In a development described as unprecedented, by 1030 hours on Friday, Oct 29, 2021, the waters of Kameng River in Arunachal Pradesh in North East India suddenly became dark with large amount of silt and debris and thousands of dead fish floating on the surface. A video on twitter by 1300 hours[i] showed the dark Kameng waters. (The Feature image above is from twitter post by The Arunachal Pradesh on Oct 31, 2021)Continue reading “Muddy Kameng River waters & mass fish death in Oct 2021”
While one can never be too sure what is the exact meaning of Chinese whispers, a thoughtful response has to take into account the available facts and the context. This report tries to take stock of available facts and context of this latest episode that started at the end of November 2020 and is still going on: China’s proposed massive hydropower project on the Great Bend of Yarlung Tsangpo River just before the river enters India as Siang, a tributary of Brahmaputra river. It also reviews the key media reports published on this issue.Continue reading “Why is India not demanding TEIA for the Great Bend Hydro proposal of China?”
The MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects in its meeting in January 2017 recommended Environmental Clearance (EC) to the controversial 3097 MW Etalin Hydropower project in Dibang River Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. However, since the stage I forest clearance to Etalin HEP has not yet been accorded, the EC letter has not yet been issued. Hence there is an opportunity to stop EC to the project till the EAC reviews its decision.
It may be noted that Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in its meeting on April 23, 2020, has decided in the context of Etalin Project: “As this is a large sized project in the Himalayas, inputs of IA (Impact Assessment) Division of the Ministry on whether environmental impacts of the proposed project and mitigating measures have been considered, will be obtained.” This provides an opportunity for the MoEF to direct the IA Division and EAC to review its decision to recommend EC to the Etalin Project.
Guest Article by Chicu Lokgariwar
“Everybody loves us Lepchas” said Tseten. He went on to explain that this affection was important to the Affected Citizens of Teesta and was a major reason that the group decided never to add violence[i] to their arsenal of techniques in their fight to save the Teesta.
The idea of non-violence being a strategic decision rather than a (purely) moral one intrigued me. I was at a meeting where several anti-dam activists from the North-Eastern states were present. As I listened to their stories, it was clear that these veterans had several lessons for those of us worried about the death of their rivers today. Each of the groups that had been compelled to fight for their rights had evolved strategies and developed tools to help them.
Sadly, the struggle against ‘development’ projects that adversely impact the lives and livelihoods of people, as well as cause irretrievable harm to the environment, continues in many places across the world. Rather than reinventing the wheel, it will be useful for young activist groups to have access to the lessons learnt by those who have preceded them. Continue reading “Fighting Destructive Dams: Lessons from the masters”
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”
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”
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
Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife,
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”
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”
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”
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, 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, 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 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 (email@example.com)
 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.