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”
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?”
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?”
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”
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 and also satellite image from India Meteorology Department (IMD) site. 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”
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”
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”
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
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 18th 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. 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. Local villagers say no alarm is sounded. No action has been taken against Tangedco.
On 8th January 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. 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.
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. In 2006 too, three women were washed away by such releases by Maneri Bhali. 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.  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 banks 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. 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.
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. 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.
In April 2005, at least 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”. 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.”
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
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
 http://www.daijiworld.com/news/news_disp.asp?n_id=124216, http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/1-dam-2-projects-many-fools
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.
Drop 23 projects, do cumulative assessments & improve governance
In a significant development on role of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013, the Expert Body (EB) headed by Dr Ravi Chopra has recommended that at least 23 hydropower projects should be dropped, that hydropower projects played significant role in the Uttarakhand disaster and that there is urgent need to improve the environment governance of hydropower projects. The Report “Assessment of Environmental Degradation and Impact of Hydroelectric Projects During The June 2013 Disaster in Uttarakhand” dated April 2014 has been submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on April 16, 2014 and was made public following hearing in the Supreme Court on April 28, 2014. The committee was appointed by a reluctant Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in October 2013, following the Supreme Court’s suo motto order of August 13 2013.
Uttarakhand floods of June 2013,: The committee report endorses the stand taken in a letter that was written to MoEF on July 20, 2013, endorsed by over 20 individuals and groups including from Uttarakhand on the role of existing and under construction hydropower projects in the Uttarakhand floods of June 2013. MoEF did not take any action on this letter, but it was Supreme Court order next month that pushed MoEF to take necessary action.
SC order of Aug 13, 2013: On Aug 13, 2013, while disposing off the petition on Srinagar HEP in Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court, suo motto, made an order that asked, MoEF and Uttarakhand governments not to provide any further clearances to any more hydropower projects anywhere in Uttarakhand till further orders. Both MoEF and Uttarakhand governments have been violating this order. However, one of the fall outs of this order was formulation of Expert Body appointed by MoEF more than two months latter, through an order on Oct 15, 2013, whose report now is available in public domain.
Limited TOR: The Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 pertained to whole of Uttarakhand, as was the disaster of June 2013. However, the MoEF order and subsequently CWC tried to restrict the field of work of the committee to Alaknanda and Bhagirathi sub basins rather than whole of Uttarakhand.
Problematic constitution: The constitution of the Expert body was also problematic from a number of aspects. There was clear conflict of interest with respect to some of the members like Dr BP Das, former member and Vice Chair of the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects, as explained below. The committee also included chairman of Central Water Commission and Central Electricity Authority, which unfortunately act like lobbies for hydropower projects. These persons were in the committee to bring in respective expertise, but in stead used their presence in the committee to discredit evidence which suggested clear role of hydropower projects, some members also advocated for more hydropower projects, in stead of adhering to the mandate given by the Supreme Court, thus raising the issue of contempt of court.
In what follows we have given some useful recommendations and conclusions of the EB, followed by some weak recommendations and conclusions of the EB report, based on a quick reading of the report (we got the over 200 page report only on April 29, 2014), following by some remarks on role of vice chair, CWC, CEA, MoEF and our conclusion.
On 24 projects recommended to be dropped by WII “After considerable discussions and analysis, the Expert Body concluded that of the 24 proposed Hydropower Projects (HEPs) that Wildlife Institute of India (WII) recommended for Review, 23 HEPs would have significant irreversible impacts on biodiversity values.”
“The EB recommends that for the 23 proposed HEPs out of the 24 identified by WII (other than the Kotli Bhel 1A project) that would have irreversible impacts on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins, the HEPs that fall in any of the following conditions should not be approved for construction.
(a) Proposed HEPs that fall inside wildlife Protected Areas such National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries
(b) Proposed HEPs that fall within the Gangotri Eco-sensitive Zone
(c) Proposed HEPs that fall above 2,500m that encompass critical wildlife habitats, high biological diversity, movement corridors, and fragile in nature due to unpredictable glacial and paraglacial activities.
(d) Proposed HEPs that fall within 10 km from the boundary of Protected Areas and have not obtained clearance from the National Board for Wildlife.”
It would have been in fitness of things if EB had exclusively asked for stoppage of work on all these 23 projects with immediate effect.
On Kotli Bhel 1A The EB has, we believe, erroneously concluded, over ruling the conclusion of WII and expert review initiated by EB, “that the Kotli Bhel 1A project might not significantly worsen the condition of the river Bhagirathi between Koteshwar and Devprayag – already part of a highly fragmented zone”. However, EB has asked for “due modifications to its design and operations so that an adequate stretch of the river downstream of the Koteshwar dam just above KB-IA can be maintained in a free flowing state”. This means the project work should stop and it should reapply for clearances after doing the suggested modifications in credible way.
Restoration: “The river bed profiles at Phata-Byung, Singoli-Bhatwari, Vishnuprayag and Srinagar HEPs have changed significantly. This requires a fresh analysis of the project hydrology and redesigning them if necessary.
All projects must undertake river restoration works after prior clearance from MoEF. It was noticed that project developers were engaged in projects’ restoration only. MoEF needs to conduct a formal review of the environmental damages at all the HEPs in Uttarakhand and prepare guidelines for restoration. Till then none of the projects should begin power production.”
HEPs above 2 MW need EC “All projects > 2 MW, shall require prior Environmental Clearances (EC) from MoEF”.
“A multidisciplinary expert body should be constituted with members of proven expertise and experience to review every year the progress/performance of each HEP and its compliance with the sanction conditions. This body will also review the technicalities of disaster preparedness before each monsoon season and examine the impact of monsoon storm and floods on the performance of all the project components. The environmental health of the river will be a critical area for comprehensive examination.”
No projects above winter snow line “Learning from the June 2013 event, the EB believes that the enhanced sediment availability from and in paraglacial zones could be a serious problem for the longevity of the existing, under construction and proposed HEPs in Uttarakhand. Therefore the EB recommends that the terrain above the MCT in general and above the winter snow line in particular (~2200-2500 m) should be kept free from hydropower interventions in Uttarakhand.”
SIA should be carried out for all river systems in Uttarakhand “The WII study has already identified 24 proposed HEPs in the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins as likely to cause irreversible impacts. But comprehensive research studies of other basins in Uttarakhand are lacking at this stage… Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) be carried out in other major river basins of Uttarakhand such as the Yamuna and Kali basins.”
Distance between projects in a cascade “Scientific studies by subject experts should be conducted for establishing baseline data on river parameters, diversity and populations of floral and faunal species in different rivers of Uttarakhand at different elevation zones. Such studies should be used for deciding upon the minimum distances between two consecutive HEPs. Until such scientific studies are completed, no new HEPs (in S&I stage) should be cleared on the rivers of Uttarakhand within a distance that may later be revoked. Minimum distances for projects in the clearance stage should be significantly revised upward from the current consideration of 1 km.”
National Himalayan Policy “Since the Himalaya are our vital source of growth and abundance, a National Himalayan Policy needs to be urgently created and implemented.”
“Therefore, the EB strongly recommends that a detailed study of the impacts of hydropower projects in terms of deforestation/tunneling/ blasting/reservoir formation on the hydrogeology of the area should be carried out.”
A study on the role of large artificial reservoirs on local climate change and precipitation patterns with special reference to the Tehri dam reservoir.”
Sediment transportation studies “Recent studies have highlighted serious concern about the Indian deltas, which are shrinking due to changes in river courses. The Ganga-Brahmaputra delta is also noted in this category. This seems to be a major issue in near future therefore we recommend that the studies should be carried out regarding the impacts on sediment transportation due to projects existing on Himalayan rivers.”
Cultural impacts of HEPs “Therefore EB recommends that the Ministry of Culture along with the local representatives and spiritual leaders should undertake a comprehensive study of the cultural impacts of HEPs in the spiritually rich state of Uttarakhand.”
“The river bed profiles at Phata-Byung, Singoli-Bhatwari, Vishnuprayag and Srinagar HEPs have changed significantly. This requires a fresh analysis of the project hydrology and redesigning them if necessary.”
“River Regulation Zone (R.R.Z.) guidelines should be issued immediately by the Ministry of Environment & Forests and should be executed accordingly.”
Muck Management: “The existing practices of muck management are inadequate to protect the terrain and the people from an eventuality like the June 2013 flood. Therefore, a serious revisit is required towards evolving technically better and ecologically sustainable methods for muck disposal and rehabilitation in Uttarakhand.”
Environmental Flows: “Till such time as a decision is taken on the EFlows recommendations of the IITs-consortium, the EB recommends EFlows of 50% during the lean season and 30% during the remaining non-monsoon months. Sustaining the integrity of Uttarakhand’s rivers and their eco-systems is not negotiable.”
Eco-Sensitive Zones: “It is recommended that legislation be enacted to (i) protect small but significant rivers (as done in Himachal Pradesh and also recommended by the IMG for Uttarakhand) as pristine rivers and (ii) designate Eco-Sensitive Zones for all rivers of Uttarakhand.”
Community based CA and CAT “Community-based CA and CAT plan execution must be done by the State Forest Department within the construction period of the project.” This is to be monitored by a committee that includes two representatives from local communities, a renowned environmentalist, among others.
Forests and Biodiversity Conservation: “Community based CAT programmes have to be systemically implemented for ensuring sustenance of the plantations. This requires training of forest officials to work with the communities through their Van Panchayats.”
“It was brought to the notice of the EB that clearances to start work had been granted recently to the Lakhwar (300 MW) and Vyasi (120 MW) projects. This is in violation of the spirit of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order of August 13, 2013. It is also noticed that these projects were approved more than 25 years ago. Consequently they do not have any EIA/EMP/DMP studies that are mandatory today. Without conducting cumulative impact assessments and disaster management studies of the Yamuna and Kali basins no such projects should be allowed at the risk of fragile ecology, biodiversity and lives of people living in and around the project sites.”
SOME WEAK RECOMMENDATIONS OF EB
“The EB recommends that MoEF strengthens its personnel and procedures for post-sanction monitoring of environmental conditionalities. The MoEF should develop a programme for research studies by reputed organizations on the impacts of HEPs on river water quality (and flows). Pre-construction and post operation long term impacts monitoring studies are required.”
Geology & Social Issues: “Given the massive scale of construction of HEPs in Uttarakhand it may be worthwhile to set up a formal institution or mechanism for investigating and redressing complaints about damages to social infrastructure. The functioning of such an institution can be funded by a small cess imposed on the developers. It is also suggested that to minimize complaints of bias, investigations should be carried out by joint committees of subject experts and the community.”
Disaster Management: “Disaster preparedness is critical because all of Uttarakhand lies either in seismic Zone IV or V. These areas are most vulnerable to strong earthquakes. Disaster Management Plans (DMPs) are critical parts of EIA Reports. They need to be carefully reviewed and approved by local communities in the probable zone of influence.”
“It is necessary to establish an independent authority which may commission EIA Reports…”
CONCLUSIONS OF EB:
On Role of Dams in Uttarakhand disaster:
In Chapter 3 (p 10) chairman of EB notes, “Thus THDC’s inundation analysis results could
not be substantiated by the ground survey in Haridwar city.”
“In September 2010, to retain flood inflows in the face of water levels rising beyond the permitted FRL the (Tehri) dam authorities had to seek the permission of the Supreme Court. It led to inundation of the upstream town of Chinyalisaur and later after draw down fresh landslide zones were created around the reservoir rim.”
“Geo-chemical analysis of sediment samples taken from various locations along the river stretch in Srinagar, however, indicated a significant contribution — varying from 47% near the barrage to about 23% much further downstream (Fig. 3.19, pg 101, Main Report) — from muck eroded from muck disposal sites 6 and 9 located on the concave right bank and consequently experienced an intense current of the order of 7m/sec.
This raises a question that if there was heavy to very heavy rainfall from the glacial reaches of the Alaknanda valley, leading to numerous landslides along the banks, then why was massive damage observed only downstream of the Vishnuprayag and Srinagar HEPs? A detailed investigation is warranted in order to arrive at a scientifically viable explanation.”
“Otters appear to be nearing extinction in the Ganga, Alaknanda sub-basins.”
It is good to see that the EB has effectively rejected the critique of the WII report presented by Dr. Sabyasachi Dasgupta, HNB Garhwal University and consultant to UJVNL, following an independent review of the WII report by Prof. Brij Gopal, an eminent ecological scientist who had worked extensively on river ecosystems. Prof Brij Gopal, while finding some limitations in WII methodology, concluded: “he agreed with WII’s findings that the 24 proposed hydropower projects would impact the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins significantly. Based on his own analysis, Prof Gopal recommended that several more projects be dropped.”
SOME WEAK CONCLUSIONS:
“A ground survey of the inundation analysis carried out by THDC on the basis of which it claimed to have saved Haridwar from drowning raised doubts about the accuracy of the computer generated inundation maps. It is therefore not clear how much of Haridwar would have been affected if the Tehri dam had not been there. The problem at Haridwar, as at other towns and habitations along river banks, is that there has been wide spread encroachment and construction inside the river’s regime. Therefore it is imperative to set up river regulation zones where encroachments are forbidden. (Unscientific sand mining on river beds adds to the problem.)”
“There is some doubt about whether the Vishnuprayag project authorities were able to properly manage the opening and closing of the gates.”
Role of Dr B P Das: Dr B P Das has for close to a decade been member or vice chair or officiating chair of the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF on River Valley project and has in the process been involved in appraising and deciding on clearances for a no of projects and their impacts in Uttarakhand. Hence he was not likely to be in a position to take an independent view on Uttarakhand hydropower projects as there was a conflict of interest involved with respect to his earlier decisions. His biased views were also known through his article in The Hindu earlier. This got reflected in the alternate view on page 27 of chapter 3 and page 16-17 of Chapter 4 of the report authored by Dr Das. In Chapter 3 box, Dr Das’s abiding faith in the project developer could be seen. In Chapter 4 box Dr Das himself mentions that EAC has yet to take a view on WII report, but the he himself is a responsible party for EAC not having taken a view on WII report.
Role of CWC, CEA chairpersons: CWC (Central Water Commission, India’s premier technical body on water resources development under Union Ministry of Water Resources) and CEA (Central Electricity Authority, India’s premier technical body on power sector are largely known to act as lobbies for hydropower projects, in stead of the independent technical and regulatory body that they are expected to work as. In view of that, inclusion of chairperson of CWC and CEA in this committee was wrong step on the part of MoEF. We learn from a letter written by two eminent members of the committee, namely Dr Shekhar Pathak and Dr Hemant Dhyani on March 27, 2014, that indeed the chairpersons of CWC and CEA did not really participate in the way they were required to, and rather functioned in violation of the Supreme Court order.
Role of MoEF: One had expected that the EB would take a critical view of the functioning of the MoEF around HEPs and contribution of MoEF’s failures in increasing the disaster proportions. Unfortunately we are disappointed in this. Possibly, with the committee having been appointed by MoEF and member secretary of the committee being MoEF official this was a difficult ask. However, not being able to take a critical stand on the role of MoEF (and other institutions like CWC, CEA, state environment department, state disaster management department etc) imposes a limitation on the EB report and provides a free reign to guilty party. The consequences of this became apparent when on April 28, 2014, during the Supreme Court hearing, we are told, the MoEF presented erroneous picture that there are two reports of the committee, one by 10 members(wrongly called activists) another by Vice Chair B P Das, with CWC and CEA chair persons, when at best the note from these three persons can be considered dissent note, that too in violation of SC orders. We hope the Supreme Court will take strong view of this misleading picture presented by MoEF and reprimand the responsible officials to ensure that this does not happen again.
View of the Committee working through its minutes
Minutes of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th meeting are available on the MoEF, Lucknow regional office website. Perusal of the minutes shed light of the functioning of the committee, and the biases of some specific members. Some highlights from the minutes:
THDC, Tehri and Muck Disposal Sites: Site visit reports of various members, including Dr. Amit Gupta, Dy Director of MoEF presented that THDC is managing active and non active muck disposal sites ‘poorly’. The sites do not have proper retaining wall, slop or plantations.
THDC hid drift tunnel of Koteshwar dam: Member Hemant Dhyani exposed that THDC officials did not accept the presence of a huge drift tunnel of Koteshwar Project near Payal Gaon, which was suffering from severe subsidence. Only when the local people, including the tunnel construction workers insisted that there is a tunnel that the THDC officials accept this fact!
In the 3rd meeting, the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand told the committee that projects with EC or FC should not be closed or stopped. Note here that this suggestion is unacceptable when the SC itself has asked the committee to investigate the role of projects in the flood damages.
To top this, Additional Chief Secretary unilaterally asserted that HEP did not have any role in the mishap. He emphasised every Environmental CLearance needs an EIA. This indicates his poor knowledge about the quality of EIAs which has been accepted by most experts.
He further stressed that a umber of FC cases were peding before the MoEF. Moef official YK Singh Chauhan rebutted this claim.
In the 4th Meeting, Dr. B.P. Das, Co Chair of the committee categorized June event as a rare natural calamity and attributed the losses only to road construction ( Incidentally, many roads are being built for hydel projects, and do not even allow access to local communities.)
Dr. Ravi Chopra, Chairperson highlighted the poor data management of THDC. He highlighted that THDC could not provide HFL data, rainfall data, inlet level from Maneri Bhali II and outlet level sought by the committee members.
Conclusion: In spite of certain weaknesses, most of the recommendations of the committee need to be immediately implemented and till they are implemented in letter and spirit, the Supreme Court should order a status quo on any further hydropower projects. The EB headed by Dr Ravi Chopra should be congratulated for this report in spite of difficult circumstances under which the committee operated.
Þ We also hope the Supreme Court would ask MoEF to order stoppage of work on Lakhwar and Vyasi projects that has been started recently, violating the Supreme Court order in letter and spirit, and also as pointed out by the EB.
Þ The work on 24 hydropower projects that was part of explicit TOR of the committee should be ordered to stop immediately. The EB should have made this explicit recommendation, but even if they have not done that, it is implicit in its recommendation.
Þ The Supreme Court should ask MoEF to provide a time bound action plan on implementation of the various recommendations of the EB. The SC an also possibly appoint EB (minus Dr Das, CWC and CEA persons) to oversee the implementation of the action plan and continue to provide independent feedback on adequacy of such implementation.
Þ The Lessons from Uttarakhand are relevant for all Himalayan states of India from Kashmir to all the North East states and we hope Supreme Court to ask the follow up committee to ensure that these lessons are taken note of and necessary steps flowing there from are implemented in these Himalayan states. These will also provide guidance to our Himalayan neighbouring countries.
Þ The failure of environmental governance is one of the clearest stark message from this episode and we hope MoEF will put its house in order in this respect, revamping its entire environmental governance.
Himanshu Thakkar (email@example.com)
 By Dr. Hemant Dhyani, Member, EB
 Reuters report on this issue: http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/04/29/india-flood-idINL6N0NL0VC20140429
 The section “View of the Committee working through its minutes” has been put together by SANDRP colleague Parineeta Dandekar. I am also thankful to her for other useful suggestions from her.