Environment Impact Assessment · Ganga · Nepal · Public Hearing · Uttarakhand

Letter to MoEF’s Expert Committee: Why Pancheshwar Project should not be considered for Environment Clearance

(Above: Protest outside MoEF on Oct 24, 2017 when EAC met to consider EC for Pancheshwar Project)

Oct 23, 2017

To

Chairman and Members, Expert Appraisal Committee (River Valley Projects), Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Jor Bagh, New Delhi

Respected Chairman and Members,

The agenda of the EAC (for RVP) to be held on Oct 24, 2017, put up on the EC website only on Oct 18, 2017, just six days before the EAC meeting includes the 5040 MW Pancheshwar Multipurpose project (PMP), India’s largest proposed hydropower projects. The agenda should be available at least ten days before the meeting, and this should also be a reason for not considering the Pancheshwar project by EAC for its meeting on Oct 24. Moreover agenda mentions 5600 MW Pancheshwar project, where as the capacity as per EIA is 5040 MW. Is MoEF just callous in mentioning wrong installed capacity or has the capacity gone up? In either case, the 5040 MW Pancheshwar project should not be on EAC agenda. Continue reading “Letter to MoEF’s Expert Committee: Why Pancheshwar Project should not be considered for Environment Clearance”

Uttarakhand

Prime Minister Modi at Kedarnath: What was said; what was left unsaid

The central theme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji’s 40 minutes speeach at Himalayan pilgrimage centre of Kedarnath in Uttarakhand on Oct 21, 2017[i], was that we need to come out of the shadow of a disaster. It was to chart out new design, development and reconstruction of the temple, the road, the banks of River Mandakini and its tributary Saraswati and the memorial of Shankaracharya. The reconstruction was required since the disaster had destroyed all this and more. Continue reading “Prime Minister Modi at Kedarnath: What was said; what was left unsaid”

Bhagirathi · Ganga · Uttarakhand

Walking along Ganga in Uttarakhand in 2017

Above: The Bhagirathi valley has a lot of beautiful bends, comparable to the most popular scenic spots across the world. But we’re busy cutting down the mountain to make broader roads in these eco-sensitive areas. Image taken in March 2017. Photo credits: Siddharth Agarwal 

Guest Blog by Siddharth Agarwal

In the initial stages of planning the Moving Upstream project on the Ganga for Veditum, where we were going to walk along the whole length of the river, I had approached a lot of individuals to learn from their experiences about the river and the many connected stories around it. These learnings varied from science and activism to adventure and survival. Of all those who were approached, Himanshu Thakkar from SANDRP had been the most generous in extending knowledge resources and sharing contacts from the field. He even entertained a couple of my visits to their office and shared with me a copy of the SANDRP report prepared by Theo, called Headwater Extinctions (February 2014,  see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/new-publication-headwater-extinctions-impact-of-hydropower-projects-on-fish-and-river-ecosystems-in-upper-ganga-and-beas-basins/, it includes link to full report), along with a few other documents.

Headwater Extinctions looks at the role played by small and large hydropower projects in altering the fish biodiversity and river ecosystems in the Himalayan reaches of the Ganga and Beas basins. It also speaks about the perspective of local people and that of the authorities towards hydropower projects. Theo, who is an adventurer and ecologist, penned down the report with a scientific aptitude, while I will limit myself here in this revisit report to updated observations made on ground while walking along the Ganga in Uttarakhand (March 2017). This comparative observation will hopefully enable a conversation that requires continuity. Continue reading “Walking along Ganga in Uttarakhand in 2017”

Uttarakhand

Landslide Dam on Sonam River in Uttarkashi: Threat to people and structures in the downstream area

Above: Landslide Dam over Sonam River in Uttarkashi  Dist in Uttarakhand (Photo from Jagran.com)

A landslide on Sonam river (Bhagirathi basin) in Bhatwari block in Uttarakashi district in Uttarakhand has blocked the flow of the river and created a lake about 90 m long, 80 m wide and 1.5-3 m deep. The landslide dam in Nelong valley in Jadhganga river basin about 145 km from Uttarkashi town, apparently was formed due to landslide during cloud burst on July 27, 2016, but the information about it reached the administration only on Sept 4, 2016, 39 days later. The landslide dam, about 24 km from the India China border has created a threat to the downstream river bank communities, roads and bridges and other structures and also ecology. The reservoir has been formed at the confluence of Angar Nallah, a local stream, with Sonam River. A team of officials sent by the District Collector on Sept 5, 2016 has submitted a report, but the report is not yet in public domain. Continue reading “Landslide Dam on Sonam River in Uttarkashi: Threat to people and structures in the downstream area”

Floods · Interlinking of RIvers · Kosi · Narmada · Uttarakhand

CWPRS: A 100-year-old institute remains uni-dimensional; has no achievement to show

Jawaharlal Nehru who famously celebrated large dams as “temples of modern India” later termed them as “disease of giganticism”.[i] The fascination wore out after witnessing the huge sacrifice of the vulnerable and unfulfilled promises. Government of India however has continued with the worship of giant structures such as big dams, ports, hydropower projects etc. Even after nearly seven decades of independence, ‘engineering approach’ still dominates the idea of river planning which views river as an entity to be engineered and planned for irrigation, hydropower, industrial and urban water use rather than as a living eco-system. 17 study models that were displayed at Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS) open house day at Khadakwasla near Pune on June 14, 2016, its completion of 100 years of existence, stood testimony to this. Continue reading “CWPRS: A 100-year-old institute remains uni-dimensional; has no achievement to show”

Dams · Drought · Interlinking of RIvers · Jammu and Kashmir · Uttarakhand

India facing its worst water crisis ever: Himanshu Thakkar

Find below interview of SANDRP coordinator Himanshu Thakkar by Aditi Phadnis, Business Standard. The interview was published in Business Standard on the 14th May 2016 (http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/india-facing-its-worst-water-crisis-ever-himanshu-thakkar-116051400704_1.html)

~~

Environmental activist and water expert Himanshu Thakkar tells Aditi Phadnis that India needs a comprehensive water-use policy immediately.

You are quoted as saying that India is in the grip of its worst hydrological crisis ever. Isn’t that a bit drastic? After all, India has endured endemic in many parts of the country for several years now. What makes you so pessimistic?

I do not think it is statement of pessimism but possibly reflects a reality. What we are seeing this year is unprecedented in many respects: major perennial rivers like the Ganga, Godavari, and have dried up at several locations, which was unheard of earlier. Groundwater levels are at a record low. In many places hand pumps have dried up completely. The number ofimpacted, the intensity of the impact are huge. This is only the fourth time in a century that there has been a back-to-back drought, but on all previous occasions groundwater, an insurance in times of drought, had provided relief. That is no longer an available option in several places. Our rivers are in a much worse situation today than ever in the past, due to all the ill treatment we have meted out to them, including multiple and often unnecessary, unjustified damming. All this makes the situation this year much worse.

You are credited with making public a lot of information and anlysis about the circumstances of the current shortage of water in Maharashtra. What do your findings tell us about the issue of water in the state?

The first thing that strikes you about is that it has, by far, the highest number of big dams in India. According to the National Register of Large Dams of the Central Water Commission, of the total number of 5,100 big dams 1,845 are in Maharashtra. So about 35 to 36 per cent of all big dams in India are in the state. Yet Maharashtra is in the headlines for drought and water scarcity today. While nationally, 46 per cent of cropped area is irrigated, in Maharashtra the figure is hardly 18 per cent. There is a lot of evidence here that big dams have proved to be a failed water resources development model. The current chief minister did say in his famous Assembly speech on July 21, 2015, that farmers need irrigation, not dams, and dams are not the only means to achieve irrigation. Unfortunately, one of the major planks used by his party to achieve power in Maharashtra, the Rs 70,000-crore irrigation scam, seems to have been totally forgotten by the state government.

Parts of Maharashtra are facing multiple agrarian and hydrological crises this year. Rainfall deficits have been as high as 40 and 42 per cent in the last two years in Marathwada. In some districts and blocks the figure is even higher. So rain-fed kharif crops in many parts have failed for the last two years. The rabi crops were also hit by unprecedented hailstorms in 2014 and 2015. The 2016 rabi season has been hit by unusually dry conditions.

During the 2015 monsoon, we (my Pune-based colleague Parineeta Dandekar does most of our Maharashtra-related work) realised in mid-July that this year is going to be a crisis for most of Maharashtra, in addition to some other adjoining areas. So we wrote to the chief minister in August that the state needed to take certain measures urgently. This included stopping the diversion of about three billion cubic metres of water from the Bhima and Krishna basins to the high-rainfall Konkan area, stopping non-essential water-use activities, taking stock of available water and deploying it for priority needs, and so on.

The did not wake up to this situation then or at the end of the monsoon or even now. While the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyaan, the flagship scheme of current Maharashtra government, is welcome, leaving aside some problematic work they are doing in terms of deepening, widening and straightening of rivers, it cannot be a fig leaf to hide its incompetence in handling this crisis.

In Marathwada and western Maharashtra (similarly, also northern Karnataka) sugar cane cultivation on about four to five per cent of cropped land takes up about 70 per cent of available irrigation water. We have been saying that considering the rainfall, weather situation and water availability, sugarcane is not a sustainable crop in these regions. However, even when 2014 and 2015 monsoon had major deficits in Maharashtra, the area under sugarcane remained at record levels. This was after the 2012 drought in Maharashtra, when the same issues had cropped up and the government, including the then Union agricuture minister Sharad Pawar promised intervention. We saw no implementation of those promises then. The situation is the same now.

Industry and agriculture are both responsible for the water crisis. But industries can’t be shut and farmers can’t be told to stop farming. So what is the answer?

I won’t say industry and agriculture are responsible. The kind of industries we set up and the kind of agriculture we do in any region has to keep in mind the various factors prevailing in the region, including water. When we conduct water-intensive activities in water-starved regions, that is an invitation to an inequitable, unsustainable, conflict-generating situation and sooner or later we will face the consequences. We have seen this happening in Maharashtra over the last decade most starkly.

Shouldn’t everyone be made to pay for water? Punjab has 98 per cent irrigation. It has spent money over the years, setting up irrigation channels, etc. Nobody has paid for those. Worse, the water running in those channels is not paid for either. By contrast, Maharashtra has barely 18 per cent irrigated land. What is the solution?

About 80 per cent of the water we use is supposed to be used by farmers, and I think there is national consensus that farmers in most places are not in a position to bear additional input costs in the current situation. Farmers need to be guaranteed much better returns on their produce than they are getting now. Say, if the Bharatiya Janata Party is able to implement the promise it made to farmers in its election manifesto that they should get 50 per cent return on investment, then maybe we can start talking about making farmers pay for the water, as that cost will then be included in the input cost calculations.

Moreover, a lot of users of water even in urban and industrial areas are not paying for the water they use or pollute. For example, a lot of groundwater gets used up by them, but there is no payment or regulation of this. Nor are they being made to pay for the pollution their effluents lead to.

We also need more participatory decision-making in water resources development before we can start asking farmers to pay for all the wrong decisions that are being taken now.

In the midst of all this gloom over lack of water, some states -Telangana and Maharashtra, for instance – have signed a pact to interlink rivers (ILR). Andhra Pradesh and Telanagana have already effected the interlinking of two rivers. Is this the way forward?

Today groundwater is India’s water lifeline, as most of our water comes from it and in every water sub-sector the dependence on groundwater is increasing with each passing year. So whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, groundwater is our water lifeline. Our water policy, programmes and projects need to focus and prioritise how to sustain the groundwater lifeline. Will ILR help achieve that? The answer is no. In fact, we also need to prioritise optimisation of use of our existing water infrastructure; second, making rainwater harvesting the central focus as that can help sustain groundwater. ILR is costly, environmentally destructive, socially disruptive and a non-optimum option, particularly in view of the changing climate, in addition to other issues.

In hill regions like Uttarakhand and Kashmir, the frenzy of the floods can hardly be forgotten. What is happening there?

Yes, all across the Himalayas, the high disaster vulnerabilities (to earthquakes, floods, landslides, erosion and flashfloods) have deepened because of the changing climate and the kind of interventions we are doing there. Our disaster management infrastructure remains a rather weak link, as the Supreme Court order on on May 11, 2016 about the current drought pointed out. We seem to have learnt little from the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 and the Jammu and K ashmir floods of September 2014 and March 2015. As the Nepal earthquake of April-May 2015 showed, these regions are prone to major seismic shocks. All this demands urgent action and possibly course change.

Original link: http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/india-facing-its-worst-water-crisis-ever-himanshu-thakkar-116051400704_1.html

Climate Change · Dams · Ganga · Irrigation · Monsoon · Sand Mining · Uttarakhand

Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin Oct 12, 2015

Arunachal:-  Siang People’s Forum writes to MoEF to not allow mega dam on Siang River, State Govt. supports the cause

Assam:- Locals, CM show stiff resistance to Lower Subansiri power project

Himachal:-Jispa Dam project faces opposition

Uttarakhand:- From 60 to 7000 patients in 3 years, Uttarakhand floods play havoc with mental health

Maharashtra:- Drought-Hit Maharashtra to generate 400 mw hydropower

Himalaya:- Dams, Hydro projects & other development works may wipe out many unknown species being discovered in Eastern Himalaya

Climate Change :- The Hydropower Methane Bomb No One Wants to Talk About

Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin Oct 12, 2015”

Hydropower · Uttarakhand

Why Vishnuprayag and other Uttarakhand Hydro Projects continue to affect two years after the June 2013 disaster

In the last week of June 2015, there were widespread rains in Uttarakhand, accompanied by warning by the Dehradun Met Department. The pilgrimage to Kedarnath and Badrinath was affected with massive landslides damaging roads and bridges. But strangely there was little news about the hydropower projects. It was only when Vimalbhai informed me y’day that power generation at Vishnuprayag hydropower project has stopped that I decided to dig deeper into this issue. Continue reading “Why Vishnuprayag and other Uttarakhand Hydro Projects continue to affect two years after the June 2013 disaster”

Dams · Hydropower · Monsoon · Uttarakhand

Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin, June 22, 2015

HYDROPOWER

HIMACHAL: Himachal Pradesh engineers blames untrained engineers and human errors responsible for growing numbers of hydro power project mishaps (15 June 2015) HP engineers say that the board was suffering these losses as they lacked the trained engineers. The limited staff is under pressure to perform technical duties and pressure mount on them as the government was not serious about filling the posts, said Lokesh Thakur, general secretary, HP Power Engineers’ Association, expressing anguish over the death of three engineers, two of whom worked in the HPSEBL.http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/lack-of-trained-engineers-to-blame/94204.html Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin, June 22, 2015”

Alaknanda · Bhagirathi · Floods · Ganga · Mandakini · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Uttarakhand

Two years of Uttarakhand Flood Disaster of June 2013: Why is state & centre gambling with the Himalayas, the Ganga & lives of millions?

Its two years since Uttarakhand faced its worst ever flood disaster during June 15-17, 2013. We remember such tragedies to ensure that we learn the necessary lessons. So that in future such tragedies are not repeated or their dimensions are reduced. One of the enduring debates since that the Uttarakhand tragedy has been about the role of existing and under construction hydropower projects in increasing the proportions of the disaster.

A lot of water has flown down the Ganga in these two years, so let us revisit the important milestones of that debate. Within two months of the disaster, a bench led by Justice Radhakrishnan gave an order on Aug 13, 2013[1], asking the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to appoint an independent panel to assess the role played by existing and under construction hydropower projects in the disaster. Continue reading “Two years of Uttarakhand Flood Disaster of June 2013: Why is state & centre gambling with the Himalayas, the Ganga & lives of millions?”