Environment Impact Assessment · Ganga

Kanhar Project in UP: Another unwanted dam

Guest Blog by: Debadityo Sinha (debadityo@gmail.com)

  • We do not want dams; in fact we don’t need it. It is the industries for which they need water, and for which they want us to give up our fertile ancestral land and destroy the forests which we have protected since centuries and put our children in danger.”

An affected villager

Kanhar Dam is one of those projects which is an example of how so called developments worsen the situation for the people and environment. The project conceived 37 years ago has been in abeyance since last 25 years. With the latest inauguration of construction of the dam on 5th December, 2014 after a span of 25 years without a fresh proper cost benefit analysis (CBA), any environment impact assessment (EIA) or Social Impact Assessment (SIA) ever, the commencement of project activities is making way for a large social uprising in the heavily industrialized zone of Uttar Pradesh.

Google Earth Image showing the proposed dam site
Google Earth Image showing the proposed dam site

Kanhar Irrigation Project is located downstream of the confluence of River Pagan with Kanhar near village Sugawan in Tehsil Dudhi of District Sonebhadra, Uttar Pradesh. It was originally approved by the Central Water Commission in September, 1976 at an initial budget of Rs. 27.75 Crores. Initially, there was some foundation work undertaken but the project was soon stalled due to inter-state issues, lack of funds and volcanic protests from tribal communities of the region. As per a progress report of the project for 1998-99, the construction work is completely abandoned since 1989-90. Since then, there are numerous occasions when the project was inaugurated, notable among them is one on 15th January, 2011 when the then Chief Minister Mayawati laid foundation stone again. Another inauguration took place when on 12th November, 2012 when Mr. Shiv Pal Singh Yadav (uncle of present CM Akhilesh Yadav), the Irrigation Minister of Uttar Pradesh laid another foundation stone to start the work of spillway. However no work could be taken up.

The project proposes a 3.003 km long earthen dam having a maximum height of 39.90 m from deepest bed level which may be increased to 52.90 m if linked to Rihand reservoir. The project envisages submergence of 4131.5 Ha of land which includes parts of Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand mostly dominated by tribal communities. The project is expected to provide irrigation to Dudhi and Robertsganj Tehsils via left and right canals emerging from both sides of the dam with capacity of 192 and 479 cusec respectively. The culturable command area of the project is 47,302 ha. The project imposes enormous threat not only on the environment and ecology but also to thousands of tribal families of Vindhyas living there since hundreds of years and has demanded for protection of their forests and proper implementation of R & R (Rehabilitation and Resettlements).

Kanhar Project Map As per 1976 documents
Kanhar Project Map As per 1976 documents

The controversy actually began when the Central Water Commission in its 106th meeting of Advisory Committee for the ‘techno-viability of irrigation, flood control and multipurpose project proposals’ approved the project at an estimated cost of Rs. 652.59 crores at 2008-09 price level. A bare perusal of the minutes shows that there is no consideration of the environment and social impacts of the project. The minutes also show that the approval was granted in the presence of representatives of Ministry of Environment and Forests and Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

Local Voices Suppressed

The inauguration of the project held on 5th December 2014 was marked by the presence of heavy police force and paramilitary forces which were deployed to guard the construction site on the river bed. Few roads have been blocked by Police and it is reported that the entry to the project site is stopped 1.5 km ahead of the construction site. To speed up the work, regular increase of heavy equipments and machinery is in progress.  CCTV cameras are also reported to be installed at the site to keep a regular check on the activities.

Forests Devmanwa Pahadi in village Bhisur
Forests Devmanwa Pahadi in village Bhisur

There is a constant effort by the administrative authorities to suppress the voices of aggrieved and affected raised against the project  and those who have attempted to do so are being arrested under the Uttar Pradesh Gunda Niyantran Adhiniyam, 1970 or ‘Gunda Act’. There are repeated incidences of arrests and FIRs against the local people. Incidences of people-police clashes are now becoming a daily routine affairs. Recently the SDM, Dudhi along with the other policemen was also injured in a similar clash. In retaliation to it, there were series of arrests being made by the police and FIRs were filed against 500 unnamed locals. There is an atmosphere of fear already created among the villagers in the region.

The question arises is, whether due procedure has been adopted by the state government as prescribed under law? And if yes then what is the reason for suppressing the voices and why is so such chaos being generated by the government? The project is in controversy due to several questions which are still left unanswered and requires a detailed clarification from the State Government.

The rise of Kanhar Bachao Andolan

The Kanhar Bachao Andolan (KBA) is the first of its kind integrated protest which emerged in the form of an organization in the year 2002 under leadership of a Gandhian activist Bhai Maheshanandji of Gram Sawaraj Samiti based in Dudhi tehsil of Sonebhadra and Gram Pradhans of villages which would be submerged if the project is implemented. The KBA has been raising the issue of tribal rights and discrepancies in the R & R before the state govt. through representations, protests and petitions in High Court. There is a continuous peaceful campaign against the project by KBA since a decade including the unceasing protest which started from 5th December, 2014 on the other side of the River Kanhar opposite to the construction site. Fanishwar Jaiswal, who is a former-Gram Pradhan of Bhisur village and an active member of KBA said, “There was a public meeting organized by the MLA of Dudhi in June, 2014 to address the R & R issues. The Gram Pradhans of several villages presented their views against this project and also submitted written representations; however those views and protests were never registered by the government in any of their reports.”

Protests on Kanhar RIver Bank at Sugawaman village
Protests on Kanhar RIver Bank at Sugawaman village

Rich Forests and Tribal Culture at Stake

I got a chance to visit Sonebhadra district in July, 2014 where I came to know about this project and the ongoing protests. I visited the project area and interacted with the people of Sundari and Bhisur villages of Dudhi tehsil which are the affected villages among several others. Dense forests and agricultural fields were the most common landscape feature.  One could have seen the abandoned machines, several of which were half-sunk to the soil, broken houses with ghostly appearances which were informed as the once constructed officer’s colonies of the project and old rusted sign boards stating ‘Kanhar Sinchai Pariyojna’. Those structure and abandoned equipments were clear evidences of the Kanhar project which was abandoned long back by the government.

Till 1984, a large number of trees were felled by the government in the midst of protests by the tribal communities. But, since then the work did not take place and there was no displacement of tribals. They have now planted more forests in their villages and have their own regulation bodies for protection of these Forests. “Cutting trees is seen as sin in our culture and we have strict fines and punishments if someone does that. Trees are our life and we are protecting them for our children”, said Pradhan of village Sundari which will be the first village to be submerged by the project.

Sundari Forests to be affected due to Kanhar Dam in Uttar Pradesh
Sundari Forests to be affected due to Kanhar Dam in Uttar Pradesh

We discussed about the status of biodiversity and came to know about their dependence on traditional medicines which they obtain directly from the forests. All the villagers I met were satisfied with their rural lifestyle and have developed their own way of sustaining agricultural production by choice of specific vegetable, pulses and crops depending on climate.

It was informed that every year elephants visit the Kanhar River from the Chhattisgarh side. Animals like Sloth Bear, Leopard, Blackbuck, Chinkara and several reptiles are abundantly noticed by people due to presence of hills and forests in the region.

‘We do not want dams; in fact we don’t need it. It is for the industries which need water, and for which they want us to give up our fertile ancestral land and destroy the forests which we have protected since centuries’, said a villager.

It is suspected that the Kanhar dam is being constructed to supplement the Rihand dam to provide water for the industries in Sonebhadra and adjoining region. It seems that the government has not learnt from the experience of Rihand dam which was constructed in 1960s in the same district in the name of irrigation, but gradually diverted the water for thermal power plants and industries. The water in Rihand dam is now severely contaminated with heavy metals which has entered the food chain through agriculture and fish.  Like the Rihand dam, the new project will cause more destruction than good to the people of the region.

Vindhya Bachao’s Intervention

It is very clear that the project is going to destroy a huge area of dense forests and going to displace not only the tribal communities from their roots but also affect the rich flora and fauna of the Sonebhadra. To know about the actual status of the environment and forests clearance of the project, RTI (Right to Information) applications were filed with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in July, 2014. The belated reply was received only in Dec, 2014 on initiating a first appeal.  The responses states that the ‘Environment Clearance’ was granted on 14.04.1980 which is more than 30 years old and therefore any further information with respect to the same cannot be granted since the same is exempted under the RTI Act 2005. Hence, two things are clear that the project requires a fresh ‘Environment Clearance’ under the EIA Notification, 2006 & a forests clearance prior to start of any construction activity.

Police at Kanhar Dam protests
Police at Kanhar Dam protests

In view of this fact, On 22nd December, 2014 an application was filed by Advocate Parul Gupta on behalf of applicants Debadityo Sinha (Vindhya Bachao) and O.D. Singh (People’s Union for Civil Liberties) before the National Green Tribunal praying for taking action against the UP Government for carrying out construction activity of the project without statutory clearances under EIA Notification, 2006 and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The application came up before the bench of Justice Swatanter Kumar on 24th December 2014 wherein stay orders were issued against the Government with clear indication that no construction activity shall be allowed to be undertaken if they do not have ‘Environment’ ‘ and ‘Forest’ Clearance’ as prescribed under law.

The major Environmental and Social issues which require to be carefully considered before the project is allowed to move ahead are as follows:

  1. Large Social Implications: Nearly 10,000 tribal families are going to be affected directly who will lose their ancestral land permanently. Gram Sabhas of the project affected villages has already passed a consensus against the project and submitted the same to the State Govt.
  1. Dense Forests will be lost: The Renukoot Forest Division is one of the dense forests of Sonebhadra with tree density of 652 per hectare as per data obtained from a forest clearance application involving the same forest division. The Kanhar project document shows 4439.294 Ha of land categorized as ‘Forest and others’. In such case, lakhs of trees will be affected by this project which would cause significant impact on environment, wildlife and livelihood of tribals.
  1. Loss of Rich Biodiversity: Vindhyan mountain range is known for the wildlife and rich diversity of medicinal plants which are inherently linked with tribal culture. Scientific Publications shows there are at least 105 species of medicinal plants in the region which are extensively used as traditional treatment by tribal people. The project will endanger the remaining few patches of forests which are not only the last few remaining patches of rich biodiversity but refuge to several wild animals in this heavily disturbed landscape. Conversations with the villagers will reveal presence of mammals like Sloth Bear, Leopard, Blackbuck, Chinkara, Jackal etc and several reptiles including Bengal monitor and snake species in these forests. The submergence area falling in Chhattisgarh is reported to be an elephant corridor.
  1. Immense loss to ecology of river Sone and Ganga: Kanhar is a major tributary of River Sone which forms an important catchment of Ganga River Basin. After construction of Rihand Dam and Bansagar dam and various other water abstraction structures owing to number of industries in the region because of availability of coal mines-River Sone is one of the most exploited system which has lost its riverine characteristics. Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute reported disappearance of 20 fish species from Sone in the time span between 1976 and 2011 which is attributed to increased abstraction of water from the Sone river system. The report clearly states that ‘damming of rivers or tributaries is the root cause of river obstructions causing severe modifications and perturbations to the river flow, velocity, depth, substratum, pools, ecology and fish habitat’. There is reporting of 14 exotic alien species in the river. The report claims that the river Sone is in critically modified (class F) condition with discharge of mere 5.16% of Mean Annual Runoff (MAR) and it will require at least 34.2% of MAR to bring it to slightly modified class (class B). In such a scenario, damming of 5200 km2 of the total catchment of 5,654 km2 of river Kanhar will be disastrous for the river Sone depriving it of the major share of the present water availability. As Sone river system forms an important catchment of River Ganga, the impact on ecology of River Ganga is undeniable.
  1. Contribution to Climate Change: We will lose lakhs of trees which would act as carbon-absorption system. To double the problem, the carbon which is locked in the forests will be released to atmosphere when these trees will be felled. While Carbon Dioxide is released from aerobic decomposition of plants, the anaerobic decomposition of organic matters will release methane which is 24 times more potential GHG than Carbon Dioxide. There is global evidence which support production of GHGs in dams, the quantity of which varies on several parameters like climatic conditions, water depth, water fluctuation, area of submergence, dissolved oxygen etc. Emission of GHGs like Methane is known for a positive feedback trigger which would lead to more absorption of heat causing further rise in temperature, thus increasing the rate of anaerobic decay in the reservoirs and release of more Methane.
  1. Lack of Proper Cost-Benefit Analysis: The cost benefit ratio of such projects are calculated on investment and direct benefits from the projects with consideration of impact of project on people & ecosystem, which are often underestimated and excluding socio-cultural costs and cost of a healthy environment and cost of services provided by the river, forest and other ecosystems. The monetary value of the impacts such as on forests, biodiversity, fishing, non-use values, public money spent on infrastructures, cultural loss and other negative impacts are not considered at all.
  1. Lack of Options assessment There has been no options assessment as to establish that this proposed dam is the best option for water resources development in the Kanhar/ Sone basin.

Conclusion

There is no justification for the project. There has not even been an application of mind if the project is beneficial to the people and society. There is not even any impact assessment, nor any democratic decision making process. A huge amount of public money is already spent on development of schools, roads, hospitals, houses etc in the area, which will be lost permanently by this project. At the time, when this project was incepted in 1976 the environment and social scenario of the country and this region was very different from what it is today.  River Sone was not in critically modified state, Forests of Sonebhadra and adjoining regions were still intact, human population was lesser, technology was not so advanced, science of climate change was not fully understood and the need of protection of environment was not felt or required as it is today.  In 1976, protection of rivers was not a primary concern as the problems were not evident as it is today. In such scenario furthering such abandoned projects shows poor understanding of environment and insensitive attitude by the policy makers. It is thus important to undertake a proper cost-benefit analysis, a fresh Environment Impact Assessment and Social Impact Assessment, conduct proper options assessment to understand the implications of this project on the ecological balance and people keeping into account the present scenario. Such studies should undergo a detailed scrutiny and public consultation process.

Panoramic photograph of project site Photo by author
Panoramic photograph of project site Photo by author

POST SCRIPT UPDATE on March 16 2015 from the author:

Update from NGT hearing dated 12th March, 2015

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has filed its reply before the National Green Tribunal confirming that there exists a confusion with respect to grant of forest clearance diverting 2500 acres of forest land for construction of the Kanhar dam. The Ministry has defended itself claiming that the Forest Clearance dates back to the time when the Ministry was not in existence and therefore the files pertaining to the same cannot be traced. However, it has shifted the burden of proof on the State of U.P. indicating that a letter dated 28.8.1980 by the then ministry of agriculture implies the grant of fc and must be produced by the state.

The state in defence has filed a bunch of letters which according to them refers to the grant of forest clearance. However, the state has failed to produce thee letter dated 28.8.1980 which is claimed to be the FC granted to the project.

The court observed that :

Learned counsel appearing for MoEF submits that the original letter of 1980 granting Forest Clearance to the Project Proponent is not available in the records of the MoEF. Similar stand is taken by the Project Proponent. However, both of them submit that the preceding and subsequent transactions establish that clearance was granted.
…..
Since it is a matter of fact and has to be determined on the basis of record and evidence produced by the parties, we grant liberty to the Applicant to file Replies to this Affidavit, if any, within three days from today.
We also make it clear that one of the contentions raised before the Tribunal is whether it is an ongoing project for number of years or it’s a project which still has to take off and which law will be subsequently applicable today. Let the Learned counsel appearing for the parties also address to the Tribunal on this issue on the next date of hearing. 

Ms. Parul Gupta appeared for the applicants while Mr. Pinaki Mishra and Mr. Vivek Chhib appeared as counsel for State of U.P. and MOEFCC respectively. The matter is now listed for two days- 24th March, 2015 and 25th March, 2015 for arguments. For the order click here   , for Press Release click here

POST SCRIPT ON April 14, 2015:

Urgent Alert

Firing in Sonbhadra, UP

Police firing in Kanhar anti dam proterstors early morning today

against illegal land acquisition by UP Govt

Firing done on the day of Ambedkar Jyanti

Police firing on anti land acquisition protesters at Kanhar dam early morning today. One tribal leader Akku kharwar from Sundari village have been hit by bullet in chest, Around 8 people have been grievously injured in the firing and lathi charge by the police. Thousands of men and women are assembled at the site to intensify the protest against on Ambedkar jyanti. The protesters were carrying the photo of Baba Saheb to mark the day as ” Save the Constitution Day”. Akhilesh Govt fired arbitrarily on the protesters among whom women are in the forefront. Most of the women have injured. The firing is being done by the Inspector of Amwar police station Duddhi Tehsil, Sonbhdara, UP.

Condemn this criminal Act and join in the struggle of the people who are fighting against the illegal land acquistion and constructing illegal Dam on kanhar river.

Roma
Dy Gen Sec
All India Union of Forest Working People

POST SCRIPT on April 20, 2015: Update from Roma: 

Kanhar Dam – Legitimate demands of dalit farmers in UP being crushed ruthlessly, Chhattisgarh adivasi peasants being kept in the dark – says a fact finding team of
Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan

A fact finding team of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan consisting of Alok Shukla, Sudha Bharadwaj, Jangsay Poya, Degree Prasad Chouhan and Bijay Gupta visited the dam affected villages of the Kanhar Dam in UP and Chhattisgarh on 19th April 2015.
The team first visited Village Bheesur which is closest to the dam site and interacted with the affected families who are mostly of the Dalit community who were still deeply affected by the repression of the 14th April and 18th April.
The affected men and women were very articulate about their grievances and extremely legitimate demands. They explained that they were first told about the Kanhar Dam in the year 1976 when the then Chief Minister ND Tiwari promised 5 acres of land, one job in each family and a house measuring 40’x60’, apart from full facilities of education, health, electricity and water to the 11 affected villages of Uttar Pradesh namely Sundari, Korchi, Nachantad, Bheesur, Sugwaman, Kasivakhar, Khudri, Bairkhad, Lambi, Kohda and Amwaar. In 1983 it is correct that compensation payments were made at the rate of Rs. 1800 per bigha (approximately Rs. 2700 per acre) to the then heads of households. After this the villagers have got no notice whatsoever.
On 07-11-2012 the Irrigation Minister laid the foundation stone of the dam. It was claimed that now a consolidated sum of Rs7,11,000 would be given to the heads of households as identified in 1983 and houses of 45’x10’ dimensions would be constructed for them. The farmers are rightly arguing that they have been in physical possession of the lands all these years and therefore they should be compensated as per the 2013 Act. The government must be sensitive to the fact that the earlier households have multiplied and the compensation must be provided to all adult families who will lose their livelihood. It is also very pertinent that in the meanwhile the Forest Rights Act, 2006 has come into existence and we found that many of the farmers have been granted Pattas under the Act; however the government is refusing to compensate them for the loss of such lands, which is absolutely against the spirit of the Act.
The work of the dam was started on 04.12.2014 and from 23.12.2014 the villagers were sitting in continuous dharna. On that very day, efforts were made to intimidate them. While the SDM and District Magistrate did not intervene till about 6pm, at about 7pm the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of which about 150 jawans were deployed at the dam site interfered. After the Tehsildar assaulted a young man Atiq Ahmed, people rushed in from the weekly market and a fracas ensued. Right from that day cases were foisted on 16 named and 500 unnamed persons.
Despite this, the villagers continued with their peaceful protest, however since the government was not carrying on any negotiations and at the same time the dam work was progressing, on 14th April they decided to shift the venue of the dharna closer to the site. The PAC opened fire and a bullet passed through Akklu Chero (Cherwa) – an adivasi of Sundari village. 39 persons were injured, 12 of them seriously. The deployment of the PAC was increased to about 500-1000 jawans.
On 18th April early in the morning the administration was determined to remove the protestors. The district force and PAC surrounded the dharna site, uprooted the pandal and mercilessly beat and chased the villagers right up to their villagers. They entered Village Bheesur and not only beat up men and women, but vandalized a motor and motorcycle of Ram Lochan. Colesia showed us her injured arm and fingers and was in tears because she did not know where her husband Mata Prasad was.
People were not certain where missing family members were since the injured have been taken to the Dudhi Health Centre and if any person tries to contact them they face the threat of arrest since between the cases made out against them for the events of 23rd December, 14th April and 18th April cover about 956 persons. But the team found out that the following had been injured mostly with fractures and were possibly hospitalized. The number of women injured is significant:-
Village Bheesur – Rajkalia, Kismatiya Mata Prasad, Uday Kumar and Phoujdar (all ST)
Village Korchi – Phoolmatiya, Butan.
Village Sundari – Ram Bichar, Shanichar, Zahoor, Azimuddin, Jogi.
Village Pathori Chattan – Bhagmani, Ram Prasad, Dharmjeet.
Similarly the PAC people chased the protestors of Village Sundari too right up to the houses on the outskirts of the village. They damaged motorbikes and cycles even setting fire to them.
We observed that the work at the dam site seemed to be progressing fairly fast. The height of the dam which was earlier stated to be about 39.90 m appears to have been increased subsequently to 52.90 m increasing the apprehensions of the people. The Police had cordoned off the area and there were still a large number of PAC trucks and personnel in their makeshift camp of sheets.
When the team reached Village Sundari, there was an extremely tense atmosphere. Some dominant caste-class persons were holding a meeting in which others seemed to be quite subdued. Some very vocal local leaders told us that they do not want any interference from any outside NGO or organization. Most of them were quoting the DM Sanjay Kumar belligerently saying that he had said that all protest and movements should stop. Otherwise he would foist so many cases that they would rot in jail for the rest of their lives and use up all the compensation in paying lawyers. Some persons who seemed to have been sent by the administration were clicking our photos when we introduced ourselves. The leaders told us that they had decided to accept the compensation and would be going to the DM to inform him so as that was the only way the cases would be lifted. While it was clear that not all the persons in the meeting were in agreement with this “decision”, they were clearly cowed down by the cases and the pressure being brought by the administration.
However our most tragic experience was in the affected villages of Chhattisgarh in block Ramchandrapur of district Balrampur. They fall in the “Sanawal” constituency of erstwhile Home Minister Ram Vichar Netam who had assured the villages that there would be no submergence whatsoever in Chhattisgarh. Even when the current MLA Brihaspati Singh of Congress tried to hold a meeting at Sanawal in which he
invited the protestors of UP, lumpen supporters of Ram Vichar Netam made it difficult for him to educate the villagers about this.
We were shocked to find that the Water Resources Department of Chhattisgarh admits that the following 19 villages are to be submerged – Jhara, Kushpher, Semarva, Dhouli, Pachaval, Libra, Kameshwarnagar, Sanawal, Tendua, Dugru, Kundru, Talkeshwarpur, Chuna Pathar, Indravatipur, Barvahi, Sundarpur, Minuvakhar and Trishuli; and 8 to be partially submerged – Chera, Salvahi, Mahadevpur, Kurludih, Tatiather, Peeparpan, Ananpur, and Silaju. Yet the villages are in blissful ignorance.
Only after the incident on the UP side of the dam occurred, on 18th April an Engineer came to Jhara village and stated that 250 acres of land would be submerged out of which 100 acres was private land. But even this is not the truth since it is clear that the entire village is to be submerged. As we were leaving Jhara village we saw a whole convoy of 6 Government Scorpios rushing through the village. Clearly, the state at some point has to begin some legal acquisition proceedings and seem to be at a loss as to how to do so.
Strangely enough, keeping up the pretence of no submergence Shri Netam has had many constructions sanctioned in Sanawal and surrounding villages whereas ordinarily, once there is an intention to acquire, government expenditure is kept to a minimum.
As we returned to Ambikapur, we heard that another fact finding team from Delhi who were to meet with the injured in hospital and the Collector Sonebhadra, had been detained for questioning.
The rapidity and the ruthlessness with which the dam is being built, at any cost, indicates that is unlikely to be for the stated purpose of irrigation. With large industrial projects coming up in Sonebhadra UP and even in neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, on the cusp of which this dam channelizes the waters of Kanhar and Pang rivers, it appears to be that providing water to these projects and also hydel power are likely to be the real causes.
The Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan comes to the following tentative conclusions on the basis of its fact finding –
1. The demands of the project affected farmers, particularly dalits and adivasis, are eminently reasonable and the administration should enter into sympathetic discussion with them to redress their very legitimate and legal grievances. Work on the dam should be stopped during such negotiations so as to create an atmosphere of good will.
2. The PAC used excessive and unnecessary force on the protestors on both 14th April and 18th April. The complaints of the protestors should be registered as FIRs and action should be taken against the errant police jawans.
3. Using the threat of false cases against the protestors to arm-twist them to accept unjust compensation and rehabilitation is a form of state terror. The cases must be reviewed particularly the practice of filing cases against “unknown” persons, and malicious cases must be withdrawn.
4. In the State of Chhattisgarh, there has been absolutely no transparency, information or following of legal procedure with regard to affected 27 villages. The provisions of the 2013 Act beginning with the pre-acquisition procedure of Social Impact Assessment, Gram Sabha Consultation (all these areas are Scheduled areas), determination of Forest Rights, Public Hearing on Rehabilitation and Resettlement packages etc must be strictly followed.
5. Finally, the attitude of the Uttar Pradesh Government and the district administration of Sonabhadra in restraining activists from entering the area or making an enquiry into the facts on the ground is undemocratic and reprehensible.

Delhi Contact : c/o NTUI, B – 137, Dayanand Colony, Lajpat Nr. Ph IV, NewDelhi – 110024, Ph -9868217276, 9868857723,011-26214538

Lucknow contact : 222, Vidhayak Awas, Aish Bagh Road, Rajinder Nagar, Lucknow, UP
Dehradun Contact : c/o Mahila Manch, E block,Saraswati Vihar, Near Homeguard off, Kargi, Dehrdun, Uttarakhand. ph- 09412348071
POST SCRIPT ON APRIL 26, 2015
From: Sandeep Pandey <ashaashram@yahoo.com>
To:cmup@nic.in” <cmup@nic.in>
Cc: Amod Kumar <amodk2013@gmail.com>; Rigzin Samphel <rigzin123@gmail.com>; Sanjay Kumar <sanjaykumarias02@yahoo.co.in>
Sent: Saturday, April 25, 2015 1:34 AM
Subject: Stop construction of Kanhar Dam
To:                  Shri Akhilesh Yadav
                       CM, UP
 
From:              Ajay Shekhar and Sandeep Pandey
                       Socialist Party (India)
 
Sub: Work on Kanhar dam should stop untill court decisions are pronounced.
 
Dear Akhilesh ji,
                       We want to ask you why your government is trying to forcibly acquire land for Kanhar Dam in Dist. Sonebhadra violating the law of the land whereas your party is opposing the amendments proposed by the Narendra Modi government in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. In light of the recent incidents of use of force by the District administration on 14th and 18th April, 2015, we wish to say the following.
 
(1) The SC judgement in the case of Niyamgiri hills, empowering the tribals to take a final decision on whether to allow multinational company to undertake bauxite mining there, should be now a precedent in all projects proposed in tribals areas. In addition the 73rd amendment to Constitution empowering Gram Sabhas to take decisions on economic planning for development should be honoured. Case no. 67043/2011 is pending in Allahabad HC relating to this right of GS and we expect that the district administration of Sonebhadra and Government of UP will wait for a decision on this.
 
(2) The project is 37 years old and was abandoned in 1984. The forest clearance dates back to 14/4/1980. It is a joke if the administration claims that it has the necessary environment and forest clearances on the basis of a clearance obtained 35 years back. Why is the Sonebhadra administration and UP government not prepared to wait for the National Green Tribunal judgement on this matter?
 
(3) It is another joke that the district administration wants to proceed on the process of acquisition done around 35 years back whereas the people have not given up their possession till date. The District Magistrate of Sonebhadra claims that he’ll rehabilitate the people displaced due to dam construction in the most ideal manner. But all he has are plans for their housing. What about their livelihood? We believe that land for land is the only proper compensation for a person whose livelihood depends on agriculture.
 
(4) Force should not be used against people who agitate peacefully. Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia severed relationship with his own government in Kerala because there was police firing over people in an incident in 1954. It is people’s democratic right to protest peacefully and government’s must find peaceful resolution to problems.
 
                       We commit to stand by the people in this struggle against the government which is for namesake socialist but is actually serving the interests of capitalists. We condemn all the repressive actions of the government and attempts by the district administration to terrorize people into submission so that they accept the displacement and rehabilitation package.
 
                       We hope that the Government of UP would act in a democratic spirit and respect the rights of people. It should immediately halt the construction work at Kanhar dam site and withdraw all the cases foisted on people so that people in jail may be released.
 
Sincerely,
 
Ajay Shekhar, Vice President, U.P. and Sandeep Pandey, National Vice President, Socialist Party (India) after a visit to the dam site, Sundari and Bhisur villages on 20 April, 2015.

Further reading:

कनहर कथा http://tehelkahindi.com/story-of-kanhar-barrage-project/
– छत्‍तीसगढ़ सीमा पर संगीनों के साए में कनहर बांध का निर्माण
http://naidunia.jagran.com/chhattisgarh/raipur-kanhar-dam-making-start-in-chhattisgarh-border-279906
(Nai Duniya)
– Despite NGT stay, UP govt goes ahead with construction of dam
https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/despite-ngt-stay-up-govt-goes-ahead-with-construction-of-dam/article1-1304050.aspx

– “Kanhar dam case: Green panel pulls up environment ministry” By IANS | 22 Feb, 2015

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/developmental-issues/kanhar-dam-case-green-panel-pulls-up-environment-ministry/articleshow/46335741.cms (FEB 23, 2015)

END NOTES:

  1. For NGT order on Kanhar Dam, see: http://vindhyabachao.org/embeds/kanhar/NGT-order-Kanhar.pdf
  2. For a brief video clip on project location, see: http://youtu.be/ZZD_Jk2hDs0
Environment Impact Assessment · Interlinking of RIvers

Why Ken Betwa EIA by AFCL is unacceptable

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of Ken Betwa Riverlink project used for the public hearing to be held on Dec 23 (Silon village in Chhatarpur district) and Dec 27 (Hinouta village in Panna district), 2014 in Madhya Pradesh is, as can be seen from the details below, unscientific, incomplete, inadequate, biased, inconsistent (self contradictory), callous, making unwarranted conclusions/ assumptions, it accepts government claims uncritically and is generally a shoddy piece of work.

For violations involved in public hearing, see our earlier blog[1].

Background Agriculture Finance Corporation of India (now AFC Ltd) was commissioned in 2007 itself to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of Ken Betwa Riverlink proposal. This was even before National Water Development Agency (NWDA, a society of Government of India created in 1981-82 exclusively for studies on River Linking proposals) applied for the Terms of Reference Clearance for the EIA for this project in December 2010.

This review of the EIA of Ken Betwa project is based on the Executive Summary (English) of the EIA made available on the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) website in Dec 2014 before the statutory public hearing slated for Dec 23, 2014 at Silon village in Chhatarpur district and Dec 27, 2014 at Hinouta village in Panna district, both in Madhya Pradesh.

Since this executive summary is largely the same as the EIA made available to the Expert Committee set up on Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) by the then Union Ministry of Water Resources (now Union Ministry of River Development, Ganga Rejuvenation and Water Resources – MRDGR&WR) for which I was a member, I have also provided the critique of that earlier EIA (in red font) in Annexure 1 to this Article[2].

The comments given below under each heading are only indicative to establish what is contended about the EIA here and not exhaustive.

Biased EIA In the very second paragraph of the EIA Executive summary[3], it is stated, referring to NWDA studies, “These studies established that Betwa is a water short basin”. But an EIA is not supposed to uncritically accept such assertions or assumption of the developer. In fact the EIA accepts this as gospel truth without critically examining it.

Incomplete EIA The EIA executive summary does not even have a project layout map, sections like biodiversity impact assessment, impact of destruction of substantial part of Panna Tiger Reserve, surrounding forests and livelihoods of the people dependent there on, options assessment, hydrological viability assessment, disaster potential assessment, how the project will be impacted by destruction of forests and climate change, additional green house gas emissions due to the project and downstream impacts, to name just a few issues..

EIA makes wrong claims The EIA claims in very second paragraph: “The scope of EIA studies inter-alia does not include water balance studies.” This is a wrong claim since water balance study of the Ken Betwa links establishes the hydrological viability of the project and by not going into the water balance study, the EIA has failed to establish hydrological viability of the project. SANDRP analysis in 2005[4] of the NWDA feasibility study of Ken Betwa Proposal[5] had established that the hydrological balance study of the Link Project is flawed and an exercise in manipulation to show that Ken has surplus water and Betwa is deficit.

As the collector of Panna district noted in 2005 itself[6], if the 19633 sq km catchment of the Ken river upstream of the proposed Daudhan dam (comprising areas of eight districts: Panna, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Damoh, Satna, Narsinghpur, Katni, and Raisen) were to use the local water options optimally, then there will not be any surplus seen in Ken river at the Daudhan dam site and by going ahead with the Ken Betwa Link without exhausting the water use potential of Ken catchment, which is predominantly a tribal area, the government is planning to keep this area permanently backward. But the EIA of Ken Betwa link does not even go into this issue, making the whole exercise incomplete.

Ken Betwa project destroys Panna Tiger Reserve but EIA claims project may benefit PTR! The Ken Betwa Project, as per the EIA, will submerge 4141 ha of Panna Tiger Park reserve, but the EIA Ex Summary says (para 58), “the reservoir may prevent encroachments of the park and invasion by livestock so that a relatively more secure and compact habitat is formed on Right flank of Daudhan dam which may be beneficial.”

In Para 63, the EIA executive summary goes on to claim that the project will not decrease tourists flow (due to destruction of Panna Tiger Reserve or drying of waterfalls in the downstream), but in fact increase tourist inflow because of the creation of reservoir! No word about the destruction of river!!

Absence of credible submergence figures The EIA has hugely reduced the area to be affected in Panna Tiger Reserve and in the surrounding forests compared to the figures given in the Feasibility report of the project, without any explanation. Well known conservation expert Kishore Rithe, in his article in December 2014 issue of Sanctuary Asia Magazine has raised doubts about these figures and has suggested that much larger area will be destroyed by the project than what is stated in the EIA. He has also said that the EIA does not take into account the biodiversity that will be destroyed in the forest because of the project. Using strong (& justified) words, he has said this is assassination of wildlife, to help the contractors.

EIA LIES on Biodiversity: Endangered and vulnerable species in Ken Basin find no mention in EIA Para 59 of the Ex Summary of EIA is about Aquatic Environment and it says: None of the species of aquatic plants come either under rare or endangered or endemic or threatened categories (REET). This is a shocking lie, since the following paper by Dr.K.D Joshi and B.K. Biswas of CIFRI (Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute) says that the Ken has at least 4 endangered and 9 vulnerable species. The EIA is also keeps mum about the existence of Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary in the downstream area, which will be destroyed due to the project.

CIFRI paper of 2010 said there are 4 endangered and 9 vulnerable fish species in Ken River According to a paper by Dr. K. D. Joshi and B. K. Biswas published in Journal of Inland Fisheries Society of India (42(2): 25-31, 2010) titled Piscine Diversity and Fisheries in the River Ken, proposed for the Inter-River Linking, “53 fish species classified under 40 genera, 19 families and 7 orders. Out of these, 51 species are native and 2 exotic. The river comprises some highly important threatened species including 4 endangered and 9 vulnerable species… The fish species available in the river have immense economic importance”.

Endangered species include: Tor tor (Mahseer), Chitala chitala, Eutropiichthys vacha, Ompok pabda.

Vulnerable (VU) species: 1. Gonialosa manmina 2. Catla catla 3. Puntius sarana sarana 4. Rhinomugil corsula 5. Mystus bleekeri 6. Clarias batrachus 7. Heteropneustes fossilis 8. Clupisoma garua 9. Bagarius bagarius

The paper concludes that the proposed Ken Betwa link project will have “Deleterious impacts on piscine diversity and fishery may occur downstream to the Daudhan dam site in the river Ken, as a result of the depletion in breeding and feeding grounds and hiding sites of the fishes. This could be due to reduction in flow as a result of diversion of the water to the Ken-Betwa link.” The EIA has no word on this.

GEM of the EIA: Project canals help fish migration and will provide a ‘short cut’ for fish! This is indeed a GEM from the EIA executive summary. In para 59 the EIA executive summary says: “Interlinking of these basins through link canal will facilitate rapid migration of the fish easier… The fish has a tendency to migrate upstream. The inter linking of rivers provide another route for fish migration from Yamuna to Betwa and ultimately from Betwa to Ken. Further, the distance from Duadhan dam to the place of confluence of Ken with Yamuna is longer as compared to the distance from the place of confluence of Betwa with Yamuna and Daudhan dam through link canal. Thus, this route will facilitate rapid migration of fish.” This shows shocking ecological illiteracy of the EIA consultants. This para not only shows how poor is their understanding of fish, rivers and ecosystems, it also shows by AFCL should be blacklisted from doing any EIAs.

ANOTHER GEM FROM EIA: RESERVOIRS HELP REDUCE POLLUTION! In para 61 the EIA Ex Summary says: “Stagnated body can get rid of their pollutants by sedimentation while lotic body carries its load of pollutants downwards.” This narration of advantages of stored water as against flowing river clearly seems like a prescription that it is better to dam the river to reduce pollution! Another example ecological illiteracy of the EIA consultants.

Incomplete EMP The Environment Management Plan (EMP) in the EIA ex summary starting from para 66 is incomplete: It does not include environment flow assessment, muck disposal plan, compensatory afforestation plan, Compensatory land allocation for destruction of Panna Tiger Reserve, habitat improvement plan for the balance part of PTR, REET species plan mentioned in para 70(c) at cost of Rs 10 crores, upstream (of Daudhan Dam) water development impacts/ management plan, downstream impacts management, to mention only a few.

Outdated R&R Plan norms As stated in Paras 76 onwards, R&R (Resettlement and Rehabilitation) plan has been prepared based on norms of National R&R Policy of 2007 and MP R&R policy of 2002, but both are outdated in Dec 2014 where the applicable norms are based on The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Thus the whole R&R plan is completely outdated and will need fresh assessment starting from Social Impact Assessment. The whole EIA has no mention of settlement of rights under Forest Rights Act. Thus the whole social impact and R&R section is outdated, incomplete and under estimated and hence unacceptable.

Fundamental contradictions in R&R figures Para 80 of EIA ex Summary says that 1585 families will be affected by the Daudhan Reservoir. In next para, this becomes population of 1585! Two paras latter, in para 83, the population affected by the reservoir becomes 7224! In para 92 the EIA executive summary says: “Therefore it is only 806 project affected families and there are no other affected families in the project affected villages.” This not only shows contradictions but absolute callousness of the EIA agency.

EIA says minimum agriculture wage is Rs 64/-! In para 94 the EIA executive summary says all the entitlement has been assessed based on agriculture wage rate or Rs 64/- of 2006-07! This is when the minimum agricultural wage rates for unskilled labourers w.e.f. 01.04.2014 is Rs 193[7], more than three times the rate assumed by EIA agency!

Joke of Land for Land by providing 5% of acquired land Para 96 of EIA Ex summary says that total of 6423 ha of revenue land is acquired and it is proposed to provide land for land to ST and SC families. Than it says for this purpose, a total of 358 ha of land will be required! This comes to 5.57% of acquired land and the EIA consultant says this is sufficient for providing land for land! This is clearly a cruel joke on the ST and SC families and shows how great an impoverishment programme this project is.

Social & Environmental impacts of backwater effect not assessed Para 67(c) says that 956 ha of land will be affected due to back water impact, but there is no social and environmental impact assessment of the back water impacts.

Contradictions in EMP

  • Para 59 says there are no REET species, and para 70(c) provides Rs 10 crores for REET species plan!
  • Para 70(a) says fisheries production from reservoir will be 470 MT / year and para 70(e) says the same will be 60 tons!
  • In para 70(a) the EMP says the reservoir fisheries will provide livelihood for 500 families and also that there will be sport licensing.

Questions over choice of AFCL for Ken Betwa EIA The Ken Betwa EIA work has been given to Agriculture Finance Corporation Ltd. (now AFC Ltd – http://afcindia.org.in/). Firstly, the basic mandate of this corporation is Agriculture Finance, and as we all know agriculture finance is in bad shape in India, one of the major reason for the agrarian crisis. In stead of focusing on its core area, this corporation has been majorly working on preparation of Environment Impact Assessment related work. Why should the government encourage such non core work by AFCL, [AFCL is itself is a quasi government body, it being owned by NABARD and EXIM bank]? Secondly, the track record of AFCL in EIA related work is quite bad. Some of the recent EIAs of AFCL that has invited adverse remarks include the EIA of Polavaram Multipurpose project (also one of the ILR links), Tipaimukh project in Manipur, Kameng Hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh and Thoubal irrigation project in Manipur. In case of Tipaimukh and Polavaram EIAs, even some of the official agencies have found their EIAs to be wanting.

For example, the minutes of the minutes of the meeting of the Expert Appraisal Committee of the MoEF&CC for River Valley Projects, held on Oct 15, 2007 said that the EIA report for the Tipaimukh (even after several revisions spread over several years) “The revised EIA report incorporating the above mentioned information was considered by the committee in its meeting held on 15th October 2007. After careful examination of the report, the committee was of the opinion that the report has been prepared haphazardly… As such the data reported (flora and fauna) is of little value… No fresh study (on water quality) has been undertaken… No mention has been made about as to how many water bodies (ponds, lakes, Jheels, springs, etc.) are going to  be submerged by the dam and what type of flora and fauna available there… The Biodiversity Management Plan as well as Fishery Management Plan are not up to the mark. Separate plan for rehabilitating the riverine species should be done. Fishery Management Plan does not say anything as to how measures will be taken for the conservation of the fish fauna occurring in the region. Instead, it talks about cultivation of economically important fish… Plan for the Biodiversity Management also needs significant improvement. IVI should be calculated for dominant species. Nothing has been said about the rehabilitation of mahseer (and similar other species), in spite of its endangered nature. The Financial outlay for both the plans has been prepared just as an eye wash and need thorough revision and enhancement of at least ten to fifteen times. The Biodiversity Management Plan is also having very small financial outlay. This also needs significant enhancement.” (Emphasis added.)

Cover Photo of B Tech paper by Chandan Bhavnani
Cover Photo of B Tech paper by Chandan Bhavnani

CONCLUSION This analysis clearly shows that the EIA consultant does not have basic understanding of ecological issues related to rivers or river valley projects, ground situation in project area or laws of India. This EIA is clearly unacceptable and should be rejected. The EIA should be re-commissioned to a credible EIA agency. Appropriate steps should be taken against the current EIA consultants. The public hearing planned on Dec 23 and 27, 2014 should be cancelled as there is no basis for conducting an informed public consultation. This EIA and also the public hearing conducted based on this EIA will not stand public, scientific, social or legal scrutiny.

Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

ANNEXURE 1: EIA CRITIQUE OF APRIL 2010: 

Ken Betwa River Link EIA from NWDA received in November 2009

WHY THIS EIA IS NOT ACCEPTABLE 

This is in response to NWDA letter No.: NWDA(SCILR)/Tech-1/200/3/2006 (Vol.X)/67-86 Dated 23.3.10, requesting expert committee members to submit comments on the DRAFT Ken Betwa EIA, a soft copy of which was sent to the committee members in Nov 2009.

EIA AGENCY IS BIASED

  • In the very second para of the executive summary, EIA says Betwa is “Water short”. EIA agency is supposed to be unbiased and cannot parrot the assumptions of the developing agency, NWDA.
  • In para 1.02 (chaper 1, volume 1), it says, “It is noted that dams with reservoirs are among measures mostly resorted to as long term solution to mitigate flood losses as well as to prevent drought situations.” This is completely wrong statement, with no basis in reality, and in any case shows the bias of the agency at the outset.
  • In para 1.16 it says, “The anticipated benefits of the project include the following. The transfer of water to deficient areas from surplus areas;…” This clearly shows that the EIA agency has uncritically accepted the conclusion of the project developer, without so much as even an attempt to assess its correctness. How can such an agency be accepted as an objective EIA agency?
  • In Para17 it says, “There is no other alternative for irrigating the proposed CCA of about 3.436 lakh hectares, providing drinking water facilities to 16.98 lakh population and generating 78 MW power. This project is inevitable for removal of the backwardness and poverty of this Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. The no project option will adversely affect the development of this backward region of Bundelkhand and thereby increase the regional disparities. Such disparities contribute for large scale migrations from and unrest in the region. Therefore, no project option is an alternative to be considered.” Here again we can see the clear and repeated bias of the EIA agency. Firstly, the EIA agency does not even say what is the no project alternative. Secondly, it assumes that the project would remove the backwardness and poverty of the Bundelkhand region of MP, without any substantiation. Lastly, it says, no project option is to be considered!!! What does it mean??

EIA AGENCY IS INCOMPETENT

  • In para 14 of the Exe Sum, it says, “Out of the above, forest land accounts for to 5258 ha, rest of the area being agricultural lands, settlements, scrubs and water bodies. Ten villages are likely to be submerged. Area of Panna national park or Tiger reserve accounts for about 65.13 percent of total forest area under submergence with 4163 ha.” Simple calculation shows that 4163 is 79.2% of 5258, and not 65.13% as stated by the EIA. The EIA also does not explain why the forest land has reduced from 6400 ha in Feasibility report to 5258 ha and area of Panna tiger resevee has come down from 4586 ha in FR to 4163 ha now.
  • In Para 56 the EIA says, “The area (Daudhan project) under irreversible impacts is neither a home nor an important habit for the wildlife including birds”. To say this when the project is going to submerge over 4600 ha of Panna Tiger Reserve is shocking.
  • In para 58 EIA says, “Interlinking of these basins through link canal will facilitate rapid migration of the fish easier.” How can this become possible?
  • In Para 60 EIA says, “Stagnated body can get rid of their pollutants by sedimentation”. This is clearly wrong.
  • In Para 73 EIA says, “The budget for different management activities required to be carried out for mitigation and prevention of dam break is 60 lakh.”, However, none of the measures listed there can prevent dam break.
  • In para 1.04 it says, “In the nineteenth century British colonialism introduced technical and hydraulic principle by introducing perennial irrigation in the sub-continent… A third wave in hydraulic manipulation emerged in 1930s with new technologies put into operation to effect the virtual industrialization of river control. Now the entire river basin had become the focus for water planners and engineers. This facilitated to train the river through interconnected dams, reservoirs and diversions all the way to its estuary by harnessing its waters simultaneously for navigation, irrigation, flood control and power generation.” These statements make no sense and in any case are irrelevant and also show the ecological illiteracy of the agency and also its bias for such systems.
  • In para 1.10 it says, “The Gangau weir was constructed to augment supplies from Bariapur PUW for transferring the water from Ken basin to Betwa basin, as the construction of a reservoir is proposed at Daudhan village in Chhatarpur district. Before selecting the Daudhan site for construction of a reservoir, an assessment of two other alternative sites were considered.” Makes no sense. There are many other such paras and statements, but these samples should be good enough for any objective reader.
  • In Para 1.18 it says, “National Water Development Agency, New Delhi taken up feasibility studies of Ken-Betwa Link Project in Madhya Pradesh to cater to the needs of irrigation besides providing drinking water, power generation and diversion of waters to Betwa basin. Though there are large benefits that may accrue after assuring irrigation they are out weighed by social, environmental and economic costs.” (Emphasis supplied.) If the benefits are out weighed by the costs, than the project is non viable is it not? Why that conclusion is then not reflected in the rest of the report?

EIA INCOMPLETE

  • In para 66 (under Reservoir Rim Treatment) the EIA says, “The periphery line beyond the MWL will be in submerged condition for a few days only during flood period and will be vacant during other period.” No details are given as to how much area of which specific villages/ districts will be affected over how much period and what will be the impacts thereof.

EIA DRAWS UNWARRANTED CONCLUSIONS/ ASSUMPTIONS

  • Para 26 of Exec Sum says, “Due to drying up of leaves of trees, monkeys were found moving from one tree to another for their shelter in Panna Park near proposed Daudhan dam.”
  • In Para 40 it says, “Hence impact due to change in the hydrological cycle are not anticipated.” This is completely wrong, the hydrological cycle will change with the building of the dam and there will be impacts there of.
  • In Para 57 it says, “The Daudhan reservoir is capable of effecting the distribution of Tigers since the Tiger reserve of 4163 ha (National Park) will be submerged. But at the same time, the reservoir may prevent encroachments of the park and invasion by livestock so that a relatively more secure and compact habitat is formed on Right flank of Daudhan dam which may be beneficial.” There is no obvious logic to what the EIA says here.
  • In Para (on growth of aquatic weeds in reservoir) 59 it says, “The problems are manageable through bio-manipulation of reservoirs.” How can that be achieved and what will be consequences?
  • In Para 62 it says, “There are no places of tourist interest going to be affected due to the submergence.” This when the Daudhan dam will submerge over 4500 ha of Panna Tiger reserve, which is obviously a place of tourist interest.
  • In Para 66 (under compensatory afforestation) it says, “Assuming that non forest land is not available…” when the EIA is not supposed to make such assumptions.
  • In Para 69 the EIA talks about development of fisheries in Daudhan reservoir, without understanding that the most of the reservoir will remain under the forest dept and tiger reserve and such activities are not allowed in reserve area.

EIA MAKES CONTRADICORY STATEMENTS

  • In Para 69 the EIA says, “Funds to a tune of 1000 lakh are required for conservation of REET species in the submergence area.” However, earlier in para 57 it says, “…impact of the projects on REET species may not be too severe to prevent any recovery.” And in para 58 it says, “None of the species of aquatic plants comes either under rare or endangered or endemic or threatened categories (REET).”
  • In Para 69(a) the EIA says, “There is a proposal to develop carp based fisheries in Daudhan reservoir with an anticipated production of 470 MT/ year” and in para 69(e) it says, “Fish production from the reservoir will be increased steadily on a sustainable basis to attain a yield of 60 tones on full development by adopting the measures suggested.”

EIA AGENCY IS CARELESS

  • The EIA in para 34 says, “The Daudhan dam and reservoir area comprises of very hard, compact and dense quartz – arsenate”, but does not give any implications of the presence of dangerous Arsenate compound. According to Wikipedia, “An arsenate(compound) is any compound that contains this (AsO43−) ion.”[1]
  • The EIA says (para 4) that the Full reservoir Level is 288 m. When the FRL in FR was 287 m, the EIA should explain this change. It also claims that the MWL will be same as FRL, which is also a change from FR, no explanation is given.

EIA AGENCY USES WRONG TERMS

  • In para 39 it says, “No change in the regime of Ken River due to Daudhan dam or Betwa river due to Makodia dam is anticipated.” The line or the para does not explain what is meant by regime of river. If it means flood regime, since the para is talking about floods, its conclusion that there will be no change is completely WRONG. Such big reservoirs would completely change the flood regime downstream from the dams.

EIA Provisions are inadequate

  • In Para 91 the EIA provides for “Provision of land to land to the extent of land acquired, to the ST and SC PAFs.”. However this is completely inadequate. If the displaced population of Sardar Sarovar Dam from the same state of MP are entitled for minimum of 5 acres of irrigated land, why should the displaced population of Ken Betwa get anything less? All displaced families must get at least this.
  • The EIA does not indicate the R&R plan for the canal and other categories of displaced. This is also not acceptable. All categories of displaced must be treated the same way.
  • The R&R plan does not ensure improved and permanent livelihood for the displacement population. It also does not take into account the total resource base of the affected population, without which one cannot even assess if the affected people are better off or not.

THE EIA PROVIDES NO REFERENCES OR NAMES OF THE SOURCES OR EXPERTS IT USES IN THE REPORT. THIS MAKES SUCH FIGURES AND STATEMENTS UNVERIFIABLE AND HENCE UNRELIABLE.

The EIA also does not address many of the issues I raised following the earlier version of the EIA shared with the expert committee, this is pretty shocking too.

This brief note is sufficient to show why the current EIA for the Ken Betwa link proposal is unacceptable and the best course of action would be to go for a fresh EIA with a more credible agency. Pl include this note in the agenda of the 9th meeting of expert committee on ILR. This is not an exhaustive comment, but provides sufficient reason to reject this EIA and commission a fresh EIA from a credible agency, in consultation with the Expert Committee.

March 31, 2010, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (www.sandrp.in)

END NOTES:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenate, accessed on March 5, 2010

[1] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/violations-in-ken-betwa-riverlink-public-hearings-in-last-week-of-2014/

[2] https://sandrp.in/riverlinking/Why_Ken_Betwa%20_EIA_is_unacceptable_April_2010.pdf

[3] http://www.mppcb.nic.in/pdf/594-English.pdf and http://www.mppcb.nic.in/pdf/594-hindi.pdf

[4] https://sandrp.in/riverlinking/knbtwalink.pdf

[5] http://nwda.gov.in/index4.asp?ssslid=35&subsubsublinkid=22&langid=1

[6] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/madhyapradesh/mp-pays-the-price-but-up-to-corner-benefits-of-river-linking-project/article1-1261741.aspx

[7] http://clc.gov.in/estb/pdf/miniwage2.pdf

Climate Change · Environment Impact Assessment · Environmental Laws

HLC – TSR Subramanian report: Climate blind or a climate disaster?

The Report of the High Level Committee to review various Acts administered by MoEF & CC (the report hereafter) has been submitted[1] on Nov 18, 2014[2], though it has been made public only in early Dec 2014. The High Level Committee (HLC) headed by former cabinet secretary T. S. R. Subramanian faced a lot of well deserved criticism from its inception[3]. While a comprehensive critique of the 106 page HLC report will take time, some critiques have already been published[4].

At the outset it should be mentioned that the HLC report is replete with recommendations for expediting environmental clearance, fast tracking projects and they show anti environment bias, as reflected in its use of “Single Window clearance”, “Fast track clearances”, “making business easier”, “utmost good faith” to name only a few phrases frequently used by HLC. However, this article is limited to commenting on the direct and indirect implications of the HLC report on climate change concerns.

While the mandate of the HLC report was “to review various Acts administered by MoEF & CC”, as the title page of the report says, the report rightly acknowledges that such a review would entail analysis of functioning of the environmental governance in India. And any review of environmental governance would be considered grossly inadequate in 21st century, when climate change is the biggest over arching environmental concern of our times that is also dictating the developmental priorities and options. As the world moves from deeply disappointing negotiations at Lima (Peru), symbolizing the continued let down of recent COPs (Conference of Parties) under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to the next (21st) COP at Paris in 2015, it would be useful to see the HLC report through the climate change lenses.

HLC is climate blind Scanning through the report for the phrase “climate change”, one finds that it appears just once in the report outside the name of the commissioning ministry (Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change), in para 1.3 in preamble chapter, where it says: “We need to take heed of the very recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) call from Copenhagen that the earth is flirting with danger – the alarm flag has been hoisted.” That reference, one would have thought would lead HLC to give more importance to Climate Change, but that hope is belied when we read through the report. Even the word climate appears just one other time in the report (para 7.10.4 (e)) but that has nothing to do with climate change.

The other phrase generally used synonymously with climate change is global warming. This phrase appears in the report just once in preamble chapter, in para 1.7, which generates some hope: “Global warming, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and potential for conflict growing out of competition over dwindling natural resources are the current focus of humanity and should occupy the centre stage in policy formulation.” Indeed, Climate Change is “current focus of humanity and should occupy the centre stage in policy formulation”. But the HLC has nothing to do with that concern as the report does even care to mention that in any of its analysis or recommendations!

That shows that as far as direct reference to climate change is concerned, HLC has shown not referred to it in its analysis or recommendations. It would seem from this that may be HLC report is blind to climate change concerns.

But how can it be blamed for inviting a climate disaster? Let us see how.

Indian government is proud of its National Action Plan on Climate Change which is supposed to drive our developmental plans and priorities during the ongoing 12th Five year plan and beyond. There are several national missions, including National Mission for a Green India, National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, National Solar Mission, National Water Mission, National Sustainable Agriculture, National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency and National Mission for Sustainable Habitat, all of which have far reaching implications for environment governance and climate change.  The prime minister himself chairs the PM Council on Climate Change, which is a policy making and national monitoring body.

The 12th Five Year Plan specifically gives importance to climate change when it says (para 1.42): “It is known that India will be one of the countries most severely affected if global warming proceeds unchecked and as such appropriate domestic action is necessary. A National Action Plan for climate change has been evolved with eight component Missions. Implementation of these missions must be an integral part of the Twelfth Plan.”

But HLC takes no cognizance of any of these. Nor does it see the ecology, forests, rivers, biodiversity from climate change perspective and how vulnerable groups from climate change point of view would be affected by projects that would adversely impact the ecology, forests, rivers, biodiversity & other natural resources. In fact HLC completely ignores the fact that millions of Indians directly depend on these natural resources. HLC seems to have no clue about this.

Here it will be illuminating to quote what the HLC chairman said recently[5]: “Villages in Gujarat could have got the water five years earlier had there been no andolan. Though some people lost their land in Madhya Pradesh (MP), the result is that half of MP and three-quarters of Gujarat today has access to water. So, there is some cost attached to everything. Some larger force will have to look at it. Ultimately, it is all about striking a balance. We are suggesting that the government should not go after development blindly but also not let people of one village blackmail it by shouting “my right, my right”. Mr Subramanian here is clearly referring to Narmada Bachao Andolan agitation against the Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada River. This is not only grossly ill informed opinion, it shows his shocking anti people and anti people’s movement bias.

The HLC was expected to consider populations that are vulnerable due to climate change and also affected by destruction of environment. In fact the entire HLC report has nothing to do with people or populations, leave aside identifying the vulnerable populations and giving affected people any effective say in environmental decision making process. Absence of such role for people is one of the key reasons for current environmental problems in India, as is apparent in any of the environmental and natural resources conflict. But HLC analysis not only ignores this lacuna, HLC recommendations are for further reducing say for the people by suggesting that public consultations can be done away with in most projects.

Let us see some further direct implications of HLC recommendations with respect to climate change. HLC is essentially dealing with forests (chapter 5), wildlife (chapter 6), biodiversity (chapters 5, 6 & 7), environmental governance (chapter 7). It makes a large number of recommendations on these issues and all of these have implications for climate change and how the populations vulnerable to climate change would become further vulnerable when these resources are taken away from them. But here again HLC sees no need to mention climate change. For example, forests are a major storehouse of carbon and HLC recommendations are going to lead to massive deforestations, thus increasing the release of stored carbon and reducing the carbon absorption, besides taking away the adaptation capacity of the forest dependent communities, but HLC finds no merit or reason to mention that. Even in section 7.9.2 where HLC mentions the kind of expertise NEMA (National Environmental Management Authority), there is no mention of climate change.

It is in this context that we need to view the HLC recommendations for faster and single window clearances with advocacy for utmost faith in the project developers, for relaxing the environmental governance on several counts, for fast track clearances for mining, power, line projects and large number of other projects, for recommending relaxation of public consultation process in most of the projects, for insulating the officials and the ministers (the executive) from environmental governance, for delaying the legal challenge process to clearances and also for debarring the legal challenge on merit.  These HLC recommendations are all going to help relax the environmental governance and hence invite greater environmental disaster and by implication, climate disaster for India.

The claim of HLC chairman that HLC had tried “to optimize the efforts to balance developmental imperatives causing least possible damage to environment” is clearly unfounded. The remarks of the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar, while accepting the report from HLC, that “the Report was a historic achievement that would strengthen processes to balance developmental commitments and environment protection. The recommendations of the Report would enhance Ministry’s efforts to avoid undue delays and ensure transparency in clearances and implementation of projects” is deeply disappointing and seems to begin an era where environmental conflicts will only increase and deepen.

It is thus clear that HLC report will invite greater climate disaster for India, particularly for those who are poor and already vulnerable to climate change implications. The HLC report should be rejected for this reason alone, besides its other acts of omissions and commissions.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com), SANDRP

SANDRP report on Water Options in India in changing climate
SANDRP report on Water Options in India in changing climate

END NOTES:

[1] See full report: http://envfor.nic.in/node/4610

[2] See: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=111520

[3] For example, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/review-of-environment-laws-is-necessary-but-the-tsr-subramanian-hlc-lacks-credibility/;

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/strengthen-and-not-dilute-environment-laws-submission-to-the-mefs-hlc-to-review-environment-laws/,

http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=nov2614/state050

[4] For example, see: http://shripadmanthan.blogspot.in/2014/12/full-report-of-moefs-committee-to.html and Executive’s Environmental Dilemmas: Unpacking a Committee’s Report by Manju Menon and Kanchi Kohli in Economic & Political Weekly, Dec 13, 2014, among others

[5] For full interview, see: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/my-report-not-industry-report-t-s-r-subramanian

Arunachal Pradesh · Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee

Submerged – what to expect if the Dibang river is dammed

Guest Blog by: : Karthik Teegalapalli (kartix@gmail.com) a researcher with the Nature Conservation Foundation

In April 2014, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) decided to deny clearance to the 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Hydro-electric Project, the largest capacity hydro project in the country proposed to be developed by the National Hydropower Power Corporation (NHPC) in the biodiversity-rich Arunachal Pradesh State (Saikia 2014). The project was also denied clearance in July 2013. More recently though, the project has been recommended forest clearance by the FAC and Environment Clearance by the Expert Appraisal Committee. Therefore it is pertinent to look at the impacts the project may have in some detail.

Ecological impacts The project, in its earlier version involved diversion of more than 5000 hectares of relatively undisturbed grassland and tropical forest habitat. These and the adjoining forests harbour endangered species such as tiger, leopard, serow as well as the critically endangered takin, all of which are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (these species are also listed as present in the area in the Environmental Impact Assessment report of the project, undertaken by National Productivity Council, Guwahati). The grasslands in the area harbour the critically endangered Bengal Florican, a grassland habitat specialist (Sinha et al. 2014). Other species recorded from the area include the critically endangered white-rumped vulture, the slender-billed vulture and the white-winged wood duck. The project site lies in an area identified by the Bombay Natural History Society as a Ramsar site and an Important Bird Area (Islam & Rahmani 2004). The habitat of six endangered plants (Aconitum ferox, Coelogyne mossiae, Dendrobium aurantiacum, Paphiopedilum fairieanum, Paphiopedilum venustum and Vanda coerulea) will be submerged by the reservoir (Chernaik 2007).

The project will also affect aquatic species; the dam will block the breeding migration of four species of fish: the Vulnerable snow trout Schizothorax richardsonii, Endangered golden mahseer Tor putitora, Near-Threatened mahseer Tor tor, and chaguni Chagunius chagunio. The recommendation of the Environmental Management Plan of the Project to establish fish hatcheries for these species is impractical and can have further damaging effects on the species due to collection of eggs and spawn from the wild population.

The project will have other collateral damages such as through Compensatory Afforestation (CA) that often involves converting an area with diverse native species into monocultures, as has been shown for other dams such as the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river (Bhatnagar 2004). The project involves CA of a relatively large area of over 100 sq. km (double the area of forest being affected by the project). The ill-effects of this conversion particularly for the project can be expected to be higher if tree-less natural grassland habitats in Dibang Forest Division, Namsai Forest Division and Anini Social Forestry that harbour grassland habitat specialists are planted with undesired native or non-native tree species. Perhaps the irreversible loss of biodiversity in the forests and grasslands that will be diverted for the project could never be ‘compensated’.

During the construction phase of the project, an estimated 32 lakh truckloads of boulders and 16 lakh truckloads of sand is to be extracted from the Dibang river basin. Unsustainable extraction of sand and boulders has significant negative effects on geomorphology, bank stability, flood character of the river, water quality, river flow, and the biodiversity in the river basin (Padmalal et al. 2008). The project during the construction is to generate 198 lakh cubic meters of muck which will be disposed in the river bank which will cause further loss of 120 ha of river habitat. Construction of new roads (64 km) and widening of existing roads (19.5 km) will also lead to removal of trees and increase the vulnerability of the region to landslides and erosion (Chernaik 2007).

Social impacts The Lower Dibang valley is currently a region of relatively low human population density (~14/km2); the entire population of the Idu-Mishmi tribe is about 12,000. The influx of approximately 6,000 project staff (which is very likely an underestimate) for a period of 8 years or more will affect their way of life, their culture and their tradition as well as open up access to relatively moderately disturbed habitat and biodiversity in the region.

Downstream effects include those on fisheries, agricultural lands and wetlands (beels) and the dam will also increase the vulnerability of the region to flash floods. For instance, in the year 2007, flash floods caused due to sudden release of water from the relatively smaller 405 MW Ranganadi project in the Lower Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh swamped 83 villages and caused huge loss of lives and property in the Assam State. The project will have a considerable impact on the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Assam which has not been studied in detail in the EIA.

On shaky grounds A critical issue with the project is that the site lies close to an active Fault Line in the Mishmi Thrust of the Mayudia Group in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh with a history of several seismic activities including the Great Assam earthquake of 8.6 magnitude in 1950 (Figure 1, Misra 2009). In the event of an earthquake, the project poses a risk of catastrophic submergence of several villages and vast areas of forests downstream. The recommendations of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the project are cursory and suggest further research on the natural seismicity of the region as well as reservoir-induced seismicity, which should be the basis for the decision about the project.

Figure 1 (reproduced from Misra, 2009) showing the location of the fault lines around the proposed project site. 1 is the location of the Fault line and 2 is the location of the proposed site.
Figure 1 (Modified from Misra, 2009) showing the location of the fault lines around the proposed project site. 1 is the location of the Fault line and 2 is the location of the proposed site.

Notwithstanding these, in Oct 2014 the project was cleared by the FAC constituted by the new Government, although the committee still had four of the six members who had earlier twice recommended rejection of clearance. Is this decision driven by changes made by NHPC in their project plan? Clearly not. Diversion of forests has now been reduced by a mere 9% to about 4600 hectares; instead of 3.55 lakh trees, the felling has been reduced to 3.24 lakh trees, the power generation capacity has been reduced by 2.3% and the height of the proposed dam reduced by 10 m. In fact, the FAC rejection of April 2014 was for this 10 m rejection proposal!

The beautiful Dibang valley, that faces the threat of submergence due to the Dibang Multipurpose Project (Photography by Soumya Dasgupta).
The beautiful Dibang valley, that faces the threat of submergence due to the Dibang Multipurpose Project (Photography by Soumya Dasgupta).

NHPC misleadingly and baselessly claimed that they ‘were not in a position to reduce the height of the dam any further, as it would significantly affect the power generation’. The decision to provide clearance to the project seems like a hasty one driven by the blinders of development and the consequences of such projects is evident from the fate of the Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project in the same State, also by NHPC. After 12 years since the LSHP was initiated and after an expenditure of over Rs. 5000 crores, the work has been on a standstill for the last 35 months as a result of India’s biggest anti-dam people’s movement (Dandekar & Thakkar 2014). Considering the economic, ecological, environmental and social costs of the project as well as the geophysical risk it poses, it would be prudent to withdraw the project till a credible, detailed cumulative study covering these aspects is undertaken in a transparent and participatory way. While the rest of the world is recognising the ill-effects of dams, with the largest dam removal project on the Elwha river in the United States completed just three months back, it is paradoxical that we are heading in the other direction; of building the highest dam in the country and largest capacity reservoir of the North East India without even basic studies, credible impact assessment and democratic decision making process.

References:

Bhatnagar, D. (2004) Uprooting Forests, Planting Trees: Success of Compensatory Afforestation Measures Mitigating the Deforestation for the Sardar Sarovar Dam, India. University of California at Berkeley.

Chernaik, M. (2007) Evaluation of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report & Environmental Management Plan for the Dibang Multipurpose Project (3000 MW) https://www.elaw.org/system/files/Evaluation+of+the+EIA+report+for+the+proposed+Dibang+dam.doc

Dandekar, P. & Thakkar, H. (2014). Manipulating Environment & Forest Clearances for Dibang Project: Déjà vu: LSHP History repeated: Will it be tragedy or comedy https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/

Islam, M. Z. & Rahmani, A. R. (2004) Important bird areas in India: priority sites for conservation. Indian Bird Conservation Network, Bombay Natural History Society and BirdLife International (UK).

Misra, D. K. (2009) Litho-tectonic sequence and their regional correlation along the Lohit and Dibang Valleys, Eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Journal of the Geological Society of India, 73: 213-219.

Padmalal, D., Maya, K., Sreebha, S. & Sreeja, R. (2008) Environmental effects of river sand mining: a case from the river catchments of Vembanad lake, Southwest coast of India. Environmental Geology, 54(4): 879-889.

Saikia, P. J. (2014). Six years after PM laying the foundation ston: No clearance, no work for 3000 MW Dibang Dam.

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/six-years-after-pm-laying-foundation-stone-no-clearance-no-work-for-3000-mw-dibang-dam/

Sinha, A., Hoque, J., Pradhan, T., Bakshi, M. K., Pulu, J., Singh, A. K. & Ahmed, F. (2012) Sighting record of Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis (Gmelin, 1789) (Aves: Gruiformes: Otididae) in Lower Dibang Valley District, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Journal of Threatened Taxa, 4(14): 3375-3376.

Also see:
https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/insensitivity-analysis-of-dibang-multipurpose-project-fac-recommends-dibang-at-10-mt-height-reduction-will-destroy-4577-hectares-forest/

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/dibang-project-rejected-forest-clearance-for-the-second-time/

Arunachal Pradesh · Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Forest Advisory Committee · Himalayas

Dibang Insensitivity Analysis : FAC recommendation can destroy 4577 ha rich Forests

Reaching exasperating lows of environment decision making, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC is a statutory body of the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) formed under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. FAC appraises Forest diversion proposals) has recommended Forest Clearance to the 3000 MW Dibang Project on Dibang river in Arunachal Pradesh.

While we had already written against this recommendation, what is nearly unbelievable is that this recommendation has come at just 10 meters height reduction of the dam from the proposed 288 meters.

This was the very same NHPC proposal which was rejected twice by the FAC in the past,[1] despite this token 10 meter height reduction. In fact in April 2014, the FAC said that 10 mt reduction does not take care of any pertinent impacts for which the proposal was rejected in the first place in July 2013! A 10 m reduction would still mean destruction of 3.24 lakh trees and submergence of 4577.84 hectares, nearly 12000 acres, of rich bio-diverse forest.

Dibang River Photo with thanks from Global Post, Scot Ligare
Dibang River.  Photo with thanks from Global Post, Scot Ligare

The usually reticent MoEFCC (Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, MoEF earlier) too had issued a strong-worded rejection to this scheme in August 2014, stating that 10 meters reduction is nothing in the face of what is being lost. The rejection letter stated: “Such a marginal reduction in requirement of the forest land (445 hectares reduction, reducing forest requirement from 5056 hectares to 4577 hectares) for the project may not be able to reduce the adverse impact of project on such a biodiversity-rich mature forest ecosystem to the extent which could make the project environmentally as well as socio-economically viable in forest dependent tribal society of Arunachal Pradesh”.

This letter from the same ministry certified that the 10 m reduction proposal still leaves the project environmentally, socio-economically unviable. So an environmentally and socio-economically unviable project has been recommended clearance by the statutory FAC (and also the separate recommendation a week earlier by the same MEFCC’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects)!

This shows that the decision of FAC is devoid of merits, will invite huge opposition from Arunachal Pradesh, Downstream Assam, North East India, and even beyond and will not pass legal scrutiny. The decision seems to have been taken under pressure from the political masters. Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal has been dreaming of clearance to this project, as is clear from his road map published on completion of 100 days of office for the new NDA government[2]. He has also been pressurizing the MoEFCC to clear the project by hook or by crook. The FAC was reconstituted and the reconstituted FAC has obliged the minister in its very first meeting. In the process, the entire FAC has violated its mandate and should be held accountable for this.

Regrettably, MoEFCC seems to have become the willing punching bag of not only above-mentioned ministries, but even unrelated ministries like Ministry of Mines and Minerals, Ministry of Steel ,etc., whose ministers and Secretaries were present for the meeting: “to Expedite Clearances”. (Incidentally, when was the last time we heard MEFCC resisting such arm-twisting, or forthrightly suggesting any pro-environment measures to other ministries?)

Before the minutes of the September FAC meeting were out on Oct 22, 2014 (there was an inordinate delay this time, raising suspicion of negotiated minutes and again breaking all norms of conduct), there was discussion in media that Dibang was cleared, but even the hard-core skeptics believed that this recommendation must have come after a 20 meter or 40 meter height reduction, for obvious reasons.

But the FAC seems to have outdone itself. As stated above, the recommendation has come at 10 mts height decrease, for which the FAC had rejected the project and MoEF had issued a rejection letter in the past.

As we discussed in detail in our last blog on Dibang project, the twice-rejected project was up for discussions again in Sept 2014 only after considerable arm-twisting of the MEFCC by the Cabinet Committee of Investment, Ministry of Power, Project Developer NHPC and Arunachal State Government. This time it was for a supposed sensitivity analysis (done by the developer!) for studying the feasibility of reducing the height of the project upto 40 meters from its original height of 288 meters.

This sensitivity analysis was not shared with anyone, not even the FAC members till the day of the FAC meeting, breaking all codes of conduct of transparency, participation and informed decision making in governance. SANDRP wrote about this to the Minister and Secretary of MoEFCC as well as the Member of the FAC, but received no response.

Looking at the minutes, it is clear that the FAC members have lapped up the logic presented by the developer and the Ministry of Power which in a nutshell says that “10 meters reduction is sufficient as the ratio of forest land required per MW is lowest at 10 meters reduction.” This twisted logic reduces all decision making related to forests, even biodiversity-rich forests supporting endemic, unstudied species, local protests, downstream impacts etc., to mere number crunching of forest per MW. This criteria alone cannot  be the basis for decision for forest appraisal committee.

Dibang Valley Forests Photo: The Telegraph
Dibang Valley Forests Photo: The Telegraph

As per the sensitivity analysis by NHPC, the ratio forest land required per MW for 40 meters reduction is 1.67 MW/ hectare, which is same as no height reduction and 1.78 MW/ hectare in case of 20 meter reduction. In terms of tariff, for 40 meters reduction, the power tariff will be 6.24 Rs./unit while it is 5.66 Rs/unit 10 meters reduction, 5.94 Rs./unit 20 meters reduction and 5.64 Rs. at zero reduction. The installed capacity will reduce by 120 MW (4%) MW for 10 meters reduction, 600 MW (20%) for 20 mt reduction and 780 MW (26%) for a 40 meter reduction.

Height Reduction Forest land required MW capacity per ha Forest lost First Year Tariff: Rs per unit Reduction in installed capacity
Nil (288 m) 5056 Ha 1.67 5.64 None
10 m 4578 Ha 1.59 5.66 120 (2880 MW)
20 m 4284 Ha 1.78 5.94 600 (2400 MW)
40 m 3703 Ha 1.67 6.24 780 (2200 MW)

The proponent said: “Decrease in dam height and consequent sacrifice of power generation beyond 10 mt is not commensurate with saving forest land.”

How did NHPC reach this conclusion? What is the value of the mature, old growth forest land considered by NHPC? Without knowing this, how can this conclusion be acceptable to the FAC? It has to be remembered that Dibang is not an exclusive hydropower project, but a multipurpose project with a flood moderation component and costs have to be borne for this.

While the proponent and Ministry of Power did their best for pushing the project, the FAC did not do its duty of stating that the sensitivity analysis put forth by NHPC is a sham as it does not consider the worth of the forest being lost.

In this sabji-mandi haggling, when FAC had all the watertight justifications for rejecting the project, it did not bat for even a 40 meter reduction, which could have saved nearly 1355 hectares of forests and would have had a marginal impact on other factors. Its unclear why this happened.

Only one of the FAC members tried to battle the case saying that 10-40 meter reduction still does not address the upstream and downstream impacts, especially considering the biodiversity rich area. The minutes do not disclose the name of this member, but it seems the brute majority (majority of FAC members are govt officials) took the official line, alleging “subjectivity” and said that “To reduce subjectivity, it is important to analyse the issue objectively on objective parameters”. Forgetting that this is Forest Appraisal committee, not Power Developer Committee.

This is ironical. It was indeed the duty of the FAC to appraise the project “objectively” based on issues like destruction of 3.24 lakh trees, invaluable forests, unstudied biodiversity, rich wildlife and several Schedule I species, community dependence, traditional rights, downstream impacts, climate change impacts, options assessment, etc. But it did nothing of that and has in fact recommended the project “subjectively”, bowing to pressures outside their ambit.

Clearly, per MW forest land required and per Unit Tariff from a project are anything but objective criteria for FAC. FAC is supposed to apply its mind to a number of issues like the ones above.  If FAC was not supposed to apply its mind to these aspects and its judgment, there was no need for an FAC, Power ministry and developer could have taken the decision independently.

The FAC decision does not address any pertinent issues raised by the same FAC while rejecting the project, it also does not address downstream impacts on Assam or assume any value for a rich forest. There is no discussion why 20 meters or 40 meters reduction is not seriously considered by FAC. Decision-making based on such biased, proponent-driven criteria is bound to be open to legal challenge and public protests.

Sham consideration of Downstream Impacts About Impact of the project on Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, the User Agency said that the issue was considered by EAC in its meeting on the 16th September (Please note this is just 6 days and 5 working days back from FAC meeting. There is no chance of minutes being firmed up by then. They were not in open domain in any case) and the EAC has recommended clearance based on the fact that there is less than 1 meter level fluctuation at DSNP.

This claim in any case is patently incorrect, again a case of project-friendly, anti-environment decision-making. The level fluctuation at DSNP can go way higher than a meter, anywhere from 7-8 feet every day in lean season, according to the studies considered by the EAC of the MEFCC itself. This has been pointed out by SANDRP to the EAC as well. There has been no study of the impacts of this project on downstream Arunachal Pradesh or Assam. The developer seems to assume that Dibru-Saikhowa is the only part of Assam worth considering.

Dibang Valley tribes Photo from go ibibo/dibangvalley
Dibang Valley tribes Photo from go ibibo/dibangvalley

There is no compliance under Forest Rights Act (2006) for such a massive project and despite this, FAC under some supposedly progressive members working on tribal issues, does not bat an eyelid before recommending clearance!

To conclude, pricing mature, biodiversity-rich forests in terms of per MW terms is an insult of those forests, the communities that depend on them and to the mandate of  FAC. Downstream impacts of Dibang project are not studied, the impacts on Dibru-Saikhowa are based on compromised studies.

There is no merit in this decision from the newly appointed FAC which includes members also from reputed environment protection organizations in North East and from Tribal Welfare groups like Friends of Baripada. It is also sad to see that there is no dissenting note from a single member. The unnamed member who expressed dissent in the meeting has not written anything about this in public domain.

Decisions like Dibang lay further foundations for poor, pro-developer, anti-people, anti-environment decisions taken due to pressure from proponent and other ministries. Such decisions will not be legally tenable, nor acceptable to affected communities, nor good for sustainability and equity. In fact, by such reversals, FAC decisions are losing their sanctity. FAC has done this in the past too in case of Kalu Dam in Western Ghats which would submerge 18 villages and 1000 hectares forest.

Isn’t it ironical that the new government changed the name of the MoEF to MoEFCC but is sanctioning massive projects like Dibang which will have far reaching impacts on Climate Change as well as adaption and mitigation abilities of the affected communities? Without even considering these aspects or even mentioning them?

Parineeta Dandekar, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

[1] For details see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/dibang-project-rejected-forest-clearance-for-the-second-time/

[2] http://www.piyushgoyal.in/uploadedfiles/views/ministry_english_booklet.pdf

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/india-untamed/2014/oct/22/indias-largest-dam-given-clearance-but-still-faces-flood-of-opposition

[4] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/kalu-dam-in-western-ghats-fac-goes-back-on-its-word-without-any-justification/

Environment Impact Assessment · Environmental Laws · Expert Appraisal Committee · Himalayas · Hydropower · Ministry of Environment and Forests

National Green Tribunal’s Fourth Foundation Day: Why such a pro hydro bias?

The National Green Tribunal, NGT marked its 4th Foundation Day on 18 October 2014, with an impressive fanfare. A full day function was organized at the Plenary hall of the capital’s iconic Vigyan Bhawan. NGT in this short span has acquired a formidable reputation as a unique, vibrant, active institute with independent & unbiased mind and forthright, quick redressal of petitions that come to it.

The function in two separate sessions, one in the forenoon and the other in the afternoon (a Seminar) was attended by large number of government officials, judicial officers, advocates, law school students, NGT petitioners and office bearers and members of the NGT Bar association.

NGT  Foundation Function on Oct 18, 2014 (Source: FB page of Information and Broadcasting Ministry)
NGT Foundation Function on Oct 18, 2014 (Source: FB page of Information and Broadcasting Ministry)

Invited dignitaries included Mr Justice Ranjan Gogoi (Judge, Supreme Court), Prakash Javadekar (Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change) and Ashok Lavasa (Secretary, MoEF&CC) in the forenoon session and Mr Justice Sudhanshu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya (Judge, Supreme Court) and Piyush Goyal (Union Minister of state for Power, Coal and new and renewable energy). Mr Justice Swatanter Kumar, the Chairperson of the NGT, Mr Justice Dr. P. Jyothimani, Judicial Member, Principal Bench, NGT, Prof. R. Nagendra, and Dr. D.K. Agarwal, Expert Members at the NGT also spoke and graced the dais.

The function included, in addition to the addresses by the invited dignitaries, the release of 2nd issue of NGT International Journal; the launch of new NGT Website (in the first session) and address by invitee experts (in the second session).

In the first session Mr Javadekar informed the gathering about his political beginnings from a water pollution struggle activist against factory pollution and Mr Lavasa categorically stated that the NGT is playing an extremely crucial role and that there is no move to dilute its powers in any manner. It was in the second session that very controversially one Mr M.K. Pandit was invited to speak as an invited expert.

The Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (I/C), Shri Prakash Javadekar lighting the lamp at the 4th Foundation Day function of the National Green Tribunal, in New Delhi on October 18, 2014. The Secretary, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Shri Ashok Lavasa and the Judge, Supreme Court of India, Mr. Justice Ranjan Gogoi are also seen (Source: FB page of I&B Ministry)
The Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (I/C), Shri Prakash Javadekar lighting the lamp at the 4th Foundation Day function of the National Green Tribunal, in New Delhi on October 18, 2014. The Secretary, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Shri Ashok Lavasa and the Judge, Supreme Court of India, Mr. Justice Ranjan Gogoi are also seen (Source: FB page of I&B Ministry)

Mr Pandit began with highlighting how recent and how fragile the Himalayas were and that a 8+ richter scale earthquake in central Himalayas was round the corner that could flatten Dehradun. Very soon in his almost 25 minute speech changed track as if on a cue to how great the hydropower dam projects in the Himalayas were for the power security of the country. The Union Power Minister had by then just joined the function to nod in full agreement with all that the Mr Pandit was narrating. The audience on the other hand was left perplexed as to what was happening?

An invited speaker was eulogizing the great merits of high dams receiving approving glances from the power minister on an NGT seminar whose topic was “Natural Disasters, Environment & Role of NGT with special reference to Uttarakhand, J&K, Assam & Himachal Pradesh”. Clearly something was amiss, somewhere?

Secondly, Mr Pandit is not a neutral expert, but an interested party. As leader of scores of pro hydro Environmental Impact Assessments that he has led as part of the CISMHE[1] team (Center for Inter-disciplinary studies of Mountain and Hill Environment) has earned them millions as they also continue to mint more money. Typical of Indian EIAs, no EIA done by CISMHE has ever raised any difficult questions for the developers. It has also never concluded that any of the projects is unviable. CISMHE EIAs are as shoddy, incomplete and inadequate as any other[2]. For example on Luhri HEP, the CISMHE EIA was so problematic that even the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects and the World Bank found it inadequate and unreliable.

Interestingly, CISMHE website says: “Ministry of Power, Government of India established CISMHE as an R&D Centre in power studies in environment in recognition of its excellent past performance”. This means that there is also conflict of interest here in CISMHE doing EIAs, since it has been set up as an R&D Centre by Ministry of Power, that is itself a promoter and developer of hydropower projects. No wonder, Mr Pandit said what the Power Minister wanted to hear and Power Minister made no efforts to hide his approval of what Mr Pandit was saying.

Very strangely, Mr Piyush Goyal claimed that Tehri dam was an example of good project in the Himalayas that saved Uttarakhand in the floods of June 2013. Mr Goyal should know that this claim had absolutely no basis and even an Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court of India has shown, after listening to THDC, CWC and others that such a claim has no scientific foundation. Mr Pandit did try to support the unfounded contention of Mr Goyal, but the minister asked him to keep quite.

It became clearer, when a pointed question asked by Shri Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan about what would have been the Tehri dam scenario if the Uttarakhand high rainfall event had occurred in the peak monsoon months of July, August or September and not on 16 June 2013 (as in fact happened in Sept 2010, when Tehri created a havoc in the downstream, damaging its own Koteshwar project[3]), when the dam was almost empty and only beginning to get filled, elicited an evasive response first by the Union Minister (we cannot have structures planned for every 365 days in a year). And later when Pandit ji tried to answer, he was asked to shut without him being able to even respond to the other two questions relating to how does he reconcile to the fact of  a high intensity earthquake visiting a region where he had been advocating the dams; why was USA (as also some other countries), the mecca of large Dams bringing many of its dams down?

In any case, Mr Maharaj Pandit was contradicting himself, because he said something totally different in his article in The Hindu soon after the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013: “Most downstream damage in otherwise flood-free areas is caused by dams and barrages, which release large volumes of water to safeguard engineering structures. Dam operators often release more water during rains than the carrying capacity of downstream areas, causing floods… Hydropower policy must consider building fewer dams and prioritise those that have the least environmental and social costs. Independent and serious monitoring of the catchment area treatment plans proposed by Forest Departments with funds from hydropower companies needs to be carried out and reported to the Green Tribunal.” In fact then in June 2013, he was on TV channels almost every night, talking about how Himalayas have the highest dam density in the world and that is such a big invitation to disaster! But he seems ready to change his stand to please the minister or the hydro project developers.

It seems as if Mr Pandit had been invited to justify the building of dams in the Himalayas in front of a large gathering of impressionable judicial officials and young student minds. It is possible that it was also intended to influence the minds of NGT members (judicial and experts) and other persons from judiciary in the face of a number of proposed dams being challenged before the various NGT benches and courts.

If a proper seminar was indeed planned on such an important matter, then there should have been several speakers on wide range of perspectives and topics and not just one speaker with conflict of interest and a clear agenda? The only other technical speaker, Dr R. Nagendran, an expert member with NGT southern bench spoke sensibly on how unscientific management of sanitary projects in hilly regions lead to parallel “Faeco-microbial disaster” which is difficult to tackle.

Mr Ritwick Dutta, secretary of NGT bar association said that the information about Mr Pandit speaking from NGT platform was not available in public domain and it is not clear how he was selected as a speaker.

Such blatant pro hydro bias in an NGT foundation day meeting is certainly unwarranted and out of place for an NGT function. An NGT platform should not have been allowed to be used for such biased presentation. We hope the bias apparent in this aberration is just that, an aberration and does not run deeper, considering that some hydropower professionals have been appointed on NGT benches.

We hope that at least in future the NGT, a statutory judicial body, otherwise doing a great job for the protection of environment, would be more careful in not letting its platform get used by the vested interests. The formidable reputation that NGT has acquired with a lot of remarkable orders should not be allowed to be affected by this one incident. NGT indeed needs to be strengthened in every way and not weakened in any manner.

It would also help if the NGT were to distance itself from this biased episode.

Pushp Jain, EIA Research and Response Centre (http://www.ercindia.org/, Pushp Jain pushp@ercindia.org) & SANDRP (based on interviews with those who were present at the NGT foundation day meeting)

END NOTES

[1] http://www.cismhe.org/

[2] For example, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/the-world-bank-drops-funding-usd-650-m-for-the-luhri-hydro-project-victory-for-the-sutlej-bachao-jan-sangharsh-samiti/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/pauk-heo-tato-i-hydropower-projects-cismes-shoddy-eias-seven-big-hydro-on-third-order-tributary-of-brahmaputra/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/

[3] For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/uttarakhand-floods-truth-about-thdc-and-central-water-commissions-claims-about-tehri/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/is-thdc-preparing-to-repeat-the-disaster-tehri-created-in-sept-2010/

[4] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/

[5] http://www.greentribunal.gov.in/

[6] http://www.greentribunal.gov.in/Writereaddata/Downloads/circular7Oct14.pdf

[7] http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/nature-avenges-its-exploitation/article4834480.ece

Environment Impact Assessment · Environmental Laws · Expert Appraisal Committee · Forest Advisory Committee · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Strengthen and not dilute Environment Laws: Submission to the MEF’s HLC to Review Environment Laws

Guest Blog by: Ritwick Dutta (ritwickdutta@gmail.com) Environmental Lawyer, Managing Trustee,

Legal Imitative for Forest and Environment, New Delhi

The review of Environmental Law is currently being undertaken by the High Level Committee (HLC) constituted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The task is huge and requires a much more detailed, comprehensive, real and effective consultative process than what is currently being done. The Committee is well within its right to say that such a task cannot be undertaken within such a limited and unrealistic time frame (2 months) and without the required expert composition.

The committee must give suggestions only on how to strengthen environmental law in India and not dilute environmental laws. Undermining environmental law is disastrous for the people, environment and even for economic development. It is pertinent to point out some events which have occurred in recent times which reflects on how the decisions on environment have had disastrous consequences both for the people and the economy.

Contrary to what is generally projected by the Industry Associations and a section of the press, environmental laws are not the cause of slow economic growth. Rather speedy and hasty approvals have been the cause of both environmental, social and economic loss and damage. It is imperative to focus on some facts which would be relevant.

  • The Ministry of Environment and Forest and its various expert committees never reject a project totally. Even if the approval is declined in one meeting it is presented in a subsequent meeting with minor modification. One can cite the recent case of Dibang Hydro Electric project in Arunachal Pradesh which was recommended for forest clearance despite being rejected twice by the Forest Advisory Committee.
  • An analysis of the approvals granted by the Regional Office of the MoEF based on recommendation of State Advisory group, the rate of approval is 78 Percent [See report of EIA Response Centre, study from January to April, 2014 at Annexure IIm, see the end of the blog]
  • The Expert Advisory Committee (EAC) constituted under the EIA Notification 2006 undertakes the task of appraisal at remarkable speed and hasty manner. It is worth quoting from the Judgments of Courts and Tribunals on the manner in which appraisal is done by the Expert Committees.

A. Samata Versus Union of India [National Green Tribunal , Appeal No 9 of 2011,] [Thermal Power Plant in Andhra Pradesh]

‘For a huge project as the one in the instant case, a thermal power plant with an estimated cost of Rs. 11,838 crore, covering a total area of 1675 acres of land, the consideration for approval has been done in such a cursory and arbitrary manner even without taking note of the implication and importance of environmental issues. On the same day the EAC took for appraisal not only the thermal power plant in question, but also other projects which would be indicative of the haste and speedy exercise of its function of appraisal of the project.

B. Utkarsh Mandal Versus Union of India[1]

“As regards the functioning of the EAC, from the response of the MoEF to the RTI application referred to hereinbefore, it appears that the EAC granted as many as 410 mining approvals in the first six months of 2009. This is indeed a very large number of approvals in a fairly short time. We were informed that the EAC usually takes up the applications seeking environmental clearance in bulk and several projects are given clearance in one day. This comes across as an unsatisfactory state of affairs. The unseemly rush to grant environmental clearances for several mining projects in a single day should not be at the cost of environment itself. The spirit of the EAC has to be respected. We do not see how more than five applications for EIA clearance can be taken up for consideration at a single meeting of the EAC. This is another matter which deserves serious consideration at the hands of MoEF.”

C. Gauraxa Hitraxa Pauchav Trust Vs Union of India [Appeal No 47 of 2012 of NGT] [Pipava port, Gujarat]

“The relevant observations in the EAC meeting reveal that the presentation made by the Project Proponent was accepted as “gospel truth””

D. Sreeranganathan K.P and ors Vs Union of India : [Appeal No 172 -174 of 2013] [Aranmula Airport, Kerala]

“The Tribunal is able to notice a thorough failure on the part of the EAC in performing its duty of proper consideration and evaluation of the project by making a detailed scrutiny before approving the same……The EAC is constituted consisting of a Chairman and number of members who are experts from different fields only with the sole objective of national interest in order to ensure establishment of new projects or expansion of already existing activity without affecting the ecological and environmental conditions. Thus, a duty is cast upon the EAC or SEAC as the case may be to apply the cardinal and Principle of Sustainable Development and Principle of Precaution while screening, scoping and appraisal of the projects or activities. While so, it is evident in the instant case that the EAC has miserably failed in the performance of its duty not only as mandated by the EIA Notification, 2006, but has also disappointed the legal expectations from the same.

The above list is only illustrative and there are many other judgments reflecting the situation with respect to haste with which approvals are granted.

While undertaking any review the Committee must keep into account the following facts, issues and ground realities.

  1. India’s Environmental law are a result of people’s struggle, international convention, commitments and judicial pronouncements and is aimed at ensuring sustainable development. Most provisions of the India’s environmental law have been an outcome of International Conventions pursuant to Article 253 of the Constitution eg, the Public Hearings and Environment Impact Assessment became part of India’s legal framework pursuant to the Rio Declaration of 1992 and the National Green Tribunal was set up pursuant to India’s committment to Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration.
  1. ‘Principle on Non-Regression’ has to be applied while undertaking review.

The principle of non-regression is understood as the requirement that norms which have already been adopted by states may not be revised in ways which would imply going backwards on the previous standard of protection.[2] This principle has been traditionally recognized in the area of human rights – that is, once a human right is recognised it cannot be restrained, destroyed or repealed. This theme is echoed in almost all the major international instruments on human rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [3] Environmental rights are closely related to human rights as well, including cultural and social rights, and can be interpreted to apply in the context of environmental protection as well. In addition, the principle is increasingly being invoked in the context of environmental protection. The European Union has adopted this view through a resolution: [4]

97. Calls for the recognition of the principle of non-regression in the context of environmental protection as well as fundamental rights.

The Resolution of the UN General Assembly as the outcome document of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development reflects the acceptance of this principle as well:[5]

20. We acknowledge that since 1992 there have been areas of insufficient progress and setbacks in the integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development, aggravated by multiple financial, economic, food and energy crises, which have threatened the ability of all countries, in particular developing countries, to achieve sustainable development. In this regard, it is critical that we do not backtrack from our commitment to the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. We also recognize that one of the current major challenges for all countries, particularly for developing countries, is the impact from the multiple crises affecting the world today.

Therefore, the principle of non-regression applies as a human and fundamental right, as well as under the principles of environmental law – like “sustainable development” and precautionary principle”.

  1. The concept of Sustainable Development has to be comprehensively understood and cannot be equated only with economic growth. The Rio Declaration of 1992 has to be comprehensively understood and read not in isolation but as a whole. Public hearings (Principle 10), EIA (Principle 17) Precautionary Principle (Principle 15), Compensation and liability regime (Principle 13) are the core of Sustainable Development and have been incorporated as part of national law. The aim should be to further include these in various laws in a comprehensive manner. Rule of law, the right to participate effectively in matters which concerns one’s life.
  1. Expert Committees, Advisory Committees, Appellate Forums constituted of Bureaucrats do not inspire confidence. This Committee must recommend that any committee or appellate forums should not have any bureaucrats. The working of the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) is a classic example of failure due to the fact that retired IAS and IFS officials were made vice chairman and member. The Delhi High Court in Vimal Bhai versus Union of India [CM No. 15895/2005 in W.P. (C) 17682/2005 has held:

“The list produced by the petitioners of appeals before the NEAA shows that most of the appeals disposed of thus far have in fact been dismissed, comprised as it is of retired bureaucrats, minus the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson. The NEAA is, therefore, at present neither an effective nor an independent mechanism for redressing the grievances of the public in relation to the environment clearances granted both either the State or the Central Government.”

Conclusion:

There is clearly a need to review environmental laws. Yet neither the objective and purpose is clear of the present exercise. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 has numerous notifications issued under it. It ranges from EIA Notification to rules regulating the use of Plastics and microorganisms. Will the present review cover all these? These are issues which needs clarity. In addition, the Committee has to genuinely interact with all concerned persons across the country. The present process cannot be called consultative at all.

India’s environment has already impacted negatively due to hasty decisions as evident from numerous decisions of the Courts, the least this HLC can do is not to prepare a hasty report based on limited one sided information and limited public interaction.

[Earlier Blog on HLC: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/review-of-environment-laws-is-necessary-but-the-tsr-subramanian-hlc-lacks-credibility/]

Ritwick adds in post script: So far as ELMA is concerned, it is not even in a form that can be called as a Bill. The ELMA has many dangerous provisions and the sole aim is to manage the progressive provisions in all the other laws. ELMA gives overriding powers to the environmental authority to pass any direction. The thrust of ELMA is to ensure that those who approach the courts for redressal of their grievances face the threat of penalty.  I feel that one of the most problematic provisions of ELMA is the fact that it combines all clearances (CRZ, EC and FC) into one (Single window) with very limited scope for appeal. The Appeal will have to be filed within 30 days of approval and before a Board constituting of two serving or retired secretaries to the Government! The process without doubt was a hurried one.

I have recently got an RTI response stating that the HLC has not kept records of any of the public consultations which it undertook: Source: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-moef-has-no-minutes-of-30-panel-meetings-2053483

END NOTES:

[1] Delhi High Court, 2009 http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/188721650 [Mining in Goa]

[2] The Future of Environmental Law – Emerging Issues and Opportunities, Issue Brief 3, United Nations Environment Programme (2012). Available at http://www.unep.org/delc/Portals/24151/IssueBriefTheme3.pdf

[3] Michel Prieur, “Non-regression in environmental law”, S.A.P.I.EN.S [Online], 5.2 (2012). Available at: http://sapiens.revues.org/1405

[4] Resolution on developing a common EU position ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). Document no. P7_TA-PROV(2011)0430. Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&reference=B7-2011-0522&format=XML&language=EN

[5] Resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on 27 July, 2012. A/RES/66/288. Available at: http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/66/288&Lang=E

ANNEXURE II

 State Advisory Groups (SAGs): Recommendations for Forest Clearance during January-April 2014

The Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2003 under the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, provide that proposal involving forest land of more than forty hectare shall be sent by the State Government to the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) while proposals involving forest land up to forty hectare shall be sent to the Chief Conservator of Forests or Conservator of Forests of the concerned Regional Office (RO) of the MoEF.

RO is empowered to scrutinize and sanction the proposals involving diversion of forest area up to 5 hectare.  In respect of proposals involving diversion of forest area above 5 hectare and up to 40 hectare and all proposals for regularization of encroachments and mining up to 40 hectare, the proposals are examined by the RO in consultation with State Advisory Group consisting the representatives of the State Government from the Revenue Department, Forest Department, Planning and /or Finance Department and concerned Department (User Agency).

State Advisory Groups (SAGs) are constituted by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 for each State and Union Territory.

The view of the Advisory Group are recorded by the Head of the RO and along with the same, the proposals are sent to Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, New Delhi for consideration and final decisions.

The meeting of the State Advisory Group (SAG) is normally held once in a month at concerned State Capital as per a pre-decided schedule for each State and Union Territory.

Agenda and minutes of SAG meetings are uploaded on the MoEF website.

In this report, we have analysed minutes of SAG meetings all over the country from January to April 2014. During the period, minutes of meetings in 10 states are available in public domain.

As per the information available on MoEF website, there were 16 meetings during this period of four months in which 541 ha area has been recommended for diversion. These meeting happened in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Odisha. Gujarat leads with maximum diversion of 138 ha followed by Maharashtra with about 100 ha diversion.

It is interesting to note that Transmission Line is at top of the table taking maximum recommendation for diversion, 142 ha (26 %) closely followed by Roads with 138 ha (25 %). If we include Railways which takes 56 ha (11%), it is conspicuous that ‘linear intrusion projects’ are taking 62 per cent of the total recommended diversion.

The total number of projects considered by SAGs during the period was 41 of which 32 were recommended, i.e.78 per cent. It is alarming to note that not even one project was declined by SAG!

Arunachal Pradesh · Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Forest Advisory Committee · Himalayas · Hydropower

Manipulating Environment & Forest Clearances for Dibang Project: Déjà vu: LSHP History repeated: Will it be tragedy or comedy?

Dibang River (Source - EMP)
Dibang River (Source – EMP)

Every possible violation of norms, procedures, law and democratic governance is being committed in pushing clearances for the India’s largest capacity hydropower project, which involves India’s highest dam proposed so far & North East India’s Largest capacity reservoir: the 3000 MW Dibang Multi Purpose Project in Arunachal Pradesh. The players involved in these violations include the Union government of NDA led by BJP (UPA earlier), including its cabinet and Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MEFCC), Ministry of Power, State government, the project developer company NHPC Ltd, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).

The project will need more than 4700 hectares of biodiversity rich Forest area with several Schedule I species in Arunachal Pradesh. It will also have significant downstream impacts on the people & environment of Arunachal and Assam and Dibru Saikhowa National Park. Most of its impacts have not been either properly assessed or considered by the developer, EIA agency or the EAC & MEFCC.

Déjà vu: We did the same for Lower Subansiri HEP! It seems the government is indulging in the same blunders that the previous NDA government[1] indulged in over a decade ago while clearing the then-largest capacity hydropower project: the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project (LSHP), also in Arunachal Pradesh. Environment clearance for LSHP came on July 16, 2003 and stage I forest clearance came on June 10, 2003. Exactly the same set of players were involved in manipulating LSHP clearances over a decade ago. The developer is also the same: NHPC. The government at centre is again led by NDA.

Aaranyak environmental group of Assam, in a letter dated May 16, 2002 to the then-Chief Justice of India had highlighted the violations involved at various stages in the decision making of LSHP including during public hearings, in conducting EIA, in giving environment, forests and wildlife clearances. Almost all the issues that Aranayak letter raised then are applicable in case of Dibang with even greater force. But it seems in the twelve years since 2002 when that letter was written, our environmental governance has only degenerated.

The fate of the LSHP is a lesson in itself. After spending over Rs 5000 crores (Rs 50 Billion), the work on the project came to a standstill in December 2011. It has remained stalled for 34 months since then, following India’s biggest Anti dam People’s movement so far. This is unprecedented in India’s hydropower history. NHPC Ltd has been trying every possible trick to resume the construction work on LSHP, without genuinely trying to address the issues people’s movement has been raising.

Dr Mite Linggi, Representative of Kere A Initiative for Cultural and Ecological Security said exactly that at the public hearing of Dibang Project on March 13, 2013: “It is evident that the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project is stalled since Dec 2011 because the technical, environmental and social concerns of the people of Assam were not considered earlier… Ignoring downstream concerns will only ensure that this project to will meet the same fate as Subansiri Lower Project (2000 MW and get stalled by people of Assam.”

It seems none of the players have learnt any lessons from the blunders committed in LSHP’s decision making. If this is how Dibang Project is being pushed down the throat of the people of Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh and the North East India, they will have no option but to oppose the project and the Dibang Project may have the same fate as that of LSHP. Those who have been involved in the decision making now will then be held accountable for the wrong decisions and manipulations.

Dam site and the Dibang River Basin (Source - EMP)
Dam site and the Dibang River Basin (Source – EMP)

THE DIBANG PROJECT

The foundation stone of 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project on Dibang River was laid on 31st January 2008, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh[2] when the project had no clearances, showing utter disregard the former PM had for statutory clearances or environment or affected people. The project affects Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and significantly, several districts in downstream Assam.

Considering the fact that Dibang has the largest installed capacity for a project in India, involving highest dam in India and biggest reservoir in North East India so far, one expected the EAC to be much more diligent while considering the project and even more so considering the experience of the LSHP. But that, it seems, was expecting too much.

The first thing that would strike any one who goes through the EAC and FAC documents is that the basic parameters of the project are yet unclear even as the EAC and FAC have recommended clearances, within the span of a week, under pressure from their political masters. Unbelievably, these two committees functioning under the same Ministry have recommended clearance for differing capacities, differing heights, differing submergence areas and so on!

This is because the NHPC knowingly misled the EAC in its meetings by presenting the 288 m height (above the deepest foundation level) dam with 545 m elevation at Full Reservoir Level (FRL) and 3.75 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) of storage capacity at FRL. The same NHPC, in FAC meeting on Sept 22, 2014 provided sensitive analysis with dam height reduced upto 40 m, but this was not even mentioned before the EAC!

Let us review the how the EAC and FAC dealt with the project.

A. ENVIRONMENTAL CLEARNACE FOR THE DIBANG PROJECT:

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MoEF, which holds the distinction of having a zero rejection rate for the projects it appraises, recommended Environment Clearance to 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project in its 77th meeting on 16th Sept, 2014.

The Project was given TOR (Terms of Refence) clearance on 17.8.2009. Public hearings in Lower Dibang and Dibang Valley districts were held on 11.3.2013 and 13.3.2013 respectively, with huge protests from affected people. The EAC earlier considered the project in 68th meeting in Sept 2013, in 73rd meeting in March 2014, in 74th meeting in May 2014 and now in 77th meeting in Sept 2014.

Some key questions that arise as to how the EAC arrived at the positive recommendation:

1. Was there any Public Hearing in downstream Assam? Was there proper public hearing in Aruunachal Pradesh?

Although Dibang Multipurpose project will have impacts in the downstream Assam, as accepted by NHPC Ltd, WAPCOS and recorded in EAC minutes, no public hearing has been conducted in Assam, in complete violation of the EIA notification which clearly states that in all affected districts public hearings must be held. The submissions from Assam were not discussed during EAC minutes. The people of Assam have been completely ignored in the decision-making about a project that will affect them. Several people who spoke at the Dibang Public Hearing in Arunachal Pradesh in March 2013 raised this issue, but MEFCC and EAC failed to do anything about this even after SANDRP submissions to EAC also raised this issue.

Even in Arunachal, the public hearing process has seen several violations, leading people to oppose the project and the public hearings, see the quotes from the public hearings given below. Consequently, the public hearings were disrupted by the local people and had to be cancelled several times. The MEFCC, unfortunately, has no concern for the quality of the whole consultation process and sees it as only a box to be tick marked. The EAC does not even look at issues related to public hearings.

View of One of the affected villages show the rich forest that the project will destroy (Source - EIA)
View of One of the affected villages show the rich forest that the project will destroy (Source – EIA)

2. Were the issues raised at public hearing in March 2013 addressed?

No. As is clear from the report of the public hearing for the project held at Roing and New Anaya on March 11 and 13, 2014 respectively, the affected people raised a lot of critical issues about the project, EIA, EMP and Public hearing.

In the Minutes of the 68th meeting of EAC held in Sept 2013 and the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014, there is one paragraph (same para in both minutes) on public hearings: “Concerns Raised During Public Hearings It was explained that in general, the people were satisfied with the EIA and EMP reports and proposed R&R plan and community and social development plan. R&R plan has been formulated in line with the State R&R Policy, 2008. They took keen interest in knowing the R&R package and community and social development (CSD) plan. However, during public consultation prior to public hearing and during public hearings of Dibang Multipurpose Project, in addition to community and social development plan more infrastructural development in both Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley Districts were sought viz., up gradation of District Hospitals in both districts, financial assistance for schools, colleges and polytechnic, and construction of cultural museum at Roing and ITI at Anini etc. Besides this for downstream people, the main concern was protection of downstream area in case of dam break / high flood. Keeping this in view, a lump sum provision of Rs. 17100 lakhs has been proposed for consideration of MoEF for mitigative measures at downstream and other infrastructural facilities as raised during public hearings in addition to R&R and CSD plan.”

The claim that “in general, the people were satisfied with the EIA and EMP reports and proposed R&R plan and community and social development plan” is a complete lie, as we see from the quotes from the official public hearing minutes below.

It seems the EAC members have not bothered to read the public hearing report, and they have willingly or unwillingly been misled by the NHPC and EIA agencies. To illustrate the critical issues raised at the public hearings, we are giving below some quotes from the official public hearing report. Most of these reports remain unaddressed in the EIA-EMP submitted to the MEFCC, but MEFCC and EAC has not bothered to check this.

Shri Lokha Elapra, President, All Idu Mshmi Students Union: “Poor planning of mitigation from impacts during construction phase. Mitigation measures fail to address issues of demographic impacts, socio-cultural concerns and preservation of traditional land and livelihood… EMP does not have any provision to address this. EIA and EMP does not have any mitigation measures to preserve nor compeansation for permanent loss of mithun grazing areas, fishing grounds and medicinal plants thus endangering the loss of Mishmi Takin (rare Animal), Mishmi Monal (rare Bird) and Mishmi  Teeta (rare medicinal plant)… Flood control of Eze (Deopani River to protect Roing Township… A cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be undertaken.”

Shri Raju Mimi, Member, Mishmi Scholar’s Association: “NHPC had undermined the seismic design parameters as recommended by the experts of IIT Guwahati, Guwahati University and Dibrugarh University in respect of the Subansiri Dam. In this regard can the community members of the affected  areas be certain that such careless disregard for dam safety be not repeated by NHPC in this case?  All the documents related to dam design and safety be made public. Also, the documents should be peer reviewed by independent group of scientists. Ecological concerns like extraction of boulders from ecologically sensitive Important Bird Area (IBA). No impact assessment made regarding this in the EIA report… Hence a cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be commissioned. Socio-economic concerns like the catchment area treatment (CAT) plan will restrict land use resulting in loss of land and livelihood. NHPC must ascertain such losses and compensate the people affected by CAT… There is possibility of loss of land by destabilization of soil due to the huge reservoir. What mechanisms will be implemented to address these losses? ”

Shri Kelo Pulu, President IMCLS: “Environment Monitoring Cell to assess and review the various mitigation measures as mentioned in the EMP is not convincing. Therefore, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh should immediately notify the formation of an independent Committee consisting of less than 5 members of local Idu Mishmi people.”

Shri Moba Riba: “Conduct Public hearing at Dambuk Sub division.”

Shri Jibi Pulu: “Additional EIA-EMP must be undertaken to ensure the minimum impacts to the ecology of Dibang area. The Community people will lose an area of 10390 ha that will be required for CAT plan. This area being grazing area of Mithun will be lost. The EIA does not have any data or estimate/ valuation of this resource. Without any compensation the livelihood rights cannot be taken away from the community. EIA studies about wildlife conservation is inadequate. EIA studies carried out regarding assessment of economic and medicinal plants is not project specific nor community focused. It does not have any reference, assessment and compensation of economically valuable plants like Piper mellusa and Paris polyphylla. The impact of 1950 earthquake of 8.7 magnitude.. Is the dam axis and reservoir standing along the seismic fault line? The impoundment of the drainage system by building dam will have major effect.. Hence, EIA studies on downstream impact particularly study of Deopani drainage and its siltation status is absolutely necessary.”

Dr Mite Linggi: “As recommended by the Planning Commission Committee we demand for a Dam safety design panel for an independent assessment of safety of Dibang Dam. There are lacunae in EIA-EMP reports. This must be rectified.”

Shri MartinLego: “Resistance capacity of the mountains which fall in the reservoir is not studied. Dam should be able to withstand flashflood. Construction of flood protection works with RCC wall supported by vegetative cover on both banks of Dibang River… Our demands must be fulfilled then only we will support.”

Shri Mibom Pertin, President Adi Bane Kebang (ABK): “Till date no initiative has been taken by the State Government, the district administration or the NHPC to educate the people… the EIA EMP must be modified/ rectified wherein safety measures and actions to be taken in case of dam break… Until and unless the above points are fulfilled the holding of this public hearing is strongly opposed by ABK.”

Shri Jowar Moyang: “Demand to establish a family dossier of the entire downstream people… Downstream not reflected in the EIA/EMP and DRP therefore, a separate guideline be made to include the downstream within the defined local area. The demands placed above must be addressed to within three months of this hearing or else will protest against the  construction of the project.”

Shri Nun Pertin, President, Dibang Adi Students’ Union (DASU): “Downstream people are unaware of the project benefits, impacts and other issues which are mandatory to be known before the commencement of the project. Therefore, public hearing in this regard must be conducted within blocks and subdivision of Lower Dibang Valley. This must be furnished in written assurance form within one week’s time. ”

Shri Anjite Menjo, Zilla Parishad Member, Iduli Anchal Block and Shri Chiliko Meto, ZillaParishad Chairperson: “Environment Monitoring Cell to assess and review the various mitigation measures as mentioned in the EMP is not convincing. Therefore, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh  should immediately notify the formation of an independent Committee consisting of less than 5 members of local Idu Mishmi people… Hence a cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be commissioned.”

Dr Mite Linggi, Representative of Kere A Initiative for Cultural and Ecological Security (KICES): “It is evident that the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project is stalled since Dec 2011 because the technical, environmental and social concerns of the people of Assam were not considered earlier. Report of the Planning Commission appointed Committee of Dr C D Thatte and M S Reddy has raised several serious concerns about the downstream impacts of the 2000 MW Subansiri Lower Project. Therefore, keeping this in mind, it is absolutely important that public consultation in Assam is carried out before the Dibang project gets environment clearance. Public consultation in Assam is not only necessary to address the concern of the people, but it is a pre-requisite for the people of Dibang Valley in the upstream… Ignoring downstream concerns will only ensure that this project to will meet the same fate as Subansiri Lower Project (2000 MW and get stalled by people of Assam. Rights of the people to use Catchment Area will be denied. Will compensation be included for them? Is it possible for NHPC Ltd to formulate new criteria for all those villages perched atop to include within affected families?”

Shri Lokha Elapra, President, All Idu Mishmi Students’ Union (AIMSU): Raises most of the critical issues raised above including need for Cumulative Impact Asessment, inadequate EIA-EMP, Impacts of demographic changes, lack of assessment of loss of grazing land, fishing right. “We do not want to be refugees in our land.. We the Idu Mishmi have a way of living where we live independently. Past history is proof of it.  We had never been ruled and can never be ruled under any circumstance or vice versa. The plot which the NHPC Ltd claim giving free of cost is by virtue forcefully asking us to live in that piece of land where the PAFs are not satisfied.”

Shri Athupi Melo, Ex-ZPM, Anelih-Arju Block and Representing New Endoli village: “Public hearing on Dibang Multipurpose Project (3000 MW) was postponed 10-14 times earlier as the consent of the public was not taken before preparing EIA and EMP reports. The NHPC Ltd had cheated the entire affected people by concealing information and letting the awareness remain within the high reach people only. The NHPC Ltd as per their survey has shown 5 villages, 72 families, 243 persons, 938.8 ha of agriculture land as to be affected by the project. Do they know that the storage reservoir will submerge the land mass which belongs to another 34 villages of the valley?”

Shri Kupu Miku-ASM Arzoo and Representative of Apako village: “Had been resisting NHPC Ltd for the last ten years. Nothing was made known as to how much land would go and how much compensation would be provided.”

Shri Rezina Mihu, General Secretary, All Idu Mishmi Students Union (AIMSU): “It has been six yeas of resistance till this morning. The former President of AIMSU sacrificed his life fighting against the Dibang Project… the EIA-EMP is still not upto the mark.”

This selection of quotes from the Public hearing and reading of NHPC response, EIA-EMP and EAC minutes show that not only NHPC has failed to satisfactorily respond to most of these issues, the EAC and MEFCC has not even bothered to check the veracity of the claims of NHPC and uncritically accepted the NHPC claims. Inadequate response to the issues raised at the public hearing means that environmental clearance given to the project is legally untenable.

Anxious afffected people outside the public hearing Hall in March 2013 (Source - PH Report)
Anxious afffected people outside the public hearing Hall in March 2013 (Source – PH Report)

3. Has there been proper Environmental Impact Assessment of the project? Kalpavriksh, SANDRP, affected groups from Assam and Arunachal have made several independent submissions to EAC on the inadequacies of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). SANDRP itself sent four different submissions (dated Sept 20, 2013, April 2014, May 2014 and Sept 12, 2014) highlighting various inadequacies of the EIA including:

  • Lack of compliance with the Terms of Reference of the EIA
  • Lack of basin wide cumulative impact assessment
  • Impact of mining of materials for the project not assessed
  • Lack of downstream impact assessment (more details below)
  • Lack of assessment of how climate change will affect the project and how the project will worsen the climate change impacts.
  • Lack of options assessment
  • Severe Impacts of Migration of Outsider on Local Tribal Community not assessed
  • Impact of the project on disaster potential in the project area as well in the downstream including Assam not assessed
  • Impact of changing silt flows downstream not assessed

As noted above, large number of speakers at the public hearing also pointed out the inadequacies of the EIA-EMP.

4. Are downstream impacts on Assam & Arunachal Pradesh Studied?

No credible study of the impact of the dam, dam break and peaking on Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the downstream has been done.

Several speakers at the public hearing raised this issue of inadequate downstream impact assessment, as can be seen from the quotes from the public hearing listed above.

It may be mentioned here that the biggest issue plaguing the LSHP is lack of downstream impact assessment, and the EAC, MEFCC, NHPC or the EIA agencies (WAPCOS, which by now is notorious for doing substandard studies and National Productivity Council). Even Assam and Arunachal Pradesh state governments also seem least bothered. Also, it seems no lessons have been learnt after Larji mishap when 25 students were washed away due to demand-driven water releases by upstream hydropower project.

5. Has the impact of Peaking on Downstream Assam & Arunachal Pradesh studied?

NO

This is despite the fact that submissions were sent to the EAC from several organizations and individual also from Assam, drawing their attention to impact of peaking in downstream Assam, especially in lean season (winter) when flow fluctuations will range from 111 cumecs (Cubic meters per second) to about 13 time rise in volume at 1441 cumecs in a single day. Fluctuations can happen twice or thrice in a single day.

6. Has the impact on Dibru Saikhowa National Park in the downstream Assam studied?

NO

The EAC has shown zero application of mid in this respect. There are several hydropower projects being constructed on the three main tributaries of Brahmaputra upstream of Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Assam. All these hydropower projects will undertake peaking operations. EAC has considered these projects separately, as a part of basin studies and as a part of downstream impact studies on Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

In all these studies, the level fluctuation at the National Park when the three major projects in the upstream undertake peaking operations is different, as per the convenience of the project proponent! EAC has considered all these studies without raising any questions about this convenient difference in figures even when the contradictions were brought to EAC’s attention by SANDRP.

The EAC has recommended Clearance to Dibang Multipurpose Project accepting the contention of the NHPC that “water level fluctuation in Dibru Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) will be less than one meter.”

  • However, the same EAC has considered EIA of Lower Siang HEP (by WAPCOS) where the fluctuation at Dibru Saikhowa when all projects are peaking is said to be 8 feet (2.38 meters)
  • The Report on “Effect of Peaking power generation by Siang Lower HEP, Demwe Lower HEP and Dibang Multipurpose HEP on Dibru Saikhowa National Park” also by WAPCOS states that level difference when all three projects are peaking is estimated to be 34 mts i.e. 7.67 feet. (Page 26)

EAC did not question these glaring differences in these models even when a submission highlighting these points was sent to the EAC on 13.09.14, before the 77th EAC meeting. The submission is not mentioned in the minutes, neither discussed, also violating Hon. Delhi High Court Orders (Utkarsh Mandal Case).

7. EAC decision violates its mandate; MEFCC & NHPC guilty of misleading EAC.

During the entire appraisal process, the EAC has failed to pose any difficult questions to NHPC, has not taken a stand supporting Assam, has not even initiated discussion in that direction, has turned blind eye towards submissions it received raising critical concerns, has overlooked contradictions, has overlooked precautionary principle and welfare of people in the downstream Assam and has refused to learn any lessons from the LSHP experience or the Larji Mishap.

While discussion about height reduction of Dibang upto 40 meters were initiated in MEFCC/ NHPC since Feb 2014, the MEFCC or the NHPC has not brought this proposal to the attention of the EAC and the EAC has taken absolutely no notice of this and has not even asked for this 40 m height reduction. The only reference we can find to the height reduction proposal is in the minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting, where too there is reference to only 10 m ht reduction. And yet, there is no mention of this in the minutes of the 77th EAC meeting where the EAC recommended clearance to the project.

This alone is sufficient to make the EAC decision legally untenable and make both MEFCC and NHPC guilty of not informing the EAC about these developments more than six months after they were initiated.

The EAC on its part has not shown the will to ask for a realignment of the project to minimize its downstream impacts, peaking impacts and submergence impacts. Such biased conduct and the decisions of the EAC, sidelining genuine concerns are in complete violation of the mandate given to EAC and extremely damaging to environmental governance of the country and are a reason for increasing conflicts, delays, protests and strife underlining its callousness towards environmental impacts and local resistance.

The issues that FAC raised while rejecting the Forest clearance are the very issues that EAC should be concerned about since they are under their mandate. But not only EAC did not raise them on their own, but even after they were brought to the EAC’s attention by SANDRP, the EAC failed to even discuss those issues.

8. Issues on Dibang raised in earlier EAC meeting remains unanswered

The decision making paragraph of the minutes of the EAC meeting of Sept 16-17, 2014 on Dibang Project reads: “After critically examining the proposal and considering the response to various issues raised in the earlier EAC meetings, the project was recommended by EAC for accord of Environmental Clearance to Dibang Multipurpose Project. However, EAC suggested that 20 cumec flow may be released towards e-flow in the 1.2 km diverted stretch as 15 cumec gives just sufficient quantity. EAC noted that beyond this 1.2 km, adequate flow will be available from TRT which will be minimum in the order of 85 cumec at 80% rated discharge of one turbine.”

It is clear that this paragraph does not reflect any application of mind by EAC if the response provided by NHPC to the various issues raised by EAC and others’ submissions to EAC are adequate. Even in this paragraph, it is not clear what is the basis of EAC decision to recommend 20 cumecs flow downstream of the dam and not the norm that EAC is following for other projects (30% in monsoon, 20% in lean season and 20-25% in non monsoon non lean season). Nor is it clear what is the basis and impact of operation of one of the (there are 12 turbines, each of 250 MW installed capacity in this project) turbine at minimum 80% capacity round the clock. This non application of mind on the part of the EAC is the norm of EAC and not an isolated incident.

In fact, reading through the minutes of all the EAC meetings since Sept 2013 where Dibang EC (Environment Clearance) was discussed, it is clear that while EAC has raised a large no of questions and reported some of the information submitted by NHPC, no where can we find application of mind of the EAC where it is stated that the information/ responses provided by NHPC is adequate or not. The uncritical acceptance by the EAC about the information/ responses provided by the developer is another noteworthy feature of EAC decision.

Let us illustrate this. The minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014 says: “A detailed fisheries (also flora and fauna) survey was conducted by Centre for Inter-Disciplinary Studies for Mountain and Hill Environment (CISMHE), Delhi University in the month of December 2013.” Immediate question than arises is, why were the fisheries and other surveys done only in one month and not across the year as is the normal practice? What were the outcomes of the study? You will find neither critical questions, nor any answers in the EAC proceedings.

Here is another example. The minutes of the 74th EAC meeting held in May 2014 says: “It was informed that fluctuation in the water level at upstream of Dibang-Lohit confluence due to peaking operation will be about 17 cm which is almost negligible considering the size of the river.” Shockingly, the EAC does not even ask: A. If this estimate is sound and if it is consistent with conclusions of other studies; B. What will be the level fluctuation at different points along 60 km stretch of the river upstream from this point to the project site and what will be the impact there of. EAC’s such uncritical acceptance of apparently contradictory and inadequate responses from the developer is the norm and not an isolated incident. Considering that EAC was considering the largest installed capacity project of India, highest dam of India and biggest reservoir in North East India so far, one expected the EAC to be more diligent. This was even more so considering the experience of the LSHP.

To further illustrate, the minutes of the 74th EAC held in May 2014 says: “The point-wise reply to the two representations submitted by Kalpavriksh was submitted to MoEF and EAC members and the same was also presented before EAC during the meeting.” Similarly, the minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014 says: “point-wise replies to the issues raised by Shri Chow Rajib Gogoi, Secretary, All Tai Ahom Student Union, Jorhat and Shri Pushp Jain, Director, EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), New Delhi were also given”. But in both cases, there is not even a word as to whether EAC discussed the NHPC response and if they did what was their conclusion about adequacy or acceptability of the NHPC responses.

As far as four separate submissions sent by SANDRP to EAC on Dibang Project are concerned, EAC neither mentioned them, nor did it seek NHPC’s response on them.

Considering all this, the decision of the EAC to recommend EC to the Dibang Project is clearly wrong, based on inadequate appraisal, in the absence of application of mind and legally untenable.

Active Lanslide  zone in submergence area of Dibang Project (Source - EIA)
Active Lanslide zone in submergence area of Dibang Project (Source – EIA)

B. FAC DECISIONS ON DIBANG PROECT

It has been reported[3] that the Forest Advisory Committee of the MoEF has recommended clearance to 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose project in its meeting on Sept 22, 2014, though the minutes of the FAC meeting are as yet unavailable. This decision is reversal of FAC’s clear rejection to the project twice in past 2 years[4] in addition to MEFCC’s rejection letter to the project as late as on the 28th August 2014.

  • MEFCC was pressurized by the Cabinet Committee on Investment, Ministry of Power and even unrelated Ministries like Ministry of Mine, Ministry of Steel and Ministry of Coal into clearing the Dibang project. FAC itself was under pressure of the MEFCC minister and its highest officials to clear Dibang at any cost.
  • Relevant papers regarding height reduction proposal by NHPC were not uploaded on FAC Website in advance of the Sept 22, 2014 Meeting.
  • It is unclear if even the FAC Members had these documents, which form the basis of project consideration.
  • The height reduction proposal was not available to the EAC members a week earlier before EAC recommended clearance to the project.
  • FAC’s recommendation on Dibang project is clearly an undemocratic and illegal decision in the absence of prior information in public domain for all concerned, and when all the original objections raised by FAC while rejecting the project twice remain unaddressed.

Let us look at the timeline of FAC decision making on Dibang Project:

12.06.13: FAC rejects Dibang FC (Forest Clearance) Proposal. Reasons: “huge forest area with very good forest cover, irreparable and adverse impact on general eco-system of the area by felling of more than 3.5 lakhs of trees, several other HEP have been proposed in the same river valley apart from Dibang HEP, unavailability of study on cumulative impact of all the HEP, etc. The Committee is also of the opinion that ecological, environmental and social costs of diversion of such a vast track of forest land, which is a major source of livelihood of the tribal population of the State, will far outweigh the benefits likely to accrue from the project.”

13.08.2013: Meeting of Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Secretary, Ministry of Power held and it was decided that proposal will be considered again after exploring the possibility to reduce the requirement of forest land for the project.

9.12.2013: Project discussed by the Cabinet Committee of Investment which nearly ordered fast clearance for Dibang Project. It stated: “Ministry of Environment and Forests may grant the requisite clearance for diversion of forest land expeditiously.” Such direction from CCI was clearly in violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which clearly defines the process for forest clearance and where CCI has no role.

10.02.14: NHPC revises proposal and submits two alternatives, reducing height by 5 m and 10 meters respectively. Marginal decrease in submerge of forest land due to 10 meters reduction. NHPC Officials say any further reduction will not be possible.

Revised Diversion proposal with reduction of 10 mts height and 445 hectares forest area submitted to MoEF with new proposal for total diversion of 4577.84 hectares.

29th-30th April 2014: Revised proposal discussed in FAC with 10 meters reduction. The revised proposal was incomplete in many basic respects like absence of maps, CAT Pan, FRA compliance, identified land for Compensatory afforestation, etc. In addition, the FAC noted that the region is home to Schedule I species, the reduction in forest loss due to decrease in height in minimal and will not have substantial ameliorative impact, It said “Such a marginal reduction in requirement of the forest land for the project may not be able to reduce the adverse impact of project on such a biodiversity rich mature forest ecosystem to the extent which could make the project environmentally as well as socio-economically viable in forest dependent tribal society of Arunachal Pradesh”. FAC also noted that impact of reduction of dam height on its economic feasibility was not put before the committee.

16.06.2014: Secretary Power writes to Secretary, MEFCC on 16.06.2014 to review the decision of FAC and accord the Stage-I forest clearance. Such direction from letter was clearly in violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which clearly defines the process for forest clearance and where Power Ministry secretary has no role.

19.06.2014: Joint meeting held between Ministry of Mine, Ministry of Steel, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change and Ministry of Coal, attended by the Ministers and Secretaries of the respective Ministries, as well as Secy, Ministry of Power wherein it was decided that a report on sensitivity analysis of dam height reduction by 40 meters shall be submitted to MoEF and action will be taken only after that.

24.06.2014: Secy, Ministry of Power writes to MEFCC & submitted a report on the sensitivity analysis on the dam height reduction upto 20 meters. However, MEFCC maintained that that as decided in the meeting the sensitivity analysis report was not submitted by the project proponent.

28.08.14: MEFCC sends letter rejecting Forest Diversion Proposal of Dibang Multipurpose Project on the basis of 10 meters height reduction, rich forest, social impacts and also downstream impacts on Assam, including Dibru Saikhowa.

5.09.2014: MEFCC writes to (NHPC/ Min of Power) to submit sensitivity analysis of reduction by 40 meters.

08.09.14 (This letter of 08.09.14 was uploaded on MEFCC FAC website on the day of the FAC meeting, 22.09.14): NHPC submits letter to MEFCC about sensitivity analysis for height reduction from 5m-40 meters. While it highlights the loss in installed capacity (780 MW) and loss in revenue due to 40 m reduction, it downplays the fact that 40 mts reduction will bring down forest land requirement by 26%. It concludes, without substantiation that “Decrease in dam height and consequent sacrifice in power generation beyond 10 mts reduction is not commensurate with saving forest land” and further recommends only 10 mts height reduction, which proposal the MEFCC had rejected in its Apr 29-30, 2014 meeting.

21.09.14: No sensitivity Analysis uploaded on MoEF FAC Website. SANDRP sends a submission urging FAC not to consider the project in the absence of this analysis in public domain as it violates CIC orders. People affected by the project have no idea of this analysis which is the basis of decision making in the next day’s meeting.

22.09.14: Day of the Meeting: Suddenly Additional Information document accessed (and downloaded) on 21.09.14 changes, with two additional pages and letter from NHPC about sensitivity analysis is uploaded ON THE DAY OF THE MEETING.

23.09.14: News that FAC has recommended clearance to Dibang was already public.

The affected people stopping the public hearing in 2008. Source: http://www.roingcorrespondent.in/this-circus-should-stop-no-public-hearing/
The affected people stopping the public hearing in 2008. Source: http://www.roingcorrespondent.in/this-circus-should-stop-no-public-hearing/

CONCLUSION As noted earlier, the Dibang Project is the largest capacity hydropower project, the highest proposed dam and largest proposed reservoir of North East India. One expected all concerned to be diligent in taking decisions on such a project. However, it is clear from this narrative that the process of environment and forest clearance for the Dibang Project is fundamentally flawed, inadequate and in violation of all norms of democratic and informed governance. Significantly, it is also illegal and untenable. Such manipulative decision-making has led to flawed decisions of environmental and forest clearances in case of LSHP in 2003, with the project stalled by people’s agitation since 34 months now. If the Dibang Project, which is bigger than LSHP in every respect and with much greater impacts, is pushed in such a manner, it is likely to face the same fate as that of the LSHP. We hope that the final decisions related to Dibang Project will be more informed, diligent, democratic, unbiased and objective. Admittedly, such hope seems rather farfetched at this moment.

Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com) & Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com), SANDRP

END NOTES:

[1] This is not to state that the UPA government that ruled India during the 2004-2014 decade was in anyway more sensitive to environment or democratic concerns. In fact part of the EC and FC time line and some of the manipulations happened before May 2014 when the current government took over. However, it is apparent that the current government has indulged in much more  violations and manipulations and pressurized the statutory bodies (including FAC & NBWL reconstitution).

[2] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/six-years-after-pm-laying-foundation-stone-no-clearance-no-work-for-3000-mw-dibang-dam/

[3] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/6-years-2-rejections-later-indias-largest-hydro-project-cleared/99/#sthash.vNJo2nAs.dpuf

[4] For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/dibang-project-rejected-forest-clearance-for-the-second-time/

[5] A video titled “Dibang Resistance (Arunachal Pradesh)” depicts the protest and blockade by local people against the Dibang dam. The video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8TCUKh2hQY 

[6] Mimi, R., “The Dibang Multipurpose Project, Resistance of the Idu Mishmi” published in “Water Conflicts in Northeast India – A Compendium of Case Studies” edited by Das, Partha J. et. all, 2013

Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Himachal Pradesh · Hydropower

Photo Essay on the impacts of blasting and tunneling for hydropower projects in Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh – 1

Guest Blog by: Sumit Mahar (sumitmahar.12@gmail.com), Him Dhara Environment Research and Action Collective, Himachal Pradesh [1]

Tunneling for hydropower project using the blasting technique can have massive impacts. It has a series of direct and indirect impacts which have already been documented. Among the most serious impacts is drying up of the natural drinking water springs and the reduction in sub-soil moisture. This directly impacts the drinking water availability for the local villagers as well as agriculture and horticultural productivity, which is critically dependent upon the presence of sub-soil moisture. Blasting for tunnels and other underground components of hydroelectricity projects creates vibrations that have resulted in cracks in houses situated near these components.

Importance of impacts of tunneling and blasting becomes very important since all run of the river (ROR) projects involve tunneling and blasting. Proponents claim that ROR hydropower projects are environment friendly, but most people do not know that the tunneling and blasting adds an additional dimension to the impacts due to ROR hydropower projects and these can be very serious. Most environmental and social impact assessments or cumulative impact assessments do not even assess these impacts. Many times the proponent get away claiming that the impacts are not due to the projects, when in reality all evidence shows that these are very much caused by the tunneling and blasting being done as part of the construction of these projects.

This photo essay documents the impacts of tunneling and blasting for hydropower projects mainly in Chamba (part II of photo essay does the same for projects in Kinnaur district) of Himachal Pradesh. In Chamba, the photo essay includes such impacts of Chamera III, Chanju, Ginni, A.T. hydropower projects.[2] It is noteworthy that impacts are not only limited to large hydropower projects, but also to what is defined as small hydropower projects (projects below 25 MW installed capacity). This should also help puncture the misconceived notion that small hydropower projects are environmental benign and they do not need environmental and social impact assessment, public consultations, appraisal, monitoring or compliance.

These photo essays are indicative of the kind of impacts tunneling and blasting can have in the process of building hydropower projects in the Himalayas. What they indicate is relevant not only for Himachal Pradesh, but entire Himalayas and all projects that involve such tunneling and blasting. We hope these photo essays open the eyes of state governments, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, Union Ministry of Power, Union Ministry of Water Resources, Central Electricity Authority, state environment departments, hydropower developers, EIA consultants, chairman and members of Expert  Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects, media, judiciary, civil society and all others concerned.

Chamera III Hydro Electric Project, Chamba

Project Chamera III
Capacity (MW) 231
Basin Ravi
District Chamba
Village Mokhr
Pictures taken on 29/04/2014
In April 2012 there was a massive leakage in the 16km HRT of the 231 MW, Chamera III project just above the Mokhar village in Chamba district leading to severe threat to the village downhill so much so that the 40 families residing there had to be evacuated. This picture is of the Adit 6 of the tunnel. The leakage occurred during testing of the generating units.
In April 2012 there was a massive leakage in the 16km HRT of the 231 MW, Chamera III project just above the Mokhar village in Chamba district leading to severe threat to the village downhill so much so that the 40 families residing there had to be evacuated. This picture is of the Adit 6 of the tunnel. The leakage occurred during testing of the generating units.
2.Leakages in the surge shaft of the 231 MW Chamera III tunnel just above the Mokhar village in Chamba
Leakages in the surge shaft of the 231 MW Chamera III tunnel just above the Mokhar village in Chamba
Vidya Devi’s house in Mokhar  was completely damaged by the landslide caused due to the seepage from the surge shaft in April 2012
Vidya Devi’s house in Mokhar was completely damaged by the landslide caused due to the seepage from the surge shaft in April 2012
Shri Jagdish Sharma standing in front of the debris of his leftover house after the leakage tragedy
Shri Jagdish Sharma standing in front of the debris of his leftover house after the leakage tragedy
The pastures of the village buried under the landslide caused by the seepages in Mokhar village
The pastures of the village buried under the landslide caused by the seepages in Mokhar village
Damages caused by the leakage in the HRT to houses in Mokhar village
Damages caused by the leakage in the HRT to houses in Mokhar village
Damages caused by the leakage in the HRT to houses in Mokhar village
Damages caused by the leakage in the HRT to houses in Mokhar village
Damages caused by the leakage in the HRT to houses in Mokhar village
Damages caused by the leakage in the HRT to houses in Mokhar village
Damages caused by the leakage in the HRT to houses in Mokhar village
Damages caused by the leakage in the HRT to houses in Mokhar village

New Links :  http://www.jagran.com/news/state-10802084.html

http://www.jagran.com/news/state-10802084.html

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2012/20120418/himplus.htm#2

 Chanju Hydro Electric Project, Chamba

Project Chanju HEP
Capacity (MW) 36
Basin Ravi (Chanju Nallah)
District Chamba
Village Dhalanjan
Pictures was taken on 30/04/2014
Cracks on the walls of Aaganbhadi Kendra of Dhalanjan village due to the tunnel construction of 36 MW, Chanju HEP in Chamba on Ravi basin’s Chanju nallah
Cracks on the walls of Aaganbhadi Kendra of Dhalanjan village due to the tunnel construction of 36 MW, Chanju HEP in Chamba on Ravi basin’s Chanju nallah
Lilo Devi’s house was located just above the HRT of the Chanju project. 12 houses were completely damaged by the tunnel construction in this village in December 2013
Lilo Devi’s house was located just above the HRT of the Chanju project. 12 houses were completely damaged by the tunnel construction in this village in December 2013
Power house site of Chanju HEP, where 1000s of trees were damaged by the blasting for the tunnel construction due to activation of a landslide
Power house site of Chanju HEP, where 1000s of trees were damaged by the blasting for the tunnel construction due to activation of a landslide

People of Dhalanjan village show their destroyed and dilapidated structures

People of Dhalanjan village show their destroyed and dilapidated structures

People of Dhalanjan village show their destroyed and dilapidated structures
People of Dhalanjan village show their destroyed and dilapidated structures
People of Dhalanjan village show their destroyed and dilapidated structures
People of Dhalanjan village show their destroyed and dilapidated structures
People of Dhalanjan village are now residing in temporary shelters
People of Dhalanjan village are now residing in temporary shelters

A.T. Hydro Power Project, Chamba

Project A.T. Hydro
Capacity (MW) 5
Basin Ravi (Tarela Nallah)
District Chamba
Village Alwas
Pictures taken on 01/05/2014
Landslide at Alwas due to road and channel construction for 5 MW Tarela project in Chamba
Landslide at Alwas due to road and channel construction for 5 MW Tarela project in Chamba
Cracks in the house of Shri Baija Ram due to Tarela Project in Alwas village
Cracks in the house of Shri Baija Ram due to Tarela Project in Alwas village
Lanslide close to Alwas village due to Tarela project
Lanslide close to Alwas village due to Tarela project

Ginni Hydro Power Project, Chamba

Project Ginni Hydro
Capacity (MW) 5
Basin Ravi (Tarela Nallah)
District Chamba
Villages Tarela, Junas
Picture was taken on 01/05/2014
Watermill rendered dysfunctional due to landslide cause by construction work for the 5MW Ginni Project in Tarela village in Chamba. The Project also diverted the water that was being used by the village for the watermill. Almost 15-20 watermills in this village have dried up due to the project’s construction activities
Watermill rendered dysfunctional due to landslide cause by construction work for the 5MW Ginni Project in Tarela village in Chamba. The Project also diverted the water that was being used by the village for the watermill. Almost 15-20 watermills in this village have dried up due to the project’s construction activities
The location of the landslide which dried up the watermill
The location of the landslide which dried up the watermill

Landslide due to the construction activities and then subsequent destruction of the penstock of the Ginni project further led to soil erosion. The village above the slides, Junas has 20 houses and now stand threatened

Landslide due to the construction activities and then subsequent destruction of the penstock of the Ginni project further led to soil erosion. The village above the slides, Junas has 20 houses and now stand threatened

For Part 2 of the photo essay related to tunneling impacts of hydropower projects in Kinnaur district, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/photo-essay-on-the-impacts-of-blasting-and-tunneling-for-hydropower-projects-in-kinnaur-district-in-himachal-pradesh-2/

END NOTES:

[1] The photo blog also appears here: http://www.himdhara.org/2014/08/06/photo-essay-when-mountains-are-hollowed/

[2] For a detailed article on this issue, Seeping through the cracks, see: http://www.epw.in/web-exclusives/seeping-through-cracks.html

Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Review of environment laws is necessary – But the TSR Subramanian HLC lacks credibility

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MEFCC) in the BJP led new government at the centre has, through Office Memorandum (OM no 22-15/2014-IA.III) dated Aug 29, 2014 constituted High Level Committee (HLC) under the chairpersonship of former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian, “to review various acts administered by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change”. Let us try and look at this proposal on its merits.

Firstly, it should be noted that the HLC has a far-reaching mandate to review the core legislations that are supposed to protect India’s environment, including the Environment Protection Act (1986), the Forest Conservation Act (1980), the Wildlife Protection Act (1972), the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act (1974) and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act (1981). Considering that these acts are the back bone of MEFCC’s environmental governance, the recommendations of this committee can have far reaching impact on India’s environmental governance.

Secondly, there are no doubts that India’s environmental laws and governance needs to be reviewed and strengthened. While the industry and vested interest lobbies have been claiming that MEFCC’s work is a hindrance to India’s development and growth, the reality is quite the opposite. MEFCC provides environment clearance (for projects covered under EIA notification of Sept 2006, which is the current notification and which excludes large number of projects from requirement of environment clearance), forest clearance, wildlife clearance, coastal zone clearance and also certifies if the projects applying for CDM (Clean Development Mechanism under the United National Frame Convention on Climate Change) are sustainable development projects.

The committee has been explicitly constituted for reviewing the five environmental laws. These laws need to be strengthened so that there is inclusive, democratic, bottom up process in which people have a decisive role. The governance related to the laws thus needs to be changed in this context so that there is greater transparency, accountability and participation and better compliance is achieved. This is what we mean when we say we need to improve the environmental governance.

MEFCC’s zero rejection rate With respect to giving any of these clearances, the MEFCC has almost zero rejection rate in most crucial sectors. For example a review[1] of the functioning of the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydropower project shows that the committee has not rejected almost any of the proposals that came its way in last seven years. The MEFCC has not rejected any of the proposals that applied for CDM status. Even in other sectors, the MEFCC has rejection rate below 3%, if at all and projects for which clearances have already been given like coal mining, are far from being implemented.

States already have enormous powers Some people have been claiming that states do not have sufficient powers in environmental decision making and hence the powers need to be delegated to the states. The fact is that the states already have enormous powers in environmental governance, including in all clearances. The pollution control regime is completely under the states. The states are empowered to clear several categories of projects in the context of all the clearances. The state pollution boards are supposed to give consent to establish and operate, before which no project can operate, they are also supposed to conduct public consultations even for projects requiring central clearances. Before National Wildlife Board clears a project, State Wildlife Boards need to clear the projects. Consent of Forest Officials from the states is mandatory before Forest Clearance application is processed to higher levels. Which state in India has shown exemplary conduct to inspire confidence that they are in a position to achieve necessary environmental governance? We do not know of any. Unless the capacity of states in this regard is increased, we cannot improve environmental governance in India only in the name of entrusting it in the hands of the states.

Is MEFCC responsible for delays? This is another bogey raised against the MEFCC. The fact is that the EIA notification has clearly defined timelines that says that if MEFCC fails to respond within the timeline, the project can be deemed to have secured the clearance. The fact of the matter is that no project has claimed or gotten such deemed clearance, since most project developers are uninterested in fulfilling even the minimalist demands of MEFCC. On the other hand, most dams and hydropower projects get delayed beyond the promised time frame even after getting the clearances! For any objective person, the claim that MEFCC is responsible for delays and lengthy procedures is clearly a bogey.

Do projects need too many clearances? Another argument made by some is that MEFCC needs too many separate clearances for the same project, which leads to delays. This is again not borne out by facts and clearances that are required now are bare minimum. Except environmental clearance, rest of the clearances do not need public consultation process. Even in case of environment clearance, except the projects covered under EIA notification, rest of them do not need public consultations. The five clearances that MEF gives as listed above are required under each specific law and it is completely justified that separate appraisal process is required for each of them as the issues considered and sectors affected are specific in each case, which cannot be clubbed. We need to strengthen each one of these appraisals, rather than weakening them or clubbing them together.

EAC lacks credible independent members or chairpersons It is public knowledge that most of the people who are appointed on the various committees that appraise the projects for clearances are those who are ready to toe the official line without raising too many uncomfortable questions. There are known cases when the chairman of the EAC or  member of FAC were found to have direct conflict of interest with their involvement in companies whose projects they were to consider for clearance. Recently, NGT has ordered that the chairs of the EAC cannot be generalist administrators but must have domain knowledge and experience. The lack of credible independent members in these committees is a major reason why the Ministry manages to clear almost anything that comes its way.

Poor quality impact assessments It is also well documented how most of the environment & social impact assessments, environment management plans or the cumulative impact assessments are shoddy, inadequate, incomplete, cut paste or dishonest efforts. Even media has reported several cases, environment groups have  repeatedly sent detailed analysis and critiques of these assessments, but the ministry and its committees have the distinction of not rejecting any of such assessments or recommending punitive action against the agencies that are submitting such dishonest or problematic reports.

Public consultations in name sake Under the EIA notification of Sept 2006, the projects are supposed to have public consultations which include public hearing at each of the affected project districts. Here again there have been several documented cases how the public hearings are hijacked by the project developers, they are conducted by partisan government officers and there is no application of mind from the MEFCC to ensure that the issues raised at the consultations are addressed. Several observers, including a former environment minister has accepted that these consultations are largely for namesake only, a box to be ticked. Even when all the people present at the public hearings have said that they do not want the project, it has no impact on the decision of giving clearance to the project.

Non-existent compliance All the clearances given are conditional, and the project developer is supposed to follow these conditions and implement environment management plan. However, how is compliance to these conditions and management plans, a very crucial aspect, to be achieved? The project developer is supposed to submit six monthly compliance reports, but there are no consequences if they do not do that for years! The officials at MEFCC or their regional offices do not have the time to go through these reports and check if these indicate adherence to the required measures and norms prescribed. Neither do these agencies take steps when the compliance reports do not follow the norms. They are never known to have taken any steps in this regard. The monitoring visits from regional offices of the MEFCC are always preplanned and the project developers get away with window dressing at best. There are no surprise visits. Even after monitoring visits, the MEFCC has never taken any steps when MEFCC finds lack of compliance.

We have narrated this list of known problems to show how lax is our environmental governance and how necessary it is to strengthen it rather weakening it. If the review is being done with a view to strengthen the environment governance, it would be welcome.

Review of functioning of institutional set up in environmental governance The review of functioning of institutional set up responsible for environmental governance also becomes imperative after such a long period since these institutions were set up. For example, state and central pollution control boards were set up under the Water Act of 1974, but we do not have experience of a single river or even a tributary of a river having been cleaned up because of the efforts of the pollution control institutions. This failure is a major reason for the state of our rivers today, including the Ganga.

New Issues In addition to the need for strengthening the environmental governance, the review of environmental laws and institutional architecture connecting with their implementation is also necessary in view of the emerging new issues. For example issues like climate change, need for cumulative impact assessments, need for environmental flows in the river, need to protect, preserve and rejuvenate rivers (a proclaimed priority of the current government) or assessment of impact of projects on disaster potential of the area were not as important and urgent as they were when these laws were formulated.

CURRENT REVIEW What I have written above provides sufficient ground for need for review of laws and institutional set up for environmental governance in India. For this we need a credible independent team with clearly defined terms of reference and transparent, participatory and confidence inspiring process. Let us see if the review set up under the HLC qualifies to achieve such a review.

Sinisterly ambiguous TOR Firstly, if we read the four Terms of Reference (TOR) given to this committee under the above mentioned OM, the first TOR says the review will assess status of implementation of the act vis a vis “the objectives”. But the TOR does not define what is meant by “the objectives”. The second TOR is not problematic as it says the review will “examine and take into account the various court orders and judicial pronouncements relating to these acts”. The Third TOR is the most sinister. It says the HLC will recommend specific amendments in the acts, “so as to bring them in line with current requirements and to meet objectives”. The trouble is, neither “current requirements” nor “objectives” have been defined. Without defining them, these are open to any interpretation that is suitable to the committee! Such ambiguous TORs which are open to manipulation are completely unacceptable and do not inspire any confidence in this exercise.

Constitution of HLC The committee chaired by former cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramanian has four members (including the chair) and two secretaries (both government officials). The constitution of the committee and criteria for selection of the members has remained completely non transparent, which itself raises many questions.

Among the four members, two are former bureaucrats and two are with legal backgrounds. None of the members are either expert in environmental issues or environmental governance. None of the members (including the chair and the secretaries) are known to have fought for or campaigned for or worked for improving environmental governance in India. There are no credible, independent non-governmental members or independent experts here.

Viswanath Anand, one of the two former bureaucrat members of the HLC and former environment secretary, does not inspire confidence due to his track record either as environment secretary (1997-2000) or as Vice Chair of National Environment Appellate Authority (2002-2005). His tenure at NEAA was described by the Delhi High Court as “a one-man show” in the absence of a chairman and three technical members of the authority.[2] Media further reports: “Very few appeals were admitted by Anand during his three-and-a-half-year stint at NEAA. In the Loharinag Pala case, he drew sharp criticism from the Delhi High Court for “adopting a very hyper-technical approach in rejecting the petitions” and overlooking “that these petitioners deserve to be heard on merits”. The court quashed Anand’s order and reinstated the appeal.” That says a lot. There are several other narrations about the role played by Mr Anand at NEAA[3]. Mr Anand is also on Coca Cola India’s Advisory Council on Environment and Sustainability[4], which seems to be in conflict with his role in HLC.

Appointment of Mr Hardik Shah (one of the two secretaries) as the Member Secretary of Gujarat Pollution Control Board was challenged in Gujarat High Court by RTI activist Amit Jethwa before he was killed, as per Indian Express report, see link in End Note 2 bleow.

Considering the non-transparency in its appointment and known background of some of the members, the constitution of the committee too does not inspire any confidence that it will help improve environmental governance in India.

Process of participation The MEFCC has said that within a month, that is by Sept 27, 2014, people can send submission to the committee in less than 1000 characters (or an email)! This is completely ridiculous and shows how non-serious the government and the HLC is about the submissions. This article, with already more than 13000 characters would clearly disqualify for submission to the HLC! Besides the issue of length, there is not even a clearly defined process that tells the people what will happen to their submissions and how are they sure to know that their submissions will be even acknowledged and responded to or even read. The process of participation is completely unacceptable. The whole process limits the participation to only English speaking and writing people who have access to internet, leaving out vast majority of the people out of the review process.

Conclusion It is clear from all accounts that the HLC does not carry any credibility or inspire in any confidence for any objective person. The best course for the MEFCC is to dissolve the HLC and restart the process keeping in mind the comments from groups and individuals without vested interests. The government should in the first place institute a credible independent review of the experience with environment laws, institutions and governance in India. This has also been highlighted by organisations like ESG. The report of this exercise should then be made available to all the gram sabhas in local languages. It is only based on such a report that a review of the environmental laws, institutions and governance be taken up, in which then the people and groups on ground can participate. At least 50% members of the review process should be women, when today there are none.

We have looked at this process purely on its merit, without looking at what the new BJP led government at the centre has done over the last four months. The government has been very busy diluting and dismantling whatever little exists in terms of environmental governance in India. If we add that track record to this analysis, then the conclusion is loud and clear: The formulation of HLC is aimed at completely dismantling the laws and institutions related to environmental governance in India. This is not a good sign for the future of this country and her people.

Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP

ht.sandrp@gmail.com

Another blog on this issue: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/strengthen-and-not-dilute-environment-laws-submission-to-the-mefs-hlc-to-review-environment-laws/

END NOTES:

[1] For details, see: https://sandrp.in/env_governance/TOR_and_EC_Clearance_status_all_India_Overview_Feb2013.pdf

[2] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/the-six-minds-that-will-look-afresh-at-environment-laws/#sthash.RMohoCW9.dpuf

[3] See for example: http://infochangeindia.org/environment/analysis/national-environment-appellate-authority-puppet-of-the-moef.html and http://www.deccanherald.com/content/22796/tribunal-coming-justice-can-wait.html and http://indiatogether.org/neaa-environment

[4] http://www.coca-colaindia.com/sustainability/final-bios.html and http://www.coca-colaindia.com/sustainability/viswanath.html, accessed at 3.37 pm (IST) on Sept 26, 2014

POST SCRIPT 1:
Those who agree may send this to hlc.moef2014@gmail.com, Sept 27,  2014 is the last date for sending submissions, but we need to keep sending submissions on these lines even after that deadline.

Post Script 2: Press Release from Environment Support Group, Bangalore after the meeting with HLC in Bangalore on Sept 27, 2014:

Press Release : Bangalore : 27th September 2014
(Attached PDF with pictures)

High Level Committee of Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change walks out of Public Consultation in Bangalore

The High Level Committee headed by Mr. T. S. R. Subramanian, former Union Cabinet Secretary, constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change to review environment, pollution control and forest conservation laws, invited the public at large for a consultation between 12 and 1.30 pm today (27th September) at Vikas Soudha, the high security office complex of the Government of Karnataka. Advertisements to this effect had been issued by the Karnataka Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment in various newspapers on 21st September 2014, followed up by various press releases inviting the public to interact with the Committee.

When various individuals and representatives of public interest environmental and social action groups turned up for the meeting, the police prevented their entry at the gates. It was only following a spot protest that the police consented to allow them to participate in the consultation. Despite this indignifying experience, all who gathered proceeded to the meeting hall with the intent of engaging with the High Level Committee.

The meeting commenced with introductory remarks by the Chairperson Mr. Subramanian. Broadly, he shared that the intent of the Committee was to hear views from across India on the type and nature of changes that were required in the environmental and forest protection laws. He stated that the Committee had the mandate of the Government to propose necessary changes that would help improve the quality of life and environment. But he said the need to ensure develop was primary, as the country was very poor (over 80% were poor he claimed) and thereby it is found essential to streamline environmental clearance processes that thwarted growth. Mr. Subramanian also shared that it was a matter of concern to the Government that several development projects were getting mired in litigation on environmental grounds, leading to needless delays. Concluding his introductory remarks he shared that the Committee is not in any manner guided by the Ministry and their recommendatory report would be submitted to the Union Government. The Committee’s proceeding, he clarified, were not open to the public, unless the committee decided to engage with the public. Responding to a question, Mr. Subramanian said that nothing that was submitted to the Committee would be shared with anybody, and that only the report would be submitted to the Government. Mr. Subramanian also said that the Ministry never proposed a public consultation exercise, but he had suggested this should take place.

Mr. K. N. Bhat, Senior Advocate and a member of the Committee, shared that there were a variety of submissions the Committee had received and each of this would be considered. He aired that environment and development should go side by side and the objectives of the laws if not found sufficient to address current needs, need for their review exists. The industry in particular, he said, had raised concerns over delays in environmental and forest clearances when the Committee met with them.

On these introductory notes Mr. Subramanian asked the members of the public to suggest changes to the existing environmental law framework. Officials assisting the Committee did not provide any rationale for the Ministry proposing changes to existing laws. The Committee also did not have any procedure, excepting online submissions of opinions on the Ministry’s website (limited to 1000 words).

When the turn of the public came, a submission was made by the Karnataka Planters Association about procedural difficulties in securing forest clearance and conforming with pollution control norms, and sought amendments for the benefit of plantations. Thereafter, Mr. A. C. F. Anand, an RTI Activist, suggested that all environmental laws must be translated so that it would be understood by all and thus the compliance rates improved.

Speaking next, Mr. Leo F. Saldanha of Environment Support Group requested the Committee to address the basis for its functioning, and whethere the TOR constituting the Committee was sufficient for such a massive and onerous task that involved fundamentally reviewing all environmental laws that were intricately linked to Right to Life, Clean Environment and Livelihoods. He sought to know what it meant, as is main TOR, ““(t)o recomment specific amendments needed in each of these Acts so as to bring them in line with current requirements to meet objectives”.

Mr. Subramanian responded that neither he nor any other members of the Committee were influenced by the TOR in any manner and that they worked per their own understanding of the mandate given to them by the Government. But when Saldanha pressed to know how a Committee consisting of high ranking former civil servants, a former Judge and a Senior Advocate could at all have agreed to such vague terms, Mr. Subramanian reacted dismissively. He claimed that this was a non-substantive issue and sought to move on to hear others. Saldanha argued that it is disturbing that Mr. Subramanian unilaterally rules a legitimate concern over vague and weak TORs as being of trivial concern, when, in fact, it would have been fit and proper for the Committee to have first explained in the interest of public accountability and transparency how they found the terms rationale and acceptable to them. And in case the terms were acceptable, then the High Level Committee, unshackled as it were by the bureaucratic norms of the Ministry, could have provided a clear note on the nature of the reforms being considered and also explicated on the procedure of consulting and receiving criticisms from various sectors, peoples, regions, geographies, etc.

Mr. Vinay Sreenivasa of Alternative Law Forum submitted that the process by which the Committee was conducting the consultation was rather opaque. The vague TOR and the fact that the Committee was constituted by a Government that sought to belittle the importance of the National Wildlife Board and rush pet projects through the clearance mechanism, seemed to suggest the entire exercise appeared to be merely ritualistic. Ms. Aruna Chandrasekhar of Amnesty International – India sought to know what specific amendments were being proposed or demanded by industry/corporate sectors, and requested the Committee put it all out. But Mr. Subramanian waved away this request too.

Prof. Puttuswamy wanted to know how a High Level Committee sought to improve environmental laws when notifications of Ministry were being issued to dilute the laws. To which Mr. Subramanian responded saying he is not a “Postman” for the Ministry. Ms. Priti Rao, meanwhile, asked for decentralised solid waste management. Mr. Vijayan Menon shared that even though he was not an official, he had walked into the Committee’s immediately preceding engagement with Government officials where a clear set of amendments were being proposed. He expressed surprise that this presentation was not being made for the benefit of the general public.

Ms. Bhargavi Rao of Environment Support Group wanted to know how law could be reformed when forest officials are unaware of biodiversity protection laws that had been passed over two decades ago and asserted that this rushed exercise in reviewing environmental laws had all the trappings of making light of people’s fundamental rights and concerns. Justice A. K. Srivatsav (Retd. Judge of the Delhi High Court) and a Member of the High Level Committee stated at this juncture that the public must have confidence in a Committee in which a senior retired Judge is a member. By which time Mr. Subramanian had remarked several times that the public was wasting the Committee’s time and there was no point continuing with this procedure. Several who had gathered protested such an assessment by the Chairman of the High Level Committee. Mr. Srinivas of Mavallipura sought to speak, saying he represents a community impacted by mal-development and waste dumping in his village, and he too was brushed aside.

At this point, Mr. Subramanian got up and said “We will end the joke here!” and walked out. He was followed by the rest of the Committee.

When Mr. Subramanian walked out, it was 1 pm. Members of the common public who had travelled great distances to engage with the Committee protested Mr. Subramanian taking them for granted and dismissing their views as of trivial concern. They demanded that the Committee return to hear the public and as advertised remained in the Hall till 1.30 pm. Neither did the High Level Committee return, nor did any official of the Ministry of Environment and Forests or Karnataka Environment Department come back to explain to the public why the High Level Committee had behaved in this manner. In fact, throughout the engagement with the public, not one Karnataka Government official was present in the Hall.

The undersigned are deeply disturbed by the manner in which the T. S. R. Subramanian headed High Level Committee has treated this public consultation process. The undersigned demand that the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change call off this exercise as it has all the markings of being a ritual exercise. In its place the undersigned demand that the Ministry must constitute a Committee that has a clear rationale for reform and Terms of Reference that are democratic, consultative and transparent. In particular, the following demands are made:

  1. Environment Ministry must first come out with a White Paper discussing the nature of the reforms that it proposes in environmental, forest conservation and pollution control laws.
  2. On the basis of such a Paper, an accessible Committee must be constituted that would hear peoples responses across the biologically, culturally and linguistically diverse country and also from various sectors equally.
  3. The membership of the Committee should be so constituted that it would reflect diverse concerns and sectos, and in particular ensure that members conversant with tribal and human rights, environmental management, conservation biologists, biodiversity, risk assessment, planning, etc., and not merely ex-bureaucrats or members of the legal fraternity were included Particularly important is the need to ensure there is adequate representation of women on the High Level Committee, which presently is constituted only of men.
  4. The process of the consultation to be followed has to be meaningful and conform with Principle of Prior and Informed Consent, even if this is not a consenting process.
  5. The timeline for the Consultation mechanism for such a critical review has to be reasonable as laws sought to amended, or tweaked, fundamentally affect theRight to Life and Livelihoods, and Right to Clean Environment.
  6. The entire process has to be transparent, all meetings must be recorded publicly, none of the deliberations must be in camera (as it appears to be the case now), and all proceedings, submissions, minutes and reports must be in the public domain.
  7. Adequate facilities must be made to ensure that anyone interested can participated with dignity and without being inhibited by language or geographical location. To ensure this, the process must be devolved by enlisting the support of State and Local Governments.

Signatories:

Mr. Leo Saldanha; Environment Support Group, leo@esgindia.org. Cell: 9448377403

Mr. Vinay Sreenivasa; Alternative Law Forum. Cell: 9880595032

Ms. Bhargavi Rao; Environment Support Group; bhargavi@esgindia.org Cell: 9448377401

Ms. Aarthi Sridhar; Dakshin Foundation, aarthi77@gmail.com. Cell: 9900113216

Mr. Vijayan Menon; menonvij@gmail.com

Mr. Davis Thomas; Environment Support Group; davis@esgindia.org. Cell: 9036180914

Ms. Swapna; sapna.sb@gmail.com

Ms. Priti Rao; priti007@yahoo.com

Ms. Padma Ashok; Save Tiger, padmaashok@gmail.com

Mr. Ashok Hallur; ashokhallur@gmail.com

dinnil@gmail.com

Mr. Rajeev Mankotia; rmanikoth@gmail.com

Mr. Sandesh Udyawar; sandeshudyawar@gmail.com

Ms. Marianne Manuel; Dakshin Foundation, marianne.manuel88@gmail.com

Ms. Shivani Shah; Greenpeace; shivani.shah@greenpeace.org

Mr. Sohan Pavulari; sohan_pavuluri@yahoo.com

Ms. Sangeetha Kadur; sangeetha.kadur@gmail.com

Mr. Bhaskar Bhatt; muggymach3@basejumper.com

Mr. Rohan Kini; rohan.kini@gmail.com

Mr. K.N. Somashekar; cmd_vilinfra@rediffmail.com

Mr. A.C.F. Anand; acfanand@gmail.com

Ms. Shashikala Iyer; Environment Support Group; shashi@esgindia.org

Mr. Leon Louis; Environment Support Group; leon@esgindia.org

Mr. Mallesh K.R; Environment Support Group; mallesh@esgindia.org

Mr. Prashanth; Environment Support Group; prashanth@esgindia.org

Post Script 3

Ramaswmay Iyer, Former Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources wrote this email letter to Chairman of HLC Shri T S R Subramanian, we are publishing this here with his permission:

On Sun, Sep 28, 2014 at 8:23 PM, Ramaswamy R. Iyer <ramaswamy.iyer@gmail.com> wrote:

Dear TSR,
I hold you in high regard and was pleased when you were appointed Chairman of the High Level Committee to review the enviromental laws. I hoped that you would save the environmental laws from decimation. I am beginning to lose that hope.
It is amply clear why the HLC has been set up.  This government and in particular Minister Javadekar (who is Minister not for environment butagainst environment) are firmly convinced that environmental laws are playing havoc with ‘development’. What is needed in their view is quick clearance. Both those words are important. The clearance must be quick in all cases, and it must be a clearance in all cases, not a rejection in any instance. In other words, the whole exercise should be reduced to a formality or a ritual. Of course a simpler way of achieveing the objective would be to scrap the clearance procedure altogether, and repeal all the environmental laws. However, that is not easy, and such a move may have a political cost. The next best thing to do is to extract all the teeth from the laws and weaken and dilute them to the point of virtual repeal. It is for such an exercise in emasculation that the MoEF has set up the HLC. I thought that you would not be a party to such an exercise in disingenuousness. I believed that you shared the environmental and ecological concerns of many of us to some extent, if not wholly, and that the environmental laws of the country were safe in your hands. I am not so sure now, after reading reports of what happened at the ‘Public Hearing’ at Bengaluru. It appears that your views on ‘Environment vs Development’  are the same as those of Minister Javadekar. I deeply fear that the report of your HLC will do immense harm to the country. Are you prepared to live with that possibility?
I can only hope that I am wrong. If I have misjudged your position, I am ready to aplogise without reservation.
I am copying this to a few friends.
Best Wishes.
Ramaswamy R Iyer
A-10 Sarita Vihar
New Delhi 110076
Tel: 91 11 26940708
41402709
E-Mail: ramaswamy.iyer@gmail.com
POST SCRIPT 4:
Source: The Times of India, Sept 29, 2014
Forum demands reconstitution MoEF’s committee
Correspondent : Vinobha KT
MANGALORE: Activists in Dakshina Kannada urged that the review of environmental laws must never be done in haste.

Activists expressed their views before the High Level Committee of Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) headed by former Union Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian during its meet to receive suggestions and objections at deputy commissioner’s office here on Sunday.

The Acts to be reviewed by the centre include Environment Protection Act, 1986, Forest Conservation Act, 1980, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.

Karavali Karnataka Janabhivriddi Vedike members said that they are deeply concerned about the haste with which the TSR Subramanian Committee has been set up by the Union Ministry to review five of India’s most important environmental laws.

In a memorandum, Vedike members urged the committee to undertake a study of the effectiveness of the existing laws and their proper implementation, not just from the perspective of obtaining speedy clearances for industrial projects, but from that of protecting the environment and the rights of the poor.

“As concerned citizens, we would like to assert that review of environmental laws must never be done in haste. Protection of the environment concerns is our very survival and must not be seen as an impediment in the drive for industrialisation. Any review must be done in a transparent manner, involving all the stakeholders. The MoEF has a duty to uphold the constitutional right of every individual to livelihood and a clean environment. Economic growth benefiting the rich at the cost of life-sustaining ecosystems must not be seen as development. In view of such concerns, we urge the Government to revamp the review process,” members stated in the memorandum.

Vedike coordinator Shreekumar said seeking to make changes in environmental laws, which are meant to protect important rights enshrined in the Constitution such as Right to Life, Clean Environment and Livelihoods in such haste under vague terms of reference is indeed disturbing. “Recent statements emanating from the Union Government as well as the MoEF have been displaying a dangerous haste with respect to granting environmental clearances for industrial projects with scant respect for environmental protection. Expediting clearances is serving only the interests of corporate powers. The haste and thoughtlessness with which the current review is being undertaken raises the apprehension that it is meant to facilitate such policies,” Shreekumar said urging reconstitution of the committee by including experts in the fields of environmental science, social sciences, natural sciences and environmental law, also giving adequate representation to various stakeholders such as farmers, fishers and tribals.

SOURCE : http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mangalore/Forum-demands-reconstitution-MoEFs-committee/articleshow/43747853.cms