Union Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) has been claiming that Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Program (AIBP) is a success story of Modi government and some media stories[i] are happy to uncritically report those claims. If we take a close, objective look at the MoWR website[ii], we gather that the claims of success is just that: claim of the ministry. There is no evidence available on the ministry’s website or in the media report that support such claims to show that additional irrigation has actually been achieved. Continue reading “AIBP: just a pack of unverifiable claims or worse?”
Press Release Oct 30, 2017
National Green Tribunal Admits Appeal Challenging
Environment Clearance to Ken Betwa Project:
No claim of equity for work done during pendency of application
The Principle Bench of National Green Tribunal on Oct 27, 2017 admitted a comprehensive Appeal (No 33 of 2017) challenging the Environment Clearance to Phase I of Ken Betwa River Linking Project. The order of the Bench comprising of Hon’ble Justice Swatanter Kumar (Chairperson of NGT), Hon’ble Justice Jawad Rahim (Judicial Member) and Hon’ble Bikram Singh Sajwan (Expert Member) on Oct 27, 2017 (available on Oct 28, 2017) noted: “Learned Counsel for the respective respondents accepts notice and prays for time to file reply. Copy of the application be furnished during the course of the date. Let the reply to be filed within two weeks from today and rejoinder within two weeks thereafter. List the mater on 27th November, 2017.” Ritwick Dutta, Rahul Choudhary and Meera Gopal are the lawyers representing the petition. Continue reading “NGT Admits Appeal Challenging Environment Clearance to Ken Betwa Project”
50-D, AD block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi 88
August 11 2017
1. District Magistrate,
2. Chairman/ Regional office incharge,
Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board,
COPY to: 1. IA Division (River Valley Projects) MoEF, Delhi
2. Chairman and Members of Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects
Respected Members of Public Hearing Panel for Pancheshwar Dam,
The public hearing now being conducted for the massive Pancheshwar Dam at Pithoragarh today, as part of the requirement under the EIA notification of Sept 2006 is being held in complete violation of letter and spirit of many norms of the EIA notification. Hence these public hearings should be cancelled. They should be rescheduled after appropriate conditions are achieved for the public hearing. Some of the key reasons for this are listed below, but these are not exhaustive reasons, but only a list of key indicative reasons. Continue reading “Cancel Pancheshwar Dam Public Hearings: It involves too many violations and illegalities”
काल दि. २३ ऑगस्ट २०१६ रोजी महाराष्ट्र-तेलंगण आंतरराज्य मंडळाच्या आज झालेल्या पहिल्याच बैठकीत तुमडीहेटी, मेडिगट्टा आणि चनाखा-कोर्टा बॅरेज या तीन बॅरेजचे काम सुरू करण्यासाठी दोन्ही राज्यांदरम्यान करार करण्यात आले. कमालीची गोपनीयता पाळत केल्या गेलेल्या या कराराबद्दलची अत्यंत मोघम टिप्पणी प्रसार माध्यमांना पाठविण्यात आली. तुमडीहेटी, मेडिगट्टा आणि चनाखा-कोर्टा बॅरेजमुळे महाराष्ट्र राज्यातील यवतमाळ, चंद्रपूर आणि गडचिरोली जिल्ह्यातील 30 हजार हेक्टर जमीन सिंचनाखाली येणार असून उपसा सिंचन योजनांना बारमाही शाश्वत पाण्याचा स्त्रोत उपलब्ध होणार आहे असे या टिप्पणीत नमूद केले आहे. तसेच या प्रकल्पामुळे महाराष्ट्रातील एकही गाव, गावठाण बुडणार नाही, नदीकाठच्या गावांना पुराचा धोका नाही व हे प्रकल्प दोन्ही राज्यासाठी फायदेशीर ठरणारे असून उपसा सिंचन योजनांना बाराही महिने पाणी मिळणार आहे असा दावा करत या भागातील नागरीकांनी या प्रकल्पांना विरोध करु नये असे आवाहनही महाराष्ट्राच्या मुख्यमंत्र्यांनी त्यांनी केले. Continue reading “महाराष्ट्र-तेलंगण आंतरराज्यीय करार: जनतेच्या मुलभूत हक्कांचे व देशाच्या पर्यावरणीय कायद्यांचे उल्लंघन”
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: River Ganga at Rishikesh Photo with thanks from Ramesh Rawat, India Travelz)
– Guest Blog by: Manoj Misra (email@example.com. Author is the Convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)
A ‘road map’ might be an inappropriate term for a ‘river’ rejuvenation plan. Thus I am using the term, a ‘river map’.
It is well known that despite the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) being in place since the year 1985 and the Supreme Court adjudicating public interest litigation on it since 1993 the river has become increasingly sick with some stretches notably in Kanpur deserving a biologically ‘dead’ status. So it came as a huge sign of hope when the Prime Minister Modi took upon Ganga rejuvenation as a personal mission and appointed Sushri Uma Bharti, a well known Ganga devotee and activist as the Union Minister of the renamed Ministry of Water resources, River development and Ganga rejuvenation. Soon the Finance Minister in the new government allocated financial resources to the tune of Rs 2037 Crores in the name of Nemami Gange (devotional bow to river Ganga) a flagship scheme of the new government, which is aimed at the rejuvenation of river Ganga.
Yet in recent days the Supreme Court time and again has chided the state on the lack of a sound action plan for its avowed objective of a rejuvenated river Ganga. So much so that it once, in an obvious exasperation on the state’s ‘business as usual’ approach to the issue, commented that “it might well be another 200 years before Ganga is actually rejuvenated”? Clearly notwithstanding its firm intent, the state continues to struggle with defining a ‘road (river) map’ that could while convincing the highest court in the land of its utility, set a clear and effective action plan on the ground for a rejuvenated Maa (mother) Ganga?
Let us try and see what does Ganga really require for its rejuvenation?
Term ‘rejuvenation’, which includes restoration, is a return of any living entity from what it is today to an agreed state of previous health and wellness. To unravel that we might first need to understand ‘what is’ and ‘where is’ river Ganga?
Most planners tend to view Ganga as a 2500 km long river from Gaumukh to Ganga Sagar, passing through the cities of Uttarkashi, Devprayag, Rishikesh and Hardwar in the state of Uttarakhand; Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh; Patna in the state of Bihar and Kolkata in the state of West Bengal before merging with the sea in the Bay of Bengal.
Herein, we understand lay the first fundamental planning mistake. For if Ganga were a simple linear entity as planners hold, then King Bhagirath would have unnecessarily carried out tapasya (penance) placating Lord Shiva to hold Ganga in his jata (matted locks) as she descended with massive force from the Brahm Lok (abode of the gods) with a presumed potential to wreck absolute havoc on the mrityu lok (earth) unless its speed had been broken. This mythical tale translates itself into an earthly reality whereby Ganga actually resides in each and every spring, in every water fall and in every stream that together form the vast network of its tributaries spread over its vast basin. So Ganga rejuvenation plan to make sense and desired impact must encompass actions to revive and restore all these numerous streams and tributaries.
Thus any rejuvenation plan that fails to look at and factor in the Ganga’s larger reality is destined to fail, a la all the previous Ganga Action Plans. All put together Ganga is no less than 25,000 km in length, with a basin spread of some 1,086,000 sq km. (see map) These include areas in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal within and China, Nepal and Bangladesh outside of India. With such a huge basin, the rejuvenational challenge might appear daunting, leading to an alluring thought that let us first try and rejuvenate the 2500 km of the main stem of the river and then may be tackle the rest. This we believe to be a fatal approach akin to fire fighting, without getting to the root cause, with the most immediate organ of a cancer afflicted human resulting ultimately organ by organ in the latter’s demise. Let us not forget that a healthy river system is like a multi-strand chain which is ‘as strong as its weakest link’. Hence as long as even one tributary remains sick, there can be no respite or rejuvenation of Maa Ganga!
In other words there is no single river Ganga. It is actually ‘Ganga Rivers’ spread all over its basin and carrying names like the Yamuna; Ramganga; Gomti; Mahakali (Ghaghara); Son; Gandak, Koshi etc with each in turn having their own network of rivers and their rejuvenational requirements, since over time majority of them have as well gone ‘sick’.
RIVER INHIBITING PROJECTS
Some might ask, but then what could be done with tributaries lying or originating in Nepal, Bangladesh or in China? A lot actually, beginning with not promoting or supporting river ‘inhibiting’ projects there and then taking lead in a common futures dialogue (an International Ganga Rivers Commission) program on Ganga as the Ganga rivers are in need of rejuvenation there as well.
Dwelling more on what are the river ‘inhibiting’ projects we are led to what constitutes a river’s integrity?
A ‘healthy’ river must ‘run’ freely and must ‘flood’ freely. (Floods in Indian rivers are natural monsoonal occurrence which could become devastating when obstructed).
That is its longitudinal and lateral connectivities must not be allowed to be compromised through manmade structures like dams, barrages and embankments. Such connectivities are essential for a river system to fulfill its ecological roles of transport of water, sediment and energy from source to the sea; recharge of ground water; provision of habitat to aquatic and riparian biota and completion of the water cycle.
In other words, a healthy river is essentially an ‘aviral’ (unbroken in its various dimensions) river. Thus the key challenge and objective of any Ganga rejuvenation plan has to be first and foremost its restoration back to a truly ‘aviral’ state.
Accordingly the following five steps are suggested as the ‘river map’ to a rejuvenated river Ganga.
Step 1 – Establish local level Ganga rejuvenation governance systems to ensure participatory bottom up planning and action plan execution. Support this with the establishment of a Ganga Rivers governance research centre.
Step 2 – Prioritise tributaries (Ganga Rivers) for restorative actions on the basis of their current level of threats and develop restorative action plans utilizing the governance systems as mentioned in step 1.
Step 3 – Establish through a participatory process a desired state of the rejuvenated Ganga; devise a national Ganga rivers policy and a Ganga rejuvenation law. Initiate dialogue with the Ganga nations for an International Ganga rivers Commission.
Step 4 – Review through independent experts, all past, present and planned river ‘inhibiting’ projects on the Ganga Rivers and then either re-design them to become river friendly or decommission / drop them. There should be a moratorium placed on any new structure (barrage, HEP, embankment) on Ganga Rivers till such time that all local level options of water harvesting and energy production (including solar and wind) have been exhausted with a policy that river waters and HEPs shall be the last resort for meeting such needs.
Step 5 – Set a time bound plan of action for ensuring aviral and wholesome Ganga ‘rivers’, with plans for ensuring their flows (water, sediment and energy) as well as the restoration of their catchment, flood plains and the associated biodiversity (aquatic, riparian and terrestrial).
The steps as suggested above are not sequential in nature and many could progress concurrently.
To a query “what then about the hydropower and water supply for fulfilling various human needs”, the response is twofold.
Firstly, this is the Ganga rejuvenation plan based on what Ganga Rivers need for the restoration of their health. Secondly, hydro-power generation and water diversion cannot be in excess of the thresholds as defined by the rejuvenational requirements of the healthy Ganga Rivers.
A rejuvenated Ganga has to be seen as a ‘provider within strict limits’ (as enunciated by the Prime Minister Modi on the banks of Maa Ganga in Varanasi, when he defined what a Maa (mother) is) and not what we in our flawed wisdom might wish to harness from her, with little concern for her deteriorating health and in disregard to the principle of inter-generational equity.
RIVER AND SEWER
The Indian state under the Ganga Action Plan had been investing time, money and efforts to restore the river Ganga through creation of pollution abatement infrastructure like the Sewage treatment plants (STPs) and the Effluent treatment plants (ETPs) in various cities and industries on the river in the name of ‘river cleaning’ with little ameliorative impact on the health of the river. In our understanding despite the poor maintenance being the cause of the failure of the created infrastructure, this approach to river restoration is fundamentally misplaced and hence wrong.
We believe that our rivers require restoration (based on the steps suggested before) of their ecological integrity in terms of their freedom to ‘flow’ and ‘flood’. Once thus freed, they possess all the power of self cleansing, subject to the observance of the fundamental principle of no mixing of ‘sewer’ with ‘river’. Here by ‘sewer’ we mean all kinds of grey water produced both by the cities and the industries.
Thus there is no mention of any river ‘cleaning’ or creation of STPs / ETPs as part of the suggested Ganga rejuvenation plan. The installation of such infrastructure is we believe to be an essential element of the process of urbanization and industrialization whereby the grey water from the cities and industries is converted into utilizable water for recycle and reuse to meet the non potable water needs both of the cities and the industries. But to do so in the name of river cleaning is in our understanding an ostrich like approach which takes away the attention and resource allocation from the real needs of river restoration based on the sound principles of river science.
Prime Minister Modi’s another oft quoted aphorism of “Zero defect and zero effect/ impact” should be made applicable not just to good manufacturing practices but also to good urban management practices with mandatory zero impact on any river that happens to pass by. AMEN!
–Manoj Misra (firstname.lastname@example.org)
1 September 2014
Sushri Uma Bharati
The Honourable Minister
Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
Government of India
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
1. Shri Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Minister of State for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
2. Shri Alok Rawat, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and ex-officio Chairman of the Narmada Control Authority
3. Shri A. Mahendran, Executive Member (Additional Charge), Narmada Control Authority
We the undersigned are deeply concerned about the recent decision of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam by 16.76 metres taking the height to the designed final height of 138.68 metres.
We think this decision of the NCA is unjustified and unwise. 1) It will cause huge additional displacement, when rehabilitation of the people affected even at the current height is incomplete. 2) As everybody agrees and experience has shown, even at current height, Gujarat is in a position to take the water stored to virtually any part of the designed command area, and can draw its share of water as per the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) award. Moreover, it has been able to utilise only a small portion of the water available at current height. So there are no compelling reasons for raising the height on this count.
Under these circumstances, the decision taken by the newly formed government at the centre and the NCA to raise the height of the dam within two weeks of oath by the new government is a hasty, unwise and disastrous decision. We earnestly appeal to you and the government to immediately withdraw the decision to raise the height of the dam.
More importantly, the issues related to the dam have festered over more than 30 years of its troubled history because governments have tended to take a legalistic stand rather than initiate an inclusive dialogue on the substantive issues about the project amongst all concerned, particularly those adversely affected. We appeal to you to start such an inclusive process of reflection and dialogue to arrive at a broad social consensus on four critical issues about the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) as outlined below.
1. Height of the dam: What is the height of dam needed for Gujarat to utilise its share of Narmada waters and take water to all its designated command? As already mentioned above, Gujarat is in a position to take water anywhere in the designated command area. There are studies and alternatives which indicate that Gujarat may be able to utilise its share of Narmada waters at current height and no further height increase may be required on this count. Doing away with the installation of the 16.8 meter high gates does not have any structural implications for the dam. So far as power generation is concerned, major power benefit is transitional, falling off as the states utilise their share of water and final residual power benefit is small. Moreover, even today, as per Central Electricity Authority (CEA) figures, at current height SSP generated 5,882 Million Units of Power in 2013-14, which is more than what SSP was envisaged to generate. The biggest beneficiary of power generated at SSP is Madhya Pradesh, but it forms a small percentage of its present power capacity and generation while virtually the entire brunt of massive displacement has to be borne by it. So, it may be optimal for Madhya Pradesh to trade off much of its transitional power benefit with the greatly reduced submergence and displacement with a dam at the current height. Thus there is a distinct possibility that optimal solutions exist at current height and they need to be explored.
2. Equitable distribution, sustainable use and participatory and efficient management of stored water: Given the ability to carry water to all parts of Gujarat at current height, it is more important to concentrate on issues of how water is used now. Criticism on these counts comes from some of the strongest proponents of the project. The project has been criticised, among other things, on account of gross underutilisation of the stored water, irrigation water not reaching the drought prone areas of Kachch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat, diversion of water for unplanned uses (for example, river front development, urban and industrial use south of Sabarmati), non existence of water users’ associations (WUAs) for most part of the command, lack of proper drainage in the command area, and inefficient and inequitable use.
3. Status of displacement and rehabilitation: There is a large gap in the perceptions and articulations of state and various groups and individuals including those from the adversely affected, both about the exact numbers involved as well as about the quality of rehabilitation. While the authorities have generally been claiming satisfactory rehabilitation, there is every indication that the rehabilitation even at current height falls quite short of what is legally required or what basic human justice demands. Since the submergence and displacement that would take place between 121.92 metres and 138.68 metres would be massive, there is every indication that effective rehabilitation would be intractable and virtually impossible. It becomes much more urgent to bridge this gap and come to a consensus on the actual extent and quality of rehabilitation already carried out before causing further massive displacement.
4. Environment and Climate Change: Environment and climate change issues that are important in the long run have not been given due attention. Downstream impacts of SSP on environment and livelihoods have not been properly assessed, environment-flows and requirements have not been studied and management plans have not been formulated or implemented. Climate change experts emphasise the importance to reevaluating the costs, benefits, impacts and optimality of projects and it is high time we initiated studies and discussion on these with respect to the SSP. If rejuvenation of rivers is to receive a central place in water resources development and the Narmada is to remain alive these issues need to be brought into discussion and resolved as soon as possible.
Good governance entails making socially and environmentally just decisions within a deliberative democratic framework and it is the lack of this that has resulted in three decades history of conflict and polarisation around SSP. We sincerely hope you will put us on a path of better governance, the professed aim of the new government, by revoking the decision to increase the height of the SSP from the current 121.92 m to 138.68 m and initiating a comprehensive dialogue on the substantive issues surrounding it.
A. C. Bhagabati,
K. J. Joy,
M K Prasad,
N. C. Narayanan,
Rajeswari Sarala Raina,
Ramaswamy R. Iyer,
Names added subsequently:
V N Sharma
For any further details and follow up please contact:
Ashish Kothari (firstname.lastname@example.org);
Himanshu Thakkar, (email@example.com);
Himanshu Upadhyaya (firstname.lastname@example.org);
K. J. Joy (email@example.com);
Shripad Dharmadhkari (firstname.lastname@example.org);
Suhas Paranjape (email@example.com)
The one day Ganga Manthan organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on July 7, 2014 was described by Union Minister Sushri Uma Bharti & Union Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari as “Historical”. The Union Environment Minister, who has one of the most crucial role in achieving a rejuvenated Ganga, was supposed to be there, but could not come at any stage.
I attended the full day meeting with a lingering question: Will this help the river? Even some of the ardent skeptics said that Uma ji has emotional, spiritual and religious attachment with the cause of Ganga.
At the conclave attended by close to a thousand people, the story of how Ms. Bharti came back to the BJP party about a year back to work for the cause of Ganga, and how she was promised a year back that if their party came to power, Ganga will get a separate ministry and she its charge was narrated repeatedly by both Ms Bharti and Mr Gadkari at least twice. It was also stated that the government has the commitment, the will & all the money to make the Ganga clean (Nirmal) and perennial (aviral). There were also repeated statements by both ministers about the officials being so committed to the cause of Ganga. These, in essence, were the basic positive assets of this government to achieve Ganga Rejuvenation.
While it was good to see large gathering involving various sections of the society, including many independent non government voices, missing were some key stakeholders: Ganga basin state governments, farmers groups, Ministry of Urban Development, fisher-folk groups, boats-people representatives. Another key constituency missing was Ministry of Agriculture, since agriculture is major user of water & irrigation and responsible for water diversion and at the same time major non point source polluter through use of chemicals and fertilizers.
Rejuvenation does not mean just nirmal and aviral But if the task is Rejuvenation of River Ganga, are these assets sufficient? What exactly does Rejuvenation of River Ganga mean? There were no answers to this question at the meeting. The government did not even seem bothered about these questions. Are Nirmal and Aviral Ganga sufficient objectives to achieve Rejuvenation of Ganga? The answer is clearly no, for, even a pipleline or canal carrying perennial flow of water can claim that distinction. A rejuvenated river will need much more than that, but the government has nothing else to offer for a rejuvenated river.
Even for Aviral Ganga, the government had absolutely nothing to offer. In the information package shared with the participants, the only thing relevant to Aviral Ganga was the extended summary of draft “Ganga River Basin Management Plan” being prepared by consortium of seven IITs in collaboration with some 11 other organisations. This is led by Dr Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur. While standing with Dr Tare and Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh at the lunch, I said, the problem with Ganga is not of technology, but of governance. Despite being a proud IITian myself, I have no hesitation in saying that IITs do not have expertise in governance issues, so how can the IIT Consortium help in fix a governance problem? Having read the full Draft Plan of the IIT consortium, it only further strengthens the view that it was wrong decision of Jairam Ramesh to give this task to IIT Consortium.
Agenda for further destruction As a matter of fact, while this government has yet to take a step that will truly help rejuvenation of Ganga, they have declared their agenda that will possibly further destroy the river. This was clear on June 6, 2014, within ten days of new government taking over when a PIB press release announced, “Shri Gadkari said it is proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters and for a three (3) meters draft (depth) to enable transport of passengers and goods between Varanasi and Hoogly on river Ganga in the first stage of its development and eleven terminals are proposed to be constructed along the banks. He said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms.” This was a shocking and arrogant announcement. There is nothing in public domain about this Rs 6000 crores plan, no details as to what exactly is planned, where the barrages are planned, why are they needed, what are their environmental impacts, what are the social impacts, what are the riverine impacts, what is the cost and benefits, who will pay the costs and who will reap the benefits, where is public consultation….there is absolutely nothing in public domain and here is a nine day old government declaring such massive plan! By July 7, 2014, the PIB Press Release declared that the depth will now by 5 meters and not three announced earlier. The PIB PR now said, “He (Mr Gadkari) said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms on the river. Shri Gadkari said his Ministry has sent a proposal in this regard to World Bank for the development of Allahabad- Haldia corridor.”
The minister possibly does not know that there is just one barrage on the Allahabad-Haldia 1500 km long stretch, namely the Farakka barrage and Bangladesh had threatened India to take the matter about building this barrage to the UN! Moreover, that barrage, everyone accepts, has not even achieved the basic objective it was supposed to achieve, namely navigability of Kolkata port, but has had many other severe impacts.
At Ganga Manthan, Mr Gadkari dropped a bombshell when he said this plan is already in advanced stage of appraisal with the World Bank! He said the government hopes to get Rs 4000 crores from the World Bank!! The World Bank has zero track record in achieving any clean river anywhere in the world, after spending billions of dollars every year. In India itself it stands guilty of destroying many rivers. A more inauspicious start to the Ganga Manthan possibly could not have been possible. At the Ganga Manthan itself, there was opposition to this plan, as The Hindu has reported.But Ms Uma Bharti finds nothing amiss about this as was clear by her answers at the press conference. But what about at least some semblance of participatory democracy?
Business as usual at NMCG and NGBRA will not help In reality, this is not all. While this Manthan for Ganga Rejuvenation is happening, the NMCG and NGBRA (National Ganga River Basin Authority) go on with their work in business as usual fashion. So in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam is going about its task of floating and examining the bids for five-part sewer laying and Sewage Treatment Plants with the help of JICA money. In Kanpur, the effort to divert several streams to Pandu is going on. In Allahabad, “the draft final ESAMP sewerage works for sewerage districts” A & C could be found on the NGBRA website. In Patna, the World Bank is funding the sewerage projects of Pahari in Patna & river front development and the draft social and environmental impact assessments could be found on NGBRA website. All of this (except the Varanasi packages, which are funded by Japanese aid agency) is going on under USD 1 Billion World Bank Funded NBGRA project.
So the business as usual that is going on for 40 years is now going to help rejuvenate Ganga!
The NMCG announced that the Manthan, a “National Dialogue on Ganga”, was supposed “to facilitate interaction with various stakeholders”, “to discuss the issues & solutions to the task of Ganga Rejuvenation”, “to prepare road map for preparation of a comprehensive plan”. The website said the Ganga is “holiest of Rivers”, “purifier of mortal beings” & “living godess”, but now “seriously polluted” and in “extreme environmental stress”.
Where is the dialogue? However, the way the meeting was organized, there was essentially no dialogue. After the inaugural plenary session, the participants were divided among four groups: 1. spiritual leaders, 2. environmentalists, NGOs, water conservationists, 3. scientists, academicians and technocrats, and administrators; 4. public representatives.
I went to the second group and there, when someone pointedly asked, if there is any representative of the government present, there was no response! In fact it was positively shocking that the first panel member that spoke in this group was Dr Arun Kumar of AHEC (Alternate Hydro Energy Centre) whose work on Ganga basin cumulative impact assessment is so discredited that even the official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF, the Inter-ministerial Group on Ganga, the Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court after the June 2013 flood disaster and the Supreme Court itself has criticized it or found it unreliable. NMCG has discredited itself by appointing such a person to give an overview of achievement of Ganga Action Plans.
Ms Bharti apologized in the beginning for hurriedly-called meeting. But the least she could have ensured was a credible process that will ensure that the officials have to show application of mind to the various suggestions received and conduct of the meeting in credible and confidence inspiring way. But the meeting did not inspire confidence that there will be any credible process that will ensure that there is application of mind to the various inputs given. Many of the participants did not have any opportunity to speak.
Recommendations for the government on Ganga
1. Make an honest effort to learn from the past. Why have the efforts of last 40 years since the passage of Water Pollution Act 1974 not helped Ganga? Similarly why did the GAP I, NRCP, GAP II, NGBRA not helped make the Ganga clean (nirmal) or perennial (aviral)?
2. Understand & recognise that Ganga is a river and what are the essential characteristics of a Ganga that it needs to rejuvenate it as a river. At Ganga Manthan, in post lunch session in the room where the fourth group for public representatives was sitting, I was sitting next to an official of Ministry of Water Resources and I casually asked him does the ministry of water resources understand what is a river? He first said yes, but when I said you are only dealing with water and nowhere in your work have we seen any value for rivers, he said ok, but we can do it in collaboration with MoEF. The trouble is, even MoEF does not understand rivers. [It was also strange to see in this session Mr Madhav Chitale (former Water Resources Secretary) describing Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 as an effort to clean the river! Such misrepresentation going unchallenged was shocking.] It should be remembered that it is this ministry of water resources through which Sushri Uma Bharti has to achieve a rejuvenated Ganga!
3. Ganga is not 2525 km long river: We kept hearing this sentence that Ganga is 2525 km length of river and Mr Bhurelal in fact said we need to limit ourselves to discussing how to make this stretch clean. The trouble is, if the tributaries are not healthy rivers, how can the main stem of Ganga be rejuvenated? As Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan said, Ganga is not 2525 km, but much more than 25000 km including all the tributaries, as Yamuna is not 1400 km long but 13470 km long including all the tributaries.
4. Ganga in Mountains: Learn the lessons from Uttarakhand disaster, that affected the headwaters of the Ganga river. The Expert body constituted by the MoEF under Dr Ravi Chopra has a lot to say there. Revisit all the existing, under construction and planned projects in the whole basin.
5. Farakka barrage: It is well known that the barrage did not serve the basic purpose it was created for, namely making the Kolkata port navigable. But it has created such havoc in upstream and downstream for millions of people that some of the Bihar MPs of previous Lok Sabhas talked about decommissioning of the barrage in the debate on Ganga. But this government wants to make many more barrages! First do a post facto assessment of the Farakka barrage and its current costs, benefits and risks.
6. Formulate an Urban Water Policy: The footprint of the urban areas on the rivers is increasing in multiple ways, but we have no urban water policy. Some key elements that such a policy will include: Reducing transmission & Distribution losses, water audit from RWA upwards, Rainwater harvesting, decentralised and eco-friendly ways of sewage treatment and recycle, groundwater recharge and bottom up management, demand side management, protection of local water bodies, protection of riverbeds, floodplains and forest areas & democratisation of the Urban water utilities. As the working report for the 12th Five Year Plan on Urban water said, no Urban areas should be allowed to have external water till they exhaust their local potential, including recycling of the treated sewage and other demand side and supply side options. The footprint of the urban areas will increase exponentially if we do not urgently on this front.
7. Agriculture is the biggest user of water and our government encourages use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. Most of these chemicals end up in water bodies including rivers. If we do not want our rivers to be dumping grounds for these chemicals, the government should encourage organic farming. Similarly, in stead of encouraging water intensive cropping patterns and methods, government needs to encourage low water use crops and methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is applicable for many crops and can reduce water need by upto 50% and yet increase yields and incomes of farmers. But the government has shown no interest in encouraging SRI. Such methods can free up a lot of water for the river. Similarly, under the influence of powerful sugar lobby, we are producing more sugarcane and sugar than we need and than we are exporting the same at subsidized rates! So essentially we are exporting water at huge subsidized rates, that too from Ganga, but we have no water for the river!
8. Irrigation is the biggest user of water. At Bhimgoda, Bijnor and Narora barrages, we are diverting almost all the water in the river for irrigation. But we have no water for the river. If we change our water resources development and agriculture policies, it is possible to restrict these diversions to 50% and release the rest for the river. We need to review all this.
9. The IIT consortium report is seriously flawed and is not likely to help the river.
10. We need to define the path of the riverbed or right of way for the river, based on its need to carry 100 year flood and silt. In absence of such a defined space for the river, there are a lot of encroachments. There is also no river regulation law to regulate this riverways land. This is urgently required.
11. Our Pollution Control Boards and related mechanism is not known to have achieved a single clean river or nala in 40 years of their existence, anywhere in the country. This is because of the completely non transparent, unaccountable, non participatory and exclusive bodies, where people whose lives are affected by the pollution have no role. A complete revamp of this is required to make its management inclusive from block level upwards, and answerable to the local people through clearly defined management system.
12. One of the major reason for the failure of the GAP, NRCP and NGBRA is that their functioning is top down, with absolutely no clearly defined norms for transparency, accountability, participation and inclusive management. Unless we completely change this, no amount of money, no amount of technology, no amount of infrastructure or institutions is going to help the Ganga. We need management system for every STP, every freshwater plant, every city and town, every 3-5 km of the river, every tributary and so on. At least 50% members of the management committees for each of them should be from outside the government, including community members. The people whose lives and livelihoods depend on river including fisherfolk, boatspeople, river bed cultivators, local sand miners, communities depending on river for different water needs have to be represented in such management system. That will also create an ownership in river rejuvenation effort. This is also applicable to urban areas and all the tributaries.
13. This is also true for our environmental governance of dams, hydropower projects, flood control projects, water supply projects, and so on. Today there is no credible environmental management at planning, appraisal, construction, operation or decommissioning stage.
14. River of course needs water. Urgently. Chart out a road map to achieve 50% of freshwater releases from all dams and barrages in two years. Also no sewage water or effluents entering the river in two years.
In the concluding plenary, after listening to the reports from four groups (there were a lot of positive and useful suggestions there), Ms Uma Bharti and Mr Gadkari said that they won’t make any announcement today but they will ensure that the good suggestions that have come will be given to the decision-makers who will create a road map. This is very vague and unconvincing process with no credible transparency. The least the ministers could have assured is a confidence-inspiring process that would transparently ensure that the decision makers have applied their minds to the suggestions. But even that was not promised.
Despite this seemingly gloomy outcome, considering that the NMCG has invited suggestions even after the meeting, I am going to send this blog link to them and wait for their response! Ganga definitely needs a lot of sewa from all of us if the river is to have any better future.
Himanshu Thakkar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
 Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
 Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation
 It’s worth noting here that Mr Gadkari seems to have abiding faith in technology, he said that this is an age of technology and there are technological solutions for all problems! This possibly shows where we are heading!
 Title: “Development of River Ganga for Tourism, Transport and to make it Environment Friendly”
 Also the views of NGBRA expert member B D Tripathi that also questions Dr Vinod Tare and IIT consortium report on Ganga: http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/72
http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/71: Ganga clean up more about governance than technology: Himanshu Thakkar
http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/70: Experts flay Uma Bharti’s Ganga Manthan clean up plan
Why this hurry to submerge tribals and farmers under
In a shocking decision on June 12, 2014, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), headed by the secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), & which includes secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) and senior officials of four states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh & Rajasthan, have sanctioned, in what The Hindu called “emergency meeting” (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/narmada-dam-to-be-higher-by-17-m/article6108571.ece) installation of 17 m high gates on the Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada River in Gujarat, taking the effective current height of the dam from 121.92 m to 138.68 m. This has been done after the Rehabilitation sub group (RSG) of the Narmada Control Authority, chaired by secretary, Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) has also cleared this decision. This decision implies submergence of thousands of ha of land and displacement of lakhs of tribals and farmers in three states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, when their rehabilitation, as legally required, has not been done.
Strangely, the government that talks about transparency, had nothing to report on its website (either PIB website or MWR website till 12 noon on June 6, 2014) about this decision, who will be affected, reason for such emergency decision or basis for the decision.
More importantly, Gujarat & Rajasthan can get their share of water from Narmada river without this height increase and are not able to use even 20% of the water already available to them at the current height. This is clearly unnecessary, unjust and unwarranted decision that is not likely to have even legal sanction. Only additional benefit that increase in height can provide is additional water storage, which will imply about 10-20% additional power generation, in which Gujarat’s share is only 16%: 57% share goes to MP and 27% share goes to Maharashtra.
There is some misinformation that this height increase is required to take the water to Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat. This is completely wrong. The Full Supply Level of Narmada Main Canal is 110 m and once water enters this level in the dam, water can be taken to the canals. Once water enters the main canal, it can be taken to the Kutch, Saurashtra and N Gujarat. Based on information we have obtained from SSNNL under RTI, we have seen that Gujarat can get its full share of 9 Million Acre Feet of water at current height and no height increase is necessary. Had Gujarat built the necessary canal distribution system with branch canals, distributary canals, minors, sub minors and field canals to fields in Kutch, Saurashtra and N Gujarat, it could have taken Narmada water to these regions even eight years ago. To suggest that height increase will achieve this is clearly spreading misinformation. Similarly, as far as providing drinking water to the drought prone areas is concerned, height increase is not required to complete that.
Gujarat, in the meantime have increased the share of drinking water (1 MAF) and industrial Water (0.22 MAF) from 0.87 MAF for these combined sectors, at the cost of irrigation, without any participatory or transparent process. (see new share in this report in The Hindu on June 12, 2014: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/a-long-wait-ends-for-gujarat/article6109547.ece).
The claim of Gujarat government that cost of the project has increased because height of the dam has not been raised is completely wrong. The cost of the project is going up (TOI has reported on June 13, 2014 (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Narendra-Modi-gives-Gujarat-its-lifeline-Narmada-Dam-height-to-be-raised-by-17-metres-lakhs-will-lose-their-homes-activists-say/articleshow/36453275.cms) that the project has already spent Rs 65369 Crores and ultimate cost is likely to be Rs 90 000/-) because Gujarat government has not been able to complete the canal network and has also been paying huge amounts to service the debt.
It is shocking that all the officials of the central and state governments and all the concerned ministers (including Water Resources Minister Ms Uma Bharti, Environment Minister Mr Prakash Javdekar, Social Justice Minister Mr Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in addition to Gujarat and MP Chief Ministers) have towed the line dictated by Prime Minister Mr Modi and Gujarat Government in this regard, within two weeks of new government taking over. No additional rehabilitation could have been accomplished in these two weeks, which seems to indicate that a political decision has been taken, without considering the ground realities, merits or justification of the decision or necessity of the decision. This does not bode good for the functioning of the new government.
It should be noted here that the installation of gates will take three years, and in any case, for closing the gates, the project will need clearance from Environment Sub Group, RSG and NCA again. Secondly, the gates have been lying in the yard of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) for many years and a question mark was raised about the safety of the gates in a recent meeting of the Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee. Now, as The Times of India reported on June 13, 2014 (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Use-of-30-year-old-gates-worries-experts/articleshow/36453333.cms), even former Gujarat Government officials are raising the issue of old technology of 30 year old gates when new technology gates would be also be safer. In view of all this, it may have been better, as Narmada Bachao Andolan has suggested, for the government to first take proper stock of the situation rather than rush into this “emergency” decision on the eve of the monsoon, when no work is in any case possible in monsoon.
It is also shocking that even before the RSG and NCA were to take the decision; Gujarat Government was already busy preparing for celebratory meeting at the Dam site. This shows that the functioning of the statutory bodies has been taken for granted and their decision was pre-determined, as directed by higher authorities.
Gujarat can get its water share without increase in height The new government wants to take the SSP Dam from its current height of 121.92 m to its final design height of 138.68 m. Firstly, there are serious doubts if this height increase is required since it can be shown that Gujarat and Rajasthan can get their share of water from Narmada without this increase in height. Secondly, Gujarat is not even in a position to use more than 20% of the water it already gets from the river at current height of the dam for the purposes for which the project was designed: providing water for the drought affected regions in Kutch, Saurashtra & North Gujarat. On the other hand, urban centres, industrials areas, SEZs, cosmetic river beautification schemes have appropriated a large chunk of SSP waters without legal, democratic sanction or justification. Gujarat really does not have a case for increasing the height of SSP Dam.
Moreover, this will also entail such massive additional submergence, displacement and disruption of lives of tribals and farmers that it is sure to create huge opposition. Narmada Bachao Andolan estimates that an additional 2.5 lakh people will face unjust submergence in three states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The just rehabilitation of already affected people is far from complete, in fact, most of the affected population has not been given minimum 2 ha of land required under the Narmada Tribunal award and subsequent accepted policies.
Mr Modi during his tenure of 13 years as Chief Minister of Gujarat failed to complete the canal network of SSP in the drought prone areas in whose name the project has always been justified. It needs to be noted that the agitation against SSP did not stop Gujarat government from going ahead with construction of canal network. It was not for lack of finances that SSP could not complete the canal network. SSP has been getting largest quantum of money from the Government of India’s Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme ever since the AIBP scheme started in 1996. This support to SSP from AIBP was clearly wrong since SSP was never the last mile project for which AIBP was meant, but the big dam lobby in Union Water Resources ministry and Gujarat government were hand in glove in this misallocation of AIBP money for SSP. In fact, Mr Modi arm-twisted the Planning Commission in 2011-12 to sanction the escalated costs for SSP even when the issues raised by Planning Commission officers remained unanswered.
It is the ineptitude of Gujarat Government under Mr Modi that is on show as to why it could not complete the canal network on drought prone areas in Gujarat. Mr Modi would do well to remember the reasons for that failure before he considers the mega projects agenda as Prime Minister.
Moreover, on SSP, the issues of completing repairs of the damages the Sardar Sarovar dam structure suffered four years ago & related issue of safety of the dam are yet to be resolved and Gujarat has embarked on building another Garudeshwar Dam in immediate downstream without any impact assessments, participatory democratic process or required sanctions. The legality of the Garudeshwar Dam work stands challenged in the National Green Tribunal by the affected tribals.
Conclusion This unnecessary, unwarranted and unjust decision is not going to go down well with any right thinking person. The new government at the center is clearly treading a path that is bound to raise huge uproar and make the common person on street question: for whom and for what purpose is this government working. It would be in best interest of everyone if the government was so confident, to get this debated in the Parliament.
Himanshu Thakkar (email@example.com)
“The actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return” this was the unequivocal conclusion of a recent study done by a group of experts from Oxford University on dams around the world. Similar conclusions can be reached from a recent analysis done by SANDRP on five large irrigation dam projects from northeastern region of India, where project costs have increased as high as 35 times from its original costs and projects are under construction for 35 years but yet not completed. The Oxford study which has assessed 245 large dams built between 1934 and 2007 in 65 different countries in five continents, including 97 hydropower projects, 59 irrigation projects and 89 multipurpose projects with hydropower component, had identified enormous cost and time overrun as a major problem with large dam projects.
SANDRP had recently done an analysis (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/lack-of-transparency-and-accountability-remains-the-norm-of-functioning-for-mowrs-advisory-committee/) of the decisions of the Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources for consideration of techno-economic viability of Irrigation, Flood Control and Multi Purpose Project Proposals (TAC in short) for North East India. This analysis covered decisions taken by TAC from 95th meeting of January 2009 to 122nd meeting of December 2013. Within these five years, TAC has given clearance to 38 projects in North East India out of which major number of the projects i.e. 26 are flood and erosion control projects. Rest of the 12 projects includes 6 irrigation projects, 3 barrage projects and 3 multipurpose projects. All these 12 projects involve irrigation as a major component.
Among the 12 projects, five projects draw specially attention because of the humongous cost escalation and time overrun in the construction of these projects. But this focus on five projects out of twelve should not be taken as an ‘All is well’ certificate for the remaining seven projects. There are significant issues with those projects as well but from the perspective of time and cost overrun, these five projects present a very critical picture. Besides, all the five projects discussed here are under construction projects. TAC had paid little attention to these critical issues and therefore very little information is available in the TAC meeting minutes regarding the five projects discussed here. In this analysis, along with details cost and time escalation other important issues related with the projects have been brought together. Three out of these five projects are located in Manipur where as two are located in Assam.
Starting with the three projects from Manipur, the table below summarizes the cost incurred in these three projects. All these projects are age old projects and how much benefits will be acquired from them once there construction is complete, still remains uncertain.
|Name of the Project||Year of Starting||Original cost||Considered in 2009||Considered in 2012|
|Khuga Multipurpose Project (Major- Revised)||1980||15||381.28||433.91|
|Dolaithabi Barrage Project (Medium – Revised)||1992||18.86||251.52||360.05|
|Thoubal Multipurpose Project (Revised)||1980||47.25||982||1387.85|
|Total (all costs in Rs Crores)||81.11||1614.8||2181.81|
Khuga multipurpose project was first considered in the year 1980 when the cost of the project was Rs 15 crores. 1. The Khuga multipurpose project is located near Malta village in Churachandpur district of Manipur, at least 10 km from the district headquarter. The project was to irrigate 15,000 ha of land, provide 10 million galons for drinking water and have installed capacity of 7.5 MW hydropower. The Khuga (considered in the 110th and 115th meeting of TAC) project witnessed cost escalations of 25.42 & 28.92 times respectively from its original cost.
In the 115th meeting of TAC held in July 2012, the completion deadline of Khuga multipurpose project was stated as March 2013 which implies that it would take 33 years only to complete the project. The minutes of the 115th meeting stated “The project authorities indicated that the increase in cost was due to frequent blockades and law and order problem in the project area, as a result Project authority were unable to obtain construction materials like cement, steel etc, in time, which in turn slowed down the progress of the project significantly. Regarding revised target date of completion, the Project authorities informed that land acquisition had been completed and the project would be completed by March 2013.”
We came across some of very crucial issues about these projects discussed in detail in the Manipur based website Manipur online, Hueiyen Lanpao. These issues were very much related with the viability of the Khuga project but none of these issues found any mention in the TAC meeting discussions. The project proponent seemed to have completely ignored these issues, some of these are given below.
- The Khuga project is reported to be inaugurated by Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi in November 2010.
- This project was visualized to solve the irrigation, drinking water and electricity problem of Churachandpur district in particular and Manipur in general since agriculture is the main livelihood option of the region.
- But, in terms irrigation it seemed unrealistic to many since Churachandpur is a hill district where jhum cultivation is practiced. In fact an inspection of the main right canal of the Khuga multi-purpose project showed the very sorry state of the canal. The inspection led by an ex-Minister N Mangi came to the conclusion that the canal had never provided any irrigation to nearby paddy fields.
- An audit report of Khuga multipurpose project of March 1999 on the performance review of the dam had stated “Since 1984, the IFCD, Manipur, carried out construction work on 25.37 km of canal over an area of 40.27 hectares of forest land in Dampi reserve forest without obtaining the required clearance for diversion of forest land. Barring the unaccounted environmental destruction (that still continues) the overall concept of the multipurpose Khuga Dam project in itself was unpractical and paradoxical.”
- Regarding drinking water, people in the area when faced with drinking water scarcity, were not sure whether the water reserved in Khuga dam would qualify as good enough for drinking. People of several villages living in the vicinity of the dam had reported that stagnant water actually smells.
- The electricity generation component had been scrapped totally even after the power house was reported to be completed by almost 80%. It was said that there were flaws in the design of the Khuga multipurpose project right from the beginning and the electricity generation was not a viable option. It was learnt that the power component was planned and designed without studying its operational feasibility and the power component can be operated for only about 3 or 4 months in a year when there is excess water.
- There was also a report that a Joint Action Committee on Khuga Dam visited the national capital and submitted a petition to Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission demanding an expert team to investigate the execution of the project. The Joint Action Committee also demanded that the 1.5 MW electricity for the people of Churachandpur district and compensation and rehabilitation money to the affected the villages should be cleared. None of the above, even the petition submitted to the planning commission was not mentioned in the minutes of the TAC meeting.
Dolaithabi Barrage Project was first approved by the Planning Commission of India in 1992 with a cost of Rs 18.86 crores to be constructed in Imphal East district of Manipur. 22 years have passed since then, but the project is yet to be completed. The cost of the project has increased 19 times from its original cost when it was considered in the 115th TAC meeting held on 24th July 2012. In that meeting price escalation, change in design on the basis of model studies, detail examination of the project proposal by the CWC field unit had been cited as the reasons for increase in costs of the project. But there was no question on why the design of the project had to be changed 20 years after the project had started. TAC meeting minutes did not mention any completion year for the project, but state Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh in an inspection tour to the project site in October 2012, had announced that this project would be over by March 2014. This clearly sounds unrealistic.
Thoubal multipurpose project was first considered by Planning Commission in the year 1980 and the original cost of the project was Rs 47.25 crores. The project is still far from completion and witnessed huge cost escalations. From 2009 to 2013, the Thoubal multipurpose project was considered in two meetings. In the 101st TAC meeting, when this project was considered the cost escalation was already 20.78 times the original cost. As per minutes of the 115th TAC meeting, the cost by then was 29.37 times higher from the original cost. The Thoubal project was also considered in 123rd meeting held on January 30th, 2014 where the projected cost was Rs 1694.27 crores. This is a 35.86 times increase in costs from its original cost. It is interesting to see that in the minutes of the 115th meeting the reasons provided to justify the delay in the construction of Thoubal Multipurpose project are exactly same as those given for Khuga multipurpose project.
Dhansiri irrigation project in Darang district of Assam is another glaring example of mind blowing time and cost overrun. This project was discussed in the 119th meeting on 29th August 2013 for consideration of cost of Rs 567.05 crores. This project started in 1975 and the original cost of the project was Rs 15.83 crores as per the information available in Assam State Irrigation Department website. The same website states that project is supposed to be completed in 2010, 35 years from the time it started. But in the 119th TAC meeting March 2015 was stated as the new completion target. This implies that the cost of the project has increased by 35.82 times over a period of 40 years but even after that the advisory committee accepts proposal without much scrutiny or enquiry. There was no detailed assessment of the reasons for time and cost overruns (there is no question of delay due to clearances or agitations here) or on whether this project which will take 40 years just to complete will be viable or not.
The project proponent stated that due land acquisition and law and order problem the project has not been completed and the TAC seemed to be contended with this. But the minutes of the 119th meeting also showed that major components of the project were in advanced stages of construction with 93% of barrage work, 99% of the canal works and about 83% of works in the distribution system completed. There was no detailed assessment of any of these aspects.
Champamati irrigation project in Chirang district of Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), Assam presents a very unique case. This project started in 1980 with an original cost of 15.32 crores. It was discussed in 103rd meeting of TAC held on 11th March 2010 with a revised cost of 309.22 crores which is clearly a 20 times increase from the original cost. This was 30 years after the project had started and referring to the observation of the Chairman, TAC minutes stated “both physical and financial progress of the work was rather going on a slow pace. He enquired to know whether there was any land acquisition problem persisting or not.”
Replying to this, the project authorities had stated that “the delay was mainly due to lack of fund and land acquisition problem. However, the main canals had been completed by about 80% while distribution system completed upto 30% which is likely to be completed in another two years.” But in the list of major/medium schemes in the website of Irrigation department, Govt. of Assam the proposed year of completion of this project has been mentioned as 2009.
But in midst of these tall claims of project completion, what is the present status of this irrigation project cannot be confirmed. There is little information available on this project in the internet and from those it can be clearly said that the project was not completed till the mid of 2013. In a news report titled “Centre worried over Cost overruns in old irrigation projects in NE” published in The Sentinal on 26th August 2013 the delay in construction of Champamati irrigation project was also highlighted. On other hand an earlier report “Irrigation scheme damned by delays” published in the Telegraph on 21st August 2006, had indicated that this project had substantial amount of construction left to be done “Till now, only the sluice gate (headwork) of the Champamati irrigation project has been completed, sources said. Of the 37 regulators, only eight are complete, of the 120 canal falls only 20 are complete, while 72 cross-drainage systems have been completed out of a total of 270. Of the 197 bridges, just 50 are finished. The earthwork of the main canal and the branch canal are also incomplete, with only 97.67 km out of 145.95 km finished.”
How much benefit these projects will do to the people of India’s Northeast is the question which may appears in the minds of many after going through this analysis. After such humongous in costs and time overrun, the benefits expected to be derived from these projects, would hardly justify the costs incurred. Similar concerns were raised by the representative of the Planning Commission regarding Dhansiri Irrigation project “the benefit cost ratio of the project was 1.2 and any further escalation in cost would result in the project becoming techno-economic unviable.”
Whether these projects can actually deliver what had been promised remains uncertain at best. From the history of Khuga project, it is very clear that the promises are never fulfilled and the benefits never reached the people. In fact the Khuga project is also an example of how the expected benefits of the project never become a reality even after completion of construction. The benefits from irrigation largely remained on paper.
This is the case with the several other irrigation projects in northeast. The case of Loktak Lift Irrigation project in Manipur can be cited here about which the minutes of the 122nd TAC meeting (20th December 2013) stated “Loktak lift irrigation project was commissioned in 1986 with an original command area of 24000 ha and 40000 ha as annual irrigation. Due to scarcity of funds from State Government the normal repair and maintenance could not be taken up and as of now the annual irrigation has reduced to 1800 ha.” This is possibly indicative of how much irrigation benefits have actually been accrued from irrigation projects.
Functioning of TAC Barring the cost and time overrun of these projects, the functioning of TAC also needs to be looked into. The Advisory Committee of MoWR very much works like a rubber stamping committee, clearing everything that comes to it. A reading of the minutes of its meetings reveals that there are hardly any critical questions asked on merits of the projects and for the massive delay and cost escalations that most of the considered projects suffer from. Nor is there any discussion about the performance of the projects. Considering the importance of TAC in India, we believe the committee needs to be more serious in performing its duties. It needs to question the merits and need of a project before clearing and need to do performance evaluation. It should no way become a clearing house for projects. Effective steps need to be taken to ensure that the functioning of this committee becomes more transparent, participatory and accountable. SANDRP has written letters to the concerned authorities in this regard, but we are yet to see an effective change.
Parag Jyoti Saikia (with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
 In the 100th TAC meeting along with Khuga and Dolaithabi projects there were four other under construction irrigation projects considered by the committee. Three of these projects were from Tripura and one was from Assam. Due to unavailability of the minutes of 100th meeting in the CWC website, those four projects could not be discussed here.
 See news sections of http://www.manipuronline.in/ and http://www.hueiyenlanpao.com/