(Above: Location of Proposed Human Dam and the tiger Corridor cutting across (Map by GREENPEACE) ( Source:http://www.greenpeace.org/india/Global/india/report/2011/Report-Undermining-Tadoba’s-Tigers.pdf)
While Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) has been undergoing inquiry by Anti Corruption Bureau and facing a Public Interest Litigation for financial irregularities & cost escalations exposed during the irrigation scam of 2012, the State Government of Maharashtra continues to push new projects in the ecologically sensitive region of Vidarbha.
State Government of Maharashtra has decided to give yet another try to revive Human River Project, a major irrigation project proposed on the Human River near Sirkada Village of Sindewahi Taluka, Dist. Chandrapur. Human dam with storage capacity of about 247 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) plans to irrigate 46,117.00 ha. for which it will submerge 7651.11 ha of land. This disproportionately large submergence (nearly 16% of the proposed irrigation!) also includes 1925.55 Ha of rich full grown forest of Vidarbha. (which is nearly 4.2% of the proposed irrigation!) (Earlier figure for forest submergence in print media and few other documents was 1535.85 ha. But latest official documents mention 1925.55 Ha)
Human River is a tributary of the Andhari River that merges into the Wainganga. The reservoir that will be created after impoundment of the waters will be just 4.25 km from the boundaries of the Tadoba National Park and 3.2 km. from the Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary, both of which form the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), a vital area for tiger conservation in central India. The proposed dam falls in the Eco-Sensitive Zone of TATR and thus needs National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) clearance.
The project is being pushed by Sudhir Mungantiwar, who is currently a State Cabinet Minister of Finance, Planning, and Forest Departments in the Government of Maharashtra. State Government is seeking clearance from State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) before it could be sent to NBWL for approval. In September 2014 a four-member high-powered committee constituted by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to visit Human dam site at Sirkada, 3.5km from TATR in Chandrapur district.[i] The meeting in which the decision was taken to revive the project was held due to Mungantiwar’s follow up with then Minister of Environment Prakash Javadekar.[ii]
The report of the committee has been kept under wraps till date.
The project has been vehemently opposed by wildlife experts and environmentalists as the submergence of 1925.55 Ha. of forest land, includes submerging the only effective wildlife corridor connecting Chandrapur Division with Brahmapuri Division. Construction of the Left and Right Bank Canals will further prevent animal movement from the sanctuary to the forests of the Brahmapuri Division in the areas downstream of the dam. Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve will become an “island”.
VIDC has exhibited exceptionally poor performance of project planning and implementation. Gosikhurd project implemented to irrigate the same Chandrapur Dist which Human dam also proposes to irrigate stands testimony to this. It is appalling to see how the State Government is pushing for Human dam when Gosikhurd Right Bank Canal located barely 60 km away is still incomplete after construction of more than 10 years. 11 different irrigation projects are already under construction in Chandrapur district while survey work on three others has been taken up.[iii]
Long history of violations and opposition
The Human project was conceived in 1983 and construction was started in 1984-85 which was soon stopped because of violation of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. Project has also violated Environmental Impact Assessment Notification of 1994 which demands that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be prepared before the public hearing is held. The public hearing for the Human project was reportedly held on November 26, 1999 at the Collector’s office but the EIA report was only prepared a year later in December 2001. Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) conducted an independent investigation and site survey of the areas concerned in September 2002 which confirmed the disastrous impact that project could have on the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. Discrepancies and shortcomings of the EIA have been pointed out by BNHS in its application before the Central Empowered Committee, challenging the EIA report’s credibility based on which environmental clearance was granted in February 2004. Provisional forest clearance granted to the project was challenged by BNHS in Supreme Court which granted approval subject to amount of NPV and Compensatory Afforestation be deposited by the user agency in the CAMPA fund and the fulfillment of all the conditions prescribed by Wildlife Institute of India.
Project being pushed when better options exist
The project is being pushed without assessing the need and when better options clearly exist for district like Chandrapur having average annual rainfall of 1200 to 1450 mm.[iv] Rich legacy of Maji Malguzari tanks created in this region two to three centuries ago is an excellent example of small scale irrigation options. These unique structures, have provided for protected irrigation to farms in summers along with drinking water and also maintained the water tables of the region.
As a report by Down to Earth[v] states Malgujari tanks were created some 300-350 years ago and were maintained and managed by the local malgujars (revenue collectors) in consultation with farmer groups. The malgujari system was abolished in 1950 post-Independence and 186 tanks with a capacity for irrigating 100 ha or more each were handed over to the irrigation department, while the remaining tanks with an irrigation capacity of less than 100 ha were handed over to the local zilla parishad bodies.
A report by a study group appointed by the state’s rural development and water conservation department revealed that about 7,000 irrigation tanks in the water-starved eastern Vidarbha region of Maharashtra which are lying in a state of neglect, have a collective potential to irrigate more than 125,000 ha of farmland (about six to seven per cent of the net sown area in the region) and recharging ground water on a large scale.[vi] An estimated 80-85 per cent cultivated land is rainfed and reviving the tanks can meet the irrigation needs of a large number of farmers.
SANDRP has recently written to State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) urging to reject the project.
The letter sent to SBWL and the timeline for Human River Project can be found as annexures below.
Annexure I: SANDRP submission to SBWL for Human Irrigation Project
October 25, 2016
Chairperson and Members,
State Board for Wildlife
Maharashtra Forest Department,
Government of Maharashtra
Respected Chairperson and Members,
We understand from the agenda of the next Maharashtra SBWL meeting that SBWL will be considering Human River project of Chandrapur district for SBWL clearance.
As the agenda itself states, “…Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) office cannot override the recommendations of the apex guidance giving authority i.e. NTCA, regarding Tiger Reserve, in the country.
Hence, this project is not recommended by The Chief Wildlife Warden.”
Severity of ecological damage that the project could cause has been highlighted by wildlife experts and organizations like Bombay natural History Society (BNHS) since more than a decade. Provisional forest clearance granted to the project has also been challenged in the Supreme Court (SC) by BNHS.
The reservoir that will be created after impoundment of the waters will be just 4.25 km from the boundaries of the Tadoba National Park and 3.2 km. from the Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary, both of which form the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), a vital area for tiger conservation in central India.[vii]
The project involves the diversion of 1925.55 ha. of forest land, including the submergence of the only effective wildlife corridor connecting Chandrapur Division with Brahmapuri Division. This corridor serves to maintain genetic continuity between Kolsa Range of the Tadoba Tiger Reserve through Shivani range in Chandrapur division with Pendhri PF in Brahmapuri Forest Division. As satellite imagery confirms, these forests are eventually connected to those of Navegaon National Park and Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary. Canals of the project will also effectively prevent animal movement from the sanctuary to the forests of the Brahmapuri Division in the areas downstream of the dam.
The canals will also isolate Tadoba Tiger Reserve. As the locals concerned with wildlife impacts state, “If the project comes up, TATR will become an island.”
The project will be in violation of affidavit filed by VIDC in ongoing PIL
Human Project has also been highlighted during the irrigation scam exposed in 2012 in Maharashtra. The estimated cost of the Human project increased from Rs. 33.6774 crore to Rs. 1,016.486 crore with a revised administrative approval on June 24, 2009, which means the cost will go up further. The 2009 revised cost is already over 29 times the initial estimated cost.[viii]
As you may be aware, Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) has been undergoing an inquiry by Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) for financial irregularities and unjustified cost escalations exposed during the irrigation scam.[ix]
During the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a voluntary organization in Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court in 2012 demanding a probe in cost escalations of 38 VIDC projects, VIDC has submitted an affidavit in the court stating that it will first complete the projects which could be completed in next three years.
In view of this assurance to the High Court, how can the State government think of taking up Human dam? Particularly when the controversial Gosikhurd project – located barely 60 km away from the proposed Human Dam Project – on which Rs 8000 crore have already been spent, remains incomplete?
Wildlife conservationists and activists have questioned the need to construct Human dam when 20-22 major and minor irrigation projects like Gosikhurd, Ghodazari, Asolamendha and Nalleshwar have already come up in Chandrapur district in last 30 years.[x]
VIDC has exhibited an extremely poor track record of planning and implementation of projects. Gosikhurd project which is to irrigate part of the same Chandrapur Dist. which Human Projects proposes to irrigate has been languishing for the last 32 years. Till now no authentic figures are available about how much area is presently irrigated through the project. Construction of right bank main canal is incomplete even after a decade of excavation. Two First Information Reports (FIRs) have been filed against the contractors of the project for poor quality of construction and 81 tenders related to the project stand cancelled by State Government (for more details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/09/22/sinchan-shodh-yatra-finds-gosikhurd-right-bank-canal-incomplete-even-after-a-decade-of-construction/).
When a ‘National Project’ like Gosikhurd located barely 60 km away from the proposed Human dam to irrigate command area of the same district is in such a poor state, how can the State Government think of taking up Human project at the cost of huge additional irreversible ecological & social damage?
Possibility of Human project, which will come up at the cost of heavy damage to Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, becoming yet another ‘white elephant’ like Gosikhurd cannot be denied.
Project has violated the affidavit filed by Gov of India
During PIL filed by BNHS which challenged the Forest Clearance granted by Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC), Supreme Court asked project authorities to deposit the entire amount of NPV and compensatory Afforestation in CAMPA fund ‘at one go’.
The Assistant Inspector General of Forests (Forest Conservation Division), MoEFCC, Government of India filed an affidavit affirming this and the user agency has also agreed to all the conditions prescribed by Wildlife Institute of India (WII).[xi] Even after eight years State Government is yet to fulfill this condition. This also raises question mark over seriousness with which the conditions of WII will be addressed if the project is allowed to go ahead.
In any case amount transferred for compensatory afforestation and NPV cannot compensate for the rich full grown forest eco-system supporting apex predator like tiger and cannot mean the project can go ahead.
Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has observed in its 2013 report on compensatory afforestation in India that MAHARASHTRA HAS CARRIED OUT NO COMPENSATORY AFFORESTATION either over non-forest land or over degraded forest land.[xii] CAG has also noticed serious shortcomings in regulatory issues related to diversion of forest land and the attendant violation of the environmental regime.
In view of these concerns, we request the SBWL to reject the Human project.
Annexure II: Chronology of the events for Human River Project
|1983||Project Conceived with cost of 33 cr||The Human Irrigation Project, Maharashtra
|1999||Cost went up to Rs.464 crores|
|Nov 1999||The public hearing for the Human project was reportedly held on November 26, 1999 at the Collector’s office.|
|Dec 2001||EIA report was only prepared in December 2001.|
|Sep 2002||Bombay Natural History Society conducted an independent investigation and site survey of the areas concerned in September 2002.|
|2004||The project referred to WII for opinion||As the project involved submergence of the buffer zone for Tadopa-Andhari Tiger Reserve, the matter was referred to the Wildlife Institute of India for study and opinion before approval by the Government. The Wildlife Institute of India carried out the impact assessment study and recommended that the project be implemented, subject to certain conditions. One of the conditions stipulates that the area lying between the periphery of the Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary and the proposed submergence area comprising of Karwa Reserve Forests, village site and the “draw down” areas should be upgraded to sanctuary status. This would provide additional upstream corridor for the wildlife especially tigers to move from the Chandrapur forest to adjoining Brahmapuri forest. After examining all the relevant issues relating to conservation of wildlife habitat and the needs of local people the project has been approved after ensuring that the wildlife habitat is not threatened.||Note on the letter addressed by Shri Ashish Fernandes, Assistant Editor, Sanctuary
Magazine, Mumbai to Shri Ramesh Bais, Minister for Environment & Forests,
|02 Feb 2004||MoEF granted Environmental Clearance to the Human Project||A long pending project for irrigation known as ‘Human river project’ in Chandrapur Distt. of Maharashtra involving diversion of 1925.55 ha of forest land has been approved. This project will irrigate 46,000 ha of agricultural land in 160 villages of Chandrapur District. This has been one of the long pending demands of the people of Maharashtra in the Chanderpur Distt. Ministry has taken this decision after initiating adequate safeguards as requested by the Wildlife Institute of India for protecting the corridor of the wild animals.||PIB|
|Oct 2004||Open letter to MoEF by Kalvriksh about EC granted based on poor EIA refere to Human Project||This project, which was approved in 2004, will drown 2,900 ha. of forest land in a known tiger corridor between the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) and the adjoining forests of the Brahmapuri division. In several instances, such clearances have been granted despite extremely poor environment impact assessment, including blatantly plagiarized studies. Most of these are particularly weak on wildlife and biodiversity aspects. In situations where additional environment and wildlife impact studies have been asked for, they are either ‘rapid’ assessments which are inadequate to aid decision-making, or are detailed studies to be conducted after the clearance has already been granted!||Open Letter to the Ministry of Environment & Forests
|Aug 2008||The Supreme Court has ruled against the Human Dam Project||Supreme Court ruled against Human Dam in Chandrapur District in Maharashtra on the grounds that it would involve massive tree felling and have serious environmental repercussions.||Sanctuary Asia|
|Sep 2008||In a significant development, the Supreme Court in May refused to approve the diversion of forest lands for the Human Irrigation Project proposed to be located in Chandrapur Forest
Division in Maharashtra.
|The project proposed by Vidharba Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) was contested before the CEC (Central Empowered Committee) by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) on the grounds that it will destroy the narrow corridor linking the Tadoba Andheri Tiger Reserve with the Brahmapuri Forest Division and to other protected areas.||ERC Journal|
|Nov 2008||Construction of Human River project in Chandrapur district allowed if the entire amount of NPV and compensatory Afforestation would be deposited by the user agency in CAMPA fund||Google books|
|Nov 2008||Provisional Forest Clearance granted||This is with regard to the construction of a Human River Project in Chandrapur district of State of Maharashtra. The Assistant Inspector General of Forests (Forest Conservation Division), Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), Government of India has filed an affidavit stating that the entire amount of NPV and Compensatory Afforestation would be deposited by the user agency in the CAMPA fund and the user agency has also agreed to all the conditions prescribed by Wildlife Institute of India. In view of the affidavit filed by the Assistant Inspector General of Forests (Forest Conservation Division), Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), Government of India, the application is allowed and necessary action be taken in this regard. Application is disposed of accordingly.||Forest Case Update|
|2009||Instance of FCA violation has been pointed out by BNHS. Construction of Human River Project was started without procuring FC. The project involves diversion of 2906.26 ha of forest land for non-forest use.||Water & the Laws in India
|2009||National Register of Large Dams lists Human dam as Under Construction||Type: TE/PG
Height above lowest foundation: 28m
Length: 3222 m
Volume content: 2446 thousand meter cube
Storage: 313.731 MMC
Reservoir Area: 80930 SqM
|National Register of Large Dams 2009|
|Feb 2011||State Gov provided a sum of Rs 170 crore for depositing net present value (NPV) with the forest department.||Speaking to reporters at the Circuit House here on Sunday, Tatkare however refused to give a timeframe in which the irrigation department would complete the project and said that it could be delayed for various unwanted reasons. He said that 11 different irrigation projects are under construction in Chandrapur district while survey work on three others has been taken up.||TOI|
|26 Sept 2012||Cost of project escalated during irrigation scam||The estimated cost of the Human Nadi project in Sindewahi tehsil in Chandrapur district was Rs.33,67,74. On June 24, 2009, the first revision to administrative approval was done, and the estimated cost was increased to Rs. 1,016.486 crore. It was over 29 times the initial estimated cost. Many revised administrative approvals were granted the same day.||The Hindu|
|04 Dec 2012||“… The apex court has cleared it now. While doing that the court had given specific directions to the state government to expeditiously deposit the compensatory fund for green cover losses. Till date the state has not fulfilled its commitment despite giving an undertaking to the Supreme Court,” rued Kimmatkar.||TOI|
|Feb 2014||Human River included in the TATR eco-sensitive zone
|Ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has okayed eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) proposal for Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in Chandrapur district.
The decision was taken at a meeting called by MoEF at Delhi on January 29. The eco-zone of TATR will be 1,347 sq km, more than double the area of Tadoba (625 sq km).
The MoEF had issued guidelines for notification of ESZs around national parks and sanctuaries on February 9, 2011. However, progress was far from satisfactory. Only a few states including Maharashtra came forward with proposals.
On May 5, 2010, government already notified 1,103.34 sq km Tadoba buffer zone. It includes 125 sq km area under Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM), 901.66 sq km with Chandrapur division and 76.17 sq km with Brahmapuri. All these areas are under administrative control of Tadoba field director. However, an additional area of 244 sq km has been brought under eco-zone.
|Aug 2014||Meeting called by MoEF Prakash Jawdekar to seek NOC from wildlife department||Sources said union environment minister Prakash Javadekar has called a meeting at Delhi at 3pm to discuss Human project, which is being pushed by BJP MLA Sudhir Mungantiwar. The meet will be attended by forest secretary Praveen Pardeshi, chief wildlife warden Sarjan Bhagat, NTCA and irrigation department officials. Mungantiwar admitted the meeting was due to his follow up with Javadekar and state chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. “The state has already paid Rs 183 crore as net present value (NPV) for forest land diversion. However, the forest department is seeking another Rs 73 crore NPV,” said Mungantiwar.
The MLA said Thursday’s meeting is to seek NOC of the wildlife department as the project falls in TATR buffer zone. The dam is slated to irrigate over a lakh acres and fulfil water requirement of four-five sugar mills.
|Sep 2014||A four-member high-powered committee constituted by ministry of environment, forests and climate change to visit Human dam site at Sirkada, 3.5km from Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in Chandrapur district on Wednesday.
Decision to form the committee was taken at a meeting on August 14 by union environment minister Prakash Javadekar in Delhi.
The four-member panel is headed by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) assistant inspector general (AIG) Ravikiran Govekar, while Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) scientist Bilal Habib, chief wildlife warden’s representative TATR field director GP Garad and irrigation department’s superintending engineer are members.
|Irrigation department sources said Human, a tributary of Andhari river that flows through TATR and joins Wainganga, was intended to benefit 160 villages and had potential to irrigate 46,000 hectares. It also seeks to divert water for power plants. The department has paid net present value (NPV) and some balance amount is remaining. The project cost has escalated from Rs33 crore in 1983 to around Rs450 crore today. Amid opposition and court case, height of the dam was reduced by one metre, which would bring down the forest submergence from 2,906.26 hectares to 1,535.85 hectares.
Wildlife conservationists and activists have questioned the need to construct Human. In the last 30 years, 20-22 major and minor irrigation projects like Gosikhurd, Ghodazari, Asolamendha and Nalleshwar have already come up in Chandrapur district. Diversion of forest is not confined to only dam but also area that will be diverted for its canals. The canals will isolate Tadoba. It will also flare up man-animal conflict in 52 villages surrounding TATR and will cut the tiger corridor.
BNHS experts disputed claims of irrigation department stating that not many farmers would benefit as the Human project’s command area has 50% forest.
|13 Jan 2015||The four-member high-powered committee set up by ministry of environment, forests & climate change (MoEFCC) to study the impact of Human dam project on tiger corridor and provide suggestions to ensure integrity of corridor has failed to submit a report even after four months.||The committee was formed on August 14 by environment minister Prakash Javadekar. The four-member panel is headed by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) assistant inspector general (AIG) Ravikiran Govekar, while Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) scientist Bilal Habib, chief wildlife warden’s representative TATR field director GP Garad and irrigation department’s superintending engineer are other members.
On September 10, the committee visited Human dam site at Sirkada, just 3.5km away from Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in Chandrapur in the buffer zone. The panel was to submit its report in a month but the deadline was extended by another month. Even the extended deadline has now expired and the report has not been submitted yet. According to insiders, the irrigation department officer is reluctant to sign the draft report owing to some reservations and alleged pressure.
Irrigation department officials, who did not want to be quoted, said, “As the report is against the proposed dam, the member must not have signed it owing to differences. We have sought a meeting to discuss the issues.”
|19 Oct 2016||State reviving the project
The issue will figure in the state board for wildlife meeting slated for October 26 in the CM’s office.
|The proposed dam, which is hardly 3.5km from the boundary of TATR, needs National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) clearance, but prior to that it should be approved by the SBWL. Hence, it will be discussed at the hurriedly called meeting.
“Even though only a week is left for the meeting, the agenda note, Human dam appraisal and corridor linkage report submitted to the government last year by the four-member committee of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) is yet to be circulated to the members to study. This apparently seems to be a move by the BJP government to push the project,” said a section of members.
[i] TOI (2014): “Tadoba may suffer as Human dam gets Cetre’s push”, Vijay Pinjarkar, Times of India, September 10, 2014
[ii] TOI (2014): “MooEF meet today to expedite Human dam near Tadoba”, Vijay Pinjarkar, Times of India, August 14, 2014
[iii] TOI (2011): “170cr ayed for Human project”, TNN, February 14, 2011
[iv] CGWB (2013): Ground Water Information Chandrapur District Maharashtra, CentralGround Water Board p.2
[v] DTE (2012): “Restore malgujari tanks to irrigate eastern Vidarbha: study”, Aparna Pallavi, Down To Earth, June 12 2012
[vii] “Human River Project, Maharashtra”, Undated document
[viii] The Hindu (2012): “Irrigation scam, a drain on Maharashtra’s exchequer”, Meena Menon, The Hindu, September 26, 2012
[ix] SANDRP (2016): “Sinchan Shodh Yatra finds Gosikhurd Right Bank Canal incomplete even after a decade of construction”, Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP
[x] TOI (2014): “Tadoba may suffer as Human dam gets Cetre’s push”, Op.Cit.
[xi] MoEF (2008): Forest Case Update by MoEF, Nov 2008, the url is no more valid but cached pages can be accessed on google
[xii] CAG (2013): 2013 Report on Compensatory Afforestation in India, .42