Dams · Environment Impact Assessment · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Ministry of Water Resources · Nepal · Public Hearing

Cancel Pancheshwar Dam Public Hearings: It involves too many violations and illegalities


50-D, AD block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi 88

we4earth@gmail.com, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/

August 11 2017


1. District Magistrate,

Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand


2. Chairman/ Regional office incharge,

Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board,

Dehradun, dkjoshi21@yahoo.com

COPY to: 1. IA Division (River Valley Projects) MoEF, Delhi

2. Chairman and Members of Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects

Respected Members of Public Hearing Panel for Pancheshwar Dam,

The public hearing now being conducted for the massive Pancheshwar Dam at Pithoragarh today, as part of the requirement under the EIA notification of Sept 2006 is being held in complete violation of letter and spirit of many norms of the EIA notification. Hence these public hearings should be cancelled. They should be rescheduled after appropriate conditions are achieved for the public hearing. Some of the key reasons for this are listed below, but these are not exhaustive reasons, but only a list of key indicative reasons.

  1. India Meteorological Department (IMD) (see: http://www.imd.gov.in/pages/allindiawxwarningbulletin.php) and District Disaster Management Office of Uttarakhand have forecast heavy to Very Heavy rains all over Uttarakhand on Aug 10 and 11 as per the forecast available on Aug 10 evening. All schools have been closed for Aug 11. In such a circumstances, it will be impossible for the affected people to travel from remote villages to district head quarters to participate in the public hearing.
  1. The necessary information required for all concerned, including the affected people, to participate in an informed way does not exist with them, in the manner, language and timing. The almost 900 page EIA is available only in English. The EIA is the basic document that is supposed to be the basis for public hearing. But the EIA is not even available in local language, nor is there any facilitating process held for the concerned people, including the affected people to understand the EIA.
  1. The executive summary of the EIA that is made available in Hindi, does neither provide authentic and honest summary of the EIA, nor is it even accurate translation of EIA.
  1. The Public Hearing needs to be conducted in central location of the project affected area and not in district head quarters, like the way it is planned now.
  1. The Public Hearing should not be held in monsoon, the way it is planned now, when people are busy in their fields and travelling becomes so difficult in mountain region.
  1. As per EIA notification, the public hearing panel includes only two persons: DM and SPCB official. No one else should be present on the public hearing dias, including any of the MLAs, MPs, Police Officials or other politicians. Their presence on the dias is totally violative of the EIA notification. Similarly, in the audience too there should not be any police or para military persons or other govt functionaries who can intimidate the people. This was found to be the case in case of Public hearing held at Champawat on Aug 9, 2017, as per MATU Press Release, such public hearing will be declared null and void.
  1. The public hearing is being conducted in only three districts, namely Champawat, Almora and Pithoragarh. However, there are a number of other districts that will be in the impact zone of the project. For example, downstream districts of Pilibhit and Lakhimpur Kheri will also face downstream impacts. Public Hearing has to be held in all such districts, not just in districts that are in submergence zone.
  1. The EIA, along with the Executive summary in local language should have been made available to all the gram panchayats in the affected districts at least a month in advance of the public hearing, along with a process to facilitate its understanding, but that has not happened.
  1. The Pancheshwar Dam is being proposed on Kali River on the border between India Nepal. As per seismologists, this area is full of seismic activity with many fault lines and there has been no release of the accumulated seismicity from this area for many many decades. Even the Nepal Earthquake of April-May 2015 could not help release of the accumulated seismic activity of this area since none of the aftershocks of that earthquake happened to the west of the epicenter, almost all of the aftershocks were mainly felt in the eastern side, and some in the north and south. This makes building a dam bigger than Tehri Dam in a region more vulnerable to seismic activity a most catastrophic proposal. Unfortunately, the EIA does not even look at this issue properly.
  1. The region suffers from other vulnerabilities, including flash floods, erosion, landslides, GLOFs, landslide dams and possible disasters. This was apparent during the June 2013 Uttarakhand flood disaster where this region suffered extensive damage, compounded by the wrong operation of the NHPC’s Dhauliganga HEP. However, the EIA does not look at any of this very sense of sincerity. Like the continuing landslides that the Tehri reservoir rim is even now facing, the Panchewhar Dam rim will also face such landslides. This area is thus not appropriate for building a massive dam and reservoir like Pancheshwar Dam.
  1. The EIA is fundamentally flawed, inadequate and shoddy piece of work. Besides the inadequacies of EIA listed above, some of the other key inadequacies of the EIA (this is not an exhaustive list, only an indicative list) are:
  • The EIA does not do the options assessment, including the non project options.
  • EIA does not do comprehensive downstream impact assessment. Such lack of assessment is the reason for the stalling of the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower project, the largest capacity hydropower project under construction in India, since Dec 2011, following on the biggest anti dam agitation of India. Pancheshwar dam could meet the same fate, if it goes ahead without comprehensive downstream impact assessment.
  • It may be recalled here that this highest capacity project is happening in Ganga Basin, where both MoEF and MoWR has sworn through affidavits before the Supreme Court that any dam project in the Ganga basin is bound have negative impacts on the Ganga river. No assessment of the impact of the project on Ganga has been done.
  • The EIA does not assess how the project will be impacted by climate change and how the project itself will be affecting the adaptation capacity of the people to cope with the changing climate. The project will also deforest at least 1600 ha of good forest land, and this in turn will have adverse impact on climate. These assessments are not included in the EIA.
  • It is well known that reservoirs like the Pancheshwar emit methane in tropical and sub tropical climate. Methan is about 21 times greater potent green gas than CO2. But the EIA has no assessment of how much methane emission will happen from the project.
  • The hydropower component of the project is expected to operate in peaking power mode, but such operation has huge impacts in the downstream area, which has not even been assessed by the EIA.
  • There is no assessment of how the project will procure sand, clay, boulders and gravel for the project and what will be the impact of such mining.
  • The EIA is callous even in simple additions. For example, it says: “The Mahakali (Sarada) basin up to the Pancheshwar dam site has a total catchment area of 12,276 km2, located between 29°20’30” and 30°35’30” latitude N and 79°20’30” and 81°9’45” longitude E. Out of the total catchment, an area of 9,720 km2 of the river catchment lies in India, and 4,456 km2 in Nepal.” Now 9720 + 4456 = 14176 sq km, how can the total be 12276 sq km?
  • The EIA clearly says (Vol 1, Chap 2 beginning): “The Pancheshwar dam project is a bi-national project, primarily aimed at energy production.” This means the project is unlikely to be useful for flood moderation.
  1. EIA of only Indian part is incomplete EIA and is in violation of International norms: The EIA assessed only the impact of the project on Indian territory. Thus, the EIA is fundamentally incomplete document, it does not include the impact of the project in upstream and downstream in the Nepal Territory. Such an incomplete EIA cannot be decision making tool or it cannot be basis for public consultation.

Such an EIA is also in violation of stipulation of International Court at Hague, which has stipulated that for any project on trans-boundary river, the impact assessment should be a joint exercise between the two countries. In absence of such a joint assessment, the EIA is also in violation of the stipulation of International Court at Hague.

This is also the recommendation of the World Commission on Dams, which was initiated and funded by the World Bank and IUCN, besides others and in functioning of which both Indian and Nepal Government participated.

  1. India Power Surplus, Hydropower projects stranded, Pancheshwar is unviable: As India’s Power Minister has repeatedly pronounced, including on the floor of the Parliament, India is power surplus and is actually a net power exporting country. Considering the lower plant load factors of thermal power projects and galloping addition of installed capacity of solar and wind and huge potential to increase efficiencies and reduce losses, this power surplus situation is likely to remain for many years to come. Power Minister has also repeatedly said in the Parliament and outside that over 11000 MW of hydropower projects are stranded, projects that has all the clearances and were under construction. Most of them are stranded for lack of money and too costly power. The hydropower costs are so high that most private sector companies have exited or are existing hydropower projects. Pancheshwar project is not likely to cost less than Rs 12 cr per MW installed capacity. Considering the projected power generation of less than 2 Million Units per MW, the cost of power from the project wont be less than Rs 8-10 per unit even with all the proposed subsidies. This is totally unviable price, in the power market, the price of electricity in July 2017 was Rs 2.49 per MW and with every passing month the price is dropping. Than why is the govt building this project with basic objective of power generation, when the cost of power of the project is so high and when India does not even need this power? But the EIA does not look at any of these issues.
  2. Mahakali Treaty needs review: The Mahakali treaty of 1996 under which the Pancheshwar Multipurpose project is proposed, is already outdated with provision of meager water releases for the dam as the EIA says: “Under Article-1 (2) of the Treaty, it was further agreed that India shall maintain a flow of not less than 10 m3/s (350 cusecs), downstream of the Sarada Barrage, into the Mahakali River, to maintain and preserve the river eco- system.” This is totally inadequate for Mahakali river, and this kind of minimum flow is completely outdated norm. Today what we need is an assessment of the water releases from the dam in different seasons, based on the various objectives and services of the river, in consultation with the downstream areas. In any case, the releases should not be less than 50% of the flow at any point, even as stipulate in the joint report of India’s MoEF and MoWR. The Allahabad High Court and the Ganga River Basin Management Report by the IIT Consortium (applicable for the entire Ganga Basin of which Mahakali is a part) has also stipulated 50% or higher releases all round the year. The releases is not only of water, but all the constituents of the river, including silt, biota and nutrients and in a manner to achieve longitudinal connectivity. The Forest Advisory Committee, in fact has stipulated for the Ken Betwa link, 100% of inflows in non monsoon months. Considering all this, the provision given in the Mahakali treaty and project document is completely outdated and unacceptable and needs review.
  3. WAPCOS suffers conflict of Interest: WAPCOS, who has done the EIA is completely inappropriate agency for doing EIA. Environmental Impact Assessment is a decision making tool, not a box to be tick marked. It is supposed to assessed if the project is environmentally (& socially) viable or not and one of the possible conclusions of EIA is that the project is not viable. However, WAPCOS would never arrive at such a conclusion and suffers from serious conflict of interest for the following reasons:
  • WAPCOS is under Union Ministry of Water Resources: As can be seen from website of MoWR (see: http://wrmin.nic.in/forms/list.aspx?lid=248) WAPCOS is an organisation under the MoWR. Since MoWR is the project proponent and has been pushing the project, WAPCOS, an organisation under the same ministry cannot be expected to do any independent assessment.
  • WAPCOS has been involved in justifying the pushing the project for many decades, including doing pre feasibility, feasibility, DPR and survey work for the project. The same agency cannot even be expected to conclude that project is environmentally non viable, it is in fact not expected to do any objective assessment.
  • The Business model of WAPCOS involves doing umpteen studies justifying the projects, and hence such an agency is not likely to provide an objective, independent assessment of the impacts of the project and its viability.
  1. WAPCOS’s poor track record: WAPCOS has had one of the poorest track record of doing EIAs in India. Some examples of detailed analysis of WAPCOS EIAs showing its shoddy work include:

CONCLUSION: Considering all the points above, it is clear that the public hearings now being conducted in Champawat, Pithoragarh and Almora on Aug 9, 11 and 17 respectively for the Pancheshwar Dam is in complete violation of the letter and spirit of large number of stipulations and norms of EIA notification of Sept 2006 and should be cancelled. The public hearing should be rescheduled only when all these and other such issues are resolved. Else the public hearing being conducted now will not stand legal scrutiny.

Thanking you your attention,

Yours Sincerely,

Bhim Singh Rawat                                                                  Himanshu Thakkar

For SANDRP                                                                            For SANDRP


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