWC website presents a map of the whole country and its rivers, marked with flood forecasting sites in Bangladesh which is really useful for a number of reasons:
(i) For a first time visitor it gives a good idea of the rivers in Bangladesh and their flood forecasting sites.
(ii) When the cursor stops at a particular forecasting site, a pop up site appears with location details, water level, highest water level and danger level at that particular site.
(iii) with locations of forecasting sites on the same river clearly marked, one can get an overview of the situation across the river basin.
(iv) colour code of the symbol at each FF location gives an idea if the water level is above/ below warning or danger level or High Flood level.
The homepage of FFWC offers an option to view the whole website in Bangla. This is very welcome and useful since this important information can be accessed and used by people in local language.
The home page also provides information on the sites where water level is currently on the rise or above the danger mark. Below the line of tabs of the website, name of the sites where water level is on the rise keeps on scrolling. Clicking in any of the sites in the scroll, leads to a pop-up where the rise in water level is presented in graph for the previous one week. The rise in water level for each day is also showed according to time which appears when the cursor is kept on any of the dots of the graph. This pop up can also be saved either as a photo, as a pdf or as a SVG vector image.
The FFWC website provides rainfall data and water level data of every designated site in the four river basins of Bangladesh under the ‘data’ tab: Bramaputra (13 sites), Ganga (17 sites), Meghna (15 sites) and South East Hills (10 sites). The rainfall data table gives rainfall of the day, along with previous two days rainfall, normal monthly rainfall and cumulative rainfall for the month. But here FFWC can add the total rainfall data for the whole season which will make it more useful.
The water level data table provides water level of the day, previous day water level and projection of water level for the next three days along with name of the river and location name for 38 sites in Brhamaputra basin, 27 sites in Ganga basin, 26 sites in Meghna basin and 7 sites in South East Hill Basin.
The FFWC website under the ‘Forecasting and Warning’ tab provides very substantial information regarding floods under following heads: ‘Flood Summary’, ‘Flood Bulletin’, ‘3-day Deterministic Flood Forecast’, ‘5-day Deterministic (experimental) Flood Forecast’, ‘Medium Range (1-10 Days)Forecast’ ‘Structure Based Forecast’ (available for a few structures like embankments or bridges on experimental basis) and ‘Special Outlook’ (only in Bangla language).
Under the ‘Map’ tab, the website has ‘Rainfall Distribution Map’ and ‘Inundation Map’. The rainfall distribution map[i] provides at a glace picture of rainfall over the last 24 hours. The latter provide the options to view inundation maps[ii] for the given day and forecasts for next two days, both for Dhaka and for Bangladesh as a whole.
The ‘Reports’ tab holds annual reports on floods in Bangladesh for last five years. In the ‘Hydrograph’ tab, the website first provides of forecast of water level for each site through a graph. Under ‘Forecast’ the website provides observed water level at each selected site for the day, previous six days (with all the observations available on the graph) and forecast for the next three days. This is provided for 89 sites which include 8 sites from South East Hills basin, 26 sites in Meghna basin, 21 sites in Ganga basin and 34 sites in Brahmaputra basin. Division wise break up is: Borisal-1; Chittagong-11; Dhaka-30; Khulna-6; Rajshahi-14; Rangpur-12; Sylhet-15. It also provides monsoon hydrograph for 104 sites, where the water level throughout the monsoon is given, some of the graphs seems to show flat levels, though, raising questions if these are providing correct information.
Here for some sites several selected years’ monsoon season data is also represented through graph for some of the sites but it becomes bit confusing since no rational for choosing a particular year is provided. Providing the basis for choosing a particular year monsoon will clarify the picture. In both ‘forecast’ and ‘monsoon’ options the sites are presented not only river basin wise but also on the basis of regions making it more easy to use. Hydrograph also includes ‘Real Time Data’ of three sites. The real time data of these three sites presents the water level from one day to last 60 days through graph.
GoI-CWC’s Flood Forecasting website If we compare this with the flood forecasting website of Government of India’s Central Water Commission (http://www.india-water.com/ffs/index.htm), the CWC site home page has two options ‘list based’ and ‘map based’ but the latter surprisingly never worked for this whole monsoons season, it has never worked, it seems. Clicking on the map based option leads to page which asks for plug in download. There is also an option for map browser installation but that never worked.
The ‘list based option’ has the flood forecasting sites under three options – state, basin and region-wise. But there is no page where all the flood forecasting sites can be found at one place. CWC flood forecasting site provides forecasts available at a given point of time, only for one day and which is removed as soon as the time of forecasting gets over. The forecasting in table format is made only for those sites where the water level has crossed the warning level. The CWC flood forecasting website does not provide three day, or five day or ten day forecasts. This is in contrast with the flood forecasting done by Bangladesh because the website provided water level data for each site in the country in one place and it is fast, more responsive and user friendly. Besides, on CWC site there is no option of keeping a record of previous forecasts. All the forecasting data available in the CWC website is available in English and not even in Hindi.
In case of CWC, there were also instances when water level even after crossing the danger level did not appear in the flood forecasting table. This has been observed for example in case of the Sahibganj site on the GangaRiver. Sahibganj did not appear in the flood forecasting table even for once even though the site was witnessing low to moderate floods as shown in the list base option of the same website.
There are also several other issues with the CWC flood forecasting website e.g. wrong flood forecasting, no forecasting of the floods during the Uttarakhand disaster and inadequate flood forecasting sites which had been pointed out to CWC by SANDRP[iii].
CWC need to do serious homework to improve its performance in flood forecasting for and in doing so it can take some good lessons from Bangladesh.
Extending the forecasts to GBM basin There is a huge scope for Transboundary cooperation in extending the flood forecasting across the countries sharing Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basins, including Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Nepal and China. In fact Md Amirul Hossain, Executive Engineer at FFWC wrote to SANDRP in response to a question, “The FFWC of Bangladesh has been receiving little (rather very little) upstream data/ information on water level or flood situation. This little data helped us very much for generating everyday flood forecasting. If we would be in a position to share hydro-met data of the upstream, most of within India, few in Nepal & Bhutan, then the Flood Forecasting and Warning Lead time could further be increased/ extended. FFWC-Bngladesh likes to share the information, skill and experience and would be happy to participate in an effort to develop “BASIN FLOOD FORECASTING AND WARNING” for Brahmaputra-Ganges and Meghna basin (GBM-Basin).” It is heartening to see this offer from FFWC, Bangladesh. We hope steps will be taken to realize this potential and more and transparent sharing of flood forecasting information across the countries will be a reality soon.