Cauvery · central water commission · Dams · Disasters · Floods · Karnataka · Tamil Nadu

Cauvery is facing very serious flood risk, but CWC is in slumber

(The figure above is screen shot of CWC Flood forecasting site showing no warning signs even at 5 pm on 230718)

Almost all the big dams in Cauvery Basin are full on the earlier ever monsoon date this year. This includes Krishnaraj Sagar, Mettur, Kabini, Harangi, Hemavathi and Bhavanisagar. They are almost full and have started releasing large flows to the downstream areas. This is when we are past just about six weeks of South West Monsoon, the North East monsoon would come after that. It means that the basin is facing major risk of floods in next 2-5 months. And yet Central Water Commission, India’s flood forecasting agency, seems to be in deep slumber. It has not even bothered to update the flood readings on its designated sites from the 2017 figures.  Continue reading “Cauvery is facing very serious flood risk, but CWC is in slumber”

Disasters · Floods

CWC’s Weekly Reservoir Bulletin: Closer look warns of impending disaster

One of the key source of information about India’s water availability that the government provides and media and everyone else quotes is Central Water Commission’s weekly (updated every Thursday) “Reservoir Storage Bulletin”[i]. The Reservoir Storage Bulletin (RSB) currently tells about water storage position of 91 storage dams across India with total live storage capacity of 161.993 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters), spread over 18 states and 12 river basins. CWC uploads it with a disclaimer: “The Data contained in this Bulletin is as received from the State Government/Project Authorities.” Continue reading “CWC’s Weekly Reservoir Bulletin: Closer look warns of impending disaster”

Dam Induced Flood Disaster · Dams · Disasters · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas

Kinnaur in crisis; Sheer Negligence in hydro projects claiming lives. Who is accountable?

Above: Entirely destabilised house next to 100 MW Sorang HEP transmission lines Photo: Sumit Mahar

Immediate Press Statement from Himdhara 02/12/15

In the last two weeks a half a dozen lives have been lost in the Kinnaur region alone in three separate incidents that have one thing in common – accidents at hydropower project sites. The first event took place in Burang village on the 18th of November 2015 where a penstock pipe burst of the 100 MW Sorang Hydro-electric project led to the death of three people. On 29th November, two labourers died in blasting operations in the 450 MW Shongthong Karchham project, some others were seriously injured. And on the same day in the Bhabha Valley, a young teacher lost her life in a landslide that occurred in the area. Continue reading “Kinnaur in crisis; Sheer Negligence in hydro projects claiming lives. Who is accountable?”

Disasters · Yamuna River

Yamuna Augmentation Canal Breach – Man-made Disaster?

Goggle Imagery of the Area
Goggle Imagery of the Area

A 75 feet wide breach on right bank of Yamuna Augmentation Canal (AC) has drowned vast agricultural land area belonging to three villages of Alahar, Palewala and Nachron falling under Radaur block of Yamuna Nagar district, Haryana.

The breach reportedly occurred about 14 km downstream Hamida Head on Western Jamuna Canal (WJC) in Yamuna Nagar district around 03:00 am on 12th of April 2015. From all accounts, it seems like an avoidable manmade disaster about which credible independet inquiry alone can help arrive at truth. Continue reading “Yamuna Augmentation Canal Breach – Man-made Disaster?”

Climate Change · Disasters · Hindi Blogs

जलवायु परिवर्तन की मार झेल रहे भारतीय किसान ; बेमौसमी बरसात का प्लेजियों को सबसे ज्यादा नुकसान

जलवायु परिवर्तन की मार से किस प्रकार भारतीय खेती और किसान प्रभावित हो रहे है, इसकी एक झलक हमको फरवरी अंत और मार्च 2015 के आंरभ में हुई। अप्रत्याशित हिमपात, बरसात एवं परिणामस्वरूप आई बाढ़ के रूप में देखने को मिली। 28 फरवरी से 03 मार्च 2015 चार दिन तक हुई इस बेमौसमी बरसात से लाखों भारतीय किसानों के प्रभावित होने की आशंका है। साथ-साथ जलवायु परिवर्तन जनित इन घटनाओं से भूमिहीन किसानों की बहुत अधिक दुर्दशा होती है और ऊपर उनकी सुध लेने वाला कोई नहीं है। Continue reading “जलवायु परिवर्तन की मार झेल रहे भारतीय किसान ; बेमौसमी बरसात का प्लेजियों को सबसे ज्यादा नुकसान”

Climate Change · Disasters

Early Spring Rains bring Climate Disaster for farmers in India

It was bit of a shock to get up to a VERY wet Sunday on March 1, 2015, having slept past midnight the previous night with a ‘dry’ weather. When I checked my inbox, the message from Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan was waiting to provide a link to Accuweather.com site[1] and also satellite image from India Meteorology Department (IMD) site[2]. It looked ominous: “A potent storm will drop unusually far south as March begins, blasting India and Pakistan with heavy thunderstorms, flooding rain and burying mountain snow.” Northwestern India and Northern Pakistan were to face the maximum impact, but the impacts were to reach far down south right upto Karnataka. As the site said it was a rare event: “It is rare for widespread substantial rain such as this elsewhere across northern and central India”. Continue reading “Early Spring Rains bring Climate Disaster for farmers in India”

Disasters

Landslide Dam blocks Phutkal River, threatens Zanskar Valley: Update

NRSC latest (Feb 7 2015) image of the Phutkal landslide
NRSC latest (Feb 7 2015) image of the Phutkal landslide

Feb 13, 2015: The picturesque Zanskar Valley in Jammu and Kashmir State in Northern India continues to remain under threat as one of the tributaries of the Zanskar River has been blocked by a massive 200 ft high landslide dam (equal to height of a 20 storey building). The landslide dam between Shaday Sumdo and Mar Shun in the Zanskar subdivision of Kargil district has created about 14 km long lake, whose size is increasing with every passing day. Life and properties of around 4000 people are at risk due to the possible flashfloods when the landslide dam breaches. Continue reading “Landslide Dam blocks Phutkal River, threatens Zanskar Valley: Update”

Disasters

Landslide Dam blocks Zanskar River tributary, threatens Valley

The picturesque Zanskar Valley in Jammu and Kashmir State in Northern India is under threat as one of the tributaries of the Zanskar River has been blocked by a massive 200 ft high landslide dam (equal to height of a 20 storey building). The landslide dam between Shaday Sumdo and MarShun in the Zanskar subdivision of Kargil district has created about 8 km long lake, whose size is increasing with every passing day. The landslide dam is made of mostly fine grained debris & blocks 97% of the flow of around 50 cusecs flow at this period as per records. While the lake is frozen right now, the threat of its breach looms as soon as the melting season starts. The landslide dam was reportedly created on Dec 31, 2014, when a whole side of mountain soil had landed on the Phuktal River. The landslide lake has been accumulating water for over a month now. Continue reading “Landslide Dam blocks Zanskar River tributary, threatens Valley”

Disasters · Western Ghats

Malin Landslide Tragedy underlines the vulnerability of Western Ghats

In the tragedy at a tiny village of Malin in Ambegaon, Maharashtra, as per reports till now, around 40 houses are under huge debris created by a landslide that occurred early in the morning on the 30th July 2014. The death toll till now is reported to be 44 with 150-300 missing as per different estimates. Unfortunately, the chances of survival of the missing are dim as per the Chief of Rescue operations.

Destruction at Malin Photo by Atul Kumar Kale Local activist
Destruction at Malin Photo by Atul Kumar Kale Local activist
Photo by Atul Kumar Kale
Photo by Atul Kumar Kale

Let us look at some key factors at play here:

VERY HEAVY RAINFALL: This region is nestled in the Northern Western Ghats which receives heavy rainfall in the monsoons. The region was receiving particularly very heavy rainfall in the week between 25th to 31st July. SANDRP had posted an alert on this on SANDRP Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/sandrp.in) on the night of 29th July.

Cumulative rainfall in the week as recorded by NASA’s (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration of US) TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, see: http://trmm.gsfc.nasa.gov/publications_dir/instant_2.html) was more than 600 mm, most of it between 29th-30th July. In fact on the 29th July, the region including Malin was shown purple in 24 hr rainfall map, which signifies the highest range of rainfall, exceeding 175 mm.

The region is still experiencing heavy to very heavy rainfall as we write this on Aug 1, 2014.

AccumulatedRainfall

scale

Malin receives very heavy rainfall on the 29th July, 9 pm by NASA TRMM
Malin receives very heavy rainfall on the 29th July, 9 pm by NASA TRMM
Malin receiving high rainfall on the 30th July 2014, 9 pm IST NASA TRMM
Malin receiving high rainfall on the 30th July 2014, 9 pm IST NASA TRMM

It was surprising to read report from Down to Earth about “mere 4 mm rainfall in 24 hours” before the landslide, which is clearly not the case.

With changing climate, frequency of such high intensity rainfall events is predicted to increase, making these areas even more vulnerable to disasters like landslides.

Landslide Warning

Following the very heavy rainfall in the regions around Northern Western Ghats, extending till Gujarat, NASA’s TRMM had also highlighted this region to be strongly landslide prone on the 30thof July.

See NASA TRMM Landslide Prone Area Map on the 30th July 2014 below which highlights Bhimashankar and Malin region:

NASA Landslide potential Map, 6 pm IST on July 30, 2014
NASA Landslide potential Map, 6 pm IST on July 30, 2014

The dam connection:

The Malin village is approximately 1.5 kms from backwaters of the Dimbhe Dam, which is an irrigation project involving a big dam completed in 2000. On the 31st July, the dam held 44% of its live storage, that is about 156 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) of water. The link between water level fluctuations in dams and landslides in the rim of the reservoir and backwaters is well documented. Some geologists have also recorded increased landslides activity in areas surrounding Dimbhe Dam in the past. ( http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/City/Mumbai/More-landslides-likely-in-5km-radius-of-Dimbhe-dam/articleshow/39314716.cms) Even if the dam was not overflowing when the tragedy occurred, it is well known that the dams can induce such landslides around the rim in view of standing water with fluctuating levels, change in drainage pattern and underground water flow pattern.

Google map showing Dimbhe Dam and location of Malin village close to the backwaters
Google map showing Dimbhe Dam and location of Malin village close to the backwaters

Key salient features of Dimbhe dam: Ht: 67.21 m; Lengh: 852 m;  Live Storage Capacity: 354 MCM (www.mahawrd.org); Reservoir Area: 1754.7 ha.

The role played by the dam and its operations on the geology of the region and its possible connection with the landslide needs to be investigated in depth.

Landslides are not entirely new for the region

The region has seen some landslides in the past (e.g. in 2006-7) according to Saili Palande Datar, an ecologist and historian with Kalpavriksh. According to Anand Kapoor of NGO Shashwat active for decades in the region, a landslide had occurred earlier than that, where some cattle were buried and people had to be rescued. In a massive landslide on July 23, 1989, in village Bhaja in Mawal about 60 km from Pune, 39 people were killed.

In the Western Ghats of Pune as well as Maharashtra, a number of landslide-related tragedies have happened. According to a resident of village Tikona Peth in the catchment of Pavana Dam in Mawal tehsil of Pune, a landslide took place in in her village July, 1994 after heavy rains. There were no casualties, four houses were demolished by huge rocks. In August 2004, one person died due to landslide in Male, near Pune, in 2004 again, a worker died due to landslide in work related to a tunnel for a lift irrigation scheme, in June 2005, 4 workers died due to landslide at a tunnel of Ghatghar hydroelectric project.

Role of large scale land modifications in the region

Indeed according to a landslide map developed by Dr. David Petley, International Expert on Hazards and Risks in the Department of Geography at Durham University, the entire region of Western ghats has experienced landslides.

Dr. Petley has also written about the Malin Landslide here: http://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2014/07/31/malin-landslide-1/.

Dr. Petley told SANDRP, “Large scale land use modification and deforestation is the issue here”. He further said: “I would hypothesise here that the very heavy rainfall was the trigger, thick weathered soil, the shape of the slope and poor management of development and of water. A proper investigation should be able to ascertain whether this is right, but such large-scale modification of the landscape should be resisted.”

11_08 2011 map
From Dr. David Petley: Landslide events where fatalities have occurred. We can see that Northern Western Ghats also features regularly in the map.

Landscape modifications around Bhimashankar

Bhimashankar region, the origin of river Bhima which is an important tributary of Krishna, is a high rainfall region with spectacular biodiversity. It is also home to Maharashtra’s state animal Malabar Giant Squirrel. The region is home to a vibrant tribal community which has seen several assaults on its way of life through the formation of the sanctuary, displacement caused by Dimbhe & other Dams, recent windmill projects, etc.,

In the recent years, some of the major landscape changes occurring in this region are through mechanised terracing of slopes for cultivation as well as developments related to windmill projects on mountain tops, which entail deforestation as well as road cutting on steep slopes. Although there are no windmill farms in Malin, such farms exist in the neighbouring Khed tehsil. Plans for such farms in Ambegaon are in the pipeline.

It needs to be understood that terracing for cultivation has been a traditional occupation of the tribals in this region, as in most of the Western Ghats. Not only is it an important livelihood support factor, but it has been limited by its scale, location and implementation due to its inherent manual nature. According to Anand Kapoor of Shashwat, tribals themselves do not prefer terraces made by JCBs and other machines as these are not entirely suitable for cultivation.

However, it is also a fact that now some government departments are using heavy machinery like JCBs in their bid to push terracing program. Unscientific mechanized terracing, which comes together with muck dumping, slope instability, affected drainage etc., can play a huge role in magnifying the impacts on a naturally vulnerable, high rainfall region.

In fact, a preliminary report by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has singled out land flattening and terracing by heavy machinery as one of the primary causes for the tragedy. As per the preliminary report, a team of GSI experts noticed cracks where heavy soil erosion had occurred. The Deputy Director General of GSI has said that these cracks are a result of improper drainage system of rainwater. The flattening of land would have affected the water drainage resulting in the cracks. He says: “The slope of the hill was flattened almost halfway for agricultural purpose to such an extent that the hilltop had become unstable. The experts have also reported excessive deforestation disrupting the ecology of the hill. Added to this was the damage caused by use of heavy machinery over two years.” The Director General and Deputy Director General will be visiting the site on the 2nd and 3rd August for further analysis.

An independent credible review of the way the land levelling activities are going on under government policies and programs should be immediately instituted and till its report is available, use of heavy machines like JCB may be minimised.

Management of the region according to Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) Report and High Level Working Group Report (HLWG)

Both reports place Malin in Ecologically Sensitive Zone I and Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) respectively.

An ESZ I tag by the WGEEP report regulates a number of activities in the region, with participation of local communities. The report has specifically mentioned threat of landslides in this region.

While noting the impacts of windmills in the region surrounding Malin, WGEEP notes: “Apart from substantial forest destruction (including Forest Department estimates of about 28,000 trees being cut) via wide roads cutting huge swathes through Reserve Forest, the wind mill project has triggered large scale erosion and landslides through poor construction of roads with steep gradients, and all this rubble is ending up on fertile farmland and in reservoirs of tributaries of the Krishna.

The Forest Department is colluding with wind mill project operators in also illegally denying citizens access to these hills. Boards and check-posts have been put up by the company, falsely claiming to be authorized by the Forest Department. There are many traditional forest dwellers on these hills. Not only are their rights under the Forest Rights Act not being recognized, they are being illegally restrained in their movements on hills they have inhabited for centuries.”

If the WGEEP was accepted by the MoEF and state governments, this would have led to a more people-centred and ecologically-sound management of the Western Ghats region, but Maharashtra has been vehemently opposing WGEEP on the most unjustified grounds and the MoEF too has been busy downplaying the WGEEP.

While HLWG did include Malin village in its list of Ecologically sensitive Areas, however, this ESA tag did not mean much for the region it only regulates mining and red category industries. Most of the development activities that might threaten the region are not regulated by the HLWG. More importantly, HLWG has no role for the local communities in democratic decision making. There is also no mention of this region being landslide-prone in the HLWG, whereas the WGEEP specifically highlights this issue.

It is clear that HLWG is not much help for the region in avoiding tragedies like the Malin tragedy, but WGEEP report certainly would have helped.

Way forward

Northern Western Ghats which are characterized by heavy rainfall, rich biodiversity and predominant tribal population need more sensitive management approach than what it is subjected to right now. Although WGEEP had paved way for a more democratic, equitable and people-centred management of the region, the report was hidden, downplayed and finally rejected by the state as well as the central government. Episodes like Malin highlight the vulnerability and complex inter-linkages that affect the region which require a long term planning vision, integrating a number of components.

Despite this, several ill-conceived projects like townships, windmill farms, large dams and river linking projects like Damanganga-Pinjal and Paar Tapi Narmada are proposed in the region. Close to Bhimashankar region, Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) as well as the Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation are pushing more than 12 large dams. Some of these dams entail huge tunnels under the mountain ranges of Western Ghats. Despite the several risks and impacts, many of these massive dams may also escape scientific Impact Assessments or public hearings. These projects needs to be opposed and urgently dropped as there is little justification of the projects in view of huge number of options available in the cities for which these dams are proposed.

Similarly, Maharashtra Government has plans to build three huge hydropower dams in the Velhe and Mulshi region, which also falls in the Pune District. Velhe region has already seen slope instability and also falls in Seismic zone IV, making any such development highly risky there.

Let us hope that the heart-breaking tragedy at Malin is a wake-up call for all of us, paving way towards more sensitive,responsive, democratic and sustainable management of the Western Ghats. As a first step, the state and central government need to accept and implement the recommendations of the WGEEP immediately in Malin and for the entire Western Ghats.

-Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com)

Western Ghats again highlisgted in Nasa Landslide potential Map for 9 pm ist 310714
Western Ghats again highlighted in Nasa Landslide potential Map for 9 pm IST 310714

End Notes and Further Reading on Developmental Pressures on Western Ghats, specifically related to water:

1. “Damning the Western Ghats”, presentation by SANDRP: https://sandrp.in/rivers/Damming_the_Western_Ghats_Presentation_SWGM_December2012.pdf

2. Interbasin Transfers in Western Ghats of Maharashtra: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/interbasin-diversion-dams-in-western-ghats-unknown-impacts-and-uncertain-benefits/

3. How much does the Kasturirangan Committee report understand about water issues in Western Ghats? https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/how-much-does-the-kasturirangan-committee-understand-about-water-issues-in-western-ghats/

4. Living Rivers and Dying Rivers of Western Ghats, by SANDRP http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/living-rivers-dying-rivers-rivers-western-ghats-india-lecture-parineeta-dandekar-and

5. Video on Living Rivers and Dying Rivers of Western Ghats, SANDRP https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDsNQejeNeU

6. SANDRP’s report on Dams in Western Ghats for Mumbai: https://sandrp.in/Dams_in_tribal_belt_of_Western_Ghats_for_the_Mumbai_Metropolitan_Region.pdf

7. Water Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate, SANDRP: https://sandrp.in/wtrsect/Water_Sector_Options_India_in_Changing_Climate_0312.pdf

Beas · Disasters · Himachal Pradesh · Hydropeaking · Hydropower

Nadiya Bairi Bhayi…

In a classical Thumri rendition, Ustad Rashid Khan sings about how a river, which was once a friend, has turned into a foe…Nadiya Bairi Bhayi.. Something similar is happening at a number of places in India, where the river, a life giving friend, is turning into a deadly force.

~~

Drowning of 25 students following sudden water releases from the 126 MW Larji Dam in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh is one more saddening and shocking incidence in the long list of hydropower-release related disasters in India where rivers are turned into death traps.

On the 1Radhika8th April 2014, 11 year old Radhika Gurung studying in standard fourth was accompanying her sisters Chandra and Maya along the river Teesta near Bardang, Sikkim. Suddenly, without having any time to respond, all three school girls were washed away by a forceful water released by upstream 510 MW Teesta V Hydropower project in Sikkim. While Maya and Chandra were lucky to be saved, Radhika was not so lucky. She lost her life. Residents here say that NHPC, the dam operator, does not sound any sirens or alarms while releasing water in the downstream for producing hydroelectricity and villagers live in constant fear of the river.[1] Residents demanded strict action against NHPC, but no action has been taken.

On the 28th March 2013, 5 people, including two small children aged 2 and 3 drowned in the Bhawani River near Mettupalayna when 100 MW Kundah IV HEP (Tamil Nadu) on the Pillur Dam suddenly released discharge of about 6000 cusecs water. The family was sitting on the rocks in the riverbed when water levels started rising, and they did not get enough time even to scramble out of the river with the two children, says the sole survivor. Tangedco officials stated that although alarm is sounded at the nearest hamlets, it does not reach the downstream regions.[2] Local villagers say no alarm is sounded. No action has been taken against Tangedco.[3]

On 8th JaSearchforbodiesnuary 2012, a family of seven people, including a child, drowned in the Cauvery River when water was released from the 30 MW Bhavani Kattalai Barrage-II (BKBII in Tamil Nadu). The same day, two youths were also swept off and drowned in the same river due to this release.[4] There are no reports of any responsibility fixed or any action taken against the Barrage authorities or Tangedco, although it was found that there was not even a siren installed to alert people in the downstream about water releases.[5]

Uttarakhand has a history of deaths due to sudden releases from its several hydropower dams. In April 2011, three pilgrims were washed away due to sudden release of water from Maneri Bhali-1 Dam on the Bhagirathi in Uttarakhand.[6] In 2006 too, three women were washed away by such releases by Maneri Bhali.[7]  The district magistrate of Uttarkashi district ordered filing a case against the Executive Engineer of the dam after a number of organisations demanded action against the guilty.  Again in November 2007, Uttarakhand Jal VIdyut Nigam Limited was testing the opening and closing of gates of Maneri Bhali Stage II, when two youths were washed away by these releases. [8] Following a protest by locals and Matu Jan Sangathan, the Executive Engineer and District Magistrate simply issued a notice which said that “Maneri Bhali Hydropower Projects exists in the upstream of Joshiyada Barrage and water can be released at any time, without prior notice from here”.

Similar notice is also given by NEEPCO, which operates the Ranganadi Dam and 405 MW Dikrong Power House in Arunachal Pradesh, on the Assam border. “The gates of Ranganadi diversion dam may be opened at any time. NEEPCO will not take any responsibility for any loss of life of humans, animals or damage to property”.

Similar notice sits on the bankAthirappillys of the Chalakudy River near the Athirappilly falls in Kerala and the Kadar tribes, which traditionally stay close to the river and are skilled fisher folk too, are fearful of entering the river.

Chamera HEP in Himachal Pradesh has been held responsible for sudden water releases and resultant deaths in the downstream. As per retired IAS Officer Avay Shukla who resides in Himachal, similar incidences which resulted in loss of lives have also happened due to Nathpa Jhakri and other dams in the state.

In December 2011, three youth were drowned in the Netravathi River when water was released by the fraudulently combined 48.50 MW AMR project (Karnataka) now owned by Greenko[9]. Villagers protested at the site, but this has not been the first instance of drowning because of this project. Villagers accuse the dam for the deaths of as many as 7 unsuspecting people in the downstream. This dam is now increasing its height and one more project is being added to it.

Protest against sudden water release by fradulently combined 48.50 MW project in Bantwal, Dakshin Kannada by Greenko Photo: Daiji World
Protest against sudden water release by fraudulently combined 48.50 MW project in Bantwal, Dakshin Kannada by Greenko Photo: Daiji World

On October 1, 2006, at least 39 people were killed in Datia district in Madhya Pradesh when suddenly large amount of water was released from the upstream Manikheda dam on Sind River in Shivpuri district. There was no warning prior to these sudden releases and hence unsuspecting people crossing the river were washed away[10]. Chief Minister Shivraj Chauvan ordered a judicial probe into this incidence in 2006, however, and a report was submitted by retired High Court Judge in 2007. Since then, the report has been buried and several attempts of RTI activists to access the report have been in vain. The government has not released the report, forget acting upon it or fixing responsibility after 8 years[11].

In April 2005, at lDharajiDewas Frontlineeast 70 people were killed at Dharaji in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh due to sudden release of huge quantity of water from the upstream Indira Sagar Dam on Narmada river. Principal Secretary Water Resources Madhya Pradesh inquired into the incident and found that “there was no coordination between agencies”[12]. No accountability was fixed and no one was held responsible. NHPC, who operated 1000 MW Indira Sagar Project, simply claimed that it was a case of miscommunication and that it was not aware of the religious mela in the downstream of the river. As SANDRP observed then, “ It just shows how far removed is the dam operator from the welfare of the people in Narmada as the fair annually gathers more than 100,000 people of the banks of the river. It is a scandal that no one was held responsible for the manmade flood which resulted in the mishap[13].”

Above incidents make it clear that incident at Larji is not the first and will not be the last, if we continue non transparency and non accountability in hydropower dam operations.

Some Questions that arise from these events:

Do sanctioning authorities and dam operators reaslise that each of these projects convert an entire river ( not limited to the hydropower project) in the downstream area into a potential death trap? Do they assess the impacts of the various possible operations of the projects in the downstream area and envisage, plan and implement measures to avoid death and destruction in the downstream areas?

Can cordoning off and alienating a river, indicating that it is dangerous, be a solution to this? Are measures like alarms, sirens, lights enough when a river experiences order of magnitude sudden change in its flow due to dam and hydropower releases?

Is it ok to have hundreds of dam-related deaths in the recent years due to irresponsible and non-transparent dam operations and not have any responsibility fixed?

The obvious answer to the above seems NO.

Some Recommendations: As we have seen above, many man made disasters have happened in India over the last decade and governments  and dam operators have learnt no lessons. The avoidable tragedies are repeating without any change. India is possibly the only country in the world where such events have been happening in such large numbers. Here we are recommending some basic steps if we want to avoid or minimise occurrence of such tragedies in future.

MEASURES FOR TRANSPARENT, INCLUSIVE MANAGEMENT NORMS IN OPERATION OF ALL EXISTING DAMS AND HYDROPOWER PROJECTS:

For every operating Dam and Hydropower project in India there should be clearly defined operating procedure in public domain. This operating procedure will include the steps taken before release of water from dam or power house, how the releases will be increases (the increase should be in steps and not suddenly releasing huge quantity) or decreased, how these will be planned in advance, who all will need to be informed about such plans in what manner and what safety measures will be taken. This will also include who all will be responsible for designing, monitoring and implementing these measures. There should be boards at regular  intervals  in the downstream area in language and  manner that local people and outsiders can understand and the boards should also indicate the danger zone and what kind of sirens and hooters may blow before the releases.

The operating procedure will take into account where there are upstream projects and how the upstream projects are going to influence the inflow into the project and  how information will be shared with upstream and downstream projects and in public domain. The Power Load Dispatch Centres should also remember that when any hydropower project is asked to shut on or off, there are consequences in the river and they should be asked to keep such consequences in mind and time required to alert the regions in risk.

For every dam there should be a legally empowered official management committee for the project management, in which 50% people should be from govt and 50% should be non govt persons, including local community representatives and this committee should be in charge of providing oversight over management, including operation of the project and should have  right to get all the information about the project.

Hourly water levels and release data of hydropower dams be made available in public domain on daily bases. Water levels corresponding to discharges (and possible timings where applicable) should be physically marked on the river banks, local communities should be involved in this, evacuation methods and mock drills should be organised by dam proponent from time to time in all places along the river where the impacts reach.

THE EXISTING DAMS AND HYDROPOWER PROJECTS SHOULD BE MANDATED TO PUT ALL THIS IN PLACE WITHIN A PERIOD OF NEXT THREE  MONTHS THROUGH A LEGALLY EMPOWERED STEP IN ALL STATES.

SANCTIONING PROCESS FOR NEW PROJECTS, INCLUDING FOR UNDER CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS:

Safety measures related to, including water releases for all kind of eventualities and their downstream impacts and management plan should be an integral part of EIA and EMP. The aspect should be thoroughly discussed while appraising the project, and clear cut roles and responsibilities fixed. Mitigation measures should include proper siting of the project, gradual upramping & Downramping of releases in a clearly defined way and where planning is mandatory, safe operation of discharges through dams, etc.

Entire clearance mechanism for cascade hydropower projects in the Himalayas and elsewhere needs to be revisited to include the operational safety measures considering the cumulative operation of the projects. Projects where operational safety measures alone will not be sufficient due to massive fluctuations/location/upstream projects, etc., should be urgently dropped.

Peaking power projects should be restricted to certain locations like deep mountain gorges, after proper studies. Such projects should not be permitted as rivers enter into floodplains, due to their significant impact on the downstream and also in biodiversity rich river stretches.

SAFETY MEASURES BEFORE AND DURING WATER RELEASES: 

Primary safety measures like informing the administration well in advance before release, sirens, hoots, alarms, lights, buoys should be strictly enforced and a clear responsibility of these measures should be adopted, for the entire zone in risk, sign boards at every 50 mts interval in such zones in languages and manner that local people and outsiders can understand, and which also show the specific risk zone. Where sudden unseasonal releases are likely, include police surveillance of the risk zone during danger period.

WHEN THERE IS DEATH AND DESTRUCTION IN THE DOWNSTREAM AREA:

Exemplary punishments should be fixed not only for dam operators,but also engineers and dam companies in case of negligence. Independent inquiry will be required since departmental or inquiries by District administration or government officials are not likely to be credible.

Since the designed safety measures in case of Larji were clearly inadequate, not just the operational staff but all those responsible for such shoddy safety plan should be held accountable.

It is unacceptable that a life giving and beautiful entity like a river should be converted into a dangerous and deadly force for our energy needs, without even the most basic precautions in place.

-Parineeta Dandekar,  Himanshu Thakkar

 

END NOTES:

In 1999, 39 people and hundreds of animals and livestock in Cambodia was washed away and drowned by the release from Yali Falls Dam on Sesan in Vietnam. Mekong River Commission took a strong view on this. http://www.threegorgesprobe.org/pi/Mekong/index.cfm?DSP=content&ContentID=8946

Just last month, two people were washed away and drowned in Belize due to releases from a dam owned by Canadian company Fortis. Here too early warning systems, alarms and accountability are being discussed:. http://journal.probeinternational.org/2014/05/07/did-a-dam-cause-water-surge-ending-in-multiple-deaths/

 

References:

[1] http://sikkimfirst.in/2014/04/20/11-year-old-girl-drowns-in-teesta-river/

[2] http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/article1519865.ece?service=print

[3] http://archives.deccanchronicle.com/130328/news-current-affairs/article/five-drown-bhavani

[4] http://www.ndtv.com/article/tamil-nadu/toll-of-those-drowned-in-cauvery-rises-to-nine-165935

[5] http://lite.epaper.timesofindia.com/getpage.aspx?articles=yes&pageid=6&max=true&articleid=Ar00600&sectid=2edid=&edlabel=TOICH&mydateHid=10-01-2012&pubname=Times+of+India+-+Chennai+-+Times+Region&title=A+siren+could+have+saved+seven+lives&edname=&publabel=TOI

[6] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110524/region.htm

[7] https://sandrp.in/drp/July2006.pdf

[8] Matu Jan Sangathan, http://hindi.indiawaterportal.org/node/47403

[9] http://www.daijiworld.com/news/news_disp.asp?n_id=124216, http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/1-dam-2-projects-many-fools

[10] https://sandrp.in/drp/June_July-2008.pdf

[11] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/2006-tragedy-re-run-at-Datia-but-MP-govt-yet-to-release-probe-report/articleshow/24120250.cms,

http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/judicial-probe-into-datia-drowning/13990/

[12] https://sandrp.in/drp/jul_aug05.pdf

[13] http://www.internationalrivers.org/files/attached-files/nhpc_people_don27t_matter.pdf

PS:

http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/7-Students-Get-Justice-16-Yrs-after-Meeting-Watery-Grave/2014/09/18/article2437008.ece

7 Students Get Justice 16 Yrs after Meeting Watery Grave

By Express News Service Published: 18th September 2014 06:03 AM

BHUBANESWAR: In a significant judgment, a civil court on Wednesday awarded a compensation of `25 lakh each to the families of seven students of University College of Engineering (UCE) of Burla __ now VSS University of Technology __ who were swept away by unannounced and untimely release of water from Hirakud dam 16 years ago.

Civil Judge (Senior Division), Bhubaneswar, Sangram Keshari Patnaik, who pronounced the verdict in his 31-page judgement, ordered that the compensation be paid with 6 per cent interest effective from 2001, the year when the case was filed before the court.

The tragic incident had occurred on January 30, 1998 when eight students of the UCE of Burla were taking pictures on a sand bar of Mahanadi as part of the Spring Festival activity. The water flow of the river rose menacingly and barring Soubhagya Barik, the rest seven second-year engineering students were swept away and met their watery grave.

The Hirakud Dam authorities had allegedly opened nine gates during the non-monsoon season which led to the tragic incident as no caution was sounded before the release of the water.

The State Government ordered a Revenue Divisional Commissioner-level inquiry into the incident and the then RDC Hrushikesh Panda submitted the report to the Government on March 29, 1998. The Government accepted it on May 19.

The RDC, in his report, had examined 77 witnesses and 31 affidavits were filed. Panda, in his report, had highlighted the irresponsibility of the engineers and stated that even the Sambalpur Collector and the Superintendent of Police were not intimated about the  release of water, let alone the public.

Basing on the report, the State Government had announced a compensation of `3 lakh each to the family of seven students. However, considering the compensation inadequate, a petition was filed before the Orissa High Court. In 2001, the HC directed that the case must be filed before a civil court since it pertained to compensation.

According to Madhumadhab Jena and Sidharth Das, counsels for the deceased’s families, the Civil Judge Court took into account various aspects, including the academic background of the students of UCE.