Arunachal Pradesh · brahmaputra · China · Landslide dam

Another Landslide Dam on Yarlung Tsangpo raises more questions

On Oct 29, 2018, another landslide dam blocked the path of Yarlung Tsangpo Dam, reportedly at the same location as the Oct 17,2018 landslide dam[i]. It breached on Oct 31, without any reported major calamity, but these repeated occurrences, twice in two weeks and third time in ten months (if we include Dec 2017[ii] landslides) raises a lot of questions. The silence of government of India institutions about the possible causes or other analysis, including by Central Water Commission, Union Ministry of Water Resources, National Disaster Management Authority or even National Remote Sensing Agency has, as expected, raised questions and speculations in Arunachal Pradesh. Continue reading “Another Landslide Dam on Yarlung Tsangpo raises more questions”

Arunachal Pradesh · brahmaputra · Landslide dam

Landslide DAM on Tsangpo creates flood disaster risk for Siang

A massive dam, created by landslide in early hours (around 5 am) of Oct 17,2018 has blocked the main stream of Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet. The reservoir behind the dam already has humungous 360 Million Cubic Meters (MCM) of water by 7 am on Oct 18, 2018 and as per latest reports (subsequently saw the CWC tweet put out at 955 pm on Oct 18,  saying  that storage had reached 484 MCM by 8 pm on Oct 18), the reservoir is still growing in size. The exact location of the landslide dam is uncertain. According to one source, the latitude longitude could be 94.93754° E, 29.74957° N, but this may not be accurate the likely location may be a few kilometers downstream from here. The Chinese media[i] has reported that the landslide dam is located at near Gyalha village in Milin or Manling county. According to some experts who visited the site, the dam could breach very soon, possibly on Oct 19, bringing massive floods along Siang river in Arunachal Pradesh. Continue reading “Landslide DAM on Tsangpo creates flood disaster risk for Siang”

Arunachal Pradesh · Hydropower · Lohit River

NBWL pushes Lower Demwe HEP on Lohit River in Arunachal Pradesh based on fudged WII report

The Minutes of 50th Meeting of Standing Committee (SC) of National Board of Wild Life (NBWL), held on 7th Sept 2018, were made available on 26th Sept  2018. On viewing the Minutes of Meeting, the petitioner to NGT Bimal Gogoi wrote to the Chairman and the Members of SC Of NBWL about the recommendation of the SC of NBWL on Demwe Lower Project.

Date : September 26, 2018

To: Dr. Harsh Vardhan

The Chairperson,

Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife,

New Delhi.

URGENT: Grant of wildlife clearance to Demwe Lower project based on faulty WII report is shocking and should be reversed

Dear Dr. Harsh Vardhan and Members of the Standing Committee of the NBWL,

Greetings from the Northeast! I have just perused the minutes of the 50th meeting of the SCNBWL and I am shocked to see that your committee has granted wildlife clearance to the 1750 MW Demwe Lower project based on a seriously flawed report of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). Continue reading “NBWL pushes Lower Demwe HEP on Lohit River in Arunachal Pradesh based on fudged WII report”

Arunachal Pradesh · Assam · brahmaputra · Dams · Lohit River

‘Banks of the Lohit will shine’: Glimpses of a free-flowing river

Above: Lohit River, Parshuram Kund on the right. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Assam, Arunachal and the North East India, West Bengal and Bangladesh are riverine entities in many ways. Ancient rivers flowing through this landscape have moulded not only the mountains and the silt-heavy banks, but cultural identity of the region itself.  Rivers permeate through the literature, folklore, songs, poems, cuisine, even dressing… Bhupen Hazarika, the Bard of the Brahmaputra, likened the red ripples of the Assamese Gamcha (red and white stole)  to the braided filigree of the Red River. When Guwahati University opened on the banks of Luit, Hazarika sang “Jilikabo Luiter Paar”..Banks of the Luit will Shine. Rivers stood for revolution as they stood for Love.. Jyoti Prasad Agarwal wrote “Luitar Parore Ami Deka Lora.. Moribole Bhoi Nai.” (“We are the youth from the banks of the Luit/ We are not afraid of death”). Older poets like Parvato Prasad Baruah wrote entire books full of poems of Luit and today modern poets in Assam like Jeeban Narah  link their creative processes inextricably to rivers. Continue reading “‘Banks of the Lohit will shine’: Glimpses of a free-flowing river”

Arunachal Pradesh · Cumulative Impact Assessment · Dams · Himachal Pradesh · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Cumulative Impact Assessment documents not in public domain anymore? Letter to MoEF and CC

Even as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has been sanctioning cascades of hydropower projects on here-to free flowing rivers in the Himalaya and North East India, Cumulative Assessment of the Impacts of these projects became a crucial area of concern. Over 70 dams are planned one after other for the rivers of the Upper Ganga Basin, 44 dams across the Siang Basin in Arunachal Pradesh famed for its pristine forests and biodiversity, 12 dams across the Lohit Basin, 19 for Subansiri basin. These are bumper to bumper projects, one starting where the other ends. Continue reading “Cumulative Impact Assessment documents not in public domain anymore? Letter to MoEF and CC”

Arunachal Pradesh · Cumulative Impact Assessment · Hydropower Performance

Hydropower projects in India: Important 2015 Developments

Above: Penstock burst of Sorang Hydropower Project in Himachal Pradesh (Photo: Himdhara)

Indian government continues to have very ambitious hydropower targets, even though all the evidence suggests why we should be reviewing it. As per Central Electricity Authority, India has 42641 MW of installed capacity from large hydropower projects at the end of Dec 2015. The installed capacity from projects below 25 MW is not included in this figure.

CAPACITY ADDITION IN 2015: Troubled projects During 2015, India added 1824 MW of large hydropower capacity. Some of the important projects commissioned during the year include: 800 MW Kol Dam in Himachal Pradesh (one unit each on 30.03, 31.03, 10.04, 12.06), 450 MW Baglihar II in Jammu and Kashmir, 80 MW at Lower Jurala Project in Telangana, 330 MW Srinagar HEP in Uttarakhand and 96 MW Jorethang Loop Project in Sikkim. The first project is in Central Sector, next two in state sector and last two in private sector. Except for the 80 MW from Lower Jurala, rest of the capacity is all in Himalayan states.

As we reviewed these projects closely in a separate blog, all of these projects have had a very troubled track record and most continue to face serious problems even after commissioning.

What does all this show? The reason for going into above details about projects commissioned in 2015 is to illustrate how seriously problematic our decision-making has been, even in these times. Evidently, there is a need to overhaul decision making surrounding hydropower projects in vulnerable areas which face local opposition.

Are we paying any attention to this? Unfortunately, no.

To illustrate, let us look at the decisions taken by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests’ Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydropower Projects. All hydropower projects above 25-50 MW need clearance from this committee, as also all large irrigation projects.

EAC DECISIONS IN 2015: As our earlier analysis showed[1], the EAC has had zero rejection rate and has been clearing huge number of dams and hydropower projects, far exceeding the need, justification or carrying capacity of the river basins, with very little attention to the prudent environment governance.

During the year 2015[2], EAC continued this tradition of zero rejection rate! Even for the couple of projects that it did not agree to approve immediately, it asked for a reformulate of the proposal, keeping the options open.

During 2015, EAC recommended environment clearance to twelve projects; six of them were hydropower projects, all from Arunachal Pradesh. The biggest of them, the Kalai II project of 1200 MW showed how starkly flawed were the EAC decisions. Rest of the six were irrigation projects, including two controversial lift irrigation projects from Maharashtra (Shirapur and Krishna Marathwada) and one irrigation project each from Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Telangana.

It should be added here, as a reminder to the decision makers, that the work at Lower Subansiri Hydropower project continued to remain stalled for the four full years as on Dec 16, 2015. This is an indication, if one was required, to show how costly the consequences of wrong decisions can be.

The EAC cleared 21 projects for first stage environment clearance, including 9 hydropower projects, two each from Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and one from Sikkim. It also cleared four irrigation projects (one each from Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha) and eight lift irrigation projects (five from Karnataka, two from Maharashtra and one from Uttar Pradesh). It also okayed 16 applications for extension of validity for the first stage clearance, the validity, which is supposed to be for 2-3 years, went on for 4-5 years!

The EAC discussed Cumulative Impact Assessments (CIA) of Tawang, Subansiri, Siang, Dibang and Kameng river basins, all in North East India this year. Worrying, during each of these discussions it eventually approved shoddy and seriously problematic CIAs, diluted its own recommendations and refused to understand the concept of conflict of interest.

EAC did say no to first stage environment clearance to Purthi HEP in Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh, but gave its ok when it came back with a slightly different configuration. It did say no to extension of TOR to Lara Sumta and Sumta Kathong HEPs, but suggested they can apply afresh! It has not yet cleared Ken Betwa, Etalin and Pancheshwar, but has not said no either to any of them. It did mention SANDRP submissions dozens of times, but did not invite SANDRP, or any other group to the EAC meetings even once where SANDRP submissions and developer response were discussed. There has never been a point-wise discussion in the EAC about the merits and demerits of the developer’s response. Just to illustrate how problematic has the EAC decisions have been, see our blog about the 86th meeting of EAC held in August 2015 https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/why-the-decisions-and-minutes-of-the-86th-meeting-of-eac-on-river-valley-projects-need-to-be-reviewed/.

All this only goes to illustrate how seriously problematic are our decisions about dams and hydropower projects.

GENERATION PERFORMANCE OF HYDROPOWER PROEJCTS The basic purpose of building hydropower projects is generation of electricity, let us see how India’s hydropower projects perform in 2015. During the year, with total installed capacity of 42641 MW as on Dec 31, 2015, India’s large hydropower projects, as per the data from Central Electricity Authority, generated 129.11 BU (Billion Units, one unit equals one kilowatt hour), compared to 130.8 BU in 2014. So even though installed capacity in 2015 went up by 1824 MW, generation went down by 1636 Million Units! Our earlier analysis[3] has shown how the returns from hydropower projects in India are diminishing in different respects. The trend continues in 2015.

Peaking power It may be added here that USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of hydropower projects is that they can provide peaking power ( power supply in the hours when the demand is highest). There is no agency that is either monitoring or trying to optimize peaking power from hydropower projects. However, let us take a snapshot of this situation. A review of the daily Power Supply reports of the Northern Region Load Despatch Centre shows that on Dec 31, 2015, Northern region had peaking shortage of 1529 MW. Northern Region, incidentally, should give us the best illustration in this regard since it has, at 18815 MW, the highest hydropower capacity among all regions of India. On Dec 31 2015, hydropower projects were providing 10041 MW of generation during peak hours, and 2446 MW generation during off peak hours. So net peak load provided by hydropower projects on Dec 31, 2015 was 7595 MW, which is just 40% of the hydro installed capacity of 18815 MW in the region. This snapshot tells us that on Dec 31, 2015 (incidentally, the rivers have minimal flows at this time and hence all the more reason even for run of river projects to operate in peaking mode) about  60% of the hydropower capacity was NOT providing peaking power, which it was supposed to do! It may be added that Northern region had only 1529 MW of peaking shortage, which could have been easily provided by the more optimum performance of these projects. It also tells us that as far as peaking power requirement is concerned, we do not really need more hydro since the current capacity is sufficient to cater to our peaking needs, if operated optimally, in a manner that hydropower projects are supposed to operate! Even as a snapshot, this tells us a lot!

HYDRO DISASTERS IN 2015 The year 2015 showed increasing disasters related to hydropower projects. Such disasters included the one at Chutak Hydropower project in Kashmir, Sorang hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh, Vishnuprayag hydropower project in Uttarakhand, Multiple disasters in Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh, among others. At Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, hundreds of people had narrow escape in Dec 2015 due to sudden release of water from Tehri Dam, as alleged by the news reports. The High Court of Himachal Pradesh, in Jan 2016, while announcing compensation to families of the students who lost their lives due to Larji Dam mishap in Oct 2014, called Larji Dam a Killer.

IN CONCLUSION This year end review of hydropower projects in India tells us that our decision making surrounding hydropower projects is flawed and that we can and must change the way the decision making system in functioning.

On the other hand, power generation performance of hydropower projects continue to diminish and even for peaking power requirement, we do not really need more hydropower.

It should also be added that as large number or organisations from all over the world wrote to the United National Frame Convention on Climate Change, Large Hydropower must not be considered as a solution in the climate change context.

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

END NOTES:

[1] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/the-expert-approval-committee-has-zero-rejection-in-six-years/

[2] This review is for EAC meetings till November, the minutes of the EAC meeting of Dec 22-23, 2015 were not available till Jan 8, 2016, when I finished writing this article.

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/diminishing-returns-from-large-hydropower-projects-in-india/

Arunachal Pradesh · Bhutan · Cumulative Impact Assessment · Dams · Hydropower

Cumulative Impact Assessment of Tawang Basin: Highlights from the NEHU Study

“We want sacred rivers of Tawang to flow freely, not inside Tunnels!” What makes the assertion on this banner more remarkable is the fact that the people holding it up are not fiery activists, but peace-loving Buddhist monks of the Monpa community, from the farthest corner of Arunachal Pradesh: Tawang (photo by Urmi Bhattacharjee).  About 13 hydropower projects are slated to come up on main river stem and tributaries of Tawang Chhu (River) in Tawang in a distance of just  160 kms[1].

Monpa Child from Tawang Photo: tawang.nic.in
Monpa Child from Tawang Photo: tawang.nic.in

Tawang is a tiny district of Arunachal Pradesh nestled between Tibet and Bhutan. The region has had a troubled past and is home to Monpa Buddhists who practice an ancient form of Buddhism. Monpa culture itself is unique and fragile, with less than 50,000 Monpas in Tawang and less than one lakh globally. The region is famed for Tawang Monastery, Galden Namgey Lhatse (which literally means Celestial Paradise on a Clear Night), which is the 2nd largest monastery in the world. Continue reading “Cumulative Impact Assessment of Tawang Basin: Highlights from the NEHU Study”

Arunachal Pradesh · Assam · brahmaputra

Is government at all serious in addressing the issues raised by Movement against the Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project?

Minutes of Government of India meeting on Lower Subansiri HEP in Dec 2014 rejected by movement:

Shoddy Cumulative impact assessments, lack of public consultations won’t help

Map of Subansiri RIver Basin  Source: https://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Subansiri_River_Basin.pdf
Map of Subansiri RIver Basin
Source: https://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Subansiri_River_Basin.pdf

Continue reading “Is government at all serious in addressing the issues raised by Movement against the Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project?”

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/