Bihar · Dams · Ganga · Himalayas · Interlinking of RIvers

Dams, Fish and Fishing Communities of the Ganga: Glimpses of the Gangetic Fisheries Primer

Some highlights from SANDRP’s latest Publication on Riverine Fisheries of the Ganga

The government is discussing Ganga not only as ‘Ganga Mata’, but also as a ‘navigational corridor’ with plans to build barrages after every 100 kilometers with funding from World Bank. At her origin, hundreds of hydropower dams are changing the ecological character of the Ganga. However, as a rich ecosystem, the Ganga also supports  about 10-13 million riverine fisherfolk and about 300 freshwater fish species! Riverine fisheries have been a blind spot in Independent India, despite the fact that they provide nutritional and livelihood security to millions of people.In the post independence water management discourse, river has been equated to water and water to irrigation, water supply, and hydro power. The profound impacts of irrigation, water supply and hydropower dams on sectors like riverine fisheries have been entirely ignored.

Nachiket Kelkar looks at the status of riverine fisheries and fisher communities in the Gangetic Basin of India and highlights the devastating impacts of dams, barrages and water abstractions on this. Nachiket’s study on Gangetic Fisheries is based on long term engagement with fisher communities in the basin as well as robust scientific studies.

SANDRP has published this work in the form of a Primer which will soon be available online. What follows are some glimpses from the Primer. Please write to us if you are interested in receiving a full soft copy of the Primer.



Riverine fisheries of the Gangetic basin support one of the largest fishing populations of the world. However, its fish resources are rapidly declining due to large dams, barrages and hydropower projects, severely altered river flows, fragmentation of hydrological connectivity between rivers and wetlands, alarming levels of pollution, riverfront encroachment, rampant sand mining and unregulated overexploitation of fish resources.

Across its range, the fisheries show indications of economic unviability and ecological collapse, with violent social conflicts as an outcome of the contest over scarce and declining resources as well as politics and access. A major factor behind the serious fisheries-related problems is severe alteration of river flow volume and seasonal dynamics by large dams, barrages and hydropower projects. The state of river fisheries directly indicates the declining biophysical, ecological and social integrity of the river basin. The existing in-river fisheries contribute merely about 10% of the overall inland fish production. Even this production is highly unsustainable today and has all the indicators of serious levels of overfishing. For instance, river fisheries in Bihar now even glean small-sized fish fry for markets in northern West Bengal (Siliguri) and Assam, where eating small fish is a delicacy (F.pers.comm).

To understand the situation in Gangetic Basin clearly, a detailed, large-scale interview survey was conducted by the author in 2012 across 372 fishers in 59 fisher groups spread over 17 rivers in 5 north Indian states. The survey objective was to document perceptions of traditional fishing communities about issues and problems in fishing in the Gangetic basin. Of the respondents, c. 90% singled out “large dams and poor river flows” as the main causes for a near-total decline in fisheries and fish resources over the past 4 decades. About 90% people mentioned low water availability and stoppage of fish migratory routes by large dams as the main cause for fish declines. Almost 45% (from eastern and northern UP, and Bihar) singled out the Farakka barrage as the main problem.

The Sone River in the dry season. Poor river flows released by dams and barrages have serious implications on fisher livelihoods. Photo: © Subhasis Dey.
The Sone River in the dry season. Poor river flows released by dams and barrages have serious implications on fisher livelihoods. Photo: © Subhasis Dey.

The Canvas of Gangetic River Fisheries
The Ganga  River, from her headwaters to the delta, along with hundreds of her tributaries drains an area of approx. 0.9_1 million km2 across northern and eastern India, flowing through 10 states in India and also in Nepal and Bangladesh. These rivers form one of the largest alluvial mega-fan regions of the world, and deliver huge quantities of sediment from the Himalayas to the northern Indian plains and to the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean. The Gangetic floodplains shape not only landforms but also complex human cultures that attempt to stabilize themselves and adapt to the constantly changing riverine forces. Biodiversity, hydrology, geomorphology and social dynamics influence each other through constant interaction and multiple feedback mechanisms.

The major rivers of the Gangetic Basin (Based on ‘hydro1k-rivers-Asia.dbf’).
The major rivers of the Gangetic Basin (Based on ‘hydro1k-rivers-Asia.dbf’).

The dynamic balance of these factors triggers opportunities for spawning, reproduction, population dynamics and viability, migration and movement of freshwater species, including fishes, river dolphins, otters, crocodilians, turtles, invertebrates as well as terrestrial biodiversity.

In floodplain rivers, as floodwaters recede post-monsoon, fishers record the highest catches in October and November, as large post-breeding and migrating adult fishes (e.g. major carps, clupeids, mullet) become catchable. Winters, from December to early February, generally record low catches because many fish show slowed behavior and limited movement. But in spring fisheries of minor carps and catfishes record high production. With water levels reducing, fishes become more concentrated in specific river habitats like deep pools, where they are easy to fish. Summer fish catch biomass is also reasonably good due to the overall low water availability.

In the Gangetic basin, fisheries are practiced in a range of diverse freshwater habitats including natural and man-made, lentic (stagnant water) and lotic (flowing water) ecosystems. Natural freshwater areas include large floodplain rivers, non-perennial rivers, perennial and seasonal streams, cold-water rivers and streams, glacial lakes, estuaries, tidal rivers, floodplain wetlands, oxbow lakes, grassland swamps and marshes. Manmade habitats include dug or built-up wetlands, ponds, man-made reservoirs, dam reservoirs and canals. To the fisher, flow velocity, depth profile, substrate type, vegetation structure, current patterns and habitat stability are key indicators for fishing effort allocation and logistical decisions.

Fish Diversity in the Gangetic Basin
The overall species pool of the Gangetic fish assemblage is estimated at around 300 species (53+ families, 150+ genera; 250 species). The floodplain fisheries are dominated by major and minor carps (Cyprinidae), catfishes (Siluriformes: 6-7 families), Clupeidae, Notopteridae and a mix of many other families. Major carps and the Clupeid fish, Hilsa (Tenualosa ilisha) and some large catfishes form the most valued catches across most parts of the Gangetic floodplains.
Major carps, the most preferred freshwater food fishes, include species like Catla, Rohu, Mrigal, Mahseer etc. exhibit potamodromous (along freshwater upstream-downstream gradients) migration. Though these fishes have suffered serious declines due to overfishing, pollution and dams, they have been mass-produced through artificial rearing in pond aquaculture. Farmed large carps form the major proportion of fish eaten anywhere in India today. In wild fisheries, catfishes come lower in the preference order, but with the decline of carps, medium and small catfishes have become the main fishing targets. Further, as most catfishes are sedentary and do not show long-distance movements, the fisheries have completely switched from carp- to catfish-targeting fisheries. Other deep-bodied, highly sought after fishes include the Chitala and Notopterus, or the featherfishes, and mullet.

Various fish species in Ganga Basin. Refer to the Primer for more information.
Various fish species in Ganga Basin. Refer to the Primer for more information.

The estuarine fishery in the Hooghly and Sunderbans tidal rivers in West Bengal is dominated by shellfish (prawns, mud crabs and shrimp), Clupeidae and Engraulidae, Sciaenidae, catfishes of the Ariidae and a far more diverse set of families compared to truly inland fisheries. Other important components of the commercial fisheries include 5-6 species of shellfishes (mainly prawn and shrimp).

Coldwater fisheries specialize on large-bodied, rapids-loving potamodromous migrant fishes such as Mahseer and Snow Trout. These fishes are of high commercial importance and are in high demand by professional sport fishers and anglers, apart from being highly prized as food locally. Mahseer in particular, have recently led to the opening of new markets of luxury wildlife tourism that is based on angling and recreation in the Western Himalaya.

Dam reservoir fisheries are almost entirely based on managed stocking and breeding of commercial fishes in hatcheries, of major carps Catla, Rohu and Mrigal, catfishes like Pangasiodon, and minor catfishes. The state of river fisheries in the Gangetic basin has been affected over the last few decades by several threats described in the next section.

Dams and Riverine Fisheries in India Fisheries across India have been severely affected by dams, flow regulation and associated human impacts, which have substantially altered ecological requirements of fisheries and biodiversity together. If one clinically investigated the fisheries’ decline, they would find it to coincide with the period of maximum dam building (1970s-80s) in India. Most commercially valuable fish species, especially major carps and Hilsa, have shown population-level collapse and even commercial extinction over large inland waters. Reduction in harvested fish size-class distributions, a classical indicator of overexploitation by fisheries, points to poor fish recruitment and adult survival, which may be further brought down by flow regulation by dams. Dams have acted as the major factor of disruption by blocking migratory routes of upriver or estuarine spawning fishes such as Hilsa and Anguilla eels. Dams have also caused loss of genetic connectivity between fish populations, most notably seen in major carp stocks. Erratic water releases, nutrient and sediment trapping behind dams and barrages, failure of breeding in carp and catfish species due to siltation, erosion, poor water availability, modified thermal regimes required for breeding (increase in temperatures due to low river depth/flow), and exceptional levels of hazardous pollution (again, magnified due to the poor flows reducing dilution capacity of river water), are other fallouts that adversely affect fisheries. The fact that there is just not enough water in the river must form the bottom line of any causal investigation of riverine fisheries. Lack of appropriate policy measures and pollution receive dominant mention as threats to fisheries by government research agencies, but they are mere outcomes of much larger shifted baselines because of dams. Dams, barrages and hydropower projects through flow regulation have increased uncertainty about fishing and driven fishing to desperate levels: fishers often resort to destructive practices, or even worse, exit the fishery altogether. Such exit does not solve the problem of existing fisher folk: water is critical to sustaining not just fisheries but the river and the people dependent on it. Detailed understanding of the lives of fishing communities of the Ganges is therefore critical.

Ganga made completely dry at Haridwar by the Bhimgouda barrage Photo: SANDRP.
Ganga made completely dry at Haridwar by the Bhimgouda barrage Photo: SANDRP.

Fisher communities in Ganga: Around 10-13 million people in the Gangetic floodplains are estimated to be dependent on fish resources for their livelihoods, directly or indirectly. However, accurate estimates of active traditional and non-traditional fisher populations are still wanting. It is important for any discussion on fishing communities to clearly separate traditional fishing communities from ‘non-traditional fishers’, who may be practically from any other local community and with the possession of other livelihood options, but also opportunistic fishing, due to unrestricted access to imported nets and gear available in markets to anyone. Traditional fishing communities were always the craftsmen of their own nets and gear, and also possess remarkable ecological knowledge about rivers, fish and biodiversity, their breeding biology, ecology, seasonality, and distribution. Of course, with the degradation of fisheries throughout the Gangetic plains, the traditional knowledge and practices of fishing are eroding fast. Hence such knowledge needs to be documented well, especially from old fishers with whom it still persists, to identify historical baselines of river fisheries with a different, past ecological reference (pers.obs.; F.pers.comm).
Traditional fishing communities today form a highly marginalized, politically unorganized and socio-economically impoverished people. Caste discriminations and political history form the chief reasons for their poverty and subjugation over centuries of fishworking. But the present condition of rivers does not seem to offer hope to any improvement in their economic position unless and until there is collective voicing of their concerns, especially against large-scale water engineering projects that threaten their livelihoods.

Author in discussions with fishers
Author in discussions with fishers

Their livelihoods, one may argue, confined them to the river’s water, albeit the fact that they never owned the waters legally. However, they always have stated cultural claims of temporally confined territory, following their foraging preferences and site usage. But depending on the nature of the river’s hydrological dynamics, there may be variable maintenance of fixed ‘territories’ by fishers adopting a roving mode of fishing, and neither legal nor cultural claims can be reconciled to a level that the conflicting parties can reach mutually. With regards to their economic viability and status, a large proportion of the traditional fishworkers fall Below the Poverty Line (BPL), and are recorded as Economically Backward Castes, and also have been assigned the status of Scheduled Castes. Annual incomes from fishing alone, according to the few estimates available, range from INR 25,000/- to INR 50,000/- (pers.obs., F.pers.comm.).

Large dams, flow regulation and Gangetic basin fisheries : The singular key problem of fisheries today is that it lacks water in the dry-season, because of flow regulation by dams, barrages and hydropower projects. More water flow releases are needed for the protection of riverine fisheries in the Gangetic basin. Widespread river habitat degradation, industrial, agricultural and domestic pollution, altered flows and modification of sediment and nutrient fluxes by dam projects, and resource overexploitation (by fisheries, agriculture or industry) have had major consequences for the unique biodiversity and fisheries of floodplain rivers across Asia. Obstruction and fragmentation of river flow, habitat destruction, accelerated erosion and siltation, long-distance water diversions (involving huge amount of transmission losses and waste) and poor flow releases are the major direct threats of dam-canal systems in the Gangetic plains.

Flow volume problems: Lower-than-minimum flows have been consistently recorded across the Ganga, Yamuna, Chambal, Kosi, Sone, Ken, Betwa, Ghaghra and Gandak rivers. Along with these large rivers, almost all others (Rapti, Baghmati, Mahananda, Teesta, Kamla, Burhi Gandak, Punpun, Gomti and others) have been highly regulated64,69. The reduction of freshwater discharge reaching the Sunderbans because of the Farakka barrage has led to high degree saline ingress throughout the estuary, causing die-offs of considerably large tracts of mangroves and aquatic vegetation, as well as severe losses to the upstream fishery. Downstream, fishing practices suited to brackish and fresh waters now have to adapt to saline intrusion into the estuary’s waters. Globally, fragmentation and flow regulation have caused the most severe impacts through drastic alterations to riverine biota and ecology. Low flows and fragmented connectivity of river channels lead inevitably to fish population declines and breeding failure. Over time, dams have probably led to genetic isolation of fish populations as well as river dolphin / crocodile populations, destruction of fish breeding habitats and spawning triggers and loss of valuable wild fish germplasm. These losses are so large in their ecological value and opportunity costs that they cannot be recovered with artificial fish culture techniques or hatcheries.

Aggravation of pollution effects: The Ganges basin is one of the most polluted large river basins in Asia, especially with regards to domestic sewage and agricultural runoff. Poor flows reduce the dilution and self-purification capacity of river water to reduce concentration of pollutants and local impacts on fishes. . Agricultural fertilizers (organophosphates, organochlorines, nitrates etc.), heavy metal pollution from industrial effluents, thermal power plants, oil refineries, distilleries and tanneries, and nitrogen-rich sewage, waste-water and non-biodegradable substances such as plastics, mercury, radioactive compounds and hospital wastes can cause fish kills or even worse, lead to high levels of toxicity in tissues. Pollution problems are especially acute in highly regulated river reaches, especially around Delhi (Yamuna River), and the Gomti at Lucknow, Yamuna until Panchnada in UP and Ganga River at Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna, Barauni, Bhagalpur and Farakka.

Polluted Ganga at Allahabad Photo: National Geographic
Polluted Ganga at Allahabad Photo: National Geographic

Siltation in dam reservoirs and barrage gates: Excessive siltation in the Ghaghra barrage has led to, as per local fishers, breeding failure in Labeo angra (Ghewri), a preferred spring-fisheries target in the region. The fishers claimed that over the past 5 years they have not captured a single fish with eggs inside it, and also added that catches have plummeted heavily (F.pers.comm). Siltation of gravel/sediment in reservoir or storage zones is a problem of huge magnitude for fisheries, especially through breeding failure. Accumulated silt in reservoirs is estimated to be so high (in tens of meters height) that it cannot even be easily flushed out, and leads to nearly 60-90% reductions in sediment fluxes of rivers in monsoon and non-monsooon seasons. Siltation adds to obstruction of flow release through barrage gates. In the Farakka barrage, sediment load accumulation is leading to breakage of gates every year, adding to maintenance costs.

Habitat destruction and alteration of erosion-deposition dynamics: Soil erosion by erratic and sudden releases before floods can potentially lead to alteration and destruction of fish breeding habitats and stock depression. Changes in depth and flow velocity lead to fish not being able to receive natural physiological cues for movement and spawning that are otherwise provided by variability in discharge. Flow alteration also alters hydrological connectivity and sediment transport with wetlands and confluence channels during flooding. As a result these productive breeding habitats often become unavailable for catfishes and carps. These factors together become a problem for pre-settlement fish juveniles and recruits, which move into the main channels.

Threats to cold-water and foothills fisheries from Hydropower Dams: Overall, despite their projected low impact situation, hydropower projects can have serious large-scale effects on mountain streams as well as rivers downstream. Globally, despite mitigation measures in hydropower constructions, fish migration and development have largely been deemed as failures. In India, hydropower projects, especially run-of-river projects in higher altitudes, often have disastrous effects on natural thermal regimes, cause sediment blockages and perturb natural flow variability at diurnal timescales through releases varying across several orders of magnitude. These changes severely affect not just breeding and migration in higher-altitude cold-water fisheries of snow trout and Mahseer in Himachal, Sikkim and Uttarakhand, but also downstream fisheries of catfish and carps in the foothills and plains due to altered flows. Their cumulative downstream impact can also potentially risk fisheries-based uses of river water without being exposed to the risk of sudden flow releases every day.

Globally, through extreme perturbation of natural flow dynamics, dams have homogenized and altered many crucial river-floodplain processes, and have had disastrous impacts on biodiversity and fisheries. There is an urgent need to ensure ecologically necessary, adequate and natural flow regimes in all rivers of the Gangetic basin. The current water scarcity is so severe that projects such as river interlinking, apart from their ridiculous proposed costs, are simply impossible to conceive of, water itself being the limitation. There is no doubt that further water developments will prove disastrous for a whole section of people and their livelihoods, and must be scrapped. Rivers that need urgent attention in this respect are the Chambal, Yamuna, Ken, Betwa, Alaknanda, Bhagirathi, Mandakini, Sone, Damodar, the Ganges at Farakka and Allahabad, Sharada, Ghaghra and all other rivers especially in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar0. Run-of-river hydropower projects, flow diversions and links, pumped irrigation, embankments, agricultural intensification, groundwater depletion and sand mining are highly destructive threats that will affect not just fisheries but the whole social fabric of river users in the near future.

Despite the demonstrated folly of not allowing rivers to flow from headwaters to estuaries and deltas, engineers, technocrats and politicians talk of “rivers flowing wastefully into the sea”. This statement would imply that the thousands of species and millions of fisher livelihoods that need flowing water in rivers are of no value to the state policy on water resource development. Such statements are ignoring important societal needs and hence are evidently irresponsible.

No post dam-construction compensation schemes exist for fishers, who may lose their entire livelihood because of flow-regulation and loss of hydrological connectivity due to dams. Downstream fisher populations must be ideally compensated for the lost fishing catch and livelihood opportunity, but in general there has been scant attention towards the communities’ livelihoods (F.pers.comm). Downstream water allocations through on-ground consultations with fisher communities are urgently needed (F.pers.comm). In India, water resources development is so strongly irrigation-focused (and now strongly focused on industry and hydropower), that, in comparison, riverine fisheries are not even acknowledged as legitimate and in need of conservation and livelihood protection. These biases mean that only pond aquaculture receives any attention. If river conservation and development groups can actively work with fishing communities in order to develop an informed and aware constituency or interest group, fishers will gain political voice in making negotiations about water availability in river basins.

Fisherfolk of Ganga Photo: Gangapedia
Fisherfolk of Ganga Photo: Gangapedia

Fisheries incur ‘colossal losses’ every season due to irregularities in dam operations, and always fall severely short of demand. But now, through the boom of artificially managed pond aquaculture and wetland fishing especially in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, the nature of supply itself has radically changedThis boom has contributed to India becoming one of the largest producers of inland freshwater fish in the world. But such ranking hides a lot of miserable facts about river degradation. Although net production shows increases, the collapse of river fisheries that still support millions of poor people who don’t get access to aquaculture, get totally ignored under such swamping. This is why farmed fish in fish hatcheries can barely replace riverine fisheries despite the fact that they have cornered the attention of fisheries development.

The failure of river fisheries has led to large-scale outmigration for labour from the Indo-Gangetic plains (F.pers.comm.). This might be a significant contributor to the magnitude of labour-related migrations from the Gangetic plains, which has been a rising exodus. Today, fisher folk from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal provide a large proportion (20-40%) of construction and manual labor force across India (F.pers.comm). Others who stay behind have to take to menial jobs such as rickshaw-pullers or servants (F.pers.comm; pers.obs). Some are forced to take to crime to be able to feed themselves and their families. These factors can weaken the social resilience of production systems and create poverty, disparity and community breakdown. It has been argued that ethnic conflicts between local Indian populations and illegally immigrated Bangladeshi refugees are linked to poor water releases from the Farakka barrage in West Bengal, to downstream floodplain reaches in Bangladesh.

Mitigation measures like Fish ladders and hatcheries
There is little existing research on the construction design, functioning and efficiency of fish ladders in tropical and subtropical large floodplain rivers. Across the tropics, monitoring studies on fish ladders do not show positive results. A handful of barrages in India have constructed fish ladders, but owing to numerous problems they have been largely a failure. These problems are all related to the extremely low discharge rates from the dams – as there is simply not enough water volume allocated for migrating fishes, which therefore cannot access the ladders and fish lifts. Other problems are linked to siltation in reservoirs and turbulence of flows near the fish passages. For instance, the Farakka fish lifts do not seem to have been of any help due to the extremely low outflow of the Ganga River from it, and the commercial extinction of the Hilsa fisheries both upstream and downstream is clear with an estimated 99.9% decline. Fish passes constructed at barrages on the Yamuna River (Hathnikund barrage) and the Ganga barrage at Haridwar have been monitored by CIFRI and the results suggest that they have had very low success for migration of cold-water species like the Golden Mahseer Tor putitora. Similar structures on the Beas River and Mahanadi River (Salandi dam, Orissa) have found to be ineffective in buffering the adverse impacts on fisheries production in these rivers. India has dominantly followed reservoir hatcheries development, and therefore consideration for effective fish ladders has always been low priority. However, as we have seen, hatcheries themselves bring about several problems for native fish populations – and are not an ecologically viable solution, despite being economically profitable to certain interests. Given the poor success of existing fish passages, it is important to consider modern designs in existing and proposed dams that are suited to the ecology of our own fishes. A whole body of interdisciplinary research – spanning engineering and ecology, is needed to address the significant gaps in our understanding of making fish passages work. We need to monitor existing examples well to assess reasons for their failure. Again, just the act of allowing higher dry-season flows and timely adequate releases in the river could be a far more effective strategy for fisheries improvement than other intensive technology-driven practices to enhance fisheries production (F.pers.comm)

River restoration and alternative livelihoods: Given the current state of riverine fisheries, there is an urgent need to consider possibilities for large-scale ecological restoration of rivers by modifying dam operations and improving ecological flows. Alongside restoration, it is crucial to consider alternative livelihoods to fishers, which regard their traditional knowledge and provide them with clearly defined user rights and responsibilities over management of wild-caught or cultured fish resources. Ecological restoration of all major and minor rivers in India needs to be undertaken urgently, to ensure ecologically adequate, naturally timed flow releases, consistent dry-season flow regimes, hydro-geomorphological habitat maintenance, flood maintenance and reduction in pollution. Dam re-operations to ensure adequate flows and variability in river discharge remain a neglected aspect of river management in most regions today. Flow restoration can lead to improved health, numbers and availability of native commercial carps and preponderance of larger fish sizes through improved juvenile recruitment, along with other advantages to surface hydrology and local groundwater availability. Large-scale scientific research and monitoring programs must be instituted to study the response of inland wild-capture fisheries and take further steps to mitigate local threats. Restoration also needs to involve stringent restrictions on release of untreated domestic and industrial effluent, especially in urban belts such as Kanpur, the National Capital Region of Delhi, Allahabad-Varanasi, Mathura-Agra, Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh; Patna, Barauni in Bihar and the Durgapur and Kolkata regions in West Bengal. Strict restrictions are needed on sand-mining, riverfront encroachment and embankment construction, especially in the Chambal, Ghaghra, Gandak, Baghmati, Rapti and Kosi Rivers. In this regard, more judicial interventions, such as seen recently in the case of sand-mining closures from river beds based on a review by the National Green Tribunal, are critical in reducing wanton and unregulated destruction of riverfronts, when implemented effectively. In terms of reducing the most direct impacts, there is a need to regulate fishing pressure and completely curb destructive fishing practices like dynamiting, use of mosquito-nets, beach seines, and gillnets below allowable mesh-sizes, poisoning, use of long-lines etc. Traditional fishers must be involved directly in monitoring and banning the use of destructive practices by the government monitoring agencies.

Finally, the quest for sustaining fisheries in the Ganga River basin in the long-term will require rethinking of current dominant paradigms to move towards ecological restoration of rivers, their biodiversity, as well as socially just, rights-based and equitable socio-political restoration of traditional fisher communities and fisheries management systems.

-Nachiket Kelkar

Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Srirampura Royal Enclave, Jakkur, Bangalore 560064, India. (The views expressed are of the author and do not belong to the institution where the author currently works)

Member, IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.



Twelve-point recommendation from traditional fisher communities for sustaining riverine fisheries and livelihoods in the Gangetic basin.

Rank Need Recommendations
1 Water Provide enough water, adequate natural flows in all rivers. Allow fish movements upriver, currently blocked by large dams and barrages. STOP new dams and mindless, high-cost, destructive and unsustainable engineering projects such as river interlinking.
2 Ban on destructive fishing practices Curb destructive practices of fishing, especially mosquito-netting, poisoning, dynamite-fishing, trawling and beach-seine netting everywhere.
3 Poverty alleviation and social security Fishers are in need of government dole or loans, technical know-how, permits and I-cards, housing, education and displacement packages. It is alleged that these benefits are hardly reaching them, although the allocations of funds reach farmers easily. Fishers need government security from criminals / mafia / anti-social elements / pirates that harass them and grab fish catch.
5 Define fisher rights and responsibilities Clearly define fishing use and access rights across all riverscapes, provide clear guidelines on multi-objective management of fisheries amidst other economic activities
6 Reduce pollution and mass fish-kills Urgent need to reduce the presently excessive river pollution, especially industrial but also domestic wastes.
7 Alternative livelihoods River fisheries are currently in a state of ecosystem-level decline or collapse. Trash fishes have become the most common catch, replacing many commercially viable carps and catfishes. People require alternative livelihoods in situ, to check problems related to migration and exodus to work as construction laborers or rickshaw-pullers. Community-based, cooperative pond carp-culture fisheries seem highly promising. Other alternative livelihoods include working with river management authorities, conservation agencies, ecotourism, agriculture etc.
8 Fishery co-operatives Focus on community-based management of river fisheries and help it develop in an ecologically friendly and sustainable manner. Replace the systems of private contracts and free-for-all fishing by power-equitable, social dignified resource-sharing arrangements
9 Ensure compliance of fishers towards biodiversity conservation and monitoring Needs to be ensured through continued monitoring of fishing activity and behavior, including by-catch or hunting of species. This will help safeguard endangered wild species such as gharial, turtles, river dolphins, birds etc. This can also help the spread of exotic food fishes that are rapidly invading our rivers (the worst examples are Tilapia species, Chinese and Common Carps, and more recently, Red-bellied Piranha.
10 Use of Food Security Act, Rural Labor Programs Can facilitate daily incomes by which fisheries losses could be offset; while also providing a solid community-level incentive to regulate and monitor fishing.
11 Restoration of native riverine fish communities Very important given the huge decline in native carp species of high commercial value. Fisheries need to protected not only by revival of stocks, facilitating better fish recruitment, but also by protecting fish breeding habitats from
12 Adaptive management of water tenure in fishing areas Owing to natural uncertainty linked to flow regimes and channel course changes, new flexible systems of tenure in fisheries are required. Such systems would fit in well with providing a clear definition to fishing rights in any riverine stretch.
Climate Change · Floods · Hydropower

Climate Change & Himalayan Glaciers: A News Round up

This year has witnessed erratic rainfall, increased snowfall, rising sea levels and other extreme weather conditions and the situation is not likely to improve in the coming months. Recent assessments have declared that this is the result of climate change, which we so conveniently blame for every untoward weather condition without properly addressing our own role in bringing it about or perhaps minimizing its effects. The climate is changing and the urgency to address this now is more than ever. Climate change acts as a catalyst and multiplies the threat we already face from certain environmental circumstances. The effects of climate change are being felt worldwide and global urgency is being expressed through various seminars and assessments being carried out by different international bodies like the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Scientists have warned that extreme weather events will increase in intensity if climate change goes unchecked. Unchecked climatic change is also responsible for loss of life and property. According to the World Bank Report ‘Building Resilience: Integrating Climate and Disaster Risk into Development’, “from 1980 to 2012, disaster-related losses amounted to US$3,800 billion worldwide. Some 87% of these reported disasters (18,200 events), 74% of losses (US$2,800 billion) and 61% of lives lost (1.4 million in total) were caused by weather extremes (Munich Re 2013)[i].”


Image showing the retreat of the Gangotri glacier (

These weather extremes can cause and are in turn caused by changes in various water resources such as seas, lakes, rivers and glaciers. The Himalayas, spreading across over 2500 kms are the source of various life giving rivers in India and other parts of South Asia. The Ganga, Brahmaputra and the Indus, among the most important rivers for the South Asian region, originate in the Himalayan glaciers. The Himalayas have the highest concentration of glaciers outside the polar caps. These glaciers are natural stores and regulators of water in these rivers, which in turn support needs and livelihoods of millions of people, provide water for irrigation, domestic consumption and energy generation. Climate change is likely to result in smaller glaciers and less melt water. For rivers like the Indus, which gets almost half of its water from the melting of glaciers, this can lead to the endangering of the livelihood of millions of people living in low lying areas.

Rapid retreat of Himalayan Glaciers as compared to global averages Courtesy ICIMOD
Rapid retreat of Himalayan Glaciers as compared to global averages Courtesy ICIMOD

Even though such fears are being expressed by various groups of people, studies done by the ICIMOD in collaboration with Netherlands’ Utrecht University and research organization FutureWater, observe that the water levels in the Indus, Ganga and the Brahmaputra are likely to increase at least until 2050[ii]. This, they say, is due to an increase in melt-water in the Indus and an increase in precipitation in the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. But these projections, as even the scientists acknowledge, do not say anything about the future of these rivers. With retreating glaciers, what will the fate of rivers like the Indus be, which depend largely on melt-water, is still to be ascertained.

Soaring temperatures, melting glaciers A study prepared by the Uttarakhand government has predicted that the mean annual temperature (MAT) in the Himalayan region is likely to rise by up to 2 degree centigrade by 2030. It has also predicted a rise of 5-13% in rainfall in the next 2 decades. This was disclosed in the Rajya Sabha on 5th of August, 2013 by the then Science and Technology minister, S Jaipal Reddy[iii].

According to a report presented in the Second India Water Forum in 2013, melting of glaciers will lead to a reduction in the critical water supplies for the people of the Himalayas. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) predicted that Himalayan water flow from the glaciers to the basin would reduce by about 25-50% by the end of this century[iv]. The significant effects of this will be seen in the upper reaches. Taking the case of Ganga, it is seen that though its snow and ice melts contributes only about 1-5% of the water in the Ganga and its tributaries, this is only an annual averageiv. The percentage of melt water becomes higher in the months of March, April and May. This then becomes a very crucial amount of water in the rivers in those summer months where it cannot be recharged through rain.

This is also very important for the hydro projects downstream. Seasonal melt-water serves as the main source of power for an increasing number of hydroelectric dams on the rivers served by the glaciers. The amount of electricity generated depends on the amount of water flow in the river. Thus with changing river patterns in South Asia, the hydropower production will be disrupted. A 1% reduction in stream flow can reduce electricity output by roughly 3%[v]. The unreliable and potentially decreasing flow of water implies that whole hydropower development plans need a comprehensive rethink, also considering the increaed threat of flashfloods and related disasters in changing climate.

Another report by the ICIMOD has found that glacier runoff contributes majorly to river flow for about 2-4 months, mainly from early/mid-summer, till late summer/early fall and reaches its maximum in the Northern hemisphere in July-August. The total mass of the glaciers is much more than what is recharged every year, thus leading to smooth inter-annual flow variability and thus reducing risks of the late summer droughts in hot and dry summers. Climate Change, however, may lead to consistent mass loss in glaciers, hence reducing their inter-annual storage capacity[vi].

The report further reads:

The withdrawal of glaciers and seasonal snow covers as the transient storages for precipitation in certain areas implies first and foremost the loss of flow regulation capacity in basin’s headwaters… Combined effect of the reduction of glacier area and seasonal snow extent on the seasonality of flow from the alpine catchments will be characterized by an increase of the magnitude of the short-term flow variability, in particular, an increase of autumn and winter flow, shift of late spring-early summer peak to earlier dates and possible decrease of mid-late summer flow (assuming no changes in precipitation). Hydrological regimes will be gradually changing from glacio-nival to fluvial, i.e., dependent primarily on rainfall… The glacier runoff simulation results suggest that relative shares of renewable and nonrenewable components in total glacier runoff have undergone a remarkable change: the nonrenewable component increased from 16-30% of total glacier runoff in 1961-1990 to 26-46% in 2001-2010 in all the study basins. However, the increase of non-renewable runoff in none of the basins has been large enough to overweigh the decrease of the renewable component of glacier runoff due to overall reduction of the glacier-covered area.[vii]

According to another study co-authored by Anil Kulkarni, visiting scientist at the Divecha Centre for Climatic Change, entitled, The state and fate of Himalayan glaciers, the rate of loss of glacial mass in the Himalayan and Karakoram (H-K) region, has increased after roughly 1995. Rough estimates suggest that glaciers in the Indian Himalaya are losing mass at the rate of 16 Billion T per year[viii]. The loss in mass for many small glaciers located in low altitude range could be larger than the average suggests, being as high as 1 m per year. This is substantial loss considering mean depth of small glaciers could be between 30 and 50 mviii.  These small glaciers and ice fields are important source of water for many mountain communities. This source of water is and could be significantly influenced in near future and could affect sustainability of many mountain communities. There is today neither a mapping of such vulnerable communities, nor any plans to compensate them for the losses they are suffering and will suffer for no fault of theirs.

This loss of mass, especially if it comprises of non-renewable runoff, can also lead to further complications. According to geophysicist and seismologist, Geological Survey of India, Mr. O.P. Mishra, melting of glaciers due to increasing temperatures and high rainfall also add to the already existing complex of factors influencing earthquake activity in the Himalayan region[ix]. According to him, the ice sheet melting leads to the loosening of the litho static pressure (vertical pressure on the underlying crust)ix. As a glacier retreats and its weight eases, the earth could show a tendency to bounce back up in the form of a moderate or even a strong earthquake. According to him, there is a strong correlation between the retreat of ice sheets and increased seismic activityix. This increase in seismic activity can also lead to further melting of glaciers and a change in their behavior as it has the capacity to alter the axis of rotation, which can then lead to changes in surrounding areas.

According to a study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the glaciers in the Tibetan plateau, which form the source of vital rivers such as the Brahmaputra, have shrunk by about 15%, which would mean about 8,000 square kms since 1980[x].

Retreating glaciers in Tibet Photo:
Retreating glaciers in Tibet Photo:

They also found that the perennial frozen earth in the plateau had decreased by 16% over the past 30 yearsviii. This does not present a favourable scenario for water security in the region and downstream areas of the Brahmaputra. According to scientists, this glacial retreat has accelerated since the 1990s and is making the plateau more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This again means the plans for hydropower projects in North East India will need a review, but unfortunately, the Environmental and Social Impact Assessments of these projects are not even considering these factors and the MoEFCC’s (Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change) Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects is not even taking these into consideration while appraising these projects in spite of repeated submissions on this by SANDRP.


Above: The scale of glacial melting on the west Rongbuk Glacier located in Southern Tibet,between 1921 and 2008. Photo by: RGS and David Breashears. (

The situation is similar in the case of the Gangotri glacier. Scientists at the GB Pant University of Himalayan Environment and Development have observed that the gangotri glacier is reducing in volume and size. The glacier is 30.2 km long and is the origin of the Bhagirathi, one of the main tributaries of the Ganga. This has retreated more than 1500 metres in the last 70 years. According to researchers, from the year 2000 onwards, the average rate of retreat of the glacier per year has been about 12-13 metres[xi].

Even while this is happening, there have not been any efforts to sensitize the scores of pilgrims who flock to Gangotri every year towards the condition the glacier is in, and how they can help in not letting it deteriorate further or at least in slowing down the process. They need to be made aware of the danger that the environment is faced with and should be encouraged to take steps towards its conservation. The state and union government also needs to ensure that local projects do not lead to worsening the situation. It is also the responsibility of the local people of the area to conserve what is important for them. They have to come out and take responsible action to ensure that they have a say in the plans made for their area.

Pilgrims at Gomukh, snout of Gangotri Glacier Photo from :
Pilgrims at Gomukh, snout of Gangotri Glacier Photo from :

The impact of glacier melting is felt in the upper reaches of the river and also in low-lying areas. For example, the Tawi river in Jammu has become shallow over time so much so that one does not need a boat to cross it anymore at certain locations and certain times. According to the retired director of operations M.M. Munshi, Geological Survey of India, “the glaciers and barrier lakes in the Jujdhar and Seojdhar ranges, which contribute a larger share of water to Tawi, have almost disappeared… water flow in all the rivers is declining… the perpetual snow line in Jammu and Kashmir has gone up to 16,000 feet from 13,000 feet in the last hundred years”[xii]. Such changes affect those who mainly rely on water for their livelihoods, i.e., farmers as also ground water recharge. It is not only the unavailability of water, but also the floods caused due to untimely or heavy rains. In such situations, which are recorded to be increasingly occurring in this region, people have to suffer the loss of land, livestock and thus even livelihood.

Such floods in the upper reaches by the headwaters can also be caused due to the flooding/breaking of glacial lakes. These glacial lakes can either already exist or even get formed in case the precipitation and/or glaciers melt increases. Global warming is seen as one of the key causal factors in their formation. According to recent reports, melting of glaciers is leading to the formation of small lakes in the high reaches of Himachal Pradesh. These lakes pose danger to the villages downstream. Out of the 249 glacial lakes in Himachal, 11 have been identified as having high potential for breach. Glaciers and ice-bodies cover a total of 2472.49 sq km (4.44%) of the total area of 55673 sq km in the state[xiii]. This is made worse by the uncertainty of rainfall and increasing frequency of higher intensity rainfall.

These kind of glacial lakes are forming in many areas in the Himalayas. Such lakes can also have loose moraines with them, which pose a greater threat to downstream areas as there could be a sudden breach of the moraine dams leading to flooding. One of the ways to prevent excessive harm to the people is if the rate of glacier melting can be studied with some degree of attentiveness, then alarm systems can be installed in areas downstream to warn the people in case of a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF).

Rapidly increasing frequency of flash floods and GLOFs in Hindukush Himalayas Courtesy: ICIMOD
Rapidly increasing frequency of flash floods and GLOFs in Hindukush Himalayas Courtesy: ICIMOD



Above: People in Halji Village, NW Nepal, watch as a GLOF destroys their fields. (

The monsoon is likely to become even more unpredictable in the coming years. Thus the threat to our environment from climate change is on the rise and it increases every day that we choose to ignore it. The government had set up the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008 which was intended to serve as a road map on how India plans to combat climate change. There are various missions under the NAPCC amongst which are the National Water Mission and the National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, which has been constituted primarily to understand to what extent the glaciers are retreating and how the problem can be addressed. The government plans to review all the missions in 2017. However, as SANDRP publication “Review of NAPCC: There is little Hope here” showed, both content and process of formulation of the NAPCC had nothing to be hoped for particularly as far as vulnerable communities were concerned. A more detailed review of the National Water Mission in SANDRP’s 2012 publication “Water Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate” showed, the process, content and implementation of the National Water Mission is not going to bring any help to sustainable water resources development or to the vulnerable sections.

We have seen various so-called natural disasters happen since 2008, a very significant one of which was the Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013. The Uttarakhand government, at the end of last year, proposed a Rs 9,000 crore action plan to minimize the effects of climate change. Under this plan, it had allocated Rs 108 crore to be spent on water resources, like the treatment of catchment areas and flood control, etc. These measures just show the desperation of the government to show that something is being done in the namesake, even though it is not based on any scientific studies or participatory process. It seems to be the same way in which the Disaster Management cell was set up in Uttarakhand to try and manage any disaster that might strike the region, the campus of which was affected in the 2013 floods. The affected people have still not received sufficient help from the government. Even the basic minimum facility like the road that leads into Uttarkashi has not been constructed. The local people have to cross tracts of dusty and congested roads to reach from one place to the other when it has been over a year since disaster struck the town.

What we need is for the community to be involved at every stage from planning, impact assessments, decision making, implementation, operation and maintenance process and awareness creation in the areas which are most vulnerable. The current top-down approach that pushes business as usual situation will clearly not help.

Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP,

Standing Proud: Chewang Norphel from Ladkah who has been constructing small check dams and helping form artificial glaciers. Photo: climateheroes.oeg
Standing Proud: Chewang Norphel from Ladkah who has been constructing small check dams and helping form artificial glaciers. Photo:
















Chenab · Cumulative Impact Assessment · Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Himachal Pradesh · Hydropeaking · Hydropower · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Sach Khas Hydro project in Chenab Basin: Another example of WAPCOS’s shoddy EIA

Even after multiple appeals by various experts, organizations and local people, Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) set up by Ministry of Environment & Forest (MoEF) has once again chosen to ignore alarms of changing climate such as disaster of Uttarakhand in 2013 and has continued to consider Hydro Power Projects on Chenab Basin for Environmental Clearance (EC) before the Cumulative Impact Assessment of Chenab Basin has been accepted by MoEF. While on one hand the State Government of Himachal Pradesh has promptly appointed a committee headed by Chief Secretary to supervise and monitor all the progress and to “sort out” problems of getting various clearances “without delay in single window system”[i], on the other hand overall transparency of the Environmental Clearance Process has been steadily decreasing.

Sach Khas HEP (260 + 7 MW) (located in Chamba District of Himachal Pradesh) was considered by EAC in its 76th meeting held on August 11, 2014. Even though the project was considered for EC, no documents were uploaded on the website. Website does not even list the project under “Awaiting EC” category. This is in clear violation with MoEF norms, basic norms of transparency and Central Information Commission (CIC) orders. There are no fixed guidelines for documents to the uploaded, the time by when they should be uploaded and rules that project cannot be considered if the documents are not uploaded.

SANDRP recently sent a detailed submission to EAC pointing out several irregularities of the project. The comments were based on reading of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report available on the HP Pollution Control Board Website (which cannot be substitute for putting up the documents on EAC website). Environmental Management Plan (EMP) of the project is not accessible at all! Non availability of EMP on the HP Pollution Control Board website too is a violation of EIA notification 2006.

The EIA report which is prepared by WAPCOS is another example of a poorly conducted EIA with generic impact prediction and no detailed assessment or quantification of the impacts. Moreover since EMP is not available in the public domain, there is no way to assess how effectively the impacts have been translated into mitigation measures. Violations of Terms of Reference (TOR) issued by EAC at the time of scoping clearance is a serious concern.

Project Profile

Sach Khas HEP is a Dam-toe powerhouse scheme. The project has a Concrete Dam & Spillway with Gross storage of 25.24 MCM, Live Storage of 8.69 MCM and Reservoir Stretch at FRL of 8.2 km (approx.) Three intakes each leading to 5.8m diameter penstocks are planned to be located on three of the right bank non-overflow blocks. Three penstocks offtaking from the intakes are proposed to direct the flows to an underground powerhouse on the right bank of the Chenab river housing 3 units of 86.67 MW turbines with a total installed capacity of 260 MW. The project also proposes to construct 2 units of 7 MW each to be installed to utilize the mandatory environmental releases. The EIA mentions (p 2.19) that the HP government has allocated 3.5 MW Hydropower project on Chhou Nala in the project area to the project authority, so this is integral part of the project.

Sach Khas Dam Site

Sach Khas Hydro Electric Project was considered before completion of Cumulative Impact Assessment of Chenab Basin

Chenab basin may have one of the highest concentrations of hydropower projects among all basins in India[i]. 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). 49 of these projects are planned or under construction in Chenab in HP and of which 28 projects of combined generation capacity of 5,800 MW are at an advanced stage of obtaining (Environment Ministry) clearances[ii]. MoEF sanctioned TORs for Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) of the HEPs on Chenab in HP in February 2012 however the project specific ECs were delinked from the CIAs[iii].

MoEFs Office Memorandum dated May 28 2013 states, “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.”

We had pointed out in our submission against Kiru & Kwar projects in Jammu & Kashmir that CIA of all the proposed, under construction and operational projects and carrying capacity assessment (CCA) of the Chenab 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. Looking at the fragility of the Himalayan ecosystem, considering any hydropower project in the basin without these studies will be an invitation to disaster[iv]. This fact has been repeatedly highlighted by multiple organizations and experts including SANDRP.

Sach Khas EIA Study: Gross violation of TOR

The EIA violates several stipulations of TOR issued on Feb 22, 2013, which also included the stipulations of EAC in Sept 2012 and Nov 2012 meetings where the project TOR was considered and also Annexure attached with the TOR. This has severely affected the overall quality of the EIA report.

About assessing the impacts of the project on wild life the TOR said: “Reaching conclusion about the absence of such (Rare, Endangered & Threatened) species in the study area, based on such (conventional sampling) methodology is misleading” as such “species are usually secretive in behavior”, “species specific methodologies should be adopted to ascertain their presence in the study area”, “If the need be, modern methods like camera trapping can be resorted to”. None of this is shown to be done in any credible way in EIA.

TOR also recommends intense study of available fish species in the river particularly during summer (lean) months with help of experimental fishing with the help of different types of cast and grill nets. There is no evidence in EIA of any such intensive efforts detailed here. In fact the field survey in summer moths was done in May June 2010, years before the EAC stipulation.

TOR (EAC minutes of Sept 2012) state “Chenab river in this stretch has good fish species diversity & their sustenance has to be studied by a reputed institute.” This is entirely missing. TOR (EAC minutes of Sept 2012) states “During the day, the adequacy of this discharge (12 cumecs) from aquatic biodiversity consideration needs to be substantiated”. This again is missing. TOR said 10 MW secondary station may be a more desirable option. This is not even assessed. TOR said Impacts of abrupt peaking need to be assessed. This is also not done. Site specific E-Flow studies and peaking studies stipulated by TOR are missing. TOR states that Public Hearing / consultations should be addressed & incorporated in the EIA-EMP. However there is no evidence of this in the report.

TOR also required following to be included in EIA, but many of them found to be missing: L section of ALL upstream, downstream projects; Project layout showing all components with A-3 scale of clarity and 1: 50000 scale; drainage pattern map of river upto project; critically degraded areas delineated; Demarcation of snowfed/ rainfed areas; different riverine habitats like rapids, pools, side pools, variations, etc;

Contradictions in basic project parameters

The EIA report provides contradictions in even in basic parameters of the project components: So section 2.1 on page 2.1 says, “The envisaged tail water level upstream of the Saichu Nala confluence is 2150 m.” This i s when the TWL is supposed to 2149 m as per diagram on next page from the EIA. Section 2.3 says: “River bed elevation at the proposed dam axis is 2145m.” At the same time, the tail water level is 2149 m. How can Tail water level of hydropower project be higher than the river bed level at the dam site? This means that the project is occupying the river elevation beyond what HPPCL has allocated to it. Page 23 of EIA says: “…the centerline of the machines in the powerhouse is proposed at 2138.00m…” So the Centre line o the power house is full 11 m BELOW the tail water level of 2149 m? How will the water from power house CLIMB 11 m to reach TWL level?

EIA report unacceptable on many fronts

Dam ht of 70 m was stated in TOR, however the report states it to be 74 from river bed. The submergence area, consequently has gone up from 70 ha at TOR stage to 82.16 ha, as mentioned in Table 2.2 of EIA. Total land requirement which was 102.48 ha as per TOR ha has now increased to 125.62 ha, with forest land requirement going up to 118.22 ha. This is a significant departure from TOR that should be requiring fresh scoping clearance. Part of the field study has been done for the project more than four years ago and rest too more than three years ago. There are not details as to exactly what was done in field study. EAC had noted in their meeting in Sept 2012, while considering fresh scoping clearance for the project, “EIA and EMP should be carried out afresh keeping in view the drastic changes in the features due to increase in installed capacity of the power house.” (Emphasis added.) The EIA report is thus unacceptable on multiple fronts.

No cognizance of Cumulative Impacts

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.

The project is located between Purthi HEP upstream and Duggar HEP downstream. Elevation difference between TWL of Purthi (2220m) and FRL of Sach Khas (2219m) is barely 1 m. The horizontal distance between them is as less as 117m. This is clearly unacceptable and in violation of the minimalist EAC-MoEF norms.

Elevation difference between TWL of Sach Khas (2149m) and the FRL of Duggar (2105 m) is 44 m and the horizontal distance is 6 km. This is thus a cascade of three among many other projects in the basin.

Cascade of three projects

Purthi HEP Site

Dugar HEP Site

Even so the report does not even mention the other two projects. EIA study is project specific and no cumulative impacts are assessed along with the other two projects. The EIA does not provide a list of all the HEP projects taken up in the Chenab basin in HP state[i]. The MoEF sanctioned TORs for conducting Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) of Chenab In February 2012. EAC considering any further project in Chenab basin before completion of the CIA study of the basin by a credible agency (not WAPCOS) and finalised in a participatory way will be in violation of the MoEF order of May 2013.

EIA report completely misses out on the detailed analysis of cumulative impacts in terms of disaster potential of the area and how the project will increase that; impacts on flora, fauna, carrying capacity, livelihoods; cumulative downstream impact, cumulative impact of hydro peaking. impacts on springs and drainage pattern; impacts of forest diversion on environment, hydrology and society and implementation of the Forest Rights Act; changing silt flow pattern in different phases, impacts of mining, tunneling, blasting etc. Impact of reduction in adaptive capacity of the people and area to disasters in normal circumstance AND with climate change has not been assessed. Project makes no assessment of impact of climate change on the project even when over 60% of the catchment area of the project is snow-fed and glacier fed. Options assessment in terms of non dam options as required under EIA manual and National Water Policy are missing.

Generic impact prediction

Impact prediction is too generic with no detailed assessment, which is what EIA is supposed to do. Impacts have not been quantified at all. The EIA report merely states the likely impacts in 2 or 3 sentences. Several important impacts have gone missing. None of the serious impacts have been quantified. For an informed decision making and effective mitigation and EMP quantification of impacts is essentially a pre requisite. Following are some such incidences:

Impacts of blasting & tunneling: TOR for the impacts on “Socio-economic aspects” says, “Impacts of Blasting activity during project construction which generally destabilize the land mass and leads to landslides, damage to properties and drying up of natural springs and cause noise pollution will be studied.”(p.196 of EIA Report). The total area required for Underground Works is 2.44 Ha. The project proposes underground power house with an installed capacity of (260+7). There are three TRTs proposed of length 99.75m, 113.13m, and 132.35m. Even so the impacts of blasting for such huge construction are simply disregarded in the EIA report by stating that “The overall impact due to blasting operations will be restricted well below the surface and no major impacts are envisaged at the ground level.” (p.165). While assessing the impacts of blasting on wild life the report states that direct sighting of the animals has not been found in the study area and the possible reason could be habitation of few villages. No attempt has been made to assess impacts of blasting like damage to properties, drying up of springs etc. This is a clear violation of TOR.

Impacts of Peaking & diurnal flow fluctuation: In the lean season during peaking power generation the reservoir will be filled up to FRL. As stated in report, this will result in drying of river stretch downstream of dam site of Sach Khas hydroelectric project for a stretch of 6.0 km, i.e. upto tail end of reservoir of Dugar hydroelectric project. The drying of river stretch to fill the reservoir upto FRL for peaking power will last even upto 23.5 hours, after which there will continuous flow equivalent to rated discharge of 428.1 cumec for 0.5 to 2 hours. Such significant diurnal fluctuation with no free flowing river stretch will have serious impacts on river eco system. There is no assessment of these impacts. Instead the report projects this as a positive impact stating “In such a scenario, significant re-aeration from natural atmosphere takes place, which maintains Dissolved Oxygen in the water body.” This is absurd, not substantiated and unscientific.

International experts have clearly concluded that: “If it is peaking it is not ROR”[ii]. In this case the EIA says the project will be peaking and yet ROR project, which is clear contradiction in terms.

Impacts on wild life: EIA report lists 18 faunal species found in the study area. Out of them 8 species are Schedule I species and 8 Schedule II species. Even so while assessing the impacts of increased accessibility, Chapter 9.6.2 b(I) of the report mentions “Since significant wildlife population is not found in the region, adverse impacts of such interferences are likely to be marginal.” If the project has so many schedule I and II species, the impact of the project on them must be assessed in the EIA. Moreover, massive construction activities, the impacts of long reservoir with fluctuating levels on daily basis, high diurnal fluctuation and dry river stretch of 6km on wild life could be serious. But the report fails to attempt any assessment of the same.

Impacts on geophysical environment are missing: The project involves Underground Works of 2.44 Ha. This involves construction of underground powerhouse, three headrace tunnels and several other structures. This will have serious impacts on the geophysical environment of the region and may activate old and new landslides in the vicinity of the project. The report makes no detailed assessment of this. Generic comments like “Removal of trees on slopes and re-working of the slopes in the immediate vicinity of roads can encourage landslides, erosion gullies, etc.” (p.176) have been made throughout the report. Such generic statements can be found in every WAPCOS report. Such statements render the whole EIA exercise as a farce. Project specific, site specific impact assessment has to be done by the EIA. Considering that the project is situated between Purthi HEP upstream and Duggar HEP downstream, a detailed assessment of the geophysical environment and impact of all the project activities is necessary. Further since the EMP is not at all available in public domain, it is difficult to assess what measures are suggested and how effective measures to arrest possible landslides have been suggested.

Downstream view of Sach Khas

Right Bank Drift at Sach Khas

No assessment for Environmental Flow Releases

TOR states that the minimum environmental flow shall be 20% of the flow of four consecutive lean months of 90% dependable year, 30% of the average monsoon flow. The flow for remaining months shall be in between 20-30%, depending on the site specific requirements (p.192). Further the TOR specifically states that a site specific study shall be carried out by an expert organization (p.193).

The TOR also mandated, “A site specific study shall be carried out by an expert organisation.” However completely violating the TOR, the EIA report makes no attempt for the site specific study to establish environmental flows. Instead it proposes to construct 2 units of 7 MW each to be installed to utilize the mandatory environmental releases. This completely defeats the basic purpose of the environmental flow releases. Such flows will help neither the riverine biodiversity, nor fish migration nor provide upstream downstream connectivity.

Socio-economic profile of the study area and Rehabilitation & Resettlement Plan are missing

TOR specifies a detailed assessment of socio-economic profile within 10 km of the study area including demographic profile, economic structure, developmental profile, agricultural practices, ethnographic structure etc. It also specifies documentation sensitive habitats (in terms of historical, cultural, religious and economic importance) of dependence of the local people on minor forest produce and their cattle grazing rights in the forest land. As per the TOR the EIA report is required to list details of all the project affected families.

Report however excludes assessment of socio economic impact of the study area. The total land required for the project is 125.62 ha, of which about 118.22 ha is forest land and the balance land 7.4 ha is private land. There are cursory mentions of habitations in the study area. Chapter 8.7 ‘Economically Important plant species’ states that in study area the local people are dependent on the forest produce such as fruits, timber, fuel wood, dyes and fodder for their livelihood. However the EIA report does not even estimate the population displaced due to land acquisition and impact of the various components of the project on livelihood of the people. Further detailed study is then out of question. This is again gross violation of TOR.

Indus Water Treaty

Chenab basin is international basin as per the Indus Water Treaty. A recent order of the international court has debarred India from operating any projects below MDDL and has disallowed provision for facility to achieve drawdown below MDDL in any future project[i] (for details, see: The EIA described gate opening in this project for silt removal, which stands debarred by international court. The EIA thus is in violation of the verdict of international Court.

The EIA says (p. 21 bottom), “Five low level sluices with crest at 2167m of size 7.5m width and 12.3m height are proposed for flood passage. Drawdown flushing of the reservoir shall be carried out through these sluices for flushing out of the sediment entrapped in the reservoir. Detailed studies on sedimentation and reservoir flushing can be taken up at detailed planning stage.” The MDDL of the project is 2209.3 m as mentioned in the same para. This means the project envisages sediment flushing by drawdown to 2167 m (sluice crest level, the sluice bottom level wll be 12.3 m below that), about 42.3 m below the MDDL. This is clearly not allowed under PCA order cited above on Indus Treaty.

Impact of 3.5 MW Chhou Nala HEP to be constructed for the project not assessed

The EIA mentions (p 2.19) that the HP government has allocated 3.5 MW Hydropower project on Chhou Nala in the project area to the project authority, so this is integral part of the project. But the EIA does not contain any impacts of the SHP. The stream on which this is planned is extremely important for the people as drinking water schemes, irrigation Kuhls and gharats of Rai, Chhou and Thandal villages are located on this stream in the proposed project area. Thus the project will have huge impacts, but there is no assessment of these impacts. This is another glaring omission of EIA. It was shocking to read that the resident commissioner said at the public hearing that this question is not part of Environmental Public hearing, when it is very much part of it.

Public hearing report

At several places either no information is given or misleading information has been presented. For example the project representatives mis-informed the people at PH that 15-20% water will be released, when minimum water they need to release is above 20%. DFO said that soil will be spread over the muck disposal site for tree planting over it, but there is no provision of this in EIA-EMP. Many questions were provided with vague answers or no answers at all. No clear answer was given when asked if the muck dumping sites have been decided in consultation with the local people, implied answer is clearly that local people have NOT be consulted. When asked about agreements to ensure that the company implements EMP and Social Management Plan as required, there was no promise that such an agreement will be signed with the village gram sabhas. The affected people raised the issue of erosion impact of diversion tunnel, but no specific response was provided in response to this issue. When a resident of Chhou village raised the issue of vulnerability of the village to the landslides, no clear answer was given by the project developer. When the same person asked that our cremation ground is going under submergence, what is the company planning about it, the project developer replied that IF the cremation ground goes under submergence, we will think about this. This only shows that the project developer and EIA consultant have not even done an assessment of such basic aspects. The PH report accepts that close to 100 workers are already working without even basic sanitation facilities, this is clear violation of EIA notification further the EIA Agency fails to mention this.

EIA is full of cut and paste, generic statements, no actual assessments

Out of nine chapters of EIA, only the last chapter is about impacts assessments! So out of 170 pages of nine chapters, only 31 pages of chapter 9 is supposedly about impact assessment and there too mostly there is no real impact assessment, mostly only generic statements that can be included in any EIA. There are several unnecessary sections in the EIA like chapter 3 on “Construction Methodology” which is unnecessary in EIA. In most other sections too, the information is just cut and paste from DPR. By way of impact prediction, the EIA report is only listing them doing absolutely NO ASSESSMENT and no quantification of impacts is attempted. Further since the EMP is not available in the public domain, it is impossible to assess if the measures provided in the EMP are effective. Such EIA is definitely not acceptable.

No proper referencing The EIA does not provide references to the specific information, without this it is difficult to cross check which information is from which secondary sources and how credible it is and which information is from primary survey.


This is another most shoddy piece of EIA by WAPCOS.

Moreover, as we can see the EIA has not done several impact assessments, has violated large no of TORs on several counts, the EIA-EMP are not available on EAC website, the project parameters have undergone changes necessitating fresh scoping clearance as mentioned in TOR but that has not happened, baseline study is 3-4 years old, EAC stipulation of fresh EIA-EMP has been violated, Project is using larger riverine stretch than given by HP govt, there is no proper referencing, hydrology is weak, EMP is not available on HPPCB website in violation of EIA notification, among several other issues listed above. Every conceivable serious problem can be found in this EIA of WAPCOS.

It is full of generic statements that can be pasted in any EIA without any attempt at project specific impact assessment. SANDRP has been pointing to EAC and MoEF about such unacceptable EIA by WAPCOS for several years, but neither EAC, nor MoEF has taken any action in this regard. SANDRP has once again urged to EAC and MoEF to reject this EIA and recommend blacklisting of WAPCOS and to issue fresh scoping clearance for the project as mentioned in the TOR since the project parameters (dam height, submergence area, land requirement, etc) have gone through significant changes.

We sincerely hope the EAC will not only take serious cognition of these and not recommend clearance to the project, but also direct the project proponent and EIA consultant to implement other recommendations made above.

 Amruta Pradhan (, Himanshu Thakkar (


[ii] See for example





[viii] Refer to SANDRP studies on Chenab






Himachal Small Hydropower Policy Changes Opposed

PRESS NOTE                                                                                                               August 11, 2014

Environment Groups oppose amendments in Hydropower Policy: Raise concerns over dilution of clearance procedures

Local, state level and national Environmental groups today sent a submission to the Chief Secretary, Himachal Pradesh raising strong objections to the ammendments in the Hydropower Policy made by the State Government in March 2014. The key objections of groups are to do with the gross dilution in clearance procedures by the State Government vide a notification issued on 4th March 2014.  The notification was issued post the setting up of a Committtee on Speedy Development of Small Hydro Projects in 2013, which made a series of recommendations in order to deal with the delays in the execution of Hydropower Projects. The Committtee formed was headed by the Chairman, HP Electricity Regulatory Commission (HPERC) and has mostly recommended doing away with several departmental clearances, in order to expedite the implementation of Small Hydropower Projects (below 25 MW). The most shocking and objectionable part of the March 2014 notification is that though the mandate of the committee was to look into the problems private power developers of Small Hydropower Projects face; the amendments seem to have been made applicable to all kinds of hydro power projects in the state.

The amendments introduced are intended to fast track the clearance procedure with respect to small hydels, by doing away with separate NOCs from Public Works Department (PWD), Irrigation & Public Health Department (IPH), Revenue, Fisheries and Wildlife. “These NOCs are critical because they recognise the fact that these Hydropower Projects, both small and large, have serious ecological and social impacts. For instance, the fact is that water sources do get impacted and affect the irrigation and drinking water needs of the villages in the project area. “A thorough investigation and NOC by the IPH is critical in determining whether the design of the project is feasible from the point of view of the impact on water sources”, said members of Himdhara, Environment Research and Action Collective, one of the signatories of the memorandum.

The memoradum also states that the committee constituted has been biased. “Out of the 15 members of the committee, about 6 are power producers, which include Himurja and representatives of private power producers association. There is a clear conflict of interest and we are appalled that the State government created such a committee in the first place. Further, the committee has no representation of the Department of Science, Technology and Environment or any non governmental, independent persons that would look into social and environmental issues. The committee does not even have a member of the Forest department. Considering the impacts of these projects on local livelihoods, there should have been at least one independent member with an expertise on social issues. While we feel that the very objective of the committee is aligned with the interests of the power producers, the least the government could have done was ensure that the social and environmental interests are not sidelined or ignored”, is one such issue the submission raised.The groups have alleged that no public consultation was held before finalising the recommendations or issuing the notification.

Another major objection raised is that of diluting the consultation process with the local affected villages by relying on a one time consultation with the Gram Panchayats to be headed by a Single Joint Inspection Committee. “The earlier guidelines required an NOC from the Gram Panchayat and followed two consultations, one at the initial stage and one after signing of the Implementation Agreement,” says R.S Negi of Him Lok Jagriti Manch. “This notification is unconstitutional because it undermines the the role of the Panchayats, but for tribal areas like Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Chamba, this is a clear violation of the 2006 Forest Rights Act and 1998 PESA Act, which protects the democratic rights of Gram Sabhas by making their NOC mandatory for any such development activity.”

Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP added, “It is unclear on what basis the committee came to the conclusion that the major reason for delays in case of small hydroprojects are the NOCs. There is no analysis or illustration or case study in the report to suggest this. Then how does the committee justify its recomendations?” The memorandum states that ‘the committee came to these recommendations without conducting any kind of impact assessment study or case study of any of the existing projects, their local impacts as well as their background and feasibility’.

The groups have demanded that the March 2014 notification be withdrawn and that the government should carry out a series of public consultations before ammending the Hydropower Policy 2006. Some of the key demands made in the memorandum are that NOCs from Gram Panchayats, PWD, Revenue, Fisheries, Widlife be made mandatory.“Infact, we have been demanding that small hydels be brought under the purview of EIA notification 2006 and all SHPs above 1 MW should require an environment clearance with environment impact studies and public hearing.” added members of Himdhara.

For more information contact:

R.S Negi, Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur

Manshi Asher ( and Kesang Thakur (, Himdhara, Environment Research and Action Collective

9816345198, 9816264754


Groundwater: Falling levels and contamination threaten India’s water lifeline: Urgent need for community-driven bottoms-up management

Above: Well at Lothal, possibly more than 4000 years old Photo : Srijan Bhatt, 2013

Over the last 3-4 decades, groundwater has emerged as the main source for all uses including irrigation. According to the World Bank, “India is the largest groundwater user in the world”. It has a relatively decentralized access and is convenient to use, making it the backbone of India’s agriculture and drinking water security. As a common pool resource, it also remains the only source of drinking water for most rural households. Almost 60% of the water used for irrigation in India is groundwater[1]. Estimates show that nearly 50% of urban drinking water comes from underground sources[2]. The 12th Five Year Plan recognizes that groundwater is being exploited beyond sustainable levels and with an estimated 30 million groundwater structures in play, India may be hurtling towards a serious crisis of groundwater over extraction and quality deterioration. In fact, according to the World Bank report, “If current trends continue, within 20 years 60 percent of all aquifers in India will be in a critical condition (World Bank 2005)”[3].

Traditional Well in Kerala, pic from
Traditional Well in Kerala, pic from

Quality of groundwater also needs attention. There is a dearth of safe drinking water in many parts of the country.The groundwater crisis seems to be embedded at two different levels: depletion of aquifers (quantity) and their contamination (quality).

Challenge of Quantity:

According to the 12th Five Year Plan, groundwater decline ranges from <1m to 4m annually in various parts of the country.

The report of the Expert Group on Groundwater Management and Ownership of the Planning  Commission (2007), had reported that in 2004, 28 per cent of India’s blocks were showing alarmingly high levels of groundwater use. In another instance demonstrating depletion, an assessment by NASA showed that during 2002 to 2008, India lost about 109 Billion Cubic Metres (BCM) of groundwater leading to a decline in water table to the extent of 0.33 metres per annum.

The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) monitors groundwater levels four times a year:  pre-monsoon (March/April/May), August, November and January at around 11000 wells in the country, but this number sites is till not representative of the large no of aquifers or the 30 million Indian users.

In this groundwater monitoring, CGWB takes into account various regional changes in groundwater levels. Apart from the draft of groundwater for various purposes, quantum of rainfall and its component being recharged to the ground is a major controlling factor of the depth to water levels and its fluctuations. According to the CGWB report for the time period of January 2013- January 2014, it was seen that out of the 11,204 wells studied, about 66% showed a rise in water levels, 31% recorded a fall and there  was no change recorded in 2% of the wells[4]. The report concluded that in general, there is a rise in water levels in the entire country. The report seems to be giving erroneous picture, possibly due to the good monsoon of 2013 when the long term trends are contrary to this.

However, the Union Minister of State of Water Resources recently informed Lok Sabha that around 56% of the wells in the country showed a decline in their levels in 2013 as compared to the average of the preceding decade (2003-2012)[5]. As per this information, 76% wells in Tamil Nadu, 72% wells in Punjab, 71% wells in Kerala, 69% wells in Karnataka, 66% wells in Meghalaya, 65% wells in Haryana, 64% wells in W Bengal & 62 % wells in Delhi showed depletion.

But the CGWB report does not tell us what the quality of water is like, or how feasible it is to use the available water. According to a study on the water situation in Punjab, a farmer had to sell off 4 acres of his ancestral farmland at a village in Patiala because it had turned less productive thanks to the groundwater level receding from 70-80 feet pre-1990s to 400 feet today.  “Even the water available at this depth is not good for irrigation. Those who can afford it, dig bore wells at around 1,000 feet which yields good quality water”[6]. The 12th Five Year Plan states that the absence of rational pricing for canal water, combined with free or very cheap power for agriculture, has encouraged agricultural practices which are extremely wasteful. Cheap power has encouraged excess drawal of groundwater leading to falling water tables in large parts of the country. However groundwater situation is much more complex to fit into narrow economic framework, the key issues in groundwater remain need for bottom up community driven regulation and protection and multiplication of groundwater recharging systems.

Punjab and Groundwater. Photo: S. Vishwanath "culture of the Well"
Punjab and Groundwater. Photo: S. Vishwanath ‘Culture of the Well’

In Maharashtra, it has been reported that indiscriminate groundwater abstraction is leading not only in fall of groundwater levels, but shrinking of ‘paleo-historic storages’ which can be many millenia old. One of the culprits is sugarcane cultivation in the drist parts of the state, leading to critical watersheds. According to GSDA in Maharashtra, groundwater table in some places has decreased to as much as a metre or more due to pumping.

Use of GRoundwater for Sugarcane. Photo: P.Sainath, from Drilling Holes in the Thirst Economy', The Hindu
Use of Groundwater for Sugarcane. Photo: P.Sainath, from ‘Drilling Holes in the Thirst Economy’, The Hindu

The 12th Plan recognizes that water balances for the country as a whole are of limited value since they hide the existence of areas of acute water shortage, to say nothing of the problems of quality.

The challenge of Quality:

In addition to depletion, many parts of India report severe water quality problems, causing drinking water vulnerability and huge livelihood impacts. According to reports, as we drill deeper for water, our groundwater can get contaminated with fluoride, arsenic and other impurities. In the Punjab example, it was seen that wells have to be dug deeper because of depleting groundwater, thus increasing the chances of contamination. In coastal areas salinity increases as we deplete the aquifers. Due to lax pollution control, industries in many parts of India are known to pump untreated toxic effluents into the aquifers. The untreated effluents released into the streams and rivers also affect the groundwater. Such impacts are irreversible on long term basis.

Arsenical Keratosis from: Status of groundwater arsenic contamination in the state of West Bengal India: A 20 year study report via India Environment Portal
Arsenical Keratosis from: Status of groundwater arsenic contamination in the state of West Bengal India: A 20 year study report via India Environment Portal

It has been reported this year that the western zone bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Pune has prohibited unauthorized extraction of groundwater for commercial use by businesses dealing with packaged water. This measure was taken following a petition filed by city-based Sahayog Trust stating adverse effects of high levels of fluoride in groundwater on people’s health. It stated that high levels of fluoride in groundwater were affecting villagers’ health in 12 districts[7]. This unchecked exploitation of groundwater is due to the rampant and illegal drilling of bore wells, which are dug deeper than the permissible levels, causing contamination.


Polluted Water in Borewell due to a polluting distillary in Karnataka Photo: Frontline
Polluted Water in Borewell due to a polluting distillary in Karnataka Photo: Frontline

According to a recent analysis of groundwater in Delhi, almost 30 per cent of the samples were found to contain high levels of fluoride which are beyond permissible limits. Areas in West, South-West and some of New Delhi are also affected by significant nitrate levels, caused most probably by the improper disposal of waste and sewage water around the wells. According to the report, with the Delhi Jal Board not being able to provide clean drinking water to all areas, the people dependent on direct extraction wells and tankers are at highest risk[8]. Similarly in Bengaluru, a whopping 99.1% samples tested by Mines and Geology Department of the state in 2011 were unfit for human consumption due to nitrates, iron, fluoride and excessive minerals (hard water).[9]

A rising concern for groundwater quality is the introduction of a new process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The fracking process is used to extract shale gas which is very different from conventional gas production. Unlike conventional gas extraction, which requires a well to be dug in the area where the gas is found, shale gas is found dispersed in a large area, trapped amidst impermeable rock. Its extraction requires drillers to smash rocks forcing millions of gallons of water and chemicals through cracks[10]. The US has been a pioneer in promoting and using the technology in the hope of attaining energy independence.


Shale Reserves in India From Shripad Dharmadhikary's piece : 'Shallow understanding of deep risks'
Shale Reserves in India From Shripad Dharmadhikary’s piece : ‘Shallow understanding of deep risks’

Last year, the government allowed ONGC and RIL to experiment with the extraction of shale gas. Under this policy, aimed at boosting domestic output of fossil fuels,the above companies are most likely to be permitted to extract oil and gas from shale rocks. While the implementation of this technique is underway, according to a 2013 report, France has banned fracking on concern the process contaminates underground water supply, while Germany proposes to outlaw the procedure in protected areas of the country9.

It has been seen in regions of other countries which are using fracking, e.g. in the US, that it has led to serious groundwater contamination. The major problem is the generation of waste toxic water which is formed after pumping water through the cracks for gas extraction. This waste water is disposed in the deeper layers of the earth, causing contamination of aquifers.

Vulnerable dependence on groundwater Photo: NASA
Vulnerable dependence on groundwater Photo: NASA

Government policies:

Till now, there were no effective plans by the government for managing groundwater resources. In the 12th Five Year Plan, government aims to map sources of groundwater, i.e., the aquifers. Groundwatter regulation requires a change in the policies of governance as some important legal principles governing groundwater even today were laid down in the British common law as early as the middle of the nineteenth century and have not been updated since then.

This plan proposed an Aquifer Mapping Programme2. The aim is to bring “sustainable management of our aquifers to the forefront of policymaking”. This programme seeks to map the quality, quantity and sustainability of groundwater in aquifers and encourage better groundwater management plans at the appropriate scale. It was meant to be a prerequisite and a precursor to the National Groundwater Management Program.  This started in 2012 and aimed to finish its pilot study by 2013. It includes the constitution or reformation of State agencies for groundwater and also seeks the participation of research institutes and civil society.

The government in its twelfth five year plan had also proposed a policy for participatory groundwater management2, which means that there would be implementation through collaborative approach amongst central and state organizations, research institutes, NGOs, and the local community. The management plans under this programme are to be executed by trained community workers/volunteers.  This also allows for the data to be collected by grass root workers, who are also engaged in sensitizing the local population about the general trends and optimal use of groundwater. But these government efforts are yet to show any results.

Community driven well recharge Program in Kerala, linked with rainwater harvesting Photo:
Community driven well recharge program in Kerala, linked with rainwater harvesting Photo:

It is clear that the government has completely failed on the groundwater front. First step towards recovery will be through the acceptance that groundwater is India’s water lifeline and is going to remain so for many decades to come. It needs to recognise this in the National Water Policy, Plans and programmes. Secondly, all water resources efforts need to focus on sustaining this groundwater lifeline. In this direction, community-driven management, protection of existing groundwater recharge systems and creation of many such systems have to be key elements. In spite of the serious threat to India’s groundwater lifeline, which is further accententuated in the context of changing climate, there is little progress in achieving any of these steps. It seems the groundwater situation is likely to worsen before there is any hope for improvement.

Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP (, with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar (












[11] by P. Sainath


CAG Report · Dams · Karnataka · Maharashtra

Press Release: 06.08.2014 Maharashtra and Karnataka Governments accept violating Environment Protection Act and EIA Notification for specific irrigation projects on affidavit; promise not to repeat

The Maharashtra and Karnataka governments have accepted on affidavit that they have violated the Environment Protection Act 1986 and EIA Notification. The violations have happened in taking up the work even before seeking environmental clearance and both governments have promised on affidavit that this will not be repeated. This has come to light following SANDRP writing to the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects about the violations.

SANDRP monitors Environmental clearance (EC) process of hydropower, irrigation and river valley projects, and has come across several proposals from Government of Maharashtra and Government of Karnataka (& others) wherein the Water Resource Departments seek Environmental clearance from the MoEF, even as work on the said projects is well underway on ground, violating the Environment Protection Act (1986) and the EIA Notification.

There may be several such projects from other states too which are violating Environment Laws, but the MoEF does not seem to have the capacity to monitor such violations.

The next meeting[1] of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects will consider a proposal from Maharashtra worth nearly Rs. 5000 Crores for Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation scheme, which plans to divert 23.66 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) water from Ujani Dam to irrigate over 100,000 hectares of land in Beed and Osmanabad districts. Ironically, work on Krishna Marathwada scheme is well-advanced, and the State has already spent nearly Rs 500 crores on it, without clearances. SANDRP had put these facts in front of the EAC on Dec 5, 2013, before the 70th meeting of EAC that was held on Dec 10-11, 2013. EAC had then asked the Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation (GMIDC) to stop all on going work on the project and demanded an affidavit that no work will start without EC and that the EIA Notification and EPA will not be violated further. It also demanded a Board resolution to this effect.

In response, as per documents with SANDRP, in July 2014, the Governing Council of GMIDC, chaired by the State Water Resource Minister Shri Sunil Tatkare and Chairperson of GMIDC passed a resolution, that “There will not be any recurrence of violation”. The Superintending Engineer, Osmanabad Irrigation Circle has also signed an affidavit with an undertaking that all work on the project is stopped unless EC is secured.

Similarly, Sonthi Lift Irrigation Project from Karnataka was deliberated for clearance in the presence of officials from Karnataka, when the project was almost complete on ground. SANDRP brought this to the notice of the EAC which then issued notice to Krishna Bhagya Jal Nigam Limited. The EAC or MoEF did not take strong action against the proponent and in fact recommended Stage 1 Clearance for the project (April 2014) which is already nearing completion. This decision of EAC was without justification or legal mandate.

Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited’s (KKNL) Shiggaon Lift Irrigation Project too will be discussed during the upcoming 76th EAC meeting. The project was discussed in the EAC on September 2013, when as it was formally inaugurated by Karnataka CM in November 2012 itself! In case of Shiggaon too, SANDRP pointed out the violations to the EAC, MoEF, which them issued a notice to the KKNL to file an affidavit about the violation and an undertaking to stop work and not resume it unless EC is granted. The KKNL has filed an affidavit stating “there will be no recurrence of violations”, thus accepting preset violations.

Similar violations of EPA (1986) and EIA Notification (2006) have occurred in case of Singtalur Lift Irrigation scheme in Karnataka. The state has also willfully escaped Environment Appraisal for Yettinahole/ Netravathi diversion project under fraudulent claims.

In case of Maharashtra, the recent CAG report 2014 gave a list of 249 projects that do not have EC and more than 89 do not have Forest Clearance (FC), violating the Forest Conservation Act (1980), causing a loss of thousands of crores to the state. SANDRP has made submissions about many such projects undertaken by WRD, Maharashtra without requisite clearances. Some of these include Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme in Solapur, Lower Tapi Irrigation Project in Jalgaon and over 10 Lift Irrigation schemes based on Ujani Dam. MoEF has not taken any action for projects which do not approach the EAC for clearances, even when presented with evidence of violations, thus ignoring blatant violations.

Environmental Clearances are critical from environmental and social point of view and they are also important as a third-party expert appraisal of the project. The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MoEF is supposed to look not only at the environmental and social impacts of the project, but also assesses the overall optimality, feasibility and justification, hydrologic soundness of the project, and also the veracity of the supposed benefits of the project. This is also the only platform which includes a Public Hearing through which local communities have a chance to put forth their concerns, BEFORE the project comes up. Escaping Environmental Appraisal thus does not only mean flouting a legal requirement, but an absence of any third party appraisal of the project.

In a state like Maharashtra which has seen huge scams and corruption in irrigation projects, such a third party appraisal is critical from environment as well as larger public welfare point of view.

In this context it is pertinent to note that para 5 of the MOEF’s Office Memorandum dated 12.12.2012 dealing with violations states:  “The State Government concerned will need to initiate credible action on the violation by invoking powers under Section 19 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for taking necessary legal action under Section 15 of the Act for the period for which the violation has taken place and evidence provided to MoEF of the credible action taken.” (Emphasis added)

We are glad that the EAC took cognition of our submissions and refused to clear some projects,  asking for affidavits on violations from Maharashtra and Karnataka governments on Krishna Marathawada LIS and Shiggaon LIS respectively. However, in case of Krishna Marathawada LIS in Maharashtra and Shiggaon Lift Irrigation Scheme in Karnataka, no action has been taken under section 19 or section 15, and hence we hope EAC and MoEF will ask for action as legally mandated. In any case, they have no mandate to consider these projects till such action is taken.

We hope rule of law will be followed in letter and spirit.


Parineeta Dandekar (, 09860030742)

[1] 76th EAC meeting will be held on 11th August in MoEF, Delhi

Ministry of Environment and Forests · NBWL

“We want a robust National Board for Wildlife”: Submission from several organisations and individuals

4 August 2014


  • Shri. Narendra Modi,

Prime Minister of India and Chairperson, National Board for Wildlife

  • Shri. Prakash Javadekar,

Minister of State of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (IC) and

Chairperson, Standing Committee, National Board for Wildlife

  • Shri. V. Rajagopalan,

Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change

  • Shri. S. S. Garbyal,

Director General of Forests and Special Secretary,

Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change

Subject: Request to urgently amend the flawed constitution of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) as indicated in Notification issued by MoEF dated 22 July 2014 & not hold any meetings based on this flawed notification.

Respected Prime Minister, Hon. Minister and Sirs,

It is with great concern that we write to you about the constitution of the new NBWL as indicated in the Government Notification dated 22ndJuly 2014.

The term of the previous NBWL and its standing committee ended in Sept 2013, as was noted by the then chairperson of the standing committee and recorded in the minutes of the latest (Sept 2013) meeting of the standing committee (see: “At the outset, Hon’ble Chairperson while welcoming all participants to the 30th Meeting of Standing Committee of NBWL expressed deep appreciation of the contribution of the non-official members in the meetings of the Standing Committee of NBWL and their selfless dedication for the cause of conservation. She added that the present term of NBWL was coming to an end on 5th September 2013 and that the discussions and deliberations made by the present members during the Standing Committee of NBWL meetings had helped the Chair in taking judicious decisions.” (Emphasis added.)

So country was without NBWL and standing committee for more than the ast ten months and the country expected that the government would constitute a proper NBWL honouring the letter and spirit of the Wildlife Protection Act and the need to protect wildlife and biodiversity in protected areas. The concerned people of the country stand disappointed by the July 22, 2014 notification.

At the outset, the Notification dated 22 July 2014 is ambiguous about the constitution of the NBWL and its Standing Committee. It is not even available on MoEF website.  The notification seems to be in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act in letter and spirit and is not in the interest of the wildlife, biodiversity or protected areas in the country. A comparative reading of Sept 2003, May 2007 and Sept 2010 notifications of the MoEF about constituting NBWL further strengthen this view.

The notification only mentions a small subset of the NBWL members as listed in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002. The limited list  is in violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and its subsequent amendment in 2002 by way of the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002. The Director General of Forests is on record having said that this is the entire NBWL. (Please see: This confirms the illegality of the notification.

We would respectfully like to submit that a notification issued by the government cannot override or violate an Act passed by the Parliament, with the ascent of the Hon. President of the Union of India.

Main points of divergence between Wildlife (Protection)Amendment Act, 2002 and the Notification issued on 22nd July, 2014 are as follows:

  1. Clause (e) of the Wildlife Protection Amendment Act, 2002 states:

“(e) five persons to represent non-governmental organisations to be nominated by the Central Government”

However, the Notification dated 22 July 2014 does not nominate any NGO. The only name notification gives for NGO member, namely GEER is not an NGO.

The nominated “Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation, Gandhinagar, Gujarat” is a Gujarat Government organisation and not an NGO. Its website is, says, it has been set up in 1982 by the Forests & Environment Department, Government of Gujarat” and the Chairperson of its board is Chief Minister of Gujarat while majority board members too are from Gujarat Government. Thus GEER stands disqualified from being nominated as an NGO.

  1. Clause (f) of the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002 states:

“(f) ten persons to be nominated by the Central Government from amongst eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists”

However, the notification dated 22 July 2014 replaces this by just two people.

“(i) Prof. Raman Sukumar,

(ii) Dr. H.S. Singh.”

  1. Clause (v) of the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002 states:

“v) one representative each from ten States and Union territories by rotation, to be nominated by the Central Government”

However, the notification dated 22 July 2014 replaces this with just five states.

In view of the above, the notification dated 22 July 2014 violates Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act 2002 and should be urgently taken back. Any meetings or any decisions taken by this board will not stand legal scrutiny.

Apart from the legal issue, it is important for a board like NBWL to have a broader regional representation of independent experts, NGOs and members and this was one of the the objectives behind  nominating these members on the NBWL and its standing committee. We hope that the government will appreciate this issue. Indian Wildlife, biodiversity and its habitat like the protected areas, forests, rivers, wetlands, etc., are under tremendous pressure and we hope the new government is committed to conserve our rich wildlife heritage.

We therefore look forward to urgent action on the points mentioned above by immediately taking back the 22nd July 2014 Notification and replacing it with a notification that spells out constitution of NBWL respecting the WLPA in letter and spirit and also respecting India’s wildlife and its dwindling habitat. We hope that no meetings of the NBWL happen before a correct constitution of the board.

Looking forward to your response on the points raised above.

 Yours sincerely,

  1. No.
Name/ Organisation Location  
 1. Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group Pune
 2. Dr. Bhaskar Acharya, Researcher, Bangalore Bangalore
 3. Dr. Sunil K. Choudhary University Dept. of BotanyT.M.Bhagalpur UniversityBhagalpur-812007, India
 4. Dr. Rajeev Raghavan South Asia Co-Chair, IUCN SSC/WI Freshwater Fish Specialist GroupMember, IUCN SSC Red List CommitteeMember, IUCN WCPA/SSC Joint Task Force on Biodiversity and Protected Areas
 5. Shripad Dharmadhikary Pune
 6. Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP 86-D, AD block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi, 09968242798 Delhi
 7. Lyla Bavadam
 8. Ranjana Pal
 9. Dr. Latha Anantha, River Research Centre, Kerala
 10. Cara Tejpal, Conservationist Delhi
 11. Girish A. Punjabi, Researcher, Pune
 12. Nachiket Kelkar, Ecologist Bangalore
 13. Shardul Bajikar, Ecologist, Mumbai Mumbai
 14. Adv. Indavi Tulpule Murbad, Thane
 15. Anand Arya Delhi
 16. Vijay Diwan, Aurangabad Social Forum Aurangabad
 17. Manshi Asher, Himdhara, Himachal Pradesh,
 18. Jitn Yumnam, Citizens Concern for Dams and Development, Committee on the Protection of Natural Resources in Manipur, Centre for Research and Advocacy Imphal, Manipur
 19. Samir Mehta, River Basin Friends Mumbai
 20. Bharat Seth, International Rivers Delhi
 21. Joy KJ, SOPPECOM Pune
 22. Deepali Nandwani
 23.  Ravi, Namita and Medha Potluri.
 24. Jagdeep Chhokar
 25. Nitu.S
 26. Munish Kaushik
 27. Ramanathan Sriram
 28. Soma Jha
 29. Dr. V K Gupta
 30. Sabyasachi Patra
 31. Manoj Gupta
 32. Sarita Kumar
 33. Dipu Karuthedathu,Member BNHS, Co-Moderator of keralabirder egroups 301, Jaya Emerald, Maruthinagar, Bangalore
 34. Aditya Panda Naturalist | Wildlife Conservationist | Photographer Bhubaneswar
 35. Virat Jolli
 36. Santanu ChacravertiDISHA Kolkata
 37. Smita Pradhan
 38. Amrita Neelakantan
 39. Pranav Capila
 40. Bipasha Majumder
 41. Anurag Sharma
 42. Anubhuti Sharma
 43. Jl Singh
 44. Vandana Singh
 45. Sumit Dookia
 46. Nikhil Devasar
 47. Jassal J S
 48. Jaikant Saini Bharatpur,Rajasthan
 49. Ranjan Panda, Water Initiatives, Odisha Sambalpur, Odisha
 50. Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, 09860030742 Pune

Additional endorsements:

51. Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma, Delhi

52. Rohit Prajapati, Prayavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat

53. Dr. Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Landscape Ecologist, Bangalore

54. Goa Foundation, Goa

55. Mhadei Research Centre, Goa

56. Shankar Sharma, Karnataka

57. Sahil Nijhawan, Delhi

58. C. Udayshankar, Andhra Pradesh

59. M.D. Khattar

60. Kaustuv Chatterjee

61. Shri Santosh Martin, ex-honorary wildlife warden, Bellary district, UP

62. Ms. Carmen Miranda, Chair, Save Goa Campaign UK, London

63. Nandikesh Sivalingam, GreenPeace India





Sewage Management of Nagpur: The story & the sub-stories

MSPGCL (Maharashtra State Power Generation Corporation Ltd) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) to supply treated water from municipal sewage plant as the water linkage to meet additional demand of MSPGCL’s proposed expansion plan. MSPGCL has agreed to pay NMC Rs 150 million (15 crores) every year for the next 15 years as royalty fee. MSPGCL has two existing thermal power plants (TPP) near Nagpur City. One of the TPP is 840 MW capacity at Khaperkheda, and the other is of 1100 MW is at Koradi. MSPGCL has planned for three new power units – one at Khaperkheda and two at Koradi, each with 660 MW capacity. MSPGCL has also agreed to construct a new sewage treatment plant with tertiary treatment capability with the capacity to pump the treated water to its thermal power stations.

Koradi Thermal Power Plant

Reusing treated sewage water for thermal power project is a welcome move. However it cannot be seen in isolation. Overall performance of MSPGL and NMC in terms of use of water as a resource and treatment has also to be looked at. Putting together several pieces of information reveals that there is a lot more to this decision. As far as sewage treatment of Nagpur is concerned, NMC is opting for public private participation through sewage treatment. There are layers of irregularities to this decision as well.

Given below is a quick overview of happenings.

MSPGCL opts for treated sewage due to rejection of fresh water allocation for the TPP from Pench River[i]: MSPGCL had the existing allocation from Pench River for 55 Million m3/ year. With the addition of three new power units, MSPGCL was looking for additional water requirement of 58 Mm3/ year starting in 2015, when the new power plants come online.

Following a request from MSPGCL, the Irrigation department of Government of Maharashtra, increased the water allocation from 55 to 67 Mm3/year with a maximum use of 75 Mm3/year within 10 percent variation. However, this was projected to be insufficient for all three units, and there was no additional freshwater allocation available for MSPGCL from any other source.

Idea of using treated sewage water as a water linkage for TPP stemmed from the concept of NEXUS[ii]. NEXUS is a concept and an approach that aims to boost potential to increase overall resource use efficiency and benefits in production and consumption by addressing externalities across sectors.

To resolve the issue of water availability for MSPGCL, USAID, through its project titled Water Energy NEXUS Phase – II (WENEXA – Phase II), initiated a feasibility study that included demand assessment and evaluation of alternate water sources. The study assessed feasibility of use of high quality tertiary treated water from the city of Nagpur’s wastewater plant. WENEXA – Phase II project also implemented a six month long pilot plant to showcase achievable output water quality and get buy-in from both NMC as well as MSPGCL that reuse is effective and feasible.

MoU between MSPGCL and NMC has been signed in year 2009 based on results of this study, pilot plant data and the potential for getting good quality reclaimed water in short period of time. Based on this agreement, NMC being a municipality, approached the central Government and received a grant for a sum of Rs 800 million towards the project under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), while the remainder of the cost Rs 1200 million to be borne by MSPGCL.

NMC officials said that STP work had started in March 2012 and was expected to be completed by March 2014. The plant is 50% complete. The pipeline from the STP to the two thermal power units is also half complete. Trial run will take place in 2014 or early 2015[iii].

The centre on December 22, 2006 approved the STP project with installed capacity to treat 135 million liters per day (MLD) sewage water at a cost of Rs 130.11 crore.

Due to delay and other reasons the project’s cost increased to Rs 195 crore during work order stage[iv].

NMC’s monthly progress report on JNNURM projects says 56% of the works have been completed. Expenditure on the project comes to Rs 95.76 crore as of January 31 (2014). The centre approved Rs 26.02 crore, and state had released Rs 10.40 crore as on January 31. NMC and MSPGCL had contributed Rs 50.80 crore.

MSPGCL polluting river Kanhan Here is it relevant to note that MSPGCL is discharging untreated effluent from Khaparkheda and Koradi power plants into Kanhan River containing toxic fly-ash. NMC draws this water at its 240 MLD water treatment plant (WTP) and supplies it to the almost 40% of the city, mostly North and East Nagpur.

Print media report of January 2013[v] states that the discharge spot is near Sillewada village that is located near the 500 MW unit of Khaparkheda plant. Sillewada is not located along any major road and only locals know about its existence. Moreover, the discharge spot has to be reached on foot through bushes.

Map Koradi TPP

The report also states that water of the river is highly polluted with poisonous substances like lead, arsenic, mercury and heavy metals that cause a host of ailments including cancer. MSPGCL uses coal having 50% fly ash against maximum permissible limit of 34%. The electrostatic precipitator and bag filters of Koradi plant are not functioning. MPCB has not taken any action against MSPGCL for blatant violation of norms.

Kanhan River

MSPGCL’s expansion plan for the 36-year-old Koradi plant was given environmental clearance on January 4, 2010[vi] against condition of installing Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD). While considering the request of MSPGCL to review the condition regarding installation of FGD system was considered by Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) in its 54th meeting on August 6-7, 2012, the Committee noted that the data submitted by MSPGCL appeared to be inadequate and inconclusive.

The EAC also noted that there were several complaints of fly ash management for Koradi Plant. That a PIL was pending in the Nagpur Bench of the High Court of Bombay was purportedly with respect to hazards of fly ash from power plants run by MSPGCL including the Koradi plant[vii].

NMC plans a barrage at polluted River Kanhan for drinking water supply NMC plans to construct a barrage at the confluence of Kanhan and Kolara rivers[viii]. The project aims to increase water supply from Kanhan water treatment plant, which would benefit East, North and few parts of South Nagpur. NMC had constructed water treatment plant with installed capacity to treat 240 MLD water. However, the plant cannot function to full capacity due to shortage of raw water from Kanhan River.

A proposal has been tabled before the standing committee seeking approval for Rs 1.82 crore for the construction of barrage[ix]. The standing committee was set to give its nod in the meeting organized on July 14, 2014.

Sewage treatment for Nagpur The city of Nagpur is generating over 450 MLD sewage daily of which NMC is presently treating only 80 MLD[x]. (Details of water supply and sources of water provided in Annexure I)

NMC is operating sewage treatment plant (STP) with an installed capacity of 100 MLD at Bhandewadi and treats 80 MLD water at the STP since 2001. The total cost of treating water comes to around Rs 3 crore per year. In these ten years, NMC has let treated sewage water flow in untreated sewage water of Nag River. Remaining untreated sewage flows into the Nag, Pilli and Pora rivers. The untreated sewage from Nag River flows into Kanhan river, then Wainganga river and finally into Gosikhurd dam.

Bhandewadi Sewage Treatment Plant

NMC has plans to earn additional revenue of Rs 25-30 crore per year from treated sewage water. Now NMC has decided to enhance STP capacity to 200 MLD on PPP model. The private operator will enhance the plant capacity followed by operation and maintenance on his own. The operator will sell this water to the interested parties like industries).

PPP project for NMC’s own STP started before JNNURM approval On 27 Sep 2013, the NMC standing committee approved a proposal to construct a sewage treatment plant (STP) on public-private partnership (PPP) basis. It issued a work order to a joint venture of private companies -Vishwaraj Infrastructure Limited (VIL), Drake & Scull Water and Power LLC, and Vasundhara Drills and Drainage Private Limited.

The project is a part of the sewage system plan submitted to the central government under JNNURM scheme. Interestingly the work order has been issued even before the plan has received a nod from the centre. The tendering process for this project started in September 2010. However, the JNNURM plan was submitted to the centre only in February 2013[xi]. Also there is a difference of around Rs 400 crore in the operation and maintenance cost of NMC and the operator awarded tender.

Strong political linkages in PPP projects Media reports that Vishwaraj Infrastructure Ltd. is believed to have strong political linkages with the ruling party[xii]. VIL is also involved in the PPP contract for water supply of Nagpur city. Concession agreement for the water supply PPP has also been signed with a consortium of VIL and Veolia Water India Ltd[xiii].

Selective application of NEXUS and PPP for Sewage Treatment On one hand though MSPGCL is taking waste water for water linkage of TPP, on the other hand it is severely polluting Kanhan River. It only shows that concept of NEXUS has been adopted selectively and not holistically. Moreover the trigger for using waste water is actually the rejection of more fresh water allocation from Pench River by WRD. Releasing polluted water to the river is in clear contradiction with the NEXUS concept which talks about catering to the externalities across the sector. Both NMC and MSPGCL have adopted the concept of NEXUS only to ensure monetary gains. The link goes further and the Kanhan River water made toxic by MSPGCL plants is set to be supplied for the people of Nagpur city.

While reuse of treated sewage by thermal power plant is welcome, in this case, it is being done only after the plant failed to get freshwater supply in the first place. The proposal is still a welcome move. However, when we take the full picture into account we see that the same thermal power project is polluting city’s water supply. PPP for sewage treatment seems to be adopted more to serve political links than the needs of the city. The project is being pushed even before it gets requisite sanctions.

We had earlier written about the reality of the 24X7 water supply claims vs reality in the same city of Nagpur. One thing that clearly comes across the two articles is that in India’s Urban Water Sector, as can be seen from Nagpur example, there is no drive to achieve greater democracy, or greater transparency, accountability and participation. Till such inclusive management is achieved, no amount of new ideas, finances, technologies, infrastructure or partnerships is going to help.

Amruta Pradhan

Annexure I

Present water sources for Nagpur Present Annual Raw Water reservation from various sources for city water supply & respective present drawal is as below:


Source: DPR of ‘24×7 Water Supply Project for Nagpur City’
Source Annual Reservation Actual Drawal
Mm3/year MLD Mm3/year MLD
Kanhan River 55.00 150.70 43.80 120.00
Pench Project (Pench Right Bank Canal) 112.00 306.88 143.00 400.00
78.00 213.72
Gorewada Lake 5.80 16 6.80 20.00
Total 250.80 687.30 217.60 540.00


As per billing by Irrigation department to NMC. Losses through Canal seepage in the length of 48.50 Km length of travel is @ 20-25% as per the observation of Water audit & Leak detection Study.


Present Treated Water Supply from Various WTPs is as follows-

Source: DPR of ‘24×7 Water Supply Project for Nagpur City’
WTP Capacity
Kanhan Water Works 120.00 MLD
Pench Phase I 136.00 MLD
Pench Phase II 140.00 MLD
Pench Phase III, Stage I 100.00 MLD to 120.00 MLD
Old Gorewada 16.00   MLD
  1. 00 to 530.00 MLD




[ii] It aims to reduce trade-offs and generate additional benefits to outweigh the transaction costs associated with stronger integration across sectors. NEXUS focuses on cross-sectoral management that boosts overall resource use efficiency. Turning waste and by-products into a resource for other products and services like waste energy integration is one of the most important focus areas.












Floods · Nepal

Massive landslide blocks Sunkoshi River, Downstream Nepal-India under threat;

Attempt to blast the dam starts; 8 killed, many more at missing, at risk;
Google map of the location, the landslide location seems just upstream of the dam
Google map of the location, the landslide location seems just upstream of the dam

A massive landslide at around 2.30 am on Aug 2, 2014 has blocked the flow of the river Sunkoshi in Nepal. Twelve hours later and after first failed attempt by the Nepali army to blast the artificial dam, the reservoir behind the dam continues to swell. Already eight people have been confirmed dead, over 300 are reported missing[1]. Many more are at risk in the downstream Nepal and further downstream India. Sunami Power house has already been inundated. The Landslide seems close to an existing dam on the river. If this is true, when the landslide dam bursts either due to the army efforts or due to the water pressure, it is likely to take the dam with it and this could increase the downstream impacts.

A view of the landslide dam photo courtesy
A view of the landslide dam photo courtesy

Prof David Petley wrote to SANDRP about this: “It is very dangerous indeed.  I know this site very well as we have been working in that valley for a decade or so. I suspect that the breach will happen quite quickly and will be very damaging.”

Bishyari much more devastating than GLOFs” Former Water Resources Minister and well known water expert Dipak Gyawali told SANDRP: “Bishyari is the Nepali word for this kind of a “landslide dammed lake outburst flood” much more devastating than the GLOFs . This is a geo-hydrological phenomenon and as the pictures show, brings down entire mountains with thick forests on them. This one was on an old landslide still active but exacerbated by the recent spate of hydropower as well as road blasting.” Jayanta Bandyopadhyay and Dipak Gyawali were the first to put the word ‘bishyari’ in English, in a 1994 much-quoted article in Mountain Research and Development.

Massive scale of the landslide dam, photo thanks to Kathmandu Post
Massive scale of the landslide dam, photo thanks to Kathmandu Post

Indian border is about 260 kilometers downstream from the landslide when measured along the river and on the way there is also the Kosi Barrage at Bhaimanagar / Rajbiraj (correction from earlier reported distance).

A view of the massive landslide dam, photo courtesy
A view of the massive landslide dam, photo courtesy

This morning, an email from our friend Ratan Bhandari from Kathmandu informed of this development, and it seems like a bad news to precede Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal, but it could also be a timely wake up call not to go for massive interventions in the Himalayan states.

Rising reservoir behind landslide on Sunkoshi river,
Rising reservoir behind landslide on Sunkoshi river,

The massive landslide blocked Sunkoshi River at Mankha VDC in Sindhupalchowk[2] district. Around two dozens houses were buried in the landslide. The landslide has also buried Arniko Highway at Dam Site in Mankha VDC. Locals in Barhabishe, Lamesanghu, Khadichaur, Dolalghat, among other surrounding areas have moved to safety fearing that the blocked river may burst anytime. A Nepal Army chopper has been deployed to intensify the rescue work. The government has mobilized security forces to break a landslide dam that has blocked the flow of water in Sunkoshi River[3] in Jure of Mankha VDC, Sindhupalchowk.

A view of the dam and the river, photo courtesy
A view of the dam and the river, photo courtesy

The Central Natural Disaster Relief Committee (CNDRC) has asked the Ministry of Home Affairs[4] to declare the areas downstream the blocked Sunkoshi River, from Jure of Sindhupalchok to Nepal-India border, “crisis-hit region” as the threat of outburst floods loomed large. It is hoped that the Indian authorities in downstream Indian areas are alert and doing necessary steps for the protection of life and property in India.

Landslide and the dam photo courtesy
Landslide and the dam photo courtesy

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the water level rose to above 130 metres. About 100 houses on the bank of the river have been submerged in Jure of Ramche VDC-5[5], the Araniko highway itself has been blocked.

Houses affected by landslide, photo courtesy
Houses affected by landslide, photo courtesy

The Sunima hydropower project (constructed in 2004-5) that has already been inundated is a 2.6 MW project built by Himal Hydro[6]. The dam of the 10.5 MW Sunkoshi hydro project (completed in 1972 with Chinese aid) is immediately downstream from the landslide, and is likely to face damage along with its power station further downstream whenever the dam breaches.

A view of Sanima Power House in Sindhupalchok, photo courtsy Himalayan Times, Nepal
A view of Sanima Power House in Sindhupalchok, photo courtsy Himalayan Times, Nepal

Dr David Petley, who has traveled in the area writes in his blog[7]: “However, it is now a crisis.  In the peak of monsoon season the river flow is high, and the images show that the lake is filling quickly.  The images suggest that there is no reason to be confident that the dam will not breach rapidly when overtopped – indeed, quite the opposite I think as the length of the dam is not large and the materials appear to be fine grained.  A breach now could generate a very large flood; when full the effects could be very serious… So what to do? Well of course the first measure is to evacuate people downstream, and this has started.  The second is to put a warning system in place, probably at this stage consisting of an observation team with appropriate communications.  The third will be to start to excavate a channel, which will require heavy machinery… This is a very difficult problem to manage, so Nepal should seek international help.  The best qualified people are the teams that dealt with the valley blocking landslide crisis after the Wenchuan earthquake in China.  Given the strategic importance of this road, the Chinese may want to help.  However, time is very limited.”

About the possible causes of the massive landslide, this article says it is partly due to the after effects of last year’s landslide at the same site:

It also says that the district has seen such landslide blocked rivers causing disasters in the past too including the ones in 1982 (in Balephi village of the district when 97 people had lost their lives) and 1996 (54 people had died due to a landslide caused by dam outburst flood in Larcha, another village of the district).

A view of the blocked Sunkoshi River in Sindhupalchok, Photo courtesy Himalayan Times Nepal
A view of the blocked Sunkoshi River in Sindhupalchok, Photo courtesy Himalayan Times Nepal

We hope all such necessary steps are urgently taken and Indian government, Bihar state government and Nepal government coordinates in this on urgent basis.

A man taking a photo of the artificial lake formed due to Sunkoshi River Blockade in Sindhupalchok
A man taking a photo of the artificial lake formed due to Sunkoshi River Blockade in Sindhupalchok

Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP

PS: According to, the inflow is about 150 cubic meters per second, so in 11 hrs the volume stored would be about 6 million cubic meters. The impact on the downstream would depend on the way this water gets released. (This link thanks to comment on Dave Petley blog.) The lake overflow could have just started at around 1.30 Indian Std Time, but it is not clear what is the outflow rate.

PS 2: Comments from Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra:
A. Flood warning has already being issued by the district administration in Saharsa about 3 hours ago that there is an imminent danger of floods along the embankment and the most vulnerable point is the site of 1984 breach.

Map with orange line showing the path that the flood pulse from the landslide dam will take to reach Kosi in India, FMIS map
Map with orange line showing the path that the flood pulse from the landslide dam will take to reach Kosi in India, FMIS map

B. There is some activity at the Bhimnagar barrage with officials and engineers keeping an eye over the situation. I am told that the Government has asked its officers of the Kosi Project at Birpur to move to safer places. Otherwise, there is calm at Birpur.

C. I have just received a message from a friend of mine from village Bela in Marauna block of Supaul district (this village is located within the Kosi embankments) and they have not received any warning from the Government and only know that something odd has happened in Nepal.

D. Villages near Madhepur block along the western embankment of the Kosi have not received any warning. They are not aware if anything wrong has happened in Nepal.

E. खबर है की सुन कोसी नदी की धारा पहाड़ धंसने की वजह से बाधित हो गयी है। इस की वजह से नदी के सामने बाँध बन गया है और ये किसी भी समय टूट सकता है जिस से निचले इलाकों को खतरा हो सकता है। मेरी अभी सहरसा शहर, सिमरी बख्तियारपुर के कठघरा गावों, ग्राम बेला (मारौना प्रखंड), जिला सुपौल; बीरपुर (कोसी बराज के निकट), कमलपुर (प्रखंड निर्मली) – जिला सुपौल और मधेपुर के अपने मित्रों से बात हुई है। सहरसा से खबर है कि वहां प्रशासन ने संभावित बाढ़ की चेतावनी दी है मगर सुपौल में अभी तक ऐसा नहीं हुआ है। बेला, कठघरा, भेजा में लोगों को इतनी जानकारी तो है की नेपाल में कुछ गड़बड़ हुआ है और नदी मे ज़्यादा पानी छोड़े जाने की आशंका है पर उस से ज़्यादा जानकारी नहीं है। सहरसा में कोसी तटबंध के किनारे बसे लोगों को संभावित बाढ़ के प्रति आगाह किया गया है।

F. (1700 hrs) ये जगह त्रिबेनी के ऊपर सुन कोसी नदी पर है. त्रिबेनी भारत – नेपाल सीमा से करीब ६० की। मी। पर है और जहां भू स्खलन हुआ है वो करीब ७० की. मी. दूर होगा। अगर ये मिट्टी का बाँध टूट जाता है या तोड़ दिया जाता है जैसा की नेपाली सेना कोशिश कर रही है, ऐसा बताते हैं, तो पानी को भारतीय सीमा तक आने मे समय लगेगा और तय्यारी के लिये कुछ समय मिल जायेगा।मेरी अभी बिहार राज्य आपदा प्रबंधन प्राधिकार से बात हुई है और उन्होने बताया की राज्य का आपदा प्रबंधन विभाग सक्रिय है और एन। डी। आर। एफ। के जवान सीमा पर पहुंच रहे हैं। बेला (मारौना प्रखंड , जी सुपौल) वालों ने स्थानीय प्रशासन से बात की थी। उनका कहना है कि आप लोगों का गाओं ऊँची जगह पर बसा हुआ है इसलिये चिंता की कोई बात नहीं है।

PS 3: Just (1600 hrs) called Control Room of NDMA (ph no:  011 26701728) and Mr Kulwinder informed me that Nepal govt informed NDMA at 1136 hrs about this and NDMA in turn has alerted Bihar Govt, Home Ministry, Cabinet Secretariat and others, he said PMO would also be aware of this when I told him PM is going to Nepal tomorrow. They have kept 9th NDRF battalion at Patna/ Kolkata on alert. He was aware that Koshi would be affected. He is not aware of any cooperation from Indian side on this.

PS 4: 1730 hrs: According to reliable sources, there is debate between Nepalese authorities saying that all the gates of the Koshi barrage should be kept open for the flood wave to safely pass and elements on Indian side that, that should wait for the flood wave to come. A contingent of senior officials are being airdropped to the barrage site with  letter from CM.  The second blast at the landslide dam in the meantime managed to lower the upstream reservoir water level by 2 m, but it is not clear if the outflow is continuing or has stopped.

1820 hrs: All 56 gates of Kosi Barrage have  been opened, good to see that better sense have prevailed.

PS 5: Update from

(Nepali time 4:00 pm) “The Sunkoshi River has started to flow after Nepal Army (NA) detonated two explosives. The water volume in the river downstream has increased as compared to the regular one. Authorities believe resumption of river flow will put off possible damages.” The landslide dam has created reservoir of 90-100 m height.

“Three eastern districts, Sunsari, Saptari and Udayapur have maintained high alert to remain safe from the possible Saptakoshi River inundation. The local administration has already begun its task to alert the people of riverside in Sunsari to shift them to safer places while the administration in Udaypur and Saptari districts have made arrangements to inform people about the blockage of river and aware people about the possible flooding, said Sharma. It is possible that as many as 500 VDCs in the districts and Bihar State of India would be inundated if the blocked landslide debris opened at once and the Koshi barrage was damaged.”


“Some 14 VDCs in Khotang district are at high risk of inundation after the landslide in Sindhupalchok district blocked the passage of Bhote Koshi River. Bahunidanda, Dikuwa, Chyasmitar, Durchhim, Dhitung, Rajapani, Batase, Chichkiramche, Barahapokhari, Saunechaur, Suntale and other VDC that are on the side of Sunkoshi river are at high risk of flooding. The District Administration Office and District Police Office have urged the locals to shift in the safe areas to remain away from the possible risks. Assistant Chief District Officer Arjun Rai said that the locals of the low land site have been asked to move to higher ground. ”


“‘Sri Lanka tapu’, which lies in middle of Sapta Koshi River, has been declared flood crisis zone in view of possible flash flood caused by likely bursting of artificial lake formed by landslide in Sunkoshi River. Local administration declared the area flood crisis zone which has settlements of over 12,000 persons on Saturday.  Security personnel along with government and non-government organizations have been deployed to aware and shift locals to safer places in east and west of the island which is home to indigenous nationalities of Tarai and Hilly regions. Chief District Officer Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal said that security agencies have been directed to shift children and elders along with valuables to a safer place. Local administration has also urged people in seven other VDCs— Barahachhetra, Mahendra Nagar, Prakashpur, Madhuban, Paschim Kusahawa, Shreepur and Haripur— to move to a safer place. The possible flash flood will reach Sapta Koshi barrage in around 10 hours, and all 56 floodgates have been opened in view of possible danger, informed CDO Dhakal. ”


Water flow has started from Northern side of the landslide dam. Not clear at what time and extent of flow.

PS 6: This is one of the first Indian news reports on this impending disaster:

This is possibly one of the most detailed report on this issue so far:

This one seems way off the mark when it says the Kosi barrage is about 270 km from the landslide site:

PS 7: The damage to power system in Nepal is much more extensive, and loss of generation to the extent of more than 66 MW may be suffered as per this report:

“…two iron gates, which diverted water to intake of Sunkoshi Hydropower Project (10 megawatts), was swept away by flood in the wee hours on Saturday morning… Similarly, power supply from 45 megawatts Upper Bhotekoshi Hydropower Project has also been disrupted… Likewise, 11 kV transmission line for evacuating power from Chaku Khola (total 6 megawatts) and Bhairab Kunda (3 megawatts) and another 33kV transmission line for evacuating power from Sunkoshi Hydropower Project (10 megawatts) has also been damaged… Officials at Load Dispatch Center of NEA also said Sunkoshi River flooding may breach dams and affect power supply from Khimti Hydropower Project and others hydropower projects on the Tamakoshi River basin.”

PS 8: This estimates of floodflow from CWC and Indian Embassy in Kathmandu are scary (

“The Central Water Commission has estimated a discharge of 14 lakh cusecs of water but the Indian embassy in Kathmandu has informed the National Disaster Management Authority about the likely discharge of 25 lakh cusecs of water post blast. In either case, 40% of the discharge will gush into Bihar.

The water will take about 12 hours to hit the Kosi barrage which has the capacity of sustaining pressure of only eight lakh cusecs. The flood, if it occurs, would affect a population of 1.5 lakh in Bihar’s eight districts, including 50,000 people in 22 panchayats of Supaul district alone.”

It is well known that Kosi embankment breached in Aug 2008 when flow was below 1.5 lakh cusecs, so even if barrage is able to take 8 lakh cusecs (seems unlikely), embankment is likely breached at much lower flows.

PS 9: From:

“As the dam resulting from the landslide grew larger by the hour, at least three human settlements became submerged. Damsite bazaar in Mankha-1, Kagune village in Mankha-5 and another settlement in Tekanpur-5 vanished into the water. Security personnel rescued 16 people from Damsite and seven from Tekanpur villages before these became submerged; no one was rescued from Kagune village.

According to Sindhupalchok District Police Office, 26 houses at Damsite, 16 at Kagune and seven houses at Tekanpur disappeared. At Damsite, a school was also buried under the landslide-induced dam.

Local authorities say explosions set off by the NA have slightly reduced the risk of flood outburst. “The risk has been reduced,” said Chief District Officer Gopal Prasad Parajuli. “The water volume in the landslide-induced dam is declining. The blocked water is now flowing through the small channels created by the explosions, albeit only partially.””

A view of water flowing out of landslide dam, photo from
A view of water flowing out of landslide dam, photo from

The last para is good news since  it seems to suggest (as can also be seen from above photo) that water has slowly started flowing out and hopefully there is no more accumulation, but slow depletion.

PS 10: Some updates from Bihar (different sources):

At 06:00 AM water level was 1.06 lakh cusec at Kosi Barrage. Water level increasing at the rate of 2-3 thousand cusec per hour. Hish water flow may reach around 1-1:30 PMin Bihar on Aug 3. High alert in 9 districts. (1.Supaul, 2. Saharsa, 3.Madhepura, 4. Khagaria, 5. Bhagalpur, 6.Araria, 7.Purnia, 8.Madhubani 9. Katihar).  Threat of danger till Monday morning (4th August 2014)

Three controlled blast by Nepal Army. First at  01:50 PM, Second at  02:50 PM and third at  03:30 PM for water flowing, it is not clear how much water is flowing out.

PS 11: From:

This is good to know: “‘Outflow of water normal“: Meanwhile, the Sunkoshi River is flowing out of the lake in a controlled rate today, according to the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Water level has not decreased significantly as the volume rate of water flowing in and out of the lake are comparable.”

The same report claims: “According to an official at the NEOC, about half of the chunk of debris that obstructed the River has been destroyed by the controlled blasts to drain out the water.” This is somewhat difficult to understand.

PS 12: From:

“Parajuli said the amount of water flowing out of the dam and pouring in was almost the same on Sunday morning, keeping the water level stable.” This seems to indicate STATUS QUO at Landslide Dam on Sunday evening?

PS 13: From:

This paints a bit scary possibility: “Vyasji and minister for water resources, Vijay Kumar Choudhary said, while the barrage is designed to withstand a pressure upto 9lakh cusecs, the highest pressure it has faced is 6 lakh cusecs. Anything above that could be a worry. Around two lakh people living within the embankments on a 256 km stretch from Birpur to Naugacchia and Khagaria near the Ganga would be in the direct path of the feared cascade, once Nepal effects an explosion to release the Sun Kosi waters. To add, the river has a gradient of 47 metres per kilometre in its upper reaches and flattens to only 1 metre per km after Chatra in Nepal. Beyond Chatra, on account of a progressive flattening of the bed gradient, the river first deposits boulders, pebble and shingles for over a distance of 32 km and sediment loads upto Hanumanagar. Officials fear, if the some estimated 27 lakh cusecs is released suddenly, these boulders could hit the Birpur barrage and cause extensive damage forcing it to give way. That would be an unprecedented disaster, the likes of which India has never seen, compromising as it would some 5 lakh people downstream, all the way upto the Ganga, some 80 km south in a straight line.”

This report seems one of the most extensive one.

PS 14: From:

Landslide dammed lakes in the past

(1967) Tarebhir, Budhigandaki: Nine persons died

(1968) Tarebhir, Budhigandaki: 24 houses damaged

1982) Balefi, Sindhupalchowk: 97 persons died, 15 houses destroyed

(1987) Sunkoshi, Sindhupalchowk: 98 people died

(1988) Darbang Bajar, Myagdi: 109 people died, 94 houses damaged

(1989) Tarukhola, Bajhang: 16 people died and four houses destroyed

(1996) Larcha, Sindhupalchowk: 54 persons died and 18 households destroyed

(2010) Madikhola, Kaski: Five people died and 61 families affected

Sunkoshi Landslide of June 2013 and July 2014, courtesy ICIMOD
Sunkoshi Progressive Landslide: Photo of June 2013 (left) and July 2014 (right), courtesy ICIMOD

AVOIDABLE TRAGEDY? “Ajay Dixit, a water expert is as baffled as Professor Narendra Khanal at the Central Department of Geography at Tribhuvan University as to what triggered the landslide. The slope is prone to landslide as portion of debris used to fall every year. What they both knew for sure is an oversight of the government.  “We totally overlooked the need to monitor such disaster-prone areas, which is not a big deal these days,” said Khanal. He said the disaster is unpredictable but mitigation measures can help avert huge loss.”

PS 15: From:

This provides some clearer picture: The landslide dam now has about 15 million cubic meters of water (much more than 6 MCM earlier estimated), that the water level is gradually reducing, it has already reduced by 3 mts from peak. “Since the landslide has not stopped completely yet, there is still the risk of Landslide Dam Outburst Flood (LDOF).” That would create BIG disaster in the downstream areas. However, there are serious doubts if the volume is 15 MCM as noted here.

Ranjan Kumar Dahal, a geologist who visited the landslide area along with Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam on Sunday, said, “If another landslide occurs in the same area, the impact could be catastrophic.” Dahal said the upper part of the mountain where the massive landslide occurred is vulnerable to more landslides. “There are cracks,” said he. “So, a little rain could lead to more landslides.”

PS 16: From:

Very interesting blog from well known Nepal Journalist Kunda Dixit, it says: The landslide zone is about 1000 m high, 500 m wide and  has piled up a 100 m high dam on the river bed and the impact was so huge that it has also taken forested area from opposite bank. “In 1981, nearly 20 km of the Arniko Highway and all its bridges were washed away, the Sun Kosi power house was seriously damaged and there was loss of life and property all the way down the valley. Everyone thought it was a monsoon flood, but the event was later traced to a glacial lake high up on the northern side of the Himalaya in Tibet. Like other rivers in Nepal, the Bhote Kosi is prone to glacial lake outburst floods, and geologists have found evidence of previous events in 1935 and 1964… By the time we got to Lamosangu and approached the Sun Kosi intake barrage, the road abruptly vanished at almost the exact spot near Jure where Saturday morning’s deadly landslide occurred.” The 1981 experience is based on Kunda’s reporting experience as a young reporter.

Interestingly, Kunda writes, “As night fell, the water level was down by 2m and falling.” This is good sign.

PS 17: 1830 hours IST on Aug 5, 2014: Some worrying sings:

There is a bit of worrying sign that since last 18 hours, the water flow in Sunkoshi at Pachuwarghat, which is the nearest downstream measuring point, has been almost continuously decreasing from around 401 cumecs to now around 346 cumecs (the peak y’day morning was 569 cumecs, the bottom was 214 cumecs at 17 hrs on Aug 2) when the inflow to the landslide dam as measured at Bahrabise site, the nearest upstream site is same or in fact increased. This seems to suggest that water outflow from the landslide dam has decreased and this in turn could mean more water is getting collected behind the dam. This could possibly due to more landslide  fall?

It seems (see: Nepal Army carried out another explosion today: “In an attempt to speed up the outflow of water from the dam created after landslide in the Sunkoshi River, security personnel on Tuesday carried out a controlled explosion. A temporary dam was formed in the river in Jure of Sindhupalchok district after a massive landslip early on Saturday morning, stoking fears in the human settlements downstream. Chief District Officer Gopal Prasad Parajuli said the attempt was made to drain out the water, according to the suggestions of geologists, meteorologists and other experts, after the water level in the dam did not decrease even four days after the landslide. “A low intensity blast was carried out because powerful bombs will be risky,” said Parajuli.”

Sunkoshi flowing from Landslide dam Aug 5 2014, Photo Courtesy Circle of Blue
Sunkoshi flowing from Landslide dam Aug 5 2014, Photo Courtesy Circle of Blue

Outflow at Pachuwarghat has increased by 31 cumecs to 377 cumecs from 6 pm to 9 pm. Flow at Bahrabise has also increased in previous six hours by 27 cumecs.

PS 18: From:

“Arun Shrestha, manager of ICIMOD’s river basin program told Circle of Blue that three main questions must be answered in the next few days: Will the hillside collapse again? What can be done to stabilize the slope? How stable is the landslide dam across the Sun Koshi River?” The nature of the dam, comprised of rock, mud, and sediment, is the greatest concern, Shrestha said. Shrestha mentioned the catastrophic June 2013 floods in Uttarakhand as another example of natural hazards limiting national hydropower plans. But cautious development in Nepal will be easier wished than accomplished, asserted Gyawali, the former water resources minister.

When asked which authorities were responsible for approving hydropower permits, Dipak Gyawali scoffed at the question. “I am afraid these questions arise in your mind conflating Nepal with Norway,” he wrote in an email. “We have a dominating informal sector where policies are made and decisions are taken at the household level. Yes, government has policies. Can they effectively implement it? Well, more easily on the moon than in next-to-inaccessible Nepali hinterlands.” If the authorities want, the Sun Koshi example can serve as a guide for hydropower development, said Gyawali, who is now research director of the Nepal Water Conservation Foundation. “These bishyaris keep happening all the time,” Gyawali said, referring to the floods from landslide dams. “Nepal is better off developing small hydropower plants across the country. If we try to build one single plant, we’re putting a larger risk on the table. Many smaller ones cannot all be knocked out.”

Petley, the Durham University landslide expert, said that more research on natural hazards in the Himalayas is needed. “The Himalayan landscape needs to be managed very carefully,” Petley said. “There is too much indiscriminate development.”

This is clearly WRONG in this report: “The hydropower stations along the river do not use large dams. Rather, they are small facilities, no more than 45 megawatts, that divert a portion of the river’s flow to generate electricity before returning it to the channel downstream.” Most of these projects have large dams and have huge impacts locally.











[10] Very illuminating photo feature:–the-looming-danger-photo-feature/393048.html &


Disasters · Western Ghats

Malin Landslide Tragedy underlines the vulnerability of Western Ghats

In the tragedy at a tiny village of Malin in Ambegaon, Maharashtra, as per reports till now, around 40 houses are under huge debris created by a landslide that occurred early in the morning on the 30th July 2014. The death toll till now is reported to be 44 with 150-300 missing as per different estimates. Unfortunately, the chances of survival of the missing are dim as per the Chief of Rescue operations.

Destruction at Malin Photo by Atul Kumar Kale Local activist
Destruction at Malin Photo by Atul Kumar Kale Local activist
Photo by Atul Kumar Kale
Photo by Atul Kumar Kale

Let us look at some key factors at play here:

VERY HEAVY RAINFALL: This region is nestled in the Northern Western Ghats which receives heavy rainfall in the monsoons. The region was receiving particularly very heavy rainfall in the week between 25th to 31st July. SANDRP had posted an alert on this on SANDRP Facebook page ( on the night of 29th July.

Cumulative rainfall in the week as recorded by NASA’s (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration of US) TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, see: was more than 600 mm, most of it between 29th-30th July. In fact on the 29th July, the region including Malin was shown purple in 24 hr rainfall map, which signifies the highest range of rainfall, exceeding 175 mm.

The region is still experiencing heavy to very heavy rainfall as we write this on Aug 1, 2014.



Malin receives very heavy rainfall on the 29th July, 9 pm by NASA TRMM
Malin receives very heavy rainfall on the 29th July, 9 pm by NASA TRMM
Malin receiving high rainfall on the 30th July 2014, 9 pm IST NASA TRMM
Malin receiving high rainfall on the 30th July 2014, 9 pm IST NASA TRMM

It was surprising to read report from Down to Earth about “mere 4 mm rainfall in 24 hours” before the landslide, which is clearly not the case.

With changing climate, frequency of such high intensity rainfall events is predicted to increase, making these areas even more vulnerable to disasters like landslides.

Landslide Warning

Following the very heavy rainfall in the regions around Northern Western Ghats, extending till Gujarat, NASA’s TRMM had also highlighted this region to be strongly landslide prone on the 30thof July.

See NASA TRMM Landslide Prone Area Map on the 30th July 2014 below which highlights Bhimashankar and Malin region:

NASA Landslide potential Map, 6 pm IST on July 30, 2014
NASA Landslide potential Map, 6 pm IST on July 30, 2014

The dam connection:

The Malin village is approximately 1.5 kms from backwaters of the Dimbhe Dam, which is an irrigation project involving a big dam completed in 2000. On the 31st July, the dam held 44% of its live storage, that is about 156 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) of water. The link between water level fluctuations in dams and landslides in the rim of the reservoir and backwaters is well documented. Some geologists have also recorded increased landslides activity in areas surrounding Dimbhe Dam in the past. ( Even if the dam was not overflowing when the tragedy occurred, it is well known that the dams can induce such landslides around the rim in view of standing water with fluctuating levels, change in drainage pattern and underground water flow pattern.

Google map showing Dimbhe Dam and location of Malin village close to the backwaters
Google map showing Dimbhe Dam and location of Malin village close to the backwaters

Key salient features of Dimbhe dam: Ht: 67.21 m; Lengh: 852 m;  Live Storage Capacity: 354 MCM (; Reservoir Area: 1754.7 ha.

The role played by the dam and its operations on the geology of the region and its possible connection with the landslide needs to be investigated in depth.

Landslides are not entirely new for the region

The region has seen some landslides in the past (e.g. in 2006-7) according to Saili Palande Datar, an ecologist and historian with Kalpavriksh. According to Anand Kapoor of NGO Shashwat active for decades in the region, a landslide had occurred earlier than that, where some cattle were buried and people had to be rescued. In a massive landslide on July 23, 1989, in village Bhaja in Mawal about 60 km from Pune, 39 people were killed.

In the Western Ghats of Pune as well as Maharashtra, a number of landslide-related tragedies have happened. According to a resident of village Tikona Peth in the catchment of Pavana Dam in Mawal tehsil of Pune, a landslide took place in in her village July, 1994 after heavy rains. There were no casualties, four houses were demolished by huge rocks. In August 2004, one person died due to landslide in Male, near Pune, in 2004 again, a worker died due to landslide in work related to a tunnel for a lift irrigation scheme, in June 2005, 4 workers died due to landslide at a tunnel of Ghatghar hydroelectric project.

Role of large scale land modifications in the region

Indeed according to a landslide map developed by Dr. David Petley, International Expert on Hazards and Risks in the Department of Geography at Durham University, the entire region of Western ghats has experienced landslides.

Dr. Petley has also written about the Malin Landslide here:

Dr. Petley told SANDRP, “Large scale land use modification and deforestation is the issue here”. He further said: “I would hypothesise here that the very heavy rainfall was the trigger, thick weathered soil, the shape of the slope and poor management of development and of water. A proper investigation should be able to ascertain whether this is right, but such large-scale modification of the landscape should be resisted.”

11_08 2011 map
From Dr. David Petley: Landslide events where fatalities have occurred. We can see that Northern Western Ghats also features regularly in the map.

Landscape modifications around Bhimashankar

Bhimashankar region, the origin of river Bhima which is an important tributary of Krishna, is a high rainfall region with spectacular biodiversity. It is also home to Maharashtra’s state animal Malabar Giant Squirrel. The region is home to a vibrant tribal community which has seen several assaults on its way of life through the formation of the sanctuary, displacement caused by Dimbhe & other Dams, recent windmill projects, etc.,

In the recent years, some of the major landscape changes occurring in this region are through mechanised terracing of slopes for cultivation as well as developments related to windmill projects on mountain tops, which entail deforestation as well as road cutting on steep slopes. Although there are no windmill farms in Malin, such farms exist in the neighbouring Khed tehsil. Plans for such farms in Ambegaon are in the pipeline.

It needs to be understood that terracing for cultivation has been a traditional occupation of the tribals in this region, as in most of the Western Ghats. Not only is it an important livelihood support factor, but it has been limited by its scale, location and implementation due to its inherent manual nature. According to Anand Kapoor of Shashwat, tribals themselves do not prefer terraces made by JCBs and other machines as these are not entirely suitable for cultivation.

However, it is also a fact that now some government departments are using heavy machinery like JCBs in their bid to push terracing program. Unscientific mechanized terracing, which comes together with muck dumping, slope instability, affected drainage etc., can play a huge role in magnifying the impacts on a naturally vulnerable, high rainfall region.

In fact, a preliminary report by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has singled out land flattening and terracing by heavy machinery as one of the primary causes for the tragedy. As per the preliminary report, a team of GSI experts noticed cracks where heavy soil erosion had occurred. The Deputy Director General of GSI has said that these cracks are a result of improper drainage system of rainwater. The flattening of land would have affected the water drainage resulting in the cracks. He says: “The slope of the hill was flattened almost halfway for agricultural purpose to such an extent that the hilltop had become unstable. The experts have also reported excessive deforestation disrupting the ecology of the hill. Added to this was the damage caused by use of heavy machinery over two years.” The Director General and Deputy Director General will be visiting the site on the 2nd and 3rd August for further analysis.

An independent credible review of the way the land levelling activities are going on under government policies and programs should be immediately instituted and till its report is available, use of heavy machines like JCB may be minimised.

Management of the region according to Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) Report and High Level Working Group Report (HLWG)

Both reports place Malin in Ecologically Sensitive Zone I and Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) respectively.

An ESZ I tag by the WGEEP report regulates a number of activities in the region, with participation of local communities. The report has specifically mentioned threat of landslides in this region.

While noting the impacts of windmills in the region surrounding Malin, WGEEP notes: “Apart from substantial forest destruction (including Forest Department estimates of about 28,000 trees being cut) via wide roads cutting huge swathes through Reserve Forest, the wind mill project has triggered large scale erosion and landslides through poor construction of roads with steep gradients, and all this rubble is ending up on fertile farmland and in reservoirs of tributaries of the Krishna.

The Forest Department is colluding with wind mill project operators in also illegally denying citizens access to these hills. Boards and check-posts have been put up by the company, falsely claiming to be authorized by the Forest Department. There are many traditional forest dwellers on these hills. Not only are their rights under the Forest Rights Act not being recognized, they are being illegally restrained in their movements on hills they have inhabited for centuries.”

If the WGEEP was accepted by the MoEF and state governments, this would have led to a more people-centred and ecologically-sound management of the Western Ghats region, but Maharashtra has been vehemently opposing WGEEP on the most unjustified grounds and the MoEF too has been busy downplaying the WGEEP.

While HLWG did include Malin village in its list of Ecologically sensitive Areas, however, this ESA tag did not mean much for the region it only regulates mining and red category industries. Most of the development activities that might threaten the region are not regulated by the HLWG. More importantly, HLWG has no role for the local communities in democratic decision making. There is also no mention of this region being landslide-prone in the HLWG, whereas the WGEEP specifically highlights this issue.

It is clear that HLWG is not much help for the region in avoiding tragedies like the Malin tragedy, but WGEEP report certainly would have helped.

Way forward

Northern Western Ghats which are characterized by heavy rainfall, rich biodiversity and predominant tribal population need more sensitive management approach than what it is subjected to right now. Although WGEEP had paved way for a more democratic, equitable and people-centred management of the region, the report was hidden, downplayed and finally rejected by the state as well as the central government. Episodes like Malin highlight the vulnerability and complex inter-linkages that affect the region which require a long term planning vision, integrating a number of components.

Despite this, several ill-conceived projects like townships, windmill farms, large dams and river linking projects like Damanganga-Pinjal and Paar Tapi Narmada are proposed in the region. Close to Bhimashankar region, Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) as well as the Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation are pushing more than 12 large dams. Some of these dams entail huge tunnels under the mountain ranges of Western Ghats. Despite the several risks and impacts, many of these massive dams may also escape scientific Impact Assessments or public hearings. These projects needs to be opposed and urgently dropped as there is little justification of the projects in view of huge number of options available in the cities for which these dams are proposed.

Similarly, Maharashtra Government has plans to build three huge hydropower dams in the Velhe and Mulshi region, which also falls in the Pune District. Velhe region has already seen slope instability and also falls in Seismic zone IV, making any such development highly risky there.

Let us hope that the heart-breaking tragedy at Malin is a wake-up call for all of us, paving way towards more sensitive,responsive, democratic and sustainable management of the Western Ghats. As a first step, the state and central government need to accept and implement the recommendations of the WGEEP immediately in Malin and for the entire Western Ghats.

-Parineeta Dandekar (

Western Ghats again highlisgted in Nasa Landslide potential Map for 9 pm ist 310714
Western Ghats again highlighted in Nasa Landslide potential Map for 9 pm IST 310714

End Notes and Further Reading on Developmental Pressures on Western Ghats, specifically related to water:

1. “Damning the Western Ghats”, presentation by SANDRP:

2. Interbasin Transfers in Western Ghats of Maharashtra:

3. How much does the Kasturirangan Committee report understand about water issues in Western Ghats?

4. Living Rivers and Dying Rivers of Western Ghats, by SANDRP

5. Video on Living Rivers and Dying Rivers of Western Ghats, SANDRP

6. SANDRP’s report on Dams in Western Ghats for Mumbai:

7. Water Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate, SANDRP: