Sikkim · Teesta

Retracing Her Path -3: A Journey along the Teesta River in Sikkim

Above: The Teesta valley (photo: Gauri Noolkar-Oak)

Guest Blog by Gauri Noolkar-Oak

A day later, I set out on the last leg of my journey – through Sikkim, to the source. The journey from Kalimpong to Singtam and further to Mangan was breathtaking. The mountains grew taller as I climbed higher, the Teesta keeping me company all the while. It rained breezily and the clouds came down, clinging to the thick cloak of green that draped the mountains. Beauty was all around me and at one point, I just had to put my camera away and take in the splendour of nature.

Continue reading “Retracing Her Path -3: A Journey along the Teesta River in Sikkim”

Bangladesh · brahmaputra · Sikkim · Teesta · West Bengal

Retracing Her Path 1: A Journey along the Teesta River in Bangladesh

Above: A local fisherman fishing upstream of the barrage (Photo: Gauri Noolkar-Oak)

Guest Blog by Gauri Noolkar-Oak

Few journeys take us through a string of experiences that nourish the senses and the soul. A thoroughbred urban, city-lover, I nevertheless knew deep down that my journey of such nourishment would be with a river. I began researching rivers by chance, but with time, I grew to first like and then worship the entity. In early 2017, I acquired a grant from the Joke Waller-Hunter Initiative to study water conflicts in the Teesta basin, and I knew: this was going to be it.

My journey was inspired by the book “Empires of the Indus” written by Alice Albania, a brave woman who travelled the Indus river from mouth to source, and explored her history and cultures. But beyond that, I hardly had a plan; I did not know how long the journey would take, whether I would be able to see the whole river, and when I would return home.  When I landed in Dhaka at the end of April this year, all I knew was that I wanted to see the Teesta right from her confluence with the Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh all the way up to her source at Tso Lamo in Sikkim, on the Indo-China border. Continue reading “Retracing Her Path 1: A Journey along the Teesta River in Bangladesh”

Sikkim · Teesta

TEESTA LANDSLIDE DAM IN DZONGU: RIVER OVERFLOWS OVER DAM BUT RISK CONTINUE

Above: Submerged houses in reservoir behind landslide dam. Photo from Darjeeling Chronicle

The Kanaka River is flowing over the dam that was created on Aug 13, 2016, it is confirmed now, but the risk of the dam failure and disaster downstream continues. In the meanwhile, the upstream villages, cut off due to road damaged and bridge submerged, are facing serious problems.[i] Continue reading “TEESTA LANDSLIDE DAM IN DZONGU: RIVER OVERFLOWS OVER DAM BUT RISK CONTINUE”

Sikkim · Teesta

LANDSLIDE DAM BLOCKS TEESTA TRIBUTARY IN NORTH SIKKIM: MAJOR RISK TO TEESTA RIVER BANK COMMUNITIES

(Above: Lower part of the Dzongu Landslide, Photo from  Save the Hills)

According to a number of reports[i], at around 1230 hours on Aug 13, 2016, a massive landslide completely blocked the flow of Kanaka (Rongyoung) River near Mentam village in Dzongu region in North Sikkim. A hillock called “So Bhir” came crashing down, it is reported. The Landslide dam is about 50 m high, about 45 m wide, the landslide top point is about 900 m above the river. Darjeeling Chronicle reports, the river downstream is totally dry as the water has started collecting behind the landslide dam (that situation seems to have changed on 14th Aug morning around 830 am). Continue reading “LANDSLIDE DAM BLOCKS TEESTA TRIBUTARY IN NORTH SIKKIM: MAJOR RISK TO TEESTA RIVER BANK COMMUNITIES”

Arunachal Pradesh · Assam · brahmaputra · Embankments · Ministry of Water Resources · Sikkim

Lack of Transparency and Accountability Remains the Norm of Functioning for MoWR’s Advisory Committee

The Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) for consideration of techno-economic viability of Irrigation, Flood Control and Multi Purpose Project Proposals (TAC in short) is a very important committee. It accords the financial clearance for any irrigation, flood control and multipurpose project. TAC is supposed to discuss the techno-economic viability of projects as per the resolution published in the Union of India Gazette Notification No. 12/5/86-P-II dated Nov 27, 1987. This committee came into being replacing a similar committee that existed earlier in the planning commission. Even now, the guidelines for functioning of the committee are issued by the Planning Commission.

The Gazette notification cited above also said, “The committee may also invite representatives of any other Government organizations, scientific body of experts in the relevant fields to participate in its deliberations.” This seems like a window to appoint credible, independent, non-government persons in the committee, but this window does not seem to have been used. Among the functions of the committee listed in this notification include, “The functions of the Committee will be to examine projects proposed by State Governments, Central Government or other organizations and satisfy itself that the schemes have been prepared after adequate investigations” and “the need of environment conservation and proper rehabilitation of project-affected persons have been taken into account.” However, our perusal of the functioning of the TAC shows that TAC has failed to fulfill both these mandates.

As noted in the Guidelines for Submission, Appraisal and Clearance of Irrigation and Multipurpose Projects, 2010 available on the CWC website (see: http://www.cwc.nic.in/main/webpages/publications.html), “The project proposal, thereafter, is put up to the Advisory Committee for clearance, which is, by and large, like single window clearance.” The importance of such a single window clearance becomes all the more important. The guidelines further note, “On the basis of examination conducted by the Advisory Committee, decision on techno-economic viability of the projects is taken in the meeting of this Committee. The projects found acceptable by the Advisory Committee shall be recommended for investment clearance by the Planning Commission and inclusion in the Five Year Plan/Annual Plan.” This shows how important is the role of the TAC in judging techno-economic viability of projects and also from the point of view of prudent planning.

No Transparency, independent participation or accountability of TAC Considering the above, there is strong case for clearly defined norms for transparency, participation and accountability in (1) functioning of TAC; (2) The screening process of the projects at initial stages that also happen under these guidelines in the Central Water Commission, based on which approval for DPR preparation is given.

In view of the significance of TAC, this is SANDRP’s third analysis of the decisions taken in TAC meetings. The present analysis covers decisions taken for North East India from 110th to 122nd TAC meeting. In the two previous analysis done by SANDRP, TAC meeting decisions taken from 95th meeting to 109th meeting has been covered. Here it is important to note that lack of transparency has been observed right from the agenda and minutes of the TAC meetings. The agenda and minutes of the TAC meetings should be uploaded on CWC website but CWC website has minutes only till the 115th meeting held on 24th July 2012 and the website has been last updated on 31/08/2012.

In this analysis we have covered 13 TAC meetings held from July 2011 to December 2013. In these 13 meeting, 21 projects from 6 northeastern states have been considered. But out of the 13 meetings held, projects from northeast were considered only in 10 meetings. TAC has accepted the proposals for projects with a total cost of rupees 4075.46 crore. Majority of the projects were given clearance at the first time of consideration. Thus, on an average TAC  had cleared projects worth of 407.55 crores from the North East in each of these 10 meetings. Number of the projects considered by TAC in each meeting along with their total cost is given below. A state-wise and a project-wise list is also provided.

Total Cost of Projects Cleared by TAC July 2012 to December 2013

Sl No Meeting no Date of meeting No of projects considered from NE No projects approved No of projects deferred No of projects rejected Total cost of the accepted projects, Rs Crore
1 110th 20-07-11 5 4 1 0 211.56
2 111th 17-08-11 1 1 0 0 167.09
3 112th 14-09-11 1 1 0 0 48.55
4 115th 24-07-12 5 5 0 0 2208.81
5 117th 21-03-13 1 1 0 0 155.87
6 118th 30-07-13 2 2 0 0 467.38
7 119th 29-08-13 2 2 0 0 601.67
8 120th 13-09-13 1 1 0 0 42.96
9 121st 08-10-13 2 2 0 0 146.01
10 122nd 20-12-13 1 1 0 0 25.56
  Total     20     4075.46

State-wise list of projects cleared by TAC

Sl. No State No of projects approved Total cost of the approved projects, Rs Crore
1 Arunachal 1 36.47
2 Assam 7 1526.85
3 Manipur 7 2268.99
4 Meghalaya 1 5.63
5 Sikkim 1 48.55
6 Tripura 3 188.97

Note: No projects from Mizoram and Nagaland have come to TAC in this 30 month period.

Some observations regarding TAC meetings

1. Zero Rejections The TAC did not reject a single project. There was only one project which was deferred in the 110th meeting but it was approved in the next meeting. Rest of the new projects were were approved in the very first meeting of their consideration.

2. Lack of information The TAC minutes provide little information about projects. Specially in case of newer projects, detailed discussions should have happened. The minutes of TAC meetings do not give much of an idea about size, location, benefits of a particular project. In the project- wise list provided towards the end of this analysis, we have provided limited information available in the minutes. Some of the noteworthy missing information is listed below:

– In the 115th meeting, 5 projects from Manipur were considered. Out of these five projects, 2 were multipurpose projects and 3 were barrage projects. Surprisingly, there was no information about where these projects are located, on which river, what the size of these projects. None of the minutes mentioned about whom these projects will actually benefit. Only two projects mentioned about increase in annually irrigated land but no more detail was provided.

– In the 118th meeting, construction of embankments on both banks of river Ranganadi for flood management and river training was considered. But the cost of the project was on the higher side compared to the embankment construction work to be done on the river Dikrong, considered in the same meeting. This cost escalation may be due to the difference in the length of the projects. But this cannot be confirmed since minutes do not mention the length of the proposed embankments.

India's First Geo-tube embankment in Matmora in Dhakuakhana sub-division of Lakhimpur district in Assam.  Photo: Parag Jyoti Saikia
India’s First Geo-tube embankment in Matmora in Dhakuakhana sub-division of Lakhimpur district in Assam. Photo: Parag Jyoti Saikia

But the increased costs may also be due to the use of Geo bag technology for construction of Ranganadi embankments. Use of Geo-bag technology is a costly affair but nothing has been mentioned about the use of this technology in the minutes of 118th meeting. This is stated in the annexure (Annex VI as mentioned in the document) of the meeting. Interestingly this annexure too has been mentioned only as a corrigendum.

3. No Detailed Discussion on Projects Considered This was very evident in the two previous analysis done by SANDRP and situation remains the same this time as well. In case of all the projects, including the ones considered for the first time, there was no detailed information or any detailed discussion. There is no discussion on technical viability of the project. Reading through the minutes gives an impression that approval for any project considered by TAC is fait accompli. There is no discussion about whether the project is a desirable project, if there are other options available, if this is the best option and so on. Under the mandate given to it, TAC is supposed to discuss all these issues. TAC accepted projects proposals with huge cost and time overruns but little enquiry has been made why such escalation happened.

Dhansiri irrigation project This is a glaring example of cost escalation. The project was discussed in the 119th meeting on 29.08.2013 for consideration of cost of Rs 567.05 crores. But, it was surprising to find that original cost of the project in 1975 was Rs 15.83 crores as according to the information available in Assam State Irrigation Department website.[1] The same website states that project started in 1975 and supposed to be completed 35 years later in 2010. In the TAC meeting a new time schedule of March 2015 was stated. The cost of the project has increased by 35.82 times over a period of 40 years but the advisory committee accepts proposal without much scrutiny or enquiry. There was no detailed assessment of the reasons for time and cost over runs (there is no question of delay due to clearances or agitations here) or whether this project which will take 40 years just to complete will be viable or not. On the contrary, the planning commission representatives said, “the benefit cost ratio of the project was 1.2 and any further escalation in cost would result in the project becoming techno-economic unviable.”

The TAC should have done a detailed assessment why the project took so long time to complete. But it seemed to be contended with the rational that the project authorities provided which was that due land acquisition and law and order problem the project has not been completed. But in the meantime minutes of the meeting also showed that that major components of the project are in advanced stages of construction with 93% of barrage work, 99% of the canal works and about 83% of works in the distribution system were reported to have been completed. There has been no detailed assessment in to any of these aspects.

Imphal Barrage project In this project, the cost of the project mentioned in the minutes of the 115th meeting contradicted with the cost provided in the annexure. The cost of Extension, Renovation and Modernization (ERM) of the Imphal barrage project as mentioned in the minutes is Rs 16.80 crores. But a letter from the Under Secretary, Govt. of Manipur to the Chief Engineer of Irrigation and Flood Control Department, Manipur dated 21.07.2012 stated the cost of the project as 23.41 crores. This reflects the lack of serious discussion over projects in TAC. It is also surprising that TAC, being the committee which gives the techno economic clearance to projects, does not have clarity about even the cost of the project.

4. No Discussion over Social, Environmental and Other impacts of the Projects The projects cleared by TAC have serious social, environmental and other impacts but the committee never discussed these impacts. TAC does not at all take into account the impacts a project would have on the environment.

In the 118th meeting (30.07.2013), while considering the proposal for flood management of Dikrong along with river training works on both banks, the minutes stated “Effectiveness of existing embankments of river Dikrong has been deteriorating due to lack of repair, siltation of river bed and consequential change in river behaviour, change in flow pattern due to release of Ranga Nadi hydel project etc.” But this is one of the rare instances when TAC mentioned about the environmental impacts on embankments. But rather than asking for more details on these impacts or to see whether embankment would really be a viable option or not, the TAC accepted the proposal. On the other hand nowhere the committee discussed what impacts an embankment has on river bed, siltation or downstream stretches of a river.

Dikrong Power Station at Hoz where water from Ranganadi HEP is released in Dikrong. Photo: Parag Jyoti Saikia
Dikrong Power Station at Hoz where water from Ranganadi HEP is released in Dikrong/Pare. Photo: Parag Jyoti Saikia
Dikrong at Dikronghat in Lakhimpur district of Assam where it erodes rapidly. The impacts of change is water flow is clearly visible. Due to release of water in upstream water at night covers the lower portion of the bank. This photo was taken around 8am in the morning when the water receded. The lower bank portion was wet in the morning. According to the local the water further recedes by the evening and again increases at night. Photo: Parag Jyoti Saikia
River Dikrong at Dikronghat in Lakhimpur district of Assam where it erodes rapidly. The impacts of change is water flow is clearly visible. Due to release of water in upstream water at night covers the lower portion of the bank. This photo was taken around 8am in the morning when the water receded. The lower bank portion was wet in the morning. According to the local the water further recedes by the evening and again increases at night. Photo: Parag Jyoti Saikia

It is also important to note here TAC also does not take into consideration impacts of the hydropower projects on the embankments in the downstream of the river. In the above mentioned case, the increased costs of Dikrong embankment should have been charged on the Ranga Nadi HEP, but there is no discussion on this. The Pare hydropower project (110 MW) in Papumpare district of Arunachal Pradesh is currently under construction on Dikong / PareRiver. Moreover there are at least 10 hydropower projects at various stages in the combined Ranganadi-Dikrong basin in Arunachal Pradesh, including one operating, three TOR approvals given and five additional MoA signed (in addition to a proposed project). There is no provision to assess the impacts of these projects on the embankments downstream of DikrongRiver in Assam. In fact there is no provision for any impact assessment study for embankments even though studies show the disastrous impacts of embankments on environment, floods and on the lives of the people living close to the river.

5. Clearing Same Embankment Projects over Years In terms of embankments, it is observed that the TAC had cleared same projects over the years. Not emphasizing on the environmental impacts of embankment projects is one of the major reasons for this. In the 117th TAC meeting held on 21.03.2013 the proposal for “Protection of Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta at different reaches from Lotasur to Tekeliphuta from the erosion of river Brahmaputra Assam” was considered. The estimated cost of the project was Rs 155.87 crore. But on the same embankment, a project titled “Raising and Strengthening to Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta including closing of breach by retirement and anti-erosion measures (to protect Majuli and Dhakukhana areas against flood devastation by the Brahmaputra, Lakhimpur district, Assam) was accepted in the 95th TAC meeting held on 20.01.2009. The estimated cost of the earlier project was 142.42 crore.

A Hoarding on the way to Geo-tube embankment in Matmora, describing the project.  Photo: Parag Jyoti Saikia
A Hoarding on the way to Geo-tube embankment in Matmora, describing the project.
Photo: Parag Jyoti Saikia

The minutes of the 117th meeting, about the previous scheme said that it “was taken up primarily for closure of breach in the then existing embankment including raising of embankment around the breach area only.” But the minutes of the 95th TAC meeting had said something totally different about the project. The minutes stated that project proposal envisaged – (i) Raising and strengthening of embankment for a length of 13.9 km, (ii) Construction of retirement bund with geo-textile tubes of length 5000 m. This shows how the discussion on the Brahmaputra dyke Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta is 117th meeting is completely misleading. TAC does on even take into account its previous meeting discussions before clearing a project. This possibly gives a hint of a scam.

The Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta has a long history of facing severe erosions. The first geo-tube embankment was constructed on this dyke in Dec 2010. Crores have been spent for the protection of this embankment. But even after that the Dhakukhana sub-division always remained in the headlines during the flood season in Assam. There is need for area specific detailed study assessing the impact on and of the embankment, but little has been done in this regard. Besides, the Bogibeel Bridge, the fourth one on the BrahmaputraRiver, is coming up in the upstream of this embankment. Construction of this bridge would make this dyke even more prone to erosion since the length of this bridge will be 4.94 km, shrinking the wide river to great extent. In a personal visit to the area, one of the government officials informed that as a result of this “funneling action”, the force of water will increase and it will directly hit the embankment leading to more erosion. But TAC has never dealt with these issues in its meetings but cleared all the proposals that it considered.
Short History Brahmaputra Dyke from Sissikalghae to Tekeliphuta[2]

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6. There is no independent, critical voice in the meetings. The agenda, proceedings, or decisions of the meetings are not even in public domain.
7. There is no mechanism to hold the TAC accountable for any wrong decisions taken.
8. The TAC is clearly not fulfilling the mandate given to it in the guidelines for TAC meetings. The guidelines themselves need revision from several points.
9. There is no attempt to assess the justifiability of the kinds of projects that are being accepted and if they are indeed delivering the promised benefits.

Parag Jyoti Saikia (meandering1800@gmail.com)

Project-wise Detailed List of TAC decisions

110th meeting (20.07.2011): Accepted: TOTAL: Rs 211.56 crores

Sl No Project Dist/State Appr. year basin original cost (Rs. Cr) decision
1 Anti Erosion & Flood protection work Arunachal Pradesh New Tawangchu 36.47 Accepted
2 Protection of Majuli from Flood and Erosion Phase II & III Assam 2011 Brahmaputra 115.03 Accepted
3 Restoration fo rivers Dibang and Lohit to their original courses at Dholla Hatighuli Assam 2011 Brahmaputra 54.43 Accepted
4 Protection of Balat village from flood and erosion of river Umngi in West Khasi hill district West Khasi hill/Meghalaya  New Brahmaputra 5.63 Accepted

111th meeting (17.08.2011): Accepted: TOTAL: Rs 167.09 crores

Sl No Project Dist/State Appr. year basin original cost (Rs. Cr) decision
1 Protection of Biswanath Panpur including areas of upstream Silamari and Far downstream Bhumuraguri to Borgaon against erosion of the river Brahmaputra Sonitpur/Assam  New Brahmaputra 167.09 Accepted

112th meeting (14.09.2011): Accepted: TOTAL: Rs 48.55 crores

Sl No Project Dist/ State Appr. year original cost (Rs. Cr) decision
1 Improvement of Strom Water Drainage below GreenfieldAirport at Pakyong Sikkim  New 48.55 Accepted

115th meeting (24.07.2012): Accepted: TOTAL: Rs 2208.81 crores

Sl No Project Dist/State Appr. year basin original cost (Rs. Cr) decision
1 Thoubal Multipurpose project Manipur 1980 Brahmaputra 1387.85 Accepted
2 Khuga Multipurpose project Manipur 1980 Brahmaputra 433.91 Accepted
3 Dolathabi Barrage Project Manipur 1992 Brahmaputra 360.05 Accepted
4 ERM of Imphal Barrage Project Manipur New Brahmaputra 16.8 Accepted
5 ERM of Sekmai Barrage Project Manipur  New Brahmaputra 10.2 Accepted

117th meeting (21.03.2013): Accepted: TOTAL: Rs 623.25 crores

Sl No Project Dist/ State Appr. year basin Ht / L of Dam/Embnk. original cost (Rs. Cr) Benefit flood prot. (Ha) decision
1 Protecion of Sissi-Tekeliphuta dyke from erosion – Lotasur to Tekeliphuta Assam New Brahmaputra 153 km 155.87 10117 Accepted

1188h meeting (30.07.2013): Accepted: TOTAL: Rs 623.25 crores

Sl No Project Dist/ State Appr. year River/ basin original cost (Rs. Cr) Benefit flood prot. (Ha) decision
1 Flood management of Dikrong and river training works on both banks embankment Lakhimpur/ Assam New Dikrong/ Brahmaputra 105.96 9998 Accepted
2 Flood management of Ranganadi and river training works on both bank embankments Lakhimpur/ Assam  New Ranganadi/ Brahmaputra 361.42  21056 Accepted

119th meeting (29.08.2013): Accepted: TOTAL: Rs 601.67 crores

Sl No Project Dist/ State Appr. year River/ basin original cost (Rs. Cr) annual irrigation decision
1 Dhansiri Irrigation project Assam 1975 Dhansiri/ B’putra 567.05 Accepted
2 ERM of Singda multipurpose project Manipur  New Brahmaputra 34.62 3000 Accepted

120th meeting (29.08.2013): Accepted: TOTAL: Rs 42.96 crores

Sl No Project Dist/State River original cost (Rs. Cr) decision
1 Anti erosion work along river Haora from Champakpur to Baldakhal West Tripura Haora 42.96 Accepted

121st meeting (08.10.2013): Accepted: TOTAL: Rs 146.01 crores

Sl No Project Dist/ State River original cost (Rs. Cr) Benefit flood prot. (Ha) decision
1 Anti erosion work along river Gumti from Dlak Samatal Para to Durgapur under Amarpur, Udaipur & Sonamura subdivision S & West Tripura Gumti 54.99 2209 Accepted
2 Anti erosion work along river Khowaii from Netajinagar to Banglahour under Telimura subdivision and from south L. N. Pur to Paharmura bridge under Khowai subvision West Tripura Khowaii 91.02  4256 Accepted

122nd meeting (20.12.2013): Accepted: TOTAL: Rs 25.56 crores

Sl No Project Dist/State River original cost (Rs. Cr) decision
1 Loktak Lift Irrigation Project Manipur 25.56 Accepted

[2] From the brochure published by WRD, Assam at the time of commissioning the geo-tube embankment in Matmora

Sikkim

Mockery of ESAs in Sikkim: When Governments Collude to Violate Laws

In a clever move initiated by the MOEF and assisted by Arunachal Pradesh Government, aimed at bypassing the need of the compulsory clearance from the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), the Environment Ministry has slashed the protective zone around the hill State’s national parks and sanctuaries from the existing 10 km radius to an insignificant 25-meters in most cases (200 mts is for a very small stretch of Khanchengdzonga National Park).

This shocking move underlines Union Minister Veerappa Moily’s penchant for hydropower projects as he has chosen to override the report of the National Board of Wildlife, a constituent of the MOEF, in a bid to let at least six hydropower projects operating in Sikkim in gross violation of the NBWL clearance and orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. In October 2013, SANDRP’s published a blog titled “Hydro Power Projects Violating SC order in the Greenest State of India” on the report by NBWL members and its significance.  Sikkim_nbw_blog_26 feb 14

The notification has drawn tremendous ire of environmentalists and social activists from Sikkim, opposing major dams. “We have been demanding earmarking of the ‘eco-sensitive zone’ up to 10 kilometers radius from the protected areas under Supreme Court order, if the government itself ridicules NBWL’s warning report, manipulates its own laws, what can a citizen of democratic India say?”, said Tseten Tashi Bhutia, convener Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC), which is fighting a legal battle against the Tashiding project in Sikkim High Court.“We strongly protest this notification of the MOEF and would respond officially as per the protocol, they can’t bulldoze their vested interest, damaging our fragile environment. Already a lot of damage has been done, we might take appropriate legal recourse after consultations, if the notification is not altered or withdrawn”, added Bhutia, speaking exclusively to this correspondent.

Projects within 10 kms boundary of Protected Areas in Sikkim From NBWL SC Members Report
Projects within 10 kms boundary of Protected Areas in Sikkim From NBWL SC Members Report

SIBLAC along with another apolitical group Save Sikkim on September 28th, 2013 filed FIRs against Shiga Energy Private Ltd, developer of the 97 MW Tashiding hydro power project for alleged cheating, distortion of facts and violation of environmental norms and the SC order. This is in addition to an ongoing PIL at the Sikkim High Court. The proposed site is about 5 Km away from the buffer zone of the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, the project also falls within 10 Kms from the Fambongla Wildlife Sanctuary, as such; NBWL clearance needs to be obtained.

Several attempts by this correspondent, to contact the PCCF –cum-Secretary of the Forest and Wildlife Department of Sikkim Mr. Arvind Kumar to get the Sikkim government‘s official version on the controversy, remained unanswered. Under the orders of the Supreme Court(in the Goa foundation case of 2006), any project falling within 10 km radius of a national park or a wildlife sanctuary has to be endorsed by the standing committee of the NBWL unless a different site-specific protection ring is declared for each of these national parks and sanctuaries.

The members of the standing committee of the board had earlier submitted a report in August 2013, to the Ministry warning that at least six dams in the State were coming up without the mandatory clearance and Sikkim faced a Goa-like situation with rampant and illegal development of these dams likely to cause devastation just as unlawful mining had done in the coastal State.

 Construction of the Teesta III project at Chungthang on the edge of  Khangchendzonga National Park proceeding without SC-NBWL clearances. Note the  extensive forest cover and large landslides at the construction site.  From: SC NBWL Members Report
Construction of the Teesta III project at Chungthang on the edge of
Khangchendzonga National Park proceeding without SC-NBWL clearances. Note the
extensive forest cover and large landslides at the construction site. From: SC NBWL Members Report

The report had said that the proposed Teesta V, and the ongoing Teesta III, DikChu, Panan, and the Tashiding hydroelectric projects were coming up without the statutory NBWL clearance.

Other hydropower projects of Sikkim that are being considered by the MoEF for clearances, and are operating in abeyance of the NBWL clearance, and are also close to the protected areas include: 63 MW Rolep HEP on Rangpo river in East Sikkim (5-6 km from Pangolakha and Kyongnosla WLS), 126 MW Ralong HEP (4.05 km from Kangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve and 1.8 km from Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary), 96 MW Chakung Chu HEP in North Sikkim (1.8 km from Kangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve), 71 MW Sada Mangder, 40 MW Suntaley Tar HEP, within 10 kms from Pangolakha Sanctuary) and 60 MW Rangit III.

Shockingly, the Ministry has now come up with a way to bypass the wildlife board by sticking to the apex court orders merely technically but not in real terms. The court order has said the 10 km protective zone (technically called the Ecosensitive Zone) would be enforced unless the Centre and the State government notified a different perimeter based on scientific assessment. The MOEF has discreetly put out draft notification to reduce these protective zones around four sanctuaries and Sikkim’s lone national park from the existing 10 km to a negligible 25-200 metres, to be effective from April 2014.

Protests against dams in sacred Dzongu region, which is excluded from the ESA Notifications Photo: http://savedzongu.wordpress.com/background/
Protests against dams in sacred Dzongu region, which is excluded from the ESA Notifications Photo: http://savedzongu.wordpress.com/background/

The ministry of environment and forest sought public opinion on this move within 60 days so that the ministry can look into suggestions and complaints, if any, relating to extent of the eco-sensitive zone during the period. The proposed ban under the order will come into force after expiry of the 60-day deadline.

“Moves like this makes one wonder as to what would become the fate of the law abiding citizens of this country; when the government elected by the people are resorting to such blatant violations of the existing laws of the land, and are circumventing them to serve vested interests, it is a shame at the least”, reacted Affected Citizens of Teesta(ACT) president Tseten Lepcha, while speaking to this correspondent exclusively. The ACT had created a stir by sitting on a relay-hunger strike during 2005-6, for over a year protesting against the onslaught of numerous hydropower projects operating in Sikkim in blatant violation of all laws. We will take up the issue officially, reiterated Lepcha.

“In a letter dated April 13th 2011, the then Sikkim additional principal chief conservator of forests- cum the chief wild life warden, Mr. N T Bhutia had written to the DG Forests MOEF, reiterating the states’s commitment to announce the 6 ESZ around sanctuaries and the lone NP in Sikkim. That it would comply with the MOEF dictated revision of the perimeter of the ESZ, as is now evident was not mentioned. An RTI query to this effect is pending with the forest department.”

Soumik Dutta (duttauni@gmail.com)

Inputs from SANDRP:
This shameful attempt at regularisation is a complete mockery of Wildlife Clearance as well as  ESA zonation process. The Draft notifications do not elucidate upon any justifications behind the extent of ESA or the process through which this was arrived at. This is clearly unacceptable and will not stand legal scrutiny

This shameful regularisation indicates that the MoEF is shielding the guilty projects which have violated EPA (1986) and WPA (1972), colluding with these projects, furthering environmental and cultural destruction in Sikkim.

This is entirely shocking and unacceptable. We urge the MoEF to:
• Take back these draft notifications and take strict action against Government of Sikkim and projects which have violated SC orders
• Disclose the process through which ESA for Sikkim was arrived at.
• Disclose the justification used behind specific buffer zones around specific protected areas
• Ensure that violators of the past will in any case be penalised.

Following the SC Orders and considering that:
• Sikkim is the most species-rich state in India.
• Sikkim falls in geologically fragile and seismically active zone
• Communities of Sikkim have strong cultural and religious bonds with forests and region like Dzongu which is surrounding Khangchengdzonga BR,

MoEF should recommend that Sikkim undertakes a participatory process to identify ESA regions around PAs.
Not only should the local population have a say in area of the ESA, but also activities allowed in the PA. Unless such a participatory process is devised, Sikkim should respect SC Orders of 10 kms buffer zone of ESA around PAs.

Excerpts from NBWL member Report, August 2013:

“…based on an examination of available information on legal compliances required for the above projects in the Teesta basin, we conclude that, with the notable exception of the Teesta IV project (which has currently approached the Standing Committee of the NBWL for clearance), none of the other projects listed above appear to have sought/obtained this compulsory SC-NBWL clearance, as mandated by the Honourable Supreme Court in the Goa Foundation vs. Union of India case of December 2006.

While we are fully aware that there are many more proposed/ongoing hydroelectric projects situated within the Supreme Court mandated 10-km eco-sensitive zone of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Sikkim, we have not been able to ascertain whether Supreme Court stipulations in their regard are being followed, or being violated, and if latter be the case, the MoEF should take due cognizance of the same urgently.

We further recommend that the Standing Committee direct the MoEF to write to the Government of Sikkim asking them to immediately investigate and submit a detailed report listing hydroelectric projects in Sikkim that are being constructed prima facie in violation of Honourable Supreme Court’s order of 12/2006. Based on the list provided by the Government of Sikkim, if it is indeed ascertained that the projects are proceeding in violation of the said Supreme Court ruling, we further recommend that the MoEF initiate action by asking the State Government to suspend ongoing work on those projects immediately and to direct user agencies to formally seek clearance for these projects from the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife.” (Emphasis added)

“Independently, we recommend that the MoEF and the Government of Sikkim thoroughly investigate the circumstances under which the seemingly widespread bypassing of Supreme Court orders in the construction of dams within the 10-km eco-sensitive zone of Sikkim has taken place, fix responsibility for the transgressions and violations, and punish the guilty.” (Emphasis added)

“Finally, we base our recommendations by drawing a parallel between hydroelectric dams in the eco-sensitive zones of Sikkim and iron ore mines in the eco-sensitive zones of Goa. The coastal state, which is just half the size of Sikkim, had heavily pivoted its economy on iron ore mines, just as Sikkim has done with hydroelectric power. The landmark Justice Shah Commission Report observed in the case of iron ore mining in Goa that, “approvals have been granted in many cases… in the eco-sensitive zones without placing the project proposals before the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (p 190)”. The report went on to say that, “all mining activities should be stopped with immediate effect including transportation of ore for all mining leases where there is no approval or clearance of the Standing Committee of the NBWL and are falling with 10 km of eco-sensitive buffer zone (p 191)” We believe that much of the Summary and Recommendations section of Justice Shah’s report (pp. 189-200) is extremely relevant to the case of the hydroelectric dams in Sikkim, and request that any committee constituted to examine hydroelectric dams in the eco-sensitive areas of Sikkim, pay close attention to this report.” (Emphasis added)

Arunachal Pradesh · Assam · brahmaputra · Sikkim

Review of Water Sector in Northeast India in 2013: Increasing threats to Rivers, People and Environment

The year 2013 was an important for the water sector of northeastern states of India with several significant events. In this article I have tried to summarize some of the important events, issues and concerns of the water sector in northeast.  

Massive hydropower projects considered and cleared for northeast An analysis done by SANDRP for the year 2013 has showed that massive hydropower capacity in northeast India has been considered and cleared by Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River valley and Hydroelectric projects. The total installed capacity of considered by EAC for the year 2013 is 29458 MW and out of which 21805 MW (over 74% of 29458 MW) projects are in the northeast India. On the other hand out of the total capacity considered for northeast, 20180 MW (over 92.5% of 21805 MW) projects are in Arunachal Pradesh. The total number of projects considered from northeast for 2013 was 37, all (including the Dibang multipurpose project, which is basically a hydro project) are hydropower projects. Out of these 37 projects, 10 projects of 4917 MW installed capacity has been given TOR (Terms of Reference) clearance or the Stage 1 clearance. 4 projects with 953 MW installed capacity has been given final environment clearances. 13 projects with 9078 MW capacity had been given extension of their TOR validity which implies that in next 2-3 years all these projects would also come up for final environmental clearance.

Pare hydro-power project on Pare/Dikrong river in Arunachal Pradesh is currently under -construction.  Photo – Parag Jyoti Saikia
Pare hydro-power project on Pare/Dikrong river in Arunachal Pradesh is currently under -construction.
Photo – Parag Jyoti Saikia

India-China Water Information Sharing MoU of October 2013 One of the most important developments of the year 2013 was the signing of this Memorandum of Understanding through which it was agreed that the current hydrological data (Water Level, Discharge and Rainfall) in respect of three stations, namely, Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia located on river Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra from 1st June to 15th  October every year will now be extended to May 15th to Oct 15th with effect from 2014. Another important news through this agreement is that the Government of India recognizes the value of river since the agreement writes “rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development.” But this agreement has been misread and misreported by a large section of the media. SANDRP wrote a detailed blog “Media Hype Vs Reality: India-China Water Information Sharing MoU of Oct 2013” which clears the fog around this agreement.   The blog also lists formation and decisions of the meetings of the Expert Level Mechanisms (ELM) on Trans-border rivers and MoUs on Hydrological Data Sharing on River Brahmaputra / Yaluzangbu and Satluj / Langquin Zangbu.   

Forest Clearance Rejected for Tipaimukh and Dibang Hydropower Projects In the year 2013 the rejection of forest clearance to 1500 MW Tipaimukh hydropower project and 3000 MW Dibang multipurpose project by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of MoEF is noteworthy. Here it should be noted that the Prime Minister of India laid foundation stone for the Dibang Project in Jan 2008 when the project did not have any of the statutory clearances! However, NHPC has already started lobbying the Prime Minister headed Cabinet Committee on Investments to intervene for the forest clearance for Dibang Project and a note has already been moved for this. We hope these FAC decisions are not reversed as it happened in case of Kalu dam in Maharashtra, where the FAC decision was reversed following a letter from the Chief Minister. The stay over the construction work of Maphithel dam in Manipur by the National Green Tribunal could have been regarded as a positive sign but recent reports suggests that Union Ministry for Tribal Affairs (MOTA) had done a U-turn by going “back on its views to say that the Forest Rights Act should not apply to the acquisition of land from the Tanghkul and Kuki tribal people as a ‘rare and unique’ exception.”[1]

Two years of Anti-dam protests in Assam and Tripartite Talks The protest against large hydropower dams in Arunachal Pradesh had reached a new milestone as the stoppage of construction work of Lower Suabansiri hydropower project completed two year on 16th December 2013. This stoppage of the construction work of the Lower Subansiri project has brought the issue of downstream impacts of large dams to the forefront and also showed how a mass movement can question a top-down development project. These protests were led by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), All Assam Student Union (AASU), Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba-Chatra Parishad(AJYCP) along with several other organizations.

KMSS president Akhil Gogoi with other members take out a procession in Guwahati on 16th December, 2013.  Picture by UB Photos
KMSS president Akhil Gogoi with other members take out a procession in Guwahati on 16th December, 2013. Picture by UB Photos

On Dec 6, 2013, a tripartite discussion was held involving the central government, Government of Assam and experts protesting organizations. Though this meeting failed to come to a common resolution, it led to the expert to expert meeting on the Lower Subansiri dam issues on 22nd December 2013.

These discussions not only help in building public opinion about the issue but also provide platform to discuss the larger issues related with 168 hydropower dam proposed for Arunachal Pradesh and its cumulative impacts in the larger Brahmaputra basin.

Foreign Funding of Hydropower projects in Northeast In the year 2013 Asian Development Bank has agreed to give loan of $ 200 million to construct the Lower Kopili Hydropower project in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts Assam. This project is being constructed by Assam Power Generation Corporation Limited (APGCL) and it is 8 km downstream of Kopili hydropower project, first dam on Kopili river. It is important to note that acidic contamination of water due to unabated mining in the upstream Meghalaya is a poses a major threat for the viability of the dam and this was disclosed in a study initiated by the project proponent. This project was given TOR clearance in the 69th meeting of EAC.

Proposed Site for Lower Kopili HEP in Assam Photo - Parag Jyoti Saikia
Proposed Site for Lower Kopili HEP in Assam.
Photo – Parag Jyoti Saikia

Foreign funding of hydropower project comes with the risk of huge cost overruns. This was evident in the case of Pare HEP on Pare/Dikrong river which NEEPCO constructing taking a loan of 80 million euros from KfW, a German Bank. Incidentally, this project was schedule to be completed in September 2013 but Central Electricity Authority status report on projects under execution now states the completion time as 2015. The cost of this project has already increased by 205% from its initial estimates. The loan amount along with the interest rest is also increasing year by year and NEEPCO’s 36th Annual Report of 2011-12 states that the loan taken from KfW is “repayable in 30 equal half yearly installments w.e.f. 30.12.2013.” This implies that even before the completion of the project the company has to start paying back the loan.

SANDRP had written a detail blog titled “Lower Kopili HEP: Oustanding issues that must be resolved before EAC can consider the project” which discussed the issues related with the proposed dam including the increase in intensity of floods in downstream Nagaon.  

Assam’s Flood Devastation For Assam, the central state of northeast India, flood is an annual event. In the year 2013 Assam witnessed three waves of flood. The table below provides a glimpse of the extent of the flood disaster Assam faced in 2013. The data is sourced from National Disaster Management Institute under the Ministry of Home Affairs of Government of India. 

Data from NDMI, Government of India

Months No of affected People No. of affected districts No of affected Villages
30th June

14649

4

70

31st July

7971

4

55

31st Aug

6123

3

73

16th Sept

6123

3

73

But it was surprising to find that the numbers of affected people and villages provided by a central government organization is much less than the number provided by the disaster management department of the state government. The State Disaster Management Authority of Assam (SDMAA) provides much larger number of affected people. During the monsoon months of 2013, SDMAA published daily flood report on its website. After following the flood reports of four months, the following table with some key dates has been prepared to give an idea of the discrepancy between state government and central government data.

Data from SDMAA, Government of Assam

Months No of People affected No. of districts affected No of Villages affected
30th June

22,696

7

125

16th July

31,174

4

107

31st July

7716

4

45

10th August

53,714

4

164

15th August

33,563

5

102

24th August

6123

3

73

31st August

10,851

4

70

2nd September

2714

3

55

6th September

1,45,054

8

411

7th September

3,24,531

14

572

10th September

3,54,731

13

534

16th September

2510

2

16

This discrepancy points towards the lack of the coordination between the state and the central government departments which is clearly not good sign. Floods need serious attention and such misreporting can lead to confusions which will ultimately have bearing on the people of Assam. It is important to mention that many in Assam believe that the problem of flood in Assam has not been dealt adequately by the central government. The discrepancy detailed above reinforces that belief.

False claim about climate induced displacement in Northeast India by a global agency In connection with the flood issue, the year 2013 will also be marked by the publication of the report named “Global Estimates 2012 – People Displaced by Disasters” by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) based in Geneva, Switzerland. This report had stated that the largest climate induced displacement in the world for the year 2012 happened in two states of Northeast India, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in June 2012 due to the monsoon floods which displaced 6.9 million people, constituting about 21.2% of the population of the two states. But a detailed analysis of this report by SANDPR revealed that the though these figure are highly exaggerated. This analysis is available at “2012 Floods Displaced 6.9 Million in Northeast-IDMC: Staggering but Highly Exaggerated”.

Havoc of Erosion In Assam, along with annual floods, river bank erosion by Brahmaputra and its tributaries is a major cause of concern. The year 2013 is also no exception and severe erosion was reported in several parts of the state. A report Study of Brahmaputra River Erosion and Its Control done by IIT Roorkee, published in 2012 measured the loss of land due to erosion of Brahmaputra for nearly two decades in twelve reaches of the river. The total loss of land on both sides of the river Brahmaputra is mentioned below.

North Bank

South Bank

Total Erosion Length (km) 1990 to 2007 – 08 (in sq. km) 1997 to 2007-08 (in sq. km) Total Erosion Length (in km) 1990 to 2007 – 08 (in sq. km) 1997 to 2007-08 (in sq. km)
353.85 538.805 327.726 389.13 914.62 730.8

This report, sponsored by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), was a very descriptive report from the point of information and data about the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries. But an analysis of the report done by SANDRP, found that this report was biased towards structural interventions and hydropower projects and oversimplifies the problem of erosion by identifying ‘sediment overloading’ as the main reason for erosion. This analysis can be found at NDMA Commissioned IIT Roorkee Study on Brahmaputra River Erosion: A Biased and Structural Solution Oriented Report?”. 

protest against the state governments inactiveness to prevent erosion  Photo: Asomiya Pratidin
protest against the state governments inactiveness to prevent erosion
Photo: Asomiya Pratidin

The year 2013 also witnessed people in river-rine areas of Assam demanding relief from erosion. On May 21st 2013, the people of Bahgara Dhunaguri village panchayat in the Lakhimpur district of Assam floated the effigy of State Water Resources Minister Rajib Lochan Pegu in a traditional raft in the Subansiri River in Dhunaguri Baduli Para area. The TMPK units of Dikrong Awanori and East Dikrong joined in this protest. According to the beliefs of Mishing society when someone dies due to unnatural causes, his/her body is floated in a traditional raft in flowing river. People accused that Mr. Pegu had completely failed to perform his duty as a water resource minister and he had not been able to give any relief to the people by preventing flood and erosion. Failing to perform his duty has been regarded as the ‘unnatural death’ of the minister & that was why people floated the effigy of the minster.[2]

With respect to construction and repair of embankments, some serious issues were brought to light in the year 2013. In May 2013, All Assam Water Resources Contractors’ Association revealed that out of the total embankment length of 4473.82 km in Assam, the government had repaired only 1327 km embankment, leaving 3673 km long embankment completely vulnerable to floods.

Parag Jyoti Saikia (meandering1800@gmail.com)

with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar

——————

In the year 2013, SANDRP has written 13 blogs on issues related to North East India. A list of those blogs is given below. SANDRP has also made continuous submissions on dams and basin studies from Northeast to EAC and those submissions are available in our website https://sandrp.in/.

  1. NDMA Commissioned IIT Roorkee Study on Brahmaputra River Erosion: A Biased and Structural Solution Oriented Report?      
  2. 2012 Floods Displaced 6.9 Million in Northeast-IDMC: Staggering but Highly Exaggerated       
  3. Review of “Water Conflicts in Northeast India – A Compendium of Case Studies”: A Welcome Initiative
  4. CWC Flood Forecast for Assam: Issues Started Arriving before Floods   
  5. Brahmaputra – The Beautiful River or The Battleground?
  6. IWMI report on Glaciers and Snow cover in Himalayas in Changing Climate: Significant Impact on Seasonal flow of the Rivers in India   
  7. Lower Kopili HEP: Oustanding issues that must be resolved before EAC can consider the project 
  8. Subansiri Basin Study – Another Chapter of Environment Subversion in Northeast
  9. Climate Change, Migration and Conflicts in Assam-Bangladesh: Why we need better reports than this 
  10. Hydro Power Projects Violating SC order in the Greenest State of India 
  11. When EIAs Don’t Know River Lengths! Review of EIA/EMP of Simang I & II HEP on Simang River in Arunachal Pradesh        
  12. Media Hype Vs Reality: India-China Water Information Sharing MoU of Oct 2013
  13. Comments on Scoping Clearance Application of Panyor HEP on Ranganadi River in Arunachal Pradesh   


[2] Dainik Janambhumi, Guwahti, “Brahmaputra, Subanshirir Khohoniya Tras” 22nd May, 2013

Dams · Hydropower · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Sikkim

Hydro Power Projects Violating SC order in the Greenest State of India

Gangtok, 9 October 2013: Deemed as the greenest state in India, the government of Sikkim has drawn flak of the national board of wildlife (NBWL) for blatant violation of the environmental norms and the standing order of the Supreme Court in implementation of several hydro power projects under different stages of construction.

The background: In its 28th meeting held on 20th March 2013, the proposal for 520 MW Teesta Stage-IV Hydroelectric Power Project, on River Teesta in North Sikkim to be developed by NHPC Ltd, was placed before the SC-NBWL (Standing Committee-National Board of Wild Life) for consideration. The Member Secretary had informed the SC-NBWL that the project location falls 4 km away from the Fambonglho Wildlife Sanctuary and was recommended by the State Board for Wildlife.

photo 1
Photo from SC-NBWL committee report has this caption: Construction of the Teesta III project at Chungthang on the edge of Khangchendzonga National Park proceeding without SC-NBWL clearances. Note the extensive forest cover and large landslides at the site

Following discussions, the SC-NBWL decided that a team comprising Dr M.K.Ranjitsinh, Kishor Rithe, Dr A.J.T Johnsingh and Dr M.D. Madhusudan would carry out site inspection and submit a report to the committee for its consideration. Following this decision, the above committee visited the project site and nearby areas from 15th to 21st May 2013. The committee met the representatives from the Sikkim Government’s Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management Department (FEWMD), the user agency, NHPC Ltd, and people from local citizens’ groups. The report of the committee dated Aug 2013 is now available online (http://envfor.nic.in/division/wl-orders).

The report raises serious concerns about a number of hydropower projects in Sikkim under construction without wildlife clearance in contravention to the Supreme Court order[1] (in the Goa foundation case).  The Chamling government in Sikkim has allowed blatant violation of the Supreme Court order, a situation compared by the report with what had happened in Goa with respect to mines which were operating without wildlife clearance in violation of SC orders (the subject of the Shah Commission report). The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is equally responsible for allowing continuing construction of these projects without legally mandatory clearances. The decision based on this report in the NBWL Standing Committee is still pending.

map 1
Map with locations of projects and protected areas from the SC-NBWL committee report

Both before and during site inspection, multiple stakeholders brought to the notice of the NBWL team that there were other proposed and ongoing hydel projects in the Teesta Basin located within the eco-sensitive zone (as defined by the Supreme Court in the Goa Foundation case), of the Khangchendzonga NP and Fambonglho WLS, which had not obtained the Supreme Court mandated clearance from the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife.

Besides this,  the team in their journeys saw  two projects under active construction—the Dik Chu[2] and the Teesta III[3]—that were clearly within the Supreme Court mandated eco-sensitive area. For Dik Chu HEP, the report says, “However, the accompanying FEWMD officials informed us that these mandatory wildlife clearances from the SC-NBWL had, apparently, not been obtained.” For Teesta III HEP, FEWMD officials were not aware of the SC-NBWL clearance, and the committee noted, we “must therefore conclude, on the basis of information available with us, that such a clearance was not obtained… we are deeply concerned about the advisability of this project.”

Deeply concerned about the likelihood of various hydel projects coming up in violation of the Supreme Court’s order in the Goa Foundation case, the team has  requested the MoEF to write to the government of Sikkim, seeking a comprehensive list of completed, ongoing and proposed hydroelectric projects within the Supreme Court mandated 10-kilometre zone of the Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) and Fambonglho Wildlife Sanctuary (FWLS). For each project,  details sought included:  (a) location (latitude-longitude) and distance from KNP and FWLS; (b) current status of the project; and (c) if and when they had obtained the required Environment, Forest and Wildlife Clearances. Even after waiting for 10 weeks, the NBWL team did not receive either an acknowledgment, or a response from the Pawan Chamling government to their query.

The committee, left with no option was compelled to use publicly available information on Environmental Clearances (EC) (http://environmentclearance.nic.in), submissions and information provided by other stakeholders, and to examine minutes from the SC-NBWL’s meetings, to ascertain if there was merit to the allegations made about the violations of the Supreme Court’s order of 12/2006.

Key recommendations Based on examination of available information on legal compliances required for the projects in the Teesta basin, the committee concluded that, with the notable exception of the Teesta IV project (which has currently approached the SC-NBWL for clearance), none of the other projects appear to have sought/obtained this compulsory SC-NBWL clearance, as mandated by the Supreme Court. While the SC-NBWL is fully aware that there are many more proposed/ongoing hydroelectric projects situated within the Supreme Court mandated 10-km eco-sensitive zone of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Sikkim, it has not been able to ascertain whether Supreme Court stipulations in their regard are being followed, or being violated, and if latter be the case, the MoEF should take due cognizance of the same urgently.

“We are of the unanimous considered opinion that it is absolutely essential to assess the overall impact of these projects, both from the recent past and those in the pipeline, rather than deal with them in a piecemeal fashion. Hence, we urge the Standing Committee not to consider the Teesta IV project’s request for clearance separately, but treat it as part of a larger set of hydroelectric projects in the Teesta Basin, with vast ecological, social and legal portents”, the committee has recommended.

It further recommend that the Standing Committee direct the MoEF to write to the Government of Sikkim asking them to immediately investigate and submit a detailed report listing hydroelectric projects in Sikkim that are being constructed prima facie in violation of Supreme Court’s order. Based on the list provided by the government of Sikkim, if it is indeed ascertained that the projects are proceeding in violation of the said Supreme Court ruling, it further adds that the MoEF initiate action by asking the State Government to suspend ongoing work on those projects immediately and to direct user agencies to formally seek clearance for these projects from the SC-NBWL. It adds that the MoEF and the Government of Sikkim thoroughly investigate the circumstances under which the seemingly widespread bypassing of Supreme Court orders in the construction of dams within the 10-km ecosensitive zone of Sikkim has taken place, fix responsibility for the transgressions and violations, and punish the guilty.

About Teesta IV proposal from NHPC, for which the committee visited Sikkim, the report recommends, “Finally, in the light of the devastating June 2013 Uttarakhand floods, we are deeply concerned about the wisdom of such large-scale manipulations of mountain river systems that are being implemented, against all reasonable scientific advice (and thedisregard of the CISHME’s recommendation against the construction of Teesta III, is a case in point)… Hence, we urge the Standing Committee not to consider the Teesta IV project’s request for clearance separately, but treat it as part of a larger set of hydroelectric projects in the TeestaBasin, with vast ecological, social and legal portents.”

The report also recommends  that projects already in the pipeline and that may be proposed in future in Sikkim, be placed before the Standing Committee, “chaired by a very senior official of the MoEF, Besides senior officials of the MoEF and the Sikkim Government, this committee must include legal experts as well as experts in hydrology/ geology/ seismology/ social science/ botany/ riverine ecology/wildlife ecology, from reputed research institutions and some representatives of local communities” whenever they fall within the purview of the Supreme Court-mandated 10 km eco-sensitive area around PAs. The committee report adds that much of the summary and recommendations section of Justice Shah’s report (pp. 189-200) is extremely relevant to the case of the hydroelectric dams in Sikkim, and that any committee constituted to examine hydroelectric dams in the eco-sensitive areas of Sikkim, pay close attention to this report.

No ecological flows from NHPC’s Teesta V What the report says about this subject makes disturbing reading: ”On 16th May 2013, driving upstream of the Teesta V powerhouse, we noted extremely low flow in the river, which was particularly so in the stretch of the river directly downstream of the Teesta V dam (Figure 1), where the river was diverted through a tunnel. Such low flows, where River Teesta has been diverted through tunnels, are a cause for serious concern in the context of maintaining the ecological function of a river. We enquired from NHPC officials about how details of ecological flows were determined, and learnt that ecological flow was not a parameter that was optimised in the planning process. We were told that downstream flows were effectively a consequence of maximising hydropower potential of various river basins as determined jointly by the Central Electricity Authority and the Central Water Commission. These values, in turn, were used as the basis for soliciting proposals for hydroelectric power projects. In other words, we learnt to our great dismay that absolutely no ecological consideration whatsoever was used in the process of determining the hydropower potential of river basins.”

Violations galore, government unresponsive In a submission made by Tseten Lepcha in his capacity as the then Honorary Wildlife Warden of North Sikkim to Jayanthi Natarajan in 8th October 2011, Lepcha had contended that how the 1750 MW Demwe Lower by the Athena group is being considered by the SC-NBWL for wildlife clearance, when a project by the same promoters (1200 MW Teesta III) is under construction in violation of Supreme Court orders (without wildlife clearance). The current NBWL report confirms that the 1200 MW Teesta III is under construction illegally, violating SC orders. In an earlier submission he had made to the SC-NBWL on April 19, 2011 he mentioned violation of the WLPA (killing of a Serow – Schedule I species) in the 1200 MW Teesta III project being developed by the Athena group. The developer of the project, Teesta Urja Ltd (a special purpose vehicle of M/S Athena Pvt. Ltd.), through its sub-contractor, SEW Infrastructure Ltd, was involved in the death of a Serow (Capricornis sumanntraensis), a Schedule I animal, at the project site on June 4, 2008.

photo 2
Photo from SC-NBWL com report with this caption: The Teesta V dam showing the virtual absence of flow in the river downstream of the dam, which can have devastating consequences for river-dwelling and river-dependent species

Several attempts by this correspondent, to contact the PCCF –cum-Secretary of the FEWM department of Sikkim Mr. Arvind Kumar on his cell phone, and his official e-mail address to get the Sikkim government’s official version on the controversy, remained unanswered.

How IPPs are cheating by flouting norms Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC) convenor Tseten Tashi Bhutia, while speaking to this correspondent expressed immense joy at the NBWL report. “We have been protesting cultural and religious genocide being committed by the Sikkim government in the name of developing hydro power, apart from severely degrading the environment, this is a moral boost. I hope GOI takes strong action”, he said. Bhutia added that there are violations of the Places of Worship (special provisions) Act 1991, extended to Sikkim, and the gazette notifications of the Chamling government, in allowing the Tashiding project on holy river Rathong Chu.

SIBLAC along with another apolitical group Save Sikkim on September 28th, 2013 filed FIRs against an IPP, Shiga Energy Pvt ltd, developer of the 97 MW Tashiding hydro power project for alleged cheating, distortion of facts and violation of environmental norms and the SC order. This is in addition to an ongoing PIL at the Sikkim High Court.

The facts revealed by Tseten Tashi Bhutia in his FIR are startling and shocking. As per the requirement of the Environment Ministry (MoEF, Government of India), the executing agency i.e. Shiga Energy Private Limited, is required to submit a Six-monthly compliance report[4] on the status of the 97 MW Tashiding HEP to the stipulated environmental conditions in a prescribed format .However, while going through the latest Six monthly report dated 22.11.2012[5] submitted by the executing agency to the concerned authority i.e. North Eastern Region Office, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Government of India , it is found that as against the IX necessary conditions required in the prescribed format, the executing agency have intentionally deleted Stipulation No. VIII, jumping to the next condition.

The Monitoring report of MEF regional office (signed by DR S C KATIYAR, SCIENTIST ‘D’) dated Oct 2012[6] says about Stipulation VIII: “the proposed site is about 5 Km away from the buffer zone of the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve as per Supreme Court order clearance from NBWL may be obtained (if required).”  Status of Compliance: “Not complied with” and further writes; “the project also falls within 10 Kms from the Fambomgla Wildlife Sanctuary, as such; NBWL clearance needs to be obtained.”

Thus the agency has not complied to nor has obtained NBWL clearance yet as evident from the Monitoring Report on the Implementation Status of Conditions of Environmental Clearance dated Oct 4th, 2012. In other words, the executing agency has simply and swiftly been misleading and cheating the authorities till date by submitting wrong report to Ministry of Environment and Forest, Govt. of India. More surprising is to witness the lack of action by the MoEF on these manipulations and lack of action even after the Monitoring Report clearly reports non compliance.

Rathongchu is a sacred river according to the Denjong Neyig and Nesol texts having its source at various secret and sacred lakes at Khangchendzonga, Sikkim’s supreme guardian deity and runs independently till it meets River Rangit at the lower reaches; This sacred Rathongchu is the source to the annual Tashiding Bumchu ceremony which is held in the first lunar month, corresponding to the months of February and March. In fact, this Bumchu (Sacred Water) ceremony has been continuing for centuries and attracts thousands of devotees and pilgrimages from far across including Bhutan, Nepal, and entire Himalayas.

Ironically, a one-man Professor P S Ramakrishnan committee, of the JNU School of Environmental Sciences, submitted a report titled Ecology and Traditional Wisdom,  on October 9th 1995, to the government of Sikkim where he categorically stated, “on social, cultural, and religious considerations, apart from the rich bio-diversity and fragile ecology of the Yuksom valley region, I strongly recommend that no hydro power or other projects should be allowed on River Rathongchu, deemed extremely sacred by Buddhists”. Under the circumstances, how was the Tashiding HEP allotted to the Shiga Energy Ltd by the Sikkim Government and cleared by the MoEF is moot question.

Some of the other proposed projects that are mentioned in the SC-NBWL committee that are also coming up requiring the SC-NBWL clearance include the 300 MW Panan HEP, the Ting Ting HEP, besides the ones mentioned above, see the accompanying map from the SC-NBWL report. Other hydropower projects of Sikkim that are being considered by the MoEF for clearances and that are also close to the protected areas include: 63 MW Rolep HEP on Rangpo river in E Sikkim (5-6 km from Pangolakha and Kyongnosla WLS), 126 MW Ralong HEP (4.05 km from Kangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve and 1.8 km from Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary), 96 MW Chakung Chu HEP inn North Sikkim district (1.8 km from Kangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve). Other such possible projects include: 71 MW Sada Mangder, 60 MW Rangit III, among others.

Let us hope now following the SC-NBWL report, the MoEF will promptly order stoppage of illegally ongoing construction of the guilty HEPs, not waiting for the SC-NBWL committee to meet, since the new Standing Committee of the NBWL remains to be constituted after the term of the earlier committee ended. The evidence provided by the SC-NBWL committee is sufficient to take prompt action. The fact that the MoEF has not take action yet, weeks after submission of the SC-NBWL report speaks volumes about the possible collusion of the MoEF in this murky affair.

Soumik  Dutta (duttauni@gmail.com, with inputs from SANDRP)

END NOTES:


[1] WP 406/2004, Goa Foundation vs. Union of India, Order dated 04/12/2006: “The MoEF would also refer to the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife, under Sections 5 (b) and 5 (c) (ii) of the Wild

Life (Protection) Act, the cases where environment clearance has already been granted where activities are within 10 km. zone

[2] Strangely, the Environment clearance letter for the project does not even mention the need for SC-NBWL clearance, see: http://environmentclearance.nic.in/Auth/openletter.aspx?EC=5766

[3] The Six monthly compliance report for Teesta III dated June 2013 also is quite on the issue of compliance with SC-NBWL clearance, see: http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Compliance/57_Teesta%20HEP-III%20_june2013.pdf, the condition for this was mentioned in the MoEF letter dated 30-04-2010 with additional condition: “Considering the proximity of Khangchendzonga National Park from the project site, clearance from the Standing Committee of theNational Board for Wildlife (NBWL) should be obtained”.

[4] For latest version of the compliance report, see: http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Compliance/34_Tashiding%20Six%20Monthly%20Compliance%20Report_May%202013.pdf. In this report, the column before the condition VIII says: NA (not available).