This letter from SANDRP to MoEF and ETC on Etalin Project highlights how poor has been the EIA and E-flows reports of the Etalin Project and how flawed has been the Environmental Appraisal Process by the EAC. It also shows the shoddy Dibang Basin study for Cumulative Impact Assessment cum Carrying Capacity Study, shockingly done by the same consultant that also did the Etalin EIA, showing clearly that MoEF, EAC and CWC, all of whom were involved in the process, do not understand what is conflict of interest. The E flows study done by the CIFRI (Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute) does not even provide the list of fish they found in the Etalin project area! And shockingly, the EAC approved the biggest ever hydropower project of India based on such shoddy documents. The Environment Clearance approval needs to be reviewed, the EIA, E-flows and Dibang Basin CIA needs to be rejected and fresh studies need to be commissioned. https://sandrp.in/2020/05/23/open-letter-to-moef-river-valley-eac-review-recommendation-to-grant-ec-to-etalin-hep/ (23 May 2020)
These are rather ominous signs. As per the latest reservoir storage bulletin of Central Water Commission dated May 14, 2020, the 123 reservoirs monitored by CWC has massive, 64.6 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) in live storage capacity, which is about 165% of the capacity on same date last year and average of last ten years, even as monsoon is just weeks away. Most dams known to create DAM INDUCED FLOODS in the past, including Bhakra dams (we wrote about it earlier this month: https://sandrp.in/2020/05/07/are-we-ready-to-use-more-water-from-snow-melt-in-indus-basin-this-year/), Narmada dams, Odisha and W Bengal dams (Cyclone AMPHAN is going to bring a lot of water here in next few days, even before the monsoon), Krishna basin dams, Cauvery basin dams, Bansagar and Gandhi Sagar Dams, and Kerala dams among others. All these dams have above average storage situation.
This must be the defining (and predictable, this was the lead story in our DRP NB of April 27, 2020, see: https://sandrp.in/2020/04/27/drp-nb-27-april-2020-for-whom-is-this-unviable-etalin-project-being-pushed/) moment in the campaign to save the Dibang Valley now from the proposed 3097 MW Etalin Hydropower Project. The CEO of Jindal Power Ltd has said in so many words that project is NOT an attractive investment, they will struggle to find buyers for the costly power and only support from government can help make the project viable. The CEO seemed to suggest that they would be happy to sell the project to NHPC or form a joint venture with NHPC to get the govt funding for the project. Again completely on predictable line. The question then is why should government spend previous public money on such an unviable project?
So the question remains the same, the one we asked on April 27, 2020: For whom is this unviable Etalin Project being pushed?
WII skips multi-seasonal study on Etalin, cheats its way to compile a conservation plan; MoEFCC and FAC ignore all FANTASTIC REPORT The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) spent only four months on field while compiling a multi-seasonal replicate study on the Jindals’ 3097 mw Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Ltd (EHEPCL) in Dibang Valley in Arunachal, and it relied on earlier studies conducted in the region. The forest advisory committee (FAC) of the union ministry of environment, forests & climate change (MoEFCC) and the ministry itself did not bother to ask any questions as to how the study was compiled, even though one of its own reports states that four months’ study was carried out. Instead, the FAC formed a subcommittee to look into the “concerns related to tree enumeration process and the aspects highlighted in biodiversity assessments study by WII.” The wildlife study done by the WII is accepted in toto by the subcommittee, the subcommittee report says. The subcommittee included a member of the WII who was part of the team that cheated its way to compile a questionable report on Etalin. https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2020/05/03/wii-skips-multi-seasonal-study-on-etalin-cheats-its-way-to-compile-a-conservation-plan-moefcc-and-fac-ignore-all/ (03 May 2020)
In the ongoing debate on forest clearance for the controversial Etalin Hydropower project in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh between the Forest Advisory Committee, The Hindustan Times’s consistent reporting and Sanctuary magazine launching a campaign along with others, one (of the many) key question that remains unanswered is: for whom this economically (in addition to socially, environmentally and from climate change perspective) unviable, massively expensive project being pushed in a power surplus country?
Electricity from hydropower projects is no longer economically viable, since cheaper options are available. Some misguided people are claiming virtue in hydropower project claiming it provides peaking power. The fact is India is today not only power surplus, the peak power deficit has been just around 1% or less for long time. This when there is no attempt to either monitor as to how much of the electricity produced from existing hydropower projects provides peaking power, nor is there any attempt to achieve optimisation of operation of existing hydro projects to produce maximum possible hydropower. Nor is there any attempt to even manage the peaks either through pricing or other policy measures. In such a situation there is clearly no justification for more hydro for peaking. Moreover, the storage option is becoming increasingly cost effective, reducing the peaking power needs. So then for whom this project whose cost won’t be less than Rs 30000 crores at most conservative estimates, being pushed? The contractors, the equipment suppliers, the hydro lobby, the consultants, the timber lobby, the dam lobby, or the kickbacks?
This proposition clearly sounds simplistic and seems devoid of science or logic. But the case studies of the epidemics since 1980 and loss of forests, biodiversity and sustainability shows that this is not to be dismissed that easily. In fact the following interview with Dr Aaron Bernstein makes a powerful case to show why this indeed has a lot of science and logic behind it. It also hence makes a case that yesterday (our “normal”), is no longer a good model for better tomorrow.
Zilla man, students revive check dams For the first time in decades this February, Sundara Gowda, a 55-year-old farmer in the Dakshina Kannada district, doesn’t have to spend Rs 6,000 to mine water. In the past he has had to hire an earthmover to do the digging because the rivulet that runs by his farm would dry up. This year, to his surprise, the rivulet, a tributary of the Phalguni river, didn’t dry up. Miraculously, it had plenty of water. A check dam had been built upstream at Paldyaru.
The check dam was one of many such structures built by Paljal Dharanendra Kumar, a zilla parishad member from Venoor village, with the help of student volunteers. The check dams have resulted in water in the river rising six feet for a distance of 2.5 km. The river now has 90 million litres of water and rivulets which used to run dry have come back to life. Dharanendra and his student volunteers have been zealously building check dams, called kattas, from December to February. The dams have been built at absolutely no cost to the exchequer. https://www.civilsocietyonline.com/environment/zilla-man-students-revive-check-dams/ (24 March 2020)
A number of reports have appeared that show that the state of a number of rivers of India, including Hindon, Yamuna, Ganga and Cauvery has improved during the current lockdown due to Covid 19 crisis. That is indeed great news. At Kanpur and Varanasi there are reports that suggest the dissolved oxygen level has gone above 8 ppm and BOD level has gone down below 3 ppm at a number of places. While lack of industrial effluents entering the rivers due to closure of industrial units is a major reason, there are other reasons that has led to this situation, including above average winter rainfall, high snowfall now melting with onset of summer, reduction of irrigation water demand and also stoppage of sand mining along the rivers. The reduction of cultural activities including puja, bathing and cremations have also contributed to this situation.
The biggest lesson we can learn from this cleaner rivers after so many decades is that if our pollution control boards at the state and central level were doing their duty to ensure that no untreated effluents from the industries and also urban sewage enter the rivers, it is not that difficult to achieve cleaner rivers. But unfortunately there is no political will to achieve this simple and legally enforceable objective.
There is some good news this week. A survey has found existence of fishing cat and two otter species in Chilika lake – this was not known so far. However, this also underlines how little we know about India’s aquatic biodiversity in our rivers, lakes and deltas. Its high time we have authentic baseline survey across India, hopefully in participation with the local communities who would already know so much about this. And may be rather urgently, once we are through with the current Covid-19 Crisis.
The Supreme Court order asking for fresh environment clearance and fresh Environment Impact Assessment for the Peripheral Ring Road project in Bengaluru is remarkable and most welcome, even though it is not directly related to water issues. The order is relevant since we have yet to find what can be called an honest Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for River Valley Projects and yet the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects happily clears ALL the projects that come their way, even with most fraudulent EIAs. We are hoping against hope that this apex Court judgement will be a precursor to many such orders and judgements and general warning against fraudulent EIAs and EACs. We hope it is not too much to ask that the EIA be an honest effort and the EAC that does not reject fraudulent EIAs should also be dumped and members black listed. We hope we have such orders from the judiciary soon.