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.
 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.
In a shocking development, Consortium of Indian Institute of Technology (IITC) has submitted a report that is a shot in the arm for the hydropower lobby in Ganga basin in Uttarakhand. This IITC report is being used by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to push ahead 24 Hydropower Projects in Uttarakhand which were recommended to be cancelled by two official expert reports, both commissioned on the orders of the Supreme Court of India. It seems the authors of the IITC report are jeopardizing the formidable reputation of the IITs and over a dozen other institutes which are a part of IITC, possibly for some short term gains.
Sounds ridiculous? Read on..
WII report The first expert report mentioned above is the report of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), commissioned by the MoEF & CC to assess the cumulative impact of some 70 hydropower projects in Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basin in Uttarakhand. WII submitted the report to MoEF&CC in April 2012 and among other recommendations, said that 24 of these projects should be dropped due to their irreversible & long term impact on aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. At the outset it should be mentioned that the WII (“an internationally acclaimed”, “autonomous institute of MoEF&CC”, see: http://www.wii.gov.in/) recommendation of dropping 24 projects was based on assessment of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity impacts of the series of hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basins in Uttarakhand. WII was commissioned to do this study by the MoEF&CC following an earlier SC order based on CEC (Central Empowered Committee) recommendation.
MoEF&CC, did not want to take the recommended action, so it sat on the recommendation of the WII report.
EB report following SC directions to Ministry to take stand on WII report On Aug 13, 2013, following the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013, the Supreme Court directions, among other things included, “MoEF is directed to examine, as noticed by WII in its report, as to whether the proposed 24 projects are causing significant impact on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirath River basins.” Again, MoEF&CC did not want to do any such examination on its own. Since MoEF&CC was setting up an expert body to examine the role of hydropower projects in the Uttarakhand disaster as per other directions of the same SC order of Aug 13, 2013, the ministry included such examination also in the Terms of Reference of the Expert Body (EB) under chairmanship of Dr Ravi Chopra.
The EB terms of reference were even wider than that of WII study and the expertise available with EB was also wider. With such expertise and terms of reference, the EB report (by 11 of the 13 members of EB) submitted to MoEF&CC in April 2014 came to the conclusion that 23 of the 24 projects in WII list should be dropped and even the 24th project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A should go ahead only after significant modifications. Thus, essentially, EB too endorsed the WII recommendation.
It should be noted here that the WII recommendations were peer reviewed (during the work of Expert Body in 2013-14) by renowned biodiversity expert Dr Brij Gopal. Dr Brij Gopal too endorsed WII recommendation that the 24 projects should be dropped. The peer review was sought by the Central Water Commission representative at the 2nd EB Meeting. Despite objections from some EB members, the Chairman agreed to such a review and proposed the name of Dr. Brij Gopal which was promptly seconded by the Vice-Chairman, Dr. B.P. Das – a former Chief Engineer (Irr), Govt of Odisha and former Vice Chairman of the MOEF&CC’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects. In fact Dr. Brij Gopal suggested that more projects needed to be dropped.
MoEF&CC still did not want to take action on the 24 projects. So using the dissenting report by two government agencies which were largely toeing their official position in EB, the MoEF&CC suggested to the Supreme Court of India on May 7, 2014 that it wants to set up another committee. Seeing no validity in this, the Honorable SC rejected this suggestion and asked MoEF&CC to take a stand. SC has also since then put a stay on any further work on these 24 projects.
Still not ready to take a stand, MoEF&CC, used the reason that since IITC was already working on Ganga River Basin Management Plan (GRBMP) for the ministry since 2010 went ahead and gave the task of reconciling the two EB reports to IITC. In effect this is tantamount to violating the SC directions of not appointing another committee. However, unlike the picture it tried to give to SC, this task was not part of GRBMP work, but given to IITC through a fresh TOR.
Perturbed at not receiving any serious required response from MoEF&CC after repeated orders, the apex court judges of the Supreme Court rightly said the ministry was behaving like Kumbhakarna and Rip Van Winkle.
On Oct 9, 2014, the MoEF&CC submitted an affidavit to the SC, relying entirely on a report from IITC. And lo and behold, IITC had provided a report to the MoEF&CC, certifying that with some vaguely defined criteria, all the 24 projects can go ahead and there is no need to cancel any project! Serendipitously, this is exactly what the MoEF&CC & the hydropower lobby wanted!
It needs to be stated here that IITC had no mandate to submit such a report and the report is unprofessional, inadequate, unwarranted and inconsistent.
The IITC team of 8 persons listed above, all with essentially engineering background have now also reviewed the EB report and made their own recommendations, again without having the expertise that was available at EB command. It is thus inappropriate for IITC to comment on the recommendations of the EB which had two biodiversity experts from FRI (Forest Research Institute) and WII, besides experts from Uttarakhand in various other disciplines. IITC is thus being unprofessional.
What does IITC report say The IITC report essentially says that ALL the 24 projects can go ahead if they satisfy three criteria: Aviral Dhara, Environmental flows and longitudinal connectivity. The first thing that strikes about these three terms is that they are all vaguely defined and can have flexible interpretations. They are also interconnected and not necessarily independent of each other. Most importantly, they do not take care of the issues based on which the two expert reports said that these 23 projects should be dropped and even the 24th Project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A may be dropped or modified. But first let us understand these three vaguely defined, flexible and interconnected terms.
Aviral Dhara: According to the IITC report para 2.1 (see also: “Ganga River Basin Management Plan Extended Summary” of June 2014 available at: http://gangapedia.iitk.ac.in/sites/default/files/2014-06-12_GRBMP_Extended%20Summary.pdf): “Aviral Dhara in this context means that the flow of water, sediments and other natural constituents are continuous and adequate over the entire length of the river throughout the year.” There is no definition of what is adequate here, nor it is clarified as to adequacy is from what point of view. Here it should be noted that Aviral literally means uninterrupted, but neither IITC nor MOEF&CC provide this interpretation. According to MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014 (para 8(c)), Aviral means “to flow round the clock” or “continuous flow”.
Environment Flows: For Environmental flows, the “objective” of GRBMP is (see p 9 of the GRMBP Extended Summary) “Environmental Flows shall be maintained in all rivers and tributaries of Ganga River System to fulfill their geological, ecological, socio‐economic and cultural functions.” The E-flows thus would than depend on identifying functions of the river from geology, ecology, socio-economic and cultural perspectives, which can vary. The GRMBP extended summary does not provide clarity on e-flows for any of these aspects and how to go about arriving at required environment flow. It should be mentioned here that to arrive at environment flows, there are about 200 methodologies available globally. The IITC report attached with the MOEF&CC affidavit remains even vaguer as it says maintenance of E-flow should lead “to river stability and ecological balance in the downstream areas.”
Clarity on environmental flows is crucial as the affidavit from MOEF&CC itself agrees that MOEF&CC did not address the issue of eflows adequately while granting environmental clearances in Uttarakhand. One of the basic reasons behind this was lack of clarity on the issue and the same mistake is being repeated in the IITC Report.
Longitudinal Connectivity: In MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014, it is stated (para 6(b)/ 8(b)) that longitudinal connectivity is necessary to ensure “non-disruptive biota movement and silt transportation along the river course that are essential ingredients of a river ecology and its wholesomeness. Otherwise, a fragmented river stands to lose its basic character along with its native aquatic bio-diversity and ecological integrity.”
One of the two places where the term longitudinal connectivity appears in the GRMBP Extended Summary quoted earlier, says: “For dams and barrages, a precondition is essential that they cannot violate the longitudinal connectivity in River Ganga and her major tributaries. Besides they must allow E‐Flows (Environmental Flows) all along the river. A potential method for ensuring river connectivity through dams/ barrages has been suggested.”
The only other place in the GRBMP Extended Summary where the term longitudinal connectivity appears is interesting as it connects all the three terms that IITC has used: “Thus, while longitudinal connectivity in river network is an essential first step to maintain “Aviral Dhara”, having adequate river flows depends much on basin’s overall water status.” This statement is thus also making all three terms even more flexible, subjective and vague since they are dependent on “basin’s overall water status”. This leaves the door open to later reduce the quantum of E-Flows.
It is thus clear that the IITC report annexed by the MOEF&CC with their Oct 9, 2014 affidavit says that if these three vaguely defined terms that are flexible and prone to subjective interpretations are satisfied, then all the 24 projects can go ahead.
While these three, when clearly defined and properly implemented, are necessary conditions for any hydropower project, to say that they are sufficient condition is not only misleading, but also showing lack of understanding of the environmental issues related to hydropower projects. The MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014 relies exclusively on this IITC report and wants to allow all 24 project based on these three vaguely defined, flexible criteria from IITC report.
However, these three criteria are not sufficient to take a decision about these 24 projects as they exclude large number of criteria that the two expert reports considered, including: terrestrial biodiversity (completely absent in IITC report), cumulative impact (completely absent in IITC report it only looks at project specific issues), projects’ location in hazardous zone, projects increasing the disaster potential of the area, among many others.
The SC’s original direction was to examine if the 24 projects would have significant impact on the biodiversity. So the examination for these 24 projects must be done from the total biodiversity aspect and not on the basis of flow alone. The IITC itself has said in the GRBMP Interim Report of Sept 2013 that if biodiversity impact is significant then the project should be disallowed. It is clear IITC has again been inconsistent.
IITC is inconsistent It should be added here that in table 4.2 of their “Interim GRBMP” of Sept 2013 (see: https://nmcg.nic.in/writereaddata/fileupload/25_GRBMPInterim_Rep.pdf), IITC provides larger set of criteria for deciding permissibility of dams and barrages in the Ganga Basin, which include criteria like threat to terrestrial biodiversity, rare, endangered and threatened (RET) species, geological hazards, loss of historical, religious and cultural sites, among others. But these are no longer considered by the IITC in their current report under discussion. The IITC is also being inconsistent, besides being unprofessional and vague.
IITC report shows lack of understanding on basic environmental issues It is also disturbing to read the IITC report saying (section 2.1, last but one para), “However, projects on streams/ rivers with negligible biota may be allowed to proceed as per the environmental and other clearances already given to such projects provided that adequate provision is made to ensure the mandated E-flows. The adverse environmental impacts of such projects on the Ganga river system as a whole are expected to be negligible. Such projects may, therefore, be kept out of Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA) for their approval.”
Firstly, this shows that IITC is out-rightly overruling the recommendation of the WII and EB on criteria of terrestrial biodiversity, geological stability and so on. IITC is doing that too without providing any reasoning or basis. Significant number of the 24 projects have been recommended for rejection by WII and EB based on these criteria. Such baseless rejection of the recommendation by IITC not only shows their poor understanding of environmental and geological issues, but also shows their pro hydro bias.
Secondly, IITC makes the contention that the adverse environment impacts of such projects on Ganga river system is expected to be negligible, without providing any basis or scientific logic or reasoning.
Thirdly, suggesting that all such projects may be kept out of the CEIA seems to show poor understanding of the basics CEIA by the authors of IITC report. Large number of even so called low impact interventions can also cumulatively have big impacts and to exclude them is against the very spirit of CEIA. It also then raises doubts about competence of IITC to prepare GRBMP, since GRBMP is supposed to also look at the cumulative impact assessment and carrying capacity of major interventions in the Ganga Basin. IITC authors do not seem to understand that even aquatic biota gets affected by geological and other factors, that fish is not the only aquatic biota and that there is upstream downstream linkages in lifecycle of the aquatic biota and that there are linkages between aquatic and terrestrial biota life cycles, affected by hydrology.
The above stated issues raise serious doubts about the appropriateness of the IITC report and MOEF&CC’s attempts to push ahead with the 24 hydropower projects in fragile and disaster prone Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin based on the inappropriate IITC report. Particularly when these projects were to be cancelled as per two expert reports, both commissioned following two separate apex court orders.
Issue of cumulative impacts cannot be taken care of through project specific actions Here it should be noted that the WII report has made its recommendation about dropping 24 HEPs based on cumulative impact assessment of all the operating, under construction and planned projects in the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda River basins. The same is true with respect to EB recommendation. The conclusions arrived at based on cumulative impact assessment by the WII and EB cannot and should not be sought to be addressed by looking at project specific steps or actions as MOEF&CC affidavit and IITC reports are doing.
Did Project Management Board allow IITC to do this report? The IITC task of GRBMP is being overseen by a Project Management Board (PMB) comprising of senior persons of all the seven IITs and some invited members. The IITC report dated July 21, 2014 mentions, “The PMB in its fifth meeting held on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at IIT Delhi agreed to examine the two reports in the broader framework developed for GRMBP.”
While this is what IITC claims in its July 21, 2014 report, this claim is not supported by the Minutes of the relevant meeting of PMB, as we see below. From the reading of the minutes, it seems that the IITC had no mandate or clearance to do this report.
In the minutes of the fifth meeting of PMB held on June 24, 2014, para 7 seems to be the only relevant para in this context, which reads as follows: “Project Coordinator sought the directions from PMB about the modus operandi for follow-up actions after submission of the final draft of GRBMP – such as responding to queries and comments on GRBMP and dealing with requests for other inputs on Ganga Basin received from government and other agencies. He mentioned that IITC is obliged to respond to such requests based on the work done in preparing GRBMP, and the help of only active contributors of IITC would be needed rather than the existing mechanism of going through PICC and PMB. Professor Manna, Director, IIT Kanpur stated that IIT Kanpur is willing to take the responsibility on behalf of IITC of such matters and Project Coordinator may take the help and advice of concerned IIT Team members as and when needed. It was opined that each IIT may compile the list of new faculty members who may have joined after GRBMP project was started and communicate the same to the Project Coordinator. Professor Khakhar suggested that Directors of the 7 IITs may discuss the matter and communicate the decision to the Project Coordinator on modus operandi for submission of first version of GRBMP, and responding to queries and comments on GRBMP and dealing with requests for other inputs on Ganga Basin received from government and other agencies.”
The first thing that strikes about this para is that the Project Coordinator (Dr Vinod Tare) raised this in the context of “follow-up actions after submission of the final draft of GRBMP”, which is not the case with respect to current issue, since the final draft of the GRBMP is yet to be submitted. There is nothing in this para to support the contention quoted above from the preface of the IITC report that PMB “agreed to examine the two reports in the broader framework developed for GRMBP.”
If this is the only para that is relevant in the context of IITC report to MOEF&CC dated July 21, 2014 and if this para is not applicable at this stage since it is applicable only after submission of final draft of GRBMP, then the question arises, if the IITC had the permission from PMB to submit such a report and if the MOEF&CC should have submitted this report as authorized IITC report? These questions can be answered by only the IITC, its PMB and MOEF&CC, but they are relevant since it is this report purportedly from IITC that is sought to be used by MOEF&CC to ensure that all the 24 projects under discussion go ahead. In fact PMB and all concerned from IITC should quickly clarify that this report cannot be called IITC report, but only from the specific 8 persons listed above. The authors should be asked to remove the claim that this is IITC report.
IITR has poor track record and conflict of interest Here it is pertinent to note that of the four IITs involved in this report of IITC, IIT Roorkee (IITR) has already proven to have a poor and biased track record and should not have been involved in any case. The IITR was in fact commissioned in July 2010 by MOEF&CC to do cumulative impact assessment of the hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin. The report submitted by IITR was so pathetic that it was not accepted and it invited adverse comments from official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects, the Inter Ministerial Group on Ganga Basin Projects and also the Supreme Court of India in Aug 2013 order. (The report was also criticized by other organisations.)
Thus, IITR stands discredited on the precise issue of cumulative impacts of hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin. To include such an institute for another IITC report now on the same issue not only brings discredit to the whole effort, but raises the issue of conflict of interest.
While some issues are based on procedures and propriety, other issues relate to merit of IITC recommendations as they do not hold the experience or expertise to deal with serious problems related to cumulative impacts, terrestrial biodiversity and RET species, deforestation, and disaster potential of the region.
Thus, on both these counts (technical and merit based), the IITC Report is under cloud and does not hold enough ground to base further informed decisions.
Conclusion In view of the above, it is clear that IITC report is not adequate, reliable, or consistent to take a decision about 23 hydropower projects which have been recommended to be dropped and 24th project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A project which has been recommended to be dropped/ modified by the WII and EB. IITC had neither the expertise nor the mandate to submit such a report. The MOEF&CC should not be relying on this report and rather coming out with its own position as directed by the Supreme Court of India repeatedly, keeping in mind the issues and merits of the two expert reports, both submitted following two separate apex court orders.
It is unfortunate that IITC has submitted a report that is obviously music to both hydropower developers and government. MoEF&CC has already offered more such work to IITC. We hope IITC will go beyond such short term interests and be more consistent, professional and work towards rejuvenation of the Ganga and other rivers.
This current work is discrediting their future work of GRBMP too.
-Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP (Being an IIT Mumbai alumni myself, I am writing this with a sense of sadness)
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
Rs 30 crore (project completely submerged)
Rs 18-19 crore (power house and 4 houses washed away)
Rs 16 crore (power house and 4 houses washed away)
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/.)
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:
The one day Ganga Manthan organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on July 7, 2014 was described by Union Minister Sushri Uma Bharti & Union Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari as “Historical”. The Union Environment Minister, who has one of the most crucial role in achieving a rejuvenated Ganga, was supposed to be there, but could not come at any stage.
I attended the full day meeting with a lingering question: Will this help the river? Even some of the ardent skeptics said that Uma ji has emotional, spiritual and religious attachment with the cause of Ganga.
At the conclave attended by close to a thousand people, the story of how Ms. Bharti came back to the BJP party about a year back to work for the cause of Ganga, and how she was promised a year back that if their party came to power, Ganga will get a separate ministry and she its charge was narrated repeatedly by both Ms Bharti and Mr Gadkari at least twice. It was also stated that the government has the commitment, the will & all the money to make the Ganga clean (Nirmal) and perennial (aviral). There were also repeated statements by both ministers about the officials being so committed to the cause of Ganga. These, in essence, were the basic positive assets of this government to achieve Ganga Rejuvenation.
While it was good to see large gathering involving various sections of the society, including many independent non government voices, missing were some key stakeholders: Ganga basin state governments, farmers groups, Ministry of Urban Development, fisher-folk groups, boats-people representatives. Another key constituency missing was Ministry of Agriculture, since agriculture is major user of water & irrigation and responsible for water diversion and at the same time major non point source polluter through use of chemicals and fertilizers.
Rejuvenation does not mean just nirmal and aviral But if the task is Rejuvenation of River Ganga, are these assets sufficient? What exactly does Rejuvenation of River Ganga mean? There were no answers to this question at the meeting. The government did not even seem bothered about these questions. Are Nirmal and Aviral Ganga sufficient objectives to achieve Rejuvenation of Ganga? The answer is clearly no, for, even a pipleline or canal carrying perennial flow of water can claim that distinction. A rejuvenated river will need much more than that, but the government has nothing else to offer for a rejuvenated river.
Even for Aviral Ganga, the government had absolutely nothing to offer. In the information package shared with the participants, the only thing relevant to Aviral Ganga was the extended summary of draft “Ganga River Basin Management Plan” being prepared by consortium of seven IITs in collaboration with some 11 other organisations. This is led by Dr Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur. While standing with Dr Tare and Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh at the lunch, I said, the problem with Ganga is not of technology, but of governance. Despite being a proud IITian myself, I have no hesitation in saying that IITs do not have expertise in governance issues, so how can the IIT Consortium help in fix a governance problem? Having read the full Draft Plan of the IIT consortium, it only further strengthens the view that it was wrong decision of Jairam Ramesh to give this task to IIT Consortium.
Agenda for further destruction As a matter of fact, while this government has yet to take a step that will truly help rejuvenation of Ganga, they have declared their agenda that will possibly further destroy the river. This was clear on June 6, 2014, within ten days of new government taking over when a PIB press release announced, “Shri Gadkari said it is proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters and for a three (3) meters draft (depth) to enable transport of passengers and goods between Varanasi and Hoogly on river Ganga in the first stage of its development and eleven terminals are proposed to be constructed along the banks. He said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms.” This was a shocking and arrogant announcement. There is nothing in public domain about this Rs 6000 crores plan, no details as to what exactly is planned, where the barrages are planned, why are they needed, what are their environmental impacts, what are the social impacts, what are the riverine impacts, what is the cost and benefits, who will pay the costs and who will reap the benefits, where is public consultation….there is absolutely nothing in public domain and here is a nine day old government declaring such massive plan! By July 7, 2014, the PIB Press Release declared that the depth will now by 5 meters and not three announced earlier. The PIB PR now said, “He (Mr Gadkari) said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms on the river. Shri Gadkari said his Ministry has sent a proposal in this regard to World Bank for the development of Allahabad- Haldia corridor.”
The minister possibly does not know that there is just one barrage on the Allahabad-Haldia 1500 km long stretch, namely the Farakka barrage and Bangladesh had threatened India to take the matter about building this barrage to the UN! Moreover, that barrage, everyone accepts, has not even achieved the basic objective it was supposed to achieve, namely navigability of Kolkata port, but has had many other severe impacts.
At Ganga Manthan, Mr Gadkari dropped a bombshell when he said this plan is already in advanced stage of appraisal with the World Bank! He said the government hopes to get Rs 4000 crores from the World Bank!! The World Bank has zero track record in achieving any clean river anywhere in the world, after spending billions of dollars every year. In India itself it stands guilty of destroying many rivers. A more inauspicious start to the Ganga Manthan possibly could not have been possible. At the Ganga Manthan itself, there was opposition to this plan, as The Hindu has reported.But Ms Uma Bharti finds nothing amiss about this as was clear by her answers at the press conference. But what about at least some semblance of participatory democracy?
Business as usual at NMCG and NGBRA will not help In reality, this is not all. While this Manthan for Ganga Rejuvenation is happening, the NMCG and NGBRA (National Ganga River Basin Authority) go on with their work in business as usual fashion. So in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam is going about its task of floating and examining the bids for five-part sewer laying and Sewage Treatment Plants with the help of JICA money. In Kanpur, the effort to divert several streams to Pandu is going on. In Allahabad, “the draft final ESAMP sewerage works for sewerage districts” A & C could be found on the NGBRA website. In Patna, the World Bank is funding the sewerage projects of Pahari in Patna & river front development and the draft social and environmental impact assessments could be found on NGBRA website. All of this (except the Varanasi packages, which are funded by Japanese aid agency) is going on under USD 1 Billion World Bank Funded NBGRA project.
So the business as usual that is going on for 40 years is now going to help rejuvenate Ganga!
The NMCG announced that the Manthan, a “National Dialogue on Ganga”, was supposed “to facilitate interaction with various stakeholders”, “to discuss the issues & solutions to the task of Ganga Rejuvenation”, “to prepare road map for preparation of a comprehensive plan”. The website said the Ganga is “holiest of Rivers”, “purifier of mortal beings” & “living godess”, but now “seriously polluted” and in “extreme environmental stress”.
Where is the dialogue? However, the way the meeting was organized, there was essentially no dialogue. After the inaugural plenary session, the participants were divided among four groups: 1. spiritual leaders, 2. environmentalists, NGOs, water conservationists, 3. scientists, academicians and technocrats, and administrators; 4. public representatives.
I went to the second group and there, when someone pointedly asked, if there is any representative of the government present, there was no response! In fact it was positively shocking that the first panel member that spoke in this group was Dr Arun Kumar of AHEC (Alternate Hydro Energy Centre) whose work on Ganga basin cumulative impact assessment is so discredited that even the official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF, the Inter-ministerial Group on Ganga, the Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court after the June 2013 flood disaster and the Supreme Court itself has criticized it or found it unreliable. NMCG has discredited itself by appointing such a person to give an overview of achievement of Ganga Action Plans.
Ms Bharti apologized in the beginning for hurriedly-called meeting. But the least she could have ensured was a credible process that will ensure that the officials have to show application of mind to the various suggestions received and conduct of the meeting in credible and confidence inspiring way. But the meeting did not inspire confidence that there will be any credible process that will ensure that there is application of mind to the various inputs given. Many of the participants did not have any opportunity to speak.
Recommendations for the government on Ganga
1. Make an honest effort to learn from the past. Why have the efforts of last 40 years since the passage of Water Pollution Act 1974 not helped Ganga? Similarly why did the GAP I, NRCP, GAP II, NGBRA not helped make the Ganga clean (nirmal) or perennial (aviral)?
2. Understand & recognise that Ganga is a river and what are the essential characteristics of a Ganga that it needs to rejuvenate it as a river. At Ganga Manthan, in post lunch session in the room where the fourth group for public representatives was sitting, I was sitting next to an official of Ministry of Water Resources and I casually asked him does the ministry of water resources understand what is a river? He first said yes, but when I said you are only dealing with water and nowhere in your work have we seen any value for rivers, he said ok, but we can do it in collaboration with MoEF. The trouble is, even MoEF does not understand rivers. [It was also strange to see in this session Mr Madhav Chitale (former Water Resources Secretary) describing Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 as an effort to clean the river! Such misrepresentation going unchallenged was shocking.] It should be remembered that it is this ministry of water resources through which Sushri Uma Bharti has to achieve a rejuvenated Ganga!
3. Ganga is not 2525 km long river: We kept hearing this sentence that Ganga is 2525 km length of river and Mr Bhurelal in fact said we need to limit ourselves to discussing how to make this stretch clean. The trouble is, if the tributaries are not healthy rivers, how can the main stem of Ganga be rejuvenated? As Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan said, Ganga is not 2525 km, but much more than 25000 km including all the tributaries, as Yamuna is not 1400 km long but 13470 km long including all the tributaries.
4. Ganga in Mountains: Learn the lessons from Uttarakhand disaster, that affected the headwaters of the Ganga river. The Expert body constituted by the MoEF under Dr Ravi Chopra has a lot to say there. Revisit all the existing, under construction and planned projects in the whole basin.
5. Farakka barrage: It is well known that the barrage did not serve the basic purpose it was created for, namely making the Kolkata port navigable. But it has created such havoc in upstream and downstream for millions of people that some of the Bihar MPs of previous Lok Sabhas talked about decommissioning of the barrage in the debate on Ganga. But this government wants to make many more barrages! First do a post facto assessment of the Farakka barrage and its current costs, benefits and risks.
6. Formulate an Urban Water Policy: The footprint of the urban areas on the rivers is increasing in multiple ways, but we have no urban water policy. Some key elements that such a policy will include: Reducing transmission & Distribution losses, water audit from RWA upwards, Rainwater harvesting, decentralised and eco-friendly ways of sewage treatment and recycle, groundwater recharge and bottom up management, demand side management, protection of local water bodies, protection of riverbeds, floodplains and forest areas & democratisation of the Urban water utilities. As the working report for the 12th Five Year Plan on Urban water said, no Urban areas should be allowed to have external water till they exhaust their local potential, including recycling of the treated sewage and other demand side and supply side options. The footprint of the urban areas will increase exponentially if we do not urgently on this front.
7. Agriculture is the biggest user of water and our government encourages use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. Most of these chemicals end up in water bodies including rivers. If we do not want our rivers to be dumping grounds for these chemicals, the government should encourage organic farming. Similarly, in stead of encouraging water intensive cropping patterns and methods, government needs to encourage low water use crops and methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is applicable for many crops and can reduce water need by upto 50% and yet increase yields and incomes of farmers. But the government has shown no interest in encouraging SRI. Such methods can free up a lot of water for the river. Similarly, under the influence of powerful sugar lobby, we are producing more sugarcane and sugar than we need and than we are exporting the same at subsidized rates! So essentially we are exporting water at huge subsidized rates, that too from Ganga, but we have no water for the river!
8. Irrigation is the biggest user of water. At Bhimgoda, Bijnor and Narora barrages, we are diverting almost all the water in the river for irrigation. But we have no water for the river. If we change our water resources development and agriculture policies, it is possible to restrict these diversions to 50% and release the rest for the river. We need to review all this.
9. The IIT consortium report is seriously flawed and is not likely to help the river.
10. We need to define the path of the riverbed or right of way for the river, based on its need to carry 100 year flood and silt. In absence of such a defined space for the river, there are a lot of encroachments. There is also no river regulation law to regulate this riverways land. This is urgently required.
11. Our Pollution Control Boards and related mechanism is not known to have achieved a single clean river or nala in 40 years of their existence, anywhere in the country. This is because of the completely non transparent, unaccountable, non participatory and exclusive bodies, where people whose lives are affected by the pollution have no role. A complete revamp of this is required to make its management inclusive from block level upwards, and answerable to the local people through clearly defined management system.
12. One of the major reason for the failure of the GAP, NRCP and NGBRA is that their functioning is top down, with absolutely no clearly defined norms for transparency, accountability, participation and inclusive management. Unless we completely change this, no amount of money, no amount of technology, no amount of infrastructure or institutions is going to help the Ganga. We need management system for every STP, every freshwater plant, every city and town, every 3-5 km of the river, every tributary and so on. At least 50% members of the management committees for each of them should be from outside the government, including community members. The people whose lives and livelihoods depend on river including fisherfolk, boatspeople, river bed cultivators, local sand miners, communities depending on river for different water needs have to be represented in such management system. That will also create an ownership in river rejuvenation effort. This is also applicable to urban areas and all the tributaries.
13. This is also true for our environmental governance of dams, hydropower projects, flood control projects, water supply projects, and so on. Today there is no credible environmental management at planning, appraisal, construction, operation or decommissioning stage.
14. River of course needs water. Urgently. Chart out a road map to achieve 50% of freshwater releases from all dams and barrages in two years. Also no sewage water or effluents entering the river in two years.
In the concluding plenary, after listening to the reports from four groups (there were a lot of positive and useful suggestions there), Ms Uma Bharti and Mr Gadkari said that they won’t make any announcement today but they will ensure that the good suggestions that have come will be given to the decision-makers who will create a road map. This is very vague and unconvincing process with no credible transparency. The least the ministers could have assured is a confidence-inspiring process that would transparently ensure that the decision makers have applied their minds to the suggestions. But even that was not promised.
Despite this seemingly gloomy outcome, considering that the NMCG has invited suggestions even after the meeting, I am going to send this blog link to them and wait for their response! Ganga definitely needs a lot of sewa from all of us if the river is to have any better future.
 Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
 Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation
 It’s worth noting here that Mr Gadkari seems to have abiding faith in technology, he said that this is an age of technology and there are technological solutions for all problems! This possibly shows where we are heading!
 Title: “Development of River Ganga for Tourism, Transport and to make it Environment Friendly”
June 16, 2014 This is a sad day, reminding us of the Uttarakhand disaster that began on this day a year ago. The disaster was triggered by unseasonal and heavy rainfall in which indicates a clear footprint of climate change. At the same time, the role played by massive infrastructure interventions, including an onslaught of hydropower projects and dams in Uttarakhand’s fragile ecosystem, in magnifying the proportions of this disaster manifold is also undeniable. It is a sign of callousness of our system that till date we do not have a comprehensive report about this disaster that throws light on what all actually happened, which institutes played what role, which institutes failed or succeeded in their assigned role, what were the rehabilitation and resettlement provisions, processes, plans and policies, and what lessons we can learn from this experience.
The lessons from this experience hold significance for the entire Himalayan region.
Uttarakhand and the union government declined to even investigate the role of hydropower projects in the disaster. It was left to the Supreme Court of India, through its order of Aug 13, 2013, to ask the government to set up a committee to assess the role of existing and under construction hydropower projects in the disaster. The apex court also asked governments to stop clearances to all such projects in the state in the meantime. The reluctant Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) took two more months to set up the committee which was headed by Dr Ravi Chopra.The committee submitted the report in mid April, 2014, but two months later the MEF is yet to put up the report in public domain. Or make it available to the people of Uttarakhand in their language or invite their views. SANDRP had written in detail about the recommendations of the EB, the committee certainly said that the hydropower projects played a significant role in the disaster. Eminent geologist Prof K S Valdiya has also written in Current Science in May 2014 (Vol. 106, p 1-13) that most projects are being built in landslide prone, seismically active area and should not be built there.
It was again left to the Supreme Court on May 7, 2014 to order stoppage of work on the 24 hydropower projects. The Expert Body recommended cancellation for 23 of these projects and change of parameters for one project. There is immense hope in further proceedings in the apex court in coming months, since the results will provide a guide for the whole Himalayan region in Uttarakhand, in other states in India and even for the Himalayan region beyond the border.
At the same time, it is unfortunate to see that the MEF, the Union government and Uttarakhand government seem to have learnt no lessons from the disaster. These bodies have been trying all sorts of manipulations to push massive projects like Lakhwar and Vyasi in Yamuna basin even without Environment Impact Assessment, Cumulative Impact Assessment or public consultations.
Now a new government has taken over at the centre. It is possible sign of things to come that India’s new Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has chosen this anniversary day to lay foundation stone for a huge hydropower project in the Himalayan region, read his own statement dated June 14, 2014, about his impending trip to Bhutan on June 15-16, 2014: “During the visit, we will lay the Foundation Stone of the 600 MW Kholongchu Hydropower Project.” This possibly indicates the thinking of new government on this issue.
The memory and lessons of this unprecedented disaster seem to be fading already. While going through the articles on this disaster in a number of newspapers like Indian Express, Hindu, Tribune, Business Standard, among others, I could find just one article in Business Standard that mentioned the role of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand disaster.
It is very important, in this context to remember the issue. We are here presenting here some photos of the damaged hydropower projects of Uttarakhand in that context. The photos are mostly taken from official sources, namely 582 page annexures to the Ravi Chopra Committee report. Most of the photos have not been in public domain to the best of our information.
Assi Ganga I (4.5 MW in Uttarkashi district): Letter from Regional office of MoEF to Uttarakhand Forest secretary dated 30 March, 2014 says:“The project was heavily damaged in 2013 devastation.” It also says that the project is in Ganga Eco Sensitive Zone and in the zone only projects below 2 MW capacity and serving the needs for the local population are allowed. Hence it says, “…the project should not start without obtaining fresh forest clearance and permission from the Central Govt.”
Assi Ganga II (4.5 MW in Uttarkashi district): Similar letter from Regional office of MoEF says: “The project was heavily damaged in 2013 devastation.” Following photos from the monitoring report of the project speak about the damage this project suffered:
Kaldigarh HEP (9 MW in Uttarkashi district) The project heavily damaged in 2012 floods and it being in Eco Sensistive zone, the report says the project should not be allowed to restart without permission from central govt.
Kotli Bhel 1A HEP (195 MW on Bhagirathi river in Uttarkashi district) The project has not given the final forest clearance. The stage I forest clearance was given on 13.10.2011 and environment clearance on 09.05.2007. The Ravi Chopra Committee report has asked for changes in the project parameters and Supreme Court order of May 7, 2014 has asked for stoppage of work on 24 HEPs, this project is on that list of 24 projects. The regional office report says that work on the project has been started on non forest land, which should now come to stop.
Kaliganga II HEP (6 MW, Rudraprayag district, Mandakini Basin) The Project got forest clearance on March 6, 2007. But project is yet to provide non forest land as required under act. The project is also within 2 km of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, but has not got clearance either from state wildlife Board or National Wildlife Board. The project construction thus is clearly illegal. Project has now suffered damages in June 2013 disaster, as can be seen from the photos below.
Madhya Maheshwar HEP (10 MW, Rudra Prayag district):
Phata Byung HEP (76 MW, Mandakini river, Rudra Prayag district):
Singoli Bhatwari HEP (99 MW, Mandakini river, Rudra Prayag district):
Bhyunder Ganga HEP (15 MW, Alaknanda river, Chamoli Disrict):
National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP’s Mr. Narendra Modi has been given a mandate to govern India for the next five years. Without going into the political and social facets related to this issue, there are a number of justifiable concerns about this government’s stand on critical issues of water and environment.
While the importance of water and environment sectors for the people, their livelihoods, society and economy is acknowledged, how crucial these sectors are for them is not easily appreciated. For example, environment is important not only for tigers and trees, but also for livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Indians who depend on natural resources. More than 60-65% Indians continue to depend on agriculture and every farm can benefit from better water resource management.
Some of the major challenges plaguing the water and environment sectors in India include: urgent need for an inclusive, democratic and accountable governance, holistic assessment of impacts the very many interventions in the Himalayas (lessons from Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013), ecological restoration of Ganga and other rivers, dealing with climate change in a way that protects lives and livelihoods of the vulnerable sections, etc., to name a few.
The leaders of the party forming the new government have already declared their agenda in terms of completion of Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on Narmada, pushing interlinking of rivers (ILR), pushing for more dams in the name of irrigation, pushing big hydropower projects in North East India (Mr Modi had said in his campaign that NE is heaven for hydropower projects) and mega industrial initiatives like the Delhi Mumbai Investment Corridor.
This agenda indicates that the importance of water and environment to the vast millions is not understood. Nor is the significance of the challenges to this sector appreciated. Pushing the above agenda is not only fraught with serious risks in terms of social, environmental, economic and interstate issues, but these projects are not likely to deliver the promise of this party at the elections: Better life, more jobs, more development, fulfillment of basic needs of the people who do not have access to these at the moment. Pushing this agenda is not likely to deliver stated promises, however blind push for more and bigger projects will compound strife and conflicts.
Let us look at the issues related to the NDA Agenda. These are not incidental issues, but issues inherent to the nature of these centralized, mega projects themselves.
Does ILR have scientific basis? The basic premise of ILR is that certain basins are water surplus and others are water deficit. It is assumed that occurrence of floods in a basin means there is surplus water in the basin and occurrence of drought or water scarcity in other basin means it is water deficit. This premise itself is not scientifically, ecologically and socially robust.
While this is said, there is no attempt at assessing and exhausting the available water options in any basin in India. Twithout this exercise, there can be no scientific basis for declaring a basin surplus or deficit. The ILR advocates seem to ignore the reality that India’s water lifeline is groundwater and the best way to sustain groundwater is through local water systems and recharge. They also seem to ignore the massive social, environmental impacts and constitutional issues. ILR is basically a collection of large number of major irrigation projects (over 84), but proponents of ILR do not seem to realize that in last two decades, there has been no addition to net irrigated area by these projects, in spite of addition of thousands of new projects.
“Sabarmati Model” holds no water for Ganga or other rivers During the elections in Varanasi constituency that elected Mr Modi, the issue of cleaning of Ganga remained prominent. BJP claimed that they will clean up Ganga at Varanasi the way they cleaned up Sabarmati River that flows through Ahmedabad in Gujarat. The trouble with this claim is that Sabarmati has not been cleaned up at all. The water flowing through Sabarmati as it flows through the city of Ahmedabad is actually the water of Narmada River, diverted into Sabarmati. Ahmedabad has no right over this water which was supposed to be meant for Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat. If you go upstream along Sabarmati River from the point where Narmada Main Canal releases water in Sabarmati, you will see the reality of dry Sabarmati River. And if you go down to the Vasna barrage, downstream of Ahmedabad along the Sabarmati, you will see the state of polluted Sabarmati River. This model clearly holds no water either for Ganga or any other river.
River Ministry? There is speculation in media that the new NDA government is going to create a new River Ministry at the centre. The same media report also stated that this ministry will push Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR)! This seems like a proposal for Ministry of River Destruction, since ILR is a recipe for destruction of rivers. If at all the new government is interested in an act of goodwill towards rivers, it needs to start with understanding what is a river and what are its various functions along the various stretches during various periods, including the social, ecological, economic, hydrological, geo morphological, biodiversity related, groundwater related and most importantly, livelihoods related functions. This exercise will mean understanding the roles of various arms of the government which affect the river. Some key ministries which affect river profoundly include: Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Power, Ministry of Urban Affairs, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Home Affairs (Disaster Management), Ministry of Agriculture, Department of North East Region, Ministry of Non Conventional Sources of Energy, to name only a few. How is this new proposed Ministry of River Going to coordinate with these ministries? Moreover, according to India’s constitution, Rivers are essentially state subjects and no state is likely to welcome such infringement of centre into what the states see as their domain of responsibility.
Ganga a National Project? There are statements from Mr Amit Shah, that the new government will give National status to the Ganga Project. It is not clear what is meant by this. Ganga is already under the Prime-Minister headed National Ganga River Basin Authority, but the Authority, five years after its constitution, has failed to change a single attribute affecting the Ganga. Similarly, Ganga River Basin Management Plan that IIT consortium is working on is already known to be pathetic in its understanding of the river, while pushing for privatization. We do not need another project in the name of Ganga, national or local. If the aim of declaring Ganga as a National Project is to wrest its control from the state, as the media suggests, then it is going to raise a lot of hackles.
What we need is a new approach to river governance, which is based on ecological, and not engineering principles, which is participatory, and not exclusive and which is democratic and not autocratic.
Himalayas & Hydro-onslaught Irrefutable evidence shows that building large number of major hydropower projects in Himalayas is having unprecedented impacts, some are known, many are unknown. The flawed environmental governance around these projects is well known in terms of dishonest EIAs, flawed and compromised appraisals, ineffective (these are consultations just in the namesake, in reality there is no basis for informed participation) public hearing and non-existent compliance, both at project and cumulative level. One implication of this was felt in terms of the role of such projects in the Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013, after which, no political leader from any party spoke about this. It was left to the Supreme Court to order and enquiry into this. The report of this investigation clearly indicates the role of hydropower projects in increasing the proportions of the disaster, and more work on this issue remains to be done. In North East itself, India’s biggest mass based public agitation against dams & hydropower projects has been going on. The anger of people has led to stoppage of the work on 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower project (largest capacity hydropower project under implementation in India) for 30 months now, after over Rs 5000 crores were irresponsibly spent by NHPC without completing even basic studies. Mindless pushing of more such projects in the region is clearly not a prudent move.
BJP manifesto’s promise of expeditious and single window environment clearances is clearly dangerous in this context. What India needs is stronger and not weaker environmental governance. The advocacy to “reduce time and transaction costs for the industry” under the circumstances seems inappropriate particularly from an organisation which was possibly the only environmental organisation represented on the completely flawed EIA registration process at Quality Council of India. The QCI process failed to achieve any improvement in the quality of EIA in almost 4 years of its existence
Sardar Sarovar Dam The new government wants to take the SSP Dam from its current height of 121.92 m to its final design height of 138.68 m. Firstly, there are serious doubts if this height increase is required since it can be shown that Gujarat and Rajasthan can get their share of water from Narmada without this increase in height. Secondly, Gujarat is not even in a position to use more than 20% of the water it already gets from the river at current height of the dam for the purposes for which the project was designed: providing water for the drought affected regions in Kutch, Saurashtra & North Gujarat. On the other hand, urban centres, industrials areas, SEZs, cosmetic river beautification schemes have appropriated a large chunk of SSP waters without legal, democratic sanction or justification. Gujarat really does not have a case for increasing the height of SSP Dam.
Moreover, this will also entail such massive additional submergence, displacement and disruption of lives of tribals and farmers that it is sure to create huge opposition. The just rehabilitation of already affected people is far from complete, in fact, most of the affected population has not been given minimum 2 ha of land required under the Narmada Tribunal award and subsequent accepted policies.
Mr Modi during his tenure of 13 years as Chief Minister of Gujarat failed to complete the canal network of SSP in the drought prone areas in whose name the project has always been justified. It needs to be noted that the agitation against SSP did not stop Gujarat government from going ahead with construction of canal network. It was not for lack of finances that SSP could not complete the canal network. SSP has been getting largest quantum of money from the Government of India’s Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme ever since the AIBP scheme started in 1996. This support to SSP from AIBP was clearly wrong since SSP was never the last mile project for which AIBP was meant, but the big dam lobby in Union Water Resources ministry and Gujarat government were hand in glove in this misallocation of AIBP money for SSP. In fact, Mr Modi arm-twisted the Planning Commission in 2011-12 to sanction the escalated costs for SSP even when the issues raised by Planning Commission officers remained unanswered.
It is the ineptitude of Gujarat Government under Mr Modi that is on show in why it could not complete the canal network on drought prone areas in Gujarat. Mr Modi would do well to remember the reasons for that failure before he considers the mega projects agenda as Prime Minister.
Moreover, on SSP, the issues of completing repairs of the damages the Sardar Sarovar dam structure suffered four years ago & related issue of safety of the dam are yet to be resolved and Gujarat has embarked on building another Garudeshwar Dam in immediate downstream without any impact assessments, participatory democratic process or required sanctions. The legality of the Garudeshwar Dam work stands challenged in the National Green Tribunal by the affected tribals.
MAJOR RISKS FOR NEW GOVERNMENT Some major risks for the new government include: the track record of Gujarat government that Mr Modi headed for the last 13 years; no checks from coalition of parties; poor image, strength, morale and track record of Congress as the chief opposition party; large sections of almost completely subservient media and BJP’s problematic manifesto.
Why UPA faced people’s anger The new government also needs to remember why the outgoing ruling coalition of UPA (United Progressive Alliance) lost so badly in spite of some unprecedentedly remarkable, and pro people steps taken by it. Absence of accountable and participatory governance (which also manifested in terms numerous scams) was one of the major reasons as to why there was huge anger in people’s mind about the UPA regime. Another aspect of corruption and high-handedness was apparent in the scandalous way UPA dealt with governance of environmental issues: blatantly changing its environment ministers from bad to worse.
Even if we leave aside the Rajas and Balus of UPA I, the UPA II began on a positive note with appointment of Mr Jairam Ramesh as environment minister. While we had our share of criticism of functioning of Mr Ramesh as environment minister, he was possibly the best environment minister India have had.
But under pressure from misguided and misinformed corporate vested interests, Mr Ramesh was removed (kicked upstairs) and Mrs Jayanthi Natarajan was brought in. She did not really help the cause of environment as is apparent, for example, from her answers to the two debates on Ganga river in Parliament (these debates were unprecedented in their own right) as also sanctioning projects rejected by statutory bodies like Forest Advisory Committee.
Strangely, she too was removed to bring in disastrously, Mr Veerappa Moily, who also held the Oil and Petroleum ministry. Mr Moily then went about the designated task of green lighting everything, not bothering about governance issues, people’s concerns or environmental consequences. This led to massive anger anger against Moily as well as UPA.
Such arrogant handling of governance of environmental issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of most vulnerable sections of people was bound to be punished. This is clearly another reason behind the anger of people that UPA government faced in the elections.
Playing favorites UPA is also guilty of playing favorites when it came to appointing non governmental persons in environmental decision making. In almost every committee on environmental decision making, including Prime Ministers’ Council on Climate Change, National Tiger Task Force, Coastal Zone Management Committee, National Ganga Authority, Inter Ministerial Group on Ganga, Western Ghats Task Force, QCI process on registration of EIA consultants, 12th Plan working Groups to name only a few, everywhere one could find representatives of only particular organisation. Leaving aside the issue of effectiveness of the role played by representatives from this organisation, such tendencies of playing favorites is bound to raise serious questions. While many people at grassroots may not be aware of this inappropriate action by UPA government, the resultant outcomes of these committee invited various reactions ranging from disbelief, anger and even an uproar, as it happened in case of Kasturirangan Committee on Western Ghats.
While the result of anger of the voters could be seen in decimation of the UPA in the elections, the new NDA government will also do well to remember that even the Vajpayee government was voted out in 2004 for similar reasons. The mindless pursuit of agenda of inter linking of rivers and 50000 MW Hydropower initiatives, disregarding all the concerns and protests of the people across the country, along with the rejection of India Shining campaign were some of the causes for the voting out of the previous NDA regime in 2004.
SOME SPECIFIC TASKS In what follows we have given several examples of specific tasks before the new government. This is not an exhaustive, but only an indicative list.
Ganga Action Plan, Rivers Action Plans, NGBRA, CPCB, SPCBs Mr Modi has said that he would like to give priority to cleaning of Ganga River. Any such effort has any chance of success only if there is an attempt at understanding why our efforts at river pollution for the last 40 years have shown no impact:
Þ Water Pollution Control Act, 1974 The Water Pollution Control Act led to setting up a huge and powerful bureaucracy including Central and state pollution control boards. 40 years after setting up of this whole institutional and legal infrastructure, we do not have a single that this establishment can claim to have cleaned up.
Þ Ganga Action Plan, 1986 This plan was launched with much fanfare by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, but without trying to understand why the water pollution bureaucracy failed.
Þ National River Conservation Authority 1994 This authority, the only institution in the name or river conservation in India, had Prime Minister of India, no less, its chairman. In ten years of UPA, the Prime Minister of India did not get time for a single meeting of this authority.
Þ GAP II 2000 The second phase of GAP was launched, again without making any honest attempt at understanding the failure of GAP I.
Þ NGBRA 2009 In Feb 2009, just before the last parliamentary elections, National Ganga River Basin Authority, again under Prime Minister. As noted earlier, this too has failed to make any impact on the state of Ganga.
What all this shows is that we have tried many things, including legal, institutional, financial, and authoritative, with Prime Minister at the helm, but have achieved no success. This is also true of the previous NDA regime during 1998-2006. If we do not make an honest attempt at understanding the reasons for these failures, there is little hope for success in future. The efforts at river cleaning has not suffered due to lack of money (over Rs 20 000 crores have been spent on Ganga alone, as per one estimate), for lack of institutions, for lack of political attention, for lack of media attention, for lack of judicial attention, for lack of infrastructure [where infrastructure exists (e.g. Delhi with the highest Sewage Treatment Capacity], there too there is no change in state of river), or technology. One major reason for the failure was the complete disconnect between the people whose lives depend on the river and those who took the decisions or managed the system. In other words, unless you make the river governance more democratic, there is no hope for Ganga or other rivers.
Some basic steps to make governance of rivers democratic could include: Setting up of management committee (with 50% independent members from outside the government) for management of each Sewage Treatment Plant, each freshwater treatment plant, each tributary, each 10 km stretch of river, each water utility, each city (& sub city level where cities have population above 1 lakh). These committees should be legally empowered and the officials should be made responsible to these committees.
Jayanthi Tax In this regard, it would be useful to remember that during the election campaign, Mr Modi had accused Mrs Jayanthi Natarajan for collecting Jayanthi Tax as environment Minister, allegedly for collecting bribes for environment clearances. This was a very serious charge Mr Modi had leveled. Now that he heads the new government at centre, he must institute a credible enquiry into this charge to prove that he was not making just frivolous statements.
Maharashtra Irrigation Scam One state that has given NDA the highest number of seats after Uttar Pradesh is Maharashtra, the NDA coalition got 42 of 48 seats in this state. One of the major reasons for this debacle of UPA was that the UPA here got a very corrupt image, in spite of its Chief Minister having a relatively clean image. This was largely due to the massive Rs 70 000 crores irrigation scam in that state. The NDA partners in Maharashtra also played a role in exposing this corruption, although the top brass of NDA was also allegedly involved in the scandal. To this corrupt image was added the arrogance shown, for example, by deputy Chief Minister (who resigned on charges of corruption, but came back even without any investigation into the charges) when he first asked how are people expecting him to give water from dams – by urinating in the dams? During elections he actually threatened a village that water will be cut off if they do not vote for his party! This combination of corruption and arrogance was sufficient to enrage the voters.
Here again one expects the NDA government at centre to take decisive credible action in exposing the guilty in Maharashtra irrigation scam and brining to book those who are responsible both among the politicians and bureaucrats-engineers. Here, as BJP spokespersons in Maharashtra have been saying, the Madhav Chitale committee has basically done white washing role and hence we need an independent investigation. We hope NDA government at centre will take this up urgently.
Andhra Pradesh Irrigation Scam Similar action is also required in Andhra Pradesh Irrigation scam exposed by the CAG report.
AIBP As noted above, the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Program has majorly failed in achieving any additional net irrigation area by major projects at national level. The CAG has noted in more than one report the failure of AIBP and so has the Planning Commission. The new NDA government could start with instituting a credible independent enquiry into the reasons for failure of this scheme.
Uttarakhand Disaster and role of hydropower projects Following the worst ever disaster faced by the state of Uttarakhand in June 2013, the role played by indiscriminate construction of hydropower projects and other infrastructure needed to be investigated since prime facie they had played significant role in increasing the proportions of disaster. The UPA government did nothing, and it was left to the Supreme Court to ask MoEF to set up an Expert Body for this. In the meantime, SC ordered stay on any more projects. The MoEF along with Central Water Commission and Central Electricity Authority and the Congress’s Uttarakhand state government, have been trying to push more projects in stead of honoring the Apex Court orders. In April 2014, the report of Expert Body lead by Dr Ravi Chopra has been submitted. The new Union government, it is hoped, will take credible steps to implement the recommendations of the Expert Body at the earliest date.
Independent National Environment Monitor It is well known that MoEF as an independent environmental regulator is seriously compromised with shoddy EIAs, flawed appraisal and non existent compliance. This situation has remained unchanged for the last decade and more. The Supreme Court of India, seeing this, had in 2011 ordered that an Independent Environment Regulator needs to be set up at National and state level. The outgoing central government had shown reluctance to do anything in this regard, in spite of repeated Supreme Court orders. The new government has a historical opportunity to indeed set up a truly independent & accountable environment regulator, at the same time increasing the transparency and participation of people in the environmental governance through fresh round of democratic reforms.
Cabinet Committee on Investment One of the flawed legacy of the previous UPA government is the Cabinet Committee on Investment, which has been created to bypass the statutory work of the MoEF. The new Union government would do well to disband this extra legal committee.
Polavaram Project Authority Even as elections were underway, in a most inappropriate decision, the outgoing government set up a Polvaram Project Authority, without even consulting affected states of Orissa and Chhattisgarh. In both these states there is either BJP government or BJP led government. There are also cases going on against this project, including civil suits filed by the governments of Chhattisgarh and Orissa. In the interest of these states and affected tribals, the new Union Government should scrap the Polavaram Project Authority.
Mullaperiyar The 119 year old Mullaperiyar dam has already suffered damages in the past and there is no doubt that it has limited life. To overcome the inflexible attitude of Tamil Nadu and respecting the constitutional duty of Kerala government to protect the life and property of people of Kerala, it become the duty of the Union government to initiate process for new a arrangement (e.g. lower the intake level to 50 ft from current 106 ft, as seen promising both by the Empowered Body and Supreme Court in May 2014) and decommissioning of the dam in a time bound manner. The previous Union government completely failed in this and the new government has an opportunity to correct this.
Central Water Commission Central Water Commission is India’s premier technical body on water resources. Water resources development and management has always remained crucial to any country’s water, food, livelihood and environment security. However, for this we need a really independent and credible technical body at the top, on the lines of United States Geological Survey (USGS). USGS, is known to be source of very reliable water resources data world over. However, USGS’s main task is to gather data and put it in public domain. Use of that data for development tasks and such other functions are not the mandate of USGS, there are other bodies for that. Unfortunately in India, CWC tasked with data gathering, sanctioning projects, monitoring and so many other contradictory functions. Moreover, CWC is working more like a big dam lobby, and even the assessment of hydrological data, flood forecasting functioning, water use data and projections, climate change implications, dam safety issues, etc are all getting colored by the lobbying tendency of those who head CWC. This is having a very deleterious effect on the water resources development and management in India.
It is high time that there are reforms in CWC to separate its various contradictory functions and make its functioning transparent, accountable and participatory. The new Union government has a chance to initiate such reforms in CWC and Ministry of Water Resources.
Technical Advisory Committee of CWC The TAC of CWC is a very little known, but powerful body. It sanctions projects worth thousands of crores every year, but its functioning is completely non transparent, unaccountable and it has no independent members. Since the new government has been raising the issue of corruption by UPA during the election campaign, it is hoped that the new government will work to fight corruption and one of the key steps it can do is to make the functioning of TAC transparent, accountable and ensure that at least 50% members of the TAC are non governmental, independent people with track record of having shown independent mind.
Urban Water Sector The social, environmental, economic and carbon footprint of this sector increasing at huge pace, without any success story in sight. The big cities are find it easy to promote construction of big dams rather than go for rain water harvesting, sewage water treatment & recycle, demand side measurement, groundwater recharge, reduction in losses and such other measures. SANDRP report on unjustified dams being pushed in Mumbai highlights this issue. The 12th Plan Working Group report on Urban water issues have several useful recommendations that has remained unimplemented. These need to be urgently implemented.
Climate Change Climate change in the biggest threat that vulnerable sections of Indian people face, as do the vulnerable sections of the rest of the world. This is not only relevant for water and environment sectors that we are discussing here, but for all sectors. As Environmental Groups in Gujarat have noted, people of Gujarat do not have good experience of the Modi regime in the state. The record of the 10 year long UPA government is very poor on this issue. We hope the new Union government will do better and begin with identification of the sections of the people who are vulnerable and start working on action plan to address the concerns of such sections, while also reducing the carbon footprint of India through reduction in consumption patterns of richer sections.
Suggestions for positive actions As analysed by Dr. Ashok Gulati (former chairman of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices) and Dr. Tushar Shah (International Water Management Institute) separately, the relatively high agricultural growth in Gujarat in first decade of current millennium was largely due to local water harvesting work that happened in Gujarat through check dams, groundwater recharge etc, largely in non governmental sector. The new government at centre can bring about changes in policies and programs to learn lessons from such success stories to achieve such results all over India.
Similarly on the issue or river rejuvenation, management and conservation front as also environmental management front, a decentralized bottom up community driven approach can be taken up.
It can encourage people led, scientific and ecological river restoration work.
Promote System of Rice Intensification in a major way, it can not only reduce water use, fertiliser use, use of other chemicals, reduce seed requirement, increase farmers’ income, reduce agriculture sector’s carbon footprint and thus help mitigate and also adaptation to changing climate. This is possible in other crops too, as has been demonstrated at farmer level.
Encourage measures that can help increase carbon content of the soil, this will also have multiple benefits to farmers, economy and environment.
It can strengthen implementation of Forest Rights Act which UPA, despite introducing it, failed to do.
It can protect free flowing rivers for their social, ecological, cultural values.
It can also engage more effectively with civil society and community groups in a credible manner.
A recent SANDRP study “Shrinking and Sinking Deltas: Role of Large Dams” has shown that large dams are playing big role in sinking of deltas in India. This is not even properly studied. The new government can initiate a scientific study in this regard and ensure that before taking up any new project, this aspect is studied.
Conclusion I started writing this brief note following questions from several media friends, but it has become much longer! So let us come to the conclusion. I am not even sure if the new government is in any mood to listen to such unsolicited suggestions, but let us put it out and hope for the best! I decided to put this out, even as Mr Modi prepares to take office on May 26.
This article tries to show the risks, challenges and some immediate tasks of the new government at the centre. In sum, the new NDA government would do well not to forget the reasons for rejection of NDA in 2004 and UPA now in 2014. Both were guilty of bull dozing ahead with their agendas without listening to the people. Avoiding that may be the biggest challenge this government faces, besides the specific ones mentioned above.
The latest (March 2014) edition of the National Register of Large Dams (NRLD) from Government of India’s premier Technical organisation, Central Water Commission (CWC) seems to be giving information about Uttarakhand dams that seems in violation of Environment Protection Act, EIA notification, Forest Conservation Act and Wildlife protection Act. The CWC’s NRLD is also in violation of the Supreme Court of India orders of Aug 13, 2013, the apex court is still seized of this issue. The NRLD is showing several dams like Rambara and Bogudiyar Sirkari Bhyol (BSB for short) as under construction projects, when these projects have received none of the statutory clearances. These projects were absent in the previous (Dec 2013) edition of the NRLD (available with SANDRP), which means these have been added only earlier this year, after the Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013 and after the Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013. Both CWC (as publisher of NRLD) and Uttarakhand government (as provider of such information) are guilty.
Rambara HEP A 76 MW Rambara HEP on Mandakini river in Rudraprayag district had come before the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests’ Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects during its meeting in Oct 2008. Just 6 km downstream of the worst affected Kedarnath pilgrim centre, the Rambara town and project site has been completely washed out in the Uttarakhand flood of June 2013. Let us see the important decisions about this project over the years.
Þ Oct 2008 The EAC had than noted that the project is inside the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary and cannot be given even pre construction (stage I) clearance without an approval from the Supreme Court of India. The project never went back to EAC after that.
Þ 2012 In 2012, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) recommended, in a commissioned by MoEF following an earlier Supreme Court order, that this project, (by now the installed capacity has been reduced to 24 MW, but height of the dam goes up from 28 m to 31 m) be cancelled as its zone of influence coincides with the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary. This was one of he 24 projects that WII recommended for cancellation.
Þ Aug 13, 2013 Following the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013, the Supreme Court order of 13.08.2013 asked the MoEF to take a view on this recommendation of WII. Following the apex court order, MoEF appointed an Expert Body (EB) under the chairmanship of Dr Ravi Chopra.
Þ April 16, 2014 The EB report recommends that Rambara, along with 22 other projects be dropped, as recommended by WII.
Þ May 7, 2014 Supreme Court orders stoppage of work on the 24 projects that WII had said should be cancelled. This includes Rambara HEP.
While all this is going on, the new NRLD just published by the CWC suddenly shows Rambara dam as under construction dam. When seen in conjunction with the pro hydro lobbying report submitted by CWC-CEA to the MoEF, it is clear that the CWC is trying to bypass the whole Supreme Court ordered process and also attempting to push projects in violation of the process.
Bogudiyar Sirkari Bhyol HEP This 170 MW dam on Goriganga River (tributary of Kali River) in Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand had come before the EAC for stage I clearance in May 2009. The MoEF website lists this project as awaiting TOR even today. So this project has no environment or forest clearance, no CEA clearance, no EIA-EMP, no public consultations or environmental appraisal, and construction on the project without these would clearly be illegal. However, CWC’s NRLD (March 2014 edition) shows this project too as under construction. This is a massive 98 m high dam on a river that faced the flood disaster in June 2013 and NHPC’s 280 MW Dhauliganga HEP on Kali river faced such destruction that it has still to be repaired. As per the EB report, there is need for a cumulative impact assessment in Goriganga / Kali River, which has not even been initiated.
Lakhwar Dam & Vyasi HEP The CWC’s NRLD also shows the 300 MW Lakhwar storage dam on Yamuna River in Uttarakhand under construction. This biggest dam in whole of Yamuna valley in Uttarakhand has had no EIA-EMP, no public consultations, no Environmental appraisal. The Uttarakhand government and MoEF are guilty of giving forest clearance to the Lakhwar project and downstream 120 MW Vyasi HEP and initiating work on these projects (no work has happened on these projects for over two decades) even as the Supreme Court stay on no clearances was on. Even EB report has mentioned these violations and application on contempt of SC order is pending before the Supreme Court. To show Lakhwar and Vyasi projects as under construction in the CWC’s latest edition of NRLD is clearly wrong.
Other problems with CWC’s NRLD We have in the past pointed out several other issues with CWC’s NRLD, including case of missing river names, missing dams and so on. CWC needs to be much more careful about information given in such an important document like NRLD.
CWC cannot act like a post office In the past, when such issues about information in NRLD have been raised with CWC, it has said that NRLD is only a compilation of information provided by states and only states are responsible for the correctness of information. However, CWC is India’s premier technical body on water resources and is also the national body in charge of safety of dams. Under the circumstances, on the issue of information about dams in NRLD, CWC cannot wash its hands and say it is only posting information given by states. In this particular case of Uttarakhand dams, CWC and Uttarakhand government both are responsible for the illegalities involved, as highlighted earlier.
Drop 23 projects, do cumulative assessments & improve governance
In a significant development on role of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013, the Expert Body (EB) headed by Dr Ravi Chopra has recommended that at least 23 hydropower projects should be dropped, that hydropower projects played significant role in the Uttarakhand disaster and that there is urgent need to improve the environment governance of hydropower projects. The Report “Assessment of Environmental Degradation and Impact of Hydroelectric Projects During The June 2013 Disaster in Uttarakhand” dated April 2014 has been submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on April 16, 2014 and was made public following hearing in the Supreme Court on April 28, 2014. The committee was appointed by a reluctant Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in October 2013, following the Supreme Court’s suo motto order of August 13 2013.
Uttarakhand floods of June 2013,: The committee report endorses the stand taken in a letter that was written to MoEF on July 20, 2013, endorsed by over 20 individuals and groups including from Uttarakhand on the role of existing and under construction hydropower projects in the Uttarakhand floods of June 2013. MoEF did not take any action on this letter, but it was Supreme Court order next month that pushed MoEF to take necessary action.
SC order of Aug 13, 2013: On Aug 13, 2013, while disposing off the petition on Srinagar HEP in Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court, suo motto, made an order that asked, MoEF and Uttarakhand governments not to provide any further clearances to any more hydropower projects anywhere in Uttarakhand till further orders. Both MoEF and Uttarakhand governments have been violating this order. However, one of the fall outs of this order was formulation of Expert Body appointed by MoEF more than two months latter, through an order on Oct 15, 2013, whose report now is available in public domain.
Limited TOR: The Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 pertained to whole of Uttarakhand, as was the disaster of June 2013. However, the MoEF order and subsequently CWC tried to restrict the field of work of the committee to Alaknanda and Bhagirathi sub basins rather than whole of Uttarakhand.
Problematic constitution: The constitution of the Expert body was also problematic from a number of aspects. There was clear conflict of interest with respect to some of the members like Dr BP Das, former member and Vice Chair of the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects, as explained below. The committee also included chairman of Central Water Commission and Central Electricity Authority, which unfortunately act like lobbies for hydropower projects. These persons were in the committee to bring in respective expertise, but in stead used their presence in the committee to discredit evidence which suggested clear role of hydropower projects, some members also advocated for more hydropower projects, in stead of adhering to the mandate given by the Supreme Court, thus raising the issue of contempt of court.
In what follows we have given some useful recommendations and conclusions of the EB, followed by some weak recommendations and conclusions of the EB report, based on a quick reading of the report (we got the over 200 page report only on April 29, 2014), following by some remarks on role of vice chair, CWC, CEA, MoEF and our conclusion.
On 24 projects recommended to be dropped by WII “After considerable discussions and analysis, the Expert Body concluded that of the 24 proposed Hydropower Projects (HEPs) that Wildlife Institute of India (WII) recommended for Review, 23 HEPs would have significant irreversible impacts on biodiversity values.”
“The EB recommends that for the 23 proposed HEPs out of the 24 identified by WII (other than the Kotli Bhel 1A project) that would have irreversible impacts on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins, the HEPs that fall in any of the following conditions should not be approved for construction.
(a) Proposed HEPs that fall inside wildlife Protected Areas such National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries
(b) Proposed HEPs that fall within the Gangotri Eco-sensitive Zone
(c) Proposed HEPs that fall above 2,500m that encompass critical wildlife habitats, high biological diversity, movement corridors, and fragile in nature due to unpredictable glacial and paraglacial activities.
(d) Proposed HEPs that fall within 10 km from the boundary of Protected Areas and have not obtained clearance from the National Board for Wildlife.”
It would have been in fitness of things if EB had exclusively asked for stoppage of work on all these 23 projects with immediate effect.
On Kotli Bhel 1A The EB has, we believe, erroneously concluded, over ruling the conclusion of WII and expert review initiated by EB, “that the Kotli Bhel 1A project might not significantly worsen the condition of the river Bhagirathi between Koteshwar and Devprayag – already part of a highly fragmented zone”. However, EB has asked for “due modifications to its design and operations so that an adequate stretch of the river downstream of the Koteshwar dam just above KB-IA can be maintained in a free flowing state”. This means the project work should stop and it should reapply for clearances after doing the suggested modifications in credible way.
Restoration: “The river bed profiles at Phata-Byung, Singoli-Bhatwari, Vishnuprayag and Srinagar HEPs have changed significantly. This requires a fresh analysis of the project hydrology and redesigning them if necessary.
All projects must undertake river restoration works after prior clearance from MoEF. It was noticed that project developers were engaged in projects’ restoration only. MoEF needs to conduct a formal review of the environmental damages at all the HEPs in Uttarakhand and prepare guidelines for restoration. Till then none of the projects should begin power production.”
HEPs above 2 MW need EC “All projects > 2 MW, shall require prior Environmental Clearances (EC) from MoEF”.
“A multidisciplinary expert body should be constituted with members of proven expertise and experience to review every year the progress/performance of each HEP and its compliance with the sanction conditions. This body will also review the technicalities of disaster preparedness before each monsoon season and examine the impact of monsoon storm and floods on the performance of all the project components. The environmental health of the river will be a critical area for comprehensive examination.”
No projects above winter snow line “Learning from the June 2013 event, the EB believes that the enhanced sediment availability from and in paraglacial zones could be a serious problem for the longevity of the existing, under construction and proposed HEPs in Uttarakhand. Therefore the EB recommends that the terrain above the MCT in general and above the winter snow line in particular (~2200-2500 m) should be kept free from hydropower interventions in Uttarakhand.”
SIA should be carried out for all river systems in Uttarakhand “The WII study has already identified 24 proposed HEPs in the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins as likely to cause irreversible impacts. But comprehensive research studies of other basins in Uttarakhand are lacking at this stage… Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) be carried out in other major river basins of Uttarakhand such as the Yamuna and Kali basins.”
Distance between projects in a cascade “Scientific studies by subject experts should be conducted for establishing baseline data on river parameters, diversity and populations of floral and faunal species in different rivers of Uttarakhand at different elevation zones. Such studies should be used for deciding upon the minimum distances between two consecutive HEPs. Until such scientific studies are completed, no new HEPs (in S&I stage) should be cleared on the rivers of Uttarakhand within a distance that may later be revoked. Minimum distances for projects in the clearance stage should be significantly revised upward from the current consideration of 1 km.”
National Himalayan Policy “Since the Himalaya are our vital source of growth and abundance, a National Himalayan Policy needs to be urgently created and implemented.”
“Therefore, the EB strongly recommends that a detailed study of the impacts of hydropower projects in terms of deforestation/tunneling/ blasting/reservoir formation on the hydrogeology of the area should be carried out.”
A study on the role of large artificial reservoirs on local climate change and precipitation patterns with special reference to the Tehri dam reservoir.”
Sediment transportation studies “Recent studies have highlighted serious concern about the Indian deltas, which are shrinking due to changes in river courses. The Ganga-Brahmaputra delta is also noted in this category. This seems to be a major issue in near future therefore we recommend that the studies should be carried out regarding the impacts on sediment transportation due to projects existing on Himalayan rivers.”
Cultural impacts of HEPs “Therefore EB recommends that the Ministry of Culture along with the local representatives and spiritual leaders should undertake a comprehensive study of the cultural impacts of HEPs in the spiritually rich state of Uttarakhand.”
“The river bed profiles at Phata-Byung, Singoli-Bhatwari, Vishnuprayag and Srinagar HEPs have changed significantly. This requires a fresh analysis of the project hydrology and redesigning them if necessary.”
“River Regulation Zone (R.R.Z.) guidelines should be issued immediately by the Ministry of Environment & Forests and should be executed accordingly.”
Muck Management: “The existing practices of muck management are inadequate to protect the terrain and the people from an eventuality like the June 2013 flood. Therefore, a serious revisit is required towards evolving technically better and ecologically sustainable methods for muck disposal and rehabilitation in Uttarakhand.”
Environmental Flows: “Till such time as a decision is taken on the EFlows recommendations of the IITs-consortium, the EB recommends EFlows of 50% during the lean season and 30% during the remaining non-monsoon months. Sustaining the integrity of Uttarakhand’s rivers and their eco-systems is not negotiable.”
Eco-Sensitive Zones: “It is recommended that legislation be enacted to (i) protect small but significant rivers (as done in Himachal Pradesh and also recommended by the IMG for Uttarakhand) as pristine rivers and (ii) designate Eco-Sensitive Zones for all rivers of Uttarakhand.”
Community based CA and CAT “Community-based CA and CAT plan execution must be done by the State Forest Department within the construction period of the project.” This is to be monitored by a committee that includes two representatives from local communities, a renowned environmentalist, among others.
Forests and Biodiversity Conservation: “Community based CAT programmes have to be systemically implemented for ensuring sustenance of the plantations. This requires training of forest officials to work with the communities through their Van Panchayats.”
“It was brought to the notice of the EB that clearances to start work had been granted recently to the Lakhwar (300 MW) and Vyasi (120 MW) projects. This is in violation of the spirit of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order of August 13, 2013. It is also noticed that these projects were approved more than 25 years ago. Consequently they do not have any EIA/EMP/DMP studies that are mandatory today. Without conducting cumulative impact assessments and disaster management studies of the Yamuna and Kali basins no such projects should be allowed at the risk of fragile ecology, biodiversity and lives of people living in and around the project sites.”
SOME WEAK RECOMMENDATIONS OF EB
“The EB recommends that MoEF strengthens its personnel and procedures for post-sanction monitoring of environmental conditionalities. The MoEF should develop a programme for research studies by reputed organizations on the impacts of HEPs on river water quality (and flows). Pre-construction and post operation long term impacts monitoring studies are required.”
Geology & Social Issues: “Given the massive scale of construction of HEPs in Uttarakhand it may be worthwhile to set up a formal institution or mechanism for investigating and redressing complaints about damages to social infrastructure. The functioning of such an institution can be funded by a small cess imposed on the developers. It is also suggested that to minimize complaints of bias, investigations should be carried out by joint committees of subject experts and the community.”
Disaster Management: “Disaster preparedness is critical because all of Uttarakhand lies either in seismic Zone IV or V. These areas are most vulnerable to strong earthquakes. Disaster Management Plans (DMPs) are critical parts of EIA Reports. They need to be carefully reviewed and approved by local communities in the probable zone of influence.”
“It is necessary to establish an independent authority which may commission EIA Reports…”
CONCLUSIONS OF EB:
On Role of Dams in Uttarakhand disaster:
In Chapter 3 (p 10) chairman of EB notes, “Thus THDC’s inundation analysis results could
not be substantiated by the ground survey in Haridwar city.”
“In September 2010, to retain flood inflows in the face of water levels rising beyond the permitted FRL the (Tehri) dam authorities had to seek the permission of the Supreme Court. It led to inundation of the upstream town of Chinyalisaur and later after draw down fresh landslide zones were created around the reservoir rim.”
“Geo-chemical analysis of sediment samples taken from various locations along the river stretch in Srinagar, however, indicated a significant contribution — varying from 47% near the barrage to about 23% much further downstream (Fig. 3.19, pg 101, Main Report) — from muck eroded from muck disposal sites 6 and 9 located on the concave right bank and consequently experienced an intense current of the order of 7m/sec.
This raises a question that if there was heavy to very heavy rainfall from the glacial reaches of the Alaknanda valley, leading to numerous landslides along the banks, then why was massive damage observed only downstream of the Vishnuprayag and Srinagar HEPs? A detailed investigation is warranted in order to arrive at a scientifically viable explanation.”
“Otters appear to be nearing extinction in the Ganga, Alaknanda sub-basins.”
It is good to see that the EB has effectively rejected the critique of the WII report presented by Dr. Sabyasachi Dasgupta, HNB Garhwal University and consultant to UJVNL, following an independent review of the WII report by Prof. Brij Gopal, an eminent ecological scientist who had worked extensively on river ecosystems. Prof Brij Gopal, while finding some limitations in WII methodology, concluded: “he agreed with WII’s findings that the 24 proposed hydropower projects would impact the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins significantly. Based on his own analysis, Prof Gopal recommended that several more projects be dropped.”
SOME WEAK CONCLUSIONS:
“A ground survey of the inundation analysis carried out by THDC on the basis of which it claimed to have saved Haridwar from drowning raised doubts about the accuracy of the computer generated inundation maps. It is therefore not clear how much of Haridwar would have been affected if the Tehri dam had not been there. The problem at Haridwar, as at other towns and habitations along river banks, is that there has been wide spread encroachment and construction inside the river’s regime. Therefore it is imperative to set up river regulation zones where encroachments are forbidden. (Unscientific sand mining on river beds adds to the problem.)”
“There is some doubt about whether the Vishnuprayag project authorities were able to properly manage the opening and closing of the gates.”
Role of Dr B P Das: Dr B P Das has for close to a decade been member or vice chair or officiating chair of the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF on River Valley project and has in the process been involved in appraising and deciding on clearances for a no of projects and their impacts in Uttarakhand. Hence he was not likely to be in a position to take an independent view on Uttarakhand hydropower projects as there was a conflict of interest involved with respect to his earlier decisions. His biased views were also known through his article in The Hindu earlier. This got reflected in the alternate view on page 27 of chapter 3 and page 16-17 of Chapter 4 of the report authored by Dr Das. In Chapter 3 box, Dr Das’s abiding faith in the project developer could be seen. In Chapter 4 box Dr Das himself mentions that EAC has yet to take a view on WII report, but the he himself is a responsible party for EAC not having taken a view on WII report.
Role of CWC, CEA chairpersons: CWC (Central Water Commission, India’s premier technical body on water resources development under Union Ministry of Water Resources) and CEA (Central Electricity Authority, India’s premier technical body on power sector are largely known to act as lobbies for hydropower projects, in stead of the independent technical and regulatory body that they are expected to work as. In view of that, inclusion of chairperson of CWC and CEA in this committee was wrong step on the part of MoEF. We learn from a letter written by two eminent members of the committee, namely Dr Shekhar Pathak and Dr Hemant Dhyani on March 27, 2014, that indeed the chairpersons of CWC and CEA did not really participate in the way they were required to, and rather functioned in violation of the Supreme Court order.
Role of MoEF: One had expected that the EB would take a critical view of the functioning of the MoEF around HEPs and contribution of MoEF’s failures in increasing the disaster proportions. Unfortunately we are disappointed in this. Possibly, with the committee having been appointed by MoEF and member secretary of the committee being MoEF official this was a difficult ask. However, not being able to take a critical stand on the role of MoEF (and other institutions like CWC, CEA, state environment department, state disaster management department etc) imposes a limitation on the EB report and provides a free reign to guilty party. The consequences of this became apparent when on April 28, 2014, during the Supreme Court hearing, we are told, the MoEF presented erroneous picture that there are two reports of the committee, one by 10 members(wrongly called activists) another by Vice Chair B P Das, with CWC and CEA chair persons, when at best the note from these three persons can be considered dissent note, that too in violation of SC orders. We hope the Supreme Court will take strong view of this misleading picture presented by MoEF and reprimand the responsible officials to ensure that this does not happen again.
View of the Committee working through its minutes
Minutes of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th meeting are available on the MoEF, Lucknow regional office website. Perusal of the minutes shed light of the functioning of the committee, and the biases of some specific members. Some highlights from the minutes:
THDC, Tehri and Muck Disposal Sites: Site visit reports of various members, including Dr. Amit Gupta, Dy Director of MoEF presented that THDC is managing active and non active muck disposal sites ‘poorly’. The sites do not have proper retaining wall, slop or plantations.
THDC hid drift tunnel of Koteshwar dam: Member Hemant Dhyani exposed that THDC officials did not accept the presence of a huge drift tunnel of Koteshwar Project near Payal Gaon, which was suffering from severe subsidence. Only when the local people, including the tunnel construction workers insisted that there is a tunnel that the THDC officials accept this fact!
In the 3rd meeting, the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand told the committee that projects with EC or FC should not be closed or stopped. Note here that this suggestion is unacceptable when the SC itself has asked the committee to investigate the role of projects in the flood damages.
To top this, Additional Chief Secretary unilaterally asserted that HEP did not have any role in the mishap. He emphasised every Environmental CLearance needs an EIA. This indicates his poor knowledge about the quality of EIAs which has been accepted by most experts.
He further stressed that a umber of FC cases were peding before the MoEF. Moef official YK Singh Chauhan rebutted this claim.
In the 4th Meeting, Dr. B.P. Das, Co Chair of the committee categorized June event as a rare natural calamity and attributed the losses only to road construction ( Incidentally, many roads are being built for hydel projects, and do not even allow access to local communities.)
Dr. Ravi Chopra, Chairperson highlighted the poor data management of THDC. He highlighted that THDC could not provide HFL data, rainfall data, inlet level from Maneri Bhali II and outlet level sought by the committee members.
Conclusion: In spite of certain weaknesses, most of the recommendations of the committee need to be immediately implemented and till they are implemented in letter and spirit, the Supreme Court should order a status quo on any further hydropower projects. The EB headed by Dr Ravi Chopra should be congratulated for this report in spite of difficult circumstances under which the committee operated.
Þ We also hope the Supreme Court would ask MoEF to order stoppage of work on Lakhwar and Vyasi projects that has been started recently, violating the Supreme Court order in letter and spirit, and also as pointed out by the EB.
Þ The work on 24 hydropower projects that was part of explicit TOR of the committee should be ordered to stop immediately. The EB should have made this explicit recommendation, but even if they have not done that, it is implicit in its recommendation.
Þ The Supreme Court should ask MoEF to provide a time bound action plan on implementation of the various recommendations of the EB. The SC an also possibly appoint EB (minus Dr Das, CWC and CEA persons) to oversee the implementation of the action plan and continue to provide independent feedback on adequacy of such implementation.
Þ The Lessons from Uttarakhand are relevant for all Himalayan states of India from Kashmir to all the North East states and we hope Supreme Court to ask the follow up committee to ensure that these lessons are taken note of and necessary steps flowing there from are implemented in these Himalayan states. These will also provide guidance to our Himalayan neighbouring countries.
Þ The failure of environmental governance is one of the clearest stark message from this episode and we hope MoEF will put its house in order in this respect, revamping its entire environmental governance.
47 experts and organisations from across the country have written to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, including the Minister Ms. Jayathi Natarajan to include hydel projects between 1-25 MW under the purview of EIA Notification 2006. A similar letter has been sent to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and Minister Dr. Farooq Abdulla, to address the impacts of these projects which are governed by the MNRE.
Those who have written include eminent personalities like Former Water Resources Secretary: Dr. Ramaswamy Iyer, Former Ambassador of India: Ms. Madhu Bhaduri, Former Secretary of Power and Principle Advisor to Planning Commission: Dr. EAS Sarma, Former member of MoEF’s Forest Advisory Committee: Dr. Ullas Karanth, Head of IISC’s Centre for Ecological Sciences: Dr. TV Ramachandran, Head of People’s Science Institute: Dr. Ravi Chopra, experts from energy field, as well as activists, fisheries experts, scientists and importantly, representatives from affected communities
Letter sent to MoEF is below:
1. Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan,
Union Minister of State (IC) of Environment and Forests,
Please include Small Hydel Projects (1-25 MW) under the purview of EIA Notification 2006, considering their serious impacts on ecosystems and communities.
Respected Madam Minister and office bearers of the MoEF,
We want to record our concern about serious impacts of small hydro projects on communities and ecosystems. Several groups from us have written to you in the past to urgently amend the EIA Notification 2006 and to include Small Hydel Projects in its ambit. Looking at the serious impacts of these projects, MoEF could have suo motto taken this initiative. But that has not happened, despite several amendments in the EIA Notification down the years.
SHPs can have and are having severe impacts on communities and ecosystems. This is significant as SHPs are exempt from environmental impact assessment, public hearing, and environmental management plan as EIA Notification 2006 restrict itself to projects above 25 MW. The local communities are specifically affected as they do not have a platform to voice their concerns.
To highlight some of the impacts of SHPs:
Þ 70 SHPs in Karnataka under scanner following HC orders Karnataka High Court upheld Elephant Task Force’s recommendation about impacts of SHPs on Elephant habitats and directed Karnataka Government to review clearances of all such projects affecting elephant habitats, bringing at least 70 SHPs under scanner, 40 in Hassan district, the rest in Mandya, Chamarajanagar and Uttara Kannada districts.
Þ Karnataka HC no to SHPs in W Ghats In Feb 2013, the Karnataka High Court banned SHPs in Western Ghats, following a petition filed by Western Ghats Forum.
Þ Uttarakhand Uttarakhand had earlier cancelled as many as 56 SHPs due to irregularities.
Þ Western Ghats reports Considering the impacts of small hydro projects, the Madhav Gadgil Panel on Western Ghats recommended that in Ecologically sensitive zone 1, only projects below 10 MW with max height of 3 m and not involving forest land be taken up. In ESZ 2, projects upto 25 MW can be taken up only if dam height is below 15 m. This shows the nuanced approach that is required for small hydro projects. The panel also recommended that WGEA should include small hydro projects under EIA notification. Even the Kasturirangan committee has recommended that hydropower projects, including SHPs be allowed only on condition that 30% eflows are released, less than 50% of the river length is destroyed and there is 3 km free flowing river between projects. It has also recommended that hydropower projects, including small hydro projects should required environment clearance in the Ecologically Sensitive Area.
Þ Bhagirathi ESA In the notified Bhagirathi ESA in Uttarakhand, the MoEF itself has implied that Hydro projects only of below 2 MW installed capacity can be taken up.
Þ BWSSB asks for stoppage of SHPs In March 2013, Bangalore Water Supply and Sanitation Board (BWSSB) asked the Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) to stop power generation from four mini hydel projects on Cauvery River as it was affecting drinking water supply to Bangalore.
Most Small Hydro projects (1-25 MW) are grid connected, and local communities do not get electricity from the projects in their backyards, across their rivers which have significant impacts on local water availability, habitats and submergence.
Some examples in this regard are given here:
Þ In Himachal, communities have protested strongly against 4.5 MW Hul project affecting drinking water security and irrigation of 6 villages, as well as ancient oak forests.
Þ Projects like 24.75 Kukke I in Dakshin Kannada can submerge a massive 388 hectares, including extremely bio-diverse forests, plantations and houses. This is being strongly opposed by local communities.
Þ Greenko’s Perla and Shemburi Projects, Basavanna and Mauneshwara SHPs in Karnataka are examples where two 24.75 MW SHPs are fraudulently shown as separate projects, but are single projects with a common dam. In the latter case, villagers assumed that the power canal is actually an irrigation canal for their fields. They only realised that they were alienated from their river after they were banished from approaching the canals.
Þ Maruthi Gen projects, also in Karnataka, were not only clubbed together, but also hid their significant impact on forest land.
Þ Submergence data of SHPs is routinely hidden & affected communities are kept in dark till water actually floods their lands. 24.75 MW Thangarabalu SHP on Krishna in Karnataka entails a dam of more than 22 meters in height, but has not divulged any data of submergence to villagers or Forest Department.
Þ 3 MW Beedalli MHP in Karnataka is on the boundary of the Pushpagiri Sanctuary and will severely affect wildlife, but does not envisage eflows release, fish passage or environmental mitigation measures
Þ 15 MW Barapole MHP in Kerala is affecting reserve forests in Karnataka. An earlier such project which was affecting Brahmagiri Sanctuary was opposed and cancelled due to pressure from conservation groups in Karnataka.
Þ String of more than 98 mini hydel projects in various stages of operation, commissioning, construction and planning on the Cauvery in Karnataka has affected elephant corridors and movement.
Þ Many mini hydel projects along the Cauvery in Karnataka are adjoining the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, violating the 10 km buffer zone, while also encroaching on forest land.
Þ In Himachal Pradesh, several hydel projects have been built on streams that are on ‘negative list for hydel projects’. Fisheries department wanted in-situ conservation of fish in these streams.
Þ The 15 MW Om Power project near Palampur in Himachal Pradesh has caused extensive loss of forest cover and has disrupted irrigation and drinking water supply to downstream areas due to indiscriminate muck dumping.
Þ The 1.5 MW Pakhnoj Nala Power project would impact the flourishing apple economy of 19 villages in Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh by disrupting irrigation supplies. The local people have been strongly opposing the project and the matter is pending in the court.
MoEF and NCDMA: National CDM Authority is under the MoEF and has been giving Host Country Approvals to CDM applications of several small hydel projects. Many of us have been writing to NCDMA and MoEF, providing clear evidence of the sham in CDM applications of projects and their validation reports. But the MoEF has never taken a notice of this. In fact, the MoEF certifies that these projects have positive impact on sustainable development without checking the ground situation, when the impacts of some of these projects on sustainable development are negative.
World over, it is being recognised that impact of small hydel projects is in fact comparable with large hydro projects and hence has to be assessed and mitigated. Countries like Vietnam have cancelled 338 small hydel projects as their assessment indicated that environmental and social impacts of these projects is not commensurate with their benefits.
We would be willing to present the problems from the ground to the MoEF. A holistic and truly sustainable approach can help boost renewable energy development in our country.
We are sure MoEF is committed to protecting environmental impacts, irrespective of the installed capacities of projects and will amend the EIA Notification to this effect urgently. Till such a credible regulatory system is in place, we request the MoEF to stop providing Host Country Approvals to Small Hydel Projects.
Some links and additional information related small hydro projects and their impacts can be found at:
Over two months after the Supreme Court (SC) of India order of Aug 13, 2013, the MEF has now constituted an expert committee, see MEF order no: L-11011/14/2011-IA.I (Vol-II) dated Oct 15, 2013.
The constitution of the committee under the chairpersonship of Ravi Chopra is welcome, with the inclusion of some independent and expert members. At the same time, the committee is unwieldy with excessive inclusion of government members and members with conflict of interest. This raises doubts if the committee will be allowed to function in an independent way. The committee has not been given the full mandate as required by the Supreme Court order.
1. The MoEF order says in the very first para of the order, “Ministry of Environment & Forests hereby constitutes an Expert Committee to make a detailed study as to whether Hydroelectric power projects existing and under construction in the river basins of Alkananda, Bhagirathi and their tributaries”. It also says that the expert committee has been set up following Supreme Court orders dated Aug 13, 2013. But why limit to Alaknanda Bhagirathi (AB) basin and its tributaries? That leaves out a huge area of Uttarakhand that also suffered damages, including Ganga, Yamuna and Kali-Gori basins and where too hydropower projects are present and under construction. The SC order was not limited to AB basins, but was applicable to the entire UttarakhandState“Hydroelectric Power Projects existing and under construction have contributed to the environmental degradation, if so, to what extent and also whether it has contributed to the present tragedy occurred at Uttarakhand”. This committee’s mandate to look at only Alaknanda and BhagirathiBasins is limited does not comply with the SC order.
2. Mr BP Das, a member of this expert body, is former vice chair of Ministry of Environment and Forests’ (MoEF) EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects). He has been a member of EAC for many years and many of the projects cleared by the EAC that he was member of will now be reviewed by the committee this is clearly wrong. He has also presided over decisions to clear projects that WII had recommended be dropped. By making him member of this committee he will be now sitting on judgement over those same projects. Mr. B.P. Das has also been the head of committee constituted by MoEF which looked at environmental compliance of 330 MW Srinagar HEP of GVK company. To make Mr. Das a member of the committee is clearly inappropriate.
3. Similarly Mr G L Bansal has been a member of the EAC and hence his selection in this committee involves conflict of interest and should not have been done.
4. The second TOR of the committee says: “Examine, as observed by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in its report, as to whether the proposed 24 projects in Uttarakhand are causing significant impact on the Biodiversity of Alaknanda & Bhagirathi river basins.” The Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 had asked MoEF to take a view on these projects, which the ministry so far has refused to do. it has passed the hat to this committee.
This TOR too is very limited. It asks if the 24 projects are causing “significant impact” on biodiversity of AB basins. Do we need another expert committee to opine if big hydropower projects are causing significant impacts on biodiversity, when an expert body like WII has already concluded the impacts are so serious that the projects need to be dropped? This seems to be making fun of the WII report and attempt to not to respond to the SC order.
5. It seems some of the government members have been added just to make the committee loaded with government persons. Some such member includes Chief Engineer of Uttarakhand Water Resources Department, Expert representatives of NIRM, ICFRI, NDMA and CPWD. They were not part of the SC order. These bodies also do not have any expertise or direct involvement in hydropower projects. If the committee needed their expertise, they can in any case be asked to depose before the committee. Their presence is unnecessary and makes the committee unwieldy and difficult to manage.
6. Several respected women have been working on issues related to sustainable development, hydropower, its impacts on communities and ecosystems. However, the present committee does not have any representation from women. This is a serious concern.
This committee has a serious task ahead of it and for completing it effectively and in an unbiased manner, its mandate needs to be expanded to include whole of Uttarakhand as per the SC order. The constitution needs to be streamlined and members with conflict of interest as well as unnecessary government representation, as mentioned above need to be dropped.