Kerala is facing serious floods. Army, Navy, NDRF, neighbouring states are all out. Dozens of people have died, landslides happening, houses washed away, the whole machinery is out to deal with the crisis.
In this flood crisis, Idukki & Idamalayar two of the Kerala’s biggest dams along with about two dozen others, are releasing water, adding to the floods and the disaster. Why are Idukki and Idamalayar, both having live storage capacity above a Billion Cubic Meters, releasing water NOW, when whole of Kerala is facing floods due to recent excessive rains? Standard excuse: The dams are full and they have no option but to release the water, they cannot store more. But why did they wait to start releasing water till the dams are full and they are faced with TINA: There is No Alternative. This love to be in TINA situation seems like a disease affecting all dam operators.
When Dhansiri river broke the highest flood level mark at Numaligarh site in early hours of Aug 2, 2018 in Golaghat district in Assam, it was not only completely out of the blue, the whole episode was unprecedented.
The earlier Highest Flood Level of Dhansiri River at Numaligarh was 79.87 m. The new HFL, it seems, was 80.18 m, full 31 cm above the previous HFL. This is rather rare, normally the new HFL would be a few cm higher, not almost one third of a meter. Secondly, the water level remained above 79.87 cm, the old HFL, for over 60 hours. This is also unusual, normally the water level rarely remains above HFL for more than a day or so. Thirdly, the earlier HFL was achieved on Sept 24, 1985, so this sudden episode of flood was breaking 33 year old record. Continue reading “Role of Doyang Dam in bringing unprecedented floods in Golaghat”→
Above: The abutment of the Hidroituango dam, showing the unstable slopes. Image tweeted by UNGRD June 10 2018. Dam is almost full to the brim
The 225 m high Hindroituango Dam on Cauca River in Colombia continues to face emergency situation since April, and collapse of the dam is one of the likely possibilities. It’s a very large embankment dam being built Cauca River near to Ituango in Antioquia Province in Latima American country Colombia. The dam, estimated to cost $2.8 billion, was due to be completed this year. When operational it will generate 17% of the electricity demand of Colombia, but critics have been questioning the need for the dam. As we see through the details below, it is clear that the mega dam has been taken up without adequate geological, social and environmental studies, and now there is a big question mark if it will be successfully completed. There is a lot for the world to learn, here, including for Indian and South Asian Dam supporters.
Ominously, William Gutiérrez, a fisherman and gold prospector, after escaping the floods due to the dam last month, with nothing but the clothes he was wearing, told Guardian as vultures circled overhead: “We’ve always said this river could not be dammed. But the dam is more important to those in power than our lives.” Continue reading “Risk of collapse of Hidroituango Dam hangs over Colombia”→
Above: Google Map showing relevant locations (Map by Bhim Singh Rawat of SANDRP)
Several media reports have alleged that sudden water releases from Kurichu Dam in Bhutan has led to floods in Beki and Manas rivers in Assam on Oct 13, 2016 (Thursday), affecting thousands of people in Barpeta district & also reportedly Baksa district. This is not the first time that Kurichu water releases have led to this kind of situation, it has happened in the past including in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009 (150 villages affected[i]), among other instances. The Indo Bhutan joint mechanism, established in 2004-05, following the July 2004 floods, has clearly failed to effectively address this issue. Continue reading “Bhutan’s Kurichu Dam releases floods Assam, again”→
Above: Map Showing the location of Bansagar Dam, Sone River, Ganga River and Patna
Water level of Ganga at Patna reached 50.43 m on Aug 21, 2016 morning with still showing rising trend. This level was already 16 cm higher than the highest ever recorded flood level (HFL) of Ganga at Patna of 50.27 m. By Aug 22, 2016, at three more sites along Ganga, the water level had already breached the highest recorded levels: Balia in Uttar Pradesh (Ganga Water level at 60.3 m, higher than the HFL of 60.25 m recorded on Sept 14, 2003), Hathidah in Bihar (Ganga water level at 43.17 m, higher than the HFL of 43.15 m recorded on Aug 7, 1971, that is 45 years back) and Bhagalpur in Bihar (Ganga water level at 34.55 m, higher than HFL of 34.5 m recorded on Sept 3, 2013). This means that the highest flood level that started at Patna is now travelling both upstream and downstream along Ganga.
Several districts of Bihar along Ganga are facing floods, with at least 10 lakh people affected and about 2 lakh people displaced. On Aug 21 alone, NDRF teams have rescued over 5300 people from Didarganj, Bakhtiyarpur, Danapur Chhapra, Vaishali and Maner. At least ten lakh people have been affected in Bihar, two lakh have been displaced and scores have been killed. It seems more like and annual natural calamity.
But that is not the case, if we look closely. Available information shows that the unprecedented floods that we are now seeing in Ganga in Bihar and UP are largely due to contribution of two dams: Bansagar Dam along Sone river in Madhya Pradesh in the upstream and Farakka Dam (misleadingly called a Barrage) on the Ganga river in West Bengal. If Bansagar Dam was operated in optimum way, than it need not have released over ten lakh cusecs of water. As pointed out by Bihar government, the high floods brought by Ganga in Patna are majorly due to the high flow contributed by Sone river upstream of Patna. Continue reading “A tale of two dams: Is Bihar’s unprecedented flood an avoidable man-made disaster?”→
Above: Entirely destabilised house next to 100 MW Sorang HEP transmission lines Photo: Sumit Mahar
Immediate Press Statementfrom Himdhara02/12/15
In the last two weeks a half a dozen lives have been lost in the Kinnaur region alone in three separate incidents that have one thing in common – accidents at hydropower project sites. The first event took place in Burang village on the 18th of November 2015 where a penstock pipe burst of the 100 MW Sorang Hydro-electric project led to the death of three people. On 29th November, two labourers died in blasting operations in the 450 MW Shongthong Karchham project, some others were seriously injured. And on the same day in the Bhabha Valley, a young teacher lost her life in a landslide that occurred in the area. Continue reading “Kinnaur in crisis; Sheer Negligence in hydro projects claiming lives. Who is accountable?”→
As at least 222 blocks of 13 districts of South Bengal suffered massive floods with over 51 lakh people affected and crops on 5 lakh hectares ruined, questions have once again been raised if Damodar Valley Corporation dams played a role in increasing this flood disaster. Available information and the statements of the DVC officials leave no doubt that DVC dams indeed released water into the rivers and this release worsened and prolonged the flood situation in South Bengal. If DVC had held back the water while cyclone Komen was active in the region, bringing heavy rains, then the flood intensity, its impact area and the flood duration could have been reduced. The DVC operators should also have kept in mind that this was high tide period when the rivers’ capacity to drain out the water was significantly lower in the delta area. The DVC dams had sufficient storage capacity to hold this water during the period. However, instead of holding back the water during this crucial period, DVC increased water releases from the dams during the flood disaster. Continue reading “Damodar Valley Dams role in W Bengal Floods – DVC Dams could have helped reduce the floods, they increased it”→
June 16, 2014 This is a sad day, reminding us of the Uttarakhand disaster that began on this day a year ago. The disaster was triggered by unseasonal and heavy rainfall in which indicates a clear footprint of climate change. At the same time, the role played by massive infrastructure interventions, including an onslaught of hydropower projects and dams in Uttarakhand’s fragile ecosystem, in magnifying the proportions of this disaster manifold is also undeniable. It is a sign of callousness of our system that till date we do not have a comprehensive report about this disaster that throws light on what all actually happened, which institutes played what role, which institutes failed or succeeded in their assigned role, what were the rehabilitation and resettlement provisions, processes, plans and policies, and what lessons we can learn from this experience.
The lessons from this experience hold significance for the entire Himalayan region.
Uttarakhand and the union government declined to even investigate the role of hydropower projects in the disaster. It was left to the Supreme Court of India, through its order of Aug 13, 2013, to ask the government to set up a committee to assess the role of existing and under construction hydropower projects in the disaster. The apex court also asked governments to stop clearances to all such projects in the state in the meantime. The reluctant Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) took two more months to set up the committee which was headed by Dr Ravi Chopra.The committee submitted the report in mid April, 2014, but two months later the MEF is yet to put up the report in public domain. Or make it available to the people of Uttarakhand in their language or invite their views. SANDRP had written in detail about the recommendations of the EB, the committee certainly said that the hydropower projects played a significant role in the disaster. Eminent geologist Prof K S Valdiya has also written in Current Science in May 2014 (Vol. 106, p 1-13) that most projects are being built in landslide prone, seismically active area and should not be built there.
It was again left to the Supreme Court on May 7, 2014 to order stoppage of work on the 24 hydropower projects. The Expert Body recommended cancellation for 23 of these projects and change of parameters for one project. There is immense hope in further proceedings in the apex court in coming months, since the results will provide a guide for the whole Himalayan region in Uttarakhand, in other states in India and even for the Himalayan region beyond the border.
At the same time, it is unfortunate to see that the MEF, the Union government and Uttarakhand government seem to have learnt no lessons from the disaster. These bodies have been trying all sorts of manipulations to push massive projects like Lakhwar and Vyasi in Yamuna basin even without Environment Impact Assessment, Cumulative Impact Assessment or public consultations.
Now a new government has taken over at the centre. It is possible sign of things to come that India’s new Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has chosen this anniversary day to lay foundation stone for a huge hydropower project in the Himalayan region, read his own statement dated June 14, 2014, about his impending trip to Bhutan on June 15-16, 2014: “During the visit, we will lay the Foundation Stone of the 600 MW Kholongchu Hydropower Project.” This possibly indicates the thinking of new government on this issue.
The memory and lessons of this unprecedented disaster seem to be fading already. While going through the articles on this disaster in a number of newspapers like Indian Express, Hindu, Tribune, Business Standard, among others, I could find just one article in Business Standard that mentioned the role of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand disaster.
It is very important, in this context to remember the issue. We are here presenting here some photos of the damaged hydropower projects of Uttarakhand in that context. The photos are mostly taken from official sources, namely 582 page annexures to the Ravi Chopra Committee report. Most of the photos have not been in public domain to the best of our information.
Assi Ganga I (4.5 MW in Uttarkashi district): Letter from Regional office of MoEF to Uttarakhand Forest secretary dated 30 March, 2014 says:“The project was heavily damaged in 2013 devastation.” It also says that the project is in Ganga Eco Sensitive Zone and in the zone only projects below 2 MW capacity and serving the needs for the local population are allowed. Hence it says, “…the project should not start without obtaining fresh forest clearance and permission from the Central Govt.”
Assi Ganga II (4.5 MW in Uttarkashi district): Similar letter from Regional office of MoEF says: “The project was heavily damaged in 2013 devastation.” Following photos from the monitoring report of the project speak about the damage this project suffered:
Kaldigarh HEP (9 MW in Uttarkashi district) The project heavily damaged in 2012 floods and it being in Eco Sensistive zone, the report says the project should not be allowed to restart without permission from central govt.
Kotli Bhel 1A HEP (195 MW on Bhagirathi river in Uttarkashi district) The project has not given the final forest clearance. The stage I forest clearance was given on 13.10.2011 and environment clearance on 09.05.2007. The Ravi Chopra Committee report has asked for changes in the project parameters and Supreme Court order of May 7, 2014 has asked for stoppage of work on 24 HEPs, this project is on that list of 24 projects. The regional office report says that work on the project has been started on non forest land, which should now come to stop.
Kaliganga II HEP (6 MW, Rudraprayag district, Mandakini Basin) The Project got forest clearance on March 6, 2007. But project is yet to provide non forest land as required under act. The project is also within 2 km of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, but has not got clearance either from state wildlife Board or National Wildlife Board. The project construction thus is clearly illegal. Project has now suffered damages in June 2013 disaster, as can be seen from the photos below.
Madhya Maheshwar HEP (10 MW, Rudra Prayag district):
Phata Byung HEP (76 MW, Mandakini river, Rudra Prayag district):
Singoli Bhatwari HEP (99 MW, Mandakini river, Rudra Prayag district):
Bhyunder Ganga HEP (15 MW, Alaknanda river, Chamoli Disrict):
The Arunachal Pradesh government has signed a MoU with Panyor Hydro Power Private Limited, a company based in Hyderabad to construct the Panyor hydro electric project. This will be the second hydroelectric project coming up on the Panyor River which is also known as Ranganadi in the downstream. This project with 80 (2x40MW) MW installed capacity is to be considered for ToR clearance in the 69th meeting of EAC to be held on 11-12 November, 2013.
Salient Features Panyor Hydropower project will be located a Lemma, a village five km upstream of the Yazali town in Lower Subansiri district. The proposed project is 12 km upstream of the Ranganadi dam Stage II with a surface power house on the left bank of the river and a 108 m high concrete gravity dam. This reservoir will cover 7.5 km of the river length. The catchment area of this dam is 1315.50 sq km. The tail race channel will be 300 m long. Total area required for the project is 390 ha. Out of this 42 ha is river area, 25 ha is reserve forest and 323 ha is private land. The total estimated cost of this project is Rs 820 crores which imply that per megawatt cost is Rs 10.25 crores.
Critical Issues It was surprising to see that even though the project has been on EAC agenda for ToR clearance MoEF website does not have the complete documents for this project. The PFR document of the project was not opening up in the website. Going through the Form I of the project we found several issues which need to be highlighted.
Downstream impacts In regard of the project on the Panyor river it is very important to remember that the catastrophic downstream impacts of hydropower dams in Arunachal, which has been a subject of much debate in Assam, with specific issues raised against the existing 405 MW HEP on Ranganadi. The release of water from the Ranganadi dam on June 14, 2008 had led to flash floods in a vast area and catastrophic devastation in the downstream. The Ranganadi dam is having severe downstream impacts not only in the Ranganadi valley, but also in the Dikrong valley since water from this dam is released in Dikrong or Pare River through an 8.5 km long diversion tunnel. Now construction of another dam on the same river which needs serious analysis since the Form I (p 45) states “Downstream impact on water, land, human environment due to drying up of the river at least 10 km downstream of the dam.”
The drying of the river for at least 10 km downstream of the proposed dam also need to seriously examined keeping in mind the reservoir spread of the Ranganadi stage I project.
Not a single village affected and no rehabilitation? Form I (p 33) states that not a single village would be affected and no rehabilitation needs to be done, which seems doubtful. The document at the beginning states that the project is located near Lemma village. It also suggests for socio-economic impacts where it mentioned about project affected families. These are serious contradictory issues within the same report and the developer should be asked to resolve this.
Environment Flow contradictory The Form I provides contradictory information regarding environment flow. On the last page, the document states “A scientific study shall be done to assess the downstream requirement of water to decide minimum assured release of water (Environmental Flows) for maintaining the aquatic ecology and water quality of river.” But on page 33 in the section 2.7 the document states that environment flow will be 3 cumecs.
Important aspects left out from scoping of EIA study In the scoping for EIA/EMP study there are several important aspect which the Form I has made no mention at all. These include:
1. Impacts of excavation and mining
2. Impact of the project on landslide and other disaster potential of the area and region.
3. Disaster management plan considering the previous flash flood event in June 2008.
4. Impacts of climate change and impacts of the project on local climate
5. Options assessment including potential of micro hydro (below 1 MW capacity) projects. The project will submerge a huge 312 ha of land. The PP (Project Proponent) should look into the options for run of river project rather than a dam with such huge submergence.
Wrong answers given in Form 1 In case of some of the information given in the Form 1, it seems wrong and the PP should be asked to correct it. For example (this is not exhaustive list):
1. In case of point 1.26 (p 11), in response to question “Long-term dismantling or decommissioning or restoration works?”, the Form says “No”. This is clearly wrong. After the useful life of the dam, it will need to be decommissioned and this has to be part of the EIA and TOR.
2. Similarly answer to question 1.27 (“Ongoing activity during decommissioning which could have an impact on the environment?”) is wrongly given as No.
3. In para 1.2 (p 6) there is no mention of land requirement for mining material for the project like sand, gravel, boulders, etc.
4. Para 2.2 (p 12) how much water will be used (KLD) or source is not given.
5. Para 2.3, in answer to minerals No is given, where as the project will require sand, clay, gravel, boulders, etc.
6. In response to Para 2.7, the impact of project on aquatic biodiversity, including fisheries should have been mentioned.
7. In response to Para 3.1 use of explosives is admitted. However, it should be told to PP to minimize the use of explosives considering the impact of them on increased landslides and other disasters.
8. In response to Para 3.3 the PP should have mentioned the impact of project on the people who also use the forests, rivers, get affected by other aspects including destruction of biodiversity including fisheries upstream and downstream.
9. In para 4.2 (p 16) and elsewhere, estimate of 1000 populations for “400 technical and labour staff” is clearly wrong. Also estimate of 200 labour vs 150 technical staff also do not seem correct.
10. Para 4.3 should also include the remains of explosives among hazardous waste.
11. Para 5.8 (p 19) answer (Q: Emissions from any other sources) No is clearly wrong, the reservoir covering 312 ha will certainly emit methane needs to be assessed.
12. In para 8.3 (p 22) and point 12 under environmental sensitivity (p 25-6) the vulnerability due to floods and landslides such others also need to be mentioned and response to them included.
13. The whole document keeps mentioning 25 ha forest land without inclusion of the community managed forest land in Arunachal Pradesh. This is clearly wrong information.
14. Under point 3 in on Environmental sensitivity (p 24) in response to “Areas used by protected, important or sensitive species of flora or fauna for breeding, nesting, foraging, resting, over wintering, migration”, it is not sufficient to investigate with forest dept, as the response says, since there are several aspects here (e.g. aquatic biodiversity) that are beyond the domain of forest department.
Cumulative Impact Assessment The information given in para 9.4 (p 24) is clearly wrong. There are at least eleven hydropower projects at various stages in the combined Ranganadi-Dikrong basin, including one operating, one under construction, three TOR approvals given and five additional MoA signed (in addition to the proposed project), see details below:
1. 405 MW Ranganadi HEP (Existing, transferring water from Ranganadi to Dikrong)
2. 110 MW Pare HEP (under construction)
3. 60 MW Par HEP on Dikrong (TOR approved by EAC on 8/9/2012)
4. 60 MW Dardu HEP on Dikrong (TOR approved by EAC on 8/9/2012)
5. 66 MW Turu HEP on Dikrong (TOR approved by EAC on 8/9/2012)
6. 25 MW Adum (Upper) Panyor HEP: Upfront premium and application fee of Rs 11.05 lakhs received by Arunachal Pradesh government from BSS Arunachal Energy Development Pvt. Ltd. (on 10/03/2010)
7. 21 MW Panyor Lepa Middle HEP: Upfront premium nad processing fee of Rs 9.4 lakhs received by Arunachal Pradesh Government from JMD Power Solutions Pvt, New Delhi (on 27/08/2010)
8. 25 MW Papumpam HEP: allotted to: Meena Entrade and Engineering Pvt. Ltd. Naharlagun, AP. on 19/08/2008
9. 15 MW Papum HEP: allotted to Patel Tours and Travels (Mumbai) on Dec 12, 2008
10. 12 MW Poma HEP: allotted to Patel Tours and Travels (Mumbai) on Dec 12, 2008
Hence a credible basin study is required BEFORE any more (including Panyor) projects are considered in Ranganadi-Dikrong basin.
Costly Project Per MW cost of this project will be Rs 10.25 crores according to current estimates. This will be costly affair considering that per MW cost of solar PV project would be lower than this.
Until the above issues are resolved, the project should not be considered for Scoping clearance.
ITANAGAR, July 11:Panchayat leaders of Pistana and Yachuli circles of Lower Subansiri district have voiced their protest against coming up of Panyor Hydro Electric Project, which they claimed was ‘kept secret’ from the public.
In a representation to the Chief Secretary yesterday, the PR leaders led by Zilla Parishad Chairperson Likha Tongum said that Panyor Hydro Electric Project came to light when M/S Raajratna Energy Holdings Private Ltd of Shimla, started surveying and investigation works in the area. They urged the Chief Secretary to cancel the MoA signed with the private company immediately in the interest of local sentiments.
To the surprise of the people of the area, MoA to this regard was already signed between the govt and the company on February 25 last for implementation of the 80 MW project on BOOT basis for which an amount of Rs 80 lakhs (at Rs 1 lakh per MW) as processing fees was already paid in the name of the Secretary Power, Govt of AP. The grass-root leaders alleged that the whole process was carried out secretly and kept under wraps.
They leaders further came down heavily on the agency for “totally undermining the project affected panchayats”.
If any agency wants to tap the natural resources available, they have to take the confidence of at least the local panchayat leaders, which is a normal procedure in a democratic setup, the leaders said.
“The local panchayats are the sole custodian and owner of natural resources in the region since time immemorial,” the leaders said and have decided to protest against the execution of the project.
The Lower Kopili Hydro Electric Project(HEP) will be considered for TOR clearance in the forthcoming Expert Appraisal Committee(EAC) meeting on September 23-24, 2013. This project was first discussed in the 63rd EAC meeting held on 12-13th October, 2012. It was again discussed in the 65th meeting of the EAC held on 26-27th December, 2012 for approval of Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). EAC had sent back the project proposal seeking additional information/clarification on several issues. There were several critical issues which were not raised by the EAC. We have made a submission to EAC pointing out issues which need urgent attention.
Background of Hydroelectricity Generation on Kopili River
The Kopili River: Kopili is a south bank tributary of Brahmaputra which originates in the Borail range mountains in Meghalaya at an altitude of about 1600 m and has a total length of 290 km up to its confluence with Brahmaputra. Its basin is bound by the Jaintia Hills in the west and the South Cachar and Mikir Hills in the east. Kharkor, Myntriang, Dinar, Longsom, Amring, Umrong, Longku and Langkri are its major tributaries in its upper reaches.
After entering Assam the Kopili separates the Karbi Anglong district from the Dima Hasao North Cachar Hills district up to its confluence with Diyung River on its right at 135 km. After the confluence with Diyung, Kopili flows into the Nagaon district in a north-westerly direction. The Jamuna River with a catchment of 3960 km2 flows to the Kopili at Jamunamukh. The river then flows in western direction, and further downstream, the Umkhen-Borapani River which rises in the Shillong plateau and drains an area of 2038 km2 joins Kopili at a distance of 254 km from the left. The Killing River, known as Umiam in its upper reaches draining an area of about 1445 km2, flows into Kopili from the left at about 280 km. The Kopili River finally flows to Kalang, a spill channel of Brahmaputra, near Hatimukh after traversing a distance of 290 km2. The total catchment of Kopili River is about 16,421km2.
Kopili HEP: The Kopili Hydro Electric Project (HEP) has two dams, one on the Kopili River and one on its tributary Umrang stream. This project was developed by NEEPCO (Northeast Electric Power Corporation Ltd.). The first dam with 66 m height on the Kopli River is known as Khndong dam and the second one with 30 m height is known as Kopili dam located at Umranso. Water from the Khandong reservoir is utilised in the Khandong power station through a 2852 m long tunnel to generate 50 MW (2 X 25 MW) of power. The tail water from this powerhouse is led to the Umrong reservoir. The water from Umrong reservoir is taken through a 5473 m long tunnel to the Kopili power station to generate 200 MW (4 X 50 MW) of power. An additional 25MW was added to the Khandong dam in the Stage two of the Kopili HEP, making the total power generation 275 MW. Both Khandong and Kopili dams are concrete gravity dams. The first unit of this Kopili HEP was commissioned in March 1984. Additional unit under stage two was commissioned in July, 2004.
Proposed Lower Kopili HEP: The proposed Lower Kopili HEP is coming up in Boro Longku village in Dima Hasao district. The project is developed by Assam Power Generation Corporation Limited (APGCL). The Lower Kopili dam will be a concrete gravity dam with 70.13 m high dam wall. This project will also have two power houses and the first power house, or the main power house will have an installed capacity of 110 MW (2X55MW). An auxiliary Power House with an installed capacity of 10 MW (2×2.5 MW+1×5 MW) has been planned at the toe of the dam for utilizing the mandatory releases for ecological purposes, making the total installed capacity 120 MW. The Head Race Tunnel(HRT) of the project will be 7.25 m in diameter and 3.6 km long. The total land required for this project will be 1577 ha out of which according to the revised PFR and Form-I 552 ha will fall under submergence. But the old PFR and Form-I had mentioned the size of the submergence area as 620ha. The free flowing river stretch between Full Reservoir Level (FRL) of Lower Kopili HEP and Tail Water Level (TWL) of upstream Kopili HEP is about 6 km.
The water available at Lower Kopili dam site will consists of the following components:
1. Tailrace releases from Kopili Power Station (4 x 50 MW)
2. Inflow from intermediate catchment between Khandong and Longku Dam site
3. Spill from Khandong and Umrong Reservoir.
Some Key Issues Requiring Urgent Attention
After thoroughly going through Pre Feasibility Report (PFR) and Form-I of the proposed Lower Kopili HEP we have found that following issues have not been adequately dealt with by the project authorities. Infact some of them have not even been mentioned at all. EAC should not give TOR clearance to the project without satisfactory resolution of these issues.
Dam induced Flood: Experiences of the people living in downstream suggest that floods have become more recurrent after construction of the dam. The Kopili dam has changed the character of flood in the river downstream for the worse. Before the construction of Kopili dam, floods occurred mainly during monsoon season. Increase in water volume due to heavy rains used to be the reason for flood. These were normal floods which occurred not more than two or three times a year. But after the construction of the dam, number of artificial floods occurring in a year has gone upto 5- 6 times. These floods mainly occurred from the month of August to the first one or two weeks of November. Government of Assam never made an attempt to investigate the source of these floods (this information is from a field visit done to the area).
In the catastrophic floods of 2004, out of 140 revenue villages of Kampur circle of Nagaon district 132 were affected by floods with area of 135.12 sq. miles. Due to these floods 1,92,000 people were temporarily displaced. These floods also took the lives of 4 people. Even government had confirmed that the main reason for the devastation in these Nagaon and Morigaon districts was the release of the water from the NEEPCO’s Kopili project. The team that was deputed by the government found that water level of the Khandong reservoir went up to 727.70 meters against the FRL of 719.30 meters on 18th July 2004, which rolled down and led to catastrophic disaster. Flood release from the dam happened without prior warning and affected the whole valley. Kampur is one of the towns located in the downstream of Kopili dam where people were give only 2 hours to evacuate the area and move to nearby relief camps. July 18 is less than midway through the monsoon and questions arise why was the dam allowed to be filled up so soon which had led to such disaster. Had the dam operations were conducted properly the disaster could have possibly been avoided.
The issue of flash floods in Kopili River was raised in the Assam state assembly. On 8th November, 2010 former Chief Minister of Assam Mr. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, an MLA from Nagaon district made a call attention motion in the Legislative assembly on the issue flash floods in Kopili. He stated the NEEPCO is responsible for the flash floods in the Kopili River. Then Water Resource Minister Prithvi Majhi in his reply accepted this claim by saying that “the government would take up the matter of providing prior warning before release of excess water with the NEEPCO authorities.” From the above experiences of flood in Kopili River, it is clear that after the construction of the Kopili HEP (Hydroelectric Project) flood ferocity had increased in the downstream. In such situation construction of another dam in the immediate downstream of previous dam can worsen the flood scenario.
Besides, The Kopili reservoir of the Khandong dam is located at 82.5 km downstream from the origin of Kopili River. A major tributary Myntang with 512 sq kmcatchment joins Kopili at 86 km from origin. This is one of the tributaries in the upstream of proposed Longku dam site. In rainy season excess of rains in the catchment of these streams can also lead to spillovers in the proposed dam itself. The PFR does not look into the cumulative impact of the operation of the two dams on the downstream riverine area.
Spillway Capacity Inadequate at Lower Kopili HEP: As per the PFR, the design spillway capacity of the proposed Lower Kopili project with catchment of 2106 sq km is 16110 cumecs. Compare this with the spillway capacity of the upstream Khandong dam on the same Kopili river with catchment area of 1256 sq km being 15471.3 cumecs. It is clear that the design spillway capacity of the proposed Lower Kopili Project is inadequate.
Acid Contamination due to Opencast Mining threatens Viability of Lower Kopili: In the item 9.9 of the Form-I it has been mentioned that the acidic mine discharge in the upper reaches of the Kopili catchment is posing serious threats to the existing Kopili HEP. The PFR states “The identified acid mine discharge has been reported to cause constant erosion/ corrosion of critical hydropower equipments leading to frequent outages of the power plants under Kopili HEP.” The minutes of 9th TCC (Technical Coordination Committee) & 9th North East Region Power Committee Meetings held on 11-12th August, 2010, stated “The Kopili HE Plant has faced an extraordinary and unprecedented situation owing to acidic nature of the reservoir water. Prima facie, the acidification of the reservoir water is caused due to unscientific coal mining in the catchment area as revealed by study through GSI, NER, Shillong. The increased wear and tear on the underwater metal parts of the Plant due to corrosive action of the acidic water has led to the increase in the number of breakdowns.” The minutes also mentioned “It is pertinent to mention here that, although massive repairing work has been carried out by NEEPCO as temporary measures; an integrated, interdisciplinary approach for preventing / tackling acidification at source must be opted for survival of the Plant.” The acidic contamination due to open cast mining is such that no living organisms could be found in the downstream of Kopili river up to Kheroni. The situation is quite alarming as the PH value of the water has come down from 5.5 to 3.2 due to acidic contamination which is unfit for human consumption. State Power Minster was very much aware of the situation and expressing concerns over this he had asked the center to take up this issue with Meghalaya. The PFR should have given detailed account of implication of this on the proposed Lower Kopili HEP and further downstream, but has not done that.
PFR overlooks Kopili Fault Line: The PFR of the proposed Lower Kopili HEP does not mention about the Kopili fault line. In recent studies done in the Kopili river basin it has been found that the Kopili fault extends from western part of Manipur up to the tri-junction of Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, covers a distance of about 400 km. During the last 140 years, the Kopili fault has experienced 2 earthquakes of magnitude greater than 7 in R.S., three of magnitude 6 to 7 in R.S. and several of magnitude 4.5 to 6 in R.S. The study concludes that the North East region, more specially the Kopili Fault area is a geologically unstable region, surrounded by faults and lineaments and seduction zones in the east. But the PFR of Lower Kopili, overlooking this issue states that there are only two minor faults in this area and both of them are much beyond the project area. This clearly wrong and misleading on the part of Lower Kopili PFR.
Besides, some of the EAC statements are not complete and stand in contradiction to each other. The EAC said that as the site specific seismic study had been completed by IIT Roorkee and considered it appropriate for 120 MW project. But it also mentioned “The project specific geo-morphological and neo-tectonic mapping has not been done so far. As the project area falls under the active seismic zone where the Disang-Naga Thrust and Dhauki fault merge which triggers high seismic risk, the proponent is to monitor the MEQ studies by installing a 3-4 seismograph network for a period of one year.” When EAC is aware of these site specific details, allowing an additional big dam in the area will only to increase disaster potential in the area. EAC needs to keep this in mind while considering this new dam.
Issues Tribal Land Relations: In the item 2.1 of the Form 1 the project authorities have stated that the 620 ha that will be submerged due to this project consists of medium to high density vegetation, scrubs open and barren land etc. But Dima Hasao people have expressed their fears of not getting proper rehabilitation. The project seems to ignore this fact in the form 1. There can another reason also for the stating the submerged land as government land because the land holdings may not same as the ‘patta’ lands. Besides, the area which has been considered for the construction of the dam is inhabited by Dimasa people who mainly depended on the system of shifting cultivation. It is to be noted that in shifting cultivation there a cultivator cannot exercise permanent ownership over the land.
Defining ‘Other Forests’: The project as stated in item 1.1 of form 1 will also submerge 65 ha cultivation land. In the same item it is mentioned that an area of 585 ha will be submerged and this area has been mentioned as ‘other forests’. But the Form 1 did not define what this ‘other forests’ are or what they consists.
Impact on the Local People: In a memorandum submitted jointly by the Karbi Students’ Association (KSA), Sominder Kabi Amei (SKA) and Karbi Nimso Chingthur Asong (KNCA), to the State Power Minster Mr. Praduyut Bordoloi, the association demanded first preference in terms of employment should be given to the locally affected people. But the track record of dam building companies is very poor in this regard. The local people did not get promised employment and other benefits the in the Kopili project which came up in 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. On 20th March 2012, the Dimasa Students’ Union, Dimasa Welfare Association, Karbi Students’ Association and Sengia Tularam Club called for a 48 hours Umrangso bandh seeking “60 per cent of technical and non-technical posts in the project should be reserved for the local tribal populace, 100 per cent reservation for local tribal youths for Grade III and Grade IV posts, free electricity for locals, free treatment facilities in NEEPCO-run hospitals and so on.” This is very crucial issues but surprisingly it finds no place in the PFR document.
Why the size of forest area significantly reduced: In the revised Form I and PFR, submitted on 23 August 2013, Section 1.1 mentioned that out of 1577 ha which is the total land required for the project, 552 ha will fall under submergence and 340 ha forest land will be submerged in the reservoir. But the previous Form I and PFR, submitted on 14th November 2012, stated in the same section that the land falling under submergence and land converted into reservoir area is same i.e. 620 ha. The revised document does not give any rationale for reducing size of submergence area and reservoir area. It is also surprising to note that in the revised document, under the section “Impacts due to damming of river” in page 55, the old figures of submergence has been reiterated – “The damming of river Kopili due to the proposed hydroelectric project in creation of 620 ha of submergence area.” So the new documents submitted in Aug 2013 have serious contradictions.
Issues Need to be Included in EIA report
Since several critical issues were not included in the previously submitted document, we have listed out the following issue which should be included in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study of the proposed Lower Kopili HEP. Without detail analysis of all these issues EIA cannot be considered as complete.
Downstream Impact Assessment: Downstream impact assessment is a burning problem in Assam. The state has already witnessed huge protests against dams due to lack of proper downstream impact assessment. In case of proposed Lower Kopili HEP, the EIA document should do a proper downstream impact assessment. In order to do a thorough downstream impact assessment, the EIA will have to go beyond the 10 km radius and assess the full downstream area. In case of Lower Kopili, going beyond 10 km downstream becomes all the more significant because major part of the Kopili river basin is in the downstream of the dam. The downstream impact assessment should specifically focus on the impacts of the dam on fisheries and livelihood of the people who are dependent on fisheries, change in character of flood and impacts thereof, change in sedimentation and impacts thereof, change in geomorphological issues, change in groundwater recharge, among others. The EIA should find which section of people will be affected the most by the dam and how to compensate those people.
It has been reported that bank erosion by the Kopili River has increased after the construction of the Kopili dam. The EIA report of Lower Kopili HEP, should do an analysis to find what will be impacts of the new project on river bank erosion.
Impacts Peaking Power Operations: The EIA should do a detail assessment of impacts of peaking power operation during non-monsoon months. Due to peaking power generation in non-monsoon months the river stretch downstream from power house will have very little water for most hours of a day with sudden flows in the river only for a few hours. This flow fluctuation leads to many severe impacts including on aquatic bio-diversity, on safety, on river bed cultivation, on erosion, among others. This has severe socio economic impacts along with issues of safety of the people and their livestock in this stretch of the river. Therefore the EIA should do a detail assessment of impacts of peaking power generation.
Assessment of Optimum Reservoir Operation: The EIA should do an assessment to prepare an optimum reservoir operations plan for the project in order to minimize the downstream impacts if a disaster occurs. It is also highly recommended that the local people should be made a part of the reservoir operations process. Then only the dam authorities can be expected to be more responsible to in reservoir operations.
Impacts of Silt Management operations: The EIA should include detail analysis impact of changing silt flows downstream from desilting chamber, from silt flushing in monsoon, on the downstream areas. The EIA study should give detailed account of how the silt from the dam will be flushed out annually and what will be the impact of this in the downstream. The EIA should also include how the desilting chamber will be operated and what will be its impacts.
Detailed and Thorough Options Assessment: The EIA should do a thorough options assessment for the project. There can be several other cost effective options for power generation in that area and options assessment should look into al those.
Here we can take the case of solar power. A recent example of proposed 1000 MW solar power generation in Rajastan has showed that for 1 MW installed capacity only 2 Ha of land is required and the cost per megawatt installed capacity will be 7.5 crores and electricity will be provided at Rs 6.5 per unit. Another proposed 25 MW solar power project in Assam has similar figures.
At this rate, for a 120 MW (the target capacity of the proposed Lower Kopili HEP) solar power plant, the land required will be 240 ha. But for Lower Kopili HEP the land required is 1557 ha of land out of which nearly 900 ha will be used for the project even if we subtract 680 ha projected to be used for compensatory afforestation. This implies that for 1 MW installed capacity for the proposed dam the land requirement will be about 7.5 ha, about 3.75 times the land required for solar project of same capacity. Besides, the total cost for the Lower Kopili project is expected to be Rs. 1489.64 crores implying cost per MW installed capacity will be Rs. 12.41 crores, compared to Rs 7.5 cr for solar plant. Even if we were to put up 240 MW installed capacity of solar project, it would require 480 ha land, will not have impacts on the river, on people’s livelihoods, on forests, on climate change, and so on.
Increased Costs: It is important to note here that EAC in its 65th meeting in March 2013 discussing this projects had noted “In comparison to other HEPs being examined recently, the cost per unit of installed capacity of this project is almost double!” and this was said when the cost per megawatt installed capacity was Rs. 9.79 crores. Now in the revised document, the cost has gone up further to Rs 12.41 cr, the project proponent need to explain this further escalation from the earlier already high cost.
Groundwater Depletion in Downstream areas: People in the downstream of Kopili dam have reported that there has been depletion of groundwater in the downstream areas of Kopili dam. From a field visit done in the downstream areas of Kopili dam, it was reported that the ground water level at certain areas had reduced to 140 feet. River like Borapani, Kopili and Nisari dry up in the winters affecting the winter cultivations. Besides, wetlands which are known as Beel or Duba locally have disappeared. The reduction in groundwater can also be due to reduced groundwater recharge due to the dam. Impact of the dam on groundwater recharge should be a part of the EIA study.
Impacts of Tunneling and Blasting: The EIA should analyze the impacts of tunneling and blasting as these activities can increase in risk of landslide and disaster in a hilly area. Blasting in hilly area also will have impacts on water and people. These impacts should be thoroughly assessed by the EIA of the proposed project.
Impacts of Mining: The project will require large quantities of sand, coarse and fine granules and boulders. These are likely to be mined from the nearby areas. The EIA should include a study on the impacts of mining on the people as well on the local environment. Mining for the project will be done in the nearby areas and it will have severe impact on people as well as on the river, bio-diversity, hills, flora-fauna and aquatic bio-diversity etc. The study on the impacts of mining should include all these issues.
Impacts of Backwater Effects: The PFR of proposed Lower Kopili HEP states that Maximum Water Level (MWL) of the river is 229.60m where as the FRL of the reservoir is 226.0m. The MWL is thus 3.6m higher than FRL and this will have serious back water effects during the times of monsoon. The EIA must do an assessment of the submergence at MWL level and backwater effect measured at MWL and follow it up with an impacts analysis.
Detailed analysis about the existence of wetlands, watercourses and other water bodies: The revised PFR in page 17 under section ‘Environment Sensitivity’ states that there are no wetlands, watercourses and other waterbodies reported within the 15 km of the project. This statement seems incorrect. The EIA should do a detailed and thorough analysis regarding the existence wetlands, watercourses and other water bodies within 15 km of the project site.
Impacts of Climate Change: The EIA of the proposed Lower Kopili dam should do a study of possible impact of the climate change on the dam as well as on the Kopili river. Besides, it should also include the impacts of the dam on adaptation capacity of the local people.
Smaller Size Documents should be Uploaded for Public Dissemination: The EIA and other documents which would be uploaded on the internet should be about the size of 10 MB or less. The Revised Form I and PFR which uploaded on the MoEF website was 114 MB and it was difficult to download such a huge document even in a metropolis. These heavy documents will nearly be impossible to download from a small town or a village. The MoEF should insist from projects proponents that PP should be careful about this and should reduce the size (less than 10MB) documents for uploading from next time.
Parag Jyoti Saikia
with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar and Pooja Kotoky
 Patowary, A., “The Kopili Hydroelectric Project, Downstream People Rise in Struggle” published in “Water Conflicts in Northeast India – A Compendium of Case Studies” edited by Das, Partha J. et. all, 2013
 Mahanta, K. and et all (2012): “Structural Formation & Seismicity of Kopili Fault Region in North-East India and Estimation of Its Crustal Velocity” International Journal of Modern Engineering Research,Vol.2, Issue.6, Nov-Dec. 2012 pp-4699-4702