The first part of 3-part blog series throws light on impact of dams and hydro projects in upper reaches of the River and the imminent dangers of climate change that have jeopardized the entire eco-system around the Yamuna rivers.
The second part would bring forward the plight of severely polluted and threatened Yamuna tributaries in the mainland of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (MP). The third and concluding part would detail the status of ongoing and planned cleaning and rejuvenation projects launched in 2016.
Here is a States-wise and issue-based account of some key factors impacting River Yamuna in 2016.
Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh
Unjustified Dams Being Constantly Pushed In this year, there have been significant efforts by State Governments and Center to revive the unjustified and defunct dam projects on the main Yamuna River and on its key tributaries flowing through Uttarakhand (UKH) and Himachal Pradesh (HP).
Google map showing locations of built and proposed projects on Yamuna Rivers
- Lakhwar Dam: Threats Looming Large
Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister (CM) Haryna on April 15, 2016 paid a visit to 300 MW Lakhwar dam site in Dehradun. Post visit, he talked to Uma Bharti, Union Water Resource Minister over phone regarding sanction of funds for the stalled dam and reportedly got a positive response. Surprisingly, Uma Bharati in a week time approved Rs 4,000-crore for the project. After this approval, UKH Government was learnt to be busy in inviting tenders for development of project related infrastructure.
Uma Bharati on May 07, 2016 advocated construction of Lakhwar dam claimed it to be necessary for Aviral Yamuna flow in Delhi, Mathura and Vrindavan. According the latest development (October 05, 2016) District Magistrate (DM) Tehri halted the job appointment process for the Lakhwar project after public representatives aired their concerns regarding appointment of outsiders, instead of locals.
The giant dam project was approved in 1976. Initially it was 420 MW Lakhwar-Vyasi Multi-Purpose Dam Project (MPDP). Six riparian states of HP, UP, UKH, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi were stakeholders in the project. The construction of the dam started in 1987 but was discontinued in 1992 for want of funds.
Landslide Warning Board at Lakhwar Dam Site
Subsequently, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed among six basin states on May 12, 1994. Accordingly Government of India (GoI) constituted the Upper River Yamuna Board to distribute waters of the Yamuna among the beneficiary states. The share of water was fixed as 47.82 per cent Haryana, 33 pre cent UP, 12 per cent UKH and 6 per cent Delhi. HP and Rajasthan also want water, but no share has been allocated for them. UKH was also entitled to get entire power generated by the project. Haryana is proposed to get 1.22 lakh acre feet of additional water from the Lakhwar dam.
However, no legally binding agreement exists for sharing of Yamuna waters, as the 1993-4 agreement has been declared invalid by the Union Ministry of Law as it did not bear all the necessary signatures.
But none of the states were ready to bear the construction cost. In 2009, declaring it a National Project GoI announced to bear 90 per cent of the construction cost and the rest 10 per cent was to be shared by the six states. Lakhwar-Vyasi MPDP was also divided into 120 MW Vyasi Hydro Electric Project (HEP) and 300 MW Lakhwar Dam Project. The work on the Vyasi HEP started in 2012 after doing fresh EIA, public hearing, appraisal by EAC and fresh EC. This process has not happened for Lakhwar project.
The Lakhwar dam projecs required the diversion of around 1,200 hectares of forest land and involved the construction of a 204-metre- high dam and a 40-km- long reservoir near Lohari village in Vikas Nagar, Dehradun. In 2012, the estimated cost of the Lakhwar dam project was Rs 2,578.23 crore. So far, Rs 392 crore has been spent on the project.
In its earlier blog SANDRP has highlighted how Lakhwar dam would prove biggest of all threats for River Yamuna in its homeland. The location of dam is seismically active and close to fault lines making the possibility of any structural damage to the dam an imminent threat. In event of failure the dam would endanger the lives and property of people living in Haryana, UP and Delhi. In addition to these threats, the dam would also prove destructive for the river, local environment and ecology, animal habitat. It would severely compromise the flow of River Yamuna.
Moreover the dam is cleared on the basis of approval granted in 1980s without proper Environment and Social impact assessment and management plans, any public hearings, public consultations and expert appraisal, which is against the letter and spirit of the environmental laws of country. In wake of these threates, National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Septermber 2015 has issued notices to MoWR, MoEF and UKH Government and the matter is subjudice. Despite this, in open violation of green tribunal, Central Government has released fund for construction of the dam.
The construction of the Vyashi HEP started around 2012 and currently is going on with full pace. The 120 MW Run-of-the-River projects is being built five km down stream of proposed Lakhwar Dam site. The work of approximately 10 km long tunnel is in final stage and construction of power station will be done in a year so. Once built, the project will deprive Yamuna river of flow for 10 km diverting it in the tunnel. The project has already blocked and diverted the river flow through a separate channel.
According reports, since work started, cracks have appeared on the houses in Juddo and debris from the construction site is being illegally dumped into Yamuna. Locals also say that substandard material is used to build the dam.
The project location is among the last remaining habitats of endangered Mahaseer fish. The project has been cleared without any Cumulative Impact Assessment Study. Documents related to environmental impact assessment of the project are not in public domain. Just 8 km downstream the project, the river is impounded by Dak Pathar barrage, which abstract all the river water into Shakti Canal to facilitate operation of numbers of hydro power projects.
Tons river joining river Yamuna as a key tributary is also tapped by the barrage. Same is the case with Asan river which is blocked by Asan barrage. Hence we see River Yamuna struggle to survive in the area with negligible flow in the lean season.
3. The Wounds of Gangani SHP Are Still Unhealed
Bridges damaged in June 2013 flash flood still left unrepaired
The 8 MW Ganga Small Hydro Project (SHP) is located at Kharardi in Naugaon Tehsil of Uttarakahsi. Built on faulty loaction, the SHP has played havoc with Yamuna, local commnity and enironment. Locals held it reponsible for turning floods into a disaster during June 2013 Uttarakhand flood disaster. The construction of project has forced a change in river course that in turn washed away about two dozne hotels part of a flouring toursim industry. Even after three and half year of the deluge the bridges, roads, houses and other infrastructure damaged by the floods, has still not been reinstalled. SANDRP in its two earlier blogs (Gangani SHP: Small Project, Huge Flood Damages) (Kharadi: when Small Hydro unleashes big destruction) has already highlighted the advese impact of Gangani SHP and Hanuman Ganga SHP on River Yamuna and local people.
- Preparations on to restart Stalled Kishau Dam work
In August 2016, citing growing needs of four riparian States the Union Water Ministry started pushing for Rs 9000-crore Kishau Multi-Purpose Dam Project, to come up at the border of HP and UKH on Tons River. The governments of both states have reportedly signed an agreement to begin work on the Kishau Hydropower Project in the next six months.
Google image showing location of built and proposed projects on Yamuna River
The project was stalled for 12 years. Now UKH Government has agreed to share 50 per cent of total 660 MW proposed hydropower installed capacity with HP Government apart from paying for relocation of affected villages. The agreement was inked on June 20, 2016 following which both the state cabinets gave their approval. The UKH Government is also expecting to seek environment clearance (EC) for the project soon. While the Centre will bear 90% of the project cost, the remaining will be shared by the two states.
Officials in the Delhi Government believe the project as a godsend however experts believe the project would be an ecological disaster because it would submerge hundreds of acres of land in both hill states. More importantly, it is not required for additional water requirements, as claimed.
- Delhi Disposes but NGT Forces: The Strange Case of Renuka Dam
On January 07, 2016 Government, HP decided to seek Rs.1,981.35 crore as special assistance from the Central Government for the construction of Renuka dam. On May 10, 2016 the BJP MP Virender Kashyap from Shimla, had a meeting with Uma Bharti seeking the release of an additional Rs 1,981.35 crore for the rehabilitation of people whose land would be acquired for the project. He also requested Bharti to take positive and concrete step for the early completion of the project.
On the other hand, on World Wetland Day (February 02, 2016), the NGT refused to quash the environmental clearance granted to Renuka dam. The green panel also declined to stall the land acquisition proceedings citing it as a project of national interest. This was following the Supreme Court (SC) earlier though unjustifiably terming it a project of “national importance”. NGT also set up an experts’ panel to study environmental aspects and rehabilitation policy in place of the project.
The SC ruling also had its bearing in NGT decision with despite admitting the irregularities in the project, upheld the EC citing its national project status and referring to past expenditure incurred in the execution of the project. NGT had earlier clearly seen how inadequate and contradictory the EIA of the project was. But the misguided ruling of the apex court led to NGT also lifting the stay on the project.
In May 2016, the NGT appointed team visited Renuka dam site to take a stock of the rehabilitation plan and environmental mitigation measures. Subsequently, in July 2016, submitting its report the panel mentioned paucity of funds for acquiring land for settling the displaced families as the biggest hurdle coming in the way of effective and speedy implementation of the relief and rehabilitation plan.
In August 2016, seeking four week time, Centre informed the SC that it was ready to pay Rs 450 crore as reimbursement for the land acquisition for the Renuka Dam. Granting time, the apex court has asked the Centre to work out the amount involved in getting the second stage forest clearance for the project and posted the matter for further hearing after six weeks. Following this, in October 2016 the Union Water Ministry released Rs 446.96 crore for land acquisition where as HP Government had demanded Rs 1,981.35 crore to expedite the acquisition process. The remaining amount would be released after the Niti Aayog gives its clearance to the project.
Renuka dam is proposed as a potable water source of Delhi, but Delhi govt has publicly said it does not need the dam for Delhi water needs
Originally conceived in May 1994, the Renuka dam project is the outcome of an agreement signed between five riparian states that includes HP, Delhi, Haryana, UP, and Rajasthan. However, that agreement is no longer legally valid and no fresh agreement has been signed so far. The 175 m high dam is proposed on Giri River a tributary of Yamuna in Sirmaur district exclusively to meet drinking water supply in National Capital Region falling in Haryana, UP and Delhi states. Delhi is supposed to get 275 million gallons per day of water from the dam it is also learnt to have paid Rs 214.84 crore for the project. HP will get the power from the 40 MW installed hydropower capacity of the project.
For the project, land has to be acquired from people living in 32 villages. Over the years, about 1,130 hectares of land has been acquired. A total of 337 families are likely to be displaced. The villagers of affected areas fear meeting of the same fate as the Bhakra and Pong dam oustees, who even after decades are struggling to get alternate land. Since inception, the project has hit a number of environmental roadblocks and delays in forest clearances have already resulted in the project missing its initial 2014 deadline.
According to experts the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report has not addressed many critical aspects related to the dam. There was huge discrepancy in the land area required for the project. It was found to be 1560 hectares in EIA report and 1477.78 hectares in EC but 2,239 ha as per project developer. Notably Delhi Government has publicly said that Delhi does not need Renuka water.
A recent CAG audit has also underlined precarious situation of disaster management plans of dam and hydropower projects in Himalayas despite falling in the high-risk seismic zone and in flood and landslides prone areas. Attempts by State and Central Governments to push more unwarranted dams and hydro projects are condemable and questionable. HP Government report too have found several districts of the State to be highly vulnerable to impending earth quake threats which could make big dams and hydro projects subject to structural damages.
Similarly, seeking a ban on dam and hydro projects, activists and community groups of late have been citing their negative impact on rivers environment, forest and find them responsible for triggering landslides, increasing erratic weather pattern and negatively impacting agriculture and horticulture.
Growing Impacts on Catchment
1 Disappearing Springs:- A recent study has found that over 12,000 natural water source has dried up in last decade in the UKH due to rapid urbanisation and deforestation. These sources are ultimately part of bigger streams that in turn feed joins big rivers like Yamuna.
Similary there are reports indicating significant role of unscientific road construction and widening in both catchment states leading to frequent land slides and extinction of springs. Dispite this, both hill states (particularly UKH) is on road construction and widening spree. Only in December 2016, the Central Govt has allotted of Rs 12,000 crore for expansion of the existing highways connecting the Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. Its worth to note that the Char Dham Highways were badly damaged during 2013 flood disaster, but it is not clear what lessons have been learnt from that as this massive project is taken up.
2. Yamuna River Turning into Waste Carrier
Yamunabed turned into dumping yard at Vikas Nagar Dehraudun
Yamuna and its tributaries are increasingly becoming a dumping ground of liquid and solid waste (particularly plastic waste) from adjoining towns. Similarly waste in massive amounts is thrown directly in other small and big streams, part of Ganga basin. Experts count population growth, increased economic activity, the expansion and intensification of agriculture, lack of waste treatment mechanisms as main reasons behind the troubling rise in pollution of rivers in Ganga basin.
- The Missing Fish that No One Is Worried About
Number of studies, research papers and reports have been raising the issue of sharp decline in fish population including the endangered golden mahseer (Tor putitora) in Yamuna rivers due to destruction of habitat and unsustainable fishing practices. Also dams and hydro projects are having detrimental impact on fish and aquatic life in Yamuna. The dams and hydro power projects have resulted in the shrinking of rivers and streams and high silt levels. Such power projects, in the last few years has altered the river hydrology and blocked migratory routes exterminating spawning and feeding grounds of fish.
A scene of traditional fish hunting event in Aglar River
Aglar River as a tributary joins River at Lakhwar dam site. Once built the dam would further impact the rich aquatic life of these rivers. Other Yamuna streams are also facing the similar problems, use of dynamite and electric shocks is growing as a result aquatic diversity is at the receiving end. Rampant quarrying of riverbeds and indiscriminate use of pesticides in farming has further aggravated the problem.
Climate Change Threats Turning into Reality
After facing 71 per cent rain deficit in 2015, UKH recorded 10% rain deficit in 2016 resulting in drought like conditions in most districts of the state. The state had been witnessing rainfall deficit during monsoon, post-monsoon and the winter season frequently in recent years. The almost nil autumn and winter rains in 2016 have reportedly affected the Rabi sowing in the state.
Traditional Kharad, Gharat (water mills) in Yamuna Valley are disappearing due to decreasing water supply and increasing competitions
Similarly monsoon rain remained 26 per cent deficient in HP in 2016. It is the sixth consecutive year when the state suffered deficit. In 2015, it was 27 per cent deficit, while it was 38 per cent in 2014, seven per cent in 2013, 15 per cent in 2012 and 11 per cent in 2011. In 2010, it was 13 per cent surplus, the only such year between 2004 and 2016. The Govt in Nov 2016 has expressed possibility of drought like situation.
As a result of higher summer temperature, less monsoon rainfall as well as less winter snowfall, surface and ground water flow of streams and Rivers is declining. Availability of drinking and irrigation water is also decreasing in both summer and winter months. However, at the same time, scientists have observed increase in rainfall intensity in Uttarakhand. These regions are now receiving heavy rainfall in a very short duration that has resulted in increase in cloud burst and flash foods.
Research also has revealed altitudinal shift of snowfall and rainfall in high altitude regions. The areas of snowfall and rainfall have shifted upward. In almost all the regions, the rainfall has taken over the regions of snowfall. The intensity of landslides, avalanches and rock fall; all have increased in UKH due to combination of anthropogenic and natural factors.
Incidentally, 2013 was when UKH witnessed one of the worst floods caused due to excessive rainfall following the cloudburst in Kedarnath valley. In 2016, there have been about a dozen incidents of cloud burst in UKH, HP and J&K.
- Melting Glaciers
Glaciers are prime source of fresh water in streams and rivers in Yamuna basin. Scientific reports of late have been registering retreat in Himalayan glaciers. Many research papers are also warning of multiple and profound impacts of less snow accumulation against the retreat. The continuous melting of glaciers would also result in gradual decline in discharge of many rivers in the long run. Some perennial streams could also turn seasonal.
A study in July 2016 concluded that more than one in five dams in the Himalayas are likely to experience overwhelming floods caused GOLF (Glacier Lake Outburst Flood). The study also warned of severe damage to hydro power projects infrastructure. River basin can also witness altered water cycle and sediment yields compromising the livelihoods downstream.
Similarly another scientific report in October 2016 found 110 new moraine-dammed lakes caused by GLOF in major river basin in HP. Researchers have also warned that of the 177 dam projects across Himalaya region could be under flood threat caused by the outbursts of glacial lakes. The tragedy of 2013 in the UKH has also been correlated with the bursting of Chorabari glacial lake that caused widespread damage in the downstream areas. It is sufficient warning for the developers and governments as these considerations are just not there in EIA, appraisals or approvals or even disaster management plans.
Various studies state that the Himalaya is more sensitive to climate change and even small changes in temperatures may have a severe impact on the glacial regime. Due to global warming the summer period in hill areas has extended and the winter period is shrinking.
- Reoccurring Forest Fires
For past many years, forest fires have also become frequent phenomena in both Himalayan states. In 2016, Forest Department UKH also detected 1,600 incidents of forest fires damaging an estimated area of 3,500 hectares. The devastating fires forced the government to deploy Indian Air Force Mi-17 helicopters fitted with Bambi buckets to douse the fires with water. Last year, HP state also recorded 614 incidents of forest fires affected about 6600 hectare of forest land.
Forest fires could have a devastating effect on glaciers the lifeline of the major rivers flowing through India’s northern plains. The black carbon and hot air generated by forest fires further aggravates the glaciers melting. Forest fires have already resulted in a jump of 0.2 degrees Celsius in temperatures across northern India which can have a detrimental effect on the monsoons.
It is also well known that the snow melt and the water conserved in forested catchments as perennial springs and streams provides most needed surface flow in streams during the lean season. And it is the lean season flows has been decreasing over the times due to destruction of forestlands by fires. This could affect the hydrology of the rivers that are a source of water for human populations in northern India.
After flowing for about 150 km Yamuna River entering the mainland
To read second part of the report, kindly visit Yamuna River Developments 2016-2-Other River Interventions
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org) SANDRP