“Bolo Jai Jai Baba Bhole”, the Prime Minister Narendrabhai Modi, while speaking at Kedarnath in Uttarakhand in Oct 2017[i], asked the people in audience to chant with him. Indian deity Mahadev, the presiding deity at Kedarnath on the banks of Mandakini river is possibly the closest to rivers and nature among all the deities, as is also clear from his attire. Baba Bhole is one of the many names of this deity. Incidentally, the massive, controversial Pancheshwar Dam a pet project of Mr Modi will also submerge the Pancheshwar Mahadev Temple, where too, the presiding deity is same Bhole Baba. But we will come back to Bhole Baba. Continue reading “Who exactly needs the Pancheshwar Dam?”
Kinnaur in crisis; Sheer Negligence in hydro projects claiming lives. Who is accountable?
Above: Entirely destabilised house next to 100 MW Sorang HEP transmission lines Photo: Sumit Mahar
Immediate Press Statement from Himdhara 02/12/15
In the last two weeks a half a dozen lives have been lost in the Kinnaur region alone in three separate incidents that have one thing in common – accidents at hydropower project sites. The first event took place in Burang village on the 18th of November 2015 where a penstock pipe burst of the 100 MW Sorang Hydro-electric project led to the death of three people. On 29th November, two labourers died in blasting operations in the 450 MW Shongthong Karchham project, some others were seriously injured. And on the same day in the Bhabha Valley, a young teacher lost her life in a landslide that occurred in the area. Continue reading “Kinnaur in crisis; Sheer Negligence in hydro projects claiming lives. Who is accountable?”
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.
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) 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 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.
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’ 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.
 The full report is available on our web site, at: https://sandrp.in/Headwater_extinctions221114.pdf
 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.
 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/.
 Caveat, there are honest exceptions, but this is a generalization that describes the predominant phenomenon.
Dibang Insensitivity Analysis : FAC recommendation can destroy 4577 ha rich Forests
Reaching exasperating lows of environment decision making, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC is a statutory body of the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) formed under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. FAC appraises Forest diversion proposals) has recommended Forest Clearance to the 3000 MW Dibang Project on Dibang river in Arunachal Pradesh.
While we had already written against this recommendation, what is nearly unbelievable is that this recommendation has come at just 10 meters height reduction of the dam from the proposed 288 meters.
This was the very same NHPC proposal which was rejected twice by the FAC in the past, despite this token 10 meter height reduction. In fact in April 2014, the FAC said that 10 mt reduction does not take care of any pertinent impacts for which the proposal was rejected in the first place in July 2013! A 10 m reduction would still mean destruction of 3.24 lakh trees and submergence of 4577.84 hectares, nearly 12000 acres, of rich bio-diverse forest.
The usually reticent MoEFCC (Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, MoEF earlier) too had issued a strong-worded rejection to this scheme in August 2014, stating that 10 meters reduction is nothing in the face of what is being lost. The rejection letter stated: “Such a marginal reduction in requirement of the forest land (445 hectares reduction, reducing forest requirement from 5056 hectares to 4577 hectares) for the project may not be able to reduce the adverse impact of project on such a biodiversity-rich mature forest ecosystem to the extent which could make the project environmentally as well as socio-economically viable in forest dependent tribal society of Arunachal Pradesh”.
This letter from the same ministry certified that the 10 m reduction proposal still leaves the project environmentally, socio-economically unviable. So an environmentally and socio-economically unviable project has been recommended clearance by the statutory FAC (and also the separate recommendation a week earlier by the same MEFCC’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects)!
This shows that the decision of FAC is devoid of merits, will invite huge opposition from Arunachal Pradesh, Downstream Assam, North East India, and even beyond and will not pass legal scrutiny. The decision seems to have been taken under pressure from the political masters. Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal has been dreaming of clearance to this project, as is clear from his road map published on completion of 100 days of office for the new NDA government. He has also been pressurizing the MoEFCC to clear the project by hook or by crook. The FAC was reconstituted and the reconstituted FAC has obliged the minister in its very first meeting. In the process, the entire FAC has violated its mandate and should be held accountable for this.
Regrettably, MoEFCC seems to have become the willing punching bag of not only above-mentioned ministries, but even unrelated ministries like Ministry of Mines and Minerals, Ministry of Steel ,etc., whose ministers and Secretaries were present for the meeting: “to Expedite Clearances”. (Incidentally, when was the last time we heard MEFCC resisting such arm-twisting, or forthrightly suggesting any pro-environment measures to other ministries?)
Before the minutes of the September FAC meeting were out on Oct 22, 2014 (there was an inordinate delay this time, raising suspicion of negotiated minutes and again breaking all norms of conduct), there was discussion in media that Dibang was cleared, but even the hard-core skeptics believed that this recommendation must have come after a 20 meter or 40 meter height reduction, for obvious reasons.
But the FAC seems to have outdone itself. As stated above, the recommendation has come at 10 mts height decrease, for which the FAC had rejected the project and MoEF had issued a rejection letter in the past.
As we discussed in detail in our last blog on Dibang project, the twice-rejected project was up for discussions again in Sept 2014 only after considerable arm-twisting of the MEFCC by the Cabinet Committee of Investment, Ministry of Power, Project Developer NHPC and Arunachal State Government. This time it was for a supposed sensitivity analysis (done by the developer!) for studying the feasibility of reducing the height of the project upto 40 meters from its original height of 288 meters.
This sensitivity analysis was not shared with anyone, not even the FAC members till the day of the FAC meeting, breaking all codes of conduct of transparency, participation and informed decision making in governance. SANDRP wrote about this to the Minister and Secretary of MoEFCC as well as the Member of the FAC, but received no response.
Looking at the minutes, it is clear that the FAC members have lapped up the logic presented by the developer and the Ministry of Power which in a nutshell says that “10 meters reduction is sufficient as the ratio of forest land required per MW is lowest at 10 meters reduction.” This twisted logic reduces all decision making related to forests, even biodiversity-rich forests supporting endemic, unstudied species, local protests, downstream impacts etc., to mere number crunching of forest per MW. This criteria alone cannot be the basis for decision for forest appraisal committee.
As per the sensitivity analysis by NHPC, the ratio forest land required per MW for 40 meters reduction is 1.67 MW/ hectare, which is same as no height reduction and 1.78 MW/ hectare in case of 20 meter reduction. In terms of tariff, for 40 meters reduction, the power tariff will be 6.24 Rs./unit while it is 5.66 Rs/unit 10 meters reduction, 5.94 Rs./unit 20 meters reduction and 5.64 Rs. at zero reduction. The installed capacity will reduce by 120 MW (4%) MW for 10 meters reduction, 600 MW (20%) for 20 mt reduction and 780 MW (26%) for a 40 meter reduction.
|Height Reduction||Forest land required||MW capacity per ha Forest lost||First Year Tariff: Rs per unit||Reduction in installed capacity|
|Nil (288 m)||5056 Ha||1.67||5.64||None|
|10 m||4578 Ha||1.59||5.66||120 (2880 MW)|
|20 m||4284 Ha||1.78||5.94||600 (2400 MW)|
|40 m||3703 Ha||1.67||6.24||780 (2200 MW)|
The proponent said: “Decrease in dam height and consequent sacrifice of power generation beyond 10 mt is not commensurate with saving forest land.”
How did NHPC reach this conclusion? What is the value of the mature, old growth forest land considered by NHPC? Without knowing this, how can this conclusion be acceptable to the FAC? It has to be remembered that Dibang is not an exclusive hydropower project, but a multipurpose project with a flood moderation component and costs have to be borne for this.
While the proponent and Ministry of Power did their best for pushing the project, the FAC did not do its duty of stating that the sensitivity analysis put forth by NHPC is a sham as it does not consider the worth of the forest being lost.
In this sabji-mandi haggling, when FAC had all the watertight justifications for rejecting the project, it did not bat for even a 40 meter reduction, which could have saved nearly 1355 hectares of forests and would have had a marginal impact on other factors. Its unclear why this happened.
Only one of the FAC members tried to battle the case saying that 10-40 meter reduction still does not address the upstream and downstream impacts, especially considering the biodiversity rich area. The minutes do not disclose the name of this member, but it seems the brute majority (majority of FAC members are govt officials) took the official line, alleging “subjectivity” and said that “To reduce subjectivity, it is important to analyse the issue objectively on objective parameters”. Forgetting that this is Forest Appraisal committee, not Power Developer Committee.
This is ironical. It was indeed the duty of the FAC to appraise the project “objectively” based on issues like destruction of 3.24 lakh trees, invaluable forests, unstudied biodiversity, rich wildlife and several Schedule I species, community dependence, traditional rights, downstream impacts, climate change impacts, options assessment, etc. But it did nothing of that and has in fact recommended the project “subjectively”, bowing to pressures outside their ambit.
Clearly, per MW forest land required and per Unit Tariff from a project are anything but objective criteria for FAC. FAC is supposed to apply its mind to a number of issues like the ones above. If FAC was not supposed to apply its mind to these aspects and its judgment, there was no need for an FAC, Power ministry and developer could have taken the decision independently.
The FAC decision does not address any pertinent issues raised by the same FAC while rejecting the project, it also does not address downstream impacts on Assam or assume any value for a rich forest. There is no discussion why 20 meters or 40 meters reduction is not seriously considered by FAC. Decision-making based on such biased, proponent-driven criteria is bound to be open to legal challenge and public protests.
Sham consideration of Downstream Impacts About Impact of the project on Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, the User Agency said that the issue was considered by EAC in its meeting on the 16th September (Please note this is just 6 days and 5 working days back from FAC meeting. There is no chance of minutes being firmed up by then. They were not in open domain in any case) and the EAC has recommended clearance based on the fact that there is less than 1 meter level fluctuation at DSNP.
This claim in any case is patently incorrect, again a case of project-friendly, anti-environment decision-making. The level fluctuation at DSNP can go way higher than a meter, anywhere from 7-8 feet every day in lean season, according to the studies considered by the EAC of the MEFCC itself. This has been pointed out by SANDRP to the EAC as well. There has been no study of the impacts of this project on downstream Arunachal Pradesh or Assam. The developer seems to assume that Dibru-Saikhowa is the only part of Assam worth considering.
There is no compliance under Forest Rights Act (2006) for such a massive project and despite this, FAC under some supposedly progressive members working on tribal issues, does not bat an eyelid before recommending clearance!
To conclude, pricing mature, biodiversity-rich forests in terms of per MW terms is an insult of those forests, the communities that depend on them and to the mandate of FAC. Downstream impacts of Dibang project are not studied, the impacts on Dibru-Saikhowa are based on compromised studies.
There is no merit in this decision from the newly appointed FAC which includes members also from reputed environment protection organizations in North East and from Tribal Welfare groups like Friends of Baripada. It is also sad to see that there is no dissenting note from a single member. The unnamed member who expressed dissent in the meeting has not written anything about this in public domain.
Decisions like Dibang lay further foundations for poor, pro-developer, anti-people, anti-environment decisions taken due to pressure from proponent and other ministries. Such decisions will not be legally tenable, nor acceptable to affected communities, nor good for sustainability and equity. In fact, by such reversals, FAC decisions are losing their sanctity. FAC has done this in the past too in case of Kalu Dam in Western Ghats which would submerge 18 villages and 1000 hectares forest.
Isn’t it ironical that the new government changed the name of the MoEF to MoEFCC but is sanctioning massive projects like Dibang which will have far reaching impacts on Climate Change as well as adaption and mitigation abilities of the affected communities? Without even considering these aspects or even mentioning them?
– Parineeta Dandekar, firstname.lastname@example.org
 For details see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/dibang-project-rejected-forest-clearance-for-the-second-time/
National Green Tribunal’s Fourth Foundation Day: Why such a pro hydro bias?
The National Green Tribunal, NGT marked its 4th Foundation Day on 18 October 2014, with an impressive fanfare. A full day function was organized at the Plenary hall of the capital’s iconic Vigyan Bhawan. NGT in this short span has acquired a formidable reputation as a unique, vibrant, active institute with independent & unbiased mind and forthright, quick redressal of petitions that come to it.
The function in two separate sessions, one in the forenoon and the other in the afternoon (a Seminar) was attended by large number of government officials, judicial officers, advocates, law school students, NGT petitioners and office bearers and members of the NGT Bar association.
Invited dignitaries included Mr Justice Ranjan Gogoi (Judge, Supreme Court), Prakash Javadekar (Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change) and Ashok Lavasa (Secretary, MoEF&CC) in the forenoon session and Mr Justice Sudhanshu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya (Judge, Supreme Court) and Piyush Goyal (Union Minister of state for Power, Coal and new and renewable energy). Mr Justice Swatanter Kumar, the Chairperson of the NGT, Mr Justice Dr. P. Jyothimani, Judicial Member, Principal Bench, NGT, Prof. R. Nagendra, and Dr. D.K. Agarwal, Expert Members at the NGT also spoke and graced the dais.
The function included, in addition to the addresses by the invited dignitaries, the release of 2nd issue of NGT International Journal; the launch of new NGT Website (in the first session) and address by invitee experts (in the second session).
In the first session Mr Javadekar informed the gathering about his political beginnings from a water pollution struggle activist against factory pollution and Mr Lavasa categorically stated that the NGT is playing an extremely crucial role and that there is no move to dilute its powers in any manner. It was in the second session that very controversially one Mr M.K. Pandit was invited to speak as an invited expert.
Mr Pandit began with highlighting how recent and how fragile the Himalayas were and that a 8+ richter scale earthquake in central Himalayas was round the corner that could flatten Dehradun. Very soon in his almost 25 minute speech changed track as if on a cue to how great the hydropower dam projects in the Himalayas were for the power security of the country. The Union Power Minister had by then just joined the function to nod in full agreement with all that the Mr Pandit was narrating. The audience on the other hand was left perplexed as to what was happening?
An invited speaker was eulogizing the great merits of high dams receiving approving glances from the power minister on an NGT seminar whose topic was “Natural Disasters, Environment & Role of NGT with special reference to Uttarakhand, J&K, Assam & Himachal Pradesh”. Clearly something was amiss, somewhere?
Secondly, Mr Pandit is not a neutral expert, but an interested party. As leader of scores of pro hydro Environmental Impact Assessments that he has led as part of the CISMHE team (Center for Inter-disciplinary studies of Mountain and Hill Environment) has earned them millions as they also continue to mint more money. Typical of Indian EIAs, no EIA done by CISMHE has ever raised any difficult questions for the developers. It has also never concluded that any of the projects is unviable. CISMHE EIAs are as shoddy, incomplete and inadequate as any other. For example on Luhri HEP, the CISMHE EIA was so problematic that even the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects and the World Bank found it inadequate and unreliable.
Interestingly, CISMHE website says: “Ministry of Power, Government of India established CISMHE as an R&D Centre in power studies in environment in recognition of its excellent past performance”. This means that there is also conflict of interest here in CISMHE doing EIAs, since it has been set up as an R&D Centre by Ministry of Power, that is itself a promoter and developer of hydropower projects. No wonder, Mr Pandit said what the Power Minister wanted to hear and Power Minister made no efforts to hide his approval of what Mr Pandit was saying.
Very strangely, Mr Piyush Goyal claimed that Tehri dam was an example of good project in the Himalayas that saved Uttarakhand in the floods of June 2013. Mr Goyal should know that this claim had absolutely no basis and even an Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court of India has shown, after listening to THDC, CWC and others that such a claim has no scientific foundation. Mr Pandit did try to support the unfounded contention of Mr Goyal, but the minister asked him to keep quite.
It became clearer, when a pointed question asked by Shri Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan about what would have been the Tehri dam scenario if the Uttarakhand high rainfall event had occurred in the peak monsoon months of July, August or September and not on 16 June 2013 (as in fact happened in Sept 2010, when Tehri created a havoc in the downstream, damaging its own Koteshwar project), when the dam was almost empty and only beginning to get filled, elicited an evasive response first by the Union Minister (we cannot have structures planned for every 365 days in a year). And later when Pandit ji tried to answer, he was asked to shut without him being able to even respond to the other two questions relating to how does he reconcile to the fact of a high intensity earthquake visiting a region where he had been advocating the dams; why was USA (as also some other countries), the mecca of large Dams bringing many of its dams down?
In any case, Mr Maharaj Pandit was contradicting himself, because he said something totally different in his article in The Hindu soon after the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013: “Most downstream damage in otherwise flood-free areas is caused by dams and barrages, which release large volumes of water to safeguard engineering structures. Dam operators often release more water during rains than the carrying capacity of downstream areas, causing floods… Hydropower policy must consider building fewer dams and prioritise those that have the least environmental and social costs. Independent and serious monitoring of the catchment area treatment plans proposed by Forest Departments with funds from hydropower companies needs to be carried out and reported to the Green Tribunal.” In fact then in June 2013, he was on TV channels almost every night, talking about how Himalayas have the highest dam density in the world and that is such a big invitation to disaster! But he seems ready to change his stand to please the minister or the hydro project developers.
It seems as if Mr Pandit had been invited to justify the building of dams in the Himalayas in front of a large gathering of impressionable judicial officials and young student minds. It is possible that it was also intended to influence the minds of NGT members (judicial and experts) and other persons from judiciary in the face of a number of proposed dams being challenged before the various NGT benches and courts.
If a proper seminar was indeed planned on such an important matter, then there should have been several speakers on wide range of perspectives and topics and not just one speaker with conflict of interest and a clear agenda? The only other technical speaker, Dr R. Nagendran, an expert member with NGT southern bench spoke sensibly on how unscientific management of sanitary projects in hilly regions lead to parallel “Faeco-microbial disaster” which is difficult to tackle.
Mr Ritwick Dutta, secretary of NGT bar association said that the information about Mr Pandit speaking from NGT platform was not available in public domain and it is not clear how he was selected as a speaker.
Such blatant pro hydro bias in an NGT foundation day meeting is certainly unwarranted and out of place for an NGT function. An NGT platform should not have been allowed to be used for such biased presentation. We hope the bias apparent in this aberration is just that, an aberration and does not run deeper, considering that some hydropower professionals have been appointed on NGT benches.
We hope that at least in future the NGT, a statutory judicial body, otherwise doing a great job for the protection of environment, would be more careful in not letting its platform get used by the vested interests. The formidable reputation that NGT has acquired with a lot of remarkable orders should not be allowed to be affected by this one incident. NGT indeed needs to be strengthened in every way and not weakened in any manner.
It would also help if the NGT were to distance itself from this biased episode.
Pushp Jain, EIA Research and Response Centre (http://www.ercindia.org/, Pushp Jain email@example.com) & SANDRP (based on interviews with those who were present at the NGT foundation day meeting)
 For example, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/the-world-bank-drops-funding-usd-650-m-for-the-luhri-hydro-project-victory-for-the-sutlej-bachao-jan-sangharsh-samiti/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/pauk-heo-tato-i-hydropower-projects-cismes-shoddy-eias-seven-big-hydro-on-third-order-tributary-of-brahmaputra/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/
 For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/uttarakhand-floods-truth-about-thdc-and-central-water-commissions-claims-about-tehri/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/is-thdc-preparing-to-repeat-the-disaster-tehri-created-in-sept-2010/
Manipulating Environment & Forest Clearances for Dibang Project: Déjà vu: LSHP History repeated: Will it be tragedy or comedy?
Every possible violation of norms, procedures, law and democratic governance is being committed in pushing clearances for the India’s largest capacity hydropower project, which involves India’s highest dam proposed so far & North East India’s Largest capacity reservoir: the 3000 MW Dibang Multi Purpose Project in Arunachal Pradesh. The players involved in these violations include the Union government of NDA led by BJP (UPA earlier), including its cabinet and Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MEFCC), Ministry of Power, State government, the project developer company NHPC Ltd, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).
The project will need more than 4700 hectares of biodiversity rich Forest area with several Schedule I species in Arunachal Pradesh. It will also have significant downstream impacts on the people & environment of Arunachal and Assam and Dibru Saikhowa National Park. Most of its impacts have not been either properly assessed or considered by the developer, EIA agency or the EAC & MEFCC.
Déjà vu: We did the same for Lower Subansiri HEP! It seems the government is indulging in the same blunders that the previous NDA government indulged in over a decade ago while clearing the then-largest capacity hydropower project: the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project (LSHP), also in Arunachal Pradesh. Environment clearance for LSHP came on July 16, 2003 and stage I forest clearance came on June 10, 2003. Exactly the same set of players were involved in manipulating LSHP clearances over a decade ago. The developer is also the same: NHPC. The government at centre is again led by NDA.
Aaranyak environmental group of Assam, in a letter dated May 16, 2002 to the then-Chief Justice of India had highlighted the violations involved at various stages in the decision making of LSHP including during public hearings, in conducting EIA, in giving environment, forests and wildlife clearances. Almost all the issues that Aranayak letter raised then are applicable in case of Dibang with even greater force. But it seems in the twelve years since 2002 when that letter was written, our environmental governance has only degenerated.
The fate of the LSHP is a lesson in itself. After spending over Rs 5000 crores (Rs 50 Billion), the work on the project came to a standstill in December 2011. It has remained stalled for 34 months since then, following India’s biggest Anti dam People’s movement so far. This is unprecedented in India’s hydropower history. NHPC Ltd has been trying every possible trick to resume the construction work on LSHP, without genuinely trying to address the issues people’s movement has been raising.
Dr Mite Linggi, Representative of Kere A Initiative for Cultural and Ecological Security said exactly that at the public hearing of Dibang Project on March 13, 2013: “It is evident that the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project is stalled since Dec 2011 because the technical, environmental and social concerns of the people of Assam were not considered earlier… Ignoring downstream concerns will only ensure that this project to will meet the same fate as Subansiri Lower Project (2000 MW and get stalled by people of Assam.”
It seems none of the players have learnt any lessons from the blunders committed in LSHP’s decision making. If this is how Dibang Project is being pushed down the throat of the people of Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh and the North East India, they will have no option but to oppose the project and the Dibang Project may have the same fate as that of LSHP. Those who have been involved in the decision making now will then be held accountable for the wrong decisions and manipulations.
THE DIBANG PROJECT
The foundation stone of 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project on Dibang River was laid on 31st January 2008, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when the project had no clearances, showing utter disregard the former PM had for statutory clearances or environment or affected people. The project affects Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and significantly, several districts in downstream Assam.
Considering the fact that Dibang has the largest installed capacity for a project in India, involving highest dam in India and biggest reservoir in North East India so far, one expected the EAC to be much more diligent while considering the project and even more so considering the experience of the LSHP. But that, it seems, was expecting too much.
The first thing that would strike any one who goes through the EAC and FAC documents is that the basic parameters of the project are yet unclear even as the EAC and FAC have recommended clearances, within the span of a week, under pressure from their political masters. Unbelievably, these two committees functioning under the same Ministry have recommended clearance for differing capacities, differing heights, differing submergence areas and so on!
This is because the NHPC knowingly misled the EAC in its meetings by presenting the 288 m height (above the deepest foundation level) dam with 545 m elevation at Full Reservoir Level (FRL) and 3.75 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) of storage capacity at FRL. The same NHPC, in FAC meeting on Sept 22, 2014 provided sensitive analysis with dam height reduced upto 40 m, but this was not even mentioned before the EAC!
Let us review the how the EAC and FAC dealt with the project.
A. ENVIRONMENTAL CLEARNACE FOR THE DIBANG PROJECT:
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MoEF, which holds the distinction of having a zero rejection rate for the projects it appraises, recommended Environment Clearance to 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project in its 77th meeting on 16th Sept, 2014.
The Project was given TOR (Terms of Refence) clearance on 17.8.2009. Public hearings in Lower Dibang and Dibang Valley districts were held on 11.3.2013 and 13.3.2013 respectively, with huge protests from affected people. The EAC earlier considered the project in 68th meeting in Sept 2013, in 73rd meeting in March 2014, in 74th meeting in May 2014 and now in 77th meeting in Sept 2014.
Some key questions that arise as to how the EAC arrived at the positive recommendation:
1. Was there any Public Hearing in downstream Assam? Was there proper public hearing in Aruunachal Pradesh?
Although Dibang Multipurpose project will have impacts in the downstream Assam, as accepted by NHPC Ltd, WAPCOS and recorded in EAC minutes, no public hearing has been conducted in Assam, in complete violation of the EIA notification which clearly states that in all affected districts public hearings must be held. The submissions from Assam were not discussed during EAC minutes. The people of Assam have been completely ignored in the decision-making about a project that will affect them. Several people who spoke at the Dibang Public Hearing in Arunachal Pradesh in March 2013 raised this issue, but MEFCC and EAC failed to do anything about this even after SANDRP submissions to EAC also raised this issue.
Even in Arunachal, the public hearing process has seen several violations, leading people to oppose the project and the public hearings, see the quotes from the public hearings given below. Consequently, the public hearings were disrupted by the local people and had to be cancelled several times. The MEFCC, unfortunately, has no concern for the quality of the whole consultation process and sees it as only a box to be tick marked. The EAC does not even look at issues related to public hearings.
2. Were the issues raised at public hearing in March 2013 addressed?
No. As is clear from the report of the public hearing for the project held at Roing and New Anaya on March 11 and 13, 2014 respectively, the affected people raised a lot of critical issues about the project, EIA, EMP and Public hearing.
In the Minutes of the 68th meeting of EAC held in Sept 2013 and the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014, there is one paragraph (same para in both minutes) on public hearings: “Concerns Raised During Public Hearings It was explained that in general, the people were satisfied with the EIA and EMP reports and proposed R&R plan and community and social development plan. R&R plan has been formulated in line with the State R&R Policy, 2008. They took keen interest in knowing the R&R package and community and social development (CSD) plan. However, during public consultation prior to public hearing and during public hearings of Dibang Multipurpose Project, in addition to community and social development plan more infrastructural development in both Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley Districts were sought viz., up gradation of District Hospitals in both districts, financial assistance for schools, colleges and polytechnic, and construction of cultural museum at Roing and ITI at Anini etc. Besides this for downstream people, the main concern was protection of downstream area in case of dam break / high flood. Keeping this in view, a lump sum provision of Rs. 17100 lakhs has been proposed for consideration of MoEF for mitigative measures at downstream and other infrastructural facilities as raised during public hearings in addition to R&R and CSD plan.”
The claim that “in general, the people were satisfied with the EIA and EMP reports and proposed R&R plan and community and social development plan” is a complete lie, as we see from the quotes from the official public hearing minutes below.
It seems the EAC members have not bothered to read the public hearing report, and they have willingly or unwillingly been misled by the NHPC and EIA agencies. To illustrate the critical issues raised at the public hearings, we are giving below some quotes from the official public hearing report. Most of these reports remain unaddressed in the EIA-EMP submitted to the MEFCC, but MEFCC and EAC has not bothered to check this.
Shri Lokha Elapra, President, All Idu Mshmi Students Union: “Poor planning of mitigation from impacts during construction phase. Mitigation measures fail to address issues of demographic impacts, socio-cultural concerns and preservation of traditional land and livelihood… EMP does not have any provision to address this. EIA and EMP does not have any mitigation measures to preserve nor compeansation for permanent loss of mithun grazing areas, fishing grounds and medicinal plants thus endangering the loss of Mishmi Takin (rare Animal), Mishmi Monal (rare Bird) and Mishmi Teeta (rare medicinal plant)… Flood control of Eze (Deopani River to protect Roing Township… A cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be undertaken.”
Shri Raju Mimi, Member, Mishmi Scholar’s Association: “NHPC had undermined the seismic design parameters as recommended by the experts of IIT Guwahati, Guwahati University and Dibrugarh University in respect of the Subansiri Dam. In this regard can the community members of the affected areas be certain that such careless disregard for dam safety be not repeated by NHPC in this case? All the documents related to dam design and safety be made public. Also, the documents should be peer reviewed by independent group of scientists. Ecological concerns like extraction of boulders from ecologically sensitive Important Bird Area (IBA). No impact assessment made regarding this in the EIA report… Hence a cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be commissioned. Socio-economic concerns like the catchment area treatment (CAT) plan will restrict land use resulting in loss of land and livelihood. NHPC must ascertain such losses and compensate the people affected by CAT… There is possibility of loss of land by destabilization of soil due to the huge reservoir. What mechanisms will be implemented to address these losses? ”
Shri Kelo Pulu, President IMCLS: “Environment Monitoring Cell to assess and review the various mitigation measures as mentioned in the EMP is not convincing. Therefore, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh should immediately notify the formation of an independent Committee consisting of less than 5 members of local Idu Mishmi people.”
Shri Moba Riba: “Conduct Public hearing at Dambuk Sub division.”
Shri Jibi Pulu: “Additional EIA-EMP must be undertaken to ensure the minimum impacts to the ecology of Dibang area. The Community people will lose an area of 10390 ha that will be required for CAT plan. This area being grazing area of Mithun will be lost. The EIA does not have any data or estimate/ valuation of this resource. Without any compensation the livelihood rights cannot be taken away from the community. EIA studies about wildlife conservation is inadequate. EIA studies carried out regarding assessment of economic and medicinal plants is not project specific nor community focused. It does not have any reference, assessment and compensation of economically valuable plants like Piper mellusa and Paris polyphylla. The impact of 1950 earthquake of 8.7 magnitude.. Is the dam axis and reservoir standing along the seismic fault line? The impoundment of the drainage system by building dam will have major effect.. Hence, EIA studies on downstream impact particularly study of Deopani drainage and its siltation status is absolutely necessary.”
Dr Mite Linggi: “As recommended by the Planning Commission Committee we demand for a Dam safety design panel for an independent assessment of safety of Dibang Dam. There are lacunae in EIA-EMP reports. This must be rectified.”
Shri MartinLego: “Resistance capacity of the mountains which fall in the reservoir is not studied. Dam should be able to withstand flashflood. Construction of flood protection works with RCC wall supported by vegetative cover on both banks of Dibang River… Our demands must be fulfilled then only we will support.”
Shri Mibom Pertin, President Adi Bane Kebang (ABK): “Till date no initiative has been taken by the State Government, the district administration or the NHPC to educate the people… the EIA EMP must be modified/ rectified wherein safety measures and actions to be taken in case of dam break… Until and unless the above points are fulfilled the holding of this public hearing is strongly opposed by ABK.”
Shri Jowar Moyang: “Demand to establish a family dossier of the entire downstream people… Downstream not reflected in the EIA/EMP and DRP therefore, a separate guideline be made to include the downstream within the defined local area. The demands placed above must be addressed to within three months of this hearing or else will protest against the construction of the project.”
Shri Nun Pertin, President, Dibang Adi Students’ Union (DASU): “Downstream people are unaware of the project benefits, impacts and other issues which are mandatory to be known before the commencement of the project. Therefore, public hearing in this regard must be conducted within blocks and subdivision of Lower Dibang Valley. This must be furnished in written assurance form within one week’s time. ”
Shri Anjite Menjo, Zilla Parishad Member, Iduli Anchal Block and Shri Chiliko Meto, ZillaParishad Chairperson: “Environment Monitoring Cell to assess and review the various mitigation measures as mentioned in the EMP is not convincing. Therefore, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh should immediately notify the formation of an independent Committee consisting of less than 5 members of local Idu Mishmi people… Hence a cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be commissioned.”
Dr Mite Linggi, Representative of Kere A Initiative for Cultural and Ecological Security (KICES): “It is evident that the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project is stalled since Dec 2011 because the technical, environmental and social concerns of the people of Assam were not considered earlier. Report of the Planning Commission appointed Committee of Dr C D Thatte and M S Reddy has raised several serious concerns about the downstream impacts of the 2000 MW Subansiri Lower Project. Therefore, keeping this in mind, it is absolutely important that public consultation in Assam is carried out before the Dibang project gets environment clearance. Public consultation in Assam is not only necessary to address the concern of the people, but it is a pre-requisite for the people of Dibang Valley in the upstream… Ignoring downstream concerns will only ensure that this project to will meet the same fate as Subansiri Lower Project (2000 MW and get stalled by people of Assam. Rights of the people to use Catchment Area will be denied. Will compensation be included for them? Is it possible for NHPC Ltd to formulate new criteria for all those villages perched atop to include within affected families?”
Shri Lokha Elapra, President, All Idu Mishmi Students’ Union (AIMSU): Raises most of the critical issues raised above including need for Cumulative Impact Asessment, inadequate EIA-EMP, Impacts of demographic changes, lack of assessment of loss of grazing land, fishing right. “We do not want to be refugees in our land.. We the Idu Mishmi have a way of living where we live independently. Past history is proof of it. We had never been ruled and can never be ruled under any circumstance or vice versa. The plot which the NHPC Ltd claim giving free of cost is by virtue forcefully asking us to live in that piece of land where the PAFs are not satisfied.”
Shri Athupi Melo, Ex-ZPM, Anelih-Arju Block and Representing New Endoli village: “Public hearing on Dibang Multipurpose Project (3000 MW) was postponed 10-14 times earlier as the consent of the public was not taken before preparing EIA and EMP reports. The NHPC Ltd had cheated the entire affected people by concealing information and letting the awareness remain within the high reach people only. The NHPC Ltd as per their survey has shown 5 villages, 72 families, 243 persons, 938.8 ha of agriculture land as to be affected by the project. Do they know that the storage reservoir will submerge the land mass which belongs to another 34 villages of the valley?”
Shri Kupu Miku-ASM Arzoo and Representative of Apako village: “Had been resisting NHPC Ltd for the last ten years. Nothing was made known as to how much land would go and how much compensation would be provided.”
Shri Rezina Mihu, General Secretary, All Idu Mishmi Students Union (AIMSU): “It has been six yeas of resistance till this morning. The former President of AIMSU sacrificed his life fighting against the Dibang Project… the EIA-EMP is still not upto the mark.”
This selection of quotes from the Public hearing and reading of NHPC response, EIA-EMP and EAC minutes show that not only NHPC has failed to satisfactorily respond to most of these issues, the EAC and MEFCC has not even bothered to check the veracity of the claims of NHPC and uncritically accepted the NHPC claims. Inadequate response to the issues raised at the public hearing means that environmental clearance given to the project is legally untenable.
3. Has there been proper Environmental Impact Assessment of the project? Kalpavriksh, SANDRP, affected groups from Assam and Arunachal have made several independent submissions to EAC on the inadequacies of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). SANDRP itself sent four different submissions (dated Sept 20, 2013, April 2014, May 2014 and Sept 12, 2014) highlighting various inadequacies of the EIA including:
- Lack of compliance with the Terms of Reference of the EIA
- Lack of basin wide cumulative impact assessment
- Impact of mining of materials for the project not assessed
- Lack of downstream impact assessment (more details below)
- Lack of assessment of how climate change will affect the project and how the project will worsen the climate change impacts.
- Lack of options assessment
- Severe Impacts of Migration of Outsider on Local Tribal Community not assessed
- Impact of the project on disaster potential in the project area as well in the downstream including Assam not assessed
- Impact of changing silt flows downstream not assessed
As noted above, large number of speakers at the public hearing also pointed out the inadequacies of the EIA-EMP.
4. Are downstream impacts on Assam & Arunachal Pradesh Studied?
No credible study of the impact of the dam, dam break and peaking on Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the downstream has been done.
Several speakers at the public hearing raised this issue of inadequate downstream impact assessment, as can be seen from the quotes from the public hearing listed above.
It may be mentioned here that the biggest issue plaguing the LSHP is lack of downstream impact assessment, and the EAC, MEFCC, NHPC or the EIA agencies (WAPCOS, which by now is notorious for doing substandard studies and National Productivity Council). Even Assam and Arunachal Pradesh state governments also seem least bothered. Also, it seems no lessons have been learnt after Larji mishap when 25 students were washed away due to demand-driven water releases by upstream hydropower project.
5. Has the impact of Peaking on Downstream Assam & Arunachal Pradesh studied?
This is despite the fact that submissions were sent to the EAC from several organizations and individual also from Assam, drawing their attention to impact of peaking in downstream Assam, especially in lean season (winter) when flow fluctuations will range from 111 cumecs (Cubic meters per second) to about 13 time rise in volume at 1441 cumecs in a single day. Fluctuations can happen twice or thrice in a single day.
6. Has the impact on Dibru Saikhowa National Park in the downstream Assam studied?
The EAC has shown zero application of mid in this respect. There are several hydropower projects being constructed on the three main tributaries of Brahmaputra upstream of Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Assam. All these hydropower projects will undertake peaking operations. EAC has considered these projects separately, as a part of basin studies and as a part of downstream impact studies on Dibru Saikhowa National Park.
In all these studies, the level fluctuation at the National Park when the three major projects in the upstream undertake peaking operations is different, as per the convenience of the project proponent! EAC has considered all these studies without raising any questions about this convenient difference in figures even when the contradictions were brought to EAC’s attention by SANDRP.
The EAC has recommended Clearance to Dibang Multipurpose Project accepting the contention of the NHPC that “water level fluctuation in Dibru Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) will be less than one meter.”
- However, the same EAC has considered EIA of Lower Siang HEP (by WAPCOS) where the fluctuation at Dibru Saikhowa when all projects are peaking is said to be 8 feet (2.38 meters)
- The Report on “Effect of Peaking power generation by Siang Lower HEP, Demwe Lower HEP and Dibang Multipurpose HEP on Dibru Saikhowa National Park” also by WAPCOS states that level difference when all three projects are peaking is estimated to be 34 mts i.e. 7.67 feet. (Page 26)
EAC did not question these glaring differences in these models even when a submission highlighting these points was sent to the EAC on 13.09.14, before the 77th EAC meeting. The submission is not mentioned in the minutes, neither discussed, also violating Hon. Delhi High Court Orders (Utkarsh Mandal Case).
7. EAC decision violates its mandate; MEFCC & NHPC guilty of misleading EAC.
During the entire appraisal process, the EAC has failed to pose any difficult questions to NHPC, has not taken a stand supporting Assam, has not even initiated discussion in that direction, has turned blind eye towards submissions it received raising critical concerns, has overlooked contradictions, has overlooked precautionary principle and welfare of people in the downstream Assam and has refused to learn any lessons from the LSHP experience or the Larji Mishap.
While discussion about height reduction of Dibang upto 40 meters were initiated in MEFCC/ NHPC since Feb 2014, the MEFCC or the NHPC has not brought this proposal to the attention of the EAC and the EAC has taken absolutely no notice of this and has not even asked for this 40 m height reduction. The only reference we can find to the height reduction proposal is in the minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting, where too there is reference to only 10 m ht reduction. And yet, there is no mention of this in the minutes of the 77th EAC meeting where the EAC recommended clearance to the project.
This alone is sufficient to make the EAC decision legally untenable and make both MEFCC and NHPC guilty of not informing the EAC about these developments more than six months after they were initiated.
The EAC on its part has not shown the will to ask for a realignment of the project to minimize its downstream impacts, peaking impacts and submergence impacts. Such biased conduct and the decisions of the EAC, sidelining genuine concerns are in complete violation of the mandate given to EAC and extremely damaging to environmental governance of the country and are a reason for increasing conflicts, delays, protests and strife underlining its callousness towards environmental impacts and local resistance.
The issues that FAC raised while rejecting the Forest clearance are the very issues that EAC should be concerned about since they are under their mandate. But not only EAC did not raise them on their own, but even after they were brought to the EAC’s attention by SANDRP, the EAC failed to even discuss those issues.
8. Issues on Dibang raised in earlier EAC meeting remains unanswered
The decision making paragraph of the minutes of the EAC meeting of Sept 16-17, 2014 on Dibang Project reads: “After critically examining the proposal and considering the response to various issues raised in the earlier EAC meetings, the project was recommended by EAC for accord of Environmental Clearance to Dibang Multipurpose Project. However, EAC suggested that 20 cumec flow may be released towards e-flow in the 1.2 km diverted stretch as 15 cumec gives just sufficient quantity. EAC noted that beyond this 1.2 km, adequate flow will be available from TRT which will be minimum in the order of 85 cumec at 80% rated discharge of one turbine.”
It is clear that this paragraph does not reflect any application of mind by EAC if the response provided by NHPC to the various issues raised by EAC and others’ submissions to EAC are adequate. Even in this paragraph, it is not clear what is the basis of EAC decision to recommend 20 cumecs flow downstream of the dam and not the norm that EAC is following for other projects (30% in monsoon, 20% in lean season and 20-25% in non monsoon non lean season). Nor is it clear what is the basis and impact of operation of one of the (there are 12 turbines, each of 250 MW installed capacity in this project) turbine at minimum 80% capacity round the clock. This non application of mind on the part of the EAC is the norm of EAC and not an isolated incident.
In fact, reading through the minutes of all the EAC meetings since Sept 2013 where Dibang EC (Environment Clearance) was discussed, it is clear that while EAC has raised a large no of questions and reported some of the information submitted by NHPC, no where can we find application of mind of the EAC where it is stated that the information/ responses provided by NHPC is adequate or not. The uncritical acceptance by the EAC about the information/ responses provided by the developer is another noteworthy feature of EAC decision.
Let us illustrate this. The minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014 says: “A detailed fisheries (also flora and fauna) survey was conducted by Centre for Inter-Disciplinary Studies for Mountain and Hill Environment (CISMHE), Delhi University in the month of December 2013.” Immediate question than arises is, why were the fisheries and other surveys done only in one month and not across the year as is the normal practice? What were the outcomes of the study? You will find neither critical questions, nor any answers in the EAC proceedings.
Here is another example. The minutes of the 74th EAC meeting held in May 2014 says: “It was informed that fluctuation in the water level at upstream of Dibang-Lohit confluence due to peaking operation will be about 17 cm which is almost negligible considering the size of the river.” Shockingly, the EAC does not even ask: A. If this estimate is sound and if it is consistent with conclusions of other studies; B. What will be the level fluctuation at different points along 60 km stretch of the river upstream from this point to the project site and what will be the impact there of. EAC’s such uncritical acceptance of apparently contradictory and inadequate responses from the developer is the norm and not an isolated incident. Considering that EAC was considering the largest installed capacity project of India, highest dam of India and biggest reservoir in North East India so far, one expected the EAC to be more diligent. This was even more so considering the experience of the LSHP.
To further illustrate, the minutes of the 74th EAC held in May 2014 says: “The point-wise reply to the two representations submitted by Kalpavriksh was submitted to MoEF and EAC members and the same was also presented before EAC during the meeting.” Similarly, the minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014 says: “point-wise replies to the issues raised by Shri Chow Rajib Gogoi, Secretary, All Tai Ahom Student Union, Jorhat and Shri Pushp Jain, Director, EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), New Delhi were also given”. But in both cases, there is not even a word as to whether EAC discussed the NHPC response and if they did what was their conclusion about adequacy or acceptability of the NHPC responses.
As far as four separate submissions sent by SANDRP to EAC on Dibang Project are concerned, EAC neither mentioned them, nor did it seek NHPC’s response on them.
Considering all this, the decision of the EAC to recommend EC to the Dibang Project is clearly wrong, based on inadequate appraisal, in the absence of application of mind and legally untenable.
B. FAC DECISIONS ON DIBANG PROECT
It has been reported that the Forest Advisory Committee of the MoEF has recommended clearance to 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose project in its meeting on Sept 22, 2014, though the minutes of the FAC meeting are as yet unavailable. This decision is reversal of FAC’s clear rejection to the project twice in past 2 years in addition to MEFCC’s rejection letter to the project as late as on the 28th August 2014.
- MEFCC was pressurized by the Cabinet Committee on Investment, Ministry of Power and even unrelated Ministries like Ministry of Mine, Ministry of Steel and Ministry of Coal into clearing the Dibang project. FAC itself was under pressure of the MEFCC minister and its highest officials to clear Dibang at any cost.
- Relevant papers regarding height reduction proposal by NHPC were not uploaded on FAC Website in advance of the Sept 22, 2014 Meeting.
- It is unclear if even the FAC Members had these documents, which form the basis of project consideration.
- The height reduction proposal was not available to the EAC members a week earlier before EAC recommended clearance to the project.
- FAC’s recommendation on Dibang project is clearly an undemocratic and illegal decision in the absence of prior information in public domain for all concerned, and when all the original objections raised by FAC while rejecting the project twice remain unaddressed.
Let us look at the timeline of FAC decision making on Dibang Project:
12.06.13: FAC rejects Dibang FC (Forest Clearance) Proposal. Reasons: “huge forest area with very good forest cover, irreparable and adverse impact on general eco-system of the area by felling of more than 3.5 lakhs of trees, several other HEP have been proposed in the same river valley apart from Dibang HEP, unavailability of study on cumulative impact of all the HEP, etc. The Committee is also of the opinion that ecological, environmental and social costs of diversion of such a vast track of forest land, which is a major source of livelihood of the tribal population of the State, will far outweigh the benefits likely to accrue from the project.”
13.08.2013: Meeting of Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Secretary, Ministry of Power held and it was decided that proposal will be considered again after exploring the possibility to reduce the requirement of forest land for the project.
9.12.2013: Project discussed by the Cabinet Committee of Investment which nearly ordered fast clearance for Dibang Project. It stated: “Ministry of Environment and Forests may grant the requisite clearance for diversion of forest land expeditiously.” Such direction from CCI was clearly in violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which clearly defines the process for forest clearance and where CCI has no role.
10.02.14: NHPC revises proposal and submits two alternatives, reducing height by 5 m and 10 meters respectively. Marginal decrease in submerge of forest land due to 10 meters reduction. NHPC Officials say any further reduction will not be possible.
Revised Diversion proposal with reduction of 10 mts height and 445 hectares forest area submitted to MoEF with new proposal for total diversion of 4577.84 hectares.
29th-30th April 2014: Revised proposal discussed in FAC with 10 meters reduction. The revised proposal was incomplete in many basic respects like absence of maps, CAT Pan, FRA compliance, identified land for Compensatory afforestation, etc. In addition, the FAC noted that the region is home to Schedule I species, the reduction in forest loss due to decrease in height in minimal and will not have substantial ameliorative impact, It said “Such a marginal reduction in requirement of the forest land for the project may not be able to reduce the adverse impact of project on such a biodiversity rich mature forest ecosystem to the extent which could make the project environmentally as well as socio-economically viable in forest dependent tribal society of Arunachal Pradesh”. FAC also noted that impact of reduction of dam height on its economic feasibility was not put before the committee.
16.06.2014: Secretary Power writes to Secretary, MEFCC on 16.06.2014 to review the decision of FAC and accord the Stage-I forest clearance. Such direction from letter was clearly in violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which clearly defines the process for forest clearance and where Power Ministry secretary has no role.
19.06.2014: Joint meeting held between Ministry of Mine, Ministry of Steel, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change and Ministry of Coal, attended by the Ministers and Secretaries of the respective Ministries, as well as Secy, Ministry of Power wherein it was decided that a report on sensitivity analysis of dam height reduction by 40 meters shall be submitted to MoEF and action will be taken only after that.
24.06.2014: Secy, Ministry of Power writes to MEFCC & submitted a report on the sensitivity analysis on the dam height reduction upto 20 meters. However, MEFCC maintained that that as decided in the meeting the sensitivity analysis report was not submitted by the project proponent.
28.08.14: MEFCC sends letter rejecting Forest Diversion Proposal of Dibang Multipurpose Project on the basis of 10 meters height reduction, rich forest, social impacts and also downstream impacts on Assam, including Dibru Saikhowa.
5.09.2014: MEFCC writes to (NHPC/ Min of Power) to submit sensitivity analysis of reduction by 40 meters.
08.09.14 (This letter of 08.09.14 was uploaded on MEFCC FAC website on the day of the FAC meeting, 22.09.14): NHPC submits letter to MEFCC about sensitivity analysis for height reduction from 5m-40 meters. While it highlights the loss in installed capacity (780 MW) and loss in revenue due to 40 m reduction, it downplays the fact that 40 mts reduction will bring down forest land requirement by 26%. It concludes, without substantiation that “Decrease in dam height and consequent sacrifice in power generation beyond 10 mts reduction is not commensurate with saving forest land” and further recommends only 10 mts height reduction, which proposal the MEFCC had rejected in its Apr 29-30, 2014 meeting.
21.09.14: No sensitivity Analysis uploaded on MoEF FAC Website. SANDRP sends a submission urging FAC not to consider the project in the absence of this analysis in public domain as it violates CIC orders. People affected by the project have no idea of this analysis which is the basis of decision making in the next day’s meeting.
22.09.14: Day of the Meeting: Suddenly Additional Information document accessed (and downloaded) on 21.09.14 changes, with two additional pages and letter from NHPC about sensitivity analysis is uploaded ON THE DAY OF THE MEETING.
23.09.14: News that FAC has recommended clearance to Dibang was already public.
CONCLUSION As noted earlier, the Dibang Project is the largest capacity hydropower project, the highest proposed dam and largest proposed reservoir of North East India. One expected all concerned to be diligent in taking decisions on such a project. However, it is clear from this narrative that the process of environment and forest clearance for the Dibang Project is fundamentally flawed, inadequate and in violation of all norms of democratic and informed governance. Significantly, it is also illegal and untenable. Such manipulative decision-making has led to flawed decisions of environmental and forest clearances in case of LSHP in 2003, with the project stalled by people’s agitation since 34 months now. If the Dibang Project, which is bigger than LSHP in every respect and with much greater impacts, is pushed in such a manner, it is likely to face the same fate as that of the LSHP. We hope that the final decisions related to Dibang Project will be more informed, diligent, democratic, unbiased and objective. Admittedly, such hope seems rather farfetched at this moment.
Parineeta Dandekar (firstname.lastname@example.org) & Himanshu Thakkar (email@example.com), SANDRP
 This is not to state that the UPA government that ruled India during the 2004-2014 decade was in anyway more sensitive to environment or democratic concerns. In fact part of the EC and FC time line and some of the manipulations happened before May 2014 when the current government took over. However, it is apparent that the current government has indulged in much more violations and manipulations and pressurized the statutory bodies (including FAC & NBWL reconstitution).
 For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/dibang-project-rejected-forest-clearance-for-the-second-time/
 A video titled “Dibang Resistance (Arunachal Pradesh)” depicts the protest and blockade by local people against the Dibang dam. The video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8TCUKh2hQY
 Mimi, R., “The Dibang Multipurpose Project, Resistance of the Idu Mishmi” published in “Water Conflicts in Northeast India – A Compendium of Case Studies” edited by Das, Partha J. et. all, 2013
Uttarakhand Hydropower: No lessons learnt from June 2013 disaster
Uttarakhand is another hotbed for the setting up of dams in order to utilize its claimed potential of about 27,000 MW. The government is overlooking the damage these will cause to the already fragile environment. This article tries to provide an overview of developments in Uttarakhand Hydropower sector over the last one year. (To see the list of all the existing and proposed projects in Uttarakhand, see https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/uttarakhand-existing-under-construction-and-proposed-hydropower-projects-how-do-they-add-to-the-disaster-potential-in-uttarakhand/.)
A study done by the National University of Singapore (NUS) predicted that dam related activity in the Himalayas will submerge and destroy 17,000 ha of land. The Himalayas have a dam density which is 62 times greater than the current global average[i]. The trouble is that Professor Maharaj K Pandit, who led the NUS study, has deep entrenched interests in hydropower business, having led seriously problematic Environmental Impact Assessment and Cumulative Impact Assessment studies that have never said NO to any project, never raised the issues he is raising in NUS study in any of the EIA or CIA study he has led. Several of his EIAs have been found to be seriously inadequate, incomplete and supporting hydropower lobby.
In 2010, a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had stated that more than 40 hydro projects in the region was a serious threat to nature and bio-diversity of the region[ii]. The impact these dams have on the environment and people has been clearly seen in the light of the 2013 floods which wrecked havoc in the state. There are constant delays and faulty constructions due to lack of strict supervision which then endanger the lives and livelihoods of the local population. Despite this, the government pushes on for more and more projects.
American Met Society confirms role of Climate Change in Uttarakhand floods In an annual extreme-weather report of September 2014, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has[iii] listed the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 as among the 16 extreme weather events of 2013 where role of climate change is undeniable. Unfortunately, Indian government is neither clearly acknowledging this reality, nor identifying the victims and demanding justice for them. While Uttarakhand disaster was a clear warning in this regard, the Sept 2014 floods of Jammu and Kashmir is another one showing how vulnerable the Himalayas are to the climate change.
Post-flood scenario: In the 2013 floods, about 19 projects were completely washed away resulting in affecting 35 % of the state generation capacity[iv].
|Estimated losses from damage to hydropower projects on the Ganga|
|Dhauli Ganga||Pithoragarh||280 MW||Rs 30 crore (project completely submerged)|
|Kaliganga I||Rudraprayag||4 MW||Rs 18-19 crore (power house and 4 houses washed away)|
|Kaliganga II||Rudraprayag||6 MW||Rs 16 crore (power house and 4 houses washed away)|
|Sobla||Pithoragarh||8 MW||Rs 14 crore (completely washed away)|
|Kanchauti||Pithoragarh||2 MW||Rs 12 crore (totally washed away)|
|Chirkila||Pithoragarh||1.5 MW||Rs 20 crore (part of the project washed away)|
|Maneri Bhali I & II||Uttarkashi||304+90 MW||Rs 2 crore + Rs 5 crore (walls collapsed, silt in barrages)|
Following the orders of the Supreme Court on Aug 13, 2013[v] in the after math of the June 2013 flood disaster, an Expert Body (EB) was formed under Dr. Ravi Chopra to assess the role of dams in the flood disaster. In its report it was recommended that 23 projects be dropped altogether in the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin and studies be initiated in all other basins. The court had stayed work on 24 out of 39 projects last year after the floods[vi] and had also stayed clearance to any more projects in the state. (To know more about the recommendations of the EB read SANDRP’s blog: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/.)
The major reasons for amplification of floods according to the report were the mountains of silt, sand, and boulders that “construction crews excavated to make room for at least 30 big and small hydropower projects, and left unmanaged along the riverbanks. The rushing high water scoured the banks, dissolved the mountains of construction spoils, and pushed the mud and boulders downstream, burying low lying communities”[vii]. SANDRP has been continuously demanding an assessment of the hydropower projects and the potential danger they cause, even before the Supreme Court order (see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/uttarakhand-disaster-moef-should-suspect-clearances-to-hydropower-projects-and-institute-enquiry-in-the-role-of-heps/).
Despite the report of the Expert Body, the Central Electricity Authority and the Central Water Commission, working like a lobby for big dams and hydropower projects, do not agree that dams had a role to play in the 2013 disaster[viii]. This led the CWC to even cause violations of the order which it thought it could hide under the register (to know more about this visit SANDRP’s blog https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/cwcs-national-dam-register-violates-laws-and-sc-orders-on-uttarakhand-dams/’)
Also, despite the stay on clearances, the 300 MW Lakhwar Project in the Upper Yamuna River Basin in Dehradun District has been given a green signal by the MoEF[ix].
Creation of eco-sensitive zones:
5 km stretch between Gomukh and Uttarkashi was declared as an eco-sensitive zone which has led to the shutting down of various projects in that stretch. The bigger projects which have been affected are the 600 MW Loharinag-Pala under the NTPC, which is still appealing to receive its reimbursement to the tune of Rs. 536.30 crore. Apart from this, the 480 MW Maneri project under UJVNL and the 380 MW Bhaironghati project have been scrapped[x].
The Srinagar Hydro Electric Project on the Alaknanda River has increased installed capacity from 200 to 330 MW which was already a cause for concern for the people of the area and other experts who say that the land is too unstable to hold such a big project. Previously, the project faced problems due to damage to its coffer dam. The GVK company owned project was also the centre of controversy due to the Dhari Devi temple which was ultimately relocated in undue hurry just before the Uttarakhand floods.
In July 2014, it faced another disruption due to the collapse of the 19 metre high and 100 metre long wall of its de-silting basin during a test run of the project[xi]. The heavy rainfall and raging waters in the Alaknanda led to the breaking of the walls which caused flooding and inundation of land and houses. The earlier complaints of the residents of nearby villages regarding the leakage from the power channel canal of the project were not taken seriously by the authorities[xii].
The 171 MW Lata Tapovan project was overrun by floodwaters that damaged concrete work and forced at least a year-long delay in its commissioning. The delay could grow longer because of the badly damaged highway which makes transportation unsafe.
Another affected project is the 520 MW Tapovan Vishnugad HEP in the Chamoli district. The project was already under scrutiny because of the unfavourable geographical characteristics of the area it is in. The added damage was done during the floods which led to damages in the power channel and the approach road to chormi adit. This could lead to a 12 month delay. Its diversion dyke was also washed away and in June 2014, BHEL refused to start work. Even the head race tunnel (HRT) contractors L&T and Alpine Mayreder Bau Gmbh (AM) have terminated their contract leaving NTPC searching for new contractors[xiii].
The 400 MW Vishnuprayag HEP in the Chamoli district was also affected in the floods as muck and debris filled its reservoir, causing electricity generation to stop. It was also under controversy for being responsible for causing floods downstream as it did not open one of its gates to let the water out, resulting in water finally being left under great pressure causing flooding and destruction of downstream area, people and properties.
Apart from this, the project authorities are also engaging in the disposal of muck and debris on the Alaknanda river bed and not in a safe site. The Jaypee group has been asked to to file a comprehensive affidavit on disposal of river bed material lying in the Vishnupryag HEP on Alakhnanda River, Joshimath by a bench of five judges of the National Green Tribunal. After the floods in 2013, a huge amount of muck and debris were deposited in the reservoir. To clean this and restart electricity generation, the company removed it from the reservoir but dumped it in the Alaknanda river bed, hoping that in the next monsoon it would open its gates enough to let the debris flow downstream. But this is highly dangerous for the downstream areas and population as pointed out by Vimal bhai, founder of the Matu Jansangathan, an NGO[xiv]. The NGT, however, has not taken necessary punitive measures against the company.
Contract for construction of the Koteshwar dam was awarded to PCL Intertech Lenhydro Consortium JV in 2002 for a contract value of Rs 334.52 crore. The scheduled completion was specified for May 2006, but project was delayed due to non handling of project and quarry land by the owner to the contractor. Only Rs 99 crore worth work was done upto March 2007[xv].
Another case for delay is the Tehri Pumped Storage Plant (PSP) under the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC). The contract was given to Alstom-HCC Consortium which had only completed 10% work even after 25 months had elapsed since its commencement and until October 2013[xvi]. Even till April 2014, only 16% of the work was done while only 37 months are left to complete the rest[xvii]. Various problems pointed out by the THDC were that the consortium did not employ sufficient people or deploy enough machinery on site.
The 444 MW Vishnugad-Pipalkoti project under the THDC also faced delays in obtaining the clearances from the forest department to divert 80.507 ha of forest land for the project. The delay was caused in obtaining the stage II forest clearance which was in the hands of the State Wildlife Board, which finally gave its clearance in March 2013. But the surprise is that the World Bank approved the project even before it got its clearances but claimed that work would begin only after all clearances are obtained. But like a lot of other projects, work had already begun for the power house near Harsari village, affecting the villagers. Unfortunately, the inspection panel of the World Bank that was looking into the complaints against the project have completely failed to understand or show the courage to point out the failures of the project and the Bank right from impact assessment to consultations to violations in clearance procedures. The joint statement of the Inspection panel and the World Bank Management on Oct 2, 2014 exposes both the parties. The World Bank, while funding destruction of Alaknanda River, one of the two major head sources of the Ganga, is claiming to fund river rejuvenation efforts in the downstream!
Even one year after the floods, there is no comprehensive report about the disaster that would give a blow by blow account and fix accountability. The villagers are still awaiting resettlement[xviii].
Residents of 29 villages in Tehri district who already faced danger from landslides are now in a worse situation as the landslide occurrence has increased since the 2013 floods. But the villagers say that the state has made no efforts into their relocation and they live in fear of their life. The government had claimed that these villages would be relocated for their safety but due to the laxity of the authorities, work has not started on that yet.[xix]
To know more about the situation of hydropower dams in Uttarakhand in the context of June 2013 disaster, read SANDRP’s blogs:
Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP, firstname.lastname@example.org
[v] For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/uttarakhand-flood-disaster-supreme-courts-directions-on-uttarakhand-hydropower-projects/
[viii] www.energylineindia.com 30th april 2014.
[x] www.energyline.com 8th jan 2013
[xiii] www.energylineindia.com june 16, 2014.
[xiv] matuganga.blogspot.in press note 23-06-14.
[xv] www.energylineindia.com june 4th 2013
[xvi] www.energylineindia.com oct 7th , 2013
[xvii] www.energylineindia.com april 23rd 2014
[xviii] Note: to know more about the damage caused by floods in Uttarakhand, view SANDRP’s film https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/uttarakhand-flood-ravage-and-the-dams-short-film-english/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/uttarakhand-flood-ravage-and-the-dams-short-film-hindi/
[xix] http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/dehradun/fear-of-landslides-haunts-tehri-villagers-awaiting-resettlement.html .
Photo Essay on the impacts of blasting and tunneling for hydropower projects in Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh – 2
Guest Blog by: Sumit Mahar (email@example.com), Him Dhara Environment Research and Action Collective, Himachal Pradesh 
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. 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|
|Villages||Choling, Yulla, Urni, Runnag, Meeru, Chugaun|
|Pictures taken on||25 May to 2 June 2014|
Nathpa Jhakari Hydro Power Project
|Project||Nathpa Jhakari HEP|
|Villages||Nigulseri & Jhakari|
|Pictures taken on||29/05/2014 & 03/06/2014|
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/
 The photo blog also appears here: http://www.himdhara.org/2014/08/06/photo-essay-when-mountains-are-hollowed/
 For a detailed article on this issue, Seeping through the cracks, see: http://www.epw.in/web-exclusives/seeping-through-cracks.html
Dams, Fish and Fishing Communities of the Ganga: Glimpses of the Gangetic Fisheries Primer
Some highlights from SANDRP’s latest Publication on Riverine Fisheries of the Ganga
The government is discussing Ganga not only as ‘Ganga Mata’, but also as a ‘navigational corridor’ with plans to build barrages after every 100 kilometers with funding from World Bank. At her origin, hundreds of hydropower dams are changing the ecological character of the Ganga. However, as a rich ecosystem, the Ganga also supports about 10-13 million riverine fisherfolk and about 300 freshwater fish species! Riverine fisheries have been a blind spot in Independent India, despite the fact that they provide nutritional and livelihood security to millions of people.In the post independence water management discourse, river has been equated to water and water to irrigation, water supply, and hydro power. The profound impacts of irrigation, water supply and hydropower dams on sectors like riverine fisheries have been entirely ignored.
Nachiket Kelkar looks at the status of riverine fisheries and fisher communities in the Gangetic Basin of India and highlights the devastating impacts of dams, barrages and water abstractions on this. Nachiket’s study on Gangetic Fisheries is based on long term engagement with fisher communities in the basin as well as robust scientific studies.
SANDRP has published this work in the form of a Primer which will soon be available online. What follows are some glimpses from the Primer. Please write to us if you are interested in receiving a full soft copy of the Primer.
Riverine fisheries of the Gangetic basin support one of the largest fishing populations of the world. However, its fish resources are rapidly declining due to large dams, barrages and hydropower projects, severely altered river flows, fragmentation of hydrological connectivity between rivers and wetlands, alarming levels of pollution, riverfront encroachment, rampant sand mining and unregulated overexploitation of fish resources.
Across its range, the fisheries show indications of economic unviability and ecological collapse, with violent social conflicts as an outcome of the contest over scarce and declining resources as well as politics and access. A major factor behind the serious fisheries-related problems is severe alteration of river flow volume and seasonal dynamics by large dams, barrages and hydropower projects. The state of river fisheries directly indicates the declining biophysical, ecological and social integrity of the river basin. The existing in-river fisheries contribute merely about 10% of the overall inland fish production. Even this production is highly unsustainable today and has all the indicators of serious levels of overfishing. For instance, river fisheries in Bihar now even glean small-sized fish fry for markets in northern West Bengal (Siliguri) and Assam, where eating small fish is a delicacy (F.pers.comm).
To understand the situation in Gangetic Basin clearly, a detailed, large-scale interview survey was conducted by the author in 2012 across 372 fishers in 59 fisher groups spread over 17 rivers in 5 north Indian states. The survey objective was to document perceptions of traditional fishing communities about issues and problems in fishing in the Gangetic basin. Of the respondents, c. 90% singled out “large dams and poor river flows” as the main causes for a near-total decline in fisheries and fish resources over the past 4 decades. About 90% people mentioned low water availability and stoppage of fish migratory routes by large dams as the main cause for fish declines. Almost 45% (from eastern and northern UP, and Bihar) singled out the Farakka barrage as the main problem.
The Canvas of Gangetic River Fisheries
The Ganga River, from her headwaters to the delta, along with hundreds of her tributaries drains an area of approx. 0.9_1 million km2 across northern and eastern India, flowing through 10 states in India and also in Nepal and Bangladesh. These rivers form one of the largest alluvial mega-fan regions of the world, and deliver huge quantities of sediment from the Himalayas to the northern Indian plains and to the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean. The Gangetic floodplains shape not only landforms but also complex human cultures that attempt to stabilize themselves and adapt to the constantly changing riverine forces. Biodiversity, hydrology, geomorphology and social dynamics influence each other through constant interaction and multiple feedback mechanisms.
The dynamic balance of these factors triggers opportunities for spawning, reproduction, population dynamics and viability, migration and movement of freshwater species, including fishes, river dolphins, otters, crocodilians, turtles, invertebrates as well as terrestrial biodiversity.
In floodplain rivers, as floodwaters recede post-monsoon, fishers record the highest catches in October and November, as large post-breeding and migrating adult fishes (e.g. major carps, clupeids, mullet) become catchable. Winters, from December to early February, generally record low catches because many fish show slowed behavior and limited movement. But in spring fisheries of minor carps and catfishes record high production. With water levels reducing, fishes become more concentrated in specific river habitats like deep pools, where they are easy to fish. Summer fish catch biomass is also reasonably good due to the overall low water availability.
In the Gangetic basin, fisheries are practiced in a range of diverse freshwater habitats including natural and man-made, lentic (stagnant water) and lotic (flowing water) ecosystems. Natural freshwater areas include large floodplain rivers, non-perennial rivers, perennial and seasonal streams, cold-water rivers and streams, glacial lakes, estuaries, tidal rivers, floodplain wetlands, oxbow lakes, grassland swamps and marshes. Manmade habitats include dug or built-up wetlands, ponds, man-made reservoirs, dam reservoirs and canals. To the fisher, flow velocity, depth profile, substrate type, vegetation structure, current patterns and habitat stability are key indicators for fishing effort allocation and logistical decisions.
Fish Diversity in the Gangetic Basin
The overall species pool of the Gangetic fish assemblage is estimated at around 300 species (53+ families, 150+ genera; 250 species). The floodplain fisheries are dominated by major and minor carps (Cyprinidae), catfishes (Siluriformes: 6-7 families), Clupeidae, Notopteridae and a mix of many other families. Major carps and the Clupeid fish, Hilsa (Tenualosa ilisha) and some large catfishes form the most valued catches across most parts of the Gangetic floodplains.
Major carps, the most preferred freshwater food fishes, include species like Catla, Rohu, Mrigal, Mahseer etc. exhibit potamodromous (along freshwater upstream-downstream gradients) migration. Though these fishes have suffered serious declines due to overfishing, pollution and dams, they have been mass-produced through artificial rearing in pond aquaculture. Farmed large carps form the major proportion of fish eaten anywhere in India today. In wild fisheries, catfishes come lower in the preference order, but with the decline of carps, medium and small catfishes have become the main fishing targets. Further, as most catfishes are sedentary and do not show long-distance movements, the fisheries have completely switched from carp- to catfish-targeting fisheries. Other deep-bodied, highly sought after fishes include the Chitala and Notopterus, or the featherfishes, and mullet.
The estuarine fishery in the Hooghly and Sunderbans tidal rivers in West Bengal is dominated by shellfish (prawns, mud crabs and shrimp), Clupeidae and Engraulidae, Sciaenidae, catfishes of the Ariidae and a far more diverse set of families compared to truly inland fisheries. Other important components of the commercial fisheries include 5-6 species of shellfishes (mainly prawn and shrimp).
Coldwater fisheries specialize on large-bodied, rapids-loving potamodromous migrant fishes such as Mahseer and Snow Trout. These fishes are of high commercial importance and are in high demand by professional sport fishers and anglers, apart from being highly prized as food locally. Mahseer in particular, have recently led to the opening of new markets of luxury wildlife tourism that is based on angling and recreation in the Western Himalaya.
Dam reservoir fisheries are almost entirely based on managed stocking and breeding of commercial fishes in hatcheries, of major carps Catla, Rohu and Mrigal, catfishes like Pangasiodon, and minor catfishes. The state of river fisheries in the Gangetic basin has been affected over the last few decades by several threats described in the next section.
Dams and Riverine Fisheries in India Fisheries across India have been severely affected by dams, flow regulation and associated human impacts, which have substantially altered ecological requirements of fisheries and biodiversity together. If one clinically investigated the fisheries’ decline, they would find it to coincide with the period of maximum dam building (1970s-80s) in India. Most commercially valuable fish species, especially major carps and Hilsa, have shown population-level collapse and even commercial extinction over large inland waters. Reduction in harvested fish size-class distributions, a classical indicator of overexploitation by fisheries, points to poor fish recruitment and adult survival, which may be further brought down by flow regulation by dams. Dams have acted as the major factor of disruption by blocking migratory routes of upriver or estuarine spawning fishes such as Hilsa and Anguilla eels. Dams have also caused loss of genetic connectivity between fish populations, most notably seen in major carp stocks. Erratic water releases, nutrient and sediment trapping behind dams and barrages, failure of breeding in carp and catfish species due to siltation, erosion, poor water availability, modified thermal regimes required for breeding (increase in temperatures due to low river depth/flow), and exceptional levels of hazardous pollution (again, magnified due to the poor flows reducing dilution capacity of river water), are other fallouts that adversely affect fisheries. The fact that there is just not enough water in the river must form the bottom line of any causal investigation of riverine fisheries. Lack of appropriate policy measures and pollution receive dominant mention as threats to fisheries by government research agencies, but they are mere outcomes of much larger shifted baselines because of dams. Dams, barrages and hydropower projects through flow regulation have increased uncertainty about fishing and driven fishing to desperate levels: fishers often resort to destructive practices, or even worse, exit the fishery altogether. Such exit does not solve the problem of existing fisher folk: water is critical to sustaining not just fisheries but the river and the people dependent on it. Detailed understanding of the lives of fishing communities of the Ganges is therefore critical.
Fisher communities in Ganga: Around 10-13 million people in the Gangetic floodplains are estimated to be dependent on fish resources for their livelihoods, directly or indirectly. However, accurate estimates of active traditional and non-traditional fisher populations are still wanting. It is important for any discussion on fishing communities to clearly separate traditional fishing communities from ‘non-traditional fishers’, who may be practically from any other local community and with the possession of other livelihood options, but also opportunistic fishing, due to unrestricted access to imported nets and gear available in markets to anyone. Traditional fishing communities were always the craftsmen of their own nets and gear, and also possess remarkable ecological knowledge about rivers, fish and biodiversity, their breeding biology, ecology, seasonality, and distribution. Of course, with the degradation of fisheries throughout the Gangetic plains, the traditional knowledge and practices of fishing are eroding fast. Hence such knowledge needs to be documented well, especially from old fishers with whom it still persists, to identify historical baselines of river fisheries with a different, past ecological reference (pers.obs.; F.pers.comm).
Traditional fishing communities today form a highly marginalized, politically unorganized and socio-economically impoverished people. Caste discriminations and political history form the chief reasons for their poverty and subjugation over centuries of fishworking. But the present condition of rivers does not seem to offer hope to any improvement in their economic position unless and until there is collective voicing of their concerns, especially against large-scale water engineering projects that threaten their livelihoods.
Their livelihoods, one may argue, confined them to the river’s water, albeit the fact that they never owned the waters legally. However, they always have stated cultural claims of temporally confined territory, following their foraging preferences and site usage. But depending on the nature of the river’s hydrological dynamics, there may be variable maintenance of fixed ‘territories’ by fishers adopting a roving mode of fishing, and neither legal nor cultural claims can be reconciled to a level that the conflicting parties can reach mutually. With regards to their economic viability and status, a large proportion of the traditional fishworkers fall Below the Poverty Line (BPL), and are recorded as Economically Backward Castes, and also have been assigned the status of Scheduled Castes. Annual incomes from fishing alone, according to the few estimates available, range from INR 25,000/- to INR 50,000/- (pers.obs., F.pers.comm.).
Large dams, flow regulation and Gangetic basin fisheries : The singular key problem of fisheries today is that it lacks water in the dry-season, because of flow regulation by dams, barrages and hydropower projects. More water flow releases are needed for the protection of riverine fisheries in the Gangetic basin. Widespread river habitat degradation, industrial, agricultural and domestic pollution, altered flows and modification of sediment and nutrient fluxes by dam projects, and resource overexploitation (by fisheries, agriculture or industry) have had major consequences for the unique biodiversity and fisheries of floodplain rivers across Asia. Obstruction and fragmentation of river flow, habitat destruction, accelerated erosion and siltation, long-distance water diversions (involving huge amount of transmission losses and waste) and poor flow releases are the major direct threats of dam-canal systems in the Gangetic plains.
Flow volume problems: Lower-than-minimum flows have been consistently recorded across the Ganga, Yamuna, Chambal, Kosi, Sone, Ken, Betwa, Ghaghra and Gandak rivers. Along with these large rivers, almost all others (Rapti, Baghmati, Mahananda, Teesta, Kamla, Burhi Gandak, Punpun, Gomti and others) have been highly regulated64,69. The reduction of freshwater discharge reaching the Sunderbans because of the Farakka barrage has led to high degree saline ingress throughout the estuary, causing die-offs of considerably large tracts of mangroves and aquatic vegetation, as well as severe losses to the upstream fishery. Downstream, fishing practices suited to brackish and fresh waters now have to adapt to saline intrusion into the estuary’s waters. Globally, fragmentation and flow regulation have caused the most severe impacts through drastic alterations to riverine biota and ecology. Low flows and fragmented connectivity of river channels lead inevitably to fish population declines and breeding failure. Over time, dams have probably led to genetic isolation of fish populations as well as river dolphin / crocodile populations, destruction of fish breeding habitats and spawning triggers and loss of valuable wild fish germplasm. These losses are so large in their ecological value and opportunity costs that they cannot be recovered with artificial fish culture techniques or hatcheries.
Aggravation of pollution effects: The Ganges basin is one of the most polluted large river basins in Asia, especially with regards to domestic sewage and agricultural runoff. Poor flows reduce the dilution and self-purification capacity of river water to reduce concentration of pollutants and local impacts on fishes. . Agricultural fertilizers (organophosphates, organochlorines, nitrates etc.), heavy metal pollution from industrial effluents, thermal power plants, oil refineries, distilleries and tanneries, and nitrogen-rich sewage, waste-water and non-biodegradable substances such as plastics, mercury, radioactive compounds and hospital wastes can cause fish kills or even worse, lead to high levels of toxicity in tissues. Pollution problems are especially acute in highly regulated river reaches, especially around Delhi (Yamuna River), and the Gomti at Lucknow, Yamuna until Panchnada in UP and Ganga River at Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna, Barauni, Bhagalpur and Farakka.
Siltation in dam reservoirs and barrage gates: Excessive siltation in the Ghaghra barrage has led to, as per local fishers, breeding failure in Labeo angra (Ghewri), a preferred spring-fisheries target in the region. The fishers claimed that over the past 5 years they have not captured a single fish with eggs inside it, and also added that catches have plummeted heavily (F.pers.comm). Siltation of gravel/sediment in reservoir or storage zones is a problem of huge magnitude for fisheries, especially through breeding failure. Accumulated silt in reservoirs is estimated to be so high (in tens of meters height) that it cannot even be easily flushed out, and leads to nearly 60-90% reductions in sediment fluxes of rivers in monsoon and non-monsooon seasons. Siltation adds to obstruction of flow release through barrage gates. In the Farakka barrage, sediment load accumulation is leading to breakage of gates every year, adding to maintenance costs.
Habitat destruction and alteration of erosion-deposition dynamics: Soil erosion by erratic and sudden releases before floods can potentially lead to alteration and destruction of fish breeding habitats and stock depression. Changes in depth and flow velocity lead to fish not being able to receive natural physiological cues for movement and spawning that are otherwise provided by variability in discharge. Flow alteration also alters hydrological connectivity and sediment transport with wetlands and confluence channels during flooding. As a result these productive breeding habitats often become unavailable for catfishes and carps. These factors together become a problem for pre-settlement fish juveniles and recruits, which move into the main channels.
Threats to cold-water and foothills fisheries from Hydropower Dams: Overall, despite their projected low impact situation, hydropower projects can have serious large-scale effects on mountain streams as well as rivers downstream. Globally, despite mitigation measures in hydropower constructions, fish migration and development have largely been deemed as failures. In India, hydropower projects, especially run-of-river projects in higher altitudes, often have disastrous effects on natural thermal regimes, cause sediment blockages and perturb natural flow variability at diurnal timescales through releases varying across several orders of magnitude. These changes severely affect not just breeding and migration in higher-altitude cold-water fisheries of snow trout and Mahseer in Himachal, Sikkim and Uttarakhand, but also downstream fisheries of catfish and carps in the foothills and plains due to altered flows. Their cumulative downstream impact can also potentially risk fisheries-based uses of river water without being exposed to the risk of sudden flow releases every day.
Globally, through extreme perturbation of natural flow dynamics, dams have homogenized and altered many crucial river-floodplain processes, and have had disastrous impacts on biodiversity and fisheries. There is an urgent need to ensure ecologically necessary, adequate and natural flow regimes in all rivers of the Gangetic basin. The current water scarcity is so severe that projects such as river interlinking, apart from their ridiculous proposed costs, are simply impossible to conceive of, water itself being the limitation. There is no doubt that further water developments will prove disastrous for a whole section of people and their livelihoods, and must be scrapped. Rivers that need urgent attention in this respect are the Chambal, Yamuna, Ken, Betwa, Alaknanda, Bhagirathi, Mandakini, Sone, Damodar, the Ganges at Farakka and Allahabad, Sharada, Ghaghra and all other rivers especially in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar0. Run-of-river hydropower projects, flow diversions and links, pumped irrigation, embankments, agricultural intensification, groundwater depletion and sand mining are highly destructive threats that will affect not just fisheries but the whole social fabric of river users in the near future.
Despite the demonstrated folly of not allowing rivers to flow from headwaters to estuaries and deltas, engineers, technocrats and politicians talk of “rivers flowing wastefully into the sea”. This statement would imply that the thousands of species and millions of fisher livelihoods that need flowing water in rivers are of no value to the state policy on water resource development. Such statements are ignoring important societal needs and hence are evidently irresponsible.
No post dam-construction compensation schemes exist for fishers, who may lose their entire livelihood because of flow-regulation and loss of hydrological connectivity due to dams. Downstream fisher populations must be ideally compensated for the lost fishing catch and livelihood opportunity, but in general there has been scant attention towards the communities’ livelihoods (F.pers.comm). Downstream water allocations through on-ground consultations with fisher communities are urgently needed (F.pers.comm). In India, water resources development is so strongly irrigation-focused (and now strongly focused on industry and hydropower), that, in comparison, riverine fisheries are not even acknowledged as legitimate and in need of conservation and livelihood protection. These biases mean that only pond aquaculture receives any attention. If river conservation and development groups can actively work with fishing communities in order to develop an informed and aware constituency or interest group, fishers will gain political voice in making negotiations about water availability in river basins.
Fisheries incur ‘colossal losses’ every season due to irregularities in dam operations, and always fall severely short of demand. But now, through the boom of artificially managed pond aquaculture and wetland fishing especially in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, the nature of supply itself has radically changedThis boom has contributed to India becoming one of the largest producers of inland freshwater fish in the world. But such ranking hides a lot of miserable facts about river degradation. Although net production shows increases, the collapse of river fisheries that still support millions of poor people who don’t get access to aquaculture, get totally ignored under such swamping. This is why farmed fish in fish hatcheries can barely replace riverine fisheries despite the fact that they have cornered the attention of fisheries development.
The failure of river fisheries has led to large-scale outmigration for labour from the Indo-Gangetic plains (F.pers.comm.). This might be a significant contributor to the magnitude of labour-related migrations from the Gangetic plains, which has been a rising exodus. Today, fisher folk from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal provide a large proportion (20-40%) of construction and manual labor force across India (F.pers.comm). Others who stay behind have to take to menial jobs such as rickshaw-pullers or servants (F.pers.comm; pers.obs). Some are forced to take to crime to be able to feed themselves and their families. These factors can weaken the social resilience of production systems and create poverty, disparity and community breakdown. It has been argued that ethnic conflicts between local Indian populations and illegally immigrated Bangladeshi refugees are linked to poor water releases from the Farakka barrage in West Bengal, to downstream floodplain reaches in Bangladesh.
Mitigation measures like Fish ladders and hatcheries
There is little existing research on the construction design, functioning and efficiency of fish ladders in tropical and subtropical large floodplain rivers. Across the tropics, monitoring studies on fish ladders do not show positive results. A handful of barrages in India have constructed fish ladders, but owing to numerous problems they have been largely a failure. These problems are all related to the extremely low discharge rates from the dams – as there is simply not enough water volume allocated for migrating fishes, which therefore cannot access the ladders and fish lifts. Other problems are linked to siltation in reservoirs and turbulence of flows near the fish passages. For instance, the Farakka fish lifts do not seem to have been of any help due to the extremely low outflow of the Ganga River from it, and the commercial extinction of the Hilsa fisheries both upstream and downstream is clear with an estimated 99.9% decline. Fish passes constructed at barrages on the Yamuna River (Hathnikund barrage) and the Ganga barrage at Haridwar have been monitored by CIFRI and the results suggest that they have had very low success for migration of cold-water species like the Golden Mahseer Tor putitora. Similar structures on the Beas River and Mahanadi River (Salandi dam, Orissa) have found to be ineffective in buffering the adverse impacts on fisheries production in these rivers. India has dominantly followed reservoir hatcheries development, and therefore consideration for effective fish ladders has always been low priority. However, as we have seen, hatcheries themselves bring about several problems for native fish populations – and are not an ecologically viable solution, despite being economically profitable to certain interests. Given the poor success of existing fish passages, it is important to consider modern designs in existing and proposed dams that are suited to the ecology of our own fishes. A whole body of interdisciplinary research – spanning engineering and ecology, is needed to address the significant gaps in our understanding of making fish passages work. We need to monitor existing examples well to assess reasons for their failure. Again, just the act of allowing higher dry-season flows and timely adequate releases in the river could be a far more effective strategy for fisheries improvement than other intensive technology-driven practices to enhance fisheries production (F.pers.comm)
River restoration and alternative livelihoods: Given the current state of riverine fisheries, there is an urgent need to consider possibilities for large-scale ecological restoration of rivers by modifying dam operations and improving ecological flows. Alongside restoration, it is crucial to consider alternative livelihoods to fishers, which regard their traditional knowledge and provide them with clearly defined user rights and responsibilities over management of wild-caught or cultured fish resources. Ecological restoration of all major and minor rivers in India needs to be undertaken urgently, to ensure ecologically adequate, naturally timed flow releases, consistent dry-season flow regimes, hydro-geomorphological habitat maintenance, flood maintenance and reduction in pollution. Dam re-operations to ensure adequate flows and variability in river discharge remain a neglected aspect of river management in most regions today. Flow restoration can lead to improved health, numbers and availability of native commercial carps and preponderance of larger fish sizes through improved juvenile recruitment, along with other advantages to surface hydrology and local groundwater availability. Large-scale scientific research and monitoring programs must be instituted to study the response of inland wild-capture fisheries and take further steps to mitigate local threats. Restoration also needs to involve stringent restrictions on release of untreated domestic and industrial effluent, especially in urban belts such as Kanpur, the National Capital Region of Delhi, Allahabad-Varanasi, Mathura-Agra, Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh; Patna, Barauni in Bihar and the Durgapur and Kolkata regions in West Bengal. Strict restrictions are needed on sand-mining, riverfront encroachment and embankment construction, especially in the Chambal, Ghaghra, Gandak, Baghmati, Rapti and Kosi Rivers. In this regard, more judicial interventions, such as seen recently in the case of sand-mining closures from river beds based on a review by the National Green Tribunal, are critical in reducing wanton and unregulated destruction of riverfronts, when implemented effectively. In terms of reducing the most direct impacts, there is a need to regulate fishing pressure and completely curb destructive fishing practices like dynamiting, use of mosquito-nets, beach seines, and gillnets below allowable mesh-sizes, poisoning, use of long-lines etc. Traditional fishers must be involved directly in monitoring and banning the use of destructive practices by the government monitoring agencies.
Finally, the quest for sustaining fisheries in the Ganga River basin in the long-term will require rethinking of current dominant paradigms to move towards ecological restoration of rivers, their biodiversity, as well as socially just, rights-based and equitable socio-political restoration of traditional fisher communities and fisheries management systems.
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Srirampura Royal Enclave, Jakkur, Bangalore 560064, India. (The views expressed are of the author and do not belong to the institution where the author currently works)
Member, IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Twelve-point recommendation from traditional fisher communities for sustaining riverine fisheries and livelihoods in the Gangetic basin.
|1||Water||Provide enough water, adequate natural flows in all rivers. Allow fish movements upriver, currently blocked by large dams and barrages. STOP new dams and mindless, high-cost, destructive and unsustainable engineering projects such as river interlinking.|
|2||Ban on destructive fishing practices||Curb destructive practices of fishing, especially mosquito-netting, poisoning, dynamite-fishing, trawling and beach-seine netting everywhere.|
|3||Poverty alleviation and social security||Fishers are in need of government dole or loans, technical know-how, permits and I-cards, housing, education and displacement packages. It is alleged that these benefits are hardly reaching them, although the allocations of funds reach farmers easily. Fishers need government security from criminals / mafia / anti-social elements / pirates that harass them and grab fish catch.|
|5||Define fisher rights and responsibilities||Clearly define fishing use and access rights across all riverscapes, provide clear guidelines on multi-objective management of fisheries amidst other economic activities|
|6||Reduce pollution and mass fish-kills||Urgent need to reduce the presently excessive river pollution, especially industrial but also domestic wastes.|
|7||Alternative livelihoods||River fisheries are currently in a state of ecosystem-level decline or collapse. Trash fishes have become the most common catch, replacing many commercially viable carps and catfishes. People require alternative livelihoods in situ, to check problems related to migration and exodus to work as construction laborers or rickshaw-pullers. Community-based, cooperative pond carp-culture fisheries seem highly promising. Other alternative livelihoods include working with river management authorities, conservation agencies, ecotourism, agriculture etc.|
|8||Fishery co-operatives||Focus on community-based management of river fisheries and help it develop in an ecologically friendly and sustainable manner. Replace the systems of private contracts and free-for-all fishing by power-equitable, social dignified resource-sharing arrangements|
|9||Ensure compliance of fishers towards biodiversity conservation and monitoring||Needs to be ensured through continued monitoring of fishing activity and behavior, including by-catch or hunting of species. This will help safeguard endangered wild species such as gharial, turtles, river dolphins, birds etc. This can also help the spread of exotic food fishes that are rapidly invading our rivers (the worst examples are Tilapia species, Chinese and Common Carps, and more recently, Red-bellied Piranha.|
|10||Use of Food Security Act, Rural Labor Programs||Can facilitate daily incomes by which fisheries losses could be offset; while also providing a solid community-level incentive to regulate and monitor fishing.|
|11||Restoration of native riverine fish communities||Very important given the huge decline in native carp species of high commercial value. Fisheries need to protected not only by revival of stocks, facilitating better fish recruitment, but also by protecting fish breeding habitats from|
|12||Adaptive management of water tenure in fishing areas||Owing to natural uncertainty linked to flow regimes and channel course changes, new flexible systems of tenure in fisheries are required. Such systems would fit in well with providing a clear definition to fishing rights in any riverine stretch.|
Flow for Worship, Flow for Money: Water Wheels and Hydropower in Bhutan
Countries like Bhutan, Nepal, parts of Tibet and parts of India like Sikkim have some lovely Buddhist traditions linked to the nature. On the edges of forests, overlooking valleys and atop majestic mountains flutter tiny colorful prayer flags. Inside Dzongs, fixed prayer wheels spin by the tug of a pious hand. While spinning and fluttering, the prayers are supposed to be disseminated in the universe, reaching every sentinel being.
But there is a third kind of fascinating prayer wheel. It worships not only the creator, but also flowing water. Today, as naturally flowing waters become rarer, it is strangely reassuring to see these wheels spinning away, as the stream pushes the small wooden turbines round and round. These wheels are more fascinating for their symbolic significance: In these regions where water wheels worship the flow, the same flow is being harnessed for generating money and power: Hydropower. In Bhutan, the 10,000 MW + hydropower initiative supported by India and financial institutions like ADB & other foreign players will dam almost all of the big river systems in the country.
In fact, institutions like ADB are so over-enthusiastic in pushing hydropower in Bhutan ( ADB is ‘administering‘ Hydropower grants to Bhutan from countries like Norway and Japan) that they see Bhutan’s strong environmental conservation practices as ‘hurdles’ in this development. ADB says: “Bhutan’s strong environmental conservation policies have affected the pace of implementing power projects because of the time required to complete procedures such as environmental impact assessments, public consultations, forestry clearances, and road planning.”
What follows is a short photo feature on Water Wheels in Bhutan as well as the hydropower development in the Punatsangchu Basin, through the 1200 MW Punatsangchu I HEP. Just a few kilometers downstream is the proposed intake and dam of Punatsangchu II which is also underway.
Bhutan is the only country in the world which measures its development not only in terms of GDP, but through Gross National Happiness (GNH), which is an aggregate of a number of things, including environmental conservation and preservation of culture.
Let us hope that this dense hydropower development does not affect the Bhutanese tenets of happiness…
HYDROPOWER IN BHUTAN
At the same time, huge, unprecedented hydropower developing is also challenging the tiny nation. Much of it is pushed by India.
Bhutan was in news as it was the first foreign country to which the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit in June 2014. While he laid the foundation stone of the the 600 MW Khonglongchu Project, protests erupted in downstream Assam, India. Assam had suffered flood losses mainly in 2004 when the 60 MW Kurichhu Project, built by NHPC, released flood waters which reached Indian territory. Same fears are now expressed for Mangdechu and Konglongchu Projects. On July 9, 2014, The Times of India reported that Assam state BJP unit (BJP is in power at the centre), “They (BJP state leaders) also told Pandey (BJP all-India chief for morchas and cells Mahendra Pandey) that even Modi’s foundation laying for a 600-MW power station in Bhutan last month was not taken with enthusiasm by the people in Lower Assam districts because they were already affected by the impact of existing power projects in the Himalayan country.”
In 2006, India and Bhutan signed an agreement to “facilitate and promote development and construction of hydropower projects and associated transmission systems as well as trade in electricity, through both public and private sector engagements”. Under this agreement, India has agreed to minimum imports of 5,000 MW of hydropower capacity by 2020. The agreement will be valid for a period of 60 years and can be extended. In addition to this agreement, a protocol between India and Bhutan was signed in 2009 through which India will develop 10,000 MWs of hydropower in Bhutan for export of surplus power to India by 2020. This has been going on through a mix of soft loans and grants. This also means services for Indian engineering and design consultants like WAPCOS and Indian developers & contractors like L and T, NHPC, Gammon India, JP Associates, BHEL, SJVN, THDC, Tatas, HCC, Jindal, etc. Indian companies like NHPC, WAPCOS are also involved in Detailed Project Reports, while other Indian companies are bagging the construction and equipment contracts.
Already, three hydro projects funded and built by India are operating in Bhutan which include 336 MW Chukha, 60 MW Kurichu and 1020 MW Tala HEP. Under-construction projects funded mainly by India include 1200 MW Punatsangchhu HE Project Stage-I, 1020 MW Punatsangchu Stage II and 720 MW Mangdechu HEP. News reports indicate that Bhutan and Indian government have together identified 10 HEPs with a total capacity of 11,576 MW by 2020 for development. In addition the country has about 16 operating HEPs.
Punatsangchu I Project, 130 mts high dam, envisages submergence of 673 acres of Reserve forest land, 78 acres of private land (involving 116 land owners) and 6 acres of Institutional Land (2 institutions) till the end of April 2013 for the project construction. Punatsangchu II project with 80 mts high dam, involves 479 acres of reserve forest land, 14 acres of private land (involving 17 land owners) and 5 acres of Institutional Land (3 institutions) till the end of April 2013 for the project construction.
In 2014, India and Bhutan also signed an agreement for 2120 MW hydropower capacity through four projects which include 600 MW Kholongchu project, 180 MW Bunakha project (with 230 MW downstream benefits from Tala, Chukha and Wangchu HEPs), 570 MW Wangchu project, and 770 MW Chamkarchu-I project.
SANDRP visited the site of Punatsangchu I Project which has witnessed serious geological issues, which include severe sinking of the right bank, throwing the project off schedule and also increasing its cost. Similar geological surprises are also feared at Punatsangchu II Site.
Following are some pictures from Punatsangchu I Site.
In almost all Dzongs, as well as hotels and homes rests a picture of Six Symbols of Longevity ( see picture above), all of them are interlinked, hold symbolic significance and are supposed to be auspicious.
They include Man, Animals, Birds ( The Black Necked Cranes, incidentally threatened by an Indian Dam: 780 MW Nyamjangchu, close to Bhutanese border), Mountains, Trees and Rivers!
Let us hope this synergy is long-lived in Bhutan!
-Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
( All pictures by author)
END NOTES and References:
 Samir Mehta’s blog on Hydropower Challenges in Bhutan: http://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/257/bhutan-s-picture-of-gross-national-happiness-blurs
 Emmanuel Theophilus’s article on Fish Ladder in Kurichhu Dam in Bhutan published on SANDRP Blog:https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/fish-ladder-at-kurichhu-hydropower-project-bhutan-some-thoughts/
 Sector Study of Bhutan’s Hydropower by World Bank: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2007/12/9425448/bhutan-hydropower-sector-study-opportunities-strategic-options
 ADB pushing for Hydropower in Bhutan, also for storage projects, which have huge impacts! http://www.adb.org/features/bhutan-s-hydropower-sector-12-things-know?ref=countries/bhutan/features