Delhi · Ganga · Interlinking of RIvers

Rivers and Water in Union Budget 2014-15

In the first annual budget (for the year 2014-15) presented by the new NDA government at the centre on July 10, 2014, it is generally bad news for Ganga and other rivers. Below we have given various provisions on water and river from the budget speech of the Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley. Mr Jaitley said in his speech: “In the first Budget of this NDA government that I am presenting before the august House, my aim is to lay down a broad policy indicator of the direction in which we wish to take this country.” The broad policy indicators on rivers do not seem to be any good news for the rivers of the country.

RIVERS FM said, “Rivers form the lifeline of our country. They provide water not only for producing food for the multitudes but also drinking water.” This shows the limited understanding of rivers that the government has. Rivers provides so much more than water. The FM do not seem to have any good news for this lifeline as the budget has several proposals that will harm and destroy the rivers.

River Linking The PIB wrongly claims, “The Budget also contains the first ever effort to link the rivers across the country.” A sum of Rs. 100 crore in the current Budget to expedite the preparation of Detailed Project Reports has been set aside. This is waste of public money. In addition to this, there is a huge allocation for the annual budget for NWDA, whose only mandate is studies for river linking. It is existing for 22 years, but has not produced a single document that will pass independent public scrutiny, and NWDA is afraid to put any document in public domain. Why is the government spending money on such fruitless exercise?

GANGA: Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission The Finance Minister, Shri Arun Jaitley said, “I propose to set up Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission called “Namami Gange” and set aside a sum of Rs 2,037 crores for this purpose.” Shri Jaitley said that the Mission is being launched because a substantial amount of money has been spent in the conservation and improvement of the river Ganga but the efforts have not yielded desired results because of the lack of concerted effort by all the stakeholders. This is admission of even NDA’s failure, since they were in power for at least six years and have not been able to make a dent in the state of the river. They should learn from that experience before jumping into such missions.

This raises a lot of unanswered questions: There is already an existing National Mission for Clean Ganga and if this new mission will be in addition to the old one or if the old one will be abolished? What is new in the new mission? Strangely, the FM did not use the work Ganga Rejuvenation, the charge that Ms Uma Bharti has been given. Does this indicate something is amiss here?

Riverfront Development “The Finance Minister has also set aside a sum of Rs. 100 crore for Ghat development and beautification of river front at Kedarnath, Haridwar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, Patna and Delhi in the current financial year since Riverfronts and Ghats are not only places of rich historical heritage but many of these are also sacred.”

The trouble is, this could spell disaster for the river and the cities where such development is planned, if this is going to happen on the lines of Sabarmati river front development. This is because in case of Sabarmati, the Riverfront development meant encroachment of over 200 ha of riverbed. If this is followed the river’s carrying capacity will be reduced. In changing climate, rivers need more and not less carrying capacity as the events of July 2005 in Mumbai, of August 2006 in Surat & recent years in Delhi have indicated. During Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 the buildings that we saw collapsing were all standing on the riverbeds. That should be a warning for any riverfront development that would encroach on the riverbed.

NRI Fund for Ganga To harness the enthusiasm of the NRI Community to contribute towards the conservation of the river Ganga, an NRI Fund for Ganga will be set up which will finance special projects, the Finance Minister added.

“A project on the river Ganga called ‘Jal Marg Vikas’ (National Waterways-I) will be developed between Allahabad and Haldia to cover a distance of 1620 kms, which will enable commercial navigation of at least 1500 tonne vessels. The project will be completed over a period of six years at an estimated cost of Rs 4,200 crore.”

Watershed Development To give an added impetus to watershed development in the country, a new programme called “Neeranchal” will be launched with an initial outlay of Rs 2,142 crore in the current financial year. This could be a positive move, but we have to await the details. It is also not clear if this is in addition to the ongoing watershed development or in place of it.

Rural Drinking Water For providing safe drinking water, Rs 3600 crore has been earmarked under National Rural Drinking Water Programme in approximately 20,000 habitations affected with arsenic, fluoride, heavy/toxic elements, pesticides/fertilizers through community water purification plants in next 3 years, the Finance Minister added.

Delhi Water Reforms Rs. 500 crore for water reforms to make Delhi a truly World Class City. The budget does not say a word what these reforms would mean, but going by the track record of this government in past, when they say reforms, they mean privatisation, which will be strongly opposed in Delhi.

Allocation for Renuka has no justification The FM said, “In addition, to solve the long term water supply issues to the capital region, construction of long pending Renuka Dam would be taken up on priority. I have provided an initial sum of Rs 50 crore for this.” Firstly Renuka dam does not even have statutory forest clearance and NGT has stopped work on the project. FM, but allocating money for the project in such a situation has indicated that they do not care for statutory clearance process or judicial orders.

Moreover Delhi does not need any more water from outside. It is already privileged with per capita water availability of over 250 lpcd, which is more than most European cities. Delhi does not harvest rain water, does not use flood water to recharge, does not protect its water bodies, does not treat its sewage, does not recycle and reuse the treated sewage, does not reduce its losses, does not do demand side measures and like a spoilt kid, asks more and more water from long distance sources.

Thirdly, Delhi may want exclusive share in water from Renuka, but Upper Yamuna states of Haryana, UP, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh are all asking for their share from the project and are ready to share the costs. Going ahead with the project without resolution of the interstate issues may land us in a soup similar to the Munak Canal.

Allocation for Statue of Unity The budget provides Rs 200 crore for ‘Statue of Unity’ in Gujarat. This project is come up in eco sensitive zone, and will affect large no of people and water body, but it has not seen any social or environmental impact assessment or participatory consultative process. It is supposed to come up in the middle of the water reservoir to be created by the proposed Garudeshwar Dam on Narmada river, but that dam has no impact assessment or clearances and stands challenged in NGT. Allocating money for the project under the circumstances is inappropriate.

Welcome Move: National Centre for Himalayan Studies in Uttarakhand “There is a great need to increase the capacity in the country for Himalayan Studies. I propose to set up a National Centre for Himalayan Studies in Uttarakhand with an initial outlay of Rs 100 crore.”

Irrigation The Budget provides Rs. 1,000 crore for Pradhan Mantri Krishi Seenchaayi Yojana. If this is for decentralized local systems, it would be a welcome move, but no details are available.

Welcome move: Organic farming in North East India Rs 100 crore has been provided in the budget to promote organic farming in Northeast India. This is a welcome move.

Welcome move: National Climate Change Adaptation fund for small farmers The FM said, “Climate change is a reality which all of us have to face together. Agriculture as an activity is most prone to the vagaries of climate change. To meet this challenge, I propose to establish a “National Adaptation Fund” for climate change. As an initial sum an amount of Rs 100 crore will be transferred to the Fund.” This is welcome, but we need to see who corners this money. It should go to the rainfed farmers.

Some other  welcome provisions: Finance to 5 lakh landless farmers through Nabard since landless are not able to get bank loans in absence of land as a guarantee; Rs 50 core set aside for blue revolution for inland fisheries. This is provided there is a move to conserve the riverine fisheries.

On the whole, in spite of some welcome moves, on the whole, the budget brings more bad news for the rivers & those depend on rivers and rains, than good.



1. Budget speech of the FM:

2. PIB Press Releases from Finance Ministry on July 10, 2014:

Additional issues from Media:

1. The Hindustan Times reported that the budget has reduced the allocation for MEF by 15% compared to previous year:

2. The Indian Express has reported that the budget provides additional provisions for shutting downNGOs and Trusts:

3. CSE: “Budget 2014 allocates Rs 200 crore for statue and Rs 50 crore for 50 million people who depend on the handloom sector. What does this say of priorities?”

4. BJP’s maiden budget disappointing for farmers:

5. ‘Budget silent on crucial farmer suicide issue’:

6. Good, bad and ugly – YJA ‘green’ take on the Union Budget 2014-15:


Pauk, Heo, Tato-I Hydropower projects: CISMHE’s shoddy EIAs Seven Big hydro on third order tributary of Brahmaputra!

India is well aware of fury of ‘Mighty Brahmaputra’[i]! The 2900 KM long river is prone to catastrophic flooding in monsoon when the Himalayan snows also melt. It is a classic example of a braided river and is highly susceptible to channel migration and avulsion[ii]. What we seem not to be aware of is the consequences of damming every single tributary at multiple sites in the name of hydro power projects.

Hydro Power projects proposed on Yarjep River
Sr. No. Name of the Project Installed Capacity
1 Pauk HE Project 145 MW
2 Heo HE Project 240 MW
3 Tato-I HE Project 186 MW
4 Rapum HE Project 66 MW
5 Rego HE Project 80 MW
6 Kangtangshiri HE Project 80 MW
7 Pemashelpu HE Project 91 MW
Source: EIA Reports of Pauk, Heo and Tat-I HEP

Consider this: Might Brahmaputra has large number of tributaries, one of them, albeit the main one is Siang river, constituting just 2% of the Brahmaputra basin. Siang has many tributaries, one of them is Siyom River. Siyom has many tributaries, one of them is Yarjep. & now this Yarjep river, third order tributary (when enumeration is done in tree format, starting from main river) of Brahmaputra, is to have seven large hydropower projects with total installed capacity of 888 MW. Three of the largest among these projects together came before the Expert Appraisal Committee of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for River Valley Projects during their meeting on July 3-4, 2014. All three projects have common developer, namely Velcan Energy[iii] & common EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) consultant, namely Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environment  (CISMHE)[iv]. Having been established as a R&D centre by the Power Ministry, there is an issue of conflict of interest since Power Ministry agenda is to push all hydropower projects, but an EIA consultant is supposed to be an independent entity.

L section

The story of river Yarjep in the State of Arunachal Pradesh which is a small part of Brahmaputra River System can help us understand the larger canvas of much ambitions hydro power spree the state is on.

Siang basin Yargyap Basin

Arunachal Pradesh government and the central government plan to make Arunachal Pradesh the ‘future powerhouse’ of the country. Siang basin is considered the largest basin in terms of hydropower potential in Arunachal Pradesh, the present estimated potential is 18293 MW it has over 18000 MW of power potential, which is planned to be harnessed by setting up about 44 hydropower projects spread throughout the basin. Department of Hydro Power Development, Government of Arunachal Pradesh has allotted 39 projects, which are at various stages of survey and investigation. Five projects are yet to be allotted which includes two major projects viz. Siang Upper Stage I (6000 MW) and Siang Upper Stage II (3750 MW), which are in investigation stage.

Such a large-scale development which is expected to take place over a period of next 10-15 years will cause huge environmental impacts and exert tremendous pressure on carrying capacity of Siang basin. Cumulative Impact Assessment and Carrying Capacity Assessment of Siang basin which was conducted by CWC as directed by Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) in Feb., 2010 on the directions of Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The study is yet to be approved through a credible participatory process. The study itself has very serious shortcomings[i].

There is an attempt to delink the sanctioning of the individual projects from the CIA & CCA study of the Siang Basin. Even before the report is accepted by MoEF, the ministry is considering three projects proposed in a cascade on Yarjep River of the Siang Basin. Pauk HEP (145 MW), Heo HEP (240 MW) and Tato-I HEP (186 MW), have been proposed as a cascade and were considered for EAC in its 75th meeting held on 3-4th July 2014 for grant of EC (Environment Clearance). EIA studies conducted by Centre for Inter-Disciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environment University of Delhi, Delhi (CISMHE) for all the three projects were submitted to the EAC. Considering these projects is also in clear violation of the MEF order of May 28, 2013 which required that no project beyond the first project be considered in any basin without a cumulative impact study. Siang basin supports spectacular biodiversity as well as anthropological richness in India. Any decision in this basin needs to be taken carefully. Siang CIA CCS Study is a step in that direction which can guide EAC’s decision making regarding Siang Basin projects only after it is completed through a credible process.

All the three EIA reports have serious inadequacies. The EIAs have been conducted in a very project specific manner and do not reflect the cumulative nature of impacts. The EIA reports for the schemes present the respective schemes as Run of the River Schemes (ROR) even when the projects talk of peaking generation and also have large storage of water proposed. The report at several places reflects pro hydro bias. Impact prediction and assessment is highly inadequate and completely bypass the cumulative impacts. The report also shows casual approach towards prediction and mitigation of impacts. SANDRP recently made detailed submissions to EAC after reviewing the EIA reports, EMPs (Environment Management Plan) and Public Hearing reports of the three projects. Highlights of the submissions are given below.

Pro hydro bias Opening chapters of the EIA reports (Apart from Developer’s Foreword, which is inappropriate in an EIA Study) of the EIA begins with ‘Need of hydropower’ and ‘Power potential of Arunachal Pradesh’. This is not expected from an EIA. This does not lay grounds for unbiased impact assessment and supports the project implicitly from word go.

Consultants not aware of policies and Acts Para 1.5.1 the EIA says: “In the course of its development, the Tato-I HEP needs to adhere to all relevant policies and guidelines in general and the following, in particular:

i.) National Forest Policy (NFP), 1988

ii.) National Water Policy (NWP), 2002

iii.) National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy (NRRP), 2007

iv.) Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy (RRP), 2008 of GoAP”.

This shows that the EIA consultants are not even aware of latest policies and Acts. For example, the latest Water Policy is National Water Policy of 2012 and latest R&R Act is that of 2013.

Misleading claim: These are NOT ROR schemes All the three EIA reports keep referring to the projects as ROR schemes. The Executive summary of all the EIA reports starts with a strange statement, “Such (“midsized ROR”) kind of projects is highly environment friendly”, which is clearly wrong and has no place in an EIA. This is not an ROR project, since it also hopes to do peaking power generation. EIA report of Pauk HEP states “2.4.1 One storage capacity in the most upstream project, Pauk, is sufficient to regulate the natural flow during the lean season, and to ensure the diurnal peaking hours of the entire cascade.” While EIA report of Tato-I states that master and slave relationship has been attributed to Heo HEP (master) and Tato-I HEP (slave) due to 94% to 98% direct dependency of Tato-I flows for power generation. The report also states that during peaking power generation for about 3 hours in lean season, ungated trench weir can supplement flows. Pauk HEP has dam with live storage of 1.67 million m3 and Heo HEP has dam with live storage of 0.15 million m3. Dam storage and peaking generation in these cascade projects disqualify them as RoR projects since the projects will be changing the downstream hydrograph, which ROR projects cannot do. The proponent and the EIA consultant are misleading the MoEF as well as investors, statutory bodies and general concerned public that this is an RoR project, thus painting a falsely benign picture of the project.

Hanging bridge

Missing aspects of impact assessment Many of crucial aspect of impact assessment are completely missing.

  • Word ‘Climate Change’ does not feature in EIA report or in the EMP. No assessment of the possible impact of climate change on the project and impact of the project on the local climate as well as increase in green house gas emissions from the reservoir and construction of the project has been done.
  • Similarly impact of the project on adaptation capacity of the local communities in changing climate has not been assessed.
  • Impacts of the dam on the flood character of the river, what will be the changes and how these will impact downstream areas are not assessed.
  • Impacts of changing silt flows downstream from desilting chamber and from silt flushing in monsoon on the downstream areas are not analyzed.
  • Impact on the disaster potential in the project area as well in the downstream due to construction and also operation at various stages, say on landslides, flash floods, etc. is not assessed.
  • Impacts of peaking generation have not been assessed. When a project operates as peaking station, there are severe impacts in the downstream and also upstream (rim stability). These impacts have not been assessed, nor is it assessed how the project will perform in the cascade development it is in.
  • EIA reports of the Heo and Tato-I projects conveniently adopt the site specific seismic study carried out for Pauk HEP by IIT Roorkie stating that “In view of proximity, size of the structure, similarity of lithological/ tectonic features, location in the same geotectonic block, and absence of any major additional tectonic features, it is considered appropriate”.


Impacts on Fishes: The report shows quite a disregard for these migrating species. No mitigation measures for the habitat fragmentation of these species are considered. Schizothorax richardsonaii, Schizothoraicthys prograstus are the two migrating species among the eight species found in the Yarjep river. EMPs for all the projects make no provision for fish ladder or pass stating that the two species can survive in lentic as well lotic waters. The consultant has used only the schizothorax species as an indicator for assessing impact of changes in discharge, depth and velocity. Such assessment based on single species downplays the impact on other species like smaller fish, benthic macro and micro invertebrates which form an important part of the food chain which also supports the target specie. This is also in violation of original TORs.

Playing down fisheries diversity: The chapter on Fisheries compares fisheries in Yargyap, which is Siyom’s tributary with Siyom and concludes that the icthyological fauna is lesser than Siyom. That is a flawed comparison as Siyom has a bigger drainage area and is a bigger river. Siang CIA CCS Study indicates presence of additional RET fish species than EIA Report.

Non fulfillment of TOR: According to the original TORs dated 09/2008: The assessment of eflows stated: “Estimation of environmental flow for the aquatic species and river morphology”. However, the study forgets this TOR and focusses only on Schizothorax species and does not comply with the ToRs. There are issues of merit and significant impact here and the eflows assessment part of the EIA study needs to be redone.

Turbine designs also need to be changed to protect downstream migrating fish from being mortally injured by the turbine blades. Precautionary measures like bubble walls, acoustic barriers, racks etc., have to be adopted to avoid fish mortality in the turbines for downstream migration. None of these measures are even explored, although the TORs asked for measures to aid fish migration. This is not confirming to the TORs and hence this part of the study needs to be done again.

Non fulfillment of TORs:

  • Eflows discharge designs: The TORs state that the EIA should contain : “The design details for ensuring minimum environmental flows should be provided in the EIA/EMP report.”
  • Aiding fish migration: The TORs had also asked the proponent to explore ways to aid fish migration and ladders. The proponent’s response does not deal with this. In fact the proponent states: “The height of dam of Pauk H.E. project is more than 100 m so that fish ladders are not proposed for Pauk considering its feasibility.”
  • Although ladders may not be feasible for Pauk HEP there are a number of other ways like passes, fish lifts and a combination of ladder and lifts that can be explored to aid fish migration, as is being done the world over. Fish ladder in any case should have been considered for Heo and Tato I trench weir.

Dangerous Mitigation measures suggested Mitigation measures suggested in the EMP like River channelization are downright dangerous, indicating the flawed impact assessment by the consultant. Reinstating Habitat complexity downstream of dam stretches is one of the mitigation measures for fish conservation. Many countries are working towards reinstating this habitat complexity by introducing boulders, creating riffles, etc, while the Pauk EMP actually suggest removing boulders and channelization of river between dam and powerhouse, which will increase the impacts downstream!

Impacts of tunneling and blasting on geophysical aspects of the region: All the three EIA reports summarize the impacts on landslides in single sentence: “The HRT might disturb the water tables. In addition, blasting, quarrying and road construction activities may give rise to landslides and slips in the area.” In the EMP no specific measures have been suggested for landslides.

All the projects require about 2.7-3 ha of land for underground works such as Head Race Tunnel (HRT), adits and related works. This will involve tunneling and blasting works. No detailed assessment of impacts of tunneling and blasting works involved in this construction in terms of spatial assessment of areas to be blasted and their overlap with ecologically sensitive and geologically fragile areas has been done. Impacts of blasting on local water resources such as springs, impact on the houses, impact on wildlife has not been detailed. No preventive measures have been suggested in the management plan. This again shows non serious attitude of the EIA agency.

Free flowing river stretch: There is no mention of what is the flowing river stretch downstream & upstream of the projects. This point was raised in 34th EAC Meeting held on 19-20.01.2010 and it was observed that as there is no free stretching of river between the three contiguous projects (Pauk, Heo and Tato-I) the river will be a pull of water for a stretch of about 14 kilometers. However, the report does not talk about free flowing river stretch at all.

New Picture


Unless this length is assessed and is found to be adequate for river to regain its vitality, the project should not be considered and it should be asked to change the parameters as per the need for flowing stretch between projects. In any case this stretch should not be less than 1 km between any two projects, which is the current EAC norm.

Environmental flows: Section on Environmental Flows discusses all three projects together. These three projects will change the character of at least 14 kilometers of the river and also beyond. The Environment flow should be assessed through a Building Block method which has not been done, one of the key requirements for building block method is participation of all stake holders.

It has to be noted that the Powerhouse discharges from Heo do not enter the river at all, but are intercepted by the water conductor system of Tato I which also diverts additional water through ungated trench weir. So the section of the river which carries only environmental flows is significant, highlighting the importance of holistic e-flows recommendations and not one focused on single species.

As stated in the Pauk and Heo reports, large no of data is from years 2009-10, more than three years old now and in any case before the TOR approval given in 2011. This is clearly in violation of the MEF norms.

No details of how the e-flows will be released and monitored have been given in the EIA. This is a serious lacuna as we have seen that e-flows recommendations remain on paper in the absence of clearly defined discharge mechanism and robust monitoring.

Impacts on the wildlife:Impact of clearing forests which would result in land cover change has been stated in the reports as “small in magnitude.” The EIA report categorise the impacts on wildlife as “temporary” stating that they would last up to the end of construction period only. This is clearly wrong considering that the change in downstream river flows in operation phase will have impact on aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

The most affected animal species in the surroundings are Common leopard, Leopard, cat, Jungle cat, Barking deer, Wild boar, etc. However no detailed assessment of their habitats and corridors has been carried out. The Heo EIA report surprisingly states that “Contrarily, the diversion of water in the downstream part of the river may open new corridors for the movement of animals. It is considered as positive impact.” (p. 301 Volume-I EIA Report) Which new corridors the report is talking about when there is ZERO distance of free flowing river between the projects? There are clearly contradictions and that shows how non serious the EIA agency is.

The report also clearly does not recognize the hazard of animals getting washed away with sudden release of discharge.

No assessment of Cumulative Impacts The project lists seven projects on rive Yarjep. The report claims (clearly an unsubstantiable claim) that the cumulative impact assessment study has been conducted only for the three projects in the cascade development. The model for computing environmental-flows is site specific and focused on the Yarjep river part related to the Pauk, Heo and Tato-I HEPs only. (p. 277 Volume-II EIA Report) While report makes a brief mention of cumulative impacts on different environmental components, there is no detailed assessment of any of the cumulative impacts. This is clearly unjustified looking at the large number of hydro power projects on Yarjep River. The report has completely failed in having serious attitude towards the cumulative impacts assessment.

EIA report completely misses out on the detailed analysis of cumulative impacts in terms of

  • Impacts on flora, fauna, carrying capacity, livelihoods
  • Impact of reduction in adaptive capacity of the people and area to disasters in normal circumstance AND with climate change
  • Impacts on springs and drainage pattern
  • Disaster potential of the area
  • Tunneling and blasting
  • Muck disposal
  • Changed silt flow pattern in different phases
  • Cumulative downstream impact
  • Cumulative impact of hydro peaking
  • Implementation of measures for safe operation (e.g. as recommended by SANDRP[ii])
  • Mining of materials for the project
  • Cumulative disaster management
  • Geological disturbance caused
  • Seismic impacts
  • Impact of construction and operation of coffer dams and diversion tunnel

Siang Basin cumulative impact study is still to be approved through a credible participatory process. The study itself has very serious shortcomings, see: The study also needs to be discussed by EAC and no projects in the basin should be considered till all this process is over. Considering such projects will also be in violation of the MEF order of May 28, 2013.

Issues with Rehabilitation & Resettlement Plan Rehabilitation and Resettlement plan of the project refers to National Policy on Rehabilitation and Resettlement (2007) and Resettlement & Rehabilitation Policy of Arunachal Pradesh Government (2008). (p. 120 Volume-II EIA Report) This is clearly wrong; the new R&R Act of 2013 has to be made applicable. The PP should be asked to redo the R&R Plan in consultation with the affected people, EMP and cost estimates and come back. The R&R Plan should also include compensatory measures for all social impacts in the upstream and downstream, not only for those who lose land or houses.

Public Hearing minutes not included: The EIA is supposed to include the full minutes of the Public hearing, which has not been included in this report, violating the legal norm. Instead, the EIA indulges in biased unwarranted statements of “Everyone Clearly supporting Pauk HEP”. The public hearing report for the Heo HEP has several shocking statements from the DC, which seems to raise the suspicion that the public hearing has not been conducted in free and fair manner and should be asked to be conducted again, this time by an independent panel.

Conclusion Looking at the fact that the Siang Basin study is yet under consideration and the EIA reports of Pauk, Heo and Tato-I projects fail to assess the project specific & cumulative impacts we sincerely hope that the EAC will not accord environmental clearance to these projects & will also call for fresh public hearings after EIAs have been redone.

We also see it alarming that all the three EIAs by CISMHE are so fundamentally flawed. If this is the way we are going to conduct EIAs, we are not even in a position to make informed decisions about such massive interventions in such fragile, vulnerable areas. Should CISMHE, having been set up by the Power Ministry itself, be doing an EIA is another question that needs answer.

Amruta Pradhan <>


Sources for Photographs

Bridge on River Yargyap (Yarjep):

Menchuka Plains:

Quite flows of Yarjgyap (Yarjep) River:


[i] See:

[ii] See recommendations section in:


[ii] Catling, David (1992). Rice in deep water. International Rice Research Institute. p. 177. ISBN 978-971-22-0005-2. Retrieved 23 April 2011.


[iv] Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environment, a Delhi University centre, established by Union Power Ministry:

Free flowing rivers · Ganga · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Ministry of Water Resources · Uttarakhand

Will this Ganga manthan help the River?

Uma Bharti at GM

The one day Ganga Manthan[1] organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on July 7, 2014 was described by Union Minister[2] Sushri Uma Bharti & Union Minister[3] 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[4], 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[5] 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.

Nitin Gadkari at GM

At Ganga Manthan, Mr Gadkari dropped a bombshell[6] 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[7] 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[8] (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.

GM stage

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[9] 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.

Himanshu Thakkar (


[1] For details, see:

[2] Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation

[3] Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation

[4] 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!

[5] Title: “Development of River Ganga for Tourism, Transport and to make it Environment Friendly”

[6] PIB PR on July 7, 2014;



[9] NMCG would welcome any further suggestions, ideas, write-up etc from all interested person through email:

[10] Also the views of NGBRA expert member B D Tripathi that also questions Dr Vinod Tare and IIT consortium report on Ganga: Ganga clean up more about governance than technology: Himanshu Thakkar Experts flay Uma Bharti’s Ganga Manthan clean up plan

Bhutan · Himalayas · Hydropower

Flow for Worship, Flow for Money: Water Wheels and Hydropower in Bhutan

Countries like Bhutan, Nepal, parts of Tibet and parts of India like Sikkim have some lovely Buddhist traditions linked to the nature. On the edges of forests, overlooking valleys and atop majestic mountains flutter tiny colorful prayer flags. Inside Dzongs, fixed prayer wheels spin by the tug of a pious hand. While spinning and fluttering, the prayers are supposed to be disseminated in the universe, reaching every sentinel being.

But there is a third kind of fascinating prayer wheel. It worships not only the creator, but also flowing water. Today, as naturally flowing waters become rarer, it is strangely reassuring to see these wheels spinning away, as the stream pushes the small wooden turbines round and round. These wheels are more fascinating for their symbolic significance: In these regions where water wheels worship the flow, the same flow is being harnessed for generating money and power: Hydropower. In Bhutan, the 10,000 MW + hydropower initiative supported by India and financial institutions like ADB & other foreign players will dam almost all of the big river systems in the country.

In fact, institutions like ADB are so over-enthusiastic in pushing hydropower in Bhutan ( ADB is ‘administering‘ Hydropower grants to Bhutan from countries like Norway and Japan)  that they see Bhutan’s strong environmental conservation practices as ‘hurdles’ in this development. ADB says: “Bhutan’s strong environmental conservation policies have affected the pace of implementing power projects because of the time required to complete procedures such as environmental impact assessments, public consultations, forestry clearances, and road planning.”

What follows is a short photo feature on Water Wheels in Bhutan as well as the hydropower development in the Punatsangchu Basin, through the 1200 MW Punatsangchu I HEP. Just a few kilometers downstream is the proposed intake and dam of Punatsangchu II which is also underway.

Bhutan is the only country in the world which measures its development not only in terms of GDP, but through Gross National Happiness (GNH), which is an aggregate of a number of things, including environmental conservation and preservation of culture.

Let us hope that this dense hydropower development does not affect the Bhutanese tenets of happiness…

A majestic three tiered prayer wheel in Paro, on way to Tigers Nest Monastery Photo: SANDRP
Majestic three- tiered prayer wheels in Paro, on way to Tiger’s Nest Monastery Photo: SANDRP
A tiny water wheel in agricultural fields of Paro Photo: SANDRP
A tiny water wheel in agricultural fields of Paro Photo: SANDRP
One more water wheel on way to Taktsang Monastery Photo: SANDRP
One more water wheel on way to Taktsang Monastery Photo: SANDRP
A water prayer wheel in a village near Paro Photo: SANDRP
A water prayer wheel in a village near Paro Photo: SANDRP
A water wheel on a flowing stream in a dense forest, on way to Phobjikha Valley Photo: SANDRP
A water wheel on a flowing stream in a dense forest, on way to Phobjikha Valley Photo: SANDRP
The wooden wheel blades
The wooden wheel blades Photo: SANDRP
A roadside Prayer wheel with steel blades Photo: SANDRP
A roadside Prayer wheel with steel blades Photo: SANDRP
A roadside water wheel on way to Thimpu Photo: SANDRP
A roadside water wheel on way to Thimpu Photo: SANDRP
On way to Thimpu Photo: SANDRP
On way to Thimpu Photo: SANDRP
On way to Taktsang Monastery Photo: SANDRP
On way to Taktsang Monastery Photo: SANDRP
Cascade of three water wheels in Phobjikha Valley Photo: SANDRP
Cascade of three water wheels in Phobjikha Valley Photo: SANDRP
Different ways of using the flow: A storehouse for Apples and other seasonal fruits, built on the top of a stream, which acts like a natural AC Photo: SANDRP
Different ways of using the flow: A storehouse for Apples and other seasonal fruits, built on the top of a stream, which acts like a natural AC Photo: SANDRP
Fresh fruits, preserved in a storehouse on the stream! Photo: SANDRP
Fresh fruits, preserved in a storehouse on the stream! Photo: SANDRP


At the same time, huge, unprecedented hydropower developing is also challenging the tiny nation. Much of it is pushed by India.

Planned, underconstruction and commissioned hydropower projects may cover all the river systems in Bhutan. Photo: Down to Earth from CEA
Planned, underconstruction and commissioned hydropower projects may cover all the river systems in Bhutan. Photo: Down to Earth from CEA

Bhutan was in news as it was the first foreign country to which the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit in June 2014. While he laid the foundation stone of the the 600 MW Khonglongchu Project, protests erupted in downstream Assam, India. Assam had suffered flood losses mainly in 2004 when the 60 MW Kurichhu Project, built by NHPC, released flood waters which reached Indian territory. Same fears are now expressed for Mangdechu and Konglongchu Projects. On July 9, 2014, The Times of India reported that Assam state BJP unit (BJP is in power at the centre), “They (BJP state leaders) also told Pandey (BJP all-India chief for morchas and cells Mahendra Pandey) that even Modi’s foundation laying for a 600-MW power station in Bhutan last month was not taken with enthusiasm by the people in Lower Assam districts because they were already affected by the impact of existing power projects in the Himalayan country.”

In 2006, India and Bhutan signed an agreement to “facilitate and promote development and construction of hydropower projects and associated transmission systems as well as trade in electricity, through both public and private sector engagements”. Under this agreement, India has agreed to minimum imports of 5,000 MW of hydropower capacity by 2020. The agreement will be valid for a period of 60 years and can be extended. In addition to this agreement, a protocol between India and Bhutan was signed in 2009 through which India will develop 10,000 MWs of hydropower in Bhutan for export of surplus power to India by 2020. This has been going on through a mix of soft loans and grants. This also means services for Indian engineering and design consultants like WAPCOS and Indian developers & contractors like L and T, NHPC, Gammon India, JP Associates, BHEL, SJVN, THDC, Tatas, HCC, Jindal, etc.[1] Indian companies like NHPC, WAPCOS are also involved in Detailed Project Reports, while other Indian companies are bagging the construction and equipment contracts.[2]

Already, three hydro projects funded and built by India are operating in Bhutan which include 336 MW Chukha, 60 MW Kurichu and 1020 MW Tala HEP.  Under-construction projects funded mainly by India include 1200 MW Punatsangchhu HE Project Stage-I, 1020 MW Punatsangchu Stage II and 720 MW Mangdechu HEP. News reports indicate that Bhutan and Indian government have together identified 10 HEPs with a total capacity of 11,576 MW by 2020 for development. In addition the country has about 16 operating HEPs[3].

Punatsangchu I Project, 130 mts high dam, envisages submergence of 673 acres of Reserve forest land, 78 acres of private land (involving 116 land owners) and 6 acres of Institutional Land (2 institutions) till the end of April 2013 for the project construction. Punatsangchu II project with 80 mts high dam, involves 479 acres of reserve forest land, 14 acres of private land (involving 17 land owners) and 5 acres of Institutional Land (3 institutions) till the end of April 2013 for the project construction.

In 2014, India and Bhutan also signed an agreement for 2120 MW hydropower capacity through four projects which include 600 MW Kholongchu project, 180 MW Bunakha project (with 230 MW downstream benefits from Tala, Chukha and Wangchu HEPs), 570 MW Wangchu project, and 770 MW Chamkarchu-I project.[4]

SANDRP visited the site of Punatsangchu I Project which has witnessed serious geological issues, which include severe sinking of the right bank, throwing the project off schedule and also increasing its cost. Similar geological surprises are also feared at Punatsangchu II Site. 

Following are some pictures from Punatsangchu I Site.

Riparian farming on a tributary of Punatsangchu Photo: SANDRP


Coffer dam and diversion of PSHP I Project Photo: SANRP
Coffer dam and diversion of PSHP I Project Photo: SANDRP
Dam Axis of PSHP I Photo: SANDRP
Dam Axis of PSHP I Photo: SANDRP


Diverted River, dry and without flows Photo: SANDRP
Diverted River, dry and without flows Photo: SANDRP
Huge muck disposal next to the river bank near the intake chambers Photo: SANDRP
Huge muck disposal next to the river bank near the intake chambers Photo: SANDRP
L and T India is the main contractor for Dam Wall
L and T India is the contractor for construction of Diversion Tunnel, Dam, intake and Desilting Chambers Dam Wall Photo: SANDRP
Gammon India is contractor for 7.48 kms Head Race Tunnel. Bharat Heavy Electricals and HCC are also contractors in PSHP I Photo: SANDRP
Gammon India is contractor for 7.48 kms Head Race Tunnel. Bharat Heavy Electricals and HCC are also contractors in PSHP I Photo: SANDRP
Stretch of Punatsangchu River that will be diverted through the tunnel when the dam is commissioned Photo: SANDRP
Stretch of Punatsangchu River that will be diverted through the tunnel when the dam is commissioned Photo: SANDRP
Baso Chhu River, entirely dried as it is diverted for the 66 MW BasoChhu Power Project of Druk Green  Photo: SANDRP
Baso Chhu River, entirely dried as it is diverted for the 66 MW BasoChhu Power Project of Druk Green Photo: SANDRP
The concept of Six Longevities celebrated in the Bhutan: They include Man, Animals, Birds ( black Necked Cranes!), Montains, Trees and Rivers! Let us hope all these components are indeed conserved for long Photo: At Punakha Monastery, SANDRP
The Six symbols of Longevity celebrated in Bhutan ( also Tibet). Photo: At Punakha Monastery, SANDRP


In almost all Dzongs, as well as hotels and homes rests a picture of Six Symbols of Longevity ( see picture above), all of them are interlinked, hold symbolic significance and are supposed to be auspicious.

They include Man, Animals, Birds ( The Black Necked Cranes, incidentally threatened by an Indian Dam: 780 MW Nyamjangchu, close to Bhutanese border), Mountains, Trees and Rivers!

Let us hope this synergy is long-lived in Bhutan!

-Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP (

( All pictures by author)


END NOTES and References:





[5] Samir Mehta’s blog on Hydropower Challenges in Bhutan:

[6] Emmanuel Theophilus’s article on Fish Ladder in Kurichhu Dam in Bhutan published on SANDRP Blog:

[7] Sector Study of Bhutan’s Hydropower by World Bank:

[8] ADB pushing for Hydropower in Bhutan, also for storage projects, which have huge impacts!



Bihar · Embankments

Response to SANDRP blog: On Sediments & Rivers

Satellite image of Brahmaputra River From: Wikimedia Commons
Satellite image of Brahmaputra River From: Wikimedia Commons

Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra (

Read the article by Thakkar and Dandekar[1] on sediments with great interest. The basic duty assigned by nature to any river  is to build land (nearest word is delta formation), transport the water falling on its catchment to the master drain or the sea and keep the ground water level intact besides saving its fertility. Scriptures define river in many other ways. The basic reason for that was, probably, to discourage tempering with the river. The rivers flow for the good of all the living beings (paropakaray bahanti nadyah), they are cited as an example for continuity. Our ancestors used to bless the younger ones that their name and fame will last till the rule of forests, mountains and rivers are there. There are strict restrictions about polluting rivers and the punishment is also prescribed for doing so. That provides enough food for thought about rivers to us. When we recall our rivers to grace any religious or social ceremony, the emphasis is never forgotten as to what should be our attitude towards rivers. Most of our festivals are held on the bank of the rivers (barring Karmanasa) in Bihar which is called tirthas i.e, the sacred places.

We care too hoots about our rivers now.

An engineer or a trader looks at the rivers about the profits that can be made by the existence of the rivers and they rightly use the word ‘exploitation’ which we all know what it means. As engineers, we all are trained to look into the Benefit Cost ratio and are never taught about the social costs. That is not our job. We tell the politicians where the profit and votes lie. They, in turn, tell all others that they have a team of world class engineers who have advised this or that. The implementers (the contractors) intervene in the mean while. Then there may be financers, promoters, consultants and what not, each with some vested interest or the other. Some of them are for money, some for power, some for name and fame and some for merely impressing others of their proximity with the sources of power.

Each one of them has an insurance that by the time the ill effects of their wrong doing come to the fore, they will not be there in this world. That sets the tone for discussions now.

Let us look at the physical characteristics of river water. The river water contains sediments of all kinds and their shape and size depends on the locations that they are transported to by the river water. The ultimate destination, however, is the sea.  I have read considerable literature about sediments and floods and I know that at least since middle of the 19th Century, the British engineers in India have been telling that water is not the problem and it is the sediment that is responsible for flooding. This should be treated first if the floods are to be avoided.

Unfortunately, we are not taught how to deal with sediments and we read about it as a passing reference.  Water flows downstream but the sediments remain where the water no more is in a position to push it further down.

Structurally, if you intercept water by a dam, the sediment will collect in the reservoir area.  I had read a report of Central Water Commission a few years ago (I should be having a copy of it somewhere in my collection) wherein they had studied the sedimentation of  64 reservoirs in India but only in two of them their prediction of sedimentation was near to reality. Rest all the dams were in pathetic situation. Trap the river within embankments, the sediment will settle within the embankments and raise the bed level of the river. Kosi is a good example of mishandling of sediments. This river was flowing in 15 different channels some 60 years ago. The engineers embanked just one of these channels and forced all the water and sediments into that channel. The result is that the bed of this channel is higher than the adjoining ground. In lower reaches, the river is aggrading at a rate 12.03 centimeters every year. The engineers and the State is busy raising the embankments without realizing that they are ‘storing disasters for the future generation.’ Construct a ring bundh round a settlement to protect it from the floods of river, the sediment will settle outside the ring to the detriment of the community in future.

Many settlements in Bihar were encircled by such rings in the past.  These are all a false security for the people. There is sand casting within the protected area and boats ply there during the rainy season. Some of these rings do not exist anymore because the river has wiped them out. Every step of mishandling sediments leads to a disaster situation which we do not know how to cope with and do away with the sediment.

Look at any silt laden river. It used to spread the sediments free of cost all over the area which is what we call the land building by a river. You disturb a river and this quality is lost.

Then starts the famous debate on forests. The engineers are again confused over the issue and they are not sure whether restoration of the forests can be of any use. Once the ground is saturated due to rains, the role of forests is over, they say. Fortunately such conclusions are not available freely in vernacular. I shudder to think how the masses will react to such wisdom.

I had a chance meeting with the Minister of Water Resources of Bihar before this election and he wanted me to suggest something to combat floods. The discussion boiled down to sediments and the quantity of sediments that passes through Bihar every year.

Irrigation Commission Report of Bihar (1994) talks vaguely about sediments and no inference can be drawn out of it. This may be willful that a reader may not decode the information contained in the report.

Now, if it is understood that sediments are the problem, do we know the amount of it? The answer in ‘No’.

Or, even if it is available, it is not in public domain. We keep on telling that rivers have become shallow but its extent is not known in most cases. I suggested to him that if the government was really serious about the issue, let us take cross section of the river at strategic points that the WRD must have been taking before independence or after the establishment of the Planning Commission and check what is the extent of aggradation of the river bed and what have been the change in the cross section. This will tell us the sediment retained in the river bed and give a hint about its transportation to the sea. It will also tell us that if we pursue the policy of flood control as we are doing at the moment, what will be the fate of the river after say 50 years. He very kindly phoned his principal secretary who, probably, told him that this was possible.

Two questions arise from this discussion, (i) does it require an outsider like me with little access to information that these august bodies dealing with rivers have to tell the minister what should be done to assess the sediments? And (ii) what on earth the responsible engineers of the WRD have been doing all these years? Do they know their job and responsibility well?


Former chief minister of Bihar had announced in May 2009 after the breach at Kusaha on the Kosi (in Aug 2008) was plugged that the embankment is not going to breach for thirty years, at least. Everybody interested in the Kosi issue knows that the breach had occurred because the river was pushed towards eastern embankment of the river by sediment deposition on the west and this was not given the attention it deserved.

I wonder since when the rivers have started taking command from the chief ministers. Even if they do, what will happen in thirty first year?

I am of the opinion that a peon in government is more powerful than a Noble Laureate outside for the peon can get something done through his contacts but the latter can only make a request. It is up to the establishment whether it heeds to his/ her advice or not.

3rd July 2014. Jamshedpur



Jammu and Kashmir

NHPC’s “controversial child” URI II Hydro Project: Some Facts

Full page advertisements in most  National newspapers in the national capital and possibly in Jammu & Kashmir announced on July 4, 2014 that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will dedicate to the nation the 240 MW URI II hydropower project on Jhelum River near Salamabad village of Uri Tehsil in Baramulla district in J&K, about 18 km upstream from the LOC. The project was aptly described by in its update on May 27, 2013: “NHPC’s controversial child, Uri has always made the news for all the wrong reasons. Earlier, various natural calamities, law and order problems, frequent bandhs and blockades, and agitation by local residents demanding employment with NHPC” have plagued the project.

The Prime Minister’s dedication of the project to nation has led to a controversy since according to Jammu& Kashmir state government’s minister for health and medical education Taj Mohiuddin, NHPC is operating the project illegally since it does not have consent to operate, which is required as per law. Taj said, “NHPC was supposed to obtain the license under Jammu and Kashmir Water Resources Act but they have not completed the formalities. NHPC authorities have no respect for the local laws.” When asked that what action the state government will take if the NHPC has violated the state laws, Taj said: “The government can close the project.” He added that people of Uri will now approach the High Court through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the NHPC very soon.

Broad Features of the project: (Source: CEA)

  • Concrete Gravity Dam – 52 m High (43.7 m above riverbed), 172 m long,
  • Head Race Tunnel – 8.4m diameter; 4.27 km long;
  • Power House – Underground; 4×60 = 240 MW; net heat 118 m; annual generation 1123 MU in 90% year
  • Turbine – V. Francis
  • Tail Race Tunnel (TRT) – 8.4 m dia, 3.78 km Long;
  • Cost Overrun: Original: 1724.79 Crores; Next: 2081.00 Crores (Rs 8.68 cr per MW, likely to cross Rs 10 Cr per MW); Latest: 2290 as per PIB Press Release on July 4, 2014 after PM dedicated the project to the nation.
  • Time Overrun: Original commissioning date: 2009-10; actually commissioned: 2014-15.
Layout of the URI II project as given by NHPC website
Layout of the URI II project as given by NHPC website

HCC demands mean cost could go up further The reported on July 6, 2014: “NHPC involved in Rs 608.99 crore arbitration case with HCC: Civil works contractors HCC has made a claim of an additional Rs 608.99 crore from NHPC over execution of civil works in the Uri-II hydroelectric project in Jammu & Kashmir.
–The demand made by HCC pertains to two claims of Rs 379.30 crore and Rs 229.69 crore.
–The claim for Rs 379.30 crore is sought as compensation for additional time & various costs being incurred on account of various disruptions and deviation from the original contract. For this case, the Arbitral Tribunal has scheduled a series of hearings in August, 2014.
–The second claim made by the contractor is for payment of compensation for un-recovered elements of costs due to reduction in scope of work. The hearing on the case was conducted in May, 2014, however, the final order is yet be given by the Tribunal.”

Alstom Hydro provided turbines for the project claimed[1], this much delayed project that also suffered from serious flaws in construction and social unrest, “this project is certainly amongst major references for Alstom Hydro in India”!

Major Social unrest The project affects 521 families including 173 displaced families and 348 partially affected families, as per the Sept 2012 six monthly compliance report. Strangely, the project was allowed to acquire 124 ha of private land when EIA had stated need for 83 ha of private land. The project had such severe impacts and local people were so agitated by the non responsible attitude of the developer NHPC that they actually stopped work on the project for months. CEA has reported:

  • Works stopped on all fronts for 105 days from 19.03.2012 to 30.6.12 due to local unrest for demanding jobs in NHPC. Strike called off by local residents on 30.06.2012.

Major construction problems The project saw major construction problems, some of them, as reported by Government of India’s premier power sector technical body, Central Electricity Authority in their various reports are list below. Very few projects would have suffered so many problems. This also shows how poor were the site selection, appraisal, assessments, management and performance of developer (NHPC), government and contractor:

  • 21.09.2005: Civil works awarded to HCC
  • 8.10.2005: Earthquake
  • March 2007: Flash floods: Coffer dam washed away after river diversion in Jan ‘07
  • Jan 2008: Massive landslide on right side of dam
  • Nov 2008: Under construction bridge on Jhelum collapses. HCC and JC Gupta were required to pay a cumulative sum of Rs 4.39 crore against the damage reimbursable from the Contractor All Risk (CAR) policy and the collapse of the Bandi bridge, respectively, but four years later, the NHPC was yet to recover the money from them.
  • May 2010: Flash floods
  • 17.04.11: Dam overtopped in April due to heavy rains and snowfall!
  • Sept 2011: Flooding of Tail Race Tunnel due to flash flood, cloud burst on 16.09.2011
  • Aug 21, 2012: Calling it “civil contractor`s inefficacy”, blamed HCC for not starting work for 37 days after the agitation against the project was resolved.
  • Sept 2012: Slush was deposited in D/s portion of Power House and TRT area due to flash flood on Sept. 17, 2012 in Golta Nallah located at the tail race tunnel (TRT) site. This led to excessive flooding of the TRT with water levels reaching up to EL 1,112m. The dewatering pumps, deployed at the TRT outlet, Adit IV and the downstream surge gallery, got submerged in water. The access road to the TRT outlet also got damaged. All this also shows the mismanagement at the project site. This occurrence impacted the completion of the balance invert work in the downstream surge valley and cleaning and finishing work in TRT.
  • Oct 10, 2012: holds “shoddy performance of the involved contractual agencies – HCC and Alstom” for the serious technical flaws in the construction work of the project.
  • Nov 2012: Contractor HCC claims financial crunch, asks for assistance
  • April-May-June 2013: Water seepage of 500 litres per minute was observed during filling of Upstream Water Conductor System and Mechanical spinning of units. Seepage was also observed in Power House area: Alstom, the E&M contractor, blamed the civil contractor (HCC) for the seepage in the water conductor system.
  • July 2013: Cracks in Power Channel have been observed
  • Sept 2013: After refilling of the water conductor system, high flood occurred in River Jhelum which started erosion of left bank of dam and some cracks were also observed along left bank hill slope downstream of dam.
  • Dec 2013: Seepage from water conductor system in Power House, Surge shaft area.

Wrong Claims: The industry website reported on May 14, 2014 that the project achieved “finishing just before the finish line”, when the project was delayed by close to five years! The site was actually contradicted its own repeated earlier updates quoted above.

Environmental noncompliance The project was given environmental clearance on Aug 13, 2004. As per the EIA notification, the project was supposed to submit compliance report to Union Ministry of Environment and Forests every six months. A look at the MoEF website in this regard shows that the latest compliance report available is for Sept 2012[2], clearly violating the EIA notification. The NHPC website though has the six monthly compliance report of March 2014.

Interestingly, the project has seen an unprecedented five monitoring visits by the regional office of MoEF, that is in April 2007, May 2008, July 2009 and June 2011 (all in summer months, not a bad time to visit Kashmir!) & Dec 10, 2013. However, NONE of these monitoring reports are available on MoEF website, another violation of EIA notification.

The project do not seem to be required to release any environment flows, which will dry the river  for long stretch & kill all the biodiversity. The Jhelum basin has about existing, under construction or approved projects, but has no cumulative impact assessment. The project has neither done downstream impact assessment, nor have they done any downstream mitigation plans. The upstream 480 MW URI hydropower project, also of NHPC, and funded by SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency), has a fish ladder on 30 m high dam, but was found to be non functional during site visit. Even if that were to function, now with Uri II in the downstream without any fish ladder or downstream management plan, there is little possibility of the fish in Jhelum or Uri to survive. Local people will also suffer in the process, but there is no possibility of any compensation for their losses.

HCC also has full page Advertisement From all the available accounts, the performance of the civil contractor for the project was far from satisfactory, called it shoddy. And yet in a full page advertisement in The Times of India of July 4, 2014, HCC amazingly claimed: “HCC has adhered to its commitment of creating responsible and sustainable infrastructure.”

Facts narrated above, all from official reports and industry websites, speak for themselves, how responsible and sustainable is this infrastructure. It is not for nothing that the project is called NHPC’s controversial child.

Very pertinently, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry has appealed to the Prime Minister to dedicate the Uri II project  to the people of J&K and also start the process of handing over  the Salal, Uri and Dul Hasti hydropower projects, all of NHPC, to J&K so that the people of state  can get the benefit from the projects as NHPC has already earned huge revenues from these projects. Going by the PIB press release of July 4, 2014 following dedication of the Uri II project to the nation, the Prime Minister did not agree to the KCCI appeal.

The PIB Press Release of July 4, 2014 (from PMO) also said: “Our objective is to tap maximum hydropower potential, the Prime Minister added… Giving the example of Bhutan, he said the economy of that country was now being built around hydropower. The Prime Minister said sufficient emphasis had not been given to power transmission lines network, and his Government will take this task forward through the PPP model… He said this project was conceived during the Government of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and we have fulfilled that vision.” These are noteworthy words!

Another PIB Press Release on July 5, 2014 (from Power Ministry) described NHPC as “a premier organization in the country in the field of development of hydroelectric projects” & “The technical capabilities of NHPC in executing hydroelectric projects are unmatched in the country.” One wishes Power ministry would have looked at  the performance of NHPC in this and other projects before giving that certificate.








Post Script: 1. According to Rising Kashmir, two people were washed out due to sudden release of water from the project in Oct 2014, local blamed the power project for the deaths. 

2. Nov 20, 2014 Fire engulfed the project early in the morning at around 4. No deaths reported, but huge damages.

brahmaputra · Chenab · Ganga · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas

How do dams affect a river?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

from :
from :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

This is true of Ganga, as any other River!

Himanshu Thakkar (,


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

Our 100th Blog on River Conversations:



Ganga · Hydropower

What do Rivers have to do with Silt??

Rivers are again in the news, though so far only for symptomatic reasons. The new government at the centre has renamed the charge of water resources minister to Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation. There is fundamental contradiction within this name plate and we have in fact yet to see this nameplate.

There is also a lot of discussion about rejuvenation of Ganga, with the Prime Minister promising the people of Varanasi Parliamentary constituency that he will rejuvenate Ganga.  There is no clarity about how he plans to go about in achieving that. His claim during elections that Gujarat Government’s Sabarmati Riverfront Development provides a model for this is clearly a non-starter. Sabarmati has water only in 10.4 km of the river stretch that flows through Ahmedabad. If you go upstream of this stretch, you will find a dry river in most non-monsoon months and if you go downstream, you will find a river more polluted than Yamuna in Delhi. And even the water that one sees in this 10.4 km stretch is not the water from Sabarmati river basin, but is taken from Narmada River via Sardar Sarovar Canal! Pertinently, Ahmedabad or Sabaramati has no right over that water: the Sardar Sarovar Project has been built and justified in the name of Gujarat’s drought-prone areas like Kutch and Saurashtra.

The nameplate-changing business also extended to Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, its name changed to Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, though here again the new nameplate is yet to be seen. Unfortunately, all the noises that we have heard so far from this front seem to give primacy to growth rather than environment or forests or climate change! The new environment minister has yet to say anything about river protection, but he is already talking about river linking!

So is there a hope for rivers in this new establishment, going beyond the symbolic name changes? Here one is reminded of a meeting, where one of us (HT) was invited a few months before the elections, to discuss the state and fate of Yamuna River in Delhi. When HT started speaking, he started by asking what is a river? Is it just a source of water as engineers see it? Following a sudden change in program, Sushri Uma Bharati was the chief speaker at the meeting and when it was her turn to speak , she actually tried to understand that question and tried to find an answer to it: what is a river? Her becoming the Union Water Resources Minister also raises hopes since she had been campaigning for Aviral Dhara (Continuous flow) of the Ganga and against building of dams and hydropower projects in Uttarakhand. We hope that she will realize that impact of dams and hydropower projects on rivers is similar, if not same everywhere.

Ms Bharati is also minister of river development and Ganga Rejuvenation. The question, What is a river? becomes even more relevant in that context. A river is possibly the most complex ecological entity and we still do not understand fully how to define a river. But here we would like to highlight that river is a lifeblood of the ecology and carries so much more than water. One of the key elements that river carries is silt or sediment (although there is a slight difference between the two, we will use it interchangeably here).

The rivers carry silt from various points in their journey from the hills, to the deltas where most major rivers meet the sea. In this journey, the type, quantity, movement of silt varies with place and time. The silt comes in various forms, from suspended matter to fine silt to coarser sand. It is the transfer of silt from upper catchments to the plains that helps build fertile and alluvial flood plains like the Indo Gangetic plains.

Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta during Monsoons. Pcture from :
Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta during Monsoons. Pcture from :

The flow of sediment through rivers to the delta also protects the deltas, which are very highly productive & biodiversity rich ecosystems, population centers and agriculturally fertile areas. Deltas are constantly facing the threat of erosion by sea. In this fight against erosion by sea, the sediment brought by the rivers helps the deltas in a major way. Sediment flow to delta becomes even more important when sea levels are rising in changing climate.

However, when we build dams, hydropower projects and diversion structures on the rivers, we completely change the silt flow pattern in the river. The dams arrest the silt and hydropower projects and release silt free water in the downstream. The erosion capacity of the silt free water is greater, and the additional erosion they cause in the immediate downstream may not compensate for the silt trapped in the dams. The run of the river hydropower projects may release silt annually or more frequently and also on daily basis from desilting chambers, but the pattern of transport of the silt again completely changes. Moreover the dams and diversions completely change the character of flood-flow in the downstream area, when it is established that floods are the most important sediment-transporting events. All these changes have huge impacts in the riverbeds, in the floodplains and in the deltas. And most worryingly, we do not understand these impacts completely as yet.

REbuilding a flood barrier in Bangladesh Delta, destroyed due to Cyclone Aila from :
Rebuilding a flood barrier in Bangladesh Delta, destroyed due to Cyclone Aila from :

It is only recently that scientists have started work that provides a glimpse of impacts this changing silt flow is causing. For example, our deltas are literally shrinking and sinking, and several independent scientific studies are telling us that dams must take major, about three-fourths of the blame. About 80% of the sediment that rivers bring can be trapped by the dams and this means that dams are annually trapping about 40 billion cubic meter of sediment globally. That is more than five Sardar Sarovar Dams every year! In India, our estimate earlier showed that large dams are trapping at least 2 BCM of silt every year, this figure is likely to have gone up now.

Not all the sediment trapped in the dams would reach the deltas, a significant part would have been left on the floodplains and in the river channels. And sediment trapped by dams is one of the many reasons behind sinking of deltas. However, scientists are estimating that already deltas have been deprived of at least 73 BCM of sediment by the dams. In South Asia, during the past century, Indus delta sediments have been reduced by 94 percent, Ganga-Brahmaputra delta sediments by 30 percent, and Narmada delta sediments by 95 percent.

The Ganga Brahmaputra Delta, formed of rich sediment From: EO
The Ganga Brahmaputra Delta, formed of rich sediment From: EO

In 2007-08, the Ganges, Mekong, Irrawaddy and many other rivers flooded with more than 100,000 lives lost and more than a million displaced. Most of the deltas that were flooded did not receive a significant input of sediment. These major flood events lead to sediment trapping behind mega dams.

The direct impacts of delta subsidence and effective seas level rise include inundation of coastal areas, saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers, increased rates of coastal erosion, an increased exposure to storm surges, in addition to the threats to food security, livelihood security, water security for millions and a huge loss of biodiversity. These threats impact hundreds of millions of people who inhabit the delta regions as well as the ecologically sensitive and important coastal wetland and mangrove forests.

Sundarban Forests constitute parts of Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta from: Wikimedia Commons
Sundarban Forests constitute parts of Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta from: Wikimedia Commons

As Prof. James P Syvitski, the Chair of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, told SANDRP, “We must learn to do better.” However, decisions surrounding dams in most regions of the world are not even assessing the impacts on deltas. Ignoring sediments when building and operating dams comes at a huge price. Someone else is paying that price right now and this price is steeply increasing. For full SANDRP report on this issue, write to us or see

This article provides a glimpse of the role that rivers play in sediment transport. It goes to show how little we know about the role played by rivers in our lives. We hope we have much richer debate around the role of rivers in our lives in days to come.

Himanshu Thakkar (, Parineeta Dandekar (

For a response to this blog by Dr D K Mishra, see:

Satellite image of Brahmaputra River From: Wikimedia Commons
Satellite image of Brahmaputra River From: Wikimedia Commons

( An edited version of this piece appeared in the Civil Society Magazine:


Free flowing rivers · Hydropeaking · Hydropower

“If its peaking, its not an ROR!” Interview with Dr. Thomas Hardy, IAHR and Texas State University

At the 10th International Symposium on Ecohydraulics in Trondheim, Norway in June 2014, SANDRP talked with Dr. Thomas Hardy, Past President of the Ecohydraulics Section of the International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research (IAHR), and The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment Endowed Professor in Environmental Flows at Texas State University.

Dr. Hardy holds advanced degrees (MS and PhD) in both aquatic ecology and civil engineer and has been at the forefront globally, for linking issues related to hydraulics and hydropower with ecosystems. Here he talks about issues like state-of-art mitigation measures being put to use across the world for mitigating impacts of hydropower, evolution of Ecohydraulics and the dangers of “Putting dams at the wrong place”

We see some significant mitigation measures, some of which include decommissioning, for addressing impacts of hydropower coming from over the world. How did this system evolve? What was the role of various actors and did this happen suo motto from the companies?

Since the last two decades, we have recognized the environmental consequences of hydropower. The cost benefits analyses of many projects is getting skewed, we have been witnessing the ecological costs of many of such projects are exceeding their economic benefits. For example, in the 5 dams in a cascade on the Klamath River, the economic value of the salmon fisheries being destroyed was more than the hydropower benefits from the dams. A lot of mitigation measures have come from countries like Norway and countries like US have also seen them, and we are always keeping our eyes open for better solutions.

Fish Ladder at John Day Dam (from :
Fish Ladder at John Day Dam (from :

While it’s accepted that there will be impacts of any intervention, we need to be honest about the scale of the impacts and who pays the price for these impacts.

About the suo motto role of companies, unfortunately, I have not seen very many companies adopting better environmental standards by themselves without consistent pressures and constant monitoring from people and the government. A lot of credit to increased performance of hydropower mitigation measures goes to NGOs, civil society groups, indigenous communities and the citizens themselves for raising these issues with the companies as well as governments to adopt better standards for their rivers. The advent of social media continues to help a lot to this end.

In the US, a lot of changes were also driven by aboriginal communities who protected their fishing rights or riverine ecosystems. For example in the Klamath River, the aboriginal tribes upheld their traditional fishing rights of salmon which were affected by the dams. This led to not only changes in dam operation, but a spurt of work on fish ladders, passes, eflows and decommissioning. Having said that, we have also committed some massive mistakes, the cost of which have been great. The mitigation measures we are trying to put in now are very costly. Making wise decisions about siting dams and including mitigation measures at the level of designing itself is not only effective, but its also comparatively cheaper. In that sense, it is encouraging to see China being more concerned about the impacts of its hydropower on the environment.


It is claimed that Run of the River projects are environmentally better than storage type HEPs. There are some such projects which undertake massive peaking. How can the impacts of massive scale of hydro-peaking be mitigated?

Firstly, if its peaking, its not an ROR. [1]An ROR by definition cannot store water and cannot change the hydrographs of a river on a timescale. If it’s doing that, it’s not an ROR and should not be labelled as such. Period. If anyone is doing that, I would question their motives in being less than truthful. It’s also a matter of wrong green labels to these projects. So we need to remember that RORs do not change the downstream hydrograph and hence cannot peak.

How about the contention that ramping up and down reduces peaking capabilities of the project?

Well, there is no free lunch. There is a cost to doing business, cost of doing good business, and only this will keep it running in the long term. No one would deny that all developmental activities entail environmental costs, but we to understand the range of environmental and social costs, put them on table and then take a wise decision, taking everyone on board.

As for ramping rates affecting peaking operations, power demands do not fluctuate hugely from established patterns on a daily, weekly, or seasonal basis and the companies have a pretty good forecast idea of the range of demand. Based on this, if the peaking is supposedly for 3 hours, up ramping can be started an hour earlier, so that we get the benefits of 3 hours peaking. Same goes for down ramping, you need to coordinate it that way. Of course this will mean some change of efficiency, but like I said, there is no free lunch and surely government and companies are concerned about safety of their people downstream these projects.

Safety concerns of peaking opeartions, apart from the ecological concerns, are very important to consider. In case of  the Milner Dam on the Snake River in the US, I actually had a group of students and fishermen stand and then wade in a river and we then worked on the releases from the dam which gave sufficient time for these people to get out of the river. There is no option to safety measures. They are of paramount importance.

When we develop rivers in a cascade, would it help if we maintain free flowing stretches between projects?

Well it’s a relative question, which is all about siting your projects. In the first place, don’t put a dam in the wrong place! That’s most important. After that, placing of other dams will be specific to the ecological uniqueness of that river. But we need guidelines which say at least some percentage of the upper watershed should be conserved and not exposed to impacts like peaking. It may be better to entirely protect the tributaries of a heavily dammed basin, rather than adopting a cut and stitch approach. FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) is now routinely including impacts of hydropeaking on fish and other organisms like benthic macroinvertebrates while relicensing and also licensing.[2]

Decommissioning of the Glines canyon Dam on the Elwha River From
Decommissioning of the Glines canyon Dam on the Elwha River From

How is the monitoring mechanism around mitigation measures developed in the US? Do communities have a role to play here?

Monitoring is well developed and an important part of the licensing process. The company can do annual monitoring themselves, or they can outsource this to an external entity.  Monitoring advisory Committees are mandatory for projects and this committee includes representatives from the company, wildlife groups, aboriginal groups, regulators, etc. The membership to this committee is pretty flexible. If a group has significant reasons and wants to be a part of the monitoring committee, it can do so. This committee monitors environmental management plans and also guides the company in this process.The issue is about making the companies and government accountable to the society.

There has been a flood of eflows methodologies, Which one would you describe as the state of art methodology at this moment?

ELOHA is robust and well developed for this moment, but there is no one size fits all method, the assessment method depends on the data, time and resources available. The main point is that even eflows entail consensus generation and equitable sharing of resources and here too, the community should be playing a main role.

When the dam building pressures are too high, there is little point in hurrying through studies. In extreme cases, it is wise to put a moratorium on on-going development, try and fathom what we have lost and will be losing, look at the environmental and social consequences of this loss and then decide on the way forward. These things cannot be hurried into.

At places like Columbia River systems, we realize that we have changed the entire river basin, but the mitigation measures have been developed, put in place and are working. So, that’s good. But in other places, we realize that the social, ecological and even economic costs we are paying for developing dams are just not worth the costs. In those cases, we need to bring them down. This has happened too.

Interviewed by Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

(The trip was possible due to generous support from Both ENDS)


[1] Text book definition of ROR: ““Run-of-river” refers to a mode of operation in which the hydro plant uses only the water that is available in the natural flow of the river, “Run-of-river” implies that there is no water storage and that power fluctuates with the stream flow.”

NOTE: Contrast this with the Indian Bureau of Standards definition of ROR, which allows pondage for even weekly fluctuations of demands and then claiming that this “does not alter the river course materially”. This is a blunder as that sort of pondage and resultant peaking hydrograph changes the downstream character of the river completely. even weekly storage and then peaking as ROR!

[2] The Turners Falls Project is currently operated with a minimum flow release that was not based on biological criteria or field study. Further, the project generates power in a peaking mode resulting in significant with-in day flow fluctuations between the minimum and project capacity on hourly or daily basis. The large and rapid changes in flow releases from hydropower dams are known to cause adverse effects on habitat and biota downstream of the project. Effects on spawning behavior could include suspension of spawning activity, poor fertilization, flushing of eggs into unsuitable habitat due to higher peaking discharges, eggs dropping out into unsuitable substrate and being covered by sediment deposition and/or eggs becoming stranded on de-watered shoal areas as peak flows subside.

CAG Report · Maharashtra

Clean chit by the Chitale SIT Report on Maha Irrigation Scam?

 Ye jo Public hai, Ye sab Jaanti hai!

The much debated SIT Committee Report headed by Dr. Madhavrao Chitale was finally tabled in the State Assembly on the last day of the Assembly in the evening on the 11th June 2014, reading it one gets a feeling of déjà vu. Following the uproar due to unprecedented dam scam in 2012, GOM constituted Special Investigation Team (SIT) on the last day of the promise, on 31 December 2012. Members of the Special Investigation Team (SIT), chaired by Dr. Madhavrao Chitale include AKD Jadhav, retd. IRS official and also the past Chairperson of MWRRA, Dr. Krishna Lavekar, Retd. Agriculture Commissioner, GOM and Dr. V. M Ranade, Retd. Secy, Command Area Development, WRD, GOM.

The committee report was submitted in March 2014, after some extensions and was kept under wraps for past three months by the government possibly keeping the Loksabha elections in mind. Not that it mattered as Congress and NCP fared terribly in Maharashtra, winning just 6 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, and the irrigation scam seems to have had a massive role in this. Now the government, especially NCP’s former and current water resources ministers Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare are claiming that they have got a clean chit from the report, keeping the State Assembly elections in mind.

These claims will not help the political parties. On the other hand, they are likely to harm their political prospects.

But first let us look at some basic aspects of the report. Does it really give a clean chit to the political parties? Is it above shortcomings? Will it play an important role in overhauling dam-centric water management in Maharashtra?

TORs of SIT The TORs of the SIT, laid down by the Water Resources Department of the GOM were as follows:

  1. Investigate irrigation potential created, actual irrigated area (pratyaksha sinchit kshetra) and water use for non-irrigation use. In the actual irrigated area, find the irrigated area by wells, farm ponds, water conservation department and water resource department
  2. To ascertain if the revised administrative approvals given to projects by Irrigation Development Corporations (IDCs) are according to the existing rules and regulations.
  3. Investigate the reasons for delay in completing projects
  4. Investigate reasons behind change in scope from original administrative approval and increase in cost due to change in scope
  5. Suggests measures to increase the usefulness of Lift Irrigation Schemes (LIS)
  6. Suggest ways for quality enhancement in WRD
  7. Suggest ways so that project is completed in said time span and costs
  8. Suggest measures to increase irrigated area
  9. If irregularity found in the inquiry, investigate it, fix responsibility and suggest suitable action

Are TORs inadequate? The Chairperson Dr. Chitale has reiterated over and over again, in face of requests and submissions from media, civil society, petitions filed in court (there are at this moment about 23 PILs (Public Interest Litigation) filed in Bombay High Court about irrigation projects between 2009-2013), that it was not a part of their mandate to look at the modus operandi of the corruption involved in the scam, in the process of calling tenders and accepting contracts. As per section 9.8 of  SIT report, issues it has NOT looked at include: Misuse of clause 38 in tenders for addition of component in the main tender without re tendering, Sanctioning mobilization advances without appropriate justification, Manipulating estimates for accepting tenders, inclusion of unjustified and unrelated additional expenses and Dam Designs made by contractors. The Committee says that these irregularities are outside their TORs but there is ‘scope for doubt’ and the “government would need to investigate into this separately within the legal boundaries.” This is not true and the SIT should have gone into these issues, particularly when it has found ‘scope for doubt’ in these issues because per se the TORs are broad enough to include these.

The committee also says that going into these would have been difficult due to absence of man power, resources and time at the committee’s disposal. However, looking at the centrality of these issues in the Dam Scam, due to which the committee was set up in the first place, and the respect Dr. Chitale garners in the WRD (Water Resources Dept) and political circles, it would not have been impossible to get the TORs modified if at all necessary and very easy to get additional resources. But there is no evidence of the committee asking anything in this regard, indicating that this was not even attempted by the committee.

Apart from that, the committee could have addressed many of these issues being in their TORs as corruption, political-influence and contractor-led processes have affected nearly all the aspects covered in the TORs. Not looking at these issues has resulted in a situation where Dr. Chitale says one of the main reasons for cost escalation of projects has been rise in market prices. Now consider this: costs of Kondane dam increased from Rs 57 crores to Rs 614 cores in just six months, and market prices had nothing to do with this. There are several such examples, where cost escalations, time increase, technical problems had nothing to do with the issues looked at by the committee. The  exclusion of political and corruption issues have affected the quality of conclusions and recommendations of the report.

The committee notes that it relaxed the TORs in accepting submissions from organizations and NGOs, keeping the bigger picture in mind. Strange to see that committee did not think of doing so in issues related to corruption and political links.


Some of the good conclusions:

  • Environmental and Forest Violations: The report says that there are 2 projects without EC (Environment Clearance) and 31 projects without FC (Forest Clearance) and which did not get FC for more than 5 years. Without clearance, work on some projects stopped midway or dragged on, resulting in a dead investment. If work was started only after permissions, these expenses could have been avoided and money instead could have been spent only on those projects with permissions. The SIT has recommended strict action against officials who floated tenders and issued work orders without these clearances, which is welcome.
  • It has also recommended action to be taken against officials responsible for starting working without acquisition of land for the project as well as canals. (9.3.2)
  • Initiating work without detailed design: Recommends action should be taken against the officials. (9.3.3)
  • Initiating work in the absence of finance: Committee recommends Strict action against IDC, Chief Auditor and Executive Director of the IDC (9.3.4.) which started work without requisite finances.
  • River plugging without creation of irrigation potential: There are around 23 projects where the river plugging (ghal bharni) was done but there was no irrigation potential created then or even two years later. Committee recommends strict action against officials.
  • Projects with serious faults, suspicious transactions: Committee recommends that projects with multiple flawed parameters should be checked by an independent committee and recommends action against Executive Director for the respective IDC. Such projects include: Ujani, Krishna Koyna LIS, Seena Medium Project, Bembla Project, Lower Painganga, Jigaon, Kurka Wadoda Project (TIDC), Sulawade, Bodhawad Praisar, Lower Tapi, Mukatinagar LIS, Manjra, Vishnupuri (Godavari Barrages), Brahmangaon LIS, Upper Godavari Project, Krishna Marathawada project
  • The committee also notes serious irregularities in the following projects: Dhamani (Kolhapur) Kukadi (Seena Tunnel), Jigaon (Buldana, Kondane (Thane) and Chanera (Thane) and recommends special attention and investigation into these projects.

But many conclusions are flawed, unacceptable and some are even illegal:

  • Irrigated area in the State: The report relies only on data collected by WRD. It also states that WRD collects seasonal field data. However, this is not true. The WRD currently has no system in place for admeasuring irrigated area. Irrigation Status Reports and Benchmarking reports are also not available for the past three years. Chitale Committees’ conclusions based on data from WRD are not reliable.
  • TOR 9: Investigation and fixing responsibility The committee holds the entire state machinery including the Planning and Finance Department for not providing enough checks and balances on the work of WRD and classifies most blunders as “systemic errors” (9.04). While fixing clear responsibilities of these sectors could have helped, sweeping generalizations and repeated conclusion of “systemic errors” ensure escape route to all offenders.
  • The punishments are classified into mild and strict punishments, but even strict punishment is limited to departmental inquiries. The committee has also taken the circuitous route of not naming the offenders, but alluding to their posts and duration. Even this is extremely vague. So while the committee refuses to look at most contentious issues, it also refuses to name offenders and also does not name political hand behind the decisions. It does not seem to be an investigation team in any way. Also, when fixing responsibility is a part of the TOR, the committee cannot shirk from the responsibility and state that it will not name offenders. This is a public issue and committee does not have the privilege of overriding the TORs for its idea of leniency.
  • The committee says that investigation into irregularities indicates that major driving force has been stress to reduce backlog, pressure from ‘local’ political leadership, centralized decision making in the IDCs and conscious ignorance of rules and social responsibility. This lenient generalization washes any responsibility from the political leadership of the state and the contractor-engineer nexus.
  • Section 10.9 of the report states that the blunders committed by decision makers were not intentional and were mostly ‘errors of judgment’.
  • MWRRA: Committee reports that 12 Projects are without MWRRA permission. Mild action is recommended against responsible Executive Director. (9.4) While the committee recommends action even against Finance and revenue departments, it does not mention any strict action against MWRRA, which, as pointed out by the CAG Report 13-14 cleared 189 projects during 2007-2013 though the State Water Resource Plan, based on which the projects were required to be cleared, was not prepared, violating the MWRRA Act (2005). Significantly, CAG mentions that: “Authority also failed to perform its role as a regulator as envisaged in the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority Act, 2005.”
  • On functioning of IDCs The report states that in 2004, at a meeting of the governing council and IDC members, it was decided that the rights of giving Revised Administrative Approval (RAA) will be given to the Chairperson (WRD Minister). Only a few members of the governing council were present for this meeting. The SIT notes that while the IDCs should have been going towards decentralization, this was a regressive step towards centralization and concentration of power and authority, however, the committee does not suggest ANY action against the Chairman!
  • As per a 2003 GR (Government Resolution) regarding Krishna, Godavari and Vidarbha IDC, all rights to provide RAA were given to the Chairperson and Executive Director by the Governing Council of the IDCs, thus concentrating power (and also scope of corruption related to RAA hikes).
  • CAG Report (2013-14) says regular monthly meetings of the Governing Council of IDCs were not held, in violation of Maharashtra Irrigation Development Corporation Acts. The Chairman (WRD Minister) is directly responsible for this. But the SIT Report does not mention this!

Action Suggested with respect to Specific Projects:

GoseKhurd: There should be action against respective officials who did not visit the canal works due to which concretization was to be done again. The SIT does not suggest any departmental inquiry or anything new other than the recommendations of the Mendhegiri committee report.

Barrages on Godavari: Several question marks have been raised about these projects, their utility and safety. Kulkarni Committee appointed to look into irregularities has come up with strong measures against defaulting officials. But rather than upholding Kulkarni Committee’s recommendations, the SIT asks for constituting one more committee to look into the irregularities!

Illegal suggestion of SIT Shockingly the committee says: (Page 210) for Human Project Forest and Forest Clearance was incorporated in project tender and recommends “it would have been good if a separate tender was issued for this” This is very disturbing. The entire process of Forest Clearance happens through the State Government Forest Department and there is NO role for any other agent here. Any such role indicates violation of the Forest Conservation Act, and SIT recommends precisely such a violation!

Similarly, Environmental Appraisal is supposed to be an unbiased process looking at the social and environmental impact of projects. There is again no scope for tendering here. The SIT’s recommendations in this regard are illegal.


After pursuing the 600 pager main report and its 32 pager Executive summary made by WRD[1], and keeping in mind all the other available information, one is left with little doubt that Chitale Committee has not only refused to unravel the truth, but has tried to protect political parties.

The unprecedented Dam scam in Maharashtra highlighted massive corruption in tendering process, a collusion of politicians contractors, engineers and bureaucrats, shockingly poor quality of work endangering lives of people in the downstream, a huge number of incomplete projects, nonexistent increase in irrigated area, etc. Some of the main whistle blowers of this scam included Anjali Damaniya of erstwhile IAC, organisations like Shramik Mukti Sangathana and SANDRP and most notable, Vijay Pandhare,  who was then the serving Chief Engieer of META, WRD. Mr. Pandhare’s letters to Chief Minister, WRD Officials, his engagement with the media etc., was remarkable and helped people of Maharashtra in understanding the scope and impact of the scam. In the past too, reports from forthright officials like Kulkarni, Vadnere and Upase had exposes parts of the scam and raised public awareness. This is apart from the systemic problems of dam-based water management in Maharashtra on which many individuals and organisations like Lokabhimukh Pani Dhoran Manch, NAPM, etc have been working for many years.

Considering this, people of Maharashtra are not going to look kindly upon any vague report that gives escape route to corrupt politicians, engineers and bureaucrats, without seizing the opportunity available to it. Unfortunately Chitale Committee Report (referred to as Chitale report) does just that. 

In fact, in the minds of people of Maharashtra who have followed this scam and listened to people in power insulting the plight of the common man in the absence of water (like Ajit Pawar’s remark about urinating in the dry dams or cutting water supply of villages that do not vote for NCP),  the report has seriously discredited Dr.  Madhavrao Chitale and the team of past bureaucrats themselves for:

  • not being clear and forthright about the main causes of the problems,
  • basing their data on the same WRD which has proved to be incorrect,
  • not seizing the historic opportunity available which could have altered the course of the Maharashtra irrigation through exemplary recommended actions,
  • not questioning the merits of mega irrigation projects which have been eating into Maharashtra’s public expenditure, concentrating water and power, impacting communities and ecosystems without benefits,
  •  being shockingly protective of the political class that was at the driving seat of this scam at public expense, by ignoring proofs against political leaders and parties even when it was available to the committee,
  • by maintaining escape routes in the report through which political leaders can escape
  • mollycoddling most of the issues as ‘systemic failures’ when it was their responsibility to fix precise responsibility and there were specific known culprits and institutions,
  • making some suggestions which are in fact illegal.

The committee shows how protective it is of the status quo in irrigation department when it talks of possible negative impact of exemplary punishments (and even departmental inquiries!) on the morale of WRD officials and says that irregularities other than financial ones are due to systemic failures and a large scale investigation into these will affect the morale of the officials. What will really affect the morale of good officials in WRD is NOT fixing responsibility on the guilty, thus maintaining a poor public image of the entire department, while putting the burden of political decisions exclusively on WRD officials. This will foster the feeling that no one can touch the political class and hence, officials better toe the line. This is sending a completely wrong signal.

All Political Parties in it together: While members of BJP are saying that the SIT Report indicts some leaders like Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatakare, these parties too are not stating upfront that there are serious flaws in the report & the projects, processes and systems the report was supposed to investigate and that neither the report, nor the flawed projects can be accepted. Neither do they raise the basic questions of the merits or lack of merits of having hundreds of irrigation projects without benefits at such huge expenses, and mostly unassessed social and environmental costs.

Nor do they talk about the real changes needed with the Water Resource Department, MWRRA (Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority), IDCs (Irrigation Development Corporations like the Konkan, Tapi, Kirshna Valley & Godavari basin) and related government machinery, to make them accountable, transparent and participatory.

The reasons for this are clear. The opposition parties are not untouched in this scam. Right now, they want to score political brownie points through the chaos while not aiming for any lasting changes or suggesting measures in the interest of people of Maharashtra. It should also be remembered that many of the current 600+ on-going irrigation projects under investigation were initiated at the time of Shiv Sena- BJP rule in the state.

The report protects political parties: While it has been shown by several reports, individuals and organisations that many decisions affecting projects were driven by financial and political interests, the report does not utter a word about political influence on WRD officials.

It should also be remembered Dr. Chitale, through his various roles as Chairman of Maharashtra Irrigation Commission, Secretary Water Resources for Government of Maharashtra & India, Secretary General of International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, Chairperson of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of River Valley and Hydropower Projects MoEF[2] has been entirely pro dam in his approach. He has never questioned the basic need and merits of large dams, despite their poor performance, multiple safety issues, environmental and social impacts, hazy and unattained benefits, etc. His pro-dam attitude is very convenient for and coincides with government of Maharashtra’s push for large dam agenda: pushing dams at each and every possible location, without a thought about their performance and impacts. As a result, as pointed out by CAG report 2013, in June 2013, WRD has as many as 601 projects under execution with estimated balance cost of Rs 82,609.64 crore which is nine times the capital grant of the Water Resources Department for the year 2012-13.But the Chitale Committee Report does not say a word about  this.

The report protects the Central Government In sanctioning, monitoring and financing irrigation projects in Maharashtra, there is a huge role for several arms of the Central Government, including Union Ministry of Water Resources, Central Water Commission, Planning Commission and Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. Thousands of crores of money comes from the Center to this state each year. The scam could go on unhindered also due to the failure of these agencies. For example, large irrigation projects are funded through Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme that is supposed to be monitored by CWC and Planning Commission. The Planning Commission is supposed to release first installment only after projects have all the clearances and every next installment only after previous installment has been used as per required norms and necessary results achieved. The SIT should have looked into the role of these agencies and their failures, but by not doing so, SIT has again favoured status quo and protected these bodies.

Dr Chitale, Ignorance of law is not a valid legal defense In the most crucial section of the report, dealing with fixing responsibility in grating Revised Administrative Approvals (RAAs), the report says that the Irrigation Development Corporation (IDC) does not have the right to sanction RAA and the Managing Director and CAFO (Audit and Finance Officer) of the IDC did not bring this to the notice of the IDC and hence the responsibility lies with them. In addition it says that: “Permission of Finance Department is needed for issuing RAA and it seems improbable that the GOM does not know this. This clearly implies that although the committee knows that Chairperson of the IDC knows this, being a part of the GOM, it is not ready to say so, shifting the responsibility on the officials.

In the very next point on action suggested, however, the report says: “In cases where expense made exceed approval, the Executive Director of IDC did not have power to grant RAA. CAFO and Executive Director of IDC are responsible for not bringing this fact to the attention of the Governing Council. If they had brought this to the notice of the governing council of the IDCthen responsibility comes to members and Chairperson. GOM should take appropriate decision in this regard.”

This is the only place where the SIT mentions the Chairperson of the IDC (Water Resources Minister) in the entire report!

This is possibly the most dishonest part of the report. The committee implies that WRD Minister of the State not knowing the norms of WRD is fine, and the responsibility for minister’s ignorance should lie with the officials. But, ignorance of laws and orders is not an excuse for violating laws. It is clear that SIT should have firmly indicted the WRD Ministers and recommended strong action against them. The SIT has done nothing of this sort and has transferred the responsibility on the WRD officials, also keeping a clever escape route for the politicians. Sunil Tatkare is already exploiting this escape route. (Interview)

This is shocking, blatant and unacceptable.

RECOMMENDATIONS OF SIT The Chitale Committee has made following recommendations, translated by SANDRP from original Marathi:

1. Through Remote Sensing (RS) find the actual siltation of major, medium and some minor projects

2. Cities and industries should treat their sewage and effluents to 100% level to reduce non-irrigation water demand

3. Water charges should be levied on wells in command which have not been handed over to WUAs

4. Performance evaluation of minor irrigation projects and recommendations for betterment

5. In cases where perennial crops like sugarcane are taken on major projects and canals their area should ascertained by RS and water charges levied accordingly.

6. Revenue and Agriculture Department is causing extreme delay in collating irrigated area. This needs to be looked into urgently.

7. In depth assessment of why water use is less in Konkan, Amravati and Marathwada and undertake works accordingly

8. Study through MERI: why has carrying capacity of canals decreased?

9. Do not declare irrigation potential created unless distribution systems are in place and ascertained

10. Proper account of irrigated area should be kept with the Agriculture Commissioner

11. Any fraudulent use of non-irrigation water should be checked and detailed audit published every year

12. Methods of collecting data for Economic Survey Report should be improved.

13. Data in benchmarking report should be collated at project level and not Division level as it is done now.

14. The actual cost of projects (original cost + escalation) should be considered as Administrative Approval cost and if cost of the project exceeds 12% of this only then it should be considered for Revised Administrative Approval (RAA) according to CWC guidelines

15. In RAA while finding the benefit ratio, the expenses should be modified as per the escalation

16. WRD needs to have its own code of conduct and rulebook

17. LIS Projects should have a separate rate list, separate from the contractor

18. The WRD should publish escalation rates based on rates every year

19. Construction work should be audited at various stages.

20. After the project construction has been completed, the project should be handed to the management division, WUAs, distributaries work should be done asap (As soon as possible)

21. Some period before and after the project should be designated as project related time

22. Before clearing any further LIS, it should be checked whether it has complete financial support and its electricity expenses should also be considered

23. Separate maintenance fund for pumps, rising mains and other LIS equipment should be considered

24. Rather than giving water to PA’s through LIS, smaller WUAs should be formed and water should be given through smaller LIS

25. Manual for LIS needs to be developed which includes all aspects of LIS management, implementation and command area development

26. Quality control parameters for WRD Department are now out of date and new ones should be developed

27. Damaged and dysfunctional equipment on states dams should be immediately made functional and it should be seen if any changes in these are needed

28. A committee should be formed under MERI to implement and manage the recommendation of the Dam Safety Organization

29. Special training session on Colgrout masonry should be organized by META and only the certified employees should be used for overlooking related works.

30. Proper management of projects as per methods like PERT or CPM should be undertaken at Project formulation stage. Activity time considered should be from the start of initial work to the initiation of irrigation from the project

31. Limits of the five year plan should also be laid on project

32. Work on large projects needs to be broken down in smaller pieces and projects with irrigation potential higher than 1 lakh ha should be termed as Mega projects.

33. Investment made for non-irrigation use should be clearly indicated as such

34. Irrigation potential of the project should be adjusted as per the water used for non-irrigation uses.  Requisite area should be reduced from irrigation potential of the project. Not doing so bloats the irrigation potential created.

35. A separate cell should be set up for coordinating mandatory clearances in IDCs (Irrigation Development Corporations)

36. Help should be taken from Social scientists, NGOS etc in rehabilitation, water distribution and WUA formation

37. Completion report of the project should be prepared in which the responsible officer writes the history of the project and looks at future. A separate cell for this need to be created

38. Separate set up for Project related survey and this should have responsibility of awareness creation in beneficiaries.

39. All IDCS should have separate rules as they have separate regional needs.

40. To achieve the scope and participation of IDCS, noted non-government representatives heading financial institutions/ orgnaistiaons, MLAs and MPs etc should be deputed. There should be a quorum for IDC decision making meetings.

41. Steps should be taken to make IDCs self-sufficient through things like fisheries sale, water charges for HEPs, the water charges should be deposited with the IDCs. This will encourage the IDCs

42. High tech and region specific irrigation methods should be used like drip, sprinkles, piped supply, cropping pattern and volumetric water supply norms.

Suggestions Offered: Can they improve the current situation? While some suggestions of the SIT are indeed good, they still continue with the same status quo,  doing tinkering here and there.  When there was a need for substantive increase in transparency, accountability, independent oversight and participation in WRD, the suggestions largely remain at the superficial level. They follow the same system that was so easily manipulated by the officials as well as politicians, while blacking out the affected communities as well as local stakeholders from the decision making processes.

As it was pointed out by several groups (Example: Manch, NAPM, SANDRP, experts like Pradeep Purandare) at the time of appointing the committee, there were several fundamental flaws in the appointment of the members, the TORs of the Committees, the powers it had to take any meaningful action against the guilty. It was clear from the outset, and also vindicated by the report that the SIT committee Report under Dr. Chitale mainly protects the political masters.

However, after witnessing and sometimes even bearing the burden of the irrigation scam and political interference in water management,the people of Maharashtra know how deep the roots of this scam go. They also understand that any report which the political parties use as an escape route is not credible. To that effect, the SIT Committee Report under the chairpersonship of Dr. Chitale will not help the political parties. Ye jo Public hai, ye sab jaanti hai…

Parineeta Dandekar (


[1] Exe Summary by WRD and not the SIT committee. Strangely committee report does not have an executive summary

[2] The EAC under the chairpersonship of Dr. Chitale gave environmental clearance to 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project in Arunachal in 2002, which has been stalled for more than 2 years now for the want of comprehensive studies. When the EAC sanctioned the project, it was designed to release 6 cumec water for nearly 20 hours and suddenly 2000 cumeces for 2-4 hours to generate electricity, which would have disastrous impacts on downstream Assam. The environmental clearance and approval to this project caused a huge uproar and protests in downstream Assam and these are still continuing.