“The actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return” this was the unequivocal conclusion of a recent study done by a group of experts from Oxford University on dams around the world. Similar conclusions can be reached from a recent analysis done by SANDRP on five large irrigation dam projects from northeastern region of India, where project costs have increased as high as 35 times from its original costs and projects are under construction for 35 years but yet not completed. The Oxford study which has assessed 245 large dams built between 1934 and 2007 in 65 different countries in five continents, including 97 hydropower projects, 59 irrigation projects and 89 multipurpose projects with hydropower component, had identified enormous cost and time overrun as a major problem with large dam projects.
SANDRP had recently done an analysis (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/lack-of-transparency-and-accountability-remains-the-norm-of-functioning-for-mowrs-advisory-committee/) of the decisions of the Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources for consideration of techno-economic viability of Irrigation, Flood Control and Multi Purpose Project Proposals (TAC in short) for North East India. This analysis covered decisions taken by TAC from 95th meeting of January 2009 to 122nd meeting of December 2013. Within these five years, TAC has given clearance to 38 projects in North East India out of which major number of the projects i.e. 26 are flood and erosion control projects. Rest of the 12 projects includes 6 irrigation projects, 3 barrage projects and 3 multipurpose projects. All these 12 projects involve irrigation as a major component.
Among the 12 projects, five projects draw specially attention because of the humongous cost escalation and time overrun in the construction of these projects. But this focus on five projects out of twelve should not be taken as an ‘All is well’ certificate for the remaining seven projects. There are significant issues with those projects as well but from the perspective of time and cost overrun, these five projects present a very critical picture. Besides, all the five projects discussed here are under construction projects. TAC had paid little attention to these critical issues and therefore very little information is available in the TAC meeting minutes regarding the five projects discussed here. In this analysis, along with details cost and time escalation other important issues related with the projects have been brought together. Three out of these five projects are located in Manipur where as two are located in Assam.
Starting with the three projects from Manipur, the table below summarizes the cost incurred in these three projects. All these projects are age old projects and how much benefits will be acquired from them once there construction is complete, still remains uncertain.
Name of the Project
Year of Starting
Considered in 2009
Considered in 2012
Khuga Multipurpose Project (Major- Revised)
Dolaithabi Barrage Project (Medium – Revised)
Thoubal Multipurpose Project (Revised)
Total (all costs in Rs Crores)
Khuga multipurpose project was first considered in the year 1980 when the cost of the project was Rs 15 crores. 1. The Khuga multipurpose project is located near Malta village in Churachandpur district of Manipur, at least 10 km from the district headquarter. The project was to irrigate 15,000 ha of land, provide 10 million galons for drinking water and have installed capacity of 7.5 MW hydropower. The Khuga (considered in the 110th and 115th meeting of TAC) project witnessed cost escalations of 25.42 & 28.92 times respectively from its original cost.
In the 115th meeting of TAC held in July 2012, the completion deadline of Khuga multipurpose project was stated as March 2013 which implies that it would take 33 years only to complete the project. The minutes of the 115th meeting stated “The project authorities indicated that the increase in cost was due to frequent blockades and law and order problem in the project area, as a result Project authority were unable to obtain construction materials like cement, steel etc, in time, which in turn slowed down the progress of the project significantly. Regarding revised target date of completion, the Project authorities informed that land acquisition had been completed and the project would be completed by March 2013.”
We came across some of very crucial issues about these projects discussed in detail in the Manipur based website Manipur online, Hueiyen Lanpao. These issues were very much related with the viability of the Khuga project but none of these issues found any mention in the TAC meeting discussions. The project proponent seemed to have completely ignored these issues, some of these are given below.
The Khuga project is reported to be inaugurated by Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi in November 2010.
This project was visualized to solve the irrigation, drinking water and electricity problem of Churachandpur district in particular and Manipur in general since agriculture is the main livelihood option of the region.
But, in terms irrigation it seemed unrealistic to many since Churachandpur is a hill district where jhum cultivation is practiced. In fact an inspection of the main right canal of the Khuga multi-purpose project showed the very sorry state of the canal. The inspection led by an ex-Minister N Mangi came to the conclusion that the canal had never provided any irrigation to nearby paddy fields.
An audit report of Khuga multipurpose project of March 1999 on the performance review of the dam had stated “Since 1984, the IFCD, Manipur, carried out construction work on 25.37 km of canal over an area of 40.27 hectares of forest land in Dampi reserve forest without obtaining the required clearance for diversion of forest land. Barring the unaccounted environmental destruction (that still continues) the overall concept of the multipurpose Khuga Dam project in itself was unpractical and paradoxical.”
Regarding drinking water, people in the area when faced with drinking water scarcity, were not sure whether the water reserved in Khuga dam would qualify as good enough for drinking. People of several villages living in the vicinity of the dam had reported that stagnant water actually smells.
The electricity generation component had been scrapped totally even after the power house was reported to be completed by almost 80%. It was said that there were flaws in the design of the Khuga multipurpose project right from the beginning and the electricity generation was not a viable option. It was learnt that the power component was planned and designed without studying its operational feasibility and the power component can be operated for only about 3 or 4 months in a year when there is excess water.
There was also a report that a Joint Action Committee on Khuga Dam visited the national capital and submitted a petition to Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission demanding an expert team to investigate the execution of the project. The Joint Action Committee also demanded that the 1.5 MW electricity for the people of Churachandpur district and compensation and rehabilitation money to the affected the villages should be cleared. None of the above, even the petition submitted to the planning commission was not mentioned in the minutes of the TAC meeting.
Dolaithabi Barrage Project was first approved by the Planning Commission of India in 1992 with a cost of Rs 18.86 crores to be constructed in Imphal East district of Manipur. 22 years have passed since then, but the project is yet to be completed. The cost of the project has increased 19 times from its original cost when it was considered in the 115th TAC meeting held on 24th July 2012. In that meeting price escalation, change in design on the basis of model studies, detail examination of the project proposal by the CWC field unit had been cited as the reasons for increase in costs of the project. But there was no question on why the design of the project had to be changed 20 years after the project had started. TAC meeting minutes did not mention any completion year for the project, but state Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh in an inspection tour to the project site in October 2012, had announced that this project would be over by March 2014. This clearly sounds unrealistic.
Thoubal multipurpose project was first considered by Planning Commission in the year 1980 and the original cost of the project was Rs 47.25 crores. The project is still far from completion and witnessed huge cost escalations. From 2009 to 2013, the Thoubal multipurpose project was considered in two meetings. In the 101st TAC meeting, when this project was considered the cost escalation was already 20.78 times the original cost. As per minutes of the 115th TAC meeting, the cost by then was 29.37 times higher from the original cost. The Thoubal project was also considered in 123rd meeting held on January 30th, 2014 where the projected cost was Rs 1694.27 crores. This is a 35.86 times increase in costs from its original cost. It is interesting to see that in the minutes of the 115th meeting the reasons provided to justify the delay in the construction of Thoubal Multipurpose project are exactly same as those given for Khuga multipurpose project.
Dhansiri irrigation project in Darang district of Assam is another glaring example of mind blowing time and cost overrun. This project was discussed in the 119th meeting on 29th August 2013 for consideration of cost of Rs 567.05 crores. This project started in 1975 and the original cost of the project was Rs 15.83 crores as per the information available in Assam State Irrigation Department website. The same website states that project is supposed to be completed in 2010, 35 years from the time it started. But in the 119th TAC meeting March 2015 was stated as the new completion target. This implies that the cost of the project has increased by 35.82 times over a period of 40 years but even after that the advisory committee accepts proposal without much scrutiny or enquiry. There was no detailed assessment of the reasons for time and cost overruns (there is no question of delay due to clearances or agitations here) or on whether this project which will take 40 years just to complete will be viable or not.
The project proponent stated that due land acquisition and law and order problem the project has not been completed and the TAC seemed to be contended with this. But the minutes of the 119th meeting also showed that major components of the project were in advanced stages of construction with 93% of barrage work, 99% of the canal works and about 83% of works in the distribution system completed. There was no detailed assessment of any of these aspects.
Champamati irrigation project in Chirang district of Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), Assam presents a very unique case. This project started in 1980 with an original cost of 15.32 crores. It was discussed in 103rd meeting of TAC held on 11th March 2010 with a revised cost of 309.22 crores which is clearly a 20 times increase from the original cost. This was 30 years after the project had started and referring to the observation of the Chairman, TAC minutes stated “both physical and financial progress of the work was rather going on a slow pace. He enquired to know whether there was any land acquisition problem persisting or not.”
Replying to this, the project authorities had stated that “the delay was mainly due to lack of fund and land acquisition problem. However, the main canals had been completed by about 80% while distribution system completed upto 30% which is likely to be completed in another two years.” But in the list of major/medium schemes in the website of Irrigation department, Govt. of Assam the proposed year of completion of this project has been mentioned as 2009.
But in midst of these tall claims of project completion, what is the present status of this irrigation project cannot be confirmed. There is little information available on this project in the internet and from those it can be clearly said that the project was not completed till the mid of 2013. In a news report titled “Centre worried over Cost overruns in old irrigation projects in NE” published in The Sentinal on 26th August 2013 the delay in construction of Champamati irrigation project was also highlighted. On other hand an earlier report “Irrigation scheme damned by delays” published in the Telegraph on 21st August 2006, had indicated that this project had substantial amount of construction left to be done “Till now, only the sluice gate (headwork) of the Champamati irrigation project has been completed, sources said. Of the 37 regulators, only eight are complete, of the 120 canal falls only 20 are complete, while 72 cross-drainage systems have been completed out of a total of 270. Of the 197 bridges, just 50 are finished. The earthwork of the main canal and the branch canal are also incomplete, with only 97.67 km out of 145.95 km finished.”
How much benefit these projects will do to the people of India’s Northeast is the question which may appears in the minds of many after going through this analysis. After such humongous in costs and time overrun, the benefits expected to be derived from these projects, would hardly justify the costs incurred. Similar concerns were raised by the representative of the Planning Commission regarding Dhansiri Irrigation project “the benefit cost ratio of the project was 1.2 and any further escalation in cost would result in the project becoming techno-economic unviable.”
Whether these projects can actually deliver what had been promised remains uncertain at best. From the history of Khuga project, it is very clear that the promises are never fulfilled and the benefits never reached the people. In fact the Khuga project is also an example of how the expected benefits of the project never become a reality even after completion of construction. The benefits from irrigation largely remained on paper.
This is the case with the several other irrigation projects in northeast. The case of Loktak Lift Irrigation project in Manipur can be cited here about which the minutes of the 122nd TAC meeting (20th December 2013) stated “Loktak lift irrigation project was commissioned in 1986 with an original command area of 24000 ha and 40000 ha as annual irrigation. Due to scarcity of funds from State Government the normal repair and maintenance could not be taken up and as of now the annual irrigation has reduced to 1800 ha.” This is possibly indicative of how much irrigation benefits have actually been accrued from irrigation projects.
Functioning of TAC Barring the cost and time overrun of these projects, the functioning of TAC also needs to be looked into. The Advisory Committee of MoWR very much works like a rubber stamping committee, clearing everything that comes to it. A reading of the minutes of its meetings reveals that there are hardly any critical questions asked on merits of the projects and for the massive delay and cost escalations that most of the considered projects suffer from. Nor is there any discussion about the performance of the projects. Considering the importance of TAC in India, we believe the committee needs to be more serious in performing its duties. It needs to question the merits and need of a project before clearing and need to do performance evaluation. It should no way become a clearing house for projects. Effective steps need to be taken to ensure that the functioning of this committee becomes more transparent, participatory and accountable. SANDRP has written letters to the concerned authorities in this regard, but we are yet to see an effective change.
Parag Jyoti Saikia (with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP’s Mr. Narendra Modi has been given a mandate to govern India for the next five years. Without going into the political and social facets related to this issue, there are a number of justifiable concerns about this government’s stand on critical issues of water and environment.
While the importance of water and environment sectors for the people, their livelihoods, society and economy is acknowledged, how crucial these sectors are for them is not easily appreciated. For example, environment is important not only for tigers and trees, but also for livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Indians who depend on natural resources. More than 60-65% Indians continue to depend on agriculture and every farm can benefit from better water resource management.
Some of the major challenges plaguing the water and environment sectors in India include: urgent need for an inclusive, democratic and accountable governance, holistic assessment of impacts the very many interventions in the Himalayas (lessons from Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013), ecological restoration of Ganga and other rivers, dealing with climate change in a way that protects lives and livelihoods of the vulnerable sections, etc., to name a few.
The leaders of the party forming the new government have already declared their agenda in terms of completion of Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on Narmada, pushing interlinking of rivers (ILR), pushing for more dams in the name of irrigation, pushing big hydropower projects in North East India (Mr Modi had said in his campaign that NE is heaven for hydropower projects) and mega industrial initiatives like the Delhi Mumbai Investment Corridor.
This agenda indicates that the importance of water and environment to the vast millions is not understood. Nor is the significance of the challenges to this sector appreciated. Pushing the above agenda is not only fraught with serious risks in terms of social, environmental, economic and interstate issues, but these projects are not likely to deliver the promise of this party at the elections: Better life, more jobs, more development, fulfillment of basic needs of the people who do not have access to these at the moment. Pushing this agenda is not likely to deliver stated promises, however blind push for more and bigger projects will compound strife and conflicts.
Let us look at the issues related to the NDA Agenda. These are not incidental issues, but issues inherent to the nature of these centralized, mega projects themselves.
Does ILR have scientific basis? The basic premise of ILR is that certain basins are water surplus and others are water deficit. It is assumed that occurrence of floods in a basin means there is surplus water in the basin and occurrence of drought or water scarcity in other basin means it is water deficit. This premise itself is not scientifically, ecologically and socially robust.
While this is said, there is no attempt at assessing and exhausting the available water options in any basin in India. Twithout this exercise, there can be no scientific basis for declaring a basin surplus or deficit. The ILR advocates seem to ignore the reality that India’s water lifeline is groundwater and the best way to sustain groundwater is through local water systems and recharge. They also seem to ignore the massive social, environmental impacts and constitutional issues. ILR is basically a collection of large number of major irrigation projects (over 84), but proponents of ILR do not seem to realize that in last two decades, there has been no addition to net irrigated area by these projects, in spite of addition of thousands of new projects.
“Sabarmati Model” holds no water for Ganga or other rivers During the elections in Varanasi constituency that elected Mr Modi, the issue of cleaning of Ganga remained prominent. BJP claimed that they will clean up Ganga at Varanasi the way they cleaned up Sabarmati River that flows through Ahmedabad in Gujarat. The trouble with this claim is that Sabarmati has not been cleaned up at all. The water flowing through Sabarmati as it flows through the city of Ahmedabad is actually the water of Narmada River, diverted into Sabarmati. Ahmedabad has no right over this water which was supposed to be meant for Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat. If you go upstream along Sabarmati River from the point where Narmada Main Canal releases water in Sabarmati, you will see the reality of dry Sabarmati River. And if you go down to the Vasna barrage, downstream of Ahmedabad along the Sabarmati, you will see the state of polluted Sabarmati River. This model clearly holds no water either for Ganga or any other river.
River Ministry? There is speculation in media that the new NDA government is going to create a new River Ministry at the centre. The same media report also stated that this ministry will push Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR)! This seems like a proposal for Ministry of River Destruction, since ILR is a recipe for destruction of rivers. If at all the new government is interested in an act of goodwill towards rivers, it needs to start with understanding what is a river and what are its various functions along the various stretches during various periods, including the social, ecological, economic, hydrological, geo morphological, biodiversity related, groundwater related and most importantly, livelihoods related functions. This exercise will mean understanding the roles of various arms of the government which affect the river. Some key ministries which affect river profoundly include: Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Power, Ministry of Urban Affairs, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Home Affairs (Disaster Management), Ministry of Agriculture, Department of North East Region, Ministry of Non Conventional Sources of Energy, to name only a few. How is this new proposed Ministry of River Going to coordinate with these ministries? Moreover, according to India’s constitution, Rivers are essentially state subjects and no state is likely to welcome such infringement of centre into what the states see as their domain of responsibility.
Ganga a National Project? There are statements from Mr Amit Shah, that the new government will give National status to the Ganga Project. It is not clear what is meant by this. Ganga is already under the Prime-Minister headed National Ganga River Basin Authority, but the Authority, five years after its constitution, has failed to change a single attribute affecting the Ganga. Similarly, Ganga River Basin Management Plan that IIT consortium is working on is already known to be pathetic in its understanding of the river, while pushing for privatization. We do not need another project in the name of Ganga, national or local. If the aim of declaring Ganga as a National Project is to wrest its control from the state, as the media suggests, then it is going to raise a lot of hackles.
What we need is a new approach to river governance, which is based on ecological, and not engineering principles, which is participatory, and not exclusive and which is democratic and not autocratic.
Himalayas & Hydro-onslaught Irrefutable evidence shows that building large number of major hydropower projects in Himalayas is having unprecedented impacts, some are known, many are unknown. The flawed environmental governance around these projects is well known in terms of dishonest EIAs, flawed and compromised appraisals, ineffective (these are consultations just in the namesake, in reality there is no basis for informed participation) public hearing and non-existent compliance, both at project and cumulative level. One implication of this was felt in terms of the role of such projects in the Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013, after which, no political leader from any party spoke about this. It was left to the Supreme Court to order and enquiry into this. The report of this investigation clearly indicates the role of hydropower projects in increasing the proportions of the disaster, and more work on this issue remains to be done. In North East itself, India’s biggest mass based public agitation against dams & hydropower projects has been going on. The anger of people has led to stoppage of the work on 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower project (largest capacity hydropower project under implementation in India) for 30 months now, after over Rs 5000 crores were irresponsibly spent by NHPC without completing even basic studies. Mindless pushing of more such projects in the region is clearly not a prudent move.
BJP manifesto’s promise of expeditious and single window environment clearances is clearly dangerous in this context. What India needs is stronger and not weaker environmental governance. The advocacy to “reduce time and transaction costs for the industry” under the circumstances seems inappropriate particularly from an organisation which was possibly the only environmental organisation represented on the completely flawed EIA registration process at Quality Council of India. The QCI process failed to achieve any improvement in the quality of EIA in almost 4 years of its existence
Sardar Sarovar Dam The new government wants to take the SSP Dam from its current height of 121.92 m to its final design height of 138.68 m. Firstly, there are serious doubts if this height increase is required since it can be shown that Gujarat and Rajasthan can get their share of water from Narmada without this increase in height. Secondly, Gujarat is not even in a position to use more than 20% of the water it already gets from the river at current height of the dam for the purposes for which the project was designed: providing water for the drought affected regions in Kutch, Saurashtra & North Gujarat. On the other hand, urban centres, industrials areas, SEZs, cosmetic river beautification schemes have appropriated a large chunk of SSP waters without legal, democratic sanction or justification. Gujarat really does not have a case for increasing the height of SSP Dam.
Moreover, this will also entail such massive additional submergence, displacement and disruption of lives of tribals and farmers that it is sure to create huge opposition. The just rehabilitation of already affected people is far from complete, in fact, most of the affected population has not been given minimum 2 ha of land required under the Narmada Tribunal award and subsequent accepted policies.
Mr Modi during his tenure of 13 years as Chief Minister of Gujarat failed to complete the canal network of SSP in the drought prone areas in whose name the project has always been justified. It needs to be noted that the agitation against SSP did not stop Gujarat government from going ahead with construction of canal network. It was not for lack of finances that SSP could not complete the canal network. SSP has been getting largest quantum of money from the Government of India’s Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme ever since the AIBP scheme started in 1996. This support to SSP from AIBP was clearly wrong since SSP was never the last mile project for which AIBP was meant, but the big dam lobby in Union Water Resources ministry and Gujarat government were hand in glove in this misallocation of AIBP money for SSP. In fact, Mr Modi arm-twisted the Planning Commission in 2011-12 to sanction the escalated costs for SSP even when the issues raised by Planning Commission officers remained unanswered.
It is the ineptitude of Gujarat Government under Mr Modi that is on show in why it could not complete the canal network on drought prone areas in Gujarat. Mr Modi would do well to remember the reasons for that failure before he considers the mega projects agenda as Prime Minister.
Moreover, on SSP, the issues of completing repairs of the damages the Sardar Sarovar dam structure suffered four years ago & related issue of safety of the dam are yet to be resolved and Gujarat has embarked on building another Garudeshwar Dam in immediate downstream without any impact assessments, participatory democratic process or required sanctions. The legality of the Garudeshwar Dam work stands challenged in the National Green Tribunal by the affected tribals.
MAJOR RISKS FOR NEW GOVERNMENT Some major risks for the new government include: the track record of Gujarat government that Mr Modi headed for the last 13 years; no checks from coalition of parties; poor image, strength, morale and track record of Congress as the chief opposition party; large sections of almost completely subservient media and BJP’s problematic manifesto.
Why UPA faced people’s anger The new government also needs to remember why the outgoing ruling coalition of UPA (United Progressive Alliance) lost so badly in spite of some unprecedentedly remarkable, and pro people steps taken by it. Absence of accountable and participatory governance (which also manifested in terms numerous scams) was one of the major reasons as to why there was huge anger in people’s mind about the UPA regime. Another aspect of corruption and high-handedness was apparent in the scandalous way UPA dealt with governance of environmental issues: blatantly changing its environment ministers from bad to worse.
Even if we leave aside the Rajas and Balus of UPA I, the UPA II began on a positive note with appointment of Mr Jairam Ramesh as environment minister. While we had our share of criticism of functioning of Mr Ramesh as environment minister, he was possibly the best environment minister India have had.
But under pressure from misguided and misinformed corporate vested interests, Mr Ramesh was removed (kicked upstairs) and Mrs Jayanthi Natarajan was brought in. She did not really help the cause of environment as is apparent, for example, from her answers to the two debates on Ganga river in Parliament (these debates were unprecedented in their own right) as also sanctioning projects rejected by statutory bodies like Forest Advisory Committee.
Strangely, she too was removed to bring in disastrously, Mr Veerappa Moily, who also held the Oil and Petroleum ministry. Mr Moily then went about the designated task of green lighting everything, not bothering about governance issues, people’s concerns or environmental consequences. This led to massive anger anger against Moily as well as UPA.
Such arrogant handling of governance of environmental issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of most vulnerable sections of people was bound to be punished. This is clearly another reason behind the anger of people that UPA government faced in the elections.
Playing favorites UPA is also guilty of playing favorites when it came to appointing non governmental persons in environmental decision making. In almost every committee on environmental decision making, including Prime Ministers’ Council on Climate Change, National Tiger Task Force, Coastal Zone Management Committee, National Ganga Authority, Inter Ministerial Group on Ganga, Western Ghats Task Force, QCI process on registration of EIA consultants, 12th Plan working Groups to name only a few, everywhere one could find representatives of only particular organisation. Leaving aside the issue of effectiveness of the role played by representatives from this organisation, such tendencies of playing favorites is bound to raise serious questions. While many people at grassroots may not be aware of this inappropriate action by UPA government, the resultant outcomes of these committee invited various reactions ranging from disbelief, anger and even an uproar, as it happened in case of Kasturirangan Committee on Western Ghats.
While the result of anger of the voters could be seen in decimation of the UPA in the elections, the new NDA government will also do well to remember that even the Vajpayee government was voted out in 2004 for similar reasons. The mindless pursuit of agenda of inter linking of rivers and 50000 MW Hydropower initiatives, disregarding all the concerns and protests of the people across the country, along with the rejection of India Shining campaign were some of the causes for the voting out of the previous NDA regime in 2004.
SOME SPECIFIC TASKS In what follows we have given several examples of specific tasks before the new government. This is not an exhaustive, but only an indicative list.
Ganga Action Plan, Rivers Action Plans, NGBRA, CPCB, SPCBs Mr Modi has said that he would like to give priority to cleaning of Ganga River. Any such effort has any chance of success only if there is an attempt at understanding why our efforts at river pollution for the last 40 years have shown no impact:
Þ Water Pollution Control Act, 1974 The Water Pollution Control Act led to setting up a huge and powerful bureaucracy including Central and state pollution control boards. 40 years after setting up of this whole institutional and legal infrastructure, we do not have a single that this establishment can claim to have cleaned up.
Þ Ganga Action Plan, 1986 This plan was launched with much fanfare by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, but without trying to understand why the water pollution bureaucracy failed.
Þ National River Conservation Authority 1994 This authority, the only institution in the name or river conservation in India, had Prime Minister of India, no less, its chairman. In ten years of UPA, the Prime Minister of India did not get time for a single meeting of this authority.
Þ GAP II 2000 The second phase of GAP was launched, again without making any honest attempt at understanding the failure of GAP I.
Þ NGBRA 2009 In Feb 2009, just before the last parliamentary elections, National Ganga River Basin Authority, again under Prime Minister. As noted earlier, this too has failed to make any impact on the state of Ganga.
What all this shows is that we have tried many things, including legal, institutional, financial, and authoritative, with Prime Minister at the helm, but have achieved no success. This is also true of the previous NDA regime during 1998-2006. If we do not make an honest attempt at understanding the reasons for these failures, there is little hope for success in future. The efforts at river cleaning has not suffered due to lack of money (over Rs 20 000 crores have been spent on Ganga alone, as per one estimate), for lack of institutions, for lack of political attention, for lack of media attention, for lack of judicial attention, for lack of infrastructure [where infrastructure exists (e.g. Delhi with the highest Sewage Treatment Capacity], there too there is no change in state of river), or technology. One major reason for the failure was the complete disconnect between the people whose lives depend on the river and those who took the decisions or managed the system. In other words, unless you make the river governance more democratic, there is no hope for Ganga or other rivers.
Some basic steps to make governance of rivers democratic could include: Setting up of management committee (with 50% independent members from outside the government) for management of each Sewage Treatment Plant, each freshwater treatment plant, each tributary, each 10 km stretch of river, each water utility, each city (& sub city level where cities have population above 1 lakh). These committees should be legally empowered and the officials should be made responsible to these committees.
Jayanthi Tax In this regard, it would be useful to remember that during the election campaign, Mr Modi had accused Mrs Jayanthi Natarajan for collecting Jayanthi Tax as environment Minister, allegedly for collecting bribes for environment clearances. This was a very serious charge Mr Modi had leveled. Now that he heads the new government at centre, he must institute a credible enquiry into this charge to prove that he was not making just frivolous statements.
Maharashtra Irrigation Scam One state that has given NDA the highest number of seats after Uttar Pradesh is Maharashtra, the NDA coalition got 42 of 48 seats in this state. One of the major reasons for this debacle of UPA was that the UPA here got a very corrupt image, in spite of its Chief Minister having a relatively clean image. This was largely due to the massive Rs 70 000 crores irrigation scam in that state. The NDA partners in Maharashtra also played a role in exposing this corruption, although the top brass of NDA was also allegedly involved in the scandal. To this corrupt image was added the arrogance shown, for example, by deputy Chief Minister (who resigned on charges of corruption, but came back even without any investigation into the charges) when he first asked how are people expecting him to give water from dams – by urinating in the dams? During elections he actually threatened a village that water will be cut off if they do not vote for his party! This combination of corruption and arrogance was sufficient to enrage the voters.
Here again one expects the NDA government at centre to take decisive credible action in exposing the guilty in Maharashtra irrigation scam and brining to book those who are responsible both among the politicians and bureaucrats-engineers. Here, as BJP spokespersons in Maharashtra have been saying, the Madhav Chitale committee has basically done white washing role and hence we need an independent investigation. We hope NDA government at centre will take this up urgently.
Andhra Pradesh Irrigation Scam Similar action is also required in Andhra Pradesh Irrigation scam exposed by the CAG report.
AIBP As noted above, the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Program has majorly failed in achieving any additional net irrigation area by major projects at national level. The CAG has noted in more than one report the failure of AIBP and so has the Planning Commission. The new NDA government could start with instituting a credible independent enquiry into the reasons for failure of this scheme.
Uttarakhand Disaster and role of hydropower projects Following the worst ever disaster faced by the state of Uttarakhand in June 2013, the role played by indiscriminate construction of hydropower projects and other infrastructure needed to be investigated since prime facie they had played significant role in increasing the proportions of disaster. The UPA government did nothing, and it was left to the Supreme Court to ask MoEF to set up an Expert Body for this. In the meantime, SC ordered stay on any more projects. The MoEF along with Central Water Commission and Central Electricity Authority and the Congress’s Uttarakhand state government, have been trying to push more projects in stead of honoring the Apex Court orders. In April 2014, the report of Expert Body lead by Dr Ravi Chopra has been submitted. The new Union government, it is hoped, will take credible steps to implement the recommendations of the Expert Body at the earliest date.
Independent National Environment Monitor It is well known that MoEF as an independent environmental regulator is seriously compromised with shoddy EIAs, flawed appraisal and non existent compliance. This situation has remained unchanged for the last decade and more. The Supreme Court of India, seeing this, had in 2011 ordered that an Independent Environment Regulator needs to be set up at National and state level. The outgoing central government had shown reluctance to do anything in this regard, in spite of repeated Supreme Court orders. The new government has a historical opportunity to indeed set up a truly independent & accountable environment regulator, at the same time increasing the transparency and participation of people in the environmental governance through fresh round of democratic reforms.
Cabinet Committee on Investment One of the flawed legacy of the previous UPA government is the Cabinet Committee on Investment, which has been created to bypass the statutory work of the MoEF. The new Union government would do well to disband this extra legal committee.
Polavaram Project Authority Even as elections were underway, in a most inappropriate decision, the outgoing government set up a Polvaram Project Authority, without even consulting affected states of Orissa and Chhattisgarh. In both these states there is either BJP government or BJP led government. There are also cases going on against this project, including civil suits filed by the governments of Chhattisgarh and Orissa. In the interest of these states and affected tribals, the new Union Government should scrap the Polavaram Project Authority.
Mullaperiyar The 119 year old Mullaperiyar dam has already suffered damages in the past and there is no doubt that it has limited life. To overcome the inflexible attitude of Tamil Nadu and respecting the constitutional duty of Kerala government to protect the life and property of people of Kerala, it become the duty of the Union government to initiate process for new a arrangement (e.g. lower the intake level to 50 ft from current 106 ft, as seen promising both by the Empowered Body and Supreme Court in May 2014) and decommissioning of the dam in a time bound manner. The previous Union government completely failed in this and the new government has an opportunity to correct this.
Central Water Commission Central Water Commission is India’s premier technical body on water resources. Water resources development and management has always remained crucial to any country’s water, food, livelihood and environment security. However, for this we need a really independent and credible technical body at the top, on the lines of United States Geological Survey (USGS). USGS, is known to be source of very reliable water resources data world over. However, USGS’s main task is to gather data and put it in public domain. Use of that data for development tasks and such other functions are not the mandate of USGS, there are other bodies for that. Unfortunately in India, CWC tasked with data gathering, sanctioning projects, monitoring and so many other contradictory functions. Moreover, CWC is working more like a big dam lobby, and even the assessment of hydrological data, flood forecasting functioning, water use data and projections, climate change implications, dam safety issues, etc are all getting colored by the lobbying tendency of those who head CWC. This is having a very deleterious effect on the water resources development and management in India.
It is high time that there are reforms in CWC to separate its various contradictory functions and make its functioning transparent, accountable and participatory. The new Union government has a chance to initiate such reforms in CWC and Ministry of Water Resources.
Technical Advisory Committee of CWC The TAC of CWC is a very little known, but powerful body. It sanctions projects worth thousands of crores every year, but its functioning is completely non transparent, unaccountable and it has no independent members. Since the new government has been raising the issue of corruption by UPA during the election campaign, it is hoped that the new government will work to fight corruption and one of the key steps it can do is to make the functioning of TAC transparent, accountable and ensure that at least 50% members of the TAC are non governmental, independent people with track record of having shown independent mind.
Urban Water Sector The social, environmental, economic and carbon footprint of this sector increasing at huge pace, without any success story in sight. The big cities are find it easy to promote construction of big dams rather than go for rain water harvesting, sewage water treatment & recycle, demand side measurement, groundwater recharge, reduction in losses and such other measures. SANDRP report on unjustified dams being pushed in Mumbai highlights this issue. The 12th Plan Working Group report on Urban water issues have several useful recommendations that has remained unimplemented. These need to be urgently implemented.
Climate Change Climate change in the biggest threat that vulnerable sections of Indian people face, as do the vulnerable sections of the rest of the world. This is not only relevant for water and environment sectors that we are discussing here, but for all sectors. As Environmental Groups in Gujarat have noted, people of Gujarat do not have good experience of the Modi regime in the state. The record of the 10 year long UPA government is very poor on this issue. We hope the new Union government will do better and begin with identification of the sections of the people who are vulnerable and start working on action plan to address the concerns of such sections, while also reducing the carbon footprint of India through reduction in consumption patterns of richer sections.
Suggestions for positive actions As analysed by Dr. Ashok Gulati (former chairman of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices) and Dr. Tushar Shah (International Water Management Institute) separately, the relatively high agricultural growth in Gujarat in first decade of current millennium was largely due to local water harvesting work that happened in Gujarat through check dams, groundwater recharge etc, largely in non governmental sector. The new government at centre can bring about changes in policies and programs to learn lessons from such success stories to achieve such results all over India.
Similarly on the issue or river rejuvenation, management and conservation front as also environmental management front, a decentralized bottom up community driven approach can be taken up.
It can encourage people led, scientific and ecological river restoration work.
Promote System of Rice Intensification in a major way, it can not only reduce water use, fertiliser use, use of other chemicals, reduce seed requirement, increase farmers’ income, reduce agriculture sector’s carbon footprint and thus help mitigate and also adaptation to changing climate. This is possible in other crops too, as has been demonstrated at farmer level.
Encourage measures that can help increase carbon content of the soil, this will also have multiple benefits to farmers, economy and environment.
It can strengthen implementation of Forest Rights Act which UPA, despite introducing it, failed to do.
It can protect free flowing rivers for their social, ecological, cultural values.
It can also engage more effectively with civil society and community groups in a credible manner.
A recent SANDRP study “Shrinking and Sinking Deltas: Role of Large Dams” has shown that large dams are playing big role in sinking of deltas in India. This is not even properly studied. The new government can initiate a scientific study in this regard and ensure that before taking up any new project, this aspect is studied.
Conclusion I started writing this brief note following questions from several media friends, but it has become much longer! So let us come to the conclusion. I am not even sure if the new government is in any mood to listen to such unsolicited suggestions, but let us put it out and hope for the best! I decided to put this out, even as Mr Modi prepares to take office on May 26.
This article tries to show the risks, challenges and some immediate tasks of the new government at the centre. In sum, the new NDA government would do well not to forget the reasons for rejection of NDA in 2004 and UPA now in 2014. Both were guilty of bull dozing ahead with their agendas without listening to the people. Avoiding that may be the biggest challenge this government faces, besides the specific ones mentioned above.
Discussions on Interlinking of Rivers are gaining momentum as new government takes charge at the centre. It is predicted that the new government will be supportive of ecologically and socially questionable plan of interlinking rivers. In this backdrop, it will be interesting to study the fate of a little known scheme of diverting west flowing water to the Godavari Basin in Maharashtra. While the entire ‘grand’ plan includes many such schemes, we are focusing on one of the biggest interbasin diversion project under this scheme. Manjarpada Phase I project which is on a shared basin between Maharashtra and Gujarat, located in the Dindori Taluka of Nashik District. We also look at the status of about 28 interbasin diversion schemes proposed and under construction in this region, their justifications, benefits as well as impacts.
Manjarpada Phase I forms part of the Upper Godavari Irrigation Project under the Water Resources Department, Maharashtra. The original proposal of the Upper Godavari Irrigation Project included Dams like Waghad, Karanjvan, Palkhed and Ozarkhed, which received administrative sanction in 1966. Work was started in 1968. From here on a number of components like Punegaon Dam, Tisgaon Dam, several canals kept getting added to the scheme. However, it remained essentially an intra basin project, there was no inter linking rivers component here.
In 2008 a radically different component was added to Upper Godavari Project. This was the inclusion of 12 diversion weirs on Paar, Taar, Damanganga Basin Rivers that in normal course would flow into Gujarat. These weirs envisaged near the ridge line, transferring waters of these into dams built in the Godavari Basin, via deep canals across the Western Ghats, which will transfer water from west flowing rivers to the east flowing Godavari. According to the White Paper on Irrigation Projects brought out by the Water Resources Department of Maharashtra in December 2012, these diversion weirs and Manjarpada Phase I scheme added an irrigation potential of about 30,000 hectares in the Upper Godavari Projects. The total irrigation potential of the entire Upper Godavari projects is estimated as 74,000 hectares (including 30,000 hectares from Diversion projects), of which potential of 69000 hectares is claimed to be created. This is unbelievable as the Diversion weirs, with a total command of 30,000 hectares, are just about half complete. The White Paper states that about 55% work on Manjarpada project and about 60% work on 11 diversion weirs has been completed.
An interbasin transfer scheme that claims a cumulative irrigation potential of 30,000 hectares will have significant impact on ecosystems, communities and downstream hydrology. But no such studies have been conducted for these projects, there has been no public consultation process and it is not even known if there is any interstate agreement for this transfer. The most striking example is Manjarpada Phase I project which envisages transferring about 500 million cubic feet (Mcft) from the Paar basin into Punegaon dam in the Godavari basin by way of a dam and two significantly big tunnels. Officials of Water Resource Department have stated that the project, submerging 95 hectares of land, also needs Forest Clearance for 65 ha forest land, which has not been granted yet, although work is in an advanced stage! This is clearly illegal as per the Forest Conservation Act (1980).
SANDRP’s visit to Manjarapada Phase I Project When we visited the site of Manjarpada project, we were first struck by the name. The project has nothing to do with Manjarpada village, but is entirely based in Devsale Village of Dindori Taluk. Work on the main dam has been stopped for many months now. The villagers say that this is due to local protests, while the officials claim this is due to paucity of funds.
No impact assessment of the project has taken place. When we visited Devsale village, we were mobbed by villagers who wanted to show us the damages caused by the project for which they have received no compensations. The incessant blasting of the tunnel in the hardrock has resulted in cracks to many homes. More than 250 villagers claim that they have lost water from their shallow wells/ bore wells. More than 50 well owners have submitted a memorandum to the Collector and Zilla Parishad office about drying up of their wells.
Above: Manjarpada Dam wall under construction. Photo: Amit Tillu for SANDRP
The villagers indicate 2 tunnels under construction for the same project, one of which is complete in 1 km length and the other complete in nearly 8 km length, with a huge air vent 20 m wide and over 150 m deep. The depth of the tunnel underground is about 150-300 feet.
Above: Under construction tunnel at Manjarpada Phase I Photo: Amit Tillu for SANDRP
The laborers employed by the subcontractor do not understand Marathi and cannot respond to questions asked by the villagers. Work on the main dam wall has stopped since the last 2 years. Villagers say that blasting and tunneling has severely affected groundwater in the region, which has fallen drastically after tunneling. Blasting has resulted in not only cracks in over 100 homes, it has led to collapse of more than 10 built open wells, turning them into puddles. This was witnessed by us. Displaced families have not been resettled yet.
Corruption involved in the unfeasible Manjarpada Project: Whistle-blower of the Water Resources Department Vijay Pandhare has been highlighting issues about Manjarpada project since a long time, when he was in service as Chief Engineer at Maharashtra Engineering Training Academy. He had pointed serious irregularities about this project in his letters to the Secretary, Maharashtra Water Resource Department, state Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan as well as separately to Dr. Chitale who was supposed to be investigating the Maharashtra dam scam.
Pandhare talked exclusively with SANDRP on Manjarapada Project, he said: “This project is planned to transfer about 500 million cubic feet of water and is costing about Rs 500 crores and these estimates will increase. It should have costed a fraction of this. The entire process of Manjarapada Phase 1 was driven by the politician and contractor lobby and there was never any space for rational questioning. In addition to Manjarpada Stage I, the department is now also pushing for Manjarpada phase II downstream of this project, which will divert water right into the Tapi Basin. Now the catchment area of Manjarpada Phase I and Phase II actually overlap and the projects are simply unfeasible as there is no water availability as stated in the water availability certificates. This needs to be thoroughly investigated and I had written about this to many authorities, in vain.”
Shri. Pandhare is justified in raising these issues. If we look at the internal note of MID, with SANDRP, it states that in 2008 Manjarapada project was approved Rs. 62.54 Crores. Till December 2013, Rs 122.66 Crores were spent on this project! This has resulted in 30% work on spillway, 80% on connecting tunnel, 100% on open canal, 72% on diversion tunnel.
The last line on the project drops a bomb. It states: “An estimate for Third administrative approval for Upper Godavari Project, which includes the cost of this project at Rs 430.74 crores for Manjarpada project, has been presented before the government for approval.” So within 5 years, cost of the project shot up nearly 6 folds!
Above: One of the several open wells collapsed due to balsting for Manjarpada project Photo: Amit Tillu for SANDRP
Pandhare writes in his letter to the Secretary and Chief Minister, the letter that initially shook the water management circles in Maharashtra. “The system that makes cost estimates in WRD is has been nearly killed. So the field officer has been made in-charge of working on estimates. In reality the contractor makes these estimates and they are sanctioned without checking. Otherwise such unfeasible and costly work would not be undertaken… In case of Manjrapada project, the cost estimates, especially tunnel excavation costs have been bloated beyond measure. The benefits are hazy. When Phase I is questionable, unfeasible and hugely costly Manjrpada II is being pushed by political backing. This project has a water availability certificate, when in fact the catchment does not have enough water.” He has specifically requested Dr. Chitale to investigate this project.
When we met the Executive Engineer, MI Projects (Local Sector), for Nashik division, he agreed that there is controversy surrounding Manjarpada Projects, especially related to feasibility and overlap of catchment area, but refused to comment further. He softly added that political interference with water resource department should reduce. In the meantime, Chagan Bhujbal, former MP from Nashik region (he lost in 2014 Parliamentary elections by huge margin of close to 2 lakh votes) has been stating that Manjrapada II will happen at any cost.
One of the official stated that Manjarpada project is the ‘Boss’ of these schemes as it will route water from many schemes in the Paar Basin into the Godavari Basin. Though he later added that the main reason for pushing Manjarpada was that the Punegaon Dam, downstream Manjarpada has not been filling up in monsoon and Manjarpada will aid it. This again underlines Pandhare’s claim that water availability certificates being given for projects in Maharashtra (like Punegaon) are not scientific and driven by other motives!
Above: Villagers at Devsale talking about issues of Manjarpada Project I Photo: Amit Tillu for SANDRP
Incidentally, according to white paper, it’s interesting to see the list of water users downstream of these projects. They include Ranwad sugar factory, K Distillery, Ashokumar Hatcheries, Everest Industries, Seagram Distillery, Shivam chemical, Kadwa Sugar industry, Dinodri MIDC (which is a Wine MIDC in Maharashtra) & have a reservation on 136 MCFt. While Manmad taluka suffered acute water stress in drought in 2012-13, water supply to distilleries and wine industries continued.
This whole episode involving the project, its decision making process, lack of impact assessment and credible techno-economic appraisal and monitoring raises many questions. In the first place, the Manjarpada project highlights the need for thorough participatory processes that should be undertaken before taking up such projects, especially when they involve interbasin transfers.
Maharashtra and Gujarat have signed an MoU to transfer waters from Damanganga River into Vaitarna basin through Bhugad, Khargihill and Pinjal Dams and tunnel systems. The tunnel envisaged between Pinjal and Khargihill stretches over 64 kilometers, more than 5 times the tunnel in Manjarada. It is clear that the impacts of not only the dams, but the tunnel systems will be huge and need investigation.
More than 19 Diversion Projects diverting “unutilized water going waste to the Arabian Sea”
When we met officials at the Minor Irrigation Division (MID), they showed us the map of intricate links planned in the entire Damangagang, Paar, Naar Basin as well as parts of Vaitarna and Ulhas basin to transfer water “flowing unutilized to the Arabian Sea” into the Godavari Basin. It is difficult to imagine that a project of this massive scale, which can transfer nearly 400 MCM from West Flowing basins into the Godavari basin is going on without any project specific impact assessment, cumulative impact assessment, cost benefit studies, environmental appraisal, environment management plan, public consultations, environmental monitoring and based on questionable water availability studies.
The Maharashtra Irrigation Dept GR dated Sept 2005 approved the proposal of diversion schemes near the ridge line to divert water which was “going waste, unutilised into the Arabian Sea” to Godavari Basin in the East. 19 such schemes have received approval from the Hydrology Project (Jal Vgyan Prakalpa) Nashik. Of these 19 schemes, 13 have been included in the second administrative approval of the Upper Godavari Project, but there are in all nearly 28 diversion schemes under consideration. Table in Annexure 1 provides details of the various schemes under this project.
Above: Diversion Weirs at Dindori, with deep canal on the upstream transferring water Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
SANDRP team also visited some of these diversion weirs.
In case of Amboli Diversion Weir, its capacity is supposed to be close to 1 MCM (million cubic meters). It was bone dry in May when SANDRP team visited it. Sagar Marathe, who resides next to the weir states that the weir, now complete, hardly holds any water in it. The reason seems obvious. Just 200-300 mts upstream the dam wall, a high canal embankment runs, which means that the dam has nearly no catchment area! There is no study on the amount of water that is indeed diverted into Kashyapi River here, a tributary of Godavari.
Above: Dam wall and the dry Amoboli Diversion Weir reservoir can be seen on the left, on the right is a tall embankment of an older canal which runs parallel to the dam wall and is much longer. Effectively, the dam has nearly no catchment. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
In case of Waghera diversion weir, which is supposed to be under construction, the tribal villagers told SANDRP that the mud dam has been existing since the past 20-25 years and the only work going on is digging the canals! But the MID note does not state that the dam is already existing, possibly indicating an irregularity.
These examples are only indicative. They highlight the need for transparent and participatory studies surrounding these projects.
Above: Unlined canal in Dindori, transferring water onto Waghad Dam. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
Environment laws violated, but MoEF in dark and inactive! Manjarpada Diversion and other diversion dam projects are coming up in violation of the EIA Notification 2006, but MoEF seems to know nothing about it. Manjarpada or other diversion schemes cannot claim exclusion from the environmental appraisal process since it involves huge irrigation, in addition to inter basin transfer, domestic & industrial water supply.
The entire diversion scheme raises big questions about significant impacts, needs of the downstream population, local opposition and finally questionable and unassessed benefits. We hope MoEF will take cognizance of the legal violations and take stringent steps against Maharashtra government. Unfortunately Maharashtra is mired with too many of such examples, in addition to the dam scam.
– Parineeta Dandekar ( email@example.com), Amit Tillu ( firstname.lastname@example.org) with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar ( email@example.com)
Table 1 Overview of Interbasin diversion projects planned to divert water into the Godavari Basin.
Basin in which water is transferred
Manjarpada Diversion Project Nashik
Godavari: Punegaon and Karanjvan Dams
Golshi Mahaji Flow Diversion Project, Dindori
Damanganga origin 10 nallahs to be diverted
Waghad Dam, Godavari
0.47 MCMto be transferred
Current cost around 32 Crores( 12.97 spent, 21.31 requested)
Nanashi Flow Diversion Project, DindoriNashik
Nar-Par. Dam at the origin of Par, from here to Hattipada DW, from there to Karanjvan Dam
Karanjvan Dam, Godavari
1 MCM into Godavari 0.55 MCM for local use
Initial estimate was 3.04 crores in 2008. Actually 3.81 crores spent, Now application for 17.1 crores made for 3rd administrative approval
Golshi 1, Flow Diversion Project, Dindori Dindori
1.29 crores in 2008.3.15 crores asked in 3rd administrative approval
Schemes which do not have administrative approval, but are included in the Upper Godavari Project by the Godavari Irrigation Development Corp.
Velunje-Amboli Dvrsn Prjct
16.07 crores estimated
Kalmuste Diversion project
23.141 MCM by a diversion weir
333 Crores estimated price
Kapwadi Diversion Project
Estimated cost 60.8 Cr
Projects with survey permissions and administrative approval
Lift dvrsn prjct 3, Surgana
Lift dvrsn prjct 4, Surgana
Water Diversion from Upper Vaitarna Basin to Godavari Basin
Note: GOM approved the scheme to fit doors to the saddle dam of Vaitarna project and transfer water into Godavari. However, Thane Circle of KIDC had acquired 4689 hectares of Upper Vaitarna Project. Eventually, Dam height was reduced and 623 hectares was additional land left which should have been returned to the PAPs. But this was not done. There is a strong opposition of local people to any survey without this return. No has been conducted as yet.
6 Diversion projects for Ahmednagar under very primary planning
Hivra Walvani Diversion Weir
13 hectares forest land
Samrand Diversion weir
6 hectares forest land bot fall in PA. Hydrology Project communicated that the project is not supported by the GOM. CE, KIDC has written in 2012 that there is no water to transfer to the east.
Transfer water from Shai and Kalu Basins into Akole between Harishchandragad and Ajoba Mountain into Mula basin
Tolarkhind Tunnel Project
CE, KIDC has written in 2012 that no surplus water available in Shai & Kalu Basins for dvrsion.
Khirehwarer Tunnel Prject
Sadada Tunnel Project
Pathar Ghat dvrsn canal pr
Diverion from Kalu and Shai Basin
TOTAL PLANNED DIVERISON FROM WEST TO EAST in Godavari Basin
Source: Minor Irrigation Department, Nashik Division
PROJECT UNABLE TO SUBMIT SATISFACTORY PROPOSAL EVEN SIX YEARS AFTER PM LAID FOUNDATION STONE!
In a remarkable decision, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of MoEF has rejected the forest clearance to 3000 MW Dibang multipurpose project for the second time in its meeting held on 29 -30 April 2014. In that meeting FAC considered the Dibang multipurpose project for diversion of massive 4577.84 ha of biodiversity rich forest land which would lead to cutting down of huge 3.24 lac trees.
The latest (March 2014) edition of the National Register of Large Dams (NRLD) from Government of India’s premier Technical organisation, Central Water Commission (CWC) seems to be giving information about Uttarakhand dams that seems in violation of Environment Protection Act, EIA notification, Forest Conservation Act and Wildlife protection Act. The CWC’s NRLD is also in violation of the Supreme Court of India orders of Aug 13, 2013, the apex court is still seized of this issue. The NRLD is showing several dams like Rambara and Bogudiyar Sirkari Bhyol (BSB for short) as under construction projects, when these projects have received none of the statutory clearances. These projects were absent in the previous (Dec 2013) edition of the NRLD (available with SANDRP), which means these have been added only earlier this year, after the Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013 and after the Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013. Both CWC (as publisher of NRLD) and Uttarakhand government (as provider of such information) are guilty.
Rambara HEP A 76 MW Rambara HEP on Mandakini river in Rudraprayag district had come before the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests’ Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects during its meeting in Oct 2008. Just 6 km downstream of the worst affected Kedarnath pilgrim centre, the Rambara town and project site has been completely washed out in the Uttarakhand flood of June 2013. Let us see the important decisions about this project over the years.
Þ Oct 2008 The EAC had than noted that the project is inside the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary and cannot be given even pre construction (stage I) clearance without an approval from the Supreme Court of India. The project never went back to EAC after that.
Þ 2012 In 2012, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) recommended, in a commissioned by MoEF following an earlier Supreme Court order, that this project, (by now the installed capacity has been reduced to 24 MW, but height of the dam goes up from 28 m to 31 m) be cancelled as its zone of influence coincides with the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary. This was one of he 24 projects that WII recommended for cancellation.
Þ Aug 13, 2013 Following the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013, the Supreme Court order of 13.08.2013 asked the MoEF to take a view on this recommendation of WII. Following the apex court order, MoEF appointed an Expert Body (EB) under the chairmanship of Dr Ravi Chopra.
Þ April 16, 2014 The EB report recommends that Rambara, along with 22 other projects be dropped, as recommended by WII.
Þ May 7, 2014 Supreme Court orders stoppage of work on the 24 projects that WII had said should be cancelled. This includes Rambara HEP.
While all this is going on, the new NRLD just published by the CWC suddenly shows Rambara dam as under construction dam. When seen in conjunction with the pro hydro lobbying report submitted by CWC-CEA to the MoEF, it is clear that the CWC is trying to bypass the whole Supreme Court ordered process and also attempting to push projects in violation of the process.
Bogudiyar Sirkari Bhyol HEP This 170 MW dam on Goriganga River (tributary of Kali River) in Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand had come before the EAC for stage I clearance in May 2009. The MoEF website lists this project as awaiting TOR even today. So this project has no environment or forest clearance, no CEA clearance, no EIA-EMP, no public consultations or environmental appraisal, and construction on the project without these would clearly be illegal. However, CWC’s NRLD (March 2014 edition) shows this project too as under construction. This is a massive 98 m high dam on a river that faced the flood disaster in June 2013 and NHPC’s 280 MW Dhauliganga HEP on Kali river faced such destruction that it has still to be repaired. As per the EB report, there is need for a cumulative impact assessment in Goriganga / Kali River, which has not even been initiated.
Lakhwar Dam & Vyasi HEP The CWC’s NRLD also shows the 300 MW Lakhwar storage dam on Yamuna River in Uttarakhand under construction. This biggest dam in whole of Yamuna valley in Uttarakhand has had no EIA-EMP, no public consultations, no Environmental appraisal. The Uttarakhand government and MoEF are guilty of giving forest clearance to the Lakhwar project and downstream 120 MW Vyasi HEP and initiating work on these projects (no work has happened on these projects for over two decades) even as the Supreme Court stay on no clearances was on. Even EB report has mentioned these violations and application on contempt of SC order is pending before the Supreme Court. To show Lakhwar and Vyasi projects as under construction in the CWC’s latest edition of NRLD is clearly wrong.
Other problems with CWC’s NRLD We have in the past pointed out several other issues with CWC’s NRLD, including case of missing river names, missing dams and so on. CWC needs to be much more careful about information given in such an important document like NRLD.
CWC cannot act like a post office In the past, when such issues about information in NRLD have been raised with CWC, it has said that NRLD is only a compilation of information provided by states and only states are responsible for the correctness of information. However, CWC is India’s premier technical body on water resources and is also the national body in charge of safety of dams. Under the circumstances, on the issue of information about dams in NRLD, CWC cannot wash its hands and say it is only posting information given by states. In this particular case of Uttarakhand dams, CWC and Uttarakhand government both are responsible for the illegalities involved, as highlighted earlier.
It seems we do not want to learn any lessons from the massive Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013. Two more huge capacity hydropower projects have been submitted to the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of Ministry of Environment & Forest (MoEF) for grant of Environmental Clearance (EC) with very poor quality Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (EIA) reports.
EIA reports of Kiru Hydro Electric Project (HEP) (660MW) and Kwar HEP (560 MW) proposed in Kishtwar district, Jammu and Kashmir by Chenab Valley Power Projects Ltd. (CVPP) were submitted to the EAC for River for its 74th meeting held on 5-6 May, 2014 for grant of EC. The projects are run-of-river schemes proposed on river Chenab as a part of cascade development of Chenab basin.
Vicinity Map(Source Kiru EIA Report)
Partial Map of Commissioned and Proposed HEPs in Chenab River Basin (Map by SANDRP)
Chenab basin may have one of the highest concentrations of hydropower projects among all basins in India. The basin has over 60 HEPs under various stages of planning, construction and commissioning in states of Himachal Pradesh (HP) and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
While 49 of these projects are planned or under construction in Chenab in HP, 28 projects of combined generation capacity of 5,800 MW are at an advanced stage of obtaining (Environment Ministry) clearances. State of J&K has 13 projects planned of total capacity 8,623 to 8,923 MW. These consist of at least four operational projects (of total 1563.8 MW), three under construction projects (of 1450.5 MW) and six proposed projects (of 5608.7 MW).
Table 1: Cascade Development of Chenab Basin
Source: EIA report of Kiru & Kwar
Salal (Stage- I & II)
Baglhar (Stage-I & II)
Himalayan ecosystem, of which the Chenab river basin is a part, is known to be geologically fragile. Cascade of hydel projects proposed on the river basins of this region would make the region even more vulnerable to extreme and erratic weather events, which will increase in changing climate. This has already been witnessed during Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013. Expert Body (EB) headed by Dr Ravi Chopra recently has officially acknowledged this connection in the report submitted to MoEF. In light of this, a thorough impact assessment of all the proposed hydro power projects in this region is thus of critical importance. Various organizations and experts including SANDRP have repeatedly highlighted the fact that Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) of all the proposed, under construction and operational projects and carrying capacity assessment (CCA) of the river basin to see if it can support the massive number of HEPs in safe and sustainable way is one of the first steps before considering clearances to HEPs in this region. Without such a study, considering any hydropower project in the basin will be an invitation to disaster.
Even though the MoEF sanctioned TORs for cumulative impact assessments of the HEPs on Chenab in HP in February 2012, this critical task was entrusted to the Directorate of Energy, Government of Himachal Pradesh. This is a clear case of conflict of interest. Further the project specific ECs were delinked from the CIAs.
More importantly, no such study has been initiated in Chenab basin in J&K or in the Chenab basin as a whole. State of Jammu and Kashmir is not even considering CIA of HEPs on Chenab in the state as MoEF has not asked for it yet. CIA of the entire Chenab basin including HP and J&K is not being considered, which itself is violating MoEFs Office Memorandum dated May 28 2013. The OM states that all states were to initiate carrying capacity studies within three months from the date of the OM No. J-11013/I/2013-IA-I. Since this has not happened in case of Chanab basin in J&K, considering any more projects in the basin for Environmental clearance will be in violation of the MoEF OM.
On Cumulative Impact Assessment, the OM said, “While, first project in a basin could come up without insisting on cumulative impact study, for all subsequent hydro-power projects in the basin, it should be incumbent on the developer of second/ other project(s) to incorporate all possible and potential impacts of the other project (s) in the basin to get a cumulative impact assessment done.” The EIA of both the projects does not include the cumulative impacts.
MoEF continues to give clearances to individual HEP projects despite of poor quality Project Feasibility Reports (PFRs) and EIA reports submitted for appraisal. Kiru & Kwar EIA reports are a classic example of such poorly conducted EIAs. The EIAs demonstrate several serious issues across various stages from TOR non-compliance, non assessment of impacts, cut and paste job, lack of any references, faulty public hearings, the issued raised at public hearings have not been addressed in EIAs, as statutorily required. SANDRP recently made detailed submissions to EAC highlighting these issues for both the projects. Some highlights below:
Copy paste job while preparing EIA reports Both the reports are prepared by a consortium of RS Envirolink Technologies Pvt. Ltd. (Gurgaon) and Jammu University. Kiru EIA report demonstrates a casual approach towards impact prediction and proposing mitigation measures in EMP. The report also misses out on a number of important aspects of EIA like impact of construction activities on geology, flora fauna, impact of climate change, cumulative impacts of cascade development in Chenab basin etc. While Kiru EIA is inadequate on several fronts it was utterly shocking to discover that Kwar EIA report is a complete replica of the Kiru EIA Report. Entire text, save project specific numbers, remains the same in both reports, to the extent that the Kwar EIA report mentions Kiru instead of Kwar at several places!! The impact prediction for both the cases is so vague and generic that the changes in numbers for project-specific details like proposed installed capacity, submergence of reservoir, FRL, head race tunnels etc. do not reflect at all in the reports!
Brief Project Profiles Kiru H.E. Project and Kwar H.E. Project are run-of-river schemes proposed on river Chenab located in the district Kishtwar of J&K.
Kiru HEP envisages the construction of a 193 m long and 123 m high concrete gravity dam above the river bed across river Chenab at village Kiru with four intake, four pressure shafts, an underground powerhouse of 4 units of 165 MW each. Impoundment will cover an area of 1.03 Km extending 6.5 km upstream of dam. The average river bed level at the dam site is about EL 1394 m corresponding to an FRL of 1515 m, the gross storage of the reservoir is 41.50 Mcum and area under submergence is 1.03 Km.
Proposed dam site for Kiru HEP(Source Kiru EIA Report)
Kwar HEP envisages construction of a concrete gravity dam 101 m high from river bed across river Chenab at village Padyarna, four number intakes, four pressure shafts, an underground powerhouse to accommodate 4 units of 140 MW each and two number tail race tunnel. FRL of reservoir is proposed at EI 1385M. Gross storage of the reservoir at FRL is 27.167 Mcum. The reservoir will submerge an area of about 0.8 Sq. Km at FRL.
Proposed dam site for Kwar HEP (Source Kwar EIA Report)
TOR non-compliance First and foremost glaring issue about the proposed projects is the non-compliance with the TORs (Terms of Reference) laid down for conducting the EIA. These TORs were granted by MoEF. We have listed here only an indicative list of non compliance below, not an exhaustive one.
Kiru HEP The TOR clearance letter was issued for Kiru project on Sept 9, 2008, the TORs are valid for a period of 3 years, but the project developer never came back for extension of the TOR on expiry of 3 year period and has come now for EC over 5.5 years after the TOR clearance. Thus the TOR clearance is no longer valid for Kiru HEP as per the law. Also originally the TOR clearance for Kiru was given for 600 MW installed capacity. The EIA however has been conducted for 660 MW capacity. No permission was sought by the PP for this increased capacity.
Kwar project has undergone several changes since the grant of TOR on 17 March 2010. Table given below compares some of these changes. First and foremost alteration has been in the proposed total power generation. While the TORs were granted for 520 MW the EIA has been conducted for 560 MW. Number of affected families goes up by 160% and project cost escalates by 29%. The TORs were granted for over four years back and the project authority never got back to EAC/MoEF for renewal of the TOR as other projects do. Thus the TORs granted originally do not remain valid in this case too.
Table 2: Changes in the scope of Kwar project after grant of TOR on 17 March 2010
Scope at the time of TOR clearance
Current scope of the Proposed Project
Total power Generation
5 Ha Government land
93.66 Ha Government land
Power House Units
4 x 130 MW
(4 x 140MW)
Rs 3386.11 Cr
Rs. 4375.50 Crores at Jan’2012 PL
Casual approach towards impact prediction
Kwar EIA copy pasted from Kiru EIA report: It is evident that the EIA consultants have done nothing but copy paste job while preparing Kwar EIA report. At certain places Kwar report mentions ‘Kiru’ instead of Kwar. See for example point number 1.7 in Index of Kwar EIA mentions ‘Need of the Kiru HE project’instead of Kwar and point number 4.4 mentions ‘Basin characteristics of free draining area of Kiru HEP’ (p.3 & p.6 of the document). Page 28 of Kwar EIA states that “The case for forest clearance of Kiru HE Project for diversion of 29.75 ha of forest land has been approved in the 81st meeting of J&K State Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) held on 09.12.2013…”
Other than very project specific figures, the entire text for both the reports is exactly the same. Impact prediction is the heart of an EIA study. However in Kwar EIA report an important chapter like Chapter 8- “Identification, Prediction and Evaluation of Environmental Impacts” is also copy pasted. The text of the chapter is same as that of Chapter 8 from Kiru EIA report save the project specific numbers and their description. The impacts predicted are vague and are conveniently kept the same in both the reports. It is clear that no real field work or application of mind is done. Such an EIA study defeats the basic purpose of conducting an EIA.
Impact of construction activities: The Kiru project involves a reservoir of live storage 10.5 MCM, a concrete dam on height (from river bed) 123.0 M & length 193 M, construction of 4 head race tunnels (of 7 m dia and 165 to 190 m length each) for discharging the water to an underground powerhouse of 4 units of 165 MW each. The project also envisages 33.4 Lakh CuM of construction material required from the project site.
The Kwar project involves construction of 101 m (above river bed)/ 109 m (above deepest foundation) high concrete gravity dam, Underground power house complex of four units of 140 MW each, Two concrete lined 9.5 m internal diameter main tailrace tunnels (having length of 2676 m and 2883 m) amongst several other features like four 5.65 m internal diameter main pressure shafts (each with a length of 108-182 m), etc. The project also envisages 38.36 Lakh CuM of construction material required from the project site.
View of Naigarh Nala Rock Quarry at Kwar Dam site (Source Kwar EIA Report)
All these activities will have significant impact on the geology and hydrology of the region. However no significant assessment or quantification of these impacts in terms of change in drainage patterns, springs in the project area, increased thereat of landslides, seismic activities has been carried out.
While talking about the impact of construction activities, the only impact of these two EIAs discussed in the chapter is ‘muck generation’. It does not mention impacts of tunneling and blasting involved in construction and also does not talk about its impact on fragile geology and hydrology of Himalayan region at all. While talking about quarrying activities in the same chapter it states only two impacts viz. visual impacts and noise generation. Impacts on landslides have been randomly dismissed stating that the sliding activity may not be significantly induced by project construction activities. The reports trivialize the impacts on migratory fish Mahseer by stating that the upstream migration of this fish from the lower reached of the Chenab River have already been blocked by Salal and Baglihar, Dul Hasti dams. Thus they conclude that impact of this project on this fish species is not expected to be significant. Option for fish ladder and fish lift has been ruled out for both the projects stating that it is not techno-economically feasible at the project site. Development of a hatchery at the project site has been proposed instead. The impact of the project on all the fish available in the river should have been assessed based on baseline assessment of the fisheries in Chenab River, which is not done. Secondly, there is no credible evidence to show that hatchery as a management option is useful or effective.
Left Bank slide for Kiru Project downstream of Ludrari Nala (Source Kiru EIA Report)
Right Bank slide for Kiru Project about 16 km downstream of Gulab Gargh (Source Kiru EIA Report)
The southern boundary of the Kishtwar National Park is approximately at an aerial distance of 11 km away from the proposed project, it is claimed, but this needs to be independently assessed. Also, just because it lies outside the boundary of study area which is radius of 10 KM, the EIA does not consider the impacts on this national park at all! EIA reports for both Kiru and Kwar HEPs simply state that the proposed activities shall have no impact on the National park.
Biodiversity at Kishtwar National Park (Photo: Travel Places & Beauty Spots of India)
Several Important aspects of EIA are missing
No mention of free flowing river stretch: There is no mention of what is the flowing river stretch upstream and downstream of the project. As is clear from the EIA, the elevation difference between FRL of Kiru HEP (1515 m) and TWL of upstream Kirthan II (1526.5 m) is just 11.5 m. The elevation difference between TWL of Kiru HEP (1388 m) and FRL of downstream Kwar HEP (1385 m) is just 3 m. Similarly the elevation difference between TWL of Kwar HEP (1270 m) and FRL of downstream Hasti HEP (1264 m) is just 6 m. However, it is not clear what the flowing river lengths in all these locations are. Unless this length is assessed and is found to be adequate for river to regain its vitality, the project should not be considered and it should be asked to change the parameters.
Environmental Flows: The Kiru EIA report states that significant downstream impacts related to the water quality, fisheries, socio-economic and aquatic biodiversity are not foreseen since toe power house is proposed downstream of the dam and tail water level is EL 1388.52 m, discharge will be less only in a “very small stretch of about 800 m”. This seems to show the ignorance of the EIA consultants about how biodiversity in a flowing, lively river like Chenab survives.
Kwar EIA report states that the water entering the reservoir will be released back to river at a distance of 2.6 KM downstream. The report claims that though there in no human activity in this stretch of 2.6 KM the aquatic life will be definitely affected, as also terrestrial biodiversity, groundwater recharge, use of river and silt flow pattern.
10% of average of lean season discharge has been prescribed to be released through the dam gates as environmental flow for both the projects. This quantity has been calculated as 9.0 cumecs based on discharge data of the river. There is no mention of environmental flows in EMP. Firstly, this is even below the norms being followed by EAC and MoEF (30% in monsoon, 20% in lean season and 25% in rest, each at 90% dependability). Secondly, the amount of E-flow required needs to be arrived at based on actual assessment, but no such assessment has been done.
Impact of peaking generation not assessed: The reports talk about advantage of hydropower in terms of ability to providing peaking power. However, when a project operates as peaking station, there are severe impacts in the downstream and also upstream (rim stability). These impacts have not been assessed, nor is it assessed how the project will perform in the cascade development it is in.
Some other important aspects of impact assessment that report misses out on are:
Impact of the project on disaster potential in the project area as well in the downstream due to construction and also operation at various stages, say on landslides, flash floods, etc.
Social and Environmental Impacts of construction and operation of the coffer dams and diversion tunnels during construction phase are not included.
The reports do not even mention Climate Change.Impact of climate change on the project and impact of the project on the local climate has not been assessed. No mention or attempt has been made about or to assess the impact of green house gas emissions from the project.
Impacts on the flood characters of the river due to this dam, what will be the changes and how these will impact downstream areas.
Impact of changing silt flows downstream from desilting chamber and from silt flushing in monsoon on the downstream areas not analyzed. A detail account of how the silt from the dam would be flushed out annually and what would be the impact of this in the downstream as well as on the geo morphology, erosion, stability of structures etc was not done.
Options Assessment is missing, this is crucial part of the EIA to establish that among all options, including non project option, the given option is the least cost and best option.
Cumulative Impacts not assessed The EIA report gives list of Major hydroelectric projects executed /under execution/ under investigation so far in the basin in J&K which are a part of Cascade Development. Kirthan HE Project (990MW with proposed FRL at 1764 m and TWL at 1526.50m) which is yet to be commissioned is proposed upstream of Kiru (660 MW with FRL at 1515M). Downstream of Kiru is Kwar HE Project (560 MW with FRL at 1385 m and TWL at 1270 m) which is yet to be appraised and Dul Hasti HE Project (390 MW with FRL at 1264 m) which is commissioned.
Impoundment of Chenab at Dul Site (Source: Kwar EIA Report)
Moreover, the EIA does not provide the list of hydropower projects being taken up in Chenab basin in upstream Himachal Pradesh. The cumulative impacts of all such projects will be huge.
The report summarizes cumulative impacts in single sentence: “The increased pressure will include uncontrolled logging, hunting of wildlife, non-timber forest product collection, livestock husbandry, the cultivation in forest areas and forest fires.”
EIA report completely misses out on the detailed analysis of cumulative impacts in terms of
Impacts on flora, fauna, carrying capacity, livelihoods
Impact of reduction in adaptive capacity of the people and area to disasters in normal circumstance AND with climate change
Impacts on springs and drainage pattern
Disaster potential of the area
Tunneling and blasting
Geological disturbance caused
Inadequate Dam Break AnalysisThe Dam break analysis does not take into account the cumulative disaster potential including existing and proposed upstream and downstream projects. The EIA report also does not include cumulative disaster management plan.
Improper Public Hearing Public hearing conducted for both the projects were flawed. Excerpts from the speeches made by the officials from J&K State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) and CVPP that are noted in the public hearing report show that what these persons spoke was inappropriate, misleading and intimidating. Also point wise responses to the issues raised by people at the Public Hearing are not provided in the EIA, as statutorily required. Hence even when people ask for Resettlement and Rehabilitation as per latest Act of 2013 (made effective from Jan 1, 2014), the EIA talks about National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy of 2007. The public hearing report strangely end for both projects with the officials asking those who are for the projects to raise their hands. There is no formal provision for voting for or against the project. Such public hearing should be declared null and void and fresh public hearing should be conducted.
Poor quality EIA reports that reflect pro hydro bias of the consultant EIA is the most effective tool to ensure environmental compliance in India. Needless to state that it is of critical importance. Casually predicted, unaddressed impacts and copy paste job of the Kiru and Kwar EIA reports once again highlights the poor quality of EIA reports submitted to the ministry for grant of EC. These reports decide fate of the project, of the people and environment surrounding the project site. Such quality of the report is most definitely not acceptable.
Further, an EIA report is an attempt to understand what are the adverse social and environmental impacts of a project and weather the impacts are acceptable, if the project is viable, optimal and desirable. The answer to this exercise can also include the answer that the project is not viable or desirable or acceptable. In view of this, the EIA consultant needs to be completely unbiased and should be ready to even conclude that the project is unacceptable. However, in case of the EIA consultant for the Kiru & Kwar HEP, EIA starts in very 1st chapter with a shockingly unscientific and biased statement: “Hydropower projects are dependable, renewable, economic, environmentally benign sources of energy with ability to stop and start instantaneously.” This statement is factually wrong on many counts (e.g. hydropower project is renewable or dependable or environmentally benign source of energy). It, along with whole para 1.2 also reflects the bias of the EIA consultants RS Envirolink Technologies Pvt Ltd (with Jammu University) and we urge the EAC and MoEF to reject such poor quality and biased EIAs and take other necessary steps to debar such agencies from doing any EIA or environmental studies in future.
CONCLUSION Looking at serious issues above, based on merit of the EIA reports, as well as complete cut-paste jobs, we are hopeful that the MoEF will not recommend EC for these projects. This case also highlights the importance of cumulative impact assessment in an over developed Himalayan basin. When the experience with Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013 is fresh, we hope that MoEF will not commit another blunder.
The Public hearing report of Kiru says that Shri Sajjad Mufti, Regional Director of J&K SPCB said at the public hearing, “Construction of project should not deteriorate the environment….” This is a very strange, untruthful and inappropriate statement from J&K SPCB official. Why should the official be speaking at all at the public hearing and that too make such a statement that would also affect the atmosphere of the public hearing? Similarly the statement of GM of CVPP at the public hearing, “The most viable and cleanest of all (sources of power) is hydro power” was again, wrong, intimidating and inappropriate. The statement of Shri Khursheed Ahmed Butt of CVPP, “forest clearance has already been granted to the proposed project” is incorrect since the proposal for forest clearance for the project has not even come before FAC. Such public hearing should be declared null and void and fresh public hearing should be conducted.
The Public hearing report of Kwar says that the GM of CVPP said at the public hearing, “The best source of power generation is hydro power” was wrong, intimidating and inappropriate. The statement, “forest clearance has already been granted to the proposed project” is incorrect since the proposal for forest clearance for the project has not even come before FAC.
“We enjoy Pushing Rivers Around” –An early Hydraulic engineer in California (from Patrick McCully’s Silenced Rivers, 1996)
“We can tame the mighty rivers. We are an example of human will and endeavor”
-Sutlej Jal Viduyt Nigam Limited, damming the entire Satluj Basin in India.
“A river flowing to the sea is a waste”- a view held by several water resource developers in India
Welcome to Anthropocene ,says James Syvitski, a leading oceanographer, geologist and hydrologist from Colorado University who has been studying subsidence of deltas.
Some scientists are now placing Anthropocene, an era marked with human interference with natural systems, at par with geological epochs like Pleistocene and Holocene. It is manifested in many ways. Rivers and associated systems like deltas and floodplains possibly have had to face the maximum brunt of the Anthropocene.
Cutting edge scientists like Prof. Syvitski who study the changes in our deltaic systems seem to reach to a common conclusion: Delta subsidence is now the main driving force for effective sea level rise for many coastal environments. This subsidence is more influential than sea level rise related to global warming and any deltas are sinking much faster than the sea level is rising.
But why are deltas sinking? What is the main reason behind this subsidence which is eating away land and making millions of people more vulnerable?
It has been established that the main reason behind delta subsidence is drastically reducing sediments reaching the delta.Studies estimate that during the past century, there has been a 94% reduction in Krishna’s sediment reaching the delta, 95% reduction from historic load in Narmada, 80% reduction in Indus, 80% reduction in Cauvery, 96% reduction in Sabarmati, 74% reduction in Mahanadi, 74% reduction in Godavari, 50% reduction Brahmani, etc.,
But why are sediments not reaching the delta?
Almost unanimous agreement between scientists indicates that the reason behind this drastic decline in sediments is sediment retention by dams and reservoirs in the upstream.(Walling and Fang (2003), Vörösmarty et al., 2003; Syvitski et al.,(2005), Erisson et al, (2005), Walling (2008), K Rao et al (2010), H Gupta et al (2012) ). This has been reiterated in IPCC WG II Report, April 2014.
Prof. Syvitski wrote a few words on the issue for SANDRP. He says, “A delta can form only where the sediment volume supplied from a river can overwhelm the local ocean energy (waves, tides, currents). Ocean energy is ceaseless. Engineering of our river systems, largely through the construction of upstream dams and barrages, has reduced this sediment supply. Consequently ocean energy has begun to reduce the size of our deltas, and coastal retreat is presently widespread. Deltas, once the cradle of modern civilizations, are now under threat — some deltas are in peril of lasting only the next 100 years. Sea level is rising due to ocean warming and glacier melting. Incessant mining of groundwater from below a delta’s surface, along with oil and gas extraction, further contribute to our disappearing deltas. At risk are the residences of more than 500 million people, the loss of biodiversity hotspots, major infrastructure (e.g. megacities, ports), and the rice and protein bowls of the world. Every year thousands of people drown due to storm surges and other coastal flooding. Sinking deltas are evidence of the magnitude of the human footprint on our planetary environment. We must learn to do better.” Professor J P Syvitski (U Colorado, Boulder, USA), Chair — International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (ICSU), Executive Director, the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System
Large reservoirs trap as much as 80% of the upstream silt. As a result, most rivers are carrying much less sediment, and some rivers (like Krishna, Indus, Nile, and Colorado) transport virtually no sediment! In the last 50 years, the combined annual sediment flux of the large Chinese rivers has been reduced from 1800 million tons (Mt) to about 370 Mtmainly due to frenzied dam building. The impact of dams and reservoirs on sediment retention has been so significant that the resultant reduced sediment load represents a volume of about 730 km3, equivalent to an area of 7300 km2 assuming a 10 m thick bed. Waling (2008) states that about 25 Gt/year of sediment are trapped by large dams each year. IPCC Report (Assessment Report 5, 2014) refers that 34 rivers with drainage basins of 19 million km2 in total show a 75% reduction in sediment discharge over the past 50 years due to reservoir trapping.
Delta Subsidence and Effective Sea Level Rise (ESLR)
While this delta subsidence and sediment retention has several impacts on dense delta population and coastal ecosystems which offer important services, one of the most serious impacts is its direct role in Effective Sea Level Rise. Ericsson and Vorosmarty et al, 2012, concluded that decreased accretion of fluvial sediment resulting from sediment retention and consumptive losses of runoff from irrigation (also due to dams) are the primary determinants of ESLR in nearly 70% of studied deltas.
More and more scientists are concluding that climate related sea level rise has a ‘relatively minor influence on delta conditions’, as compared to anthropogenic reasons. As seen above, there is an almost unanimous agreement that dams are the most important factor influencing contemporary land-ocean sediment fluxes. Globally, greater than 50% of basin-scale sediment flux in regulated basins is potentially trapped in artificial impoundments of approximately 45,000 reservoirs (with dams 15 m high) (Vörösmarty et al., 2003; Syvitski etal., 2005) and sediment delivery to deltas has been reduced or eliminated at all scales.Other reasons for delta subsidence include flow diversion by dams, sediment compaction due to groundwater abstraction, oil and gas exploration and mining, etc,.
Deltas, formed by centuries of accretion of rich sediment, are one of the most fertile and densest populated regions across the world. It is estimated that close to half a billion people live on or near deltas, often in megacities. Although constituting a mere 5% of the total landmass, coastal regions sustain almost three-quarters of the world’s population and yield more than half of global gross domestic product (Vorosmarty et al.,2009).
The direct impacts of ESLR and delta subsidence include inundation of coastal areas, saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers, increased rates of coastal erosion, an increased exposure to storm surges, etc. These threats have implications for hundreds of millions of people who inhabit the deltaic as well as the ecologically sensitive and important coastal wetland and mangrove forests.
Already, some studies are ringing alarm bells. It is estimated that if no mitigation measures are undertaken and sediment retention continues, then by 2050, more than 8.7 million people and 28,000 km2 of deltaic area in 33 deltas studied including Ganga-Brahmaputra, Indus, Krishna and Godavari could suffer from enhanced inundation and increased coastal erosion. In addition, a larger population and area will be affected due to increased flood risk due to storm surges. Conservative estimates state that delta area vulnerable to flooding could increase by 50% under the current projected values for sea-level rise in the 21st century and this could increase if the capture of sediment upstream persists and continues to prevent the growth of the deltas.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that sea level will rise by another 21 to 71 cm by 2070, with a best estimate of 44 cm averaged globally. This will further compound impacts of delta subsidence and sediment trapping.
It has been estimated that even in the case of debilitating floods, sediment has not reached rivers in the deltas.In 2007–08 alone Ganges, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Chao Phraya, Brahmani, Mahanadi, Krishna and Godavari flooded with more than 100,000 lives lost and more than a million habitants displaced. Most of the deltas that suffered from floods did not receive a significant input of sediment, and this lack of sediment can be attributed to upstream damming. Some studies demonstrate that storage of sediment-laden water of major flood events leads to huge sediment trapping behind mega dams.
Above: Global distribution of ESLR under baseline for each of the 40 deltas studied by Ericsson et al, 2006.From Ericsson et al, 2006
Fluvial Sediments and Deltas in India
Rivers are not only conduits of water. They are a complex, moving systems carrying sediment, nutrients, organisms, ecosystems, energy, material and cultures in their wake.
There are three kinds of sediments: suspended, bed load and wash load. Here we are referring to mainly the suspended sediments in the rivers. Sediments play a significant role in the river geomorphology, defining the river channel, its shape and structure. Sediment deposits form alluvial floodplains, deltas, levees, beaches, ox bow lakes and lagoons and creeks. The sediment load and composition changes according to the river, the geological landscape it flows in, its length, flow, structure, etc. While much of the sediment is deposited by the river on its banks, the delta of the river is primarily formed of rich sediments. Through this deposition, the river may form distributaries at its mouth, like in case of Ganga, Brahmaputra or Mahanadi systems. Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta, shared by India and Bangladesh is one of the largest delta systems in the world, spanning more than 100,000 km2carrying more than one billion tonnes of sediments annually.
Deltaic populations in shared rivers of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan: Population of Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghana Delta is more than 147 million people with a population density of more than 200 people per km2 (520 people per square mile), making it one of the most densely populated regions in the world . The Krishna Godavari twin deltas supports 9·26 million people inhabiting the 12,700 km2 area at 729 persons per km2, which is more than double the country’s average. Cauvery delta supports 4.4 million people while the Mahanadi Delta too supports millions. Only two districts of Cuttack and Jagatsinghpur have a population more than 3.7 million. (Census 2011) in addition, the contribution of deltas to economics, food production, transport, ecosystem services etc., is immense, making it a very valuable ecosystem which deserves protection. Indus Delta in Pakistan supports more than 900,000 people.
Deltas in Peril: Impact of damming on deltas in India
1. Krishna-Godavari Delta: In 2010, a team led by K Nageswar Rao of Dept of Geo Engineering, Andhra University, carried out an assessment of the impacts of impoundments on delta shoreline recession in Krishna and Godavari Delta. The study revealed a net erosion of 76 km2 of area along the entire 336-km-long twin delta coast during the 43 years between 1965–2008 with a progressively increasing rate from 1·39 km2 per year 1965 and 1990, to 2·32 km2 per year during 1990–2000 and more or less sustained at 2·25 km2 per year during 2000–2008.
For Krishna, flows as well as suspended sediments in the delta have nearly reached zero. Suspended sediment loads decreased from 9 million tons during 1966–1969 to negligible 0·4 million tons by 2000–2005. Syvitski et al in their 2009 assessment place Krishna in the category of “Deltas in Greater Peril: Virtually no aggradation and/or very high accelerated compaction.”
In the case of the Godavari delta, there has been almost a three-fold reduction in suspended sediment loads from 150·2 million tons during 1970–1979 to 57·2 million tons by 2000–2006. Syvistki et al classify Godavari delta as “Deltas in greater risk: reduction in aggradation where rates no longer exceed relative sea-level rise”. H Gupta et al (2012) suggest that decline in historic sediments of Godavari post damming has been as high as 74%.
Above: Graph indicating decadal sediment and water flow trends at Prakassam Barrage, across Krishna. Dam building also marked. From Rao et al, 2010
According to Dr. Rao, a comparison of data on annual sediment loads recorded along the Krishna and Godavari Rivers shows consistently lower sediment quantities at the locations downstream of dams than at their upstream counterparts, holding dams responsible for sediment retention. Reports based on bathymetric surveys reveal considerable reduction in the storage capacities of reservoirs behind such dams. Authors say: “Sediment retention at the dams is the main reason for the pronounced coastal erosion along the Krishna and Godavari deltas during the past four decades, which is coeval to the hectic dam construction activity in these river basins.”
Impacts of this can be seen in destroyed villages like Uppada in Godavari delta, destruction of Mangrove forests and shoreline. Similarly Krishna delta is losing land at the rate of 82·5 ha per year, leading to destruction of mangrove forests and loss of land.
The study concludes: “If the situation continues, these deltaic regions, which presently sustain large populations might turn out to be even uninhabitable in future, considering conditions elsewhere, such as in southern Iraq, where the farmers downstream of dams across Tigris River in Iraq, Syria and Turkey are being forced to migrate to urban centres as the reduced river flows become overwhelmed by seawater.”
I talked with Dr. Rao and asked him, if his disturbing study had any impacts. He said, no one from the administration has contacted him ever about this issue.
Above: Sediments measured at Sir. Arthur Cotton Barrage across Godavari near the Delta from Rao et al, 2010
A similar study by IWMI concludes: “Coastal erosion in the Krishna Delta progressed over the last 25 years (is) at the average rate of 77.6 ha/ yr, dominating the entire delta coastline and exceeding the deposition rate threefold. The retreat of the Krishna Delta may be explained primarily by the reduced river inflow to the delta (which is three times less at present than 50 years ago) and the associated reduction of sediment load. Both are invariably related to upstream reservoir storage development.”
Krishna Basin Water Disputes Tribunal Award, though mentions dam siltation (it mentions that in 5 decades, Tungabhadra Dam has silted up to 22% of its capacity), does not say anything about flow for flushing sediments or its importance to the delta in Andhra Pradesh, or if the “minimum instream flow” recommended by the Tribunal will address this issue. This is a major limitation of the tribunal, when advanced studies have been conducted on the Krishna River delta condition and its relation to upstream dams has been established beyond doubt. Only at one place does it mention that to reduce siltation of the Almatti Dam, sluice gates should be opened when water is flowing above the crest.
However, the Award states that issues like minimum in stream flows are not decided once for all and it is an evolving process. Let us hope that there is some space to address the issue of shrinking deltas through this.
Above:Decreasing Sediments of Krishna down the years from K Rao et al, 2010
In the upstream Maharashtra, more and more dams are under construction in the Krishna Godavari Basin. One of the proposed dams called Kikvi, at the headwaters of Godavari in Trimbakeshwar was cleared by the Forest Advisory Committee recently. Ironically, the proponent (Water Resources Department, Maharashtra and Nashik Municipal Corporation) justified this dam which will submerge more than 1000 hectares of land, by stating that one more large dam close to Kikvi: Gangapur Dam is heavily silted up. Rather than desilting Gangapur Dam, the administration wants to build one more dam.
Above: Trends in Sediments in Godavari and dam building activity. From K Rao et al
Many dams in Krishna Godavari Basin in Maharashtra have been criticised for not contributing to increasing irrigation.These dams are not only obstructing river flow, but are also acting as sediment traps. Unfortunately, the MoEF is not even considering impacts of sediments while appraising dams. In Karnataka, major projects are being undertaken by fraud, without environmental appraisal, violating Environment laws, similarly in Andhra Pradesh, many projects are being pushed illegally without environmental appraisal and which involve huge corruption.
2. Cauvery Delta: Although detailed studies have not been carried out, there is a clear indication of salt water intrusion and delta erosion in this over developed basin, due to upstream dams. The saline-freshwater boundary map indicates a steady migration inland.
A study by Gupta et al, 2012, indicates that historical sediment flux of Cauvery was 1.59 million tonnes, which is now 0.32 million tonnes (average of 10 years) and hence, there is a whopping 80% reduction in sediment flux of the river.
Unfortunately, the Cauvery Water Disputes Award Tribunal between Karnataka and Tamilnadu does not even mention the word ‘sediment’ in its award. There has been no justification for 10 TMC feet (Thousand Million Cubic feet) water recommended by the Tribunal for Environmental purposes and its possible impact on sediment carrying (or even environment for that matter).
Pennar showed 77% reduction and Mahanadi showed 67% reduction in amount of silt reaching the delta in recent years. (Gupta et al, 2012)
3. Narmada Delta: The west flowing rivers like Narmada and Tapi do not form extensive deltas like the east flowing rivers. Nonetheless, sediments from a huge river like Narmada play an important part in the stability of Narmada delta and villages and ecosystems around it.
Above: From: H. Gupta et al, 2007 and 2012
Gupta et al (2012 and 2007) assessed daily water discharge and suspended sediment load data measured by CWC at two gauging stations, one upstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam (Rajghat), and another downstream of the dam (Garudeshwar).
Historical sediment discharge of Narmada was found to be 61 million tonnes and the current sediment discharge (average of last ten years of the study) was found to be 3.23 million tonnes, indicating a reduction of 95% sediment discharge. The presence of dam reduces 70–90% of coarse and approximately 50% of medium-sized particles on their way downstream, allowing them to settle in the reservoir Comparative studies of average suspended sediment load at various locations on the Narmada River for more than two decades, show overall reduction in suspended sediment load in the river.
The study indicated 96% reduction in suspended silt flux in Sabarmati, 41% reduction in Tapi and 68% in Mahi.
4. Ganga- Brahmaputra Delta: Different studies put different values for individual and combined sediment load of the Ganga Brahmaputra system, which carries one of the highest sediment loads in the world. According to Islam (1999) Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in Bangladesh transport 316 and 721 million tonnes of sediment annually. Of the total suspended sediment load (i.e. 1037 million tonnes) transported by these rivers, only 525 million tonnes (c. 51% of the total load) is delivered to the coastal area of Bangladesh and the remaining 512 million tonnes are deposited within the lower basin, offsetting the subsidence. Of the deposited load, about 289 million tonnes (about 28% of the total load) is deposited on the floodplains of these rivers. The remaining 223 million tonnes (about 21% of the total load) is deposited within the river channels, resulting in aggradation of the channel bed at an average rate of about 3.9 cm/yr sediment.
Across the 20th Century, Syvitski et al suggest about 30% reduction of silt load in the river system. Gupta et al  suggest that the observed decrease in sediment load could be due to construction of several mega dams in the Ganga basin, closure of Farakka barrage (1974) and diversion of sediments laden water into the Hooghly distributary. They also caution that dams in Ganga and Brahmaputra can worsen the situation.
5. Indus Delta: Inam et al (2007) assessed annual sediment loads of the Indus river at Kotri Barrage (270 km upstream from river mouth) during the last 73 years. The study indicates that annual sediment load of the Indus river has reduced drastically from 193 Mt (between 1931 and 1954) to 13 Mt (between 1993 and 2003). According to them, construction of three large dams on the Indus river, namely Kotri Barrage, Mangla and Terbela led to this situation causing annual water discharge to reduce from 110 km3 to 37 km3, with disastrous impacts on the delta ecosystem and population.
Above: Variation of water and sediment discharge below Kotri Barrage in Indus basin: Inam et al
Inam states : “Currently the Indus river hardly contributes any sediment to the delta or Arabian Sea.The active delta is reduced from 6200 km2 before construction of dams to 1200 km2. The sea water has travelled upstream upto 75 kms, combined loss of freshwater and sediment has resulted in loss of large areas of prime delta agricultural land and submergence of several villages in the coast. This has caused desertification and displacement of several hundred of thousands of local residents. Study of records and bathymetric maps from 1950 indicate widespread coastal retreat…The life on the delta is dependent on availability of freshwater and sediment. Severe reduction of both as a result of dams and barrages and associated structures in the upstream has resulted in pronounced erosion in parts of the delta and reduction in mangroves. Environmental studies to be extended to the entire Indus ecosystem from the mountains to the Arabian sea.”
It is clear that deltas and dependent populations and ecosystems have suffered due to near total ignorance about the impact of dams on sediment and deltas and if immediate action is not taken then, this will impact a huge population and a large eco-region in Indian subcontinent, as elsewhere.
The impacts of nutrient rich sediment retention and flow reduction is not limited to teh delta, but has also affected marine fish production
The issue of impact of a dam on the sediment regime of the river is not being studied or considered at all while conducting Environmental Impact Assessments of projects, appraising the project for options assessment, environmental clearance, cost benefit analysis or through post clearance monitoring and compliance.
Sediment release and sediment transport through rivers is not being raised in trans-boundary river negotiations.
Looking at the severity of the issue and its far reaching impacts on millions of people in India and across the world, there is a need for adopting urgent and strong mitigation measures against sediment trapping in dams.
It has to be remembered that for older dams, older hydropower projects and most irrigation projects, there is no mechanism available to flush the accumulated silt.
Sediment retention also reduces the life of the dam, while starving the river and delta in the downstream of sediment. As per a study by SANDRP in 2006, India may be losing 1.95 Billion Cubic Meters of Storage capacity of its reservoirs annually. This implies that the rivers are losing at least that quantity of sediment annually.
The frantic dam activity in Indian Himalayas at this moment will have a serious impact on Ganga Brahmaputra Delta in India and Bangladesh and Indus Delta in Pakistan. There is an urgent need to, firstly, acknowledge these links, assess the impacts, include them in cost benefit and options assessment, address the issues and implement mitigation measures, where relevant, abandon the projects where impacts are unacceptable projects unviable.
In case of the Ganga Brahmaputra delta, recent studies have indicated that the main source of sediment in the river is the Himalayas. Of the entire sediment load of Ganga catchment (This study assumed it to be 794 million tonnes/year), 80+/-10 % comes from High Himalayas and 20+/-10 % comes from Lesser Himalayas.
Bumper to bumper dam/ hydropower project building is occurring in almost all of the Himalayan states in India, which is poised to make Indian Himalayas most densely dammed region in the world. All of these dams are located in the downstream of the Greater and straddling Lesser Himalayas and can together have a tremendous impact on Ganga’s sediment load. Uttarakhand is planning and building nearly 336 Hydroelectric projects,while Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh too are building hundreds of hydro projects. Arunachal Pradesh intends to dam most of its rives to produce hydropower.
No studies on impact of these projects on sediment regime of the rivers are being carried out for; neither does the MoEF insist that projects will not be cleared unless such studies are carried out. Even Cumulative impact assessments are not assessing this aspect.
Some stark examples:
The Cumulative Impact Assessment Report of the Upper Ganga Basin in Uttarakhand (where more than one hundred dams are planned and under construction back to back) was doen by IIT Roorkee. This cumulative impact assessment did not study any cumulative impacts due to reduced silt load of the river following major dam push.
The Lohit Basin Study done by WAPCOSwhich involves more than 12 dams across the Lohit River, one of the three main segments that form Brahmaputra, does not mention anything about impacts of dams on sediments. The only thing it states is very worrying : “Due to substantial storage capacity, the Demwe Upper reservoir will have high sediment retention capacity and a large proportion of sediments carried by the Lohit River will get settled in the reservoir.”
Siang Basin Study (by RS Envirolinks Pvt Limited), which involves three mega dams across the main stem Siang, completely obliterating free flowing stretches in the river,in addition to 42 hydropower dams, does not mention anything about sediment regime, although being specifically asked to address this issue by the Expert Appraisal Committee, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF).
1500 MW Tipaimukh Mega Dam near Bangladesh Border, which has received Environmental Clearance from MoEF does not study the impacts of sediment retention on downstream Bangladesh, and this concern has been raised by the groups in that country. The Environment Management Plan of this project which can submerge 25000 hectares of forests does not even mention the word “sediment”.
The bumper to bumper dam building activity in Himachal Pradesh in Satluj, Beas, Chenab and Ravi rivers will have a major impact on silt load reaching the Indus river Basin and the Indus Delta in Pakistan. However, none of the EIAs or EMPs mention any impact of the dams on the sediment regime of the river.
In conclusion, although the risks of delta subsidence, effective sea level rise and its impact on a huge population and ecosystems has been established, these risks are being entirely ignored in the current governance surrounding rivers and deltas.
National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management It is unfortunate to see that MoEF’s National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, supported by MoEF and World Bank does not allude to this issue or raise it through any publications. In conversation with SANDRP, Director R. Ramesh said that the center may look at these issues in the future. However, its publications on National Assessment of Shoreline Changes on Tamilnadu and Odisha do not mention upstream dams, although robust evidence exist that Cauvery delta and Mahanadi, Brahmani and Baitarni deltas are eroding due to sediment retention. Let us hope this institute will try to highlight the impact of dams on deltas with the seriousness it deserves.
1. Urgently study impacts of sediment retention by dams on delta population and ecosystems: MoEF, Ministry of Rural Development and Urban Development should conduct an in-depth study to understand the scale of the problems and the extent of affected people and ecosystems due to sediment impoundment by upstream dams.
2.Urgently study the optimal level of sediments (and water regime) needed for stabilising deltas and reducing subsidence.
3. Urgently institute a study to assess the extent of sediment and flows needed to be released from upstream dams and feasibility of such releases on regular basis, mimicking the river’s hydrograph. Where dams have sluice gates, these should be opened in monsoons where feasible, to allow sediment flushing. Even in dry and stressed river basins like Colorado in the United States, such high releases for redistributing sediments have been conducted in the 1990s and again in 2013 with proper planning and impact assessment.
4. In Krishna and such other basins, where delta subsidence, coastal erosion and related impacts like salinity intrusion and storm surges has reached serious proportions, specifically problematic dams should be considered for decommissioning.
Environmental Appraisal Process
Study of impact on sedimentation and siltation should be a part of the environmental impact assessment, environmental appraisal and clearance process.
There should be a separate section in EIA for e-flows and sedimentation studies. Similarly such studies should be mandatory part of cumulative impacts, carrying capacity and basin studies.
More dams in basins which support large deltaic populations and those having significant impacts of sediment retention by reservoirs should not be cleared.Let us hope that this chronically neglected issue receives the attention it deserves. Delta subsidence and ESLR due to upstream damming again highlights the complex and interconnected nature of the riverine ecosystem. The environmental governance in India ( as also South Asia) surrounding rivers has been treating rivers with an extremely piecemeal approach. It is clear that with the herculean challeneges we face now, such an approach is no longer affordable.
…especially in the part called Delta, it seems to me that if the Nile no longer floods it, then, for all time to come, the Egyptians will suffer – Herodotus, History, c 442 BC (stated in Patrick McCully’s Silenced Rivers)
The state of Assam in the northeastern India annually bears the brunt of floods and where embankment construction and repairing seems like permanent affair. Displacement of people living on the banks of rivers due to river bank erosion is another major issue here. The braiding and meandering river Brahmaputra and its tributaries continue to erode the banks rapidly. The Brahmaputra is well known for the rate in which it erodes. Among the places in the path of the river where the brunt of erosion has been felt severely include the following:
– Rohmoria and Dibrugarh town in Dibrugarh district,
– Matmora in Dhakukhana subdivsion of Lakhimpur district,
– Majuli and Nimati Ghat in Jorhat district,
– Lahorighat in Morigaon district and
– Palashbari and Gumi in Kamrup district.
SANDRP recently traveled to Matmora and Nimati ghat, two of these areas.
Bearing the Brunt of Erosion Silently Once a large village now only the name Matmora remains. Locals show us towards the middle of the river, to indicate where the village used to be. The rate of erosion is such that the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta (popularly known as Sissi-Tekeliphuta dyke/embankment) takes the shape of a bow for nearly five kilometers at this place. From 2010, Matmora became very significant in the embankment history of India since country’s first embankment using geo-textile technology was constructed here. This was constructed at the bow shaped eroded line using geotextiles tubes. These tubes were filled up using water and sand from the banks of the river. This five kilometer embankment became a part of the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta which is 13.9 km long. For the state government and Water Resources Department (WRD) of Assam, Matmora geotube embankment is a story of success of preventing floods and erosion. But what we saw in Matmora presents a different picture.
At Nimati Ghat, the river Brahmaputra is eroding its banks ferociously and people are intimidated by the river. A local person whose village used to be nearly two kilometers from the present bank line, told me, “Nothing can stop Baba Brahmaputra from claiming what he wants”. At Nimati Ghat, the Water Resources Department (WRD) is doing anti erosion work using geo-bags.
Funding for Embankments in Assam The total length of embankments in Assam is 4448 km as stated in a debate in the Legislative Assembly of Assam in 1998. Even though the present length of embankments is not known, it is very clear that the state of Assam continues to construct of newer embankments. In a recent analysis by SANDRP, it was found that the funds continue to increase for construction of embankments in the state. In five years from January 2009 to December 2013, the Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources for consideration of techno-economic viability of Irrigation, Flood Control and Multi-Purpose Project Proposals (TAC in short) had given clearance to projects worth Rs 1762.72 crores. A detailed list of these sanctioned projects can be found in Annexure 1 below.
Has Geo-tube been helpful for the people Between January 2009 to December 2013, the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta, was considered twice by the TAC. The committee in its 95th meeting on 20th January 2009 accepted the project titled “Raising and Strengthening to Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta including closing of breach by retirement and anti-erosion measures (to protect Majuli and Dhakukhana areas against flood devastation by the Brahmaputra, Lakhimpur district, Assam). The estimated cost of this project was Rs 142.42 crore and its project proposal envisaged – (i) Raising and strengthening of embankment for a length of 13.9 km, (ii) Construction of retirement bund with geo-textile tubes of length 5000 m. (iii) Construction of 2700 m long pilot channel.
Protection work of the same dyke was considered in the 117th meeting held on 21st March 2013 under the proposal for “Protection of Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta at different reaches from Lotasur to Tekeliphuta from the erosion of river Brahmaputra Assam.” The estimated cost of this project was Rs 155.87 crore. According to the minutes of 117th TAC meeting, the scheme envisaged “restoration of existing embankment in a length of 15300m at upstream and downstream of existing geo-tube dyke, Sand filled mattress in a length of 15604 m at river side slope, geo-tube apron length of 7204 m and Reinforced concrete porcupines as pro-siltation device at different reaches to prevent floods and erosion in Dhakukhana Civil sub-division of Lakhimpur district and Majuli sub-division of Jorhat district.” In the same minutes,while referring to the previous project proposal of 95th meeting the minutes stated that, it “was taken up primarily for closure of breach in the existing embankment including raising of embankment around the breach area only. The proposed works in the present scheme were in the same river reach and these would be required to protect the bank from further erosion and provide flood protection.”
This clearly shows that the geo-tube embankment in Matmora cannot be called a success. Government documents which showed that major part of the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta remained vulnerable even after the construction of the geo-tube embankment. In fact submitting a proposal for the whole Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment at first and later saying that the money was spent in constructing a smaller part of the embankment also raise questions. The time gap between the two proposals also raises questions. If the whole money from first proposal was to be spent in constructing only a part of the embankment, why was it not stated clearly in the first proposal? In fact, this was not stated in the first proposal and second proposal reflects that the first project failed to achieve the objectives. If the first proposal was indeed only for part of the embankment, why the proposal to strengthen the larger part of the embankment took 5 years to appear before the committee? The latter proposal also did not mention about the breach which swept away a large part of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment from Jonmichuk to Amgiri Tapit under Sissikalghar and Jorkata village panchayat. According to the local people this breach occurred in the morning hours of 25th June 2012. The photo below shows the breach happened at the Jonmichuk end.
Jonminchuk area is nearly 15 km upstream of the geotube embankment in Matmora and part of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment. A new embankment of nearly four kilometer long is being constructed at this place but the remnants of the old embankment still exist. The embankment was breached for nearly 3 kms and the water which entered the fields during that time could no longer go out and a large lake has been formed at this place, see the photo. It was surprising to see people living in the patches of the old embankment.
In the downstream, right from the point where the geo-tube embankment ends, the condition of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment is pathetic. There were cracks in the embankment and water seepage has almost shattered the embankment. The embankment was in need of urgent repairs.
Besides, one does not have to travel far to find erosion in the downstream of the geo-tube embankment. After travelling, less than three kilometers from the end point of the geo-tube embankment, rapid erosion was observed at the place where the Matmora and Tekeliphuta ghats join, due to low water level. This joint ghat is more than a kilometer from the toe line of Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment but seeing the rapidity of the erosion the locals opine that the river would reach the toe of the embankment within this monsoon. It was difficult to believe that the river can erode so fast, until a young man pointed towards a black line in the middle of the river and said that that area which now seemed to be char/sand bar used to be his village three years back. He with his family now live beside the embankment. In this ghat we also witnessed that spurs constructed from the embankment inside the river, mainly to divert the flow of water, have been eroded as well.
It is also important to note that protection of Majuli from floods was one of the main aims of the geo-tube embankment project, but there were reports of devastating floods affecting Majuli in 2012 & 2013.
After geo-tube comes geo bags With the construction of geo-tube embankments being hailed as a success by the state government, construction of embankments using geo-bags followed. Geo-bags are smaller than geo-tubes and come at a cheaper cost. Embankments on many rivers were constructed using geo-bags which were also used for erosion protection. But effectiveness of the geo-bags as protective measure to flood and erosion, still remains disputed. A news report titled “ADB, river engineers differ on geo-bags” published in Assam Tribune on 9th September 2010 reported about the difference of opinion among the water resource engineers of Assam and powerful lobby of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the use of geo-bags to resist Brahmaputra erosion in Palasbari-Gumi and Dibrugarh. Referring to the engineers the news report stated “They have alleged that the ADB provided 23,000 geo-bags for an experiment. They were dumped in the month of September 2009 at a 150-metre-long selected erosion-prone reach at Gumi for testing their efficacy. But, a diving observation made in the month of December 2009, suggested that the bags were not launched uniformly in a single layer as it was claimed. They were found lying in a haphazard manner in staggered heaps with gaps in between and the total distance they covered was only about 8 metres, against the claimed and required 35 metres…..The ADB then carried out another diving observation at Gumi in May last (2010) and found no bag at the site. The State WRD did not get any feedback from the ADB on this issue.”
Nimati Ghat was the other place which SANDRP visited to find out the effectiveness of geo-bags. The work of piling up the geo-bags for erosion protection was going on when SANDRP visited the area in the second week of April 2014. The bags which were used previously for the same purpose were seen to be mostly lying in water in shattered condition. Locals told us that majority of the bags are now under water. In the eroded bank line, these geo-bags were lying without any order and in a way suggesting how the river has dealt or to say played with these jumbo bags. In this bank line, there was a stretch of nearly five meters where the river has eroded more than the other parts. At this stretch none of the geo-bags were to be seen.
There were also contradictions regarding when the present erosion protection work at Nimati ghat had started. Some of the shopkeepers of the ghat said that the work of putting up geo-bags started in February 2014. But according to the contractor in charge of the work, the work started in November 2013. Construction or repairing of embankment just few months before the advent of monsoons is one of the constant criticisms, leveled against the Water Resources department of the state and in Nimati too we heard the same complaint.
Is Geo-tube really a ‘permanent solution’ to floods? In the present discourse of floods in Assam this has become a very significant question. The local people have been fed with various information about geo-tube and most of which are wrong. The life of embankment constructed using geo-tube is of 100 years, we were told by the locals when we travelled to the upstream areas of Matmora geo-tube. This is absolutely not true. In fact, for Prof Chandan Mahanta of IIT Guwahati the scouring done by the river Brahmaputra will be the major cause of concern for geo-tube embankments in the long run.
The geo-tube embankment has already faced threat of scouring right after its construction in the monsoons of 2011. It was on the morning of 14th July, 2011 when two of the apron tubes at the tail of the embankment, were launched due to increase force of water. The apron tubes were laid at the toe of the geo-tube embankment and with the increased force of water scoured at the bottom by the embankment toe line. WRD engineers flung into action and immediate repairing work was taken up at the site. According to WRD engineers this had happened because the trees which were left outside the embankment had obstructed and increased the force of water and they were immediately cut down. Concrete porcupines were also thrown into the water. Asomiya Pratidin, a regional newspaper reported this on that day but thereafter no report on this could be found. The incident was almost forgotten. When we visited the geo-tube embankment, it was observed that along the toe-line of the embankment a scour line runs for substantial length of the embankment. This clearly shows that scouring by the river has increased in this area. The news report published in Assam Tribune also points out a significant problem associated with geo-bags – “The lobby is mounting pressure for use of geo-bags in the form of bank revetment. Bank revetment is generally not adopted in Brahmaputra because of many reasons. Most important of them is – it produces a permanent deep channel along the existing riverbank.”
On the issue of lobbying behind geo-tube, an interesting perspective was provided by activist-researcher Keshoba Krishna Chatradhara who coordinates ‘Peoples’ Movement for Subansiri and Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV)’. He opines that the construction of geo-tube embankment in Matmora was an experiment, done to see whether such embankments can withstand the flood and erosion of Brahmaputra. The reason for choosing Matmora first and not other severe erosion affected places like Dibrugarh or Rohmoria, was because even if the embankment fails it won’t be as significant loss for the state compared to those places. Dibrugarh is one of the most important towns of upper Assam with a glorious history whereas Rohmoria became important for the state when Oil India Limited found oil deposits in Khagorijan. Infact several local people and activists also opined that the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment which is on the north bank of the river was cut several times, to save the areas in the upstream south bank, mainly the Dibrugarh town. They said that in the past, before the geo-tube embankment came, whenever there was any news of water rising in Dibrugarh, there would soon be a breach in Sissi-tekeliphuta embankment. In fact considering these breaches in the larger Sissi-tekeliphuta embankment, Mr. Chatradhara opined that even if the geo-tube embankment survives the flood, erosion and breaches in future, it might become a small island in midst of a submerged land as there will surely be breaches in the rest of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment.
ADB loan for Geo-textile Embankments in Assam After the construction of the geo-tube embankment at Matmora, the state government is leaving no stone unturned to make it sound like a glorious success. But it is surprising to know that, even before the Matmora embankment was commissioned in December 2010, the state government have filed proposal for two more embankment project where geo-textile would be used for construction and got it cleared. The two subprojects of Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project (AIFRERM) in Dibrugarh and Palashbari were cleared in the 106th meeting of TAC held on 16th September 2010. It is important to note that for the total AIFRERM project ADB is giving a loan of $56.9 million. The cost of Dibrugarh and Palashbari subprojects are Rs 61.33 crore and Rs 129.49 crore respectively. But these investments have been cleared without even doing a post-construction impact assessment of Matmora geo-textile embankment. The Palashbari subproject also included erosion protection for Gumi area through the use of geo-bags but the Assam Tribune report quoted above already mentioned about how geo-bags scheme has failed in that area.
It is important to note here that, the first geo-tube embankment has been constructed only three years back and it would be premature to give any verdict of success, on the contrary there are many signs of failure. But the state government of Assam and the Assam Water Resources department are claiming it as success without really any credible basis and than have used that self certification to go on building more embankments using geo-textile and in several occasions these plans have failed. They first should have done a detailed impact assessment of the embankment at Matmora before going on building more embankments of the same nature.
It seems the Assam government, ADB and CWC are pushing these projects to deflect attention from the failure of embankments in flood management. Such attempts won’t succeed, but it is possibly a ploy to prolong the use of embankments as a flood management technique.
Parag Jyoti Saikia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Flood and Erosion Projects approved for Assam – 2009 to 2013
TAC meeting no & date
L of Emba. (m)
Original (revised) Cost-CrRs
Benefitting area (Ha)
Protection of Sialmari Area from the erosion of Brahmputra
Protection of Bhojaikhati, Doligaon and Ulubari area from the erosion
Raising & strengthening Brahmputra Dyke from from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta including closing of breach by retirement and anti erosion measures
Flood protection of Majuli Island from Flood and Erosion Ph-II & III
Restoration of Dibang & Lohit rivers to their original courses at Dholla Hattiguli
Accepted partly & suggested that proposal of coffer dam, pilot channel, etc. to be put up for expert opinion
Raising and strengthening to Puthimari embankment
Anti Erosion measures to protect Brahmputra Dyke on left bank
Protection of Gakhirkhitee & adjoining areas from erosion
Emergent measures for protection of Rohmoria in Dibrugarh District
Raising and strengthening of tributary dyke along both banks of Kopili River
Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project
Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project
110th – 20.07.2011
Protection of Majuli from Flood and Erosion Ph II & III
Restoration fo rivers Dibang & Lohit to their original courses at Dholla Hatighuli
111th – 17.08.2011
Protection of Biswanath Panpur including areas of upstream Silamari and Far downstream Bhumuraguri to Borgaon against erosion
117 – 21.3.’13
Protecion of Sissi-Tekeliphuta dyke from erosion – Lotasur to Tekeliphuta
118th – 30.07.2013
Flood management of Dikrong along with river training works on both banks embankment
Flood management of Ranganadi along with river training works on both bank embankments
 Scour can be termed as a specific form of the more general term erosion. In case of geo-tube embankments Scour is the removal of sediment from the bottom of the geo-tubes. Scour, caused by swiftly moving water, can scoop out scour holes, compromising the integrity of a structure.
At least 49 large hydropower projects are under construction in India today, with a cumulative capacity of 15006 MW. As per the latest bulletin from Central Electricity Authority, “Status of Hydro Electric Projects under Execution for 12th Plan & beyond (Excluding projects above 25 MW)” dated March 31, 2014, 35 of these projects (9934 MW) are expected to be commissioned in 12th Five Year Plan and remaining 14 with installed capacity of 5072 MW would provide benefit beyond 12th Plan.
Considering that 1534 MW capacity has already been added in first two years of ongoing 12th Five Year Plan (during 2012-13 and 2013-14), CEA projections means that India hopes to add massive 11468 MW capacity during the current five year plan. This will be higher than capacity added in any other five year plan and 254% of the capacity addition during the last, 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12) when India added 4514 MW. The graph below shows how steeply our hydropower installed capacity is going up over the last 25 years.
The proponent of even more accelerated hydro capacity addition misleadingly talk about the need for having 40% of installed grid capacity as hydro.
In line with this, the CEA came out with plans to add 65000 MW in 13th Five Year Plan (2017-2022: 30 000 MW) and 14th Five Year Plan (2022-2027: 35 000 MW). (see http://www.energylineindia.com/ of May 6, 2014)
There is no science behind this advocacy. It is basically a suggestion possibly based on the general assumption that peaking demand is 40% higher than base-load demand. Hence if we have 40% installed capacity from hydro in the grid, this can take care of total demand optimally. However, this is based on assumption that hydro capacity is indeed used for peaking. This assumption is completely wrong in India, with no agency monitoring or even reporting how much of the hydro generation currently provide peaking power. Without such optimum use of current hydro capacity, where is the case for 60:40 grid capacity ratio for hydro? It goes without saying that when hydro projects are used for peaking power, there are additional social and environmental impacts in the downstream and upstream. These need to assessed and those who suffer are compensated.
On similar lines, one can answer the advocacy for claim that hydro is clean, green, renewable and cheap source of power or that run of the river or small hydropower projects are more environmentally benign. However, this blog is not attempting to answer all such fallacies here, it needs a separate blog.
While this is happening, the Expert Appraisal Committee of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on River Valley Projects has been clearing projects at break a neck speed with almost zero rejection rate. Between April 2007 and Dec 2013, this committee recommended environment clearance to 18030.5 MW capacity, most of which has not entered the implementation stage. Moreover, this committee has recommended 1st Environment clearance (what is technically called Terms of Reference Clearance) for a capacity of unimaginable 57702 MW in the same period. This is indicative of the onslaught of hydropower projects which we are likely to see in the coming years.
Table: Sector-wise & plan-wise number of & capacity of under construction HEPs
During 12th FYP
After 12th Plan
No of Projects
Installed capacity, MW
No of Projects
Installed capacity, MW
No of Projects
Installed capacity, MW
Among the three sectors, the largest number of under construction projects (20) are from private sector. However, among all sectors of under construction projects, central sector projects have the highest installed capacity (7927 or 53% of under construction capacity of 15006 MW).
Vulnerable Himalayas are the target In the second table the state-wise and sector-wise break of numbers and capacity of under construction HEPs has been given. Himachal Pradesh has the highest number and highest installed capacity projects among all states. That state also has the highest installed capacity (8139 MW or over a fifth of operating HEP capacity at national level) of large operating hydropower projects. Sikkim, however, has the highest number and capacity of private sector hydropower projects under construction. In fact, half of the total national-level private sector projects which are under construction are in that tiny state. Their installed capacity is more than half the installed capacity of all the private sector hydropower projects under construction at national level. Ironically, the state also has the highest biodiversity in the country.
Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand also have 5 and 3 private sector HEPs under construction respectively. The 5 Himalayan states of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh between them have 38 of the 49 under construction hydropower projects with total capacity of 13550 MW or over 90% of under construction capacity. In addition, the projects of Mizoram, Meghalaya, W Bengal (Teesta L Dam IV) and Punjab (Shahpur Kandi on Ravi River) are also in Himalayan zone.
Table: State-wise & sector-wise number and capacity of under-construction HEPs
No of projects
Installed Capacity, MW
No of projects
Installed Capacity, MW
No of projects
Installed Capacity, MW
No of projects
Installed Capacity, MW
Diminishing Returns This blind rush for hydropower projects (which have serious and irreversible impacts on social and ecological systems) is difficult to understand and justify considering their poor generation performance, rising costs and availability of better options. To illustrate, in the graph below we can see how power generation per unit (MW) installed capacity has been steadily reducing over the last two decades. From 1993-94 to the latest year of 2013-14, there has been a huge drop of 16.5%.
Yawning gap between promised and actual generation of Hydro Projects Another way to look at performance of hydropower projects would be to compare the projected (as promised in Techno Economic Clearance) and actual generation (both at 90% dependability) of electricity by HEPs. This assessment shows that about 89% of India’s operating hydropower projects are generating at below the promised levels. Shockingly, half of under performing projects are generating at below 50% of promised generation levels.
How much Peaking Power are we generating? A third way to assess the hydropower generation is in terms of peaking power, a USP of hydropower projects. However, no figures are available as to how much of the generation from hydropower projects are happening during peaking hours. No agency in India is even monitoring this or reporting this: including CEA, Central or State Electricity Regulatory Authority, National, Regional or State Load Dispatch Centers, Union or state Power Ministries or individual operators. In short, there is no case for justifying more hydro in the name of providing peaking power if we are neither monitoring nor optimizing hydropower generation during peaking hours. One expected CEA to do this job, but it seems they are busy lobbying for hydropower projects rather than functioning as India’s premier Technical Power sector agency.
Invitation to disaster? The consequences of such massive capacity addition are and will continue to be disastrous for the rivers, forests, biodiversity and people. The Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 has shown the vulnerability of hydropower projects in Himalayas, as well as their impacts. The disaster and independent reports also show how the construction and operation of these projects have contributed to compounding the proportion of the disaster. Climate Change is accentuating this situation and will continue to do so with increasing intensity as per the IPCC reports.
Role of HEPs in Uttarakhand disaster: CEA and CWC in denial mode This analysis of under construction hydropower projects as reported in the latest CEA bulletin shows that Himalayas is the target for overwhelming majority of hydropower projects being taken up India (& neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet). The Uttarakhand disaster showed how hydropower projects are increasing the existing vulnerabilities and disaster potential of the Himalayan region in times of natural calamities. An independent committee appointed by MoEF following Supreme Court orders of Aug 13, 2013 pointed out the role of hydropower projects in Uttarakhad disaster of June 2013.
It should be highlighted here that multiple hydropower projects should invite cumulative impact assessment. As Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 highlighted, such cumulative impact assessment need to be done in a credible way and not the way AHEC of IITR did for the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin.
Strangely, instead of accepting this reality and taking this into account in decision making processes, Central Water Commission and Central Electricity Authority are in a denial mode! They collectively submitted a completely unscientific and unfounded report to Union Environment & Forests Ministry, advocating for hydropower projects rather than assessing their role in disaster, which was the mandate given by Supreme Court of India to MoEF. The CEA is clearly jeopardizing whatever credibility it has in joining hands with CWC. It would be better for both the agencies to accept and wake up to these realities.
Else, such onslaught of hydropower projects on Himalayas is likely to be an invitation to further disasters all across the Himalayas. All our decision makers and all others concerned need to take note of this urgently.
The protagonists like to equate large dams with development. Those who suffer the adverse consequences equate them with displacement, deforestation, deprivation & debt. While the protagonists see dams as drought proofing measure, critics have for long associated dams with drying up of rivers, destruction of biodiversity and depletion of groundwater in downstream areas. The debate has been going on for long, but we have seen little change in the way decisions about dams are taken. There is little democracy there. The dissent almost invariably is dealt with repression.
So there are a lot of d-words associated with dams. Two new words have now have joined that long list: Deception and Delusion. The negative conclusions about dams have come in recent weeks from two reputed international forums: Oxford University research and Report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Oxford University’s Atif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg, Alexander Budzier & Daniel Lunn have published in 2014 a research paper titled “Should we build more large dams? The actual costs of hydropower mega-project development. Energy Policy”. The paper is based on evidence based research and “outside view, applied to large dams for the first time here”. After analyzing data from 246 large dams commissioned between 1934 and 2007 from all over the world, looking at all kinds of dams and objectives of the dams, they have concluded that there is inherent systematic psychological delusion and political deception on the part of officials in deciding to take up large dams. This results in underestimating the costs, construction periods and over estimating the benefits, putting a question mark about the selection of correct options. They suggest that “decision-makers’ forecasts, and hence ex ante judgment, are often adversely biased”, leading to mega dams typically facing adverse outcomes.
The authors suggest that there is need to “Create transparency on risk profiles of various energy alternatives, from not only the perspective of financial cost and benefit but also environmental and social impact – hard evidence is a counter – point to experts’ and promoters’ oft-biased inside view.” This is exactly in line with what we have been suggesting here in India in functioning of various decision making forums. The authors in fact conclude, “Projects with a poor cost and schedule performance are also likely to have a poor environmental and social track record. A greater magnitude of cost and schedule overruns is thus a robust indicator of project failure… This result suggests that developing countries in particular, despite seemingly the most in need of complex facilities such as large dams, ought to stay away”.
This phenomenon of delusion and deception is best illustrated in India by the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat. The project that started with cost estimates of Rs 6406 crores is far from complete when close to Rs 50 000/- crores have already been spent. The corruption involved in this project will be known only when there is a credible independent scrutiny of the expenses; the current regime is totally against even independent lokpal or use of RTI. The full social and environmental impacts of the project are still not known. The most touted benefit of the project: drought proofing Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat is now not even part of the Gujarat government agenda and mind you, there was no agitation against building canals in these regions. In stead water is being taken away for unplanned and unjustified utilization for urban and industrial use. And now the project is used to push political agenda of constructing the world’s highest statue.
There are many other instances that exemplify the delusion and deception in decisions on dams in India. The Maharashtra irrigation scam and white wash of it by the Chitale Commission is one of the recent examples. The non transparent, non participatory and unaccountable functioning of the Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources for consideration of techno-economic viability of Irrigation, Flood Control and Multi Purpose Project Proposals (TAC in short) is a perennial problem. The Khuga and Thoubal irrigation projects in Manipur, both initiated in 1980 are still ongoing and have seen cost escalations of 28 and 35 times the original costs, but the TAC has been clearing all such claims without any questions! Same is the case of Dhansiri irrigation project in Assam, started in 1975, still ongoing with cost having gone up by over 36 times the original cost!
In fact it is not secret even for Planning Commission that Major and Medium Irrigation Projects are not delivering any benefits for over last two decades now to the net irrigated area. In case of hydropower projects, the installed capacity has gone up exactly twice in last two decades, from 20275 MW in 1993-94 to 40524 MW in March 2014, but generation per MW installed capacity has gone down by over 16% during this period, but no questions are asked!
The second significant adverse comment on dams came from the IPCC’s second working group report of the fifth Assessment, made public on March 31, 2014. The report has a number of significant references on how large dams perform in changing climate. This lead to the conclusion that Dams and infrastructure projects contribute significantly to “non-climate impacts” which, after interacting with changing climate, exacerbate the overall impact on human societies and ecosystems. Climate change and dams together affect a greater eco-region; Sediment Trapping by reservoirs exacerbates impact of sea level rise. In case of Flood Protection, dams and embankments may do more harm than good & Ecological measures would fare better. Dams and Hydropower projects affect biodiversity, which is critical in facing climate change challenges; In the tropics, global warming potential of hydropower may exceed that of Thermal Power; Dams increase vulnerability of weaker sections to climate change & that Hydropower itself is vulnerable to Climate Change. This again is not exactly breaking news, we have been raising these issues with Ministry of Environment and Forests, its Expert Appraisal Committee and others. Now that IPCC has said this, the official agencies will take note of this.
In face of such clear evidence of role of big dams and big hydropower projects in changing climate, there is no dearth of proponents selling hydro projects as clean, green, cheap and renewable, including some environmental groups like Centre for Science and Environment.
As India goes to polls, the least one can expect that the election manifestoes and promises of the parties seeking mandate to rule would pledge to take a hard look at the performance of big dams in India and take corrective steps as required. In stead we have statements from BJP prime ministerial candidate saying North East India is heaven for hydropower development and they would take up Inter-linking of rivers in big way. The Congress has no different agenda. Even the Aam Aadmi Party, unfortunately has refrained from taking any clear stand on this issue. It seems the people have a long road of struggle ahead.