Even as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has been sanctioning cascades of hydropower projects on here-to free flowing rivers in the Himalaya and North East India, Cumulative Assessment of the Impacts of these projects became a crucial area of concern. Over 70 dams are planned one after other for the rivers of the Upper Ganga Basin, 44 dams across the Siang Basin in Arunachal Pradesh famed for its pristine forests and biodiversity, 12 dams across the Lohit Basin, 19 for Subansiri basin. These are bumper to bumper projects, one starting where the other ends. Continue reading “Cumulative Impact Assessment documents not in public domain anymore? Letter to MoEF and CC”
Press Release 08.07.2015
In a landmark judgement, the Hon. National Green Tribunal has quashed the Office Memoranda issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF for short) on the 12.12.2012 & 27.06.2013 for “Consideration of proposals for TORs/Environment Clearance/ CRZ Clearance involving violation of the Environment (Protection) Act, 19861 Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 / Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011”. Continue reading “NGT Quashes MoEF’s Office Memoranda on violating projects: Large number of irrigation projects of Maharashtra & Karnataka affected”
Why is the Maharashtra Govt and the MoEF misleading people of Marathwada?
Press Release 29.06.15
On the 24th June 2015, the Union Ministry for Forests, Environment and Climate Change (MoEF for short) granted Environmental Clearance to Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation Scheme for diverting 23.66 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) water from Krishna 1 Sub basin to Krishna 3 Sub basin of Krishna River Basin. The media has reported the development as a “Respite for Marathwada”.
However, as SANDRP had written to the MoEF several times, this Environment clearance is based on non-existent water availability and a misleading EIA by Science and Technology Park, University of Pune. Continue reading “Krishna Marathwada Scheme receives Environmental Clearance WITHOUT Water Availability!”
Its two years since Uttarakhand faced its worst ever flood disaster during June 15-17, 2013. We remember such tragedies to ensure that we learn the necessary lessons. So that in future such tragedies are not repeated or their dimensions are reduced. One of the enduring debates since that the Uttarakhand tragedy has been about the role of existing and under construction hydropower projects in increasing the proportions of the disaster.
A lot of water has flown down the Ganga in these two years, so let us revisit the important milestones of that debate. Within two months of the disaster, a bench led by Justice Radhakrishnan gave an order on Aug 13, 2013, asking the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to appoint an independent panel to assess the role played by existing and under construction hydropower projects in the disaster. Continue reading “Two years of Uttarakhand Flood Disaster of June 2013: Why is state & centre gambling with the Himalayas, the Ganga & lives of millions?”
Above: The modest Yettinahole Stream, close to location of proposed weir. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Debate over Yettinahole Diversion Project has been raging in Karnataka for more than two years now. While Dakshin Kannada has been rightly raising issues of unassessed social and ecological impacts of the project on this region, fresh information now available, including a study by scientists of the Indian Institute of Science – Bangalore, and other experts proves that Yettinahole Diversion Project just does not have the water that the project developers claim it does, taking out the very hydrological foundation of the project. Continue reading “Yettinahole diversion Project (literally) holds no water”
A three member committee set up by the Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (MoWR for short) has submitted a report in March 2015, which makes welcome recommendation on “Assessment of Environment Flows”. These recommendations on Environmental Flows (E-Flows) need to be implemented immediately for better health of our rivers. The committee members include Dr Vinod Tare of Indian Institute of Technology Consortium (IITC), senior officials of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF for short, it was represented by Dr Shashi Shekhar, Special Secretary in MoEF) and MoWR (represented by Dr Amarjeet Singh, Additional Secretary, MoWR). Sushri Uma Bharti, Union Water Resources Minister and even the recent meeting of National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGBRA) on March 26, 2015, headed by the Prime Minister referred to this committee. Continue reading “MoWR report on “Assessment of E-Flows” is welcome, needs urgent implementation”
Above: 440 MW Vishnuprayag HEP post 2013 disaster in Uttarakhand. The project, its operation and location added significantly to disaster in the downstream. Photo: Matu JanSangathan
Post by- Ritwick Dutta, Lawyers Initiative For Forest and Environment, Debi Goenka, Conservation Action Trust, Manoj Mishra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan & Himanshu Thakkar , South Asian Network for Dams, Rivers & People
In its initial pages, TSR Subramanian Committee Report (High Level Committee Report) comes across as a well-written, even eloquent document. That the environmental laws and governance needed streamlining and a strong, unbiased review was beyond doubt. Such a step was welcome and not an issue for environmentalists or rights groups to take umbrage to,in principle. In reality, overlooking the socio-political realm that infuses political and executive discourse is hardly possible or advisable. As pointed in this critique published in EPW, the report came at a time when environmental issues were abused and made to stand in judgment like no other.
The report has been lauded by the Env Minister who has taken pains to reiterate that his ministry “will not be a roadblock to development anymore”. The report also comes at heels of PM’s affirmation at the overflowing Madison Square Gardens about dismantling old laws. Even the most unbiased observer cannot miss context in which the report is laid out.
Even so, looking at the implications of the report it deserves an unbiased analysis and this is our attempt at it . (We have not dwelt too much on the structure or details of the report as these have been laid out clearly in other critiques.) The High Level Committee constituting of 4 members and 2 Secretaries under the Chairpersonship of Shri T.S.R. Subramanian, Former Cabinet Secretary, was formed on 29th August 2014 vide OM No. 22-15/2014-IA.III. Terms of Reference of this committee were:
(i) To assess the status of implementation of each of the aforesaid Acts* vis-à-vis the objectives;
(ii) To examine and take into account various court orders and judicial pronouncements relating to these Acts;
(iii) To recommend specific amendments needed in each of these Acts so as to bring them in line with current requirements to meet objectives; and
(iv)To draft proposed amendments in each of the aforesaid Acts to give effect to the proposed recommendations.
The third objective of bringing “laws in line with current requirements to meet objectives” is unclear in the absence of stating what the current requirement pertain to: What requirement? Whose requirements? Environmental, Social or Economic requirements? What Objectives? Whose objectives? The committee did not even attempt to clear air about these issues, though questions were raised. The composition of the committee also raised serious issues. (See SANDRP blog and Ritwick Dutta’s guest blog.)
So we had a committee of 4 members and 2 secretaries with questionable credentials, with an unclear TOR and put together by a government which had taken a biased stand on environmental issues sitting in judgment on all 6 environmental laws of the country, related orders, institutions and mechanisms which would affect myriad communities, forests and ecosystems, in a period of initially 2 months, extended by a month. Unbelievably, in these three months the committee not only suggested radical changes in all of the above, but also recommended a brand new Law (strangely) called Environmental Laws (Management) Act or ELMA, which, they suggest, would prevail over all contrary judgments issued in past decades or provisions of any environment law promulgated till date!
The committee states in the preamble of the ELMA that conclusions were reached “after interacting with diverse groups of people in different parts of the country”. This may give an impression that the Law or the recommendations are based on wide consensus. This is not the case at all and the output has to be looked clearly as a 6-member committee’s recommendations.
Going through the report As pointed out by Shripad Dharmadhikary in his critique, the report does make a relatively sound diagnosis of the problems of environmental governance of the country. Anyone, either from civil society or industry, who has experienced Forest Clearance or Environmental Clearance procedures, cannot but help be amazed at the entrenched bureaucracy, pathological reluctance to be transparent, colossal lack of accountability while taking decisions affecting ecology-social systems-industries, laziness to change any of the problematic entrenched systems and lack of respect for the people who are affected by decisions. Anyone who has made rounds to Pollution Control Board offices cannot miss the apathetic atmosphere, the couldn’t-care-less attitude of the officials.
So the diagnosis did detect the aching nerve when it states: “The legal instruments have really served only the purpose of a venal administration, to meet rent-seeking propensity at all levels. This impression has been further strengthened by waves of large scale ‘clearances’, coupled with major delays in approvals in individual cases” or “The state – arbitrary, opaque, suspiciously tardy or in-express-mode at different times, along with insensitivity – has failed to perform. The administrative machineries in the Government in the domain of Environment & Forests at all the levels, authorized to administer by Parliament’s statutory mandate, appear to have abdicated their responsibilities.”
“Environmental management is currently seen as an anti-thesis to development; development is seen as inimical to the habitat, natural assets, and in certain circumstances undermining peoples’ livelihood.” “Legislations are weak, monitoring is weaker and implementation is weakest.” And: “Our businessmen and entrepreneurs are not all imbued in the principles of rectitude – most are not reluctant, indeed actively seek short-cuts, and are happy to collaboratively pay a ‘price’ to get their projects going.”
Finally when the report evokes not only current challenges, but even inter-generational equity, it sounds too good to be true! “That environment is sacrosanct; that the purity of air, water and land has been inherited by a generation in mortgage for children of tomorrow; that it is implicitly imperative for each generation to leave the environment to the next generation in a better state than they found it.”
Where are the people? But as you continue reading through the lucid prose, you get that strange feeling of missing the elephant in the room. Where are the people? Where are the millions of people who live in forests or mountains or river valleys and islands or far flung villages, who are most affected by shoddy environmental governance? Why is the report not even mentioning the hardships faced by thousands of such fishermen who lost their livelihoods due to pollution of Vashishthi creek while the MPCB sleeps, or the cracks on the homes of people in Uttarakhand due to hydel projects which received clearances from MoEF CC, or the remote hilly settlements in Himachal who lost their sources of water due to tunneling and blasting for hydropower, or millions of fisherfolk who lost their rights to their rivers, or millions of tribals and others who are still awaiting rehabilitation after being driven out of their homes and their livelihoods?
Why are they not a part of this discourse on environmental management? The report spouts Upanishads and Vedas but does not seem to acknowledge that coexistence with nature has been a part of our eco-region for millennia.
Suddenly, one stumbles on sentences like “India’s growing prosperity is increasing demand for environmental quality”. This reduces environment to a consumable product, aspired by the upper middle class and negates the battles ongoing in the hinterlands of India, where environment equates with livelihood and survival.
As one reads on, the bias against communities and community protests gets clearer, starker and more disturbing. Along with communities, there is hardly any mention of impacts of destructive projects on forests, communities and wildlife. The lines are clearly drawn at compensatory afforestation, raised NPV, monitised afforestation, web-based monitoring, priced data bases, etc. But we are not to question the rationale behind several large scale destructive projects. To illustrate, in the case of Wild Life Protection Act, the report does not talk about habitat destruction due to development projects as one of the major threats to wildlife, but limits itself to hunting, poaching, man-animal conflicts and loss of corridors. Just to put things in perspective, in Arunachal Pradesh, Dibang Basin projects and Siang Basin projects can together submerge more than 23,000 hectares of prime wildlife habitat and affect several Schedule I species.
Some other issues too start getting too big to ignore. In the 113 page report, the word “speed” in context of speedy clearances gets repeated thirteen times. As we move from initial sagacious pages, the emphasis swiftly shifts from concern for environment to “time consuming clearance processes”. After notable recommendations in Forest Conservation Act, (succinctly critiqued here), the report seems to get down the business: Environmental and Forests Clearances. It is here that the superstructures NEMA (National Environment Management Authority) and SEMA (State Environment Management Authority) are introduced. Briefly, NEMA is proposed to be a full time board which will deal with a whole gamut of issues from Project clearances, monitoring, database creation, creation of standards etc,. CPCB will be subsumed under NEMA and it will function under the central government. SEMA at the state level will appraise Category B and C projects, monitoring and compliance, etc,. SPCBs will be subsumed under SEMA which will be under the State Govt.
Public Hearings (PH) According to the report:
- Only environmental, rehabilitation and resettlement issues can be raised at the Public Hearing.
- Only “genuine local participation” is permitted. Mechanism to be put in place to ensure this.
- Public hearing can be entirely dispensed with if local conditions are “not conducive”.
- There is no necessity for holding a PH if project site is away from settlements, if the projects are in industrial zones or complexes, for power, mining and line projects, if the projects are of national or strategic importance.
- Appeal against NEMA SEMA approval has to be filed first with the Board formed under ELMA (which is without any subject experts), which can summarily reject the appeal and levy heavy costs against appellants for pursuing frivolous matters.
- Gram Sabha Consent for Linear Projects not required, Settlement of Forest Rights not a necessity for Stage I Forest Clearance, no site inspection required for stage I forest clearance!
Let us see how these provisions, if accepted, will play out in real life, for example in case of Assam, which faces downstream impacts of Hydropower projects in upstream Arunachal:
- Assam will not be a part of Public Hearing for dams like Lower Siang, despite the fact that impacts of Siang basin projects will deeply impact Assam. This is because PH is restricted to distance from Project Site, and is delinked from the impact of the project! Diurnal fluctuations from the Siang project will result in change in water levels by 22 feet near D’Erring Sanctuary, very close to Dhemaji District of Assam, every day in lean season, but affected people will not be able to participate in public consultations.
- Even population from downstream Arunachal or interested Ecologists, NGOs who have important points to make about the EIA will not be allowed as PH is limited to “Genuine Local Participation” (this violates NGT judgment about who is aggrieved by a project).
- The population of Arunachal, which finally does get to attend, will not be able to talk about social impacts, downstream impacts, impacts of having too many projects in a cascade, safety issues, impacts on their homes and drinking water sources etc., as the scope of their inputs is limited to “environment and rehabilitation and resettlement issues.”
- Requirement of Public hearing itself can be done away with, if the “Local conditions are not conducive”. So in places like Tawang where Monpas are leading nonviolent struggle against destructive dams, the public hearing can simply be cancelled and the project proceed!
- In fact there may be no public hearing for hydropower projects or for any power projects or river link projects!
- In case affected groups want to appeal against NEMA decision, they will have to file a complete case within 15-30 days of MoEFCC’s order, which is extremely difficult for rural communities
- If surmounting all obstacles, a case is filed, the petitioners better be wary as the board has powers to reject their appeal summarily and levy heavy fine on them.
Does this look like a conducive, encouraging environment to bring out accountability, transparency and inclusive environmental governance? On the ground, this may mess up issues further, fuel conflicts and delay projects, rather than fast tracking them!
Process of Project “Approval”: All in Three months: The Report has also recommended how the clearance process should be. This is possibly one of the most problematic areas of the report where all the focus is centered on getting the file move in full throttle. The report recommends Model TORs (Terms of Reference) for sections, which already exist. It also assigns just 10 days for the NEMA to work on a site specific TOR failing which the proponent will use the Model TOR. Laying down TORs for an Environment Impact Assessment Study is one of the crucial parts of the clearance process. Many stalemates we witness today have their roots in inadequate TORs. In fact in some developing countries, there is a Public Hearing at the TOR stage also so that affected communities and interested stakeholders can raise points to be included in the study. NEMA is supposed to recommend approval or rejection (with reasons) within two months of receiving the application. The basis of 2 months is not clear as the EIA study itself has to be at least a single season (one year) study!
Fast track clearances: On this Clearance express, there are some compartments which belong to the bullet train. Because nearly three months is too long a time to wait for projects which have the potential to change an entire eco region evolved over thousands of years, linear projects, projects of strategic importance and power and mining projects which are “engines of the nation’s growth” are put on a separate fast track. It is not clear how soon they will be appraised, or, approved, but imagination runs wild here..
So what constitutes projects of national importance? As pointed by Shripad, much debated Polavaram Dam which can submerge nearly 300 villages in three states or the GosiKhurd dam which can submerge 100 villages, hundreds of hectares of forest land and is mired in deep corruption charges, can be fast tracked for being of National Importance as they already have the tag of being “National Projects”.
As for Monitoring, the committee stresses an ironically-named tool “Mandatory provision of voluntary disclosure”! Monitoring will be web-based, technologically assisted and with minimal need for site visits. This leaves absolutely no chance for any local affected community to be a part of monitoring, or be able to voice its concerns which may not show up on the hightech monitoring devises. The only place where committee mentions accountability is with reference to speed of clearance, failing which the Chairperson of NEMA will be held accountable. There is no accountability demanded either about failing to address impacts on ecology or on people.
Overreach of the Committee: ELMA: Hugely overstepping their mandate, the committee then proposes a new law for streamlining clearance and approval for projects at state and center by proposing Environment Laws (Management) Act, ELMA. As stated at the outset, this is no product of interactive discussions with civil society or general public, but is a part of a report by 4 individuals assisted by 2 secretaries in a period of 3 months.
Uberrima fides? It’s the environment we are talking about! According to the committee, ELMA is based on the principle of Utmost Good Faith or Uberrima Fides, used in Insurance Laws, as against Caveat Emptor, or Buyer Beware principle, where the NEMA, SEMA and the Ministry will put absolute faith in whatever studies, impact assessment reports, compliance reports that the proponent submits. According to the committee, “The law of insurance (Utmost Good Faith) supposes that the insurer knows everything about himself or about his activity to be insured; and the insurance company cannot be expected to know anything about the insured nor will it be able to verify all that is stated, speed being the essence. If the statements made by the insured turn out to be incorrect or if material facts were suppressed or concealed, the insurance company could avoid its liability.” (Emphasis added)
This stress in Insurance Law is entirely misplaced and non-applicable in the realm of environment!
Firstly, the Insurer owns his body, and there is a solid footing to believe him. In case of projects, say for example a dam about to submerge 5000 hectares of prime forest or displace lakhs of people, the proponent is making a claims about something he does not own, but which is public property on which many others depend and which will be irreversibly impacted by the proponent. While in case of Insurance laws the Insurer does not have any concern for the Insured, in case of environment, it is exactly the opposite. The MoEFCC’s prime duty is to safeguard the environment. If the project affects environment in a bid for quick clearances, it is the MoEF which would be (should be) deeply impacted. It cannot just “avoid its liability” like the insurance company as the Report suggests!
There is absolutely no justification for using principle of Utmost Good Faith in the environmental realm, because most EIAs are fraudulent and compliances do not exist. Even currently, any false information provided at the time of appraisal process is a violation of Environment Protection Act and invites punishment. But there are examples by the dozen about how the MoEFCC refuses to take action even when clear evidence is presented to them about false information presented by proponent. This was violation of EPA 1986, how is this violation different than violation of ELMA?
We know that monitoring is the weakest link in environment governance and there no reason to believe that it will improve in any way by making it web-based. In the absence of this, taking proponent at his word about the information he provides at the time of clearance or monitoring is not workable, justifiable or acceptable.
Appeals against decisions of NEMA or SEMA: The primary space to file an appeal against decision of NEMA or SEMA is now taken by a board Chaired by a retired High Court Judge and two senior officials of the government and the National Green Tribunal is restricted to only judicial review. Merit-Based review and subject experts is one of the strongest assets of NGT, differentiating it from other courts and it is clear that this very role is being clipped by ELMA.
The ELMA will have an overriding effect on any judgments, orders of courts or tribunals under acts dealt with by ELMA.
ELMA also envisages Special Environmental Courts at district level which will take “Cognizance of the serious offences only on a complaint by the officers authorized by the NEMA or SEMA.” As an afterthought, these courts may also hear public only if they are satisfied that responsible authority failed to take action about their complaint in three working days. Taking action is a very vague term.
While the ELMA has provisions for “protecting officials acting in good faith”, it has a penal provision to scare litigation by a provision which says “Punishment for false or frivolous complaints”. So while the proponent will be treated in “Utmost Good Faith” aggrieved citizens will be treated with utmost skepticism and will have to: File appeal within 30 days, prove their bona fides, be wary and careful about filing as it may be deemed “frivolous” and they may be fined!
The undercurrent of the HLC report is indeed that the environmental governance will have utmost good faith towards the industry and utmost suspicion towards the affected, the concerned or the civil society. There is no evidence till date to prove that this good faith in the industry is warranted without stringent checks and balances. Even in current compliance system the developers are supposed to voluntarily submit six monthly compliance report, but nothing happens if they do not and no one reads them if they do.This undercurrent overshadows some useful recommendations of the committee.
The HLC report cannot be accepted in this form. Any review of environmental laws needs a consultative and consensus-based process and not a rushed work of two months by a biased panel with unclear and open-ended TORs. The characteristic of ELMA, NEMA and SEMA of excluding participation and not attempting to address issues related to inclusive governance has the potential to polarize environment discourse rather than making it swift and accountable.
The remedy, unfortunately, seems more problematic than the illness. Reminds one of Sahir’s words, जो दवा के नाम पे जहर दे, उसी चारागर की तलाश है…
-Parineeta Dandekar, firstname.lastname@example.org
 The report has already been critiqued excellently by various authors.
- HLC – TSR Subramanian report: Climate blind or a climate disaster? Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/hlc-tsr-subramanian-report-climate-blind-or-a-climate-disaster/
- T.S.R. Subramanian Committee’ is interested in “Management of Environment” and not in “Protection of Environment”.-Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant (http://counterview.org/2014/12/16/tsr-subramanian-committee-is-interested-in-management-of-environment-and-not-in-protection-of-environment/)
- Recipe for Dilution of Environmental Protection Regime: Report of MoEF’s Committee to Review Environmental Laws- Shripad Dharmadhikary (http://shripadmanthan.blogspot.in/2014/11/recipe-for-dilution-of-environmental.html)
- Full Report of MoEF’s Committee to Review Environmental Laws Confirms Initial Apprehensions: Recipe for Dilution of Environmental Protection Regime– Shripad Dharmadhikary: http://shripadmanthan.blogspot.in/2014/12/full-report-of-moefs-committee-to.html
- Executive’s Environmental Dilemmas: Unpacking a Committee’s Report: Manju Menon and Kanchi Kohli: http://www.epw.in/commentary/executives-environmental-dilemmas.html
 Members include: Shri Vishwanath Anand, Former Secretary, Justice (Retd.) Shri A.K. Srivastava Former Judge of Delhi High Court, Shri K.N. Bhat, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India. Secretaries: Shri Bishwanath Sinha Joint Secretary, MoEF&CC, , Shri Hardik Shah, Member Secretary, Gujarat Pollution Control Board
  The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986,  The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;  The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972;  The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;  The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;  The Indian Forest Act, 1927.
As pointed out by Rohit Prajapati in his excellent critique, the HLC has also suggested changes to  The Forest Right Act, 2006 and  The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, though these were not part of HLC’s TOR.
The National Green Tribunal, NGT marked its 4th Foundation Day on 18 October 2014, with an impressive fanfare. A full day function was organized at the Plenary hall of the capital’s iconic Vigyan Bhawan. NGT in this short span has acquired a formidable reputation as a unique, vibrant, active institute with independent & unbiased mind and forthright, quick redressal of petitions that come to it.
The function in two separate sessions, one in the forenoon and the other in the afternoon (a Seminar) was attended by large number of government officials, judicial officers, advocates, law school students, NGT petitioners and office bearers and members of the NGT Bar association.
Invited dignitaries included Mr Justice Ranjan Gogoi (Judge, Supreme Court), Prakash Javadekar (Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change) and Ashok Lavasa (Secretary, MoEF&CC) in the forenoon session and Mr Justice Sudhanshu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya (Judge, Supreme Court) and Piyush Goyal (Union Minister of state for Power, Coal and new and renewable energy). Mr Justice Swatanter Kumar, the Chairperson of the NGT, Mr Justice Dr. P. Jyothimani, Judicial Member, Principal Bench, NGT, Prof. R. Nagendra, and Dr. D.K. Agarwal, Expert Members at the NGT also spoke and graced the dais.
The function included, in addition to the addresses by the invited dignitaries, the release of 2nd issue of NGT International Journal; the launch of new NGT Website (in the first session) and address by invitee experts (in the second session).
In the first session Mr Javadekar informed the gathering about his political beginnings from a water pollution struggle activist against factory pollution and Mr Lavasa categorically stated that the NGT is playing an extremely crucial role and that there is no move to dilute its powers in any manner. It was in the second session that very controversially one Mr M.K. Pandit was invited to speak as an invited expert.
Mr Pandit began with highlighting how recent and how fragile the Himalayas were and that a 8+ richter scale earthquake in central Himalayas was round the corner that could flatten Dehradun. Very soon in his almost 25 minute speech changed track as if on a cue to how great the hydropower dam projects in the Himalayas were for the power security of the country. The Union Power Minister had by then just joined the function to nod in full agreement with all that the Mr Pandit was narrating. The audience on the other hand was left perplexed as to what was happening?
An invited speaker was eulogizing the great merits of high dams receiving approving glances from the power minister on an NGT seminar whose topic was “Natural Disasters, Environment & Role of NGT with special reference to Uttarakhand, J&K, Assam & Himachal Pradesh”. Clearly something was amiss, somewhere?
Secondly, Mr Pandit is not a neutral expert, but an interested party. As leader of scores of pro hydro Environmental Impact Assessments that he has led as part of the CISMHE team (Center for Inter-disciplinary studies of Mountain and Hill Environment) has earned them millions as they also continue to mint more money. Typical of Indian EIAs, no EIA done by CISMHE has ever raised any difficult questions for the developers. It has also never concluded that any of the projects is unviable. CISMHE EIAs are as shoddy, incomplete and inadequate as any other. For example on Luhri HEP, the CISMHE EIA was so problematic that even the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects and the World Bank found it inadequate and unreliable.
Interestingly, CISMHE website says: “Ministry of Power, Government of India established CISMHE as an R&D Centre in power studies in environment in recognition of its excellent past performance”. This means that there is also conflict of interest here in CISMHE doing EIAs, since it has been set up as an R&D Centre by Ministry of Power, that is itself a promoter and developer of hydropower projects. No wonder, Mr Pandit said what the Power Minister wanted to hear and Power Minister made no efforts to hide his approval of what Mr Pandit was saying.
Very strangely, Mr Piyush Goyal claimed that Tehri dam was an example of good project in the Himalayas that saved Uttarakhand in the floods of June 2013. Mr Goyal should know that this claim had absolutely no basis and even an Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court of India has shown, after listening to THDC, CWC and others that such a claim has no scientific foundation. Mr Pandit did try to support the unfounded contention of Mr Goyal, but the minister asked him to keep quite.
It became clearer, when a pointed question asked by Shri Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan about what would have been the Tehri dam scenario if the Uttarakhand high rainfall event had occurred in the peak monsoon months of July, August or September and not on 16 June 2013 (as in fact happened in Sept 2010, when Tehri created a havoc in the downstream, damaging its own Koteshwar project), when the dam was almost empty and only beginning to get filled, elicited an evasive response first by the Union Minister (we cannot have structures planned for every 365 days in a year). And later when Pandit ji tried to answer, he was asked to shut without him being able to even respond to the other two questions relating to how does he reconcile to the fact of a high intensity earthquake visiting a region where he had been advocating the dams; why was USA (as also some other countries), the mecca of large Dams bringing many of its dams down?
In any case, Mr Maharaj Pandit was contradicting himself, because he said something totally different in his article in The Hindu soon after the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013: “Most downstream damage in otherwise flood-free areas is caused by dams and barrages, which release large volumes of water to safeguard engineering structures. Dam operators often release more water during rains than the carrying capacity of downstream areas, causing floods… Hydropower policy must consider building fewer dams and prioritise those that have the least environmental and social costs. Independent and serious monitoring of the catchment area treatment plans proposed by Forest Departments with funds from hydropower companies needs to be carried out and reported to the Green Tribunal.” In fact then in June 2013, he was on TV channels almost every night, talking about how Himalayas have the highest dam density in the world and that is such a big invitation to disaster! But he seems ready to change his stand to please the minister or the hydro project developers.
It seems as if Mr Pandit had been invited to justify the building of dams in the Himalayas in front of a large gathering of impressionable judicial officials and young student minds. It is possible that it was also intended to influence the minds of NGT members (judicial and experts) and other persons from judiciary in the face of a number of proposed dams being challenged before the various NGT benches and courts.
If a proper seminar was indeed planned on such an important matter, then there should have been several speakers on wide range of perspectives and topics and not just one speaker with conflict of interest and a clear agenda? The only other technical speaker, Dr R. Nagendran, an expert member with NGT southern bench spoke sensibly on how unscientific management of sanitary projects in hilly regions lead to parallel “Faeco-microbial disaster” which is difficult to tackle.
Mr Ritwick Dutta, secretary of NGT bar association said that the information about Mr Pandit speaking from NGT platform was not available in public domain and it is not clear how he was selected as a speaker.
Such blatant pro hydro bias in an NGT foundation day meeting is certainly unwarranted and out of place for an NGT function. An NGT platform should not have been allowed to be used for such biased presentation. We hope the bias apparent in this aberration is just that, an aberration and does not run deeper, considering that some hydropower professionals have been appointed on NGT benches.
We hope that at least in future the NGT, a statutory judicial body, otherwise doing a great job for the protection of environment, would be more careful in not letting its platform get used by the vested interests. The formidable reputation that NGT has acquired with a lot of remarkable orders should not be allowed to be affected by this one incident. NGT indeed needs to be strengthened in every way and not weakened in any manner.
It would also help if the NGT were to distance itself from this biased episode.
 For example, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/the-world-bank-drops-funding-usd-650-m-for-the-luhri-hydro-project-victory-for-the-sutlej-bachao-jan-sangharsh-samiti/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/pauk-heo-tato-i-hydropower-projects-cismes-shoddy-eias-seven-big-hydro-on-third-order-tributary-of-brahmaputra/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/
 For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/uttarakhand-floods-truth-about-thdc-and-central-water-commissions-claims-about-tehri/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/is-thdc-preparing-to-repeat-the-disaster-tehri-created-in-sept-2010/
Even as the government is set to review 6 of the foundational environmental laws of India, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC, formerly MoEF) has been issuing a slew of orders, circulars and Office Memorandums (OM) lately for “streamlining” Environmental and Forest Clearance process.
Having said that, there is no doubt that the system of Environment and Forest clearance needs to be made stronger, accountable, transparent, democratic and informed. Ironically, the only way the government has sought to do this is to make the system more industry-friendly. A vast majority of orders passed lately by MoEFCC are pro-industry and anti-environment. Drop by drop, such orders and circulars are making it impossible to rely on the original Environment acts and Notifications as the orders have interpreted Acts in convenient ways. At the same time, the misleading, non-compliance, hiding of information, willfully providing wrong information is rampant from project proponent side, with MoEF taking no firm action. We have illustrated this with very few examples below.
When this is a known case, accelerating clearance process, ignoring necessary studies and bypassing checks and balances is only accelerating our fall to the bottom.
Take an example of OM issued on the 7th October, 2014 titled “Seeking additional studies by EACs/ SEACs during appraisal of project beyond the Terms of Reference (ToRs) prescribed under EIA Notification 2006”(No. 22-A3/ 2O14-IA-III).
In a nutshell, this OM states that “It has been brought to its notice” that Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC for short. EAC is at the center, considering Environmental Clearances for bigger projects) and State Expert Appraisal Committees ( SEAC for short. SEAC is at State level, considering smaller projects for Environmental clearance) have been asking for “additional studies which do not form a part of TOR” and this “delays the whole process and is against the spirit of EIA Notification (2006)” It further says that EAC/ SEAC should address all issues at the primary scoping clearance stage itself, based on Form I submitted by the proponent and meeting of proponent with EAC and should ensure that “no fresh issues are raised later” and that additional information/ additional studies should be asked only if it is proved to be “inevitable”.
This OM clearly seems to be brought out due to pressure from project-related ministries state and industry lobby. We need to understand that EACs and SEACs were asking for Additional Studies in very rare cases. EACs like the one on River valley and Hydropower projects have a clearance record of 100% and rarely asks for additional studies. So what was the need for this specific OM?
This OM does not serve any purpose other than discouraging the committees from asking additional information or studies post TOR stage and is a regressive step.
In reality, the very need for asking such additional studies or information is due to severely compromised information provided by the proponents themselves at the Scoping Clearance stage.
Looking at the EC process it seems hiding information, providing false information, misleading the EAC and even committing blatant violations has become the norm rather than an exception. In very rare cases, when this is exposed before EAC, they have asked for additional studies (instead of taking any strong action, for example rejecting the application or postponing decision till the studies are done, as per the Law and prudent decision making norms). The OM is effectively stating that EACs should process applications based on any shoddy information they receive and should close their eyes even when critical issues surface later in the process. This is like accelerating a flawed process, in a race to the bottom.
Rather than passing such OMs, the Ministry needs to ensure that all the steps of EC process are complied with. That’s not the case today and that’s a more pressing problem than the additional studies. It is this non-compliance that is damaging the “Spirit of EIA Notification 2006” about which the MoEF seems to be least concerned. There is no need for any additional OMs to fix these issues, only real concern for spirit of EIA Notification and other related laws.
Below we give a few examples which indicate the gaping holes in the current system is and how “not asking for fresh information or additional studies” will result in severely flawed environmental decision making.
- Basic Project Information (Form I & PFR) has been incorrect, false or incomplete on many occasions:
The OM states that the EACs/ SEACs should base their TORs on basic project information (in the form of Form I & Pre-feasibility Reports – PFR) submitted by the proponent and a brief meeting with the proponent. (Note here that there is no role for any external agency and the Ministry is fully relying of the proponent for project information submitted at this stage.) Form I asks limited questions and a number of times, the answers provided by the proponent are incorrect, incomplete or misleading. Seems to be a sure way to make wrong decisions, doesnt it?
Sonthi Lift Irrigation Scheme in Karnataka, the Form I took the MoEF for a royal ride. The project was already significantly finished, in violation of the EIA notification and EPA (1986) when the officials approached MoEF for “Scoping” Clearance! And even after pointing out all the blatant violations, the MoEF accepted the project, with no action taken again the violators (Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited). We had pointed this out at many stages, see SANDRP’s submissions and notes: https://sandrp.in/Sonthi_Lift_Irrigation_Nov_2013.pdf
In case of 1750 MW Lower Demwe Project in Arunchal, which is part of a string of projects in Lohit Basin with huge cumulative impacts and downstream impacts on Assam, the Form I says “No cumulative impacts”.
In case of 72 MW Rolep project in Sikkim, Form I does not clarify that the project falls is a high landslide and flashflood zone, when landslides and flash floods have occurred at the site itself.
In case of Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme in Maharashtra, the Form I was a joke as the half-finished project with canals has been sitting idle for many years in Solapur, blatantly violating EPA,1986. Not only does the Form I hide that the project is nearly finished, is also states that the project “does not affect important ecological areas” or “areas for sensitive species”, when the canal of the project will take 92 hectares from Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary. Incidentally, the MoEF has a special plan for protection of the Great Indian Bustard! (See SANDRP’s submission at TOR Stage https://sandrp.in/irrigation/ShirapurLIS_SANDRP_Sbmsn_to_EAC_Jan2013.pdf)
These are only a few indicative examples and the violations are on a huge scale. We and others have pointed this out to the EAC and MoEFCC over the years, but no action was taken, thus encouraging the developers. We have not heard of a single instance when the MoEFCC has rejected the proposal based on problems with Form I/ PFR and as per the Clause 8 (vi) of EIA Notification 2006, which is reiterated in the present OM.
And now the Ministry wants EAC to take action only based on such information, and without any further studies!
- No action is taken when EIA is prepared violating granted Terms of Reference (TOR):
The Ministry is saying that asking for additional information is against the spirit of EIA Notification 2006. The same Ministry does not bat an eyelid when projects are recommended EC (Environment Clearance) by EACs even when they violate the TORs based on which the project received first stage clearance! Is that not against the spirit of EIA Notification?
Here too, SANDRP has pointed this out a large number of times, but this has not been acknowledged in most cases. Some examples:
EIA EMP of Kalai II Project in Arunachal Pradesh, major issues like hydrology, biology, geological aspects spelled out in TORs were not even addressed in the EIA EMP by none other than WAPCOS, Ministry of Water Resources enterprise, famous for shoddy studies. (See SANDRPs note: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/eia-emp-of-kalai-ii-hydropower-project-doesnt-comply-with-its-terms-of-reference/)
TORs issues for the 3000 MW Dibang Project in Arunachal Pradesh, India’s largest capacity hydropower project, were not fulfilled and yet EAC recommended Environment Clearance, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/.
TORs issued for the 660 MW Kiru and 560 MW Kwar HEPs in Jammu and Kashmir, were not fulfilled as pointed out by SANDRP (see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/massive-kwar-and-kiru-heps-on-chenab-j-and-kpoor-quality-cut-paste-eias-flawed-public-hearing/) submission.
TORs issued for Sach Khas Project in Himachal Pradesh had specifically asked for study of impact of sudden release of huge quantities of water for generating hydropower (Peaking) on biology of the river. This was not done by WAOCOS, but the EAC and hence the MoEF did not consider this point, even after SANDRP made a specific submission on it. See SANDRPs note: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/sach-khas-hydro-project-in-chenab-basin-another-example-of-wapcoss-shoddy-eia/
Again this is just an indicative list, showing the extent of real problems.
- No action was taken when EIA was plagiarized
There have been multiple occasions when EIA is exceedingly shoddy and even plagiarized! In these cases too, although it has been brought to the notice of EAC/ MoEF, no action has been taken.
For example: In case of Mohanpura Irrigation Project in Madhya Pradesh, plagiarising in WAPCOS EIA was pointed out to the EAC by SANDRP and individual researchers (see : https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/mohanpura-dam-in-madhya-pradesh/) but the MoEF took no action against the agency.
In case of Sonthi lift Irrigation scheme, the entire EIA was so poorly plagiarized by WAPCOS that even the name of the original project (Kundalia major multipurpose project from Madhya Pradesh) was all over the EIA for a Karnataka Project! SANDRP pointed out this too, but there was no response on this point. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/tragedy-of-errors-environmental-governance-and-the-sonthi-lift-irrigation-scheme/
These are again just indicative examples.
- No action was taken when EIA provided misleading information
There are several such examples but the most recent example, is 3000 MW Dibang Project in Arunachal. The EIA agency and Project Proponent has issued misleading information about the impact of the project on the downstream Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Assam. The report states that the water level rise or fall at Dibru Saikhowa due to sudden water release from all projects in the upstream Arunachal Pradesh will be less than one meter, when a different study also considered by EAC shows that this fluctuation when all upstream projects hold back and release water will be 7-8 feet (more two meters)! SANDRP had pointed this discrepancy, but the EAC did not even take a note of this in the meeting and actually recommended clearance to this project! (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/)
In other cases, basic information like length of the river, location of the project, area of submergence, area of affected population has also been wrong in the EIA and yet the EAC has recommended clearance for the projects, despite these issues being pointed out. Some examples in this regard include: Bansujara Project, (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/bansujara-irrigation-project-in-mp/) and Chinki Multipurpose project (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/chinki-major-irrigation-project-on-narmada-yet-another-evidence-of-mps-obsession-with-large-irrigation-dams-wapcoss-shoddy-reports/), both in Madhya Pradesh, EIA in both cases done by WAPCOS.
To reiterate, the above is a brief, indicative list. SANDRP and other organizations routinely look at the EC process, and we are overwhelmed at the level of non-compliance happening at the proponent end as well as EAC and MoEF level.
The affected communities see how their submissions are either misrepresented in the EIAs, or just not considered by the EAC even when objections are loud and clear in Public hearing reports (like in case of Dibang EIA).
- MoEFCC further denigrates the Public Consultation Process
By ordering that no additional information should be sought after TOR stage, the MoEF is deriding the importance of Public Hearing which take places as a part of the Environment Impact Assessment Study, after TORs have been granted. Like in the case of Dibang, major issues raised by affected people have not been raised either in Form I or in TORs or in the EIA and need additional studies.
Now by discouraging additional studies, the MoEFCC is suggesting that even public consultations are immaterial. No more studies, after TOR please! This is an insult of the public consultation process which should form the heart of appraisal and assessment process.
For the same reason, in many countries public hearing is conducted before granting Terms of Reference. In the absence of any such provision, simply stating that additional studies should not be recommended after TOR stage is a seriously regressive step.
- Project application documents not availalble in public domain
For basic transparency in Environment appraisal process it is necessary that all the documents (Form 1 and PFR at TOR stage & EIA-EMP and Public consultation documents at EC stage) that accompany the application for environmental clearance are put out in public domain well in advance ( at least ten days) before the projects are discussed by EAC.
Ironically, MoEFCC does not have any legal requirement in this regard and it was Central Information Commission that in 2012 directed the MoEFCC to ensure that. But this is not happening. In fact the projects that are on the EAC agenda are many times not even listed on the relevant environment clearance website (http://environmentclearance.nic.in/).
When this was brought to the attention of the MoEFCC’s concerned officials and EAC, they have taken no action in most cases. The situation has particularly worsened since June 2014, after the new BJP-led government came to power at the centre. It is on areas like these that we need MoEFCC to be pro-active. ( Pass some OMs here!)
In the end The system of Environmental Appraisal and Clearance today lacks accountability, transparency, democratic norms and compliance. Some of the major reasons for asking for additional studies is when the Form I, PFR and EIA do not adequately address issues.
In order to bring in speed and accountability in the appraisal process, there is a need to:
- Blacklist and debar EIA consultants which provide plagiarized, misleading or false data in EIA reports
- Reject applications based on false or misleading Form I – PFR
- Reject applications which do not conform with TORs granted
- Consider submissions received from civil society and affected groups at the time of TORs and EC process carefully and consider these as inputs and help for a holistic appraisal, not as adversaries. Invite organisations/ individuals in the EAC meetings when those specific projects are discussed.
- MoEFCC needs to ask EAC to show application of mind while appraising projects, submissions, public hearing processes and considering proponent’s response. This serious consideration by the part of EAC should be reflected unambiguously in the minutes of the EAC meetings.
- MoEFCC needs to appoint as members and chairpersons of EAC only such persons with a track record indicating knowledge, experience and independence on environment issues. A recent NGT order asked MoEFCC to do exactly, this, but MoEFCC has yet to implement this order.
- MoEFCC needs to ensure that all the relevant documents for projects on EAC agenda are put in public domain at least ten days in advance of the EAC meeting, as directed by the Central Information Commission. In absence of such documents in public domain, the EAC should not be considering the projects. (MoEFCC should in fact come out with a notification on this!)
- Reject projects which have violated EPA (1986) and EIA Notification (2006). Here too, the MoEFCC regularizes blatant violations by passing OMs.
Most of the above is enshrined in the EIA Notification (2006) and the Environment Protection Act (2006) and there is no need for passing any OM for this, but such steps will automatically make the EC process not only efficient and swift, but also responsive, pro-environment and pro-people.
And this should be the main concern of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
– Parineeta Dandekar ( email@example.com)
with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
 EIA: Environmental Impact Assessment
 Scoping clearance stage is first stage of Environmental Appraisal Process when the EAC grants Terms of Reference (TOR) to the project based on which Environment Impact Assessment is carried out later