Even as the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects (RVP) appointed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in December 2016 completes three years with the end of 2019, it has kept up its record of green signaling everything that came its way in 2019.
There was just one exception: EAC in its meeting on January 28, 2019 rejected the proposal for EC (Env Clearance) extension for the Brutang Major Irrigation Project in Nayagarh District of Odisha, but it was essentially on procedural issue and the EAC “recommended for taking of the proposal afresh”, so it was not a full stop, but only a comma. The EAC failed to creditably appraise the EIA, the TORs, the public consultation process and decide on merit if the project was fit for approval. It approved everything that came its way, at the most occasionally asking for additional information. Never looking into the adequacy of the impact assessment or public consultation process or optimality of the project.
The committee was headed by Controversial Chairman Dr SK Jain for the conflict of interest involved in his being Director General of NWDA (National Water Development Agency) and also having been appointed Director of the Ministry of Water Resources’ NIH (National Institute of Hydrology). The EAC had fourteen members, including the chairman and member secretary and there was question mark about appropriateness of number of other members of the EAC. The committee met nine times during 2019[i]. In most meetings about half the members were absent.
Decisions of the EAC: The EAC takes following categories of decisions: Terms of Reference (TOR) Approval, approval of TOR Extension and TOR Modification; Environmental Clearance (EC) Approval, approval of Amendment, Extension, Transfer of EC; Approval of River Basin studies like Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) and Carrying Capacity Studies (CCS). The projects considered by the EAC in 2019 under each of these categories are listed below.
One other activity of the EAC is to visit sites of some of the projects that come for approval before the EAC. During 2019, EAC made visits to following project sites:
- Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project at Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan by M/s ACE WR Zone Jaipur, Rajasthan.
- Lakhwar Project in Uttarakhand.
- Pump Storage projects in Tamil Nadu.
TERMS OF REFERENCE (TOR)
NOT REQUIRED: The EAC decided that the Adi Badri Dam on Somb Nadi and its piped link to Saraswati Nadi and Saraswati Reservoir by Irrigation & Water Resources Dept, Haryana does not need approval. The project came before EAC for TOR approval and was discussed by EAC in May 2019 meeting. EAC said it does not require EC from this EAC.
APPROVED: 900 MW Bandu Nala Pump Storage Project (PSP) at Sirkabad, Bhuda, Shilingda, Ayodhya, Lohadungri, Gurahata, West Bengal.
Tapti Chillure Irrigation Project, MP.
Munjri Irrigation Project in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh. (Aug 2019)
Attunli HEP (680 MW) in Dibang Valley District of Arunachal Pradesh by M/s Attunli Hydro Electric Power Company.
Rongnichu Hydroelectric Project (96 MW, EC granted on Apr 4, 2007) in East Sikkim district of Sikkim, under development by M/s. Madhya Bharat Power Corporation Ltd. – ToR for increasing capacity to 115 MW (Sept 2019)
Pumped Storage Project (9×150 MW) at Upper Sileru village Kudem Kothaveedhi (M), district Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh by M/s Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Co. Ltd.
Sillahalla Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project Stage-I (4×250 MW), in dist Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu by M/s Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corp-ToR: OK, but sub com to visit site and finalise TORs (Oct 2019)
Kundah Pumped Storage Hydro Electric Project in tehsil Udhagamandalam, dist the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu by Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corp-ToR: OK, but sub com to visit site and finalise TORs. (Oct 2019)
Shanti Sagar Standalone Pumped Storage Project, Dist: Davanagere, Karnataka by Cerulean Energy Solutions Private Limited (Dec 2019)
Sukhpura Standalone Pumped Storage Project, District: Chittorgarh, Rajasthan by M/s Greenko Energies Private Limited (Dec 2019)
Mhaismal Standalone Pumped Storage Project, District: Aurangabad, Maharashtra by M/s Greenko Energies Pvt. Ltd. (Dec 2019)
MP 30 Gandhi Sagar Standalone Pumped Storage Project, District Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh Greenko Energies Pvt. Ltd. (Dec 2019)
Upper Kolab Pumped Storage Project (2×160 MW) in District-Koraput, Odisha by M/s OHPL. (Dec 2019)
Balimela Pumped Storage Project in district Malkangiri, Odisha by M/s OHPC. (Dec 2019)
Lingampalli Reservoir Project, Tehsil Chilpur, District-Jangaon, Telangana. (Sept 2019)
Third Unit of 50 MW (Phase-II) For Tidong-I Hydroelectric Project (100+50 MW) Himachal Pradesh
Bokang Bailing Hydroelectric Project (200 MW) at Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand by THDC. (Aug 2019)
Lakhwar HEP (300 MW) district Dehradun, Uttarakhand by M/s UJVNL
- The project was discussed in the EAC meeting held on 28.01.2019 based on the order vide dated 10.01.2019 (OA No. 431 of 2015 by Manoj Mishra Vs. Union of India and Others) of the Hon’ble NGT, Principal Bench, New Delhi. The EAC had recommended for a site visit by a Sub-Committee of the EAC to the project site for any additional study, if any, to be taken up based on the standard ToR for River Valley Projects. A Sub-committee consisting 7 members was constituted and the Sub-committee visited the project site on 22.04.2019.
- After deliberation in the EAC meeting on Apr 23, 2019 on the site visit report, the EAC recommended for the grant of fresh TOR for preparation of EIA/EMP report with the same recommendation of the Sub-committee.
- Thereafter, the PP applied for grant of ToR online on 17.06.2019 afresh, which was considered in the EAC meeting on July 19, 2019 and the EAC recommended TOR clearance to the project.
- The EAC decisions were shocking in a number of respects, some of it is described in the summary below.
TRANSFERRED TO EAC FOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS: BARRAGE ON YAMUNA. Construction of Barrage for Securing the Foundation of Taj Mahal, Improvement in Water Level, Beautification & Navigation at 1.50 km downstream of Taj Mahal, Agra, U.P. – Fresh ToR. [This was a strange decision since expertise to assess the impacts of the barrage is supposed to be with EAC for RVP projects, not with EAC for Infrastructure projects.]
APPROVED FOR: GImliang HEP (Hydro Electric Project): 88.5 MW Anjaw ArP:
Raigam HEP 195 MW Anjaw ArP.
TOR Modification: APPROVED FOR: Banda IP Sagar, MP.
APPROVED: Majhgaon IP (Irrigation Project) Panna, MP.
Upper Krishna III: Karnataka
Saundatti HEP (1200 MW) Integrated Renewable Energy with Pumped Storage Project by M/s Greenko Solar Energy Pvt. Ltd. at village Karlakatti, Tehsil – Saundatti, District – Belgaum, Karnataka. Discussed in Oct 2019, approved in Dec 2019.
Kaleswaram Lift Irrigation Scheme near Kannepally village, Mahadevpur Mandal, Jayashankar Bhoopalpally district, Telangana. (Discussed in Feb 2019, approved in Aug 2019)
P.V. Narasimha Rao Kanthanapally Sujala Sravanthi Project, Jayashankar Bhupalapally District, Telangana. (Discussed in Jan 2019, recommended EC in May 2019. MoEF noticed discrepancies and sought more info. The project was again discussed in EAC meeting in Sept 2019 and again recommended clearance.)
Channaka-Korata (Rudha) barrage on Penganga River-Interstate Irrigation Project, Adilabad dist, Telangana. (EAC recommended EC in May 2019. However, MoEF found discrepancies and sought more info in July 2019. EAC again recommended EC in Sept 2019)
Badaun Lift Canal Project district Badun, Uttar Pradesh by M/s Eastern Ganga Canal, Irrigation Department, Uttar Pradesh. EC was recommended by the EAC in April meeting, shockingly, even as all the crucial information about the project was still being asked by EAC!
Banda Major Irrigation Project (CCA: 80,000 ha) in Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh.
Parbati (Rinsi) major Irrigation Project in Rajgarh district of Madhya Pradesh.
Nardave Medium IP Tal: Kankavali, Dist: Sindhudurg, Water Resources Dept, Konkan Irrigation Development Corp, Maharashtra. (Discussed in May 2019, approved in Sept 2019)
Jamrani Dam Multipurpose Project by Irrigation Department, Uttarakhand. (Discussed in Feb 2019. Approved in Sept 2019)
Jakhol Sankri Hydro Project (44 MW), Dist: Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand by SJVNL (Discussed in July & Oct 2019, approved in Dec 2019)
APPROVED FOR: 100 MW Malana II HEP, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh by M/s Everest Power Private Limited.
Teesta-IV HEP (520 MW) project in North Sikkim District of Sikkim by M/s. NHPC Ltd- Regarding Amendment in Environmental Clearance: the EAC recommended for amendment of e-flow condition as proposed by the project proponent! (Discussed in Apr 2019, approved in July 2019)
APPROVED FOR: Jeera Irrgn Project Odisha.
Renuka Dam Project (40 MW) in the district Sirmaur, by Himachal Pradesh Power Corp: Granted 3-year extension. If project not completed by Oct 2022, it will be considered de novo.
Rejected on procedural time limit issue, and recommended fresh proposal: Brutang Major Irrigation Project in Nayagarh District of Odisha.
EC Transfer: Approved for: Karchham-Wangtoo Hydro Electric Project (HEP) (1000 MW) by M/s Jaiprakash Power Ventures Limited.
- Beas CIA CCS (Cumulative Impact Assessment, Carrying Capacity).
- Teesta River Basin CIA & CCS. (Apr 2019, after discussion in Feb and Apr 2019 meetings)
- Cumulative Impact Assessment and Carrying Capacity Study of Hydroelectric projects in Sutlej River Basin in Himachal Pradesh including less than 10 MW projects: APPROVED in Dec 2019 (though minutes does not say that explicitly). It was earlier discussed in 21st EAC meeting held in January 2019 and also in Oct 2019.
- One of the additional issue besides those listed above that EAC considered in 2019 was the appraisal of the report of Expert Committee constituted in pursuance to the NGT Order Dated 16.10.2017, regarding Lower Subansiri HEP on Assam Arunachal Pradesh border in North East India. The constitution of the Expert Committee had been challenged and was still pending before the NGT and yet, EAC decided: “EAC observed that the Expert Committee has performed their task in line with the Hon’ble NGT order dated 16.10.2017 and recommendation made are based on the facts and studies carried out for Lower Subansiri HEP by the various committees in the past, site visit, as well as meetings with the stakeholders. After detailed deliberation, the EAC agreed with the recommendation of the Expert Committee.” The EAC did not even bother to understand the conflict of interest issues involved with each of the expert committee members.
- Discussion on the report – Operational Procedures for Assessing and Managing Environmental Impacts in Existing Dam projects: The EAC discussed these in July 19, 2019 meeting and recommended the Operational Procedures for Assessing and Managing Environmental Impacts in Existing Dam projects for its implementation after approval of the competent authority.
Projects discussed, but approval pending A number of other projects that the EAC discussed during 2019, but approval is pending submission of further information include the following.
- Cumulative Impact Assessment and Carrying Capacity Study (CIA & CCS) of Yamuna River Basin in Uttarakhand.
- Transfer of Rajasthan share of Yamuna Water at Tajewala Head works to Churu and Jhunjhunu districts of Rajasthan by Underground Conveyance System – Fresh ToR.
- Gond Major Irrigation Project (CCA: 28,000 ha) in the district of Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh. FOR EC.
- Satdharu Medium Irrigation Project in District Damoh of Madhya Pradesh. For EC.
- Mekedatu Reservoir and Drinking Water Project by Karnataka on Cauvery.
- Rahi Chu HEP (25 MW) in North Sikkim District of Sikkim by M/s. Sikkim Engineering Pvt. Ltd. For Environmental Clearance.
- Damanganga (Ekdare)-Godavari intrastate link project at Nasik dist, Maharashtra for ToR.
- Damanganga–Vaitarna-Godavari Intrastate Link project by Nandpur, Madhyameshwar Project Division, Thane district, Maharashtra for ToR.
- Khairibhandan Barrage Irrigation Project of Odisha Water Resources Dept, at Jashipur block of Mayurbhanj District, Odisha- Regarding Fresh EC.
Summary The Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects is supposed to INDEPENDENTLY and CREDIBLY appraise the projects that come before it, including assessing the adequacy of environment, social, disaster and cumulative impact assessment, adequacy of public consultation process and assessing if the project is least cost option. This EAC, constituted in Dec 2016, had declared through its decisions in very first meeting in Dec 2016 that it is least interested in any of these. The EAC has kept up its track record in 2019.
The minutes of the Apr 23, 2019 meeting of MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley Projects once again proves that this committee is least bothered to honour its mandate to protect rivers and environment and ensure adherence to rules and punish violations. Instead, it acts more like a lobby for Dams. This was apparent from a number of instances, but more glaringly from what it said about the proposed Lakhwar Dam on Yamuna river, in Ganga Basin. Lakhwar dam has had no EIA, public consultations, appraisal, management plan, disaster impact assessment, or cumulative impact assessment. SANDRP, after field visit and via more than one letters informed the committee before its meeting on April 23, 2019 about the violations and destruction of riverbed, flood plain and biodiversity happening, but the committee has not even bothered to acknowledge the submissions, leave aside the question of taking any action on them.
Instead, it has recommended National Green Tribunal to vacate the stay on the activities related to Lakhwar dam, even as the committee is asking for further baseline information gathering. For EAC, the project is a fait accomplice, the committee is not even make a pretence of credible appraisal. There are sufficient reasons here for NGT to consider dismissing this EAC.[ii]
One expected that with climate change impacts already being felt with increasing intensity with each passing year and with redundancy of big dams universally established, the EAC members, the MoEF, the Governments, the judiciary and the media would be more keenly interested in watching the functioning of this committee and publicly critiquing their functioning and also taking corrective steps. Let us hope 2020 will bring a difference in this regard.