Ganga · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas · Hydropower · Uttarakhand

New Publication: Headwater Extinctions – Impacts of hydropower projects on fish and river ecosystems in Upper Ganga and Beas basins

SANDRP has just published a new report: “Headwater Extinctions- Hydropower projects in the Himalayan reaches of the Ganga and the Beas: A closer look at impacts on fish and river ecosystems”, authored by Emmanuel Theophilus. The report[i] was released at the India Rivers Week held during Nov 24-27, 2014.

Front Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS
Front Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS

Headwater Extinctions deals with impacts of hydropower projects in Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh and Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basins in Uttarakhand on river ecosystem and its components, mainly fish. While the harrowing impacts of hydropower projects on local livelihoods and social systems are being realized gradually, we are yet unclear about the extent of impacts of these so-called green projects have on fish and aquatic biodiversity.

Environmental Impact Assessments of large hydropower projects (> 25 MW as per EIA Notification 2006[2]) are supposed to assess ecological impacts of such projects, but we are yet to come across any comprehensive effort in this direction from EIA reports that we have assessed so far.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) which is entrusted with appraising these projects and their EIAs has paid very little attention to this issue. Since over a decade, the EAC has had expert members from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI). Both these institutes are supposed to have expertise on fish and aquatic biodiversity. But sadly, their presence has not helped fill the serious lacunae in appraisal and EIAs of the hydropower projects.

SANDRP had been trying to highlight the impact of hydropower on fish and the long standing problems in the so-called mitigation measures being recommended by the EAC. We thought that it may be useful to bring out a first-hand report bring out ground realities of what is happening to our rivers. Emmanuel Theophilus, based in the Dhauliganga Valley and who is an avid mountaineer, storyteller, ecologist and our ally was commissioned by SANDRP to study the impacts of hydropower on fish and ecosystems, review the EIAs as well as mitigation measures recommended by EAC as a part of Environment Management Plans of hydropower projects. We are very glad to publish the report as a first of the hopefully many steps to be taken to understand and address this important issue.

Headwater Extinctions has been written in an eminently readable style that Theo is known for, as could be seen from the earlier blogs[3] he wrote for us! The report has a section on ‘Travelogue’ which records Theo’s travels and thoughts as he visits Bhagirathi and Alaknanda sub basins in Uttarakhand and Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh. The report also brings illuminating photos from these trips. The fact that the travels happened within months of the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 could be seen in his photos and travel reports. It further substantives the role hydropower projects played in increasing the proportions of the disaster.

Travelogue is followed by discussions in two parts: Discussions on the impact of hydropower projects on fish and aquatic habitats along the two sub-basins and the role of EIAs, EMPs, Fisheries Plan and the government approval process. The findings of this report are valid for all Himalayan states & rivers.

Back Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS
Back Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS

Headwater Extinctions ends with some striking insights. Sample this: We are in the midst of river extinctions in the Himalaya, but are surrounded by a tragic drama of double-speak and equivocation. And a horde of jostling brokers. Ranging from reputed universities, government departments, research institutions, everyday bureaucrats, and of course, politicians and contractors from within ‘the community’[4] along the developers and regulators. They not only write the script of this drama, they even play all the part”.

The inside covers of the report have detailed maps of the two basins with locations of hydropower projects, with annexures containing lists of hydropower projects in Upper Ganga and Beas basins and also list of fish found in Upper Ganga basin.

Theo has completed this report on a stringent timeline and budget, which meant that all the proposed and implemented fisheries management plans could not be assessed. We hope Headwater Extinctions provides sufficient material and compelling reasons to overhaul the way impacts of hydropower projects on fisheries and aquatic biodiversity are treated by EIAs, EMPs and government committees. We would also urge agencies like WII and CIFRI to do justice to their work inside EAC and beyond. That they are not doing that is apparent.

For EAC and MoEF&CC, we certainly would like them to ensure proper and full impact assessment of projects on aquatic biodiversity in the EIAs. The EAC also needs to stop approving completely ineffective fish hatcheries. They could initiate a credible independent study of the costs, benefits and performance of the fisheries development plans they have been approving in recent projects. It does not only smell fishy, but more like a scam! Here is a relevant quote from the report: “I can’t help see a few things here, as perhaps you do? Bluntly put, I see slush funds being dangled to a whole range of possible collaborators. The kindest term I can find for them is ‘brokers’.”

We look forward to your comments and suggestions on all aspects of Headwater Extinctions. If you would like a hard copy, please write to us.

SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] The full report is available on our web site, at: https://sandrp.in/Headwater_extinctions221114.pdf

[2] We have been saying this for long and this report helps substantiate our contention that the assumption that projects below 25 MW are benign and do not need EIA-EMP or environmental monitoring and public consultations is wrong.

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/fish-ladder-at-kurichhu-hydropower-project-bhutan-some-thoughts/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/uttarakhand-floods-of-june-2013-curtain-raiser-on-the-events-at-nhpcs-280-mw-dhauliganga-hep/.

[4] Caveat, there are honest exceptions, but this is a generalization that describes the predominant phenomenon.

Himachal Pradesh · Hydropower

Hydropower in Himachal: Do we even know the costs?

The state of Himachal Pradesh has a hydropower potential of almost 23,000 MW, which is about one-sixth of the country’s total potential[1]. In a bid to harness it, the state authorities seem to have gone all out without really even assessing the costs and impacts it will have on the local ecology and people. It has already developed about 8432.47 MW till now and is racing towards increasing that and in its way, displacing people, destroying forests and biodiversity, drying the rivers, disrupting lives and cultures in upstream and downstream, and flooding cultivable and forest land. The target of the State government for 2013-14 is to commissioning 2000 MW[2] capacity projects. The state and central governments are pushing for more and more projects, playing havoc with the lives of the locals and thus facing continuous agitations. This update tries to provide some glimpses in hydropower sector in Himachal Pradesh over the last one year.

The Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab, Beas & Yamuna, which form the major river basins of Himachal have been heavily dammed. These projects submerge and bypass the rivers, change the course, the flow and the silt carried by the rivers. The 27 proposed projects in the Chenab basin endanger the fragile ecosystem of the Lahaul-Spiti Valley. In the Sutlej, the nine major hydel projects of 7623 MW which are already  running along the 320 km stretch include: 633 MW Khab (proposed), 960 MW Jangi Thopan & Thopan Pawari (re-bidding), 402 MW Shongtong Karcham (under execution), 1,000 MW Karcham Wangtoo (commissioned), 1,500 MW Nathpa Jhakari (commissioned), 412 MW Rampur (under execution), 588 MW Luhri (allotted)[3]. There are about 21 more proposed projects. The same is the case with the Ravi where about 30 projects are proposed to be built or are already functional.

From 1981-2012, more than 10,000 ha of forest land on which people had user rights, have been diverted for hydropower, mining, roads and other projects[4]. This does not include the thousands of hectares of forest land diverted towards projects like the Bhakra Dam before 1980.

On the one hand, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) treats the locals like hindrances, saying that they cause damage to the environment by using the forests inefficiently, on the other hand, it approves big projects which cause hundred times more damage to the environment. There is no recognition of the ecological fragility of the landscape, and clearance from the MoEF seems like just a formality. Clearly, the MoEF and the state government are not interested in doing something for the people of the area, but in pushing project constructions to achieve targets at whatever cost it may require. This is also evident in the way the MoEF, without proper consultation, approved the state’s request for making the procurement of no-objection certificates (NOCs) from the Gram Sabhas a non requirement. MoEF itself had passed a circular in 2009, making it mandatory for project proponents to obtain NOCs of the affected Gram Sabhas and compliance to the Forest Rights Act 2006 before the diversion of forest land to non forest purposes. However, in 2012, the MoEF issued a letter which stated that there are no compliance issues with regard to FRA in Himachal Pradesh since the rights of the forest dwellers have already been settled under the Forest Settlement Process in the 1970s[5]. This is clearly wrong and not supported by facts or ground realities.

Taking away the rights of people on land without giving them adequate compensation has been a governmental trend. It is not enough to just grant monetary compensation to them. The land which could be put to various uses by the local is no longer his. The Gaddis, a shepherding community, rely a great deal on their rights over land as they need it for grazing. With the Forest Dept. making some areas inaccessible for them, their land has anyways decreased. In addition to this, projects like the Bajoli-Holi and the proposed dam at Bada Bhangal, which is sanctuary area now, and traditionally a grazing area for the Gaddis, will further take away from the available land.

Sangla Valley bore the brunt of massive landslides due to the sudden downpour in June 2013. Source: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/drilling-hills-devastation
Sangla Valley bore the brunt of massive landslides due to the sudden downpour in June 2013. Source: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/drilling-hills-devastation

Run-of-the –river projects:

But it is not only the loss of forest and private land which is the problem here. Another major issue is that of water. With the state giving increased priority to run-of –the –river projects, more and more water from the river is being diverted for longer stretches.

In the controversial Luhri project on the river Sutlej, the diversion of water into a 38 km long tunnel would mean the absence of free flowing river in stretch of almost 50 kms. The agreed amount of water to be left flowing in the river is 25% for the lean season and 30% in monsoon[6]. The project was initially supposed to be of 775 MW installed capacity and was to have two tunnels. This was challenged because higher environmental discharge was to be maintained in the downstream river. The capacity has been reduced to 600 MW and there will be only one tunnel[7].

But even this diversion would mean that villages falling within 50 km downstream of the project will not have access to its water like they used to. It will also lead to the warming up of the valley as the cool waters will be diverted into the tunnel. The environmental impact assessments (EIAs) have failed to address the effects of this. The EIA has also done no assessment of the impact of the tunnels on the land and people over ground. Locals have been agitating under the banner of Sutlej Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti, but the project is still on[8].

Another major drawback of the tunneling process is the danger it poses to the residing population and their groundwater sources. The Karcham Wangtoo project (1000 MW) in Kinnaur, which is the country’s largest hydropower project in the private sector (owned by the Jaiprakash Associates) was closed briefly in the December of 2012, due to leakage from the surge shaft and the water-conducting system, raising concerns about the safety of such projects and the absence of a monitoring body[9]. Because of the massive dam, the leakage was between 5-9 cumecs (cubic meters per second) or 5000-9000 liters per second, which is large enough to trigger massive landslides in the area. The company involved in the project will always try to get away saying that such things are unforeseen and it will take time for the project to stabilize. But in the meanwhile, who should be held accountable for the losses to life, livelihoods, habitats and environment due to this?

The same project involves a 17 km long tunnel passing under 6 villages The tunnell has affected water aquifers causing natural springs to dry up. This claim by the villagers was verified by the state’s Irrigation and Public Health department in a response to an RTI application. The official data showed that 110 water sources have been affected by this project. This information has come out only due to the proactive-ness of local people, but these issues are not even part of the impact assessments.

The concerns expressed by locals in the case of the 180 MW Holi-Bajoli project are quire serious. This project on the Ravi River has been given clearances under suspicious circumstances. It is being opposed by the local communities on issues of environment, violation of rights, and impacts on local livelihoods. People have also taken offense at the apathy shown to them by the state government.  The tunnel for the project was supposed to be constructed on the right bank of the river, which is relatively devoid of habitation, but the powerhouse and headrace tunnel sites were later shifted to the left bank, on which rest most of the villages of the area. This decision was seen as flawed according to a report by the state-run Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board Ltd (HPSEBL), which pointed out that it could have negative effects on the environment and the locals. The reason being cited for this is that construction on the right bank would take longer to be completed. GMR’s contention was that the right bank was weak and unsuitable, whereas the opposite has been confirmed by a Geological Survey of India report according to Rahul Saxena of the NGO Himdhara Environment Research Collective[10].

The protests which have been going on for four years now have been due to legitimate concerns raised by the locals of deforestation, loss of land and infrastructure and the loss of peace which would accompany the project. Earlier this year, women of four panchayats set up camp at the proposed site of the power house at Kee Nallah near Holi village to stage their protests. 31 of these women were arrested for protesting against the illegal felling of trees and the road construction of the project. They were taken to Chamba town which is almost 70 kms away from Holi and were detained for more than 24 hours despite appeals for their immediate release. Though they were released on bail the next day, they say that a lot of false charges have been filed against them. The district administration has taken no steps to resolve these issues[11]. In a letter to the Chief Secretary, the people have demanded that all charges be dropped against these women and justice be done about their demands. Despite continuous protests by the people the MoEF has given clearance to this project which requires the diversion of 78 ha of rich forest land and the felling of 4995 treesx.

The locals also say that change in the MoEF policy of NOCs enabled the Deputy Commissioner to issue a false certificate under FRA saying that no rights have to be settled on the land diverted for the project as it has already been done under the settlement process of 1970s.

Management glitches:

In the Chamera II and III projects on Ravi River, there has been much debate about the distance between the two being only 1.5 km without any water source in the middle. The operation of the Chamera II power station is completely dependent on the release by upstream Chamera III project. If the generation schedules of both are very different, there will be danger to the downstream areas. Last year it was observed that the schedules given by the Regional load Dispatch center were not coordinated, resulting in a dis-balance in the generation in both dams. In another instance, leakage was noted in the head race tunnel of Chamera III HEP.[12]

In a letter to the Chief Minister last year, environmental activists sought to know why there has been no committee set up by the State government for the control and monitoring of safety and water flows as is required by the Hydropower Policy 2006 of Himachal.

In another case of delay and mismanagement among many others, the Kol Dam on Sutlej River, the foundation for which was laid by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the year 2000, was due to be completed in 2008 but is not yet functional. The Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary area falls in the submergence area for the project and clearance was required from the National Board for Wildlife as the project would endanger 50,000 trees and the habitat of the ‘cheer pheasant’[13]. The project was finally granted approval by the Supreme Court in December 2013, given permission to drown the proposed parts of the sanctuary. The whole episode smacks of a scam when the project authorities say they forgot to get the clearance for submergence of the sanctuary and the forest & wildlife departments are ready to look away.

But due to continuous delays trigged by shoddy work and project management, the NTPC Dam project has still not been made functional. The delay is expected to be for at least another year, which would mean an additional loss of Rs. 150 crore. For about a year now the NTPC has been claiming that the filling of the reservoir would start, but they had to abandon that twice due to heavy leakages. There are also problems with the gates fitted inside the diversion tunnel and also additional repairs are needed in the tunnel.[14]

Muck dumping along the Sainj river by Parbati Hydropower Projects. (http://hillpost.in/2014/04/beas-a-dying-free-flow-himalayan-river-photo-essay/98678/)
Muck dumping along the Sainj river by Parbati Hydropower Projects. (http://hillpost.in/2014/04/beas-a-dying-free-flow-himalayan-river-photo-essay/98678/)

No State responsibility for environment:

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has found that the hydro power projects are not adhering to the compensatory afforestation that was promised. Out of the projects it studied, it found that 58% of them have carried out no afforestation activities at all. According to the results of an audit, it was seen that only 12 companies had deposited compensation money out of which no work was done at all in seven of the projects. Even out of the 12, full afforestation was achieved on paper only in 2 of them[15].

Another major problem is that tunnelling and road construction generate huge amounts of muck and debris. These are not disposed off in the right manner. For example, in the Koldam, the net volume of muck generated is 2.27 crore cubic metres. If this was to be dumped in the Sutlej, it would lead to a raise in the level of the Sutlej by 2.20 metres along a length of 100 kms[16]. The project authorities, including the World Bank funded projects like Rampur and Nathpa Jakhri, find it easier to dump the muck into the river rather than transport and dump it properly. The MoEF, state government and all concerned are happy to not take any action against any of the projects for such blatant violations that everyone knows about and even when evidence of such violations are presented to them.

Small Hydel Projects (SHPs):

The view of the government regarding the non requirement of clearances for small projects is clearly unfounded, unscientific and unacceptable. If the authorities think that these projects cause no or little harm to the environment and the people, they are wrong. The fact is that a lot of the hydro power potential of Himachal Pradesh is envisioned to be realized through these small projects which are being indiscriminately built on even small tributaries of the major rivers, sometimes even the ones listed as negative (from fisheries perspective) for HEPs.

The damaged reservoir of Aleo Manali Hydropower Project. (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140113/himachal.htm)
The damaged reservoir of Aleo Manali Hydropower Project. (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140113/himachal.htm)

In a recent case, the 4.8 MW Aleo II project located on the Aleo nallah, a tributary of the Beas River, in Kullu district, made news due to the collapse of its reservoir wall in a trial run[17]. The Aleo II project was supposed to become functional in January 2014, but as the management started to fill the 12,000 cubic meter capacity reservoir, its wall collapsed when it was only 75% full. The water from the reservoir went straight into the Beas River, causing sudden rise in its levels till about 50 kms downstream. The management had not informed the panchayat or the public of Prini village which is situated next to the dam site before attempting to fill the reservoir, causing unforeseen danger to them and others downstream.

These small projects[18] also seem to be working without proper lease of land. In a report earlier this year, it was found that out of the 55 projects examined below the 5 MW capacity in Himachal Pradesh, about 47 of them are operating without proper lease of the forest land that they are using. It was found after an RTI was filed regarding this that about 35.973 ha of land in the Chamba district was being used without lease by 13 HEPs. The case was similar in Kangra with about 43.5035 ha being used without lease. This just goes to show that the State regulations regarding hydro projects are not strict and definitely faulty. The land is being ruthlessly exploited by private and public sector companies which have a bullying attitude towards the local population[19].

Excessive electricity? Reports suggest that the state requires about  1200 MW of power, but it is producing so  much more that it has no buyers. It is not surprising to see that projects like the 1000 MW Karcham Wangtoo in Kinnaur are facing lack of buyers for electricity. The JPHL has not been able to sign long term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with any power distribution company (discoms). As a result, it is selling electricity through short term agreements or at lower prices. This is the situation with a lot of other plants in the state, both private and public. Even the state is facing difficulties selling its surplus power and as a result has to sell it at lower prices. According to a 2012 report of the CAG, the revenue earned from selling surplus power in Himachal has dropped significantly over the past years. The reason given for this is mostly the increased cost of production which has made power more expensive and the discoms, which are already in debt are thus unable to buy it.[20] Even after facing such losses, why is it that the Himachal government is pushing for more and more projects, destroying the rivers, forests, biodiversity, livelihoods and environment?

To add to the worries of the local people and environmentalists, in a recent announcement, the Chief Minister has announced that there is no NOC required from the fisheries dept, IPH, PWD and the revenue dept for small projects[21] Also, to make things easier for the project developers, it was announced that the small projects below 2 MW installed cpacity, were now liable to give the government only 3% of free power for a period of 12 years, as opposed to the earlier 7%xvi.

In an interesting development of the first ever Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA) in the state, a study of 38 hydro electric power projects in the Sutlej basin, the recommendation has been to designate the “fish-rich khuds, mid-Sutlej, eco-sensitive Spiti, Upper Kinnaur area and 10 other protection areas as a no-go zone for hydro projects”[22]. The CEIA is incomplete, inadequate and makes a lot of unwarranted assumptions and uscientific assertions. Even if this recommendation implemented, several projects in the Sutlej basin are still under way and the government seems to be doing nothing to stop them. There is also an Environmental Master Plan (EMP) prepared by the Department of Environment and Scientific Technology, and approved by the government which claims to have identified the vulnerable areas of the State[23]. This EMP is being adopted by the State for its developmental planning for the next 30 years. But the impact of this is yet to be seen, assuming that it does not turn out to be one of those plans which are never implemented.

Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP, padmakshi.b@gmail.com

People of Dhalanjan village show their destroyed and dilapidated structures (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/photo-essay-on-the-impacts-of-blasting-and-tunneling-for-hydropower-projects-in-chamba-district-in-himachal-pradesh-1/)
People of Dhalanjan village show their destroyed and dilapidated structures (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/photo-essay-on-the-impacts-of-blasting-and-tunneling-for-hydropower-projects-in-chamba-district-in-himachal-pradesh-1/)

END NOTES:

[1] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/drowned-power

[2] http://indiaeducationdiary.in/Shownews.asp?newsid=24595

[3] http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/HimachalPradesh/Review-hydropower-projects-on-Sutlej-Kinnaur-residents/Article1-1101869.aspx

[4] http://tehelka.com/himachal-pradesh-government-flunks-forest-rights-subject/

[5] http://www.himdhara.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Press-Note-20th-Jan-2013.pdf

[6] http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-02-24/chandigarh/37269688_1_luhri-project-mw-luhri-river-project

[7] www.energylineindia.com February 24, 2013.

[8] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2013/20130222/himachal.htm

[9] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2013/20130128/himachal.htm#7

[10] http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/2013/08/18/229–Hydro-project-site-shift-disastrous-Himachal-government-.html

[11] http://www.himdhara.org/2014/04/17/press-release-all-womens-independent-fact-finding-team-visits-holi-expresses-solidarity-with-local-struggle/

[12] www.energylineindia.com may 16, 2013.

[13] www.enrgylineindia.com January 24, 2013

[14] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140417/himachal.htm#11

[15] http://zeenews.india.com/world-environment-day-2013/world-environment-day-hydro-projects-causing-degeneration-of-hill-ecology_853017.html

[16]  http://hillpost.in/2013/07/the-uttarkhand-apocalypse-is-himachal-next/93449/

[17] http://www.himdhara.org/2014/03/24/run-into-the-river/

[18] For details of impacts of small HEPs in Himachal Pradesh, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/the-socio-ecological-effects-of-small-hydropower-development-in-himachal-pradesh/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/the-socio-ecological-impacts-of-small-hydropower-projects-in-himachal-pradesh-part-2/

[19]  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Majority-of-small-hydel-projects-in-Himachal-Pradesh-operate-sans-land-lease/articleshow/28696581.cms

[20] . http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/drowned-power

[21] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Budget-sops-to-make-investments-in-hydro-power-attractive/articleshow/30079948.cms

[22] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140704/himachal.htm#15

[23] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2013/20131208/himachal.htm

Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas · Hydropower

Photo Essay on the impacts of blasting and tunneling for hydropower projects in Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh – 2

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 Kinnaur (part 1 of photo essay does the same for projects in Chamba district) of Himachal Pradesh. In Kinnaur the photo essay includes such impacts of 1000 MW Karcham Wangtoo and 1500 MW Nathpa Jakhri 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.

 Karcham Wangtoo Hydro Power Project, Kinnaur

Project Jaypee Karcham Wangtoo HEP
Capacity (MW) 1000
Basin Satluj
District Kinnaur
Villages Choling, Yulla, Urni, Runnag, Meeru, Chugaun
Pictures taken on 25 May to 2 June 2014
Murim-I, is a local stream that dried up due to the 17 km long 1000MW Karcham Wangtoo project’s tunnel in Kinnaur district. The stream is surrounded by grazing lands
Murim-I, is a local stream that dried up due to the 17 km long 1000MW Karcham Wangtoo project’s tunnel in Kinnaur district. The stream is surrounded by grazing lands
Murim-II next to Murim I shared a common source which led to drying up of both streams
Murim-II next to Murim I shared a common source which led to drying up of both streams
Nang Choling water source or chashma near the highway. The water was used for drinking not just by the people in Choling but also by passers by. This source has totally dried up now due to the Karcham Wangtoo tunnel construction
Nang Choling water source or chashma near the highway. The water was used for drinking not just by the people in Choling but also by passers by. This source has totally dried up now due to the Karcham Wangtoo tunnel construction
Peokeh-I is a water source in the Yulla village. The discharge of this source has reduced by 50% since the construction of the tunnel for Karcham Wangtoo HEP
Peokeh-I is a water source in the Yulla village. The discharge of this source has reduced by 50% since the construction of the tunnel for Karcham Wangtoo HEP
Yet another source of water - Peokeh-II, Yulla village whose discharge has reduced by 30 to 40%
Yet another source of water – Peokeh-II, Yulla village whose discharge has reduced by 30 to 40%
Jyoti Prakash’s house in Yulla village suffered from cracks because of the tunnel construction of Karcham Wangtoo HEP
Jyoti Prakash’s house in Yulla village suffered from cracks because of the tunnel construction of Karcham Wangtoo HEP
Jagat Singh’s fields had this water source and used this for drinking and irrigation. Due to the reduction in the discharge after tunnel construction there is just enough water to use for drinking
Jagat Singh’s fields had this water source and used this for drinking and irrigation. Due to the reduction in the discharge after tunnel construction there is just enough water to use for drinking
Kakhiyo water source was used for drinking by 10 families in Yulla and the source is now totally dry
Kakhiyo water source was used for drinking by 10 families in Yulla and the source is now totally dry
Lang Chuldhing water source in Yulla the discharge has reduced due to the tunnel. 4 -5 families in the vicitnity depend on this source
Lang Chuldhing water source in Yulla the discharge has reduced due to the tunnel. 4 -5 families in the vicitnity depend on this source
Ram Devi’s gharat in Yulla has been rendered useless along with another 4 above her’s. All due to the drying up of a water source – Yang baro
Ram Devi’s gharat in Yulla has been rendered useless along with another 4 above her’s. All due to the drying up of a water source – Yang baro
Yang Baro water source was feeding the watermills as well as irrigation channels. Now there is hardly any water for these
Yang Baro water source was feeding the watermills as well as irrigation channels. Now there is hardly any water for these
Ramanand Negi showed this water source in Urni village which emerged suddenly in 2005. This has come out in a location where there is a landslide getting active
Ramanand Negi showed this water source in Urni village which emerged suddenly in 2005. This has come out in a location where there is a landslide getting active
This is the Urni steep slope where the landslide is active
This is the Urni steep slope where the landslide is active
Ramanand’s House in Urni village which has developed cracks and crevices due to the blasting and construction of tunnel for Karcham Wangtoo Project
Ramanand’s House in Urni village which has developed cracks and crevices due to the blasting and construction of tunnel for Karcham Wangtoo Project
Runnag Chashma is used by the Runnag village for washing and drinking. The water discharge has reduced substantially
Runnag Chashma is used by the Runnag village for washing and drinking. The water discharge has reduced substantially
Munni Lal’s apple orchard which was impacted by a landslide last year when the June 2013 monsoon rains occurred
Munni Lal’s apple orchard which was impacted by a landslide last year when the June 2013 monsoon rains occurred
Landslide just above the tunnel of Karcham Wangtoo project at Rangle. This was also activated lst year during the monsoons
Landslide just above the tunnel of Karcham Wangtoo project at Rangle. This was also activated lst year during the monsoons
Ryabi Khaldam (Disturbed Source), the water source has relocated naturally after the construction of the tunnel began
Ryabi Khaldam (Disturbed Source), the water source has relocated naturally after the construction of the tunnel began
Land slide at Meeru village activated last year and the main path of the village disturbed
Land slide at Meeru village activated last year and the main path of the village disturbed
Buthkas, IPH Source fully dried now as a result of tunnel. Almost the entire Meeru panchayat was dependent on this water for drinking
Buthkas, IPH Source fully dried now as a result of tunnel. Almost the entire Meeru panchayat was dependent on this water for drinking
Jagdish Chand Negi’s house in Chugaun was impacted because of the construction of Karcham Wangtoo Tunnel
Jagdish Chand Negi’s house in Chugaun was impacted because of the construction of Karcham Wangtoo Tunnel
Cow shed developed cracks in Chugaun affected by Karcham Wangtoo Project’s tunnel construction
Cow shed developed cracks in Chugaun affected by Karcham Wangtoo Project’s tunnel construction

Nathpa Jhakari Hydro Power Project

Project Nathpa Jhakari HEP
Capacity (MW) 1500
Basin Satluj
District Kinnaur
Villages Nigulseri & Jhakari
Pictures taken on 29/05/2014 & 03/06/2014
On 25th May 2014 this landslide occurred in Nigulseri village. Locals claim that the tunnel of 1500 MW Nathpa Jhakri Project had already disturbed the area which was further disturbed because of the transmission tower construction for Baspa II and Karchham Wangtoo HEPs
On 25th May 2014 this landslide occurred in Nigulseri village. Locals claim that the tunnel of 1500 MW Nathpa Jhakri Project had already disturbed the area which was further disturbed because of the transmission tower construction for Baspa II and Karchham Wangtoo HEPs
Geeta Ram’s house affected by the landslide at Nigulseri
Geeta Ram’s house affected by the landslide at Nigulseri
Shamsher Singh’s house cracks at Nigulseri in May 2014. A total of 13 houses have suffered such damages
Shamsher Singh’s house cracks at Nigulseri in May 2014. A total of 13 houses have suffered such damages
This landslide has occurred near powerhouse of the Nathpa Jhakri project in Jhakri
This landslide has occurred near powerhouse of the Nathpa Jhakri project in Jhakri

For Part 1 of the photo essay related to tunneling impacts of hydropower projects in Chamba district, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/photo-essay-on-the-impacts-of-blasting-and-tunneling-for-hydropower-projects-in-chamba-district-in-himachal-pradesh-1/

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 · 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

Chenab · Cumulative Impact Assessment · Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Himachal Pradesh · Hydropeaking · Hydropower · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Sach Khas Hydro project in Chenab Basin: Another example of WAPCOS’s shoddy EIA

Even after multiple appeals by various experts, organizations and local people, Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) set up by Ministry of Environment & Forest (MoEF) has once again chosen to ignore alarms of changing climate such as disaster of Uttarakhand in 2013 and has continued to consider Hydro Power Projects on Chenab Basin for Environmental Clearance (EC) before the Cumulative Impact Assessment of Chenab Basin has been accepted by MoEF. While on one hand the State Government of Himachal Pradesh has promptly appointed a committee headed by Chief Secretary to supervise and monitor all the progress and to “sort out” problems of getting various clearances “without delay in single window system”[i], on the other hand overall transparency of the Environmental Clearance Process has been steadily decreasing.

Sach Khas HEP (260 + 7 MW) (located in Chamba District of Himachal Pradesh) was considered by EAC in its 76th meeting held on August 11, 2014. Even though the project was considered for EC, no documents were uploaded on the website. Website does not even list the project under “Awaiting EC” category. This is in clear violation with MoEF norms, basic norms of transparency and Central Information Commission (CIC) orders. There are no fixed guidelines for documents to the uploaded, the time by when they should be uploaded and rules that project cannot be considered if the documents are not uploaded.

SANDRP recently sent a detailed submission to EAC pointing out several irregularities of the project. The comments were based on reading of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report available on the HP Pollution Control Board Website (which cannot be substitute for putting up the documents on EAC website). Environmental Management Plan (EMP) of the project is not accessible at all! Non availability of EMP on the HP Pollution Control Board website too is a violation of EIA notification 2006.

The EIA report which is prepared by WAPCOS is another example of a poorly conducted EIA with generic impact prediction and no detailed assessment or quantification of the impacts. Moreover since EMP is not available in the public domain, there is no way to assess how effectively the impacts have been translated into mitigation measures. Violations of Terms of Reference (TOR) issued by EAC at the time of scoping clearance is a serious concern.

Project Profile

Sach Khas HEP is a Dam-toe powerhouse scheme. The project has a Concrete Dam & Spillway with Gross storage of 25.24 MCM, Live Storage of 8.69 MCM and Reservoir Stretch at FRL of 8.2 km (approx.) Three intakes each leading to 5.8m diameter penstocks are planned to be located on three of the right bank non-overflow blocks. Three penstocks offtaking from the intakes are proposed to direct the flows to an underground powerhouse on the right bank of the Chenab river housing 3 units of 86.67 MW turbines with a total installed capacity of 260 MW. The project also proposes to construct 2 units of 7 MW each to be installed to utilize the mandatory environmental releases. The EIA mentions (p 2.19) that the HP government has allocated 3.5 MW Hydropower project on Chhou Nala in the project area to the project authority, so this is integral part of the project.

Sach Khas Dam Site

Sach Khas Hydro Electric Project was considered before completion of Cumulative Impact Assessment of Chenab Basin

Chenab basin may have one of the highest concentrations of hydropower projects among all basins in India[i]. The basin has over 60 HEPs under various stages of planning, construction and commissioning in states of Himachal Pradesh (HP) and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). 49 of these projects are planned or under construction in Chenab in HP and of which 28 projects of combined generation capacity of 5,800 MW are at an advanced stage of obtaining (Environment Ministry) clearances[ii]. MoEF sanctioned TORs for Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) of the HEPs on Chenab in HP in February 2012 however the project specific ECs were delinked from the CIAs[iii].

MoEFs Office Memorandum dated May 28 2013 states, “While, first project in a basin could come up without insisting on cumulative impact study, for all subsequent hydro-power projects in the basin, it should be incumbent on the developer of second/ other project(s) to incorporate all possible and potential impacts of the other project (s) in the basin to get a cumulative impact assessment done.”

We had pointed out in our submission against Kiru & Kwar projects in Jammu & Kashmir that CIA of all the proposed, under construction and operational projects and carrying capacity assessment (CCA) of the Chenab River basin to see if it can support the massive number of HEPs in safe and sustainable way is one of the first steps before considering clearances to HEPs in this region. Looking at the fragility of the Himalayan ecosystem, considering any hydropower project in the basin without these studies will be an invitation to disaster[iv]. This fact has been repeatedly highlighted by multiple organizations and experts including SANDRP.

Sach Khas EIA Study: Gross violation of TOR

The EIA violates several stipulations of TOR issued on Feb 22, 2013, which also included the stipulations of EAC in Sept 2012 and Nov 2012 meetings where the project TOR was considered and also Annexure attached with the TOR. This has severely affected the overall quality of the EIA report.

About assessing the impacts of the project on wild life the TOR said: “Reaching conclusion about the absence of such (Rare, Endangered & Threatened) species in the study area, based on such (conventional sampling) methodology is misleading” as such “species are usually secretive in behavior”, “species specific methodologies should be adopted to ascertain their presence in the study area”, “If the need be, modern methods like camera trapping can be resorted to”. None of this is shown to be done in any credible way in EIA.

TOR also recommends intense study of available fish species in the river particularly during summer (lean) months with help of experimental fishing with the help of different types of cast and grill nets. There is no evidence in EIA of any such intensive efforts detailed here. In fact the field survey in summer moths was done in May June 2010, years before the EAC stipulation.

TOR (EAC minutes of Sept 2012) state “Chenab river in this stretch has good fish species diversity & their sustenance has to be studied by a reputed institute.” This is entirely missing. TOR (EAC minutes of Sept 2012) states “During the day, the adequacy of this discharge (12 cumecs) from aquatic biodiversity consideration needs to be substantiated”. This again is missing. TOR said 10 MW secondary station may be a more desirable option. This is not even assessed. TOR said Impacts of abrupt peaking need to be assessed. This is also not done. Site specific E-Flow studies and peaking studies stipulated by TOR are missing. TOR states that Public Hearing / consultations should be addressed & incorporated in the EIA-EMP. However there is no evidence of this in the report.

TOR also required following to be included in EIA, but many of them found to be missing: L section of ALL upstream, downstream projects; Project layout showing all components with A-3 scale of clarity and 1: 50000 scale; drainage pattern map of river upto project; critically degraded areas delineated; Demarcation of snowfed/ rainfed areas; different riverine habitats like rapids, pools, side pools, variations, etc;

Contradictions in basic project parameters

The EIA report provides contradictions in even in basic parameters of the project components: So section 2.1 on page 2.1 says, “The envisaged tail water level upstream of the Saichu Nala confluence is 2150 m.” This i s when the TWL is supposed to 2149 m as per diagram on next page from the EIA. Section 2.3 says: “River bed elevation at the proposed dam axis is 2145m.” At the same time, the tail water level is 2149 m. How can Tail water level of hydropower project be higher than the river bed level at the dam site? This means that the project is occupying the river elevation beyond what HPPCL has allocated to it. Page 23 of EIA says: “…the centerline of the machines in the powerhouse is proposed at 2138.00m…” So the Centre line o the power house is full 11 m BELOW the tail water level of 2149 m? How will the water from power house CLIMB 11 m to reach TWL level?

EIA report unacceptable on many fronts

Dam ht of 70 m was stated in TOR, however the report states it to be 74 from river bed. The submergence area, consequently has gone up from 70 ha at TOR stage to 82.16 ha, as mentioned in Table 2.2 of EIA. Total land requirement which was 102.48 ha as per TOR ha has now increased to 125.62 ha, with forest land requirement going up to 118.22 ha. This is a significant departure from TOR that should be requiring fresh scoping clearance. Part of the field study has been done for the project more than four years ago and rest too more than three years ago. There are not details as to exactly what was done in field study. EAC had noted in their meeting in Sept 2012, while considering fresh scoping clearance for the project, “EIA and EMP should be carried out afresh keeping in view the drastic changes in the features due to increase in installed capacity of the power house.” (Emphasis added.) The EIA report is thus unacceptable on multiple fronts.

No cognizance of Cumulative Impacts

CIA of the entire Chenab basin including HP and J&K is not being considered, which itself is violating MoEFs Office Memorandum dated May 28 2013. The OM states that all states were to initiate carrying capacity studies within three months from the date of the OM No. J-11013/I/2013-IA-I. Since this has not happened in case of Chanab basin in J&K, considering any more projects in the basin for Environmental clearance will be in violation of the MoEF OM.

On Cumulative Impact Assessment, the OM said, “While, first project in a basin could come up without insisting on cumulative impact study, for all subsequent hydro-power projects in the basin, it should be incumbent on the developer of second/ other project(s) to incorporate all possible and potential impacts of the other project (s) in the basin to get a cumulative impact assessment done.” The EIA of both the projects does not include the cumulative impacts.

The project is located between Purthi HEP upstream and Duggar HEP downstream. Elevation difference between TWL of Purthi (2220m) and FRL of Sach Khas (2219m) is barely 1 m. The horizontal distance between them is as less as 117m. This is clearly unacceptable and in violation of the minimalist EAC-MoEF norms.

Elevation difference between TWL of Sach Khas (2149m) and the FRL of Duggar (2105 m) is 44 m and the horizontal distance is 6 km. This is thus a cascade of three among many other projects in the basin.

Cascade of three projects

Purthi HEP Site

Dugar HEP Site

Even so the report does not even mention the other two projects. EIA study is project specific and no cumulative impacts are assessed along with the other two projects. The EIA does not provide a list of all the HEP projects taken up in the Chenab basin in HP state[i]. The MoEF sanctioned TORs for conducting Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) of Chenab In February 2012. EAC considering any further project in Chenab basin before completion of the CIA study of the basin by a credible agency (not WAPCOS) and finalised in a participatory way will be in violation of the MoEF order of May 2013.

EIA report completely misses out on the detailed analysis of cumulative impacts in terms of disaster potential of the area and how the project will increase that; impacts on flora, fauna, carrying capacity, livelihoods; cumulative downstream impact, cumulative impact of hydro peaking. impacts on springs and drainage pattern; impacts of forest diversion on environment, hydrology and society and implementation of the Forest Rights Act; changing silt flow pattern in different phases, impacts of mining, tunneling, blasting etc. Impact of reduction in adaptive capacity of the people and area to disasters in normal circumstance AND with climate change has not been assessed. Project makes no assessment of impact of climate change on the project even when over 60% of the catchment area of the project is snow-fed and glacier fed. Options assessment in terms of non dam options as required under EIA manual and National Water Policy are missing.

Generic impact prediction

Impact prediction is too generic with no detailed assessment, which is what EIA is supposed to do. Impacts have not been quantified at all. The EIA report merely states the likely impacts in 2 or 3 sentences. Several important impacts have gone missing. None of the serious impacts have been quantified. For an informed decision making and effective mitigation and EMP quantification of impacts is essentially a pre requisite. Following are some such incidences:

Impacts of blasting & tunneling: TOR for the impacts on “Socio-economic aspects” says, “Impacts of Blasting activity during project construction which generally destabilize the land mass and leads to landslides, damage to properties and drying up of natural springs and cause noise pollution will be studied.”(p.196 of EIA Report). The total area required for Underground Works is 2.44 Ha. The project proposes underground power house with an installed capacity of (260+7). There are three TRTs proposed of length 99.75m, 113.13m, and 132.35m. Even so the impacts of blasting for such huge construction are simply disregarded in the EIA report by stating that “The overall impact due to blasting operations will be restricted well below the surface and no major impacts are envisaged at the ground level.” (p.165). While assessing the impacts of blasting on wild life the report states that direct sighting of the animals has not been found in the study area and the possible reason could be habitation of few villages. No attempt has been made to assess impacts of blasting like damage to properties, drying up of springs etc. This is a clear violation of TOR.

Impacts of Peaking & diurnal flow fluctuation: In the lean season during peaking power generation the reservoir will be filled up to FRL. As stated in report, this will result in drying of river stretch downstream of dam site of Sach Khas hydroelectric project for a stretch of 6.0 km, i.e. upto tail end of reservoir of Dugar hydroelectric project. The drying of river stretch to fill the reservoir upto FRL for peaking power will last even upto 23.5 hours, after which there will continuous flow equivalent to rated discharge of 428.1 cumec for 0.5 to 2 hours. Such significant diurnal fluctuation with no free flowing river stretch will have serious impacts on river eco system. There is no assessment of these impacts. Instead the report projects this as a positive impact stating “In such a scenario, significant re-aeration from natural atmosphere takes place, which maintains Dissolved Oxygen in the water body.” This is absurd, not substantiated and unscientific.

International experts have clearly concluded that: “If it is peaking it is not ROR”[ii]. In this case the EIA says the project will be peaking and yet ROR project, which is clear contradiction in terms.

Impacts on wild life: EIA report lists 18 faunal species found in the study area. Out of them 8 species are Schedule I species and 8 Schedule II species. Even so while assessing the impacts of increased accessibility, Chapter 9.6.2 b(I) of the report mentions “Since significant wildlife population is not found in the region, adverse impacts of such interferences are likely to be marginal.” If the project has so many schedule I and II species, the impact of the project on them must be assessed in the EIA. Moreover, massive construction activities, the impacts of long reservoir with fluctuating levels on daily basis, high diurnal fluctuation and dry river stretch of 6km on wild life could be serious. But the report fails to attempt any assessment of the same.

Impacts on geophysical environment are missing: The project involves Underground Works of 2.44 Ha. This involves construction of underground powerhouse, three headrace tunnels and several other structures. This will have serious impacts on the geophysical environment of the region and may activate old and new landslides in the vicinity of the project. The report makes no detailed assessment of this. Generic comments like “Removal of trees on slopes and re-working of the slopes in the immediate vicinity of roads can encourage landslides, erosion gullies, etc.” (p.176) have been made throughout the report. Such generic statements can be found in every WAPCOS report. Such statements render the whole EIA exercise as a farce. Project specific, site specific impact assessment has to be done by the EIA. Considering that the project is situated between Purthi HEP upstream and Duggar HEP downstream, a detailed assessment of the geophysical environment and impact of all the project activities is necessary. Further since the EMP is not at all available in public domain, it is difficult to assess what measures are suggested and how effective measures to arrest possible landslides have been suggested.

Downstream view of Sach Khas

Right Bank Drift at Sach Khas

No assessment for Environmental Flow Releases

TOR states that the minimum environmental flow shall be 20% of the flow of four consecutive lean months of 90% dependable year, 30% of the average monsoon flow. The flow for remaining months shall be in between 20-30%, depending on the site specific requirements (p.192). Further the TOR specifically states that a site specific study shall be carried out by an expert organization (p.193).

The TOR also mandated, “A site specific study shall be carried out by an expert organisation.” However completely violating the TOR, the EIA report makes no attempt for the site specific study to establish environmental flows. Instead it proposes to construct 2 units of 7 MW each to be installed to utilize the mandatory environmental releases. This completely defeats the basic purpose of the environmental flow releases. Such flows will help neither the riverine biodiversity, nor fish migration nor provide upstream downstream connectivity.

Socio-economic profile of the study area and Rehabilitation & Resettlement Plan are missing

TOR specifies a detailed assessment of socio-economic profile within 10 km of the study area including demographic profile, economic structure, developmental profile, agricultural practices, ethnographic structure etc. It also specifies documentation sensitive habitats (in terms of historical, cultural, religious and economic importance) of dependence of the local people on minor forest produce and their cattle grazing rights in the forest land. As per the TOR the EIA report is required to list details of all the project affected families.

Report however excludes assessment of socio economic impact of the study area. The total land required for the project is 125.62 ha, of which about 118.22 ha is forest land and the balance land 7.4 ha is private land. There are cursory mentions of habitations in the study area. Chapter 8.7 ‘Economically Important plant species’ states that in study area the local people are dependent on the forest produce such as fruits, timber, fuel wood, dyes and fodder for their livelihood. However the EIA report does not even estimate the population displaced due to land acquisition and impact of the various components of the project on livelihood of the people. Further detailed study is then out of question. This is again gross violation of TOR.

Indus Water Treaty

Chenab basin is international basin as per the Indus Water Treaty. A recent order of the international court has debarred India from operating any projects below MDDL and has disallowed provision for facility to achieve drawdown below MDDL in any future project[i] (for details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/international-court-asks-india-to-release-more-water-and-rejects-plea-to-re-interpret-february-verdict-on-kishanganga/). The EIA described gate opening in this project for silt removal, which stands debarred by international court. The EIA thus is in violation of the verdict of international Court.

The EIA says (p. 21 bottom), “Five low level sluices with crest at 2167m of size 7.5m width and 12.3m height are proposed for flood passage. Drawdown flushing of the reservoir shall be carried out through these sluices for flushing out of the sediment entrapped in the reservoir. Detailed studies on sedimentation and reservoir flushing can be taken up at detailed planning stage.” The MDDL of the project is 2209.3 m as mentioned in the same para. This means the project envisages sediment flushing by drawdown to 2167 m (sluice crest level, the sluice bottom level wll be 12.3 m below that), about 42.3 m below the MDDL. This is clearly not allowed under PCA order cited above on Indus Treaty.

Impact of 3.5 MW Chhou Nala HEP to be constructed for the project not assessed

The EIA mentions (p 2.19) that the HP government has allocated 3.5 MW Hydropower project on Chhou Nala in the project area to the project authority, so this is integral part of the project. But the EIA does not contain any impacts of the SHP. The stream on which this is planned is extremely important for the people as drinking water schemes, irrigation Kuhls and gharats of Rai, Chhou and Thandal villages are located on this stream in the proposed project area. Thus the project will have huge impacts, but there is no assessment of these impacts. This is another glaring omission of EIA. It was shocking to read that the resident commissioner said at the public hearing that this question is not part of Environmental Public hearing, when it is very much part of it.

Public hearing report

At several places either no information is given or misleading information has been presented. For example the project representatives mis-informed the people at PH that 15-20% water will be released, when minimum water they need to release is above 20%. DFO said that soil will be spread over the muck disposal site for tree planting over it, but there is no provision of this in EIA-EMP. Many questions were provided with vague answers or no answers at all. No clear answer was given when asked if the muck dumping sites have been decided in consultation with the local people, implied answer is clearly that local people have NOT be consulted. When asked about agreements to ensure that the company implements EMP and Social Management Plan as required, there was no promise that such an agreement will be signed with the village gram sabhas. The affected people raised the issue of erosion impact of diversion tunnel, but no specific response was provided in response to this issue. When a resident of Chhou village raised the issue of vulnerability of the village to the landslides, no clear answer was given by the project developer. When the same person asked that our cremation ground is going under submergence, what is the company planning about it, the project developer replied that IF the cremation ground goes under submergence, we will think about this. This only shows that the project developer and EIA consultant have not even done an assessment of such basic aspects. The PH report accepts that close to 100 workers are already working without even basic sanitation facilities, this is clear violation of EIA notification further the EIA Agency fails to mention this.

EIA is full of cut and paste, generic statements, no actual assessments

Out of nine chapters of EIA, only the last chapter is about impacts assessments! So out of 170 pages of nine chapters, only 31 pages of chapter 9 is supposedly about impact assessment and there too mostly there is no real impact assessment, mostly only generic statements that can be included in any EIA. There are several unnecessary sections in the EIA like chapter 3 on “Construction Methodology” which is unnecessary in EIA. In most other sections too, the information is just cut and paste from DPR. By way of impact prediction, the EIA report is only listing them doing absolutely NO ASSESSMENT and no quantification of impacts is attempted. Further since the EMP is not available in the public domain, it is impossible to assess if the measures provided in the EMP are effective. Such EIA is definitely not acceptable.

No proper referencing The EIA does not provide references to the specific information, without this it is difficult to cross check which information is from which secondary sources and how credible it is and which information is from primary survey.

Conclusion

This is another most shoddy piece of EIA by WAPCOS.

Moreover, as we can see the EIA has not done several impact assessments, has violated large no of TORs on several counts, the EIA-EMP are not available on EAC website, the project parameters have undergone changes necessitating fresh scoping clearance as mentioned in TOR but that has not happened, baseline study is 3-4 years old, EAC stipulation of fresh EIA-EMP has been violated, Project is using larger riverine stretch than given by HP govt, there is no proper referencing, hydrology is weak, EMP is not available on HPPCB website in violation of EIA notification, among several other issues listed above. Every conceivable serious problem can be found in this EIA of WAPCOS.

It is full of generic statements that can be pasted in any EIA without any attempt at project specific impact assessment. SANDRP has been pointing to EAC and MoEF about such unacceptable EIA by WAPCOS for several years, but neither EAC, nor MoEF has taken any action in this regard. SANDRP has once again urged to EAC and MoEF to reject this EIA and recommend blacklisting of WAPCOS and to issue fresh scoping clearance for the project as mentioned in the TOR since the project parameters (dam height, submergence area, land requirement, etc) have gone through significant changes.

We sincerely hope the EAC will not only take serious cognition of these and not recommend clearance to the project, but also direct the project proponent and EIA consultant to implement other recommendations made above.

 Amruta Pradhan (amrutapradhan@gmail.com), Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

[i] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/international-court-asks-india-to-release-more-water-and-rejects-plea-to-re-interpret-february-verdict-on-kishanganga/

[ii] See for example https://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Hydro_%20Electric_Projects_in_Chenab_River_Basin.pdf

[iii] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/if-its-peaking-its-not-an-ror-interview-with-dr-thomas-hardy-iahr-and-texas-state-university/

[iv] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/pm-kick-starts-850-mw-ratle-project-in-jk-without-full-impact-assessment-invitation-to-another-disaster-in-chenab-basin/

[v] https://sandrp.in/hydropower/Dams_on_Chenab_How_many_are_too_many_Dec2012.pdf

[vii] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/pm-kick-starts-850-mw-ratle-project-in-jk-without-full-impact-assessment-invitation-to-another-disaster-in-chenab-basin/

[viii] Refer to SANDRP studies on Chenab

– https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/pm-kick-starts-850-mw-ratle-project-in-jk-without-full-impact-assessment-invitation-to-another-disaster-in-chenab-basin/

– https://sandrp.in/hydropower/Dams_on_Chenab_How_many_are_too_many_Dec2012.pdf

– https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/massive-hydropower-capacity-being-developed-by-india-himalayas-cannot-take-this-onslought/

[ix] http://northgazette.com/news/2013/04/25/special-committee-to-monitor-hydro-projects-in-hp-cm/

brahmaputra · Chenab · Ganga · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas

How do dams affect a river?

That sounds like a rather innocent question and I was asked to write an article, addressing it. But before we go into that, let us try and understand a few things. Firstly, what is a River? Let us first try and understand that.

There is no single definition of this complex entity. For every definition, there is something more a river does.

Take the example of the one of the most complex rivers of all, the Ganga that we think we know. Before being a religious entity cultural icon, etc Ganga is, first & foremost, a River. A perennially flowing river like Ganga flows all the time. But that flow is not constant. It changes from day to night, from one day to another, from one season to another, one year to another, from one place to another.

And then, the Ganga that we know is not only a single river but a collection of rivers. So Yamuna, Bhagirathi, Alaknanda, Mandakini, Dhauliganga, Pinder, Ramganga, Kali, Tons, Gomti, Ghaghra, Sone, Gandak, Budhi Gandak, Kosi & Mahananda are some of the major tributaries that directly meet Ganga. Each of them is a river in its own right.

The Ganga Brahmaputra Basin Photo from: Wikimedia Commons
The Ganga Brahmaputra Basin Photo from: Wikimedia Commons

Take Yamuna for example. Some of its major direct tributaries include: Tons, Giri, Som, Sahibi, Hindon, Chambal, Sind, Betwa & Ken, each of them are again significantly big rivers.

Take Chambal, some of the major direct tributaries of Chambal include: Parbati, Kali Sindh (Lakhundar, Ahu, Parwan are some of the tributaries of Kali Sindh, Newaj is one of the tributaries of Parwan, Dudhi is one of the tributaries of Newaj), Banas, Ider, Retam, Sau, Kshipra, Chhoti Kali Sindh, Cham, Siwana, Kural: each of which is a river by its own right.

Take Parbati: some of the major tributaries of Parbati include: Papnaus Ajnal, Sewan Paru, Utawali, Paraparwa, Mawal, Tem, Bhader, Gochi, Gaumukh, Sunk, Negri, Chopan, Uproni, Duhral, Andheri, Beram, Kosam, Ahelil and Sukni. These are all rivers too!

We can go on like this much longer. But such is a vast network of rivers that we call Ganga.

river

Secondly what flows in a river is not just water, though most governments, official agencies & engineers see the rivers as channels of water. Flowing water is surely a major visible defining component of a river. But even a canal or a pipeline can claim that. But unlike a canal or pipeline, a river carries dissolved matter, suspended matter, bed load, microorganisms, many levels of aquatic flora and fauna.

Thirdly, a river is a connected entity. It is connected with upstream and downstream river, biodiversity & landmass, the terrestrial land & life, underground geology and groundwater aquifers and is also connected with the floodplain. Perennial rivers like Ganga meet the sea forming a delta and this connection is vital for the river and as well as the sea. The connections are so strong that a river provides a report card about what is happening upstream and downstream, if read carefully.

From: The River continuum Concept. Species in India will be different, but this represents how biological entitites in a river are linked to each other through a number of processes including nutrient spiralling Oxbowriver.com
From: The River continuum Concept. Species in India will be different, but this represents how biological entitites in a river are linked to each other through a number of processes including nutrient spiralling Oxbowriver.com

This is admittedly a partial description of a river, limited by the constraints of an article or blog. This is also a bit simplistic description of how humans deal with rivers, since there are exceptions. But this provides a broad direction of our journey with the rivers.

from : lakeconesteenaturepark.com
from : lakeconesteenaturepark.com

Apart from its many functions like ecological, hydrological, geomorphological ones, a river is also connected with the human society along the banks. The connection with human societies has been as long as the humans have existed. This connection is not really necessary for the river to survive, but we cannot say the same about human survival. Humans cannot survive without the rivers, though is doubtful if the human society understands or even acknowledges that reality.

More importantly, till about a century ago, our interaction with the rivers did not endanger the existence of the rivers themselves. But what we have been doing in last century has created existential threat for rivers. This threat comes in the form of big dams, diversions, chemical pollution from agriculture and industries, large dose of sewage pollution at major urban centers, encroachment on floodplains, deforestation, unsustainable groundwater use, riverfront developments, embankments, and climate change.

What humans have done to the rivers in last century can possibly be described as Terraforming (one of the grandest concepts in science fiction in which “advanced” societies reshape entire planets to suit their needs). Or what some geologists describe as Anthropocene, meaning a new geological age of humans to suggest that humans are now a planet transforming force.

It seems humans have stopped valuing the rivers as they exist in nature and decided that they can stop, bend, tunnel, channelise, divert, encroach, pollute the rivers. So when we build a dam, we do not put any value to the destruction of river & destruction of the services provided by a river that entails in the process of building the dam.

But let us get back to Rivers & what dams do to them. A river, by definition, must flow freely. A dam stops the free flow of river, and impacts the river in the most fundamental ways. In India when we construct a dam (e.g. Tehri), a hydropower project (e.g. 400 MW Vishnuprayag project on Alaknanda in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand) or diversion (Lower Ganga – Bhim Goda at Haridwar, Middle Ganga – Bijnor and Upper Ganga-Narora barrages), we do not have to leave any water for the downstream stretch of river. So complete drying up of the rivers for most of the dry months by these structures is the first direct impact of these structures on the river. To put it mildly, that action practically kills the river. Upstream of the dam too, the river gets killed, for immediate upstream there is stagnant water and further upstream, the river has lost its connections with the downstream river!

Dry Baspa River downstream Baspa II Dam, Himachal Pradesh
Dry Baspa River downstream Baspa II Dam, Himachal Pradesh Photo: SANDRP Partners

This is because these structures not only stop the flow of water to the downstream areas, they also stop flow of everything else that was flowing in the river: the silt, the nutrients, the sand, the organisms, the flora, fauna, and severe every one of the connections of rivers we described earlier

And imagine when a river has to face such death every few kilometers in its journey!

Density of dams in the Upper Ganga Basin Map by SANDRP
Density of dams in the Upper Ganga Basin Map by SANDRP

 

That is not all. As the river continues its journey, if the tributaries are flowing reasonably freely, there is some chance for the river to recover some of its defining characteristics. But we have dammed most major tributaries too.

To top it, we also have other elements that help kill the river, like pollution, encroachment, abstraction, etc, as described earlier.

And remember just about a century back Ganga and other rivers were not in such a bad shape. This is an achievement of less than 100 years.

Chandra Basin in Himachal Pradesh depicted by Nicholas Roerich in 1932. The same Chenab Basin now witnesses one of the highest dam densities in Himalayas. From: WikiArt
Chandra Basin in Himachal Pradesh depicted by Nicholas Roerich in 1932. The same Chenab Basin now witnesses one of the highest dam densities in Himalayas. From: WikiArt

Some people will read in this a plea to go back by those 100 years. That is not possible, and we all know that. But there are other ways to deal with the rivers. Human society can take what is needed for the society, without destroying the river.

This is true of Ganga, as any other River!

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmal.com, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is 200th post from SANDRP! We always look forward to your suggestions and comments for improvement.

Our 100th Blog on River Conversations: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/river-conversations/

 

 

Dam Induced Flood Disaster · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas · Hydropower · Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013: Lest we forget the experience and its lessons

June 16, 2014 This is a sad day, reminding us of the Uttarakhand disaster that began on this day a year ago. The disaster was triggered by unseasonal and heavy rainfall in which indicates a clear footprint of climate change. At the same time, the role played by massive infrastructure interventions, including an onslaught of hydropower projects and dams in Uttarakhand’s fragile ecosystem, in magnifying the proportions of this disaster manifold is also undeniable[1]. It is a sign of callousness of our system that till date we do not have a comprehensive report about this disaster that throws light on what all actually happened, which institutes played what role, which institutes failed or succeeded in their assigned role, what were the rehabilitation and resettlement provisions, processes, plans and policies, and what lessons we can learn from this experience.

The lessons from this experience hold significance for the entire Himalayan region.

Uttarakhand and the union government declined to even investigate the role of hydropower projects in the disaster. It was left to the Supreme Court of India, through its order of Aug 13, 2013, to ask the government to set up a committee to assess the role of existing and under construction hydropower projects in the disaster.[2] The apex court also asked governments to stop clearances to all such projects in the state in the meantime. The reluctant Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) took two more months to set up the committee which was headed by Dr Ravi Chopra.[3]The committee submitted the report in mid April, 2014, but two months later the MEF is yet to put up the report in public domain. Or make it available to the people of Uttarakhand in their language or invite their views. SANDRP had written in detail about the recommendations of the EB, the committee certainly said that the hydropower projects played a significant role in the disaster[4]. Eminent geologist Prof K S Valdiya has also written in Current Science in May 2014 (Vol. 106, p 1-13) that most projects are being built in landslide prone, seismically active area and should not be built there.

It was again left to the Supreme Court on May 7, 2014 to order stoppage of work on the 24 hydropower projects. The Expert Body recommended cancellation for 23 of these projects and change of parameters for one project. There is immense hope in further proceedings in the apex court in coming months, since the results will provide a guide for the whole Himalayan region in Uttarakhand, in other states in India and even for the Himalayan region beyond the border.

At the same time, it is unfortunate to see that the MEF, the Union government and Uttarakhand government seem to have learnt no lessons from the disaster. These bodies have been trying all sorts of manipulations to push massive projects like Lakhwar and Vyasi in Yamuna basin even without Environment Impact Assessment, Cumulative Impact Assessment or public consultations.

Now a new government has taken over at the centre. It is possible sign of things to come that India’s new Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has chosen this anniversary day to lay foundation stone for a huge hydropower project in the Himalayan region, read his own statement dated June 14, 2014[1], about his impending trip to Bhutan on June 15-16, 2014: “During the visit, we will lay the Foundation Stone of the 600 MW Kholongchu Hydropower Project[5].” This possibly indicates the thinking of new government on this issue.

Picture1

The memory and lessons of this unprecedented disaster seem to be fading already. While going through the articles on this disaster in a number of newspapers like Indian Express, Hindu, Tribune, Business Standard, among others, I could find just one article in Business Standard[2] that mentioned the role of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand disaster.

gangani1

It is very important, in this context to remember the issue. We are here presenting here some photos of the damaged hydropower projects of Uttarakhand in that context. The photos are mostly taken from official sources, namely 582 page annexures to the Ravi Chopra Committee report. Most of the photos have not been in public domain to the best of our information.

Assi Ganga I (4.5 MW in Uttarkashi district): Letter from Regional office of MoEF to Uttarakhand Forest secretary dated 30 March, 2014 says:“The project was heavily damaged in 2013 devastation.” It also says that the project is in Ganga Eco Sensitive Zone and in the zone only projects below 2 MW capacity and serving the needs for the local population are allowed. Hence it says, “…the project should not start without obtaining fresh forest clearance and permission from the Central Govt.”

Assi Ganga II (4.5 MW in Uttarkashi district): Similar letter from Regional office of MoEF says: “The project was heavily damaged in 2013 devastation.” Following photos from the monitoring report of the project speak about the damage this project suffered:

AssiGangaII

2AssiGangaKaldigarh HEP (9 MW in Uttarkashi district) The project heavily damaged in 2012 floods and it being in Eco Sensistive zone, the report says the project should not be allowed to restart without permission from central govt.

Kotli Bhel 1A HEP (195 MW on Bhagirathi river in Uttarkashi district) The project has not given the final forest clearance. The stage I forest clearance was given on 13.10.2011 and environment clearance on 09.05.2007. The Ravi Chopra Committee report has asked for changes in the project parameters and Supreme Court order of May 7, 2014 has asked for stoppage of work on 24 HEPs, this project is on that list of 24 projects. The regional office report says that work on the project has been started on non forest land, which should now come to stop.

Kaliganga II HEP (6 MW, Rudraprayag district, Mandakini Basin) The Project got forest clearance on March 6, 2007. But project is yet to provide non forest land as required under act. The project is also within 2 km of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, but has not got clearance either from state wildlife Board or National Wildlife Board. The project construction thus is clearly illegal. Project has now suffered damages in June 2013 disaster, as can be seen from the photos below.

KaligangaII

2KaliGnaga

Madhya Maheshwar HEP (10 MW, Rudra Prayag district):

MadhyaMaheshwar

Phata Byung HEP (76 MW, Mandakini river, Rudra Prayag district):

PhataBuyung

Singoli Bhatwari HEP (99 MW, Mandakini river, Rudra Prayag district):

SingoliBhatwari

Bhyunder Ganga HEP (15 MW, Alaknanda river, Chamoli Disrict):

BhuynderGanga

Lata Taopan HEP (171 MW, Chamoli district):

Lata Tapovan

Tapovan Vishnugad HEP (520 MW, Chamoli district):

TapovanVIshnugad

Kali Ganga I HEP (4 MW, Rudraprayag District):

KaliGangaI

Banala Mini HEP (15 MW, Chamoli Dist):

BanalaMiniHEP

 CONCLUSION: We hope this would possibly remind us that Himalayas cannot take the hydro onslaught that is happening now.

What happened in Uttarakhand a year ago in June 2014 was possibly a warning.

These photos are a reminder that even the hydropower projects are not safe and they will invite not only destruction for themselves, but also for the surrounding areas. Lest we forget the warning.

-Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

References:

[1] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/uttarakhand-deluge-how-human-actions-and-neglect-converted-a-natural-phenomenon-into-a-massive-disaster/

[2] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/expert-committee-following-sc-order-of-13-aug-13-on-uttarakhand-needs-full-mandate-and-trimming-down/

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

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

[5] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Modi-woos-Thimphu-ahead-of-Bhutan-China-dialogue/articleshow/36623685.cms

End Notes:

[1] PIB statement of June  14, 2014, see: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx

[2] http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/the-mountain-s-not-a-molehill-114061400858_1.html

Beas · Disasters · Himachal Pradesh · Hydropeaking · Hydropower

Nadiya Bairi Bhayi…

In a classical Thumri rendition, Ustad Rashid Khan sings about how a river, which was once a friend, has turned into a foe…Nadiya Bairi Bhayi.. Something similar is happening at a number of places in India, where the river, a life giving friend, is turning into a deadly force.

~~

Drowning of 25 students following sudden water releases from the 126 MW Larji Dam in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh is one more saddening and shocking incidence in the long list of hydropower-release related disasters in India where rivers are turned into death traps.

On the 1Radhika8th April 2014, 11 year old Radhika Gurung studying in standard fourth was accompanying her sisters Chandra and Maya along the river Teesta near Bardang, Sikkim. Suddenly, without having any time to respond, all three school girls were washed away by a forceful water released by upstream 510 MW Teesta V Hydropower project in Sikkim. While Maya and Chandra were lucky to be saved, Radhika was not so lucky. She lost her life. Residents here say that NHPC, the dam operator, does not sound any sirens or alarms while releasing water in the downstream for producing hydroelectricity and villagers live in constant fear of the river.[1] Residents demanded strict action against NHPC, but no action has been taken.

On the 28th March 2013, 5 people, including two small children aged 2 and 3 drowned in the Bhawani River near Mettupalayna when 100 MW Kundah IV HEP (Tamil Nadu) on the Pillur Dam suddenly released discharge of about 6000 cusecs water. The family was sitting on the rocks in the riverbed when water levels started rising, and they did not get enough time even to scramble out of the river with the two children, says the sole survivor. Tangedco officials stated that although alarm is sounded at the nearest hamlets, it does not reach the downstream regions.[2] Local villagers say no alarm is sounded. No action has been taken against Tangedco.[3]

On 8th JaSearchforbodiesnuary 2012, a family of seven people, including a child, drowned in the Cauvery River when water was released from the 30 MW Bhavani Kattalai Barrage-II (BKBII in Tamil Nadu). The same day, two youths were also swept off and drowned in the same river due to this release.[4] There are no reports of any responsibility fixed or any action taken against the Barrage authorities or Tangedco, although it was found that there was not even a siren installed to alert people in the downstream about water releases.[5]

Uttarakhand has a history of deaths due to sudden releases from its several hydropower dams. In April 2011, three pilgrims were washed away due to sudden release of water from Maneri Bhali-1 Dam on the Bhagirathi in Uttarakhand.[6] In 2006 too, three women were washed away by such releases by Maneri Bhali.[7]  The district magistrate of Uttarkashi district ordered filing a case against the Executive Engineer of the dam after a number of organisations demanded action against the guilty.  Again in November 2007, Uttarakhand Jal VIdyut Nigam Limited was testing the opening and closing of gates of Maneri Bhali Stage II, when two youths were washed away by these releases. [8] Following a protest by locals and Matu Jan Sangathan, the Executive Engineer and District Magistrate simply issued a notice which said that “Maneri Bhali Hydropower Projects exists in the upstream of Joshiyada Barrage and water can be released at any time, without prior notice from here”.

Similar notice is also given by NEEPCO, which operates the Ranganadi Dam and 405 MW Dikrong Power House in Arunachal Pradesh, on the Assam border. “The gates of Ranganadi diversion dam may be opened at any time. NEEPCO will not take any responsibility for any loss of life of humans, animals or damage to property”.

Similar notice sits on the bankAthirappillys of the Chalakudy River near the Athirappilly falls in Kerala and the Kadar tribes, which traditionally stay close to the river and are skilled fisher folk too, are fearful of entering the river.

Chamera HEP in Himachal Pradesh has been held responsible for sudden water releases and resultant deaths in the downstream. As per retired IAS Officer Avay Shukla who resides in Himachal, similar incidences which resulted in loss of lives have also happened due to Nathpa Jhakri and other dams in the state.

In December 2011, three youth were drowned in the Netravathi River when water was released by the fraudulently combined 48.50 MW AMR project (Karnataka) now owned by Greenko[9]. Villagers protested at the site, but this has not been the first instance of drowning because of this project. Villagers accuse the dam for the deaths of as many as 7 unsuspecting people in the downstream. This dam is now increasing its height and one more project is being added to it.

Protest against sudden water release by fradulently combined 48.50 MW project in Bantwal, Dakshin Kannada by Greenko Photo: Daiji World
Protest against sudden water release by fraudulently combined 48.50 MW project in Bantwal, Dakshin Kannada by Greenko Photo: Daiji World

On October 1, 2006, at least 39 people were killed in Datia district in Madhya Pradesh when suddenly large amount of water was released from the upstream Manikheda dam on Sind River in Shivpuri district. There was no warning prior to these sudden releases and hence unsuspecting people crossing the river were washed away[10]. Chief Minister Shivraj Chauvan ordered a judicial probe into this incidence in 2006, however, and a report was submitted by retired High Court Judge in 2007. Since then, the report has been buried and several attempts of RTI activists to access the report have been in vain. The government has not released the report, forget acting upon it or fixing responsibility after 8 years[11].

In April 2005, at lDharajiDewas Frontlineeast 70 people were killed at Dharaji in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh due to sudden release of huge quantity of water from the upstream Indira Sagar Dam on Narmada river. Principal Secretary Water Resources Madhya Pradesh inquired into the incident and found that “there was no coordination between agencies”[12]. No accountability was fixed and no one was held responsible. NHPC, who operated 1000 MW Indira Sagar Project, simply claimed that it was a case of miscommunication and that it was not aware of the religious mela in the downstream of the river. As SANDRP observed then, “ It just shows how far removed is the dam operator from the welfare of the people in Narmada as the fair annually gathers more than 100,000 people of the banks of the river. It is a scandal that no one was held responsible for the manmade flood which resulted in the mishap[13].”

Above incidents make it clear that incident at Larji is not the first and will not be the last, if we continue non transparency and non accountability in hydropower dam operations.

Some Questions that arise from these events:

Do sanctioning authorities and dam operators reaslise that each of these projects convert an entire river ( not limited to the hydropower project) in the downstream area into a potential death trap? Do they assess the impacts of the various possible operations of the projects in the downstream area and envisage, plan and implement measures to avoid death and destruction in the downstream areas?

Can cordoning off and alienating a river, indicating that it is dangerous, be a solution to this? Are measures like alarms, sirens, lights enough when a river experiences order of magnitude sudden change in its flow due to dam and hydropower releases?

Is it ok to have hundreds of dam-related deaths in the recent years due to irresponsible and non-transparent dam operations and not have any responsibility fixed?

The obvious answer to the above seems NO.

Some Recommendations: As we have seen above, many man made disasters have happened in India over the last decade and governments  and dam operators have learnt no lessons. The avoidable tragedies are repeating without any change. India is possibly the only country in the world where such events have been happening in such large numbers. Here we are recommending some basic steps if we want to avoid or minimise occurrence of such tragedies in future.

MEASURES FOR TRANSPARENT, INCLUSIVE MANAGEMENT NORMS IN OPERATION OF ALL EXISTING DAMS AND HYDROPOWER PROJECTS:

For every operating Dam and Hydropower project in India there should be clearly defined operating procedure in public domain. This operating procedure will include the steps taken before release of water from dam or power house, how the releases will be increases (the increase should be in steps and not suddenly releasing huge quantity) or decreased, how these will be planned in advance, who all will need to be informed about such plans in what manner and what safety measures will be taken. This will also include who all will be responsible for designing, monitoring and implementing these measures. There should be boards at regular  intervals  in the downstream area in language and  manner that local people and outsiders can understand and the boards should also indicate the danger zone and what kind of sirens and hooters may blow before the releases.

The operating procedure will take into account where there are upstream projects and how the upstream projects are going to influence the inflow into the project and  how information will be shared with upstream and downstream projects and in public domain. The Power Load Dispatch Centres should also remember that when any hydropower project is asked to shut on or off, there are consequences in the river and they should be asked to keep such consequences in mind and time required to alert the regions in risk.

For every dam there should be a legally empowered official management committee for the project management, in which 50% people should be from govt and 50% should be non govt persons, including local community representatives and this committee should be in charge of providing oversight over management, including operation of the project and should have  right to get all the information about the project.

Hourly water levels and release data of hydropower dams be made available in public domain on daily bases. Water levels corresponding to discharges (and possible timings where applicable) should be physically marked on the river banks, local communities should be involved in this, evacuation methods and mock drills should be organised by dam proponent from time to time in all places along the river where the impacts reach.

THE EXISTING DAMS AND HYDROPOWER PROJECTS SHOULD BE MANDATED TO PUT ALL THIS IN PLACE WITHIN A PERIOD OF NEXT THREE  MONTHS THROUGH A LEGALLY EMPOWERED STEP IN ALL STATES.

SANCTIONING PROCESS FOR NEW PROJECTS, INCLUDING FOR UNDER CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS:

Safety measures related to, including water releases for all kind of eventualities and their downstream impacts and management plan should be an integral part of EIA and EMP. The aspect should be thoroughly discussed while appraising the project, and clear cut roles and responsibilities fixed. Mitigation measures should include proper siting of the project, gradual upramping & Downramping of releases in a clearly defined way and where planning is mandatory, safe operation of discharges through dams, etc.

Entire clearance mechanism for cascade hydropower projects in the Himalayas and elsewhere needs to be revisited to include the operational safety measures considering the cumulative operation of the projects. Projects where operational safety measures alone will not be sufficient due to massive fluctuations/location/upstream projects, etc., should be urgently dropped.

Peaking power projects should be restricted to certain locations like deep mountain gorges, after proper studies. Such projects should not be permitted as rivers enter into floodplains, due to their significant impact on the downstream and also in biodiversity rich river stretches.

SAFETY MEASURES BEFORE AND DURING WATER RELEASES: 

Primary safety measures like informing the administration well in advance before release, sirens, hoots, alarms, lights, buoys should be strictly enforced and a clear responsibility of these measures should be adopted, for the entire zone in risk, sign boards at every 50 mts interval in such zones in languages and manner that local people and outsiders can understand, and which also show the specific risk zone. Where sudden unseasonal releases are likely, include police surveillance of the risk zone during danger period.

WHEN THERE IS DEATH AND DESTRUCTION IN THE DOWNSTREAM AREA:

Exemplary punishments should be fixed not only for dam operators,but also engineers and dam companies in case of negligence. Independent inquiry will be required since departmental or inquiries by District administration or government officials are not likely to be credible.

Since the designed safety measures in case of Larji were clearly inadequate, not just the operational staff but all those responsible for such shoddy safety plan should be held accountable.

It is unacceptable that a life giving and beautiful entity like a river should be converted into a dangerous and deadly force for our energy needs, without even the most basic precautions in place.

-Parineeta Dandekar,  Himanshu Thakkar

 

END NOTES:

In 1999, 39 people and hundreds of animals and livestock in Cambodia was washed away and drowned by the release from Yali Falls Dam on Sesan in Vietnam. Mekong River Commission took a strong view on this. http://www.threegorgesprobe.org/pi/Mekong/index.cfm?DSP=content&ContentID=8946

Just last month, two people were washed away and drowned in Belize due to releases from a dam owned by Canadian company Fortis. Here too early warning systems, alarms and accountability are being discussed:. http://journal.probeinternational.org/2014/05/07/did-a-dam-cause-water-surge-ending-in-multiple-deaths/

 

References:

[1] http://sikkimfirst.in/2014/04/20/11-year-old-girl-drowns-in-teesta-river/

[2] http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/article1519865.ece?service=print

[3] http://archives.deccanchronicle.com/130328/news-current-affairs/article/five-drown-bhavani

[4] http://www.ndtv.com/article/tamil-nadu/toll-of-those-drowned-in-cauvery-rises-to-nine-165935

[5] http://lite.epaper.timesofindia.com/getpage.aspx?articles=yes&pageid=6&max=true&articleid=Ar00600&sectid=2edid=&edlabel=TOICH&mydateHid=10-01-2012&pubname=Times+of+India+-+Chennai+-+Times+Region&title=A+siren+could+have+saved+seven+lives&edname=&publabel=TOI

[6] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110524/region.htm

[7] https://sandrp.in/drp/July2006.pdf

[8] Matu Jan Sangathan, http://hindi.indiawaterportal.org/node/47403

[9] http://www.daijiworld.com/news/news_disp.asp?n_id=124216, http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/1-dam-2-projects-many-fools

[10] https://sandrp.in/drp/June_July-2008.pdf

[11] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/2006-tragedy-re-run-at-Datia-but-MP-govt-yet-to-release-probe-report/articleshow/24120250.cms,

http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/judicial-probe-into-datia-drowning/13990/

[12] https://sandrp.in/drp/jul_aug05.pdf

[13] http://www.internationalrivers.org/files/attached-files/nhpc_people_don27t_matter.pdf

PS:

http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/7-Students-Get-Justice-16-Yrs-after-Meeting-Watery-Grave/2014/09/18/article2437008.ece

7 Students Get Justice 16 Yrs after Meeting Watery Grave

By Express News Service Published: 18th September 2014 06:03 AM

BHUBANESWAR: In a significant judgment, a civil court on Wednesday awarded a compensation of `25 lakh each to the families of seven students of University College of Engineering (UCE) of Burla __ now VSS University of Technology __ who were swept away by unannounced and untimely release of water from Hirakud dam 16 years ago.

Civil Judge (Senior Division), Bhubaneswar, Sangram Keshari Patnaik, who pronounced the verdict in his 31-page judgement, ordered that the compensation be paid with 6 per cent interest effective from 2001, the year when the case was filed before the court.

The tragic incident had occurred on January 30, 1998 when eight students of the UCE of Burla were taking pictures on a sand bar of Mahanadi as part of the Spring Festival activity. The water flow of the river rose menacingly and barring Soubhagya Barik, the rest seven second-year engineering students were swept away and met their watery grave.

The Hirakud Dam authorities had allegedly opened nine gates during the non-monsoon season which led to the tragic incident as no caution was sounded before the release of the water.

The State Government ordered a Revenue Divisional Commissioner-level inquiry into the incident and the then RDC Hrushikesh Panda submitted the report to the Government on March 29, 1998. The Government accepted it on May 19.

The RDC, in his report, had examined 77 witnesses and 31 affidavits were filed. Panda, in his report, had highlighted the irresponsibility of the engineers and stated that even the Sambalpur Collector and the Superintendent of Police were not intimated about the  release of water, let alone the public.

Basing on the report, the State Government had announced a compensation of `3 lakh each to the family of seven students. However, considering the compensation inadequate, a petition was filed before the Orissa High Court. In 2001, the HC directed that the case must be filed before a civil court since it pertained to compensation.

According to Madhumadhab Jena and Sidharth Das, counsels for the deceased’s families, the Civil Judge Court took into account various aspects, including the academic background of the students of UCE.

Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas · Hydropower

The Socio-Ecological Impacts of Small Hydropower Projects in Himachal Pradesh Part-2

-Prof J. Mark Baker (JMark.Baker@humboldt.edu), Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA, USA

Introduction

This post is the second of a two part summary of the results of a study on the socio-ecological impacts of privatized, small, run-of-the-river hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh.[1]  The study is based on field research conducted in 2012 on all 49 completed small hydropower projects in the state.[1]  Part one, posted here on 8 June, reviews the implementation of the Himachal Pradesh power policy governing privatized small hydropower development and examines the local social and environmental effects of commissioned small (defined as 5 MW or less) hydropower projects.  This part will address two of the claimed local benefits of small hydropower development, namely monetary contributions by the project developer to local community development projects through the Local Area Development Authority (LADA) and local employment generation.  After a brief discussion of the relationship between small hydropower projects and carbon credits through the Clean Development Mechanism, the article reviews two promising institutional models for small hydropower development and concludes with a set of recommendations.

Local Area Development Authority– Implementation and Accountability Challenges

The 2006 Hydropower Policy includes provisions for tangible local benefits, in part to foster local support for power projects.  One primary mechanism is the requirement that project developers deposit one percent of the project cost into an account with the district commissioner.  These funds, known as Local Area Development Funds, are to be allocated by the Local Area Development Authority (LADA) to support local development activities, particularly related to infrastructure and services.[2]

In our survey of the 49 commissioned small hydropower projects we found that the LADA program was not working as well as intended.  Inconsistent record keeping by district authorities, the lack of clearly defined project affected areas, and uneven levels of awareness among local pradhans about the program have enabled some project developers in Himachal to avoid fulfilling their obligations to local communities.  The district revenue department office in Kangra was the only district office that maintained a comprehensive record of LADA obligations and tracked how much the project developer had paid and how much was still owed.  Without such a record, officials in the remaining six districts found it extremely difficult to hold the project developer accountable for their LADA payment obligations.  For example, in District Chamba, ten small hydropower projects together owe Rs 247 lakhs.  However, as of the summer of 2012 they had paid only Rs 70 lakhs and the developers of three projects had contributed nothing at all.  District administrators seem to have little authority or recourse, beyond personal persuasion, to compel the project developer to make the required contributions.

There are also challenges with defining the Project Affected Area (PAA) and Project Affected Zone (PAZ), which is important because 70% of the LADA funds are earmarked for projects in the PAA and 30% for projects in the PAZ.  Very few small hydropower projects have defined PAAs and none had defined a PAZ.  The lack of clearly defined affected areas raises questions about whether or not the authorized development projects actually reach those households and hamlets most affected by the hydropower project.

A related concern is the unevenness of awareness about the LADA program among village pradhans.  Several village pradhans, especially in the remote areas of the state, had never heard of the LADA program, even though one or more small hydropower projects were located within their panchayat boundaries.  Where the program was functional, there are sometimes disputes between the LADA committee and the district commissioner concerning which projects to fund and whether to prioritize projects oriented towards strengthening local employment generation or hard infrastructure development.

We did encounter one example of a panchayat in which the LADA program was working as intended.  The pradhan of the panchayat, located in District Kangra, was a retired military officer.  Well aware of the LADA obligations of the small hydropower project developers in his panchayat, he maintained close communication with the district commissioner’s office in order to ensure that the required deposits were made.  The pradhan also pressured the LADA committee to identify potential projects in a timely fashion and he followed up with the district commissioner to ensure that the expenditure of the requisite funds was authorized.  As a result, in this panchayat LADA funds had been used to construct a cricket playing field, veterinary dispensary, and a handsome hall for village meetings and social functions (figures 1 and 2).  Furthermore, in part due to the effective implementation of the LADA program and the fact that the small hydropower project did not annex cultivated areas, local opposition to the projects was virtually nonexistent.  This example suggests that the LADA can offer tangible local benefits if accurate records are kept, if the project developers are compelled to contribute the requisite amounts, if village pradhans know about the program and their entitlements under it, and if the district administration supports program implementation.

Mark1

Mark2

Employment Generation –Unrealized Potential for Secure Jobs

In addition to requiring project developers to contribute to the Local Area Development Authority, the 2006 Hydropower Policy seeks to generate local benefits by stipulating that 70% of the project’s workers be from Himachal Pradesh.  Because the lack of local employment opportunities is one of the primary drivers of migration from hill areas, the provision of permanent jobs through small hydropower projects could be a significant benefit.  In addition to a steady income, permanent regular employees participate in government-approved pension plans, receive compensation for work-related accidents and injuries, and are protected from arbitrary dismissal.  The project developer is also required to register all workers with the Labour Department and the local police station on a monthly basis.

While the 49 commissioned small hydropower projects in the state generate significant employment, more than half of project developers evade complying with labor law.  All told, the 49 projects employ a total of 951 people, 603 of whom come from the panchayat(s) in which the project is located.  On average, a 5 MW project employs approximately 20 people.  While the total employment these projects generate is substantial, only 22 project developers have registered their employees with the state Labour Department as regular employees.  These workers do receive the protections and benefits of the state’s labor laws, and some of them (in three projects) are also provided subsidized lodging and meals.  However, the workers in the remaining 27 small hydropower projects, while doing the same work as regular employees in other projects, are hired on a daily wage basis and are thus excluded from the benefits and security of regular employment.  A further disjuncture arises from the fact that only 11 project developers have established provident fund contributions for their employees, the remaining 38 have not.  For the majority of workers in small hydropower projects, one of the most important potential local benefits – secure employment – has not been realized.

Given the significant risk of injury or death in this sector, it is of particular concern that unregistered workers are less likely than registered workers to receive compensation should an accident occur.  While we did not develop comprehensive information about accidents and injuries, we did confirm worker deaths, the great majority of which occurred during the project construction phase due to tunnel collapses, falling rock, landslides, and tractor accidents.  A total of 40 people died in accidents related to the construction of the commissioned small hydropower projects in the state, 18 were Himachali and 22 were from neighboring states or from Nepal.  Only three of the families of the forty workers who died in fatal accidents received some form of compensation.  The lack of proper registration and the general absence of compensation suggests the extent to which project developers and their contractors treat workers as a disposable labor force.

The common practice of contracting out project construction work to subcontractors who hire large numbers of employees challenges the ability of unions to advocate for project workers.[3]  Questions arise concerning who is ultimately responsible for following the relevant labor laws and protections – the project developer or the developer’s subcontractors (figure 3)?  Project developers can evade accountability through the use of subcontractors or by creating subsidiary companies.  For example, in District Kangra in May, 2010 the local construction worker union notified a small hydropower project developer of its intent to strike due to violations of labor laws and working conditions.  In a letter the developer responded that the strike was “totally illegal and off the mark” as the developer was not the owner of the plant but was “merely the contractor.”  Furthermore the developer noted that the project was “generating power in the interest of the public of Himachal Pradesh,” and was “a property of the State and a national asset,” and thus the calling of the strike was “illegal from all perspectives.”  While it is true that the developer to whom the labor union had sent the notice of intent to strike is not the company listed as the owner of the project in the state of Himachal Pradesh’s records, it is also true that the listed company is actually a subsidiary of the developer, whose address is the same as the developer and whose website leads directly to that of the developer.  Furthermore, the power project is showcased on the developer’s website as one of four small hydropower projects they have constructed and are currently operating in District Kangra.  The developer’s attempt to evade accountability for labor law violations by creating a fictitious subsidiary demonstrates the challenges unions face when they seek redress for labor law violations and demand worker rightsMArk3NEW

 

Payments to Developers for Renewable Energy Production

Part One of this article discussed the economics of small hydropower development.  Clearly, the primary source of income developers receive is the guaranteed purchase price that the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board provides.  A second, and much smaller, source of revenue for some projects derives from the sale of carbon credits through the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, administered under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  The Clean Development Mechanism allows countries in the global south to sell carbon credits in the form of Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) to countries in the global north that need to purchase such reductions in order to meet emissions reduction limits that the Kyoto Protocol has imposed.  Projects in the global south may be eligible for registration under the Clean Development Mechanism if it can be demonstrated that their implementation will prevent carbon (measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents) from entering the atmosphere.  The resulting emission reductions can then be sold by the project developer to a carbon generating entity in the global north that needs to purchase such carbon credits.  In the context of small scale hydropower projects, developers argue that if they did not produce electricity using hydropower, the equivalent amount of electricity would be generated primarily through the burning of fossil fuels.  Thus, by producing electricity through hydropower, they are “preventing” a measureable amount of carbon from going into the atmosphere.  If their projects are registered under the Clean Development Mechanisms, then project developers may sell credits to entities in the global north.

Of the 49 commissioned small hydropower projects, approximately 27 are registered under the Clean Development Mechanism.[4]  According to documents relating to these 27 projects on the UNFCCC Clean Development Mechanism website, these hydropower projects are credited with generating 447651 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions reduction equivalents per year.  Project developers may sell these emissions reductions equivalents (carbon credits) to entities in the global north.  There are at least three points worth noting about these carbon credits.  Firstly, the value of carbon credits has dropped precipitously in the last few years, from a high of approximately rupees 760 in 2008 to its current price of less than rupees 50 per metric ton of carbon equivalent (redd-monitor.org 2013).[5]  The essential collapse of the international carbon credit market has been attributed to an oversupply of credits and weak demand (Singh 2014).  Secondly, there are serious concerns about the ethics of generating marketable carbon equivalents from projects that severely disrupt the livelihoods of communities as described in part one of this post.  Thirdly, there are questions about the integrity of the calculations and procedures employed to calculate the carbon equivalents of such projects and to justify project inclusion in the UNFCCC registry.  One of these questions centers on the requirement of additionality.  Additionality, as the Kyoto Protocol specifies, is the principle that projects are eligible for international support through the Clean Development Mechanism only if they would be uneconomical without such support.  Thus, a small hydropower project that is economically viable without the revenue from selling carbon credits is in principal barred from participating in the carbon credit program.  On the other hand, private sector loan officers will not approve financing for projects that are not economically viable.  At least some project developers resolve this contradiction by developing two sets of project documents.  As one project manager told me, “we prepare two DPRs (Detailed Project Reports), one for CDM and one for the banks.”

In light of the poor remuneration developers receive from the sale of carbon equivalents, at least some project developers expressed the desire to participate in the Government of India’s Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) program, which has its roots in the 2003 Electricity Bill and is part of the country’s renewable energy policy (Carbon Credit Capital 2011).  By becoming designated as “eligible entities” within the REC program, developers would receive one renewable energy certificate for every megawatt hour (MWh) that they sell to the state electricity grid.  Purchasing electricity produced by an eligible entity enables state utilities to meet their Renewable Purchase Obligation, which is the proportion of electricity they purchase that must come from renewable sources.  Eligible entities may trade renewable energy certificates on one of India’s two electricity exchanges.  As of 2012, no small hydropower developer had become an eligible entity within the REC program.  Several developers were interested in joining this program, however the fact that they already have power purchase agreements to sell electricity to the HP State Electricity Board renders them ineligible for the REC program.

Two Alternative Institutional Models for Future Small Hydropower Development

The track record of the 49 commissioned small hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh is cause for concern.  Patterns of disruption to farmer-managed irrigation systems as well as water mills (gharats), environmental and infrastructural damage from landslides in some regions (especially Chamba District), negative effects on fisheries and the livelihoods that fish farming and sport and subsistence fishing activities support, systemic problems with the Local Area Development Authority, significant uncompensated worker deaths during project construction and on-going concerns regarding labor relations, all comprise the local track record of small hydropower development in the state.  Leaving aside the broader question of whether or not small hydropower projects should be developed, it is clear that if they are going to be developed, then an alternative institutional framework is called for.

Two institutional models for small hydropower development exist that have the potential to realize more sustainable, effective and equitable hydropower outcomes.  These models are represented by the Sai Engineering Foundation (figure 4) and the Churah Cooperative Floriculture Society (figure 5).  Inspired by the teachings of the religious leader Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the religious ideals of Gandhian social service, Sai Engineering Foundation is a registered charitable foundation that promotes social welfare.  They have been involved with hydropower development since the first India Hilly Hydel demonstration projects in the 1990s.  They both own and manage their own projects and provide consulting services for other private power developers.  They invest the revenue from hydropower production in social service and welfare programs in Himachal Pradesh.  These activities include medical and blood donation camps, financial assistance to low income students, community-based welfare programs, working with government programs to deliver services to low income communities, and promoting cooperative societies in the field of power generation, construction, and floriculture (Sai Engineering Foundation 2011).  Because of the social service ideology that informs this organization, when the Sai Foundation develops small hydropower projects, it does so in a manner that prevents or mitigates the negative impacts on local livelihood strategies and is responsive to local concerns and issues.

The second alternative institutional arrangement is the Churah cooperative society.  Although the 2006 Hydropower Policy specifically addresses the need to prioritize working with cooperative societies, and despite repeated calls by community members for more support for local cooperative society involvement in hydropower development, our research revealed only one community-based cooperative society working on small hydropower development.  Since 1996 the Churah Valley Fruits, Vegetables, and Flowers Growers Marketing and Development Cooperative Society (Churah Floriculture Cooperative Society) has worked to promote the economic development of low income families in the Churah Valley, a remote area in Chamba District, not far from the border with Jammu and Kashmir.  The cooperative’s initial and on-going work involves developing floriculture using greenhouses, and marketing cut flowers to cities in north India, as well as off-season vegetable production in neighboring Pangi Valley.  Interestingly, they are also working to develop a small hydropower project under the framework of the 2006 Hydropower Policy.  Four hundred Below Poverty Line (BPL) households, all members of the cooperative society, are involved in this effort.  In order to qualify for the necessary loans, each household is putting up their house and land as collateral.  The cooperative society is currently securing the necessary funding and moving ahead with efforts to secure the required No Objection Certificates.  The revenue from the small hydropower project, once it is commissioned, will be shared among the participating families.

Feature

 

Both the Sai Engineering Foundation and the Churah Floriculture Cooperative Society represent viable alternatives to the current approach, which emphasizes corporate ownership of small hydropower facilities.  Both of these organizations are accountable to local concerns and interests and prioritize local social and environmental sustainability.  However, both the Sai Engineering Foundation and the Churah Floriculture Society face an uphill battle to get their projects approved and the requisite NOCs obtained.  Both organizations have fewer financial resources to offer in exchange for obtaining NOCs than do private companies; they are thus at a disadvantage when competing with private corporations for bureaucrats’ attention and willingness to provide NOCs.

Concluding Recommendations

Insights from this study provide the basis for proposing concrete steps that together could help small run-of-the-river hydropower projects realize their purported, but not realized, benefits.  Three broad categories of recommendations exist.  Firstly, the process through which potential hydropower sites are identified must include key elements of the agrarian landscape as well as the cumulative effects of multiple projects along a common stream reach; furthermore, when negative social and environmental effects are anticipated, they should be adequately mitigated.  Settlements, networks of kuhl irrigation systems, strings of gharats along streamcourses, irrigated and unirrigated cultivated areas, and proximity to adjacent projects, in addition to hydrological information, should be incorporated into the site evaluation and identification process.  Using this information to avoid siting projects in densely managed landscapes, or too close to each other, would help eliminate many of the negative project impacts on local livelihoods and communities.  In cases where projects do negatively affect local livelihoods, e.g. when a project renders gharats defunct, disrupts a community-managed irrigation system, or disturbs grazing or cultivated areas, then adequate compensation should be provided through a government-facilitated process.  Similarly, negative environmental effects should be mitigated, for example by requiring manual cleaning of desilting tanks, installation of fish-friendly diversion weirs, adequate water (quality and quantity) to support ecosystem needs, and effective muck management approaches.

Secondly, policy implementation and enforcement need to be strengthened.  While the 2006 HP Power Policy and state labour laws contain important safeguards for local communities and workers, implementation and enforcement need strengthening.  For example, district authorities need to be required and empowered to collect the mandatory developer contributions to the Local Area Development Authority.  LADA funds should be allocated in a manner that maximizes local benefits for project-affected households and communities. Similarly, labour laws requiring that workers doing regular work should be hired on a permanent, not a daily wage, basis should be enforced, and workers should receive the perquisites concomitant with regular employment, including compensation in the event of injury or death.  Projects that disrupt local livelihoods and generate unmitigated negative environmental effects should not qualify for carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism.  Greater policy and bureaucratic support also needs to be directed towards supporting alternative institutional models for small hydropower development, such as cooperative societies and social service foundations

Thirdly, governance measures that strengthen small hydropower projects’ accountability should be developed.  The record of negative social and environmental effects and the extent of local opposition, attests to the unsustainable nature of the current approach to small hydropower development.  Identifying and implementing governance measures to minimize these negative socio-ecological effects will likely provide a more informed and democratic basis for decision-making.  Measures such as requiring Environmental Impact Assessments, along with the requisite public hearings, as well as obtaining environmental clearance from the state, would go a long way to improving the sustainability of small hydropower in Himachal Pradesh.  If developers, after completing such assessments and hearings, and receiving clearance, were able to more easily obtain the necessary No Objection Certificates, then project delays would also be reduced.

Clearly, alternatives do exist for advancing institutional approaches to small hydropower development that are accountable to local communities and environmental concerns.  Whether or not the state of Himachal Pradesh (and other states since this is likely to be equally applicable to other states where such projects are taken up) chooses to embrace these approaches remains to be seen.  If the next 450 planned or under-construction small hydropower projects in the state generate a track record similar to the first fifty, then regional society and environment will be much the poorer for it.  However, if civil society mobilizations and resistance are sustained, and governance measures strengthened, then power developers will be held more accountable for the local impacts of their activities.  If the state government chooses to offer more support and capacity building resources for entities like cooperative societies and Sai Engineering Foundation, or at least removes some of the barriers they currently face, then these alternate institutional approaches to power development may proliferate.  And if in response to electoral pressures within the state, Himachal Pradesh decides to put more teeth into its currently progressive, but not enforced, power policy, then perhaps the future will be brighter than the recent past.

Please see Part I of the piece here:https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/the-socio-ecological-effects-of-small-hydropower-development-in-himachal-pradesh/

References

Carbon Credit Capital (2011) “India’s Renewable Energy Certificate Market” (New York).  Viewed on 9 June 2014.  Website: http://carboncreditcapital.com/dev/wp-content/uploads/resources/InFocus8.pdf

Newing, Helen (2011): Conducting Research in Conservation: Social Science Methods and Practice (New York: Routledge).

Redd-Monitor.org (2013) “Clean development mechanism: zombie projects, zero emissions reductions and almost worthless carbon credits”.  Viewed on 9 June 2014.  Website: http://www.redd-monitor.org/2013/07/12/clean-development-mechanism-7000-projects-zero-emissions-reductions-almost-worthless-carbon-credits-and-zombie-projects-increasing

Sai Engineering Foundation (2011): “Karmayoga”, Quarterly Newsletter of Sai Engineering Foundation, 1(11) (New Shimla, Himachal Pradesh).

Singh, Namrata (2014) “Companies holding carbon credits stare at ‘real loss’”.  Times of India.  Viewed on 9 June 2014.  Website: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Companies-holding-carbon-credits-stare-at-real-loss/articleshow/31803387.cms

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2014). “Project Cycle Search.” Viewed on 9 June 2014.  Website: http://cdm.unfccc.int/Projects/projsearch.html.

END NOTES:

1] This study is based on six months of mixed methods, qualitative and quantitative field research that I and two research assistants.  After an initial exploration of the relevance of this topic in 2009, field research commenced in January, 2012.  We began by meeting key state level bureaucrats in Shimla and collecting secondary documents concerning all of the 49 commissioned small hydropower projects from the Himurja (Himachal Pradesh Energy Development Agency) office in Shimla.  We then turned to the district and project level research.  In each district where commissioned small hydropower projects were located, we interviewed district officials and collected secondary information concerning the projects.  We met with district commissioners, sub-division magistrates, tehsildars, and other concerned district officers.  We informed officials of our research, garnered key insights about small hydropower development from them, and collected relevant information and project related records and documents.  We then focused our research efforts on each commissioned small hydropower project.  At each project location, we interviewed project representatives (generally the project manager and occasionally the project owner) and the panchayat pradhans of affected panchayats.  We conducted structured and semi-structured survey interviews with project-affected households and other key informants.  We checked all the information we obtained using between-subject, cross-method, and cross-researcher triangulation (Newing 2011).  We ground truthed what we learned through meetings, surveys and interviews by walking transects from the diversion weir down to the tail race of every commissioned project.  We also photocopied key documents such as petitions, correspondence, court documents, and judicial papers.  Near the completion of the fieldwork, I met the same state level officers and bureaucrats with whom I had met at the beginning of the fieldwork in order to share preliminary research findings and conclusions.

[2] The Local Area Development Authority is a committee, comprised of the sub-district magistrate, other subdivisional officers, affected area panchayat pradhans, and a representative of the project developer.  The committee identifies and prioritizes potential projects, and then submits the prioritized list of projects to the district commissioner, who is to then approve and authorize the necessary expenditure.  Examples of projects include a veterinary dispensary, ayurvedic dispensary, cremation ground, village meeting hall, furniture for meeting hall, irrigation system (kuhl) repair, culverts and road repair, footbridges and playing field for youth.

[3] The labor-intensive project construction process lasts at least two years and often significantly longer.  To accomplish specific tasks, subcontractors hire large numbers of workers.  The majority of these workers live in temporary tin shed housing located along the banks of the stream or river from which the project diverts water.  These “labor camps” often house one hundred or more workers.  The fuelwood consumption for cooking and heating (notwithstanding attempts to provide LPG cylinders) associated with these camps poses a significant environmental concern, as does the fact that most of these labor camps do not have adequate provision for wastewater and sewage.  Consequently the adjacent stream, which is invariably used downstream for washing, irrigation and other purposes, and stream bank, are severely contaminated.  While this research focused on already constructed projects, local residents nevertheless often complained about the negative environmental, health, and social impacts of these labor camps.

[4] This is based on a comprehensive review of the Project Cycle Search webpages of the Clean Development Mechanism segment of the UNFCCC website, accessed on 9 June 2014.

RELATED SUBSEQUENT STORIES:

[5] http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/irrigation-systems-himachal-threatened-hydropower-projects

 

 

Himachal Pradesh

The Socio-Ecological Effects of Small Hydropower Development in Himachal Pradesh

J. Mark Baker (JMark.Baker@humboldt.edu), Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA, USA

Introduction

This article is part one of a two part summary of the results of a study on the socio-ecological impacts of privatized, small, run-of-the-river hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh.[1]  It is based on field research conducted in 2012 on all 49 commissioned small hydropower projects in the state.

Map 1

In the late 1990s Himachal Pradesh, as did other states in this region, launched a series of initiatives to privatize and promote small hydropower production (Sinclair 2003).  In 2006 these initiatives were incorporated into a new hydropower policy that aimed to generate revenue through the sale of surplus power to neighboring states and to promote the state’s own development (GoHP 2006).  Because the levels of investment necessary to develop hydropower exceed the state’s financial resources as claimed by the policy, Himachal Pradesh’s power policy provides for private sector involvement and uses central government subsidies.  Small hydropower project construction and operation in Himachal Pradesh is entirely privatized (GoHP 2006).  Small hydropower projects mostly utilize run-of-the-river power generation technologies to convert hydropower into electricity; this study uses the Himachal Pradesh government definition of small as 5MW or less (though the Government of India defines small as below 25 MW capacity).[2]  By 2012, only six years after the implementation of the policy, there were a total of 49 small hydropower projects generating electricity in the state (including the approximately 8 projects commissioned before 2006) (map 1).  Additionally, approximately 50 more projects were under construction, and approximately 400 were in various stages of planning and approval (GoHP 2012) (map 2).[3]

Map 2

The state established a nodal agency, Himurja, to oversee the private development of the state’s small hydropower potential, and to promote utilization of renewable energy more generally.  In 2006 the state formalized the processes and mechanisms that govern private sector involvement in electricity production by passing the Hydropower Policy.  Himurja plays a central role in this process by allocating government-identified small hydropower project sites to private corporations.  After receiving an allotted project site, the corporation (referred to as the project developer or independent power producer) must prepare a series of detailed project reports that include, for example, two years of streamflow data and analysis of the engineering, economic, hydrological, geological, and environmental characteristics of the project.  Once Himurja officers approve these reports, they and the project developer sign a Memorandum of Understanding, a Techno-Economic Clearance document and eventually an Implementation Agreement.  At that point the developer begins the work of securing the required No Objection Certificates (NOCs) from the relevant state and local government entities including the Wildlife Department, Forest Department, Irrigation and Public Health Department Fisheries Department, Public Works Department, Pollution Control Board, Revenue Department, and affected Panchayats.  After obtaining the required certificates, the power producer may commence project construction.

Construction costs generally range from Rs 6-8 crores per megawatt, but these are quickly recouped through the sale of electricity to the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board.  Once the project is commissioned, the HP State Electricity Board guarantees the independent power producer a purchase price of Rs 2.50 per kilowatt hour – the equivalent of approximately Rs 2.2 crores per megawatt per year.[4]  The project reverts to the state government free of cost after 40 years of operation.  The developer pays the state government no power royalties for the first 12 years of the project’s life.  However, for the next 18 years the developer must provide 12% of the power it produces free of charge to the state; for the remaining 10 years it must provide 18% free electricity to the state.

For small hydropower projects, there is no requirement that the project developer prepare a formal environmental and social impact assessment or environmental and social management plan subject to public review.  Nor is the developer required to hold public hearings about the proposed project.  This is a serious issue because the absence of a formal environmental assessment and hearing process prevents members of project-affected communities and other civil society groups from sharing concerns about the projects’ anticipated effects.  This is one of the reasons for the growing and significant level of local opposition to small hydropower development in the state.  A significant amount of the local opposition to small hydropower projects stems from the ways in which such projects disrupt rural livelihoods, combined with the inadequacy of local benefits such as rural employment generation and other forms of direct compensation.  The next sections describe some of the livelihood disruptions the commissioned small hydropower projects have caused.  The discussion is organized district by district, reflecting the geographical pattern of these disruptions.

District Kangra – disruption to local irrigation systems and farmer collective action

The majority of District Kangra lies on the southern side of the Dhaula Dhar mountain range, from where it extends across Kangra Valley and into the Sivalik Hills.  The district is notable for its extensive network of community-managed gravity flow irrigation systems (kuhls).  In Kangra Valley alone 750 large and more than 2100 small kuhls irrigate approximately 40000 hectares (Baker 2005) (figure 1).[5]  Kuhl irrigation water is crucial for both kharif crops (rice and corn) and rabi crops (wheat and potatoes).  These crops, except for potatoes, are almost entirely used for home consumption.  Historically, kuhl irrigation water was essential for driving water-powered mills (gharats) and other machines, as well as irrigating home gardens, watering livestock, and meeting household needs for non-potable water.  The importance of ensuring the continuity of these kuhl irrigation systems is reflected in the language of the No Objection Certificates that project developers must obtain from the Irrigation and Public Health Department as well as from village panchayat pradhans.  These certificates contain language that protects community-managed kuhls from disruptions by small hydropower projects and requires the developer to pay full compensation if a project damages or disrupts a community-managed kuhl.

Fig 1

Despite the protections delineated in the No Objection Certificates, small hydropower projects commonly disrupt kuhl irrigation systems or cause them to cease functioning altogether, either by physically damaging the irrigation system or by diverting the water on which the irrigation system relies (figure 2).  When a kuhl is damaged or deprived of water, farmers must shift to rainfed cultivation.  Output from rainfed crops is invariably much less than for irrigated crops, in part due to unpredictable rainfall, increased vulnerability to drought, and damage from hailstorms at harvest time.  Throughout the state, small hydropower projects have disabled a total of at least 13 kuhl irrigation systems; in none of these cases did the project developer compensate farmers for their losses.  This level of disturbance to irrigation is significant – for example, one of the disabled kuhls was the primary source of irrigation water for approximately 2000 households.

Fig 2

Not all local farmers have not stood by idly, watching the lifeline of their subsistence agricultural economy go dry.  Our research documented countless visits from village representatives to district administrative authorities petitioning them to intercede on their behalf in order to seek redress, compensation, and/or release of adequate water flows necessary for irrigation.  Despite these frequent and often repeated requests, we did not encounter one instance in which the district administration prevailed upon the power producer to either compensate for disruptions to these irrigation systems or reduce water diversion to provide adequate water supply.[6]

Seeing the futility of seeking redress for damage or guaranteed minimum flows from already-constructed projects, farming communities in Kangra have started blocking construction of hydropower projects until the power developer agrees to binding conditions.  One example of this concerns Ganetta Kuhl, which diverts water from the Baner stream and conveys it 22 kilometers to the cultivated lands of more than 500 households in 12 different villages.  The diversion weir for a partially completed small hydropower plant is located upstream of the kuhl’s diversion point.[7]  Farmers worried that the project’s water diversion would reduce the water available to them.  When letters outlining farmers’ concerns sent to Prodigy Hydro Power, the deputy commissioner, and even to the chief minister by the panchayat pradhan and kuhl committee president did not produce results, the irrigators used the threat of opposition and civil disobedience to block further project construction (figure 3).  As a result, project construction work was halted for many months.  Finally, in 2013, the project developer agreed to the farmers’ demands, including that their water rights be guaranteed, and in return the farmers rescinded their threats; construction work on this project is currently underway.

Fig 3

The problems associated with project disruption of traditional irrigation systems are most pronounced in District Kangra due to the large number of kuhl irrigation systems.  However, our research revealed that any location in the state in which kuhl diversion structures are located between a project’s trench weir and tail race were liable to experience water shortages during the year.

Chamba District – landslides, damaged watermills, and local activism

District Chamba lies to the north of District Kangra and contains the headwaters of the Ravi River and key tributaries, all of which have cut deeply into the Himalayan mountains.  Because it lacks the broad arable plains that characterize the kuhl-irrigated Kangra Valley, farmers in Chamba combine rainfed cultivation on terraced fields carved into steep slopes with a high level of dependence on timber and non-timber forest resources, which meet both subsistence needs and generate revenue.  The streams that flow from the forests down through the cultivated fields and villages to eventually join the Ravi River often power 10, 20, or more gharats (water-powered mills).

One of Chamba District’s defining characteristics is its steep topography.  Not only are the roads carved, at times precariously, into steep mountain faces, but there are also numerous signs of natural and human-caused landslides.  In some instances the failure of a terraced field has initiated a landslide whose head swale climbs higher upslope each monsoon season.  In other cases road construction is clearly the culprit, especially where roads traverse steep, unstable slopes or cross ravines that may washout during monsoon storms.

Fig 4

In steep, geologically unstable terrain such as this, small hydropower projects trigger large landslides that not only cause extensive environmental damage but may also damage or destroy the project itself.[8]  The Terailla Project is a case in point.  Located beyond the small town of Tissa in a remote area of Chamba District, this is one of four small hydropower projects that take turns diverting and returning the Terailla River’s water in quick succession.  The power channel of the Terailla Project is carved from a steep, unstable slope containing loose gravel and large rocks and boulders.  After the project was commissioned in 2007, landslides destroyed large sections of the power channel.  Car-size boulders slid downslope and deformed the one meter diameter pipe near the upper end of the power channel (figure 4).  Two other landslides carried large sections of the concrete box power channel down the slope towards the source stream (figure 5).  As of the summer of 2012 this power project had been nonoperational for one year due to the landslide damage.[9]

Fig 5

The upper edge of the growing landslide continues to move upslope and is now destroying the common grazing grounds of the adjacent village; if the rate of the slide’s uphill movement continues, then it will begin approaching the village itself.  Additionally, project roads constructed across adjacent steep slopes to provide access to the diversion weir and to the power house have themselves triggered further landslides.  Despite the clear potential for landslides in this area, the Detailed Project Report submitted by the power developer to HIMURJA states that there is no landslide risk in the project area.  That this faulty assessment was accepted and the project approved suggests there are problems with the government review process.

The four tightly spaced small hydropower projects along the Terailla River have triggered numerous small and large landslides and wrought negative environmental and livelihood impacts.  These include damage to grazing land and cultivated areas, destruction of gharats and other landslide-related damage.  The cumulative negative effects of these projects have generated significant local opposition.  Local community members have protested on numerous occasions and filed multiple court cases against these projects.   Some protesters, including local village women, have been arrested and detained overnight in jail.  The close proximity of these projects along one stream reach raises concerns about the cumulative impacts of clustered small hydropower projects.  This is especially troubling because the project review process contains no mechanism for assessing the cumulative impacts of multiple projects located along the same stream or river.

Damage to gharats from small hydropower projects occurs commonly in Chamba.  Gharats are the most common method for grinding corn, wheat, and occasionally rice.  In exchange for grinding neighbors’ grain, the gharat owner usually receives 10% of the volume of grain they grind.  These in-kind payments support the gharat owner’s family.  Interestingly, in our surveys we found many examples of woman-owned and managed gharats; in most of these cases the woman was either a widow or the head of her household.  Thus gharats are an important livelihood source for this otherwise disadvantaged group of people.

Fig 6

The 49 commissioned small hydropower projects in the state have stopped 104 gharats, either by destroying them due to land and rockslides or by diverting so much water that the gharat had to be abandoned due to lack of water (figures 6 and 7).[10]  The elimination of these 104 gharats weakens the economic stability of the large number of households whose livelihoods they previously sustained.  Although the Irrigation and Public Health Department No Objection Certificate directs the power developer to provide adequate water flows for gharats, the policy contains no requirement that compensation be paid gharat owners if the project damages their gharat or restricts the water available for diversion.  This gap in the hydropower policy, which stems from urban policy makers’ general dismissal and undervaluation of gharats’ importance, suggests why the owners of many of these gharats received no compensation.[11]

Fig 7

Seeing the pattern of uncompensated damage, gharat owners in one stream in Chamba decided on a proactive strategy.  For six months, using threats of direct action against a newly-commissioned small hydropower project, the owners of 12 project-affected gharats stopped the power project from operating until an acceptable compensation agreement was successfully negotiated.  Eventually, through negotiations between the gharat owners, the power developer and the district commissioner, an agreement was reached that ensured acceptable levels of compensation for affected gharat owners.  Based on the assumption that the gharat contributed the equivalent of a daily wage for the household (Rs 120), and the expected life of the power project (40 years), the negotiated settlement consisted of a series of five annual payments which together would total the equivalent of 40 years of daily wage labor.  After the first payment had been made to the concerned gharat owners, they removed their opposition to the project and it began producing and selling electricity.  However, as one gharat owner noted, if their payments cease, they will again stop the project through direct action.

The ability of these gharat owners to successfully engage in direct action and then negotiation reflects the pre-existing patterns of social activism and strong local governance traditions prevalent in Chamba.  Local leaders, inspired by Gandhian ideologies of self-governance and sustainable local livelihoods, have worked to strengthen village panchayat institutions over the last two decades.  This awareness building and social mobilization has centered on defending village community timber and non-timber forest product rights, advocating for community-based medicinal herb collection, and strengthening village level democratic institutions (Gaul 2001).  The resulting awareness and knowledge concerning local rights and democratic process has empowered local communities to defend against livelihood threats, including threats from small hydropower projects.

Kullu District – threats to apple wealth, tourism

Kullu District’s fame, which extends throughout India and indeed the world, stems from a variety of characteristics that also influence the pattern of socio-economic and environmental consequences of small hydropower development.  The district, located to the east of Districts Kangra and Chamba, tends to be relatively wealthy, in part due to the revenue from the cultivation of apples and stone fruit.  Other key sources of local revenues include the film productions that regularly occur in the picturesque mountainous scenery, year-round tourism resulting from Kullu’s attraction to honeymooners and outdoor sports enthusiasts, and Kullu’s prominent pilgrimage destinations, which attract large numbers of pilgrims from throughout north India.  The streams and rivers of Kullu District also support the largest number of private trout farms in the state as well as the Fisheries Department’s fish stocking program, which in turn attracts anglers from around the world and whose efforts are supported by the Himachal Angling Association.  Lastly, parts of the district possess unique ecological and biodiversity values, which conservation efforts within the Forest Department, and especially the creation of the Great Himalaya National Park, seek to conserve and maintain.

The diverse elements of the economic foundations of the district – fruit cultivation, commercial film production, tourism, pilgrimage, fisheries opportunities, and conservation values – also heighten the stakes associated with the proliferation of hydropower projects.  The cumulative impacts of the 11 completed small hydropower projects in the district (with many more under construction and planned) undermine the integrity and value of these elements.

The cumulative effects of transmission line infrastructure threaten the aesthetic and economic values of the Kullu landscape.  As noted previously, private power developers are responsible for constructing power towers and installing transmission lines to convey the electricity they produce to the nearest HPSEB substation.  This is a significant undertaking as the distance between power projects and substations ranges from 3 to 15 kilometers.  When multiple power projects are located in one valley, each must separately construct transmission infrastructure; as the density of power projects increases, so does the resulting network of transmission lines spreading across the picturesque mountain landscape.  Already this density has created negative effects.  Residents we surveyed decried the ugly transmission lines that cut through the fruit orchards in the main Kullu Valley and also traverse the deodar forests and cultivated areas of the tributary watersheds of the Beas River.  Many Kullu residents link the area’s natural beauty with the tourism and film industry and are worried about the negative effects on it of hydropower development.  For example, a panchayat pradhan likened the white boulders of the dewatered reach of the Beas River to bleached bones and asked whether tourists would like to see those instead of clean, free running water.  Regarding transmission lines, one local film production manager noted ruefully that the density of transmission lines in the valley has already disrupted shooting operations and is challenging the ability of film crews to obtain sequences not marred by transmission lines. Seeing the damage to apple orchards from transmission line construction and the fact that at least one person has died from electrocution from a low hanging power line, families that own land where towers need to be constructed are increasingly reluctant to sell the small plot of land necessary to construct the power tower.

Kullu District – threats to fisheries-based livelihoods

The negative effects of small hydropower development on water quality and fisheries-based livelihoods were also particularly evident in Kullu District.  In addition to reducing the quantity of water available for kuhl irrigation systems and for gharats, as discussed above, small hydropower projects also affect water quality.  Project managers clean desilting tanks by flushing the accumulated silt directly back into the source stream, thus creating a slug of sediment that harms downstream water quality and aquatic habitat and species.

These sediment slugs negatively affect downstream fisheries operations, both private and government.  The Himachal Pradesh Fisheries Department’s oldest trout hatchery is located at Patlikuhl in Kullu Valley (figure 8).  Established in 1909, the hatchery diverts water from the Sujan stream before it joins the Beas River.  In 1988 a joint Indo-Norwegian effort was initiated to commercialize trout production (Sehgal 1999).  The hatchery now operates independently of Norwegian support.  In 2009-2010 it produced 3.75 lakhs of fish ova, 80 metric tons of fish feed (sold to local fish farmers and as far away as Sikkim, Bhutan, and Uttarakhand), and 12 metric tons of fish (Fisheries Department records 2012).  This fish hatchery operation anchors the state’s fish stocking program and supplies fingerlings and other inputs to the growing number of households in Kullu that have established fish farming operations.  The hatchery depends on clean, cold, oxygenated water to successfully manage the large number of tanks where fish eggs are fertilized and the ova are reared to become fingerlings or adults.  Already, commissioned power projects (small and large) have increased sedimentation in the Sujan stream and more projects are planned.  Hatchery managers are concerned about the threats to their source water posed by upstream hydropower development; they have written letters expressing this concern to the Director of the Fisheries Department.

Fig 8

When asked about the Fisheries Department’s ability to require water quality protection measures as a condition for approving the No Objection Certificate, the Fisheries Department official in charge of the Patlikuhl fish hatchery stated that initially department officers had attempted to restrict the proliferation of small hydropower projects due to their negative effects on fisheries and aquatic ecology.  In some instances they had refused to provide a No Objection Certificate or they had required stringent water quality protection measures.  However, the officer noted in a resigned manner that eventually they “had to give the NOC; it is the policy of the government” (to promote small hydropower).

Many local communities share the Fisheries Department’s concerns about the negative water quality impacts of small hydropower projects, especially given the recent growth of fish farming.  The fingerlings and fish food from the Patlikuhl Fish Hatchery have enabled fish farming in Kullu District to grow rapidly from only four or five small private fish farms a few years ago to 52 farms.  In 2011 these farms produced more than 50 metric tons of trout, which were sold to local and more distant markets at Rs 250-350 per kilogram and netted each of these 52 families approximately Rs 3 lakhs.  This scale of economic production is significant.  And, given the market and transportation linkages with large cities such as Chandigarh, Delhi, and even Mumbai, the potential demand for farmed trout far exceeds current production.  However, the negative effects on water quality from hydropower development could significantly limit realization of this potential.

The potential threat small hydropower development poses for fish farming has strengthened local community opposition, which occasionally manifests as local panchayat refusal to grant the No Objection Certificate.  One example of this concerns the controversy over small hydropower development planned for Haripur Nullah, a tributary of the Beas River on the east side of Kullu Valley.  A project developer had been seeking the requisite NOCs from the three panchayats within whose boundaries the project fell.  Concerned residents, including retired government officers and educators, had earlier formed a local organization (Jan Jagran Vikas Sanstha, JJVS) to successfully oppose a planned ski resort in their area (Asher 2008).  This same group of individuals mobilized against the proposed small hydropower project, due to the anticipated damage to the private and government fish farms the stream supports and the negative effects on the four affected kuhls, the numerous gharats along Haripur Nullah, and the local government seed farm and private agricultural production in the project affected area.  Due to this well organized local opposition, at eight different meetings the developer was unsuccessful in obtaining the NOC.  Finally, just prior to a panchayat election (which the pradhan was not planning to contest) the developer, through a “miracle” (as recounted by JJVS members), managed to obtain a signed NOC from the pradhan.  JJVS members rejected the validity of the NOC, which they claimed was obtained through undue influence, and sought redress through the district administration as well as the local courts.[12]  Meanwhile, despite continued local opposition, the project developer has begun construction.

The intersections between fish, livelihoods, and small hydropower development extend to both sport fishing and subsistence fishing.  Individuals that engage in subsistence fishing obtain cast net licenses from the Fisheries Department.  In 2011 there were 350, 200, and 2000 cast net license holders in Districts Kullu, Chamba, and Kangra, respectively.  The Fisheries Department estimates that in the state overall approximately 10000 households depend entirely or significantly on subsistence fishing for their livelihood.  Sport fishing is also a significant and growing source of economic revenue, especially for those who operate fishing lodges and otherwise cater to sport fishers.  In 2011 the Fisheries Department allocated 752 sport fishing licenses in Kullu District, the center of sport fishing for Himachal Pradesh.  The Tirthan River, which flows out of the Great Himalaya National Park and travels approximately 16 kilometers before it joins with the Sainj and then the Beas Rivers, is one of the centers of sport trout fishing.  The Himachal Angling Association, an active organization that promotes sport fishing, held its 2012 Trout Anglers Meet at Sai Ropa on the Tirthan River.  The keynote address at the angling competition, given by the Association’s Secretary General, advanced strategies for strengthening “Angling Tourism” and denounced the negative impacts of small hydropower development on fisheries and the livelihoods they support.

Fig 9

The competition was attended by Mr. Dilaram Shabab, the retired MLA from this area who had spearheaded the successful effort to have the Tirthan River watershed declared off limits to small hydropower development (figure 9).  Local panchayats, community members, and fishing lodge owners, with the able support and vision of Mr. Dilaram Shabab, as well as eventual backing from Fisheries Department, Forest Department and Great Himalayan National Park officials, launched a five year court battle against small hydropower development in this watershed.  After three years of arguments and rulings in the Kullu District Court and more than one year in the High Court in Shimla, the High Court presiding judge ruled in favor of the arguments set forth concerning the negative effects on the environment, fisheries, and affected communities of the planned small hydropower projects in the watershed.  The court declared the Tirthan off limits to all hydropower projects, and it cancelled the 9 previously approved small hydropower projects (Civil Writ Petition 1038 2006).[13]  This is the only example in Himachal Pradesh of a watershed being declared permanently off limits to hydro development.

This concludes part one of this two part article.  The second part will address labor issues related to small hydropower development and the functioning of the Local Area Development Authority (LADA).  It will also discuss two promising institutional models for small hydropower development and offer a set of recommendations.

J. Mark Baker (JMark.Baker@humboldt.edu), Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA, USA

Please see Part II of this piece here: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/the-socio-ecological-impacts-of-small-hydropower-projects-in-himachal-pradesh-part-2/

References:

Asher, Manshi (2008): “Impacts of the Proposed Himalayan Ski Village Project in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh – A Preliminary Fact Finding Report” (Himachal Pradesh: Him Niti   and Jan Jagran Evan Vikas Samiti).

Baker, J Mark (2005): The Kuhls of Kangra: Community Managed Irrigation in the Western Himalaya (Delhi: Permanent Black).

Gaul, Karen K (2001): “On the Move: Shifting Strategies in Environmental Activism in Chamba District of Himachal Pradesh”,  Himalaya, 21(2):70-78.

Government of Himachal Pradesh (2006): “Hydro Power Policy”, (Shimla).

Government of Himachal Pradesh (2012): “Memorandums of Understanding”, Himachal Pradesh Energy Development Agency (Himurja).  Viewed on 25 May 2012. Website: (http://himurja.nic.in/moutilldate.html).

Payne, Adam (2010): “Rivers of Power, Forests of Beauty: Neo-Liberalism, Conservation and the Governmental Use of Terror in Struggles Over Natural Resources”, Columbia Undergraduate Journal of South Asian Studies, 2(1):61-92.

Sehgal, KL (1999): “Coldwater Fish and Fisheries in the Indian Himalayas: Culture” in T Petr  (ed.), Fish and fisheries at higher altitudes: Asia. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 385. (Rome: FAOF).

Selvaraj, S and A Badola (2012): “Validation of the Small Hydro Power Project by Prodigy Hydro Power Private Limited”, (Neuilly Sur Seine, France: Bureau Veritas Certification).

Sinclair, John (2003): “Assessing the Impacts of Micro-Hydro Development in Kullu District, Himachal Pradesh, India”, Mountain Research and Development, 23(1):11-13.

END NOTES:

[1] The material presented here is partly excerpted from a recent article in Economic and Political Weekly, “Small Hydropower Development in Himachal Pradesh: an Analysis of Socioecological Effects,” vol XLIX no 21, pages 77-86.

[2] Run-of-the-river power small hydro projects divert water from a source stream or river through a dam or trench weir into a settling tank where the silt and sediment load settles to the bottom.  From there the water is conveyed through a power channel (usually a large diameter pipe or concrete box tunnel) away from the source stream along a slight downhill gradient.  The power channel length varies from one to as long as eight kilometers.  From the power channel the water flows into the forebay and then passes into the steeply sloped penstock and then inside the power house where the force of the water is used to drive one or more turbines.  The electricity the turbines produce is monitored and managed through a complex set of operating controls.  Power lines one to fifteen kilometers in length convey the generated power to the nearest HP State Electricity Board substation, at which point the power joins the state’s power grid.

[3] The 49 commissioned power projects have a total generating capacity of about 200 MW, which represents about 20% of the small hydropower potential in the state.  Some of these projects were commissioned prior to the 2006 Hydropower Policy.  This article restricts its focus to small (5 MW or less, as defined by the Himachal Pradesh Power Policy) hydropower projects, which are often considered socially and environmentally benign.  Large hydropower projects are also proliferating across the state, and have their own socio-ecological impacts.  Sometimes small and large hydropower projects are located on the same stream or river; however, most of the commissioned small hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh are located in different watercourses, and generally upstream, of medium and large hydropower projects.

[4] This rate of return assumes the power project operates at full capacity year round.  However, even at half capacity, these projects still fetch a handsome return on investment, especially when central government subsidies are taken into account.

[5] A large kuhl may be defined as irrigating land in more than one village while a small kuhl irrigates land within one village.

[6] This is primarily due to the reluctance of power producers to allow water to flow across their diversion weir without capturing it and harnessing it to generate power and revenue.  Farmers, especially subsistence farmers using traditional irrigation systems, generally do not have the political power and access to the district’s administrative machinery to force power producers to forego potential revenue in order to allow local traditions of water management to flourish.  While some farmers in Sirmaur District resorted to the purchase of diesel pumpsets to lift water to irrigate cash crops (bell peppers, green beans and tomatoes), these efforts also failed due to the lack of water in the stream reach between the hydroproject’s diversion weir and tail race.

[7] Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, this same project received validation through a third party assessment under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol for producing Certified Emissions Reductions and satisfying the criteria for being a quality project (Selvaraj, S. et al. 2012).

[8] Indeed, the destructive landslides and other environmental degradation associated with this form of hydropower along the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins resulted in the August 2013 Supreme Court stay on further hydropower development in neighboring Uttarakhand (Hon K S Radhakrishnan 2013).

[9] The Detailed Project Report for this project should have identified these landslide and slippage risks.  In this case the report did not mention this risk.  In the conclusion of the “Geological and Geotechnical Studies” chapter, the report notes that “on the basis of geological investigation carried out it is recommended that weir site, feeder channel, desilting tank, power channel, forebay, penstock and powerhouse sites are geologically suitable for construction.  There is no major geological problem around the study area.”  The next line notes that “there is no landslide zone.”  Clearly this report, upon which approval was granted to the project developer to construct the project, contained inaccurate information about landslide risk.  This raises the issue of how much review of the Detailed Project Reports Himurja officers should undertake.  At least in this case, ground truthing could have avoided these severe and ongoing problems.

[10] In more than one instance, though the power developer told us that no gharats were located between the project’s diversion weir and tail race, site visits to the stream reach revealed this not to be true.

[11] Compensation rates for those gharat owners that did receive some form of compensation varied widely and seemed to depend on the relative bargaining power of gharat owners.  Compensation ranged from monthly payments of Rs 3000 to lump sum payments of Rs 2 to 16.5 lakhs.

[12] The members of JJVS hypothesized that the pradhan had either been paid or coerced into authorizing the NOC, though there is no evidence to support this since there has been no investigation into this issue.  Using monetary incentives to obtain the necessary no objection clearances is common practice.  We heard many instances in which a No Objection Certificate was obtained from a panchayat for a payment of between Rs 30000 to 50000.  As discussed above, NOCs must be obtained from a number of different government agencies, in addition to the project-affected panchayats.  A general rule of thumb appears to be that obtaining NOCs from all the necessary entities usually costs approximately Rs 50 lakhs per megawatt of installed capacity.

[13] The court decision hinged on the anticipated negative effects of the projects on trout and other Tirthan River fisheries, anticipated local livelihood disruptions related to damage to gharats and kuhl irrigation, the fact that the projects would provide little local benefit (minimal local employment would be provided, electricity was not needed locally), and claims that the project documents lacked a real assessment of the burdens of the project on local communities.  The proximity of the projects along the Tirthan River to the Great Himalaya National Park, with its populations of threatened Western Tragopan, Monal and other pheasants, Musk Deer and other species, also influenced the court’s judgment concerning the relative merits and demerits of these small hydropower projects (Payne 2010).

Related subsequent stories:

[14] http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/irrigation-systems-himachal-threatened-hydropower-projects