Wetlands

Wetlands Review 2019: East & North East India

ODISHA

HC asked govt to start demolishing illegal prawn gheries in wetlands In a remarkable order the Odisha High Court on Jan. 21, 2019 directed the govt to start the demolition process of illegal prawn farms in Bhitarkanika National Park and the Chilika Lake under the supervision of the committee formed for the purpose. The high court has set March 18 as the date for taking stock of the work. It has also directed the govt to lodge criminal proceedings against the offenders.

The Supreme Court had on April 3, 2017, asked the chief justice of high courts in 15 states to take up the issue of conservation of important wetlands. Of the 26 major wetlands in 15 states, two are in Odisha. The high court had taken up the issue by suo motu registering a PIL in Sept 2017 for restoration of two wetlands – Bhitarkanika in Kendrapada district and the Chilika Lake, encompassing areas in Puri, Ganjam and Khurda districts.

Continue reading “Wetlands Review 2019: East & North East India”

DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 15 April 2019: Bundelkhand villages demand ponds for votes, not Ken Betwa Link

A pond dug a few years ago in Jignanda village of Hamirpur district still holds plenty of water despite scanty rainfall (Photo by Soumya Sarkar)

In a remarkable campaign during the ongoing general elections, Bundelkhand villages have demanded PONDs for Votes. This is exactly what is required for Bundelkhand, and not the destructive, costly and contractor driven Ken Betwa link that BJP has been trying to push here. Congratulations to the Bundelkhand people and People’s Science Institute that has led this campaign.

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 15 April 2019: Bundelkhand villages demand ponds for votes, not Ken Betwa Link”

Drought

Can floods lead to drought? After the flood, severe drought looming over Kerala

Guest blog by: Madhusoodhanan C.G. and Sreeja K.G

The state of Kerala experienced extreme precipitation events during the 2018 South West monsoon period with multiple episodes culminating in devastating floods across the state during 14th-18th August 2018. This year, with an early onset of monsoons that dovetailed with strong summer showers, the state received about 41% excess rainfall (2394 mm against the normal of 1700 mm) during the period June 1st to August 22nd [1]. Almost all of its reservoirs were near full storage by mid-July.

The heavy downpour and the uncontrolled opening of the spillway gates of almost all reservoirs that inundated huge stretches of river banks and floodplains, along with massive landslides across the Western Ghats affected more than 1.5 million people, with close to 500 human casualties, immense losses to property, livelihoods and resource security apart from the extensive damage to forests, wildlife and biodiversity. Maximum destruction was observed along the rivers of Periyar, Chalakudy and Pamba, all having multiple dams on their tributaries. The debate is still on as to the various reasons, both manmade and natural, behind the floods and the resultant wide-ranging casualties [2,3,4,5,6]. Meanwhile things have taken a rather unexpected turn in the flood ravaged state.

Continue reading “Can floods lead to drought? After the flood, severe drought looming over Kerala”

Dams, Rivers & People

DRP News Bulletin 30 July 2018: Laos Dam DISASTER: Yet Another Wake Up Call?

The various aspects of tragic Dam Disaster in Mekong Basin in Laos are still unfolding. But it is clear from many accounts that it was an avoidable, man-made disaster due to neglect of contractors, decision makers, consultants and supervising agencies. There is a lot we can learn from this if we want to avoid such disasters in India. We still do not have credible Dam Safety Law or institution, CWC is clearly not the right agency considering the conflict of interest with the various other roles of CWC. But for now let us look at the reports of Laos Dam Disaster.

Reminding the world of one of the worst dam disasters, the under construction dam Xepian Xe Nam Noy Hydro power project breached releasing 5 billion cubic metres of water in Southern Laos on July 23.

The gushing water current swept the surrounding leading to death of about 26 people and displacing about 6600 residents. As per report hundreds of people are still missing from neighbouring villages of Yai Thae, Hinlad, Mai, Thasengchan, Tha Hin, and Samong, which bore the brunt of flooding. The deluge has reportedly destroyed thousands of homes.

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 30 July 2018: Laos Dam DISASTER: Yet Another Wake Up Call?”

Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 20 November 2017 (GLOBAL SLOW DOWN IN HYDRO POWER PROJECTS)

It is getting increasingly clear that days of large hydro power projects are coming to an end. While in India large numbers of big hydro power projects are stalled, this week there was news from Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and rest of North East India of cancellation or stoppage of hydro power projects. http://www.sentinelassam.com/story/main-news/0/subansiri-project-not-to-see-light-for-4-years/2017-11-12/1/325720#.WgpysVuCzIV

https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2017/11/19/meghalaya-govt-cancels-power-project-pacts-with-pvt-firms/

https://www.kashmirmonitor.in/Details/136960/government-fails-to-make-mohra-power-house-operational

Pancheshwar project on India Nepal border continues to face opposition. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/traders-oppose-pancheshwar-dam/articleshow/61705308.cms  

Nepal this week cancelled the agreement for 1200 MW Budhi Gandaki hydropower project. In Bhutan, the Prime Minister declared that they are in no hurry to go ahead with new hydropower projects. http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2017-11-13/govt-scraps-budhigandaki-project-with-chinese-company.html  

In Pakistan, the agreement for the massive 4500 MW Diamer Bhasha hydropower company with China has fallen through. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/chinas-strict-conditions-force-pakistan-not-to-include-diamer-bhasha-dam-in-cpec-officials/articleshow/61660935.cms

In Mynmar, too the agreement with China for massive hydropower project stands cancelled. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-myanmar-energy/china-says-will-keep-talking-to-myanmar-over-stalled-dam-scheme-idUSKBN1D80X4?il=0

This is further reinforced by study by Dr. Luke Gibson, Honorary Assistant Professor of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, which concludes that among so called green energy sources, hydropower is most dangerous. https://phys.org/news/2017-10-green-energy-hydropower-dangerous.html#jCp

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 20 November 2017 (GLOBAL SLOW DOWN IN HYDRO POWER PROJECTS)”

Dams

Living Planet Report, 2016: Rivers, Wetlands, Fresh Water Species Face the Greatest Threat

According to just released Living Planet Report 2016, the loss of habitat is prime reason behind declining of wildlife species found in and around wetlands, rivers and lakes due to increasing fragmentation, pollution and destruction of these ecosystems. Data in report also underlines that the global water crisis is real and water requirements worldwide will go up by 40 per cent by 2030.

The report emphasizes habitats based on rivers, wetlands and lakes command high economic, cultural, aesthetic, recreational and educational value. At the same time, these habitats are challenging to conserve because they are strongly affected by the modification of their river basins as well as by direct impacts from dams, pollution, invasive aquatic species and unsustainable water extractions.

Further, fresh water based habitats often are beyond administrative and political boundaries; warranting the extra effort for collaborative forms of protection. The report refers to several studies which have found that species living in freshwater habitats are faring worse than terrestrial species.

The report notes that Brazil, Russia, India, China and the United States (a different BRICS) account for nearly half of the planet’s total bio-capacity. These few countries function as global bio-capacity hubs as they are among the primary exporters of resources to the other countries. This results in great pressure on ecosystems in these countries, contributing to habitat loss.

This account summarizes the key findings of the report in context of threats and impacts over fresh water sources and species. 

Continue reading “Living Planet Report, 2016: Rivers, Wetlands, Fresh Water Species Face the Greatest Threat”

Dams

Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin (April-May 2015)

HYDROPOWER

“Right now, hydel is almost stalled”: Piyush Goyal (18 May 2015)

Union Power Minister makes some candid comments on Hydro: “Right now, hydel is almost stalled. We have Teesta stuck for various reasons. Subansiri, Maheshwar, Lower Subansiri, all of them have different challenges. Small hydros are facing challenges of transmission, they are facing challenges of local area problems. So, by and by, the hydro sector will need a more holistic thinking. The courts have also taken up certain matters, particularly in Uttarakhand, post the tragedy (of floods in 2013). There is the mission of Ganga to ensure that there is a reasonable flow—Aviral Ganga, which we are committed to. We are working on all of these plans… For example, Subansiri had an issue where the local population had concerns. We immediately got an eight-member very, very high-level expert committee, including Central Water Commission, Central Electricity Authority, and experts from Assam. They are all working together to see the environmental impact, structural impact, riparian state impact and riverbed impact.

http://www.livemint.com/Industry/9HtQbGUG0v4rYIczIT21hJ/Time-is-now-ripe-for-a-power-fund-says-Piyush-Goyal.html Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin (April-May 2015)”

Arunachal Pradesh · Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Hydropower

Subansiri Basin Study – Another Chapter of Environment Subversion in Northeast

The Study The study has been done by IRG Systems South Asia Private Limited (http://www.irgssa.com/, a subsidiary of US based IRG Systems) and http://www.eqmsindia.com/[i]. It is supposed to be a Cumulative Impact Assessment of 19 HEPs planned in the basin, out of which PFRs of 7 are available, DPR of two, and one of which, the 2000 MW Subansiri Lower HEP is under construction.

Subversion of Environment Governance in the Subansiri basin While looking at this basin study, the subversion of environment governance in Subansiri basin this very millennia should be kept in mind. A glimpse of it is provided in Annexure 1. In fact, one of the key conditions of environmental clearance to the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri HEP was that no more projects will be taken up in the basin upstream of the Lower Subansiri HEP, which essentially would mean no more projects in the basin, since LSHEP is close to the confluence of the Subansiri River with Brahmaputra River. That condition was also part of the Supreme Court order in 2004. The need for a carrying capacity study was also stressed in the National Board of Wild Life discussions. We still do not have one. In a sense, the Subansiri basin is seeing the consequences of that subversion.

Map of Subansiri RIver Basin  Source: https://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Subansiri_River_Basin.pdf
Map of Subansiri RIver Basin
Source: https://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Subansiri_River_Basin.pdf

Information in public domain not known to consultants The report does not even state that Middle Subansiri dam have also been recommended TOR in 41st EAC meeting in Sept 2010. This project will require 3180 ha of land, including 1333 Ha forest land, and 2867 ha area under submergence. Even about Upper Subansiri, the consultants do not know the area of forest land required (2170 ha). So the consultants have not used even the information available in public domain in EAC meetings.

Study based on flawed and incomplete Lohit Basin Study The Study claims that it is based on Lohit Basin Study done by WAPCOS. Lohit Basin Study is an extremely flawed attempt and does not assess cumulative impacts of the cascade projects. Civil society has written about this to the EAC and the EAC itself has considered the study twice (53rd and 65th EAC Meetings), and has not accepted the study, but has raised several doubts. Any study based on a flawed model like Lohit Basin Study should not be acceptable.

A house in the upstream of Subansiri River  Source: http://cooperfreeman.blogspot.in/2012/12/the-wild-east-epic.html
A house in the upstream of Subansiri River
Source: http://cooperfreeman.blogspot.in/2012/12/the-wild-east-epic.html

No mention of Social impacts Major limitation of the study has been absolutely no discussion on the severe social impacts due to cumulative forest felling, flux of population, submergence, livelihoods like riparian farming and fishing, etc. Though this has been pointed out by the TAC in its meeting and field visit, the report does not reflect this.

Some key Impacts Some of the impacts highlighted by the study based on incomplete information about HEPs are:

Þ    The length of the river Subansiri is 375 km up to its outfall in the Brahamaputra River. Approximately 212.51 km total length of Subansiri will be affected due to only 8 of the proposed 19 HEPs in Subansiri River basin.

Þ    Total area brought under submergence for dam and other project requirements is approx. 10, 032 ha of eight proposed HEPs. The extent of loss of forest in rest of the 9 projects is not available.

Þ    62 species belonging to Mammals (out of 105 reported species), 50 Aves (out of 175 reported species) and 2 amphibians (out of 6 reported species) in Subansiri Basin are listed in Schedules of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (as amended till date).

Þ    99 species belonging to Mammals (out of 105 reported species), 57 species belonging to Aves (out of 175 reported species), 1 Reptilian (out of 19 reported species), 2 Amphibians (out of 6 reported species), 28 fishes (out of 32 reported species), 25 species belonging to Odonata of Insecta fauna group (out of 28 reported species) are reported to be assessed as per IUCN’s threatened categories.

Even this incomplete and partial list of impacts should give an idea of the massive impacts that are in store for the basin.

Cumulative impacts NOT ASSESSED Specifically, some of the cumulative impacts that the report has not assessed at all or not adequately include:

1. Cumulative impact of blasting of so many tunnels on various aspects as also blasting for other project components.

2. Cumulative impact of mining of various materials required for the projects (sand, boulders, coarse and fine granules, etc.)

3. Cumulative impact of muck dumping into rivers (the normal practice of project developers) and also of also muck dumping done properly, if at all.

Subansiri River in the Upper Reaches  Source: Lovely Arunachal
Subansiri River in the Upper Reaches
Source: Lovely Arunachal

4. Changes in sedimentation at various points within project, at various points within a day, season, year, over the years and cumulatively across the basin and impacts thereof.

5. Cumulative impact on aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna across the basin due to all the proposed projects.

6. Cumulative impact of the projects on disaster potential in the river basin, due to construction and also operation at various stages, say on landslides, flash floods, etc.

7. Cumulative dam safety issue due to cascade of projects.

8. Cumulative change in flood characteristics of the river due to so many projects.

9. Cumulative impacts due to peaking power generation due to so many projects.

10. Cumulative sociological impact of so many projects on local communities and society.

11. Cumulative impact on hydrological flows, at various points within project, at various points within a day, season, year, over the years and cumulatively across the basin and impacts thereof. This will include impacts on various hydrological elements including springs, tributaries, groundwater aquifers, etc. This will include accessing documents to see what the situation BEFORE project and would be after. The report has failed to do ALL THIS.

12. Impact of silt laden water into the river channel downstream from the dam, and how this gets accumulated across the non-monsoon months and what happens to it. This again needs to be assessed singly and cumulatively for all projects.

13. Impact of release of silt free water into the river downstream from the power house and impact thereof on the geo morphology, erosion, stability of structures etc, singly and cumulatively.

14. Impact on Green House Gas emissions, project wise and cumulatively. No attempt is made for this.

15. Impact of differential water flow downstream from power house in non-monsoon months, with sudden release of heavy flows during peaking/ power generation hours and no releases during other times.

16. Cumulative impact of all the project components (dam, tunnels, blasting, power house, muck dumping, mining, road building, township building, deforestation, transmission lines, etc.,) for a project and then adding for various projects. Same should also be done for the periods during construction, operation and decommissioning phases of the projects.

17. Cumulative impact of deforestation due to various projects.

18. Cumulative impact of non compliance of the environment norms, laws, Environment clearance and forest clearance conditions and environment management plans. Such an assessment should also have analysed the quality of EIA report done for the Subansiri Lower hydropower project.

Wrong, misleading statements in Report There are a very large number of wrong and misleading statements in the report. Below we have given some, along with comment on each of them, this list is only for illustrative purposes.

Sr No

Statement in CIA

Comment

1 “During the monsoon period there will be significant discharge in Brahmaputra River. The peaking discharge of these hydroelectric projects which are quite less in comparison to Brahmaputra discharge will hardly have any impact on Brahmaputra.” This is a misleading statement. It also needs to be assessed what will be the impact on specific stretches of Subansiri river. Secondly, the projects are not likely to operate in peaking mode in monsoon.
2 “However, some impact in form of flow regulation can be expected during the non-monsoon peaking from these projects.” This is not correct statement as the impact of non-monsoon peaking is likely to be of many different kinds, besides “flow regulation” as the document describes.
3 “Further, during the non-monsoon period the peaking discharge release of the projects in upper reaches of Subansiri basin will be utilized by the project at lower reaches of the basin and net peaking discharge from the lower most project of the basin in general will be the governing one for any impact study.” This is again wrong. What about the impact of such peaking on rivers between the projects?
4 “The construction of the proposed cascade development of HEPs in Subansiri basin will reduce water flow, especially during dry months, in the intervening stretch between the Head Race Tunnel (HRT) site and the discharge point of Tail Race Tunnel (TRT).” This statement seems to indicate that the consultants have poor knowledge or understanding of the functioning of the hydropower projects. HRT is not one location, it is a length. So it does not make sense to say “between HRT and the discharge point of TRT”.
5 “For mature fish, upstream migration would not be feasible. This is going to be the major adverse impact of the project. Therefore, provision of fish ladder can be made in the proposed dams.” This is simplistic statement without considering the height of the various dams (124 m high Nalo HEP dam, 237 m high Upper Subansiri HEP dam, 222 m high Middle Subansiri HEP dam), feasibility of fish ladders what can be optimum design, for which fish species, etc.
6 “…water release in lean season for fishes may be kept between 10-15% for migration and sustaining ecological functions except Hiya and Nyepin HEP. Therefore, it is suggested that the minimum 20% water flow in lean season may be maintained at Hiya and Nyepin HEP for fish migration.” This conclusion seems unfounded, the water release suggested is even lower than the minimum norms that EAC of MoEF follows.

Viability not assessed The report concludes: “The next steps include overall assessment of the impacts on account of hydropower development in the basin, which will be described in draft final report.”

One of the key objective of the Cumulative Impact assessment is to assess how many of the planned projects are viable considering the impacts, hydrology, geology, forests, biodiversity, carrying capacity and society. The consultants have not even applied their mind to key objective in this study. They seem to assume that all the proposed projects can and should come up and are all viable. It seems the consultant has not understood the basic objectives of CIA. The least the consultant could have said is that further projects should not be taken up for consideration till all the information is available and full and proper Cumulative impact assessment is done.

The consultants have also not looked at the need for free flowing stretches of rivers between the projects.

Section on Environmental Flows (Chapter 4 and 9): The section on Environmental flows is one of the weakest and most problematic sections of the report, despite the fact that the Executive summary talks about it as being one of the most crucial aspects.

The study does not use any globally accepted methodology for calculating eflows, but uses HEC RAS model, without any justification. The study has not been able to do even a literature review of methodologies of eflows used in India and concludes that “No information/criteria are available for India regarding requirement of minimum flow from various angles such as ecology, environment, human needs such as washing and bathing, fisheries etc.”

This is unacceptable as EAC itself has been recommending Building Block Methodology for calculating eflows which has been used (very faultily, but nonetheless) by basin studies even like Lohit, on which this study is supposedly based. EAC has also been following certain norms about E flow stipulations. CWC itself has said that minimum 20% flow is required in all seasons in all rivers. BK Chaturvedi committee has recently stipulated 50% e-flows in lean season and 30% in monsoon on daily changing basis.

The assumption of the study in its chapter on Environmental Flows that ‘most critical reach is till the time first tributary meets the river” is completely wrong. The study should concentrate at releasing optimum eflows from the barrage, without considering tributary contribution as an excuse.

First step of any robust eflows exercise is to set objectives. But the study does not even refer to this and generates huge tables for water depths, flow velocity, etc., for releases ranging from 10% lean season flow to 100% lean season flow.

After this extensive analysis without any objective setting, the study, without any justification (the justification for snow trout used is extremely flawed. Trouts migrate twice in a year and when they migrate in post monsoon months, the depth and velocity needed is much higher than the recommended 10% lean season flow) recommends “In view of the above-said modeling results, water release in lean season for fishes maybe kept between 10-15% for migration and sustaining ecological functions except Hiya and Nyepin HEP. Therefore, it is suggested that the minimum 20-25% water flow in lean season may be maintained at all HEP for fish migration and ecological balance.”

The study does not recommend any monsoon flows. Neither does it study impact of hydro peaking on downstream ecosystems.

Shockingly, the study does not even stick with this 20-25% lean season flow recommendation (20-25% of what? Average lean season flow? Three consecutive leanest months? The study does not explain this). In fact in Chapter 9 on Environmental Flows, the final recommendation is: “Therefore, it is suggested that the minimum 20-25% water flow in lean season may be maintained at Hiya and Nyepin  HEP or all other locations for fish migration.” (emphasis added)

So it is unclear if the study recommends 20-25% lean season flows or 10-15% lean season flows. This is a very flawed approach to a critical topic like eflows.

The study keeps mentioning ‘minimum flows’ nomenclature, which shows the flawed understanding of the consultants about e-flows.

The entire eflows section has to be reworked, objectives have to be set, methodology like Building Block Methodology has to be used with wide participation, including from Assam. Such exercises have been performed in the past and members of the current EAC like Dr. K.D. Joshi from CIFRI have been a part of this. In this case, EAC cannot accept flawed eflows studies like this. (DR. K D. Joshi has been a part of a study done by WWF to arrive at eflows through BBM methodology for Ganga in Allahabad during Kumbh: Environmental Flows for Kumbh 2013 at Triveni Sangam, Allahabad and has been a co author of this report)

Chocolate Mahseer in Subansiri  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8355947@N05/7501485268/
Chocolate Mahseer in Subansiri
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8355947@N05/7501485268/

Mockery of rich Subansiri Fisheries Subansiri has some of the richest riverine fisheries in India. The river has over 171 fish species, including some species new to science, and forms an important component of livelihood and nutritional security in the downstream stretches in Assam.

But the study makes a mockery of this saying that the livelihoods dependence on fisheries is negligible. The entire Chapter on Fisheries needs to be reworked to include impacts on fisheries in the downstream upto Majuli Islands in Assam at least.

No mention of National Aquatic Animal! Subansiri is one of the only tributaries of Brahmaputra with a resident population of the endangered Gangetic Dolphin, which is also the National aquatic animal of India (Baruah et al, 2012, Grave Danger for the Ganges Dolphin (Platanista ganegtica) in the Subansiri River due to large Hydroelectric Projecthttp://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10669-011-9375-0#).

Shockingly, the Basin Study does not even mention Gangetic Dolphin once in the entire study, let alone making recommendations to protect this specie!

Gangetic Dolphin is important not only from the ecological perspective, but also socio cultural perspective. Many fisher folk in Assam co-fish with the Gangetic River Dolphin. These intricate socio ecological links do not find any mention in the Basin study, which is unacceptable.

Agitation Against Lower Subansiri Dam in Assam Source: SANDRP
Agitation Against Lower Subansiri Dam in Assam
Source: SANDRP

Lessons from Lower Subansiri Project not learnt A massive agitation is ongoing in Assam against the under construction 2000 MW Subansiri Lower HEP. The people had to resort to this agitation since the Lower Subansiri HEP was going ahead without studying or resolving basic downstream, flood and safety issues. The work on the project has been stopped since December 2011, for 22 months now. In the meantime several committee have been set up, several changes in the project has been accepted. However, looking at this shoddy CIA, it seems no lessons have been learnt from this ongoing episode. This study does not even acknowledge the reality of this agitation and the issues that the agitation has thrown up. There is no reflection of the issues here in this study that is agitating the people who are stood up against the Lower Subansiri HEP. The same people will also face adverse impacts of the large number of additional projects planned in the Subansiri basin. If the issues raised by these agitating people are not resolved in credible way, the events now unfolding in Assam will continue to plague the other planned projects too.

Conclusion From the above it is clear that this is far from satisfactory report. The report has not done proper cumulative assessment on most aspects. It has not even used information available in public domain on a number of projects. It does not seem to the aware of the history of the environmental mis-governance in the SubansiriBasin as narrated in brief in Annexure 1. For most projects basic information is lacking. Considering the track record of Central Water Commission functioning as lobby FOR big dams, such a study should have never been given to CWC. One of the reasons the study was assigned by the EAC to the Central Water Commission was that the CWC is supposed to have expertise in hydrological issues, and also can take care of the interstate issues. However, the study has NOT been done by CWC, but by consultants hired by CWC, so CWC seems to have no role in this except hiring consultant. So the basic purpose of giving the study to CWC by EAC has not been served. Secondly the choice of consultants done by the CWC seems to be improper. Hence we have a shoddy piece of work. This study cannot be useful as CIA and it may be better for EAC to ask MoEF for a more appropriate body to do such a study. In any case, the current study is not of acceptable quality.

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (https://sandrp.in/https://sandrp.wordpress.com/)

ANNEXURE 1

Set Conditions to be waived Later – The MoEF way of Environmental Governance

In 2002, the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri hydroelectric project on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border came for approval to the Standing Committee of the Indian Board for Wildlife (now called the National Board for Wildlife) as a part of the Tale Valley Sanctuary in AP was getting submerged in the project. The total area to be impacted was 3,739.9 ha which also included notified reserved forests in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.  The Standing Committee observed that important wildlife habitats and species well beyond the Tale Valley Sanctuary, both in the upstream and downstream areas, would be affected (e.g. a crucial elephant corridor, Gangetic river dolphins) and that the Environmental Impact Assessment studies were of a very poor quality. However, despite serious objections raised by non-official members including Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary, Valmik Thapar, M.K. Ranjitsinh and the BNHS, the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) bulldozed the clearance through in a May 2003 meeting of the IBWL Standing Committee. Thus a project, which did not deserve to receive clearance, was pushed through with certain stringent conditions imposed (Neeraj Vagholikar, Sanctuary Asia, April 2009).

Lower Subansiri HEP Source: The Hindu
Lower Subansiri Dam
Source: The Hindu

The EC given to the project was challenged in Supreme Court (SC) by Dr L.M Nath, a former member of the Indian Board for Wildlife. Nath pleaded, these pristine rich and dense forests classified as tropical moist evergreen forest, are among the finest in the country. Further the surveys conducted by the Botanical Survey of India and the Zoological Survey of India were found to be extremely poor quality. The Application mentions that the Additional DG of Forests (Wildlife) was of the view that the survey reports of the BSI and ZSI reports were not acceptable to him because these organisations had merely spent five days in the field and produced a report of no significance.

The SC gave its final verdict on 19-4-2004, in which the Court upheld the EC given by MoEF to NHPC but with direction to fulfill some important conditions. Out these conditions there were two conditions which were very significant – “The Reserve Forest area that forms part of the catchment of the Lower Subansri including the reservoir should be declared as a National Park/ Sanctuary. NHPC will provide funds for the survey and demarcation of the same.”, and “There would be no construction of dam upstream of the Subansri River in future.” These conditions were also mentioned in the original EC given to the project in 2003.

In May 2005, two years after the EC was given the Arunachal Pradesh govt and NHPC approached the SC to waive or modify the above two conditions. The state government calimed that following these conditions would imply loss of opportunity to develop 16 mega dams in the upstream of Lower Subansiri (this including 1,600 MW Middle Subansiri and 2,000 MW Upper Subansiri to be developed by NHPC). The SC sent it back to National Board for Wildlife to review the conditions.

The petition was done strategically. “The strategy of the dam proponents is simple. They raised no objection to the terms until the construction of the Lower Subansiri project had proceeded beyond a point when it could have been cancelled. Armed with this fait accompli, they asked for a review of the clauses on the very basis on which the original clearance – laid down by members who were subsequently dropped from the wildlife board – was granted.”[ii]

Then nonofficial members of NBWL expressed their dissent to the proposal. In a May 2008 communication to the Chairman of the NBWL Standing Committee, member Dr. Bibhab Talukdar observed: “If the Standing Committee agrees to waive the conditions, we would be setting a dangerous precedent and sending a wrong signal regarding the credibility of decision-making by us. This would mean that projects impacting rich wildlife habitats can receive clearances based on stringent conditions, only to be up for review later. Such an approach is undesirable both from a perspective of good governance as well as the long-term interest of wildlife in the country.”

Dr. Asad Rahmani of the BNHS, who was part of a sub-committee of the NBWL Standing Committee conducting a site visit to the project area, stated in his report: “Under no circumstances should new projects be allowed in the Subansiri river basin until an advance cumulative assessment of proposed projects and a carrying capacity study of the Subansiri river basin are completed.”

In the December 12 2008 meeting of NBWL Standing Committee, even after these dissenting opinions from nonofficial members MoEF managed to do a dilution of the above two conditions. Assam that time was witnessing a major protest concerning the downstream impacts of Lower Subansiri HEP but it was not even consulted. Shockingly the “no dam upstream” condition was removed and it was decided that “any proposal in the upstream of the SubansiriRiver would be considered independently on its merit by the Standing Committee as and when submitted by the proponents”.

Now the Arunachal Pradesh government needs to declare a smaller area of 168 sq. km. as a sanctuary and “make serious efforts” to bring an additional 332 sq. km. reserved forest under the category of Conservation Reserve (CR) in consultation with the MoEF. The latter part of the condition (declaration of CR) is non-enforceable because of the choice of words. Even the demand to at least conduct an advanced cumulative impact assessment of proposed projects and a carrying capacity study of the Subansiri river basin has been ignored[iii].

As Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia says, “The Lower Subansiri is one such, where the PMO has placed a very dubious role in forcing clearances, agreeing to clearance conditions and then starting the project, only to loosen the environmental conditions. In this whole scam the Zoological Survey of India and the Botanical Survey of India have been co-conspirators that have suppressed the ecological value of the forests to facilitate the building of the dam, which will drown pristine elephant, tiger and clouded leopard forests and cause havoc downstream as well.”

The above sequence of events are very pertinent to remember as we see the Subansiri basin study.

END NOTES:


[i] Website says: “More than 200 successful environmental Impact Assessment Clearance from Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India for Industry, Infrastructure & Construction projects” Sounds strange from an EIA consultant.

[iii] For more details please see – “Forest Case Update”, Issue 1, June 2004 and “The Subansiri Subversion” by Neeraj Vagholikar published in Sanctuary Asia, April 2009 issue

Expert Appraisal Committee · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Reconstituted Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects: MoEF has neither environment sense, nor guts: Unacceptable Committee

Press Statement                                                                                             September 7, 2013

Reconstituted Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects:

MoEF has neither environment sense, nor guts: Unacceptable Committee

On Sept 5, 2013, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests came out with “Re-constitution of Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley & Hydro Electric Project” (see: http://envfor.nic.in/sites/default/files/EAC-Order-05092013.pdf). Mr Alok Perti, former Coal Secretary, has been made chairperson of the committee that appraises all major irrigation projects, dams, hydropower projects and river valley projects for Environment clearances at two stages (TOR and final). It is shocking to see that Mr Perti who has absolutely no environment credentials, who has been known to be anti environment, who has been accusing the environment ministry to be in road block of coal mining and who has shown his ignorance of environment issues on several occasions has been selected as chair person, putting aside basic environmental sense. This reconstituted EAC on RiverValley and Hydropower projects is completely unacceptable.

It is equally disturbing to see that the committee has no woman representation, no sociologist, no one from non-government organisations. All ten members are either from government, government organisations or government funded academic organisations. This means that none of them would be in a position to take a stand independent of the government stand. The committee also has no river expert, climate change-water expert or disaster management expert, all of which are crucially important issues for a committee like this that decides the fate of India’s rivers, even more so after the Uttarakhand disaster. P K Chaudhuri, one of the members of the new committee also has had nothing to do with rivers, water or environment. Hardip S Kingra, who was involved in Commonwealth games organisation and also chairman of National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation has had no work related to rivers or environment.

Specifically, Mr Alok Perti, who has been senior functionary, including secretary of currently controversial Coal Ministry from Oct 2009 to earlier this year and before Oct 2009 in ministries like defense and family welfare, clearly has had no background on environment or rivers. As coal secretary, he had accused MoEF for stalling the growth by not giving clearances to coal mining projects automatically. The Economic Times quoted Perti as saying in a report[1]: “India has to decide whether she wants electricity or tigers.” Such simplistic statements reflect he has absolutely no understanding of environment, biodiversity, leave aside rivers. Perti’s anti civil society stance was also exposed when he refused to discuss issues with activists and asked them to go and file RTIs[2]. These are only a couple of examples we are giving here, there are many others. By appointing such a person as chairman of the EAC on RVP, the MoEF has shown it has no guts or interest in protecting the environment or forests which is supposed to be its mandate. This committee is clearly unacceptable and will also not stand legal scrutiny.

Ritwick Dutta (ritwickdutta@gmail.com, 09810044660, ERC and LIEF, Delhi)

Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com, 09860030742, SANDRP, Pune)

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com), 09968242798, SANDRP, Delhi)

Manoj Mishra (yamunajiye@gmail.com, 09910153601, YJA, Delhi)


[2] http://environmentaljusticetv.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/greenpeace-india-protest-at-the-coal-ministry/

FOLLOWING LETTER HAS BEEN SENT ON SEPT 9, 2013:

9 Sept 2013

To,

Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan,

Union Minister of State (IC) of Environment and Forests,

Paryavaran Bhawan, Lodhi Road, New Delhi, jayanthi.n@sansad.nic.in

 

Dr V Rajagopalan,

Secretary,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, vrg.iyer@nic.in

 

Maninder Singh

Joint Secretary,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, jsicmoef@nic.in

 

Mr. B. B. Barman

Director (IA) River Valley Projects,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, bidhu-mef@nic.in

 

Subject: Urgent concerns about reconstituted Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Proejcts

 

Respected madam and sirs,

 

On Sept 5, 2013, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests came out with “Re-constitution of Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley & Hydro Electric Project” (see: http://envfor.nic.in/sites/default/files/EAC-Order-05092013.pdf). Mr Alok Perti, former Coal Secretary, has been made chairperson of the committee that appraises all major irrigation projects, dams, hydropower projects and river valley projects for Environment clearances at two stages (TOR and final). It is shocking to see that Mr Perti who has absolutely no environment credentials, who has been known to be anti environment, who has been accusing the environment ministry to be in road block of coal mining and who has shown his ignorance of environment issues on several occasions has been selected as chair person, putting aside basic environmental sense. This reconstituted EAC on River Valley and Hydropower projects is completely unacceptable.

 

It is equally disturbing to see that the committee has no woman representation, no sociologist, no one from non-government organisations. All ten members are either from government, or from government organisations or government funded academic organisations. This means that none of them would be in a position to take a stand independent of the government stand. The committee also has no river expert, climate change-water expert or disaster management expert, all of which are crucially important issues for a committee like this that decides the fate of India’s rivers, even more so after the Uttarakhand disaster. P K Chaudhuri, one of the members of the new committee also has done no work with rivers, water or environment, going by his CV. Hardip S Kingra, who was involved in Commonwealth games organisation and also chairman of National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation has had no work related to rivers or environment.

 

Specifically, Mr Alok Perti, who has been senior functionary, including secretary of currently controversial Coal Ministry from Oct 2009 to early 2013 and before Oct 2009 he has been in ministries like defense and family welfare, clearly has had no background on environment or rivers. As coal secretary, he had accused MoEF for stalling the growth by not giving clearances to coal mining projects automatically. The Economic Times quoted Perti as saying in a report[1]: “India has to decide whether she wants electricity or tigers.” Such simplistic statements reflect he has absolutely no understanding of environment, biodiversity, leave aside rivers. Perti’s anti civil society stance was also exposed when he refused to discuss issues with activists and asked them to go and file RTIs[2]. By appointing such a person as chairman of the EAC on RVP, the MoEF has shown it has no interest in protecting the environment or forests which is supposed to be its mandate. This committee is clearly unacceptable and will also not stand legal scrutiny.

 

Under the circumstances, we demand that:

1. The notification (No. J-12011/EAC /2010-IA-I dated Sept 5, 2013) of reconstitution of the EAC be cancelled;

2. A participatory process be initiated for reconstitution of the EAC with the norms some of suggested in our letter to you dated June 29, 2013, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/lessons-from-uttarakhand-disaster-for-selection-of-river-valley-projects-expert-committee/;

3. The EAC meeting slated for Sept 23-24, 2013 should be cancelled.

 

We will look forward to early reply from you.

 

Thanking you,

 

Prof. M. K. Prasad, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, Cochin prasadmkprasad@gmail.com

Ramaswamy R. Iyer, former secretary, Government of India, Delhi. ramaswamy.iyer@gmail.com

Madhu Bhaduri, former ambassador, Delhi. madhu.bhaduri@gmail.com

Ravi Chopra, People’s Science Institute and member NGBRA, Dehra Doon psiddoon@gmail.com

Ritwick Dutta, ERC and LIEF, Delhi.  ritwickdutta@gmail.com

Manoj Mishra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi yamunajiye@gmail.com

Prof. S. Janakarajan, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, janak@mids.ac.in

Vimal Bhai, MATU jansangathan, Uttarakhand bhaivimal@gmail.com

Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune, manthan.shripad@gmail.com

10. Latha Anantha, River Research Centre, Kerala latha.anantha9@gmail.com

Sujit Patwardhan, Parisar, Pune patwardhan.sujit@gmail.com

Debi Goenka, Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai debi1@cat.org.in

Souparna Lahiri, All India Forum of Forest Movements, Delhi. souparna.lahiri@gmail.com

Rohit Prajapati, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat   – rohit.prajapati@gmail.com

Soumya Dutta, Climate & Energy Group, Beyond Copenhagen collective, Delhi soumyadutta_delhi@rediffmail.com

Joy KJ, Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management, Pune joykjjoy2@gmail.com

Anurag Modi, Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, Betul, Madhya Pradesh sasbetul@yahoo.com

Dr Brij Gopal, Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia, Jaipur, brij44@gmail.com  

Rahul Banerjee, Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, Indore rahul.indauri@gmail.com

20. Subhadra Khaperde, Kansari Nu Vadavno, Indore subhadra.khaperde@gmail.com

Shankar Tadwal, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, Alirajpur shankarkmcs@rediffmail.com

Samantha Agarwal, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, Raipur, Chhattisgarh. samsnomadicheart@gmail.com

Dr V Rukmini Rao, Gramya Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad. vrukminirao@yahoo.com

Tarun Nair, Researchers for Wildlife Conservation, Bangalore. tarunnair1982@gmail.com

Shankar Sharma, Mysore shankar.sharma2005@gmail.com

C.G. Madhusoodhanan, Research Scholar,Indian Institute of Technology Bombay madhucg@gmail.com

Pushp Jain, EIA Resource and Response Centre, New Delhi ercdelhi@gmail.com

Gopakumar Menon, Wildlifer, Bangalore. gopakumar.rootcause@gmail.com

Gopal Krishna, Toxics Watch Alliance, Delhi. gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com

30. Jai Sen, CACIM, New Delhi, jai.sen@cacim.net

Samir Mehta, International Rivers, Mumbai samir@internationalrivers.org

E Theophilus, Malika Virdi, K Ramnarayan, Himal Prakriti, Munsiari, Uttarakhand, etheophilus@gmail.com

Neeraj Vagholikar, Kalpavriksh, Pune, nvagho@gmail.com

PT George, Intercultural Resources, Delhi, ihpindia@gmail.com

Akhil Gogoi, President, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, Assam, secretarykmss@gmail.com

Subir Bhaumik, Veteran Journalist and author of “Troubled Periphery: Crisis of India’s Northeast” (Sage, 2009), sbhaum@gmail.com

Ravindra Nath, Rural Volunteers Centre (RVC), Akajan, Dhemaji, Assam, rvcassam@gmail.com

Sanjib Baruah, Professor, Bard College, New York, baruah@bard.edu

Shashwati Goswami, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, shashwati.goswami@gmail.com

40. Mrinal Gohain, ActionAid, Guwahati, mrinalgohain@gmail.com

Keshav Krishna Chatradhara, Peoples Movement for Subansiri & Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV), Assam, pmsv_subansiri@yahoo.com

Girin Chetia, North East Affected Area Development Society, Jorhat, Assam, neadsjorhat@gmail.com

Azing Pertin, Echo of Arunachal, Arunachal Pradesh, azingp@gmail.com

Parag Jyoti Saikia, SANDRP, Delhi.

Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, Pune. parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

Additional names in letter sent independently by CORE (namdithiu@coremanipur.org on 190913) :

46. Centre for Organisation Research and Education (CORE)

Reformed Education and Development Society (READS) Manipur

Forum for Indigenous Perspective and Action (FIPA)

Action Committee  Against Tipaimukh Project (ACTIP)

50. All Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union Manipur (ALLAFUM)

All Manipur Thanga People’s Welfare Association (AMTPWA)

Rural Education and Action for Change Manipur (REACH-M)

All Tribal Women Organisation(ATWO)

Weaker Section Development Council(WSDC)

Rongmei Luh Phuam (Assam, Manipur and Nagaland)

REACHOUT North East

River Basin Friends North East

58. Anthony Deb Barma of Borok Peoples’ Human Rights Organisation (BPHRO), Tripura

Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, c/o 86-D, AD block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi)ht.sandrp@gmail.com

Cumulative Impact Assessment · Dams · Hydropower · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Upper Ganga Report with Pro Hydro Bias does not do justice to its terms or to Ganga, people or environment

Summary A month after its submission to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Inter Ministerial Group on Upper Ganga basin Hydropower projects and Ganga river in general is yet to be put in public domain. A detailed perusal of the report shows that the report is hugely biased in favour of large hydropower projects, and has not done justice to the task given to it or to the Ganga river, people or environment. Out of the three non government members (out of total 15 members) on the Group, Dr Veer Bhadra Mishra expired during the working of the group. Rajendra Singh has given a dissent note, not agreeing with the report in its totality. The “alternative view” note from Sunita Narain, the third non-government member, is not much of an alternative and is not in the interest of the river, people or the environment. However, the fact that none of the non-government members have endorsed the report speaks volumes about the credibility of the report.

utc20b-A4

The recommendations of the IMG report are an exercise largely in supporting the interests of hydropower lobby in the name of balancing the power & development needs of the region and local people. The IMG has actually attempted to make 69 large hydropower projects in the Upper Ganga basin a fait accomplice when only 17 of them are under operation and 14 are under construction. In many cases IMG has reached unscientific and unfounded conclusions. Some of the recommendations are also contradictory in some fundamental nature. In many cases IMG has made statements, and implied recommendations that are bad in law. In general, the report shows that IMG has poor understanding of the science of the rivers. Even where the IMG has sought to make some seemingly environment friendly recommendations, it is generally not serious about these recommendations.

A broad conclusion is inescapable that the IMG report (except the dissent note by Shri Rajendra Singh) is largely an exercise in deception, with a pro-hydropower bias. While this note points out key negative aspects of the IMG report, the IMG report is not without some positive aspects. The report gives a list of positive aspects of the IMG report on which there is a lot of scope for positive action, which the MoEF should initiate, while rejecting the report.

FULL TEXT

1. The Inter Ministerial Group (constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests through an order issued on June 15, 2012) report has been submitted around April 22, 2013, but it is still not in public domain a month later. The report should have been promptly put in public domain as in the case of the HLWG report on WGEEP panel recommendation on the Western Ghats, which was made public the day after the submission of the report to MoEF. These comments[1] are based on the hard copy of the final report made available by a colleague[2].

2. The IMG final report has been endorsed by all members, except the dissent note by Rajendra Singh attached at Annexure X and a note on “alternate approach” from Sunita Narain, attached at Annexure XI. Shri Veer Bhadra Mishra, who was the third non-government member, expired during the period of functioning of the IMG group. The committee constitution was heavily loaded in favour of the government officers (ten of the fifteen members were government officials), so its independence was already in doubt. With none of the non-government members endorsing the report, the report has little credibility. This review tries to look at the report with an open mind.

3. While SANDRP as a group is critical of large, destructive and non participatory hydropower projects, it does not mean the group is against all hydropower projects. For example, if the projects were to be set up through a participatory and informed, decentralized, bottom up decision making process or if projects were to follow the recommendations of World Commission on Dams, such projects would certainly have greater public acceptance. That is not the case for any of the projects today.

4. The main TOR given to the IMG was to decide the quantum of environment flows for the upper Ganga basin rivers, keeping in mind the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, the report was basically from some individual of Alternate Hydro Electric Centre of IIT-R) and WII (Wildlife Institute of India) reports on cumulative impact assessment of the projects in these river basins. However, IIT (Roorkee) report has been found to be so flawed and compromised (for details see: http://www.sandrp.in/hydropower/Pathetic_Cumulative_Impact_Assessment_of_Ganga_Hydro_projects.pdf) that it should have been rejected by the MoEF and the NGRBA. Even the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects has been critical of the IIT-R report. However, since a member of the IIT-R was present on the IMG, it may not have been possible for the IMG to take an objective view of the merits of IIT-R report. It is however, welcome that IMG has relied on WII rather than IIT-R report while accepting recommendations on e-flows. WII report was better in some respects, though still suffering from some basic infirmities. Moreover, to set up an IMG to decide on the course of action considering these two reports (and any other relevant reports) was compromised at the outset and was an invitation for further dilution of the environment norms, considering the track record of the most of the members of IMG.

ChillaChannel

Ganga river flowing through a channel, diverted for the 144 MW Chilla hydropower project

5. The recommendations of the IMG report are an exercise largely in supporting the interests of hydropower lobby in the name of balancing the power & development needs of the region and local people. The IMG has actually attempted to make 69 large hydropower projects in the Upper Ganga basin a fait accomplice when only 17 of them are under operation and 14 are under construction. In many cases IMG has reached unscientific and unfounded conclusions. Some of the recommendations are also contradictory in some fundamental nature. In many cases IMG has made statements, and implied recommendations that are bad in law. In general, the report shows that IMG has poor understanding of the science of the rivers. Even

where the IMG has sought to make some seemingly environment friendly recommendations, it is generally not serious about these recommendations. All of these points are further elaborated in this note.

6. Cancelled projects  & those on Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone shown as under development Shockingly, even the projects like the Loharinag Pala, Pala Maneri and Bhairon Ghati that have been officially dropped are shown as under development by the IMG, see Annex VID! In fact in Table 12 and 13 IMG even calculates the reduction in power generation and increase in tariff at Loharinag Pala (among others) if the IMG recommended e-flows are implemented! The 140 MW Karmoli HEP on Bhagirathi, on a stretch that the MoEF has been declared as Eco Sensitive Zone, and on which the GOI has said no large hydro will be taken up, the IMG has actually suggested that the project can be taken up! The 50 MW Jadhganga project, very close to the Gangotri, is shown to be project under development by the IMG! These examples show how the IMG has played a role of supporter of the hydropower lobby.

7. Wrong classification of projects as under construction and under clearance projects IMG has divided the 69 hydropower projects in Upper Ganga basin (leaving our the Kotli Bhel 2, since it is on Ganga river and not on Bhagirathi or Alaknanda) in four categorie

s: Operating projects, under construction projects, under clearance projects and under development projects. It is here that IMG has done its biggest manipulation by classifying a number of projects as under construction when they are not and cannot be under construction. IMG classification of projects under clearances is equally problematic. IMG and even the “alternative View” by Sunita Narian says all these projects in first three categories can go ahead without any change, except the e-flows recommendations. This manipulation shows the stark pro hydro-bias of the IMG.

DryGangaChilla

Dry Ganga river after the river is diverted for Chilla HEP. Photos by SANDRP

8. Manipulations about percentage length of river that the projects can destroy On the one hand, the IMG has recommended that “projects may be implemented so that not more then 60% of the length (of the river) may be affected.” There is no mention how they have arrived at this magic figure of 60%, what is the basis or science behind that magic figure. At the same time the IMG has said that if all the 69 projects were to be implemented than 81% of Bhagirathi and 65% of Alaknanda will be affected. Firstly these numbers are not correct if we taken into account the full length of the reservoirs and the bypassed river lengths by the hydro projects, in many cases the length of the submerged reservoir behind the dam has not been counted. Here we need to add the fact that the reservoir of the 70th Project on its list, the Kotlibhel 2 project will submerge parts of both Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers, which has also not been counted by the IMG. WII had to recommend 24 projects to be dropped, and even after that, WII assessed that 62.7% of the rivers would still be affected. However, the IMG has made no recommendation as to which of the projects need to be dropped (except vague review of the projects in Annex VI-D) to achieve that magic figure of 60%. This again shows how non serious IMG is, making this recommendation meaningless.


9. IMG double talk on distance criteria The IMG has said that “There is a clear need to ensure that adequate river length is available to meet the societal needs and River gets adequate time during its flow to regenerate itself” (emphasis added). This sounds good. But IMG has shown no will or interest in ensuring that this happens. In fact IMG exposes its understanding on this matter when it says, “the distance between two hydro projects should generally be such as to ensure that over-crowding is avoided”. What is over-crowding, how do you define it? This is a funny word IMG has used, not even bothering to define it. However, when it comes to implementation, dumping all these requirements, IMG has justified smaller distance (read zero distance) between projects where gradient is high. Now let us understand this: where gradient is high, if the distance left between the projects is less, will the time the river flows between projects be smaller or greater than if the gradient is low? Clearly, if gradient is high, for the same distance, the river will have less time to travel then if the gradient were low. It is in fact the time of free flow that is a crucial driving parameter for river to regenerate itself. So if the river were to have the same amount of time to flow between two points, with higher gradient, river will require more distance, not less. This again exposes the poor understanding of IMG members about science of the rivers.

The IMG even goes on to say that “distance will have to be smaller in view of technical requirement of the hydro power. This could result in continuity in some cases.” Firstly it is clear here again that IMG is basically catering to the hydropower lobby, it is completely non serious about the environmental issues. That is why after all those great sentences, it goes on to say that it is the technical requirement of the hydropower project that will be the decider! If technical requirements means no distance between two projects, then river can disappear, environmental issues do not matter! In case of many projects where the distance of free flowing river between projects is very little or nil and where the construction has not started or has not progressed much, there is today scope for change. For example in case of Vishnudgad Pipalkoti HEP on Alaknanda: the Full Reservoir Level of the VPHEP is same as the Tail Water Level of the upstream Tapovan Vishnugad HEP. This means that there is zero length of free flowing river between the projects. VPHEP does not have all the clearances and its construction has not started. Even for the upstream Tapovan Vishnugad HEP, the construction has not gone far enough and there is scope for change in both projects to ensure that there is sufficient length of free flowing river between the projects. IMG should have recommended change in parameters in this and other such cases, but it has done no such thing, it has shown no interest in any such matter! Even the “alternative approach” note in Annexure XI has not bothered to recommend such changes even while recommending 3-5 km free flowing river between two projects.

The IMG makes another unscientific statement in this context when it says, “With the recommendation of IMG for environment flow which will be available and which would have traveled throughout the diverted stretch, any significant gaps and large distance may not be required.” This is an unscientific, unfounded statement. Firstly where is the evidence that the environment flows that IMG has suggested would take care of the need for river to flow on stretches between the projects? Secondly, the need for river to flow between the projects to rejuvenate itself will also depend on the length of the rivers submerged by the reservoirs, and also depend on the biodiversity, the social, cultural and religious needs in addition to the ecological needs. By making such ad hoc unfounded statements devoid of scientific merit, the IMG has exposed itself.

While the IMG talks about the rich diversity of fish species and other aquatic diversity of the river, it has no qualms in saying that e-flows alone will address all the problems caused by bumper to bumper projects. As many including Government of India’s CIFRI (Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute) have concluded, Dams have been the primary reason for the collapse of aquatic diversity in India, not only because of the hydrological modifications and lack of e-flows, but also because of the obstruction to migration they cause, destruction of habitat during construction, muck disposal, trapping of sediments, destruction of terrestrial (especially riparian) habitats. But these concerns are not even considered by the IMG while saying that recommended e-flows will be able to solve all problems caused by bumper to bumper projects.

Dry Bhagirathi downstream Maneri bhali HEP Photo: Peoples science Institute
Dry Bhagirathi downstream Maneri bhali HEP Photo: Peoples science Institute

10. WII recommendation of dropping 24 HEPs rejected by IMG without any reason The IMG notes that WII has recommended that 24 hydropower projects of 2608 MW installed capacity should be dropped in view of the high aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. However, IMG decides to dump this WII recommendation without assigning any reasons. This again shows the strong pro hydro bias of the IMG. WII report says that even after dropping these 24 projects, at least 62% of the river will be destroyed.

It is shocking that projects like Kotlibhel 1B and Alaknanda HEP, which have been rejected by WII and Forest Advisory Committee, is considered as “under development” by IMG, when they should have been rejected. While the IMG Report talks of unique biodiversity of the Ganga Basin, Valley of Flowers and Nanda Devi National Parks, it still supports projects which will be affecting these National Parks like the 300 MW Alakananda GMR HEP, which was also rejected by the WII and FAC (twice).

As a matter of fact, of the 24 projects that WII report recommended to be dropped, the IMG has shown 8 as under construction and 4 as “projects with EC/FC clearances”. This is sheer manipulation, in an attempt to make them a fait accomplice. Strangely, the “alternative approach” note in Annexure XI does not say anything about this manipulations and in fact says the projects in Annexure VI-B and VI-C can go ahead!

11. Non serious recommendation about keeping six tributaries in pristine state IMG (Para 3.70) “recommends that six rivers, including Nayar, Bal Ganga, Rishi Ganga, Assi Ganga, Dhauli Ganga (upper reaches), Birahi Ganga and Bhyunder Ganga should be kept in pristine form and developments along with measures for environment up gradation should be taken up. No new power projects should be taken up in these River Basins.” This sounds good, but turns out to be like a joke, since firstly, IMG recommends construction of projects on these rivers that yet to be constructed! If these rivers are to be kept in pristine state then IMG should have asked for immediate stoppage of under construction projects and also time bound decommissioning of the operating projects on each of these rivers. In stead, the IMG report shows that projects are under construction on rivers like Assi Ganga (stage I and stage II projects each of 4.5 MW), Birahi Ganga (24 MW stage I project), Bal Ganga (7 MW stage II project listed in Annex VI B of IMG report, in addition to the 1 MW Balganga and 5 MW Balganga I project are also under construction as per IIT Roorkee report) and Bhyunder Ganga (24.3 MW stage II project) and IMG has (implicitly) recommended that these projects be allowed to continue, on rivers that IMG says it wants to remain pristine! Moreover, Rishi Ganga (13.2 MW project) and Birahi Ganga (7.2 MW) have operating projects on these rivers to be kept pristine! In addition, on Assi Ganga the 9 MW stage III project, is considered by the IMG as ready for development since it has some of the clearances.

Rishiganga HEP Photo: Ashish Kothari, Courtesy The Hindu
Rishiganga HEP Photo: Ashish Kothari, Courtesy The Hindu

The IMG has noted that 70 MW Rishi Ganga Stage-1 and 35 MW Stage II Project are under development on Rishi Ganga (IIT-R report mentioned another project on Rishi Ganga, namely the 60 MW Deodi project, it is called Dewali project by WII report; WII report also mentions 1.25 MW Badrinath II existing project on Rishi Ganga) and 24 MW Birahi Ganga-II project is under development. But the IMG does not recommend dropping of these projects.

So at least five of the six rivers that the IMG claims it wants to stay in pristine state are no longer pristine! They have multiple projects, most of them under construction or yet to be developed and the IMG has not said that any or all of these projects should be stopped, cancelled and those under operation be decommissioned in time bound manner. Even on Nayar, the sixth small tributary that IMG said should be kept in pristine condition has a 1.5 MW Dunao project under development by UJVNL, as per the UJVNL website. It’s clear how non serious IMG is about its own recommendation. IMG has included Dhauli Ganga (upper reaches) in this recommendation, but has not even bothered to define which stretch of the Dhauli Ganga this applies to, again showing the non-seriousness of IMG.

In para 4.22 IMG says, “Specifically, it is proposed that (a) Nayar River and the Ganges stretch between Devprayag and Rishikesh and (b)… may be declared as Fish Conservation Reserve as these two stretches are comparatively less disturbed and have critically important habitats for long-term survival of Himalayan fishes basin.” If IMG were serious about this, they would have also said that Kotli Bhel II project should be cancelled since it is to come in this very stretch.

IMG’s claim that not having any more projects on these six streams will mean loss of generating capacity 400 MW is also not backed by any sort of information or list of projects to be dropped, it seems IMG is in the habit of making such claims and does not feel the need to back them.

12. IMG on environmental impacts of Hydropower projects One of the key TORs given to IMG was “to make a review of the environmental impacts of projects that are proposed on Bhagirathi, Alaknanda and other tributaries of river Ganga and recommend necessary remedial action.” What has the IMG done about this TOR? IMG wrongly claims (Para 4.18), “The environment impact of proposed 69 hydropower projects has been considered by IMG.” It has done absolutely no justice to this very crucial TOR. First thing IMG has done in this regard is to dump the WII recommendation to cancel 24 hydropower projects, without giving any justifiable reasons. The IMG has produced a set of guidelines for the hydropower projects, which have almost nothing new, they are certainly not comprehensive or legally binding. They miss the most important issues of inadequate environment impact assessment, inadequate public consultation process, inadequate appraisal, lack of accountable governance and compliance.

What is required is certainly not new set of guidelines. MoEF already has a long list of environment and forest clearance conditions, environment management plans and manuals. But there is no interest, will or willingness to achieve compliance in MoEF. IMG is obviously aware of this state of affairs. Yet they have happily prepared a new set of five page guidelines just to show they have done something about this TOR. The “alternative approach” in Annex XI also has nothing to offer on this score.

Muck Disposal directly into the Alaknanda river by Srinagar Project Photo: Matu janSangathan
Muck Disposal directly into the Alaknanda river by Srinagar Project Photo: Matu janSangathan

13. Unwarranted conclusion about BBM methodology The IMG has said, “Considering environment, societal, religious needs of the community and also taking into account the status of river Ganga as national river, the IMG recommends adoption of Building Block Methodology (BBM) for assessing the e-flow requirement”. This is good and needs immediate and credible implementation.

However, IMG says this will be applicable only “in situation where the required conditions are satisfied and resources, time and data are available.” The only basis for this conclusion by IMG is the fact that WWF took three years to do a study of environment flow requirements of three sites along Ganga involving large number of experts. This is clearly an unwarranted conclusion since WWF was only doing it first time and has much less resources at its disposal than the government have. By arriving at this unjustified conclusion that has no basis, the IMG implies is that BBM methodology is required and is justified, but Indian rivers including the Ganga won’t get it since IMG (wrongly) thinks that “required conditions” are not satisfied. This is clearly wrong and unwarranted conclusion. The BBM can and must be applied in all cases immediately, including for all existing and under construction projects and cumulative impact assessments.

Also, while stating multiple times that BBM for three locations for Ganga took three years, the IMG does not go into the details of what caused this delay. One of the important reasons stated by WWF itself is that required data was not made available to them, which contributed to the delay. So it is the government itself that was part of the reason for the delay in WWF study, and now IMG uses that delay to suggest that BBM is not practicable for Ganga! If the Government has the will to implement a more holistic methodology like BBM, it can be done and IMG conclusion is unwarranted and wrong.

14. Unjustified pro hydro bias of the IMG The IMG has shown its pro hydro bias at several places. At one place it says that a balanced approach needs to be taken as “It is important to see that the flows do not result in exorbitant cost of power which the people of the region may not be able to afford. This would make these power projects uneconomic and un-implementable”. Firstly, as far as people in immediate neighbourhood of the projects are concerned, history of grid connected hydropower projects in India shows that local and particularly the affected people almost never get power benefits from projects but they surely suffer all the negative impacts. IMG is wrong as far as this section of the people is concerned.

Secondly as far as the people of Uttarakhand in general are concerned, where all the projects in Upper Ganga basin are situated, the state would get 12+1 % of free power. Since most of the projects are in central or private sectors, the rest of the electricity would mostly go outside the state. As far as this 13% free power is concerned, since it is supposed to be free, there will be no impact of e-flows on the tariff of such projects, except some marginal reduction in quantum of power.

Lastly, is it the bottom line of the IMG that projects must be economic and implemented at all costs, by hook or by crook, as is apparent from the above quoted sentence? How can that be the bottom line of IMG considering its TORs? Moreover, by making the projects economic and implementable by hook or by crook, the IMG seems to be saying that irrespective of the social, environmental, cultural, religious and even economic costs, the projects must go on. Thus what IMG is suggesting is that artificially low cost electricity must be produced for the cities and industries irrespective of any concerns of costs and impacts on people, environment, future generations and rivers including the national river! This is clearly a plea to export the water, livelihood and environment security of the people for the short term economic prosperity of far off city dwellers and industrialists. Is this acceptable?

15. What is environment flow? IMG should have provided a definition of what is meant by river and environment flow. Since it is linked with enabling the river to perform its various roles and services in the downstream area, it cannot be just limited to water flow downstream. The downstream river also needs silt and nutrition from the upstream and the biodiversity and geomorphology in the river crucially depends on such flows of nutrition and silt. However, IMG has said nothing on this count.

Dry River at Uttarkashi Photo: Open Magazine
Dry River at Uttarkashi Photo: Open Magazine

16. Environment flows = aviraldhara? The IMG has said, “Environment flows in the river must lead to a continuous availability of water (aviraldhara) in the river for societal and religious needs.” This equation of aviral river with continuous flow of water is clearly flawed, since by that token even a pipeline has aviraldhara, but a pipeline is not the same as aviral River. For a river to be flowing aviral, continuous flow of water is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. A river means so much more.

17. No attempt at assessment of social, religious, cultural needs The IMG keeps talking about social, religious and cultural perspective and needs of the society from the river and so on. However, there has been no attempt to assess what exactly this means in terms of river flow, quality, content of flow across the time and space. More importantly, how is all this to be decided and who all are to be involved in the process. IMG just assumed that this has already been done by IITR and WII, which is flawed assumption, since WII or IIT-R has clearly not done any such assessment. So in stead of giving standard monthly flow release percentage across the rivers (releases to vary based on daily flow variations, this recommendation of daily changing flow is certainly an improvement from IMG), IMG should have asked for actual assessment of such needs across the rivers and IMG should also have given the process for arriving at such decisions. But while deciding social, religious or cultural needs, the IMG sees no role for the society, religious groups or cultural institutions.

In this context it may be added that the IMG has also not taken note of the legal stipulations like the order of the Allahabad High Court that says that no project can divert more than 50% of river flows existing at the point of diversion.

DevPrayag: Confluence of Alaknanda and bhagirathi Threatened by Kotli Bhel I A, IB and II Projects. Photo: Wikimedia
DevPrayag: Confluence of Alaknanda and bhagirathi Threatened by Kotli Bhel I A, IB and II Projects. Photo: Wikimedia

18. IMG recommendation during High Flow Season (May-Sept) The IMG has recommended 25% of daily uninterrupted (no clear definition is given how this will be arrived at) flow, with the stipulation that the total inflow in the river would not be less than 30% of the season flows. This is same as 30% of mean seasonal releases recommended by WII (para 8.3 of WII report, para 4.11 of IMG report) and also used by even Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects currently. The recommendation of releases based on daily flow is an improvement compared to the earlier situation, but its implementation is in serious doubt considering the weak compliance requirements from IMG.

It should be added here that IMG has not mentioned how the environment flow will be released. Just dropping it from the top of the dam won’t help, the flow must be allowed to flow downstream in an environmentally sound manner that is as close as possible to the flow of the river and helpful for the biodiversity in the river to link up from downstream to upstream and vice versa. Moreover, while deciding flows, IMG has largely followed the recommendations of the WII. However, WII conclusion of classifying Upper Ganga basin under EMC class C itself is flawed. IMG should have corrected this flaw, before concluding on environment flows.

19. IMG recommendation during Lean Flow season (Dec-March) The IMG has recommended (Para 3.48) release of 30% of daily uninterrupted river flows, this will go up to 50% where the average monthly river flows during lean season (Dec-March) is less than 10% of average monthly river inflows of the high flow season (May-Sept) and to 40% (however, Para 3.51 does not mention this 40% norm) where this ratio is 10-15%. While this is an improvement in the current regime, this remains weak considering that IMG has not done project wise calculations where 30, 40 and 50% stipulation is applicable, which it could have easily done at least for the existing and genuinely under construction projects.

20. IMG recommends lower flow for India’s national river compared to what India promises Pakistan in Jhelum basin The IMG has recommended 30-50% winter flows for all projects as described above. This in case of a river everyone recognizes as the heart and soul of India, a river that has such an important social, religious, spiritual significance and it has been declared as the national river. Let us compare this with what e-flows Indian government has promised to Pakistan downstream of the Kishanganga Project in Jhelum river basin in Kashmir. In a case before the Permanent (International) Court of Arbitration (PCA), Indian government has assured that India will release more than 100% of the observed minimum flow from the dam all round the year, and now in fact the government is considering even higher than 100% of the observed minimum flow all round the year. The PCA is yet to decide if what India has proposed will be sufficient or more water flow is required. So, as against the assurance of more than 100% of minimum flow at all times on another river, for the river flowing into another country; for the national river Ganga, for India’s own people and environment, all that the IMG recommends is 30-50%. On most winter days, KishengangaRiver downstream of the hydropower project, flowing into Pakistan, thus will have higher proportion of its daily flows than what Bhagirathi or Alaknanda will have.

Dry Ganga at Haridwar in August 2012 Photo: SANDRP
Dry Ganga at Haridwar in August 2012 Photo: SANDRP

21. Monitoring and compliance of Environment Flows The IMG has said that effective implementation is cardinal part of its recommendations. This is good intention. However, by asking the power developer to be responsible for the implementation, the IMG has made the recommendations ineffective. IMG has chosen to ignore the fact that there is clear conflict of interest for the power developer in assuring e-flows, since the e-flows would reduce the power generation and profits of the developer. Its faith in IT based monitoring is also completely untested and there is no evidence to show that such monitoring will be free of manipulation. Secondly, to ask the MoEF to do annual review, that too only for first five years ignores the track record of MoEF in such matters where MoEF has shown no will, capacity or interest in achieving post-clearance compliance of the environment laws of the country. Thirdly, to require this only for projects above 25 MW shows the lack of understanding of IMG as to how important the smaller streams are for the water, ecology and livelihood security of the community in hills. Its recommendation of monitoring by an independent group is welcome, but lacks credibility in the absence of sufficient involvement of local community groups in such a mechanism.

22. Baseless assumption of low water requirement for fish in the Himalayan region The IMG has assumed that in the Himalayan region, the water requirement for fish in the river is less and hence the rivers here will not require as much water as the rivers do in the plains. This is completely unscientific, flawed and baseless assumption. The amount of e-flows needed has to be assessed not only based on the requirement of fish (IMG has not done even that assessment), but entire aquatic and connected terrestrial biodiversity across the seasons, in addition to the water needs of a river for providing the social and environmental services.

23. Suggestions that are bad in Law The IMG report shows several projects as “Under Construction” (Annex VI B) category, when they do not even have statutory clearances and hence cannot even legally start the work. This is a ploy to make these projects a fait accomplice when these projects are perfectly amenable to review and rejection since the project work has not started. In fact to categorise such projects without having all the statutory clearances (e.g. Vishnugad Pipalkoti does not have forest clearance) as under construction project is plain illegal.

24. Wrong representations The IMG has shown several projects in Annex VI C, as “Hydropower projects with EC/FC Clearances and others”, basically a ploy to push the projects that do not even have all the statutory clearances. None of these projects have all the statutory clearances and are certainly not in position to start construction and hence these projects are the ones where dropping of the projects or modifications in dam location, dam height, FRL, HRT length, e-flows, capacities etc are still possible. But IMG did not do it for any of the projects. As mentioned above, four of these projects have been recommended by WII to be dropped, and IMG should have recommended dropping these or should have categorized them as ‘to be reviewed’.

25. No mention of impact of peaking operation of hydropower projects The IMG has missed many crucial environmental impacts. One crucial one that it has missed is the issue of peaking operation of hydropower projects on the downstream people, environment, flood plains, geo morphology, biodiversity and other aspects of the river. This is very important since one of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of hydropower projects is supposed to be that they can provide peaking power. However, peaking operation means sudden changes of huge magnitude of flows in downstream river, having far reaching impacts including those on safety of people, flood plain cultivation, impacts on cattle and property, impact on ecology, amongst many others. The IMG has completely missed this, which is very strange since this is a huge issue being taken up by people and campaigns in the North East against large hydropower projects there.

26. IMG cannot see through poor work of IIT-R It is well known that IIT-R report on Ganga basin study is of poor quality. In the IMG report there is an attempt to respond to only a couple of the criticism of IIT-R report, but IMG could not even see through the wrong facts presented by IIT-R report. For example, IMG report says, “The requirement of flushing during monsoon is not required in both rivers as all hydro projects except Tehri reservoir are run of river types where silt is not stored.” This is completely wrong. All the projects, even if run of the river, have storage behind the dam where the coarser silt will settle down and will need to be flushed out periodically. The dams are being provided with bottom sluices to facilitate this. A quick perusal of the EIA reports of some of the hydropower projects in the region shows that Vishnugad Pipalkoti, Srinagar, Kotli Bhel 1-A, Kotli Bheal 1-B, to name only a few all have proposed to provide bottom sluices for periodic release of silt accumulated behind the dam. Thus the contention that most projects do not need flushing is wrong. In any case, for all projects, the de-silting chambers would be releasing silt laden water and there is no attempt to assess the cumulative impacts of such actions. IMG’s attempt to provide scope for some defense for the IIT-R has clearly back fired on IMG! Moreover, even in case of Tehri, the biggest project in the region under review, IMG report has nothing at all, about it social, environmental impacts and performance, about its power generation, irrigation, water supply, flood control performance or even its silt management performance.

The contention that all projects except Tehri are ROR is entirely wrong and misleading. Even as per the WII report, out of the 69 projects, a whopping 13 projects are storage projects. This includes the biggest and most problematic projects like Srinagar, KotliBhel IB, KotlibhelIA, Koteshwar, Vishnugad Pipalkoti, Devsari, etc.

27. IMG on Srinagar HEP and Dharidevi Temple The IMG was also asked to “review the impacts of the Alaknanda (GVK) Hydro Power Project on flow of the River and the issues related to the temple relocation.” The IMG gave an interim report on this issue, which was so disappointing that Rajendra Singh and Late Shri Veer Bhadra Mishra both members of the IMG, gave a dissenting note, Rajendra Singh also suggested shelving the project. The IMG rejected the suggestion of its own members without giving any justifiable reasons.

DhariDevi Temple threatened by submergence
DhariDevi Temple threatened by submergence

28. Time bound action plan for E-flows from existing projects The IMG says that the existing projects should also follow the suggested e-flows and this should be achieved in three years (Para 3.52). However, IMG should have been more clear about the role of different agencies (MoEF, state government, developers, state electricity regulatory commissions and power purchases) and what is the legal backing such a step will have.

29. Lack of understanding of conflicting projects and public protests The IMG report, Annex VI B shows 12.5 MW Jhalakoti (wrongly) as under construction project. In fact the Jhalakoti project has been recommended by WII to be dropped. The IMG seems to have no clue that Jhalakoti project is being strongly opposed by the local communities and no work has started on the project. The under construction status given by IMG for this project is clearly wrong. If the Jhalakoti HEP comes up then the existing 40 KW Agunda micro HEP will no longer be able to function. Many of the other projects including the Devsari and Vishnugad Pipalkoti HEP are also facing strong opposition, but the IMG has not taken note of these or any of the social impacts of the projects in the Upper Ganga basin.

Peoples protests against Large dams on Ganga. Photo: Matu Jansangathan
Peoples protests against Large dams on Ganga. Photo: Matu Jansangathan

30. IMG on TOR on pollution abatement in Ganga It is good to see that IMG has suggested that “all users must be forced to plan for water needs based on what the river can spare, not what they can snatch.” However this should not mean an advocacy for more big dams and storages on the rivers. This seems to be the case when we read the IMG recommendation that says, “The government then has a choice to build storages to collect monsoon water for dilution within its territory or to ‘release’ water to rivers and make other choices for use in agriculture, drinking or industry”. Storages can come in many forms and sizes and IMG should be careful not to recommend more big storages on the rivers. The suggestion that “there will be a clear conditionality in Central government funding, which is matched to the quantum of ecological flow released by the state in the river” is welcome. Linking of JNNURM-II and National Mission for Clean Ganga to the above norm, incentivisation of use of innovative bioremediation and in-situ drain treatment are also welcome. However, IMG has shown no interest in understanding or tackling the real problem in river pollution: Lack of participatory, democratic governance in urban water and pollution control regime.

IMG has recommended in Para 6.7(i), “Ecological flow will be mandatory in all stretches of the river.” This is welcome. IMG goes on to suggest some norm for the urbanized stretches of rivers, but no norms are suggested for the non urbanized stretches of river in the lower river basin.

31. Report does not reflect the discussions in IMG? The dissent note by Shri Rajendra Singh, a member of IMG says that on several aspects, IMG report does not reflect what transpired in the IMG meetings. This is a very serious charge that puts a big question mark on the IMG report and its recommendations, particularly since Rajendra Singh is the lone independent voice in the IMG after the sad demise of Shri Veer Bhadra Mishra[3].

32. Incomplete project list The IMG does not seem to have full information about the existing, under construction and planned hydropower projects in the Upper Ganga basin in Uttarakhand. Some of the projects not listed in the IMG report include:

A. Operating projects under 1 MW: According to the website of UJVNL (Uttarakhand Jal Vidhyut Nigam), the state has 12 such projects with total capacity of 5.45 MW, see for details: http://www.uttarakhandjalvidyut.com/cms_ujvnl/under_operation1.php. Most of these projects are in Upper Ganga basin, though it is not clear how many.

B. UJVNL has larger list of schemes under development by UJVNL including in the Upper Ganga basin, not all of them are included in the IMG list, see: http://uttarakhandjalvidyut.com/bd2.pdf.

C. Private sector has been given license for a large number of hydropower projects, not all the projects of Upper Ganga basin here are on IMG list, see for full list of projects being developed by IPPs in Uttarakhand: http://uttarakhandjalvidyut.com/Hydro%20Projects%20Being%20Developed%20by%20IPPs.pdf.

D. There is another “full list” of hydropower under development in Uttarakhand including sub-MW size projects, see: http://uttarakhandjalvidyut.com/bd5.pdf. Some of the projects here in Upper Ganga basin do not figure on IMG list.

One would expect better information base of the IMG than what they have shown.

33. No specific recommendation to save the prayags There are five holy prayags (confluence of rivers) along Alaknanda river in Uttarkhand, including Deoprayag, Vishnuprayag, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag and Nandprayag.

Vishnuprayag has already been destroyed by the 400 MW existing Vinshnuprayag HEP of Jaiprakash Associates, rest would be destroyed by the projects listed by IMG. The IMG keeps talking about cultural importance of the rivers, but has not said a word about how it plans to save these culturally important confluences and how it plans to rejuvenate the Vishnuprayag already destroyed.

34. “Alternative View” in Annexure 21: How much of an alternative is it? In Annexure XI of IMG report, a note authored by one of the IMG members, Sunita Narian of Centre for Science is given, it is titled: “TOR (ii): Alternative View: Environment flow”. The Annexure opens with the line “The recommendations of this IMG report are not acceptable.” It is not clear if this sentence applies to all the recommendations of the IMG or about environment flows mentioned in the title or it applies to TOR (ii) that applies to all environmental aspects, not just environmental flows. The Annexure also deals with some issues besides environment flows, so one assumes this “alternative view” is about environmental aspects of hydropower projects.

The Annexure XI seems to give an impression that, principles of distance between dams, ecological flow and limit on % of river than can be “affected” will lead to “sound hydropower development, balanced for energy and environment”.

One of the three principles listed in the note says: “Distance between projects: 3-5 km”. The note does not say how this distance has been arrived at or how this distance is to be measured, the least the note should have mentioned was that this is not distance between projects but distances of flowing river between the Tailwater level of upstream and full reservoir level of downstream project.  No elaboration is given about this criterion at all. Most importantly, there is not even any attempt to apply this criterion to the projects that IMG is supposed to look into. On the contrary, the note says that “The projects under construction can be built” (point 7(ii)) and “projects with EC and FC clearances can be taken up for construction” (point 7(v)). So in fact there is absolutely no application of the criterion to the projects on hand. The conclusion that this is half baked and non serious criterion is inescapable.

Another of the three principles listed in Annexure XI is: “Maximum intervention allowed in river length: 50-60 per cent”. Again there is no elaboration as to how these figures are arrived at, why there is a range, what is meant by “intervention”, which lengths it will apply and so on. Again, the note does not bother to apply this criterion to the rivers under review and actually says in point 7(ii) and 7(v) described above, that projects in Annexure VI (B) and VI(C) can go ahead without even checking if in that case this criterion will be violated or not. Again the conclusion that this is also a half baked and non serious criterion is inescapable.

The whole of the Annexure XI is basically devoted to application of the third principle: “Ecological flow regime: 30/50 per cent (high and lean period)”. About this, the annexure says: “The engineering design of the uninterrupted flow would take into account the need for sediment and fish transfer”, not clear how this will be achieved. The Annexure does not suggest any new measure of achieving compliance with its recommendations. The note mentions “design changes incorporated to maximize energy generation during high discharge season” but does not elaborate what these would mean.

Annexure XI says that IIT-R tried to suggest that e-flows must be low and in this effort did “big and large manipulation of data”. This is good. However, it would have been better if the full data and notes from IIT-R were annexed here to illustrate how the manipulation was done.

Bullet point 3 in Annexure XI reads, “It is important to consider that water of a river is similar to the coal or gas as raw materials used in thermal plants”. This statement needed to be qualified that the impact of taking out coal or gas from its source is not comparable to taking out water from the river, the latter’s impact is much more severe, since river is not equal to just water flowing in it.

Since Annexure XI does not raise objection to any other conclusions and recommendations of the IMG except the three principles mentioned above, it would not be incorrect to assume that author agrees to the rest of the IMG report. This, when taken together with the fact that at least two of the three principles in the alternative view note have not been applied to the projects under review, leads to the conclusion that there is not much of an alternative in “alternative view”  note and this won’t help the cause of the river, people, environment or even sustainable and sound development.

35. Conclusion A broad conclusion is inescapable that the IMG report (except the dissent note by Shri Rajendra Singh) is largely an exercise in deception, with a pro-hydropower bias. While this note points out key negative aspects of the IMG report, the IMG report is not without some positive aspects. One of the positive aspect of this report is that possibly for the first time heads of central organizations like CWC and CEA have sat with some non government members to discuss some important subjects that have remained contentious for these official agencies.

However, as noted above, on most positive aspects, while IMG has been less than sincere, there is a huge potential to take the environment flow movement forward.

The MoEF and NGBRA should, considering all the above points, take some positive aspects forward. Some of the positive retrievable aspects of the IMG report include the following, on each of which there is a lot of scope for serious action:

  • Ensuring at least 50% E-flows in non monsoon months in all rivers.
  • Keeping some rivers in pristine form, stopping all ongoing and planned projects on suggested rivers and time bound decommissioning of existing projects on such rivers that are to be in pristine form. This should be immediately implemented on the rivers recommended by IMG and also in other selected rivers in all river basins.
  • Rejecting planned and under construction projects which have high impact on terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, as per score developed by WII Report as well as projects which irreversibly impact spiritual and religious places like rivers, prayags, places of worship and ghats.
  • Give deadline of one year and maximum of two years for all the existing dams, diversions and hydropower projects across the Ganga basin (& other rivers) to achieve the suggested e-flows with clear inbuilt mechanisms for monitoring and compliance with participation of river basin communities, as a first step.
  • Accepting BBM as the standard methodology for E-flows assessment, e-flows to mimic the river flows and involving communities as an important stakeholder in this methodology.
  • Ensuring Aviraldhara.
  • Ensuring rivers have adequate free flow time between projects to regenerate itself. Mandating at least 5 km free flowing river between any two projects as an immediate measure pending site specific studies and reviewing all under construction, under clearance and under development projects in the basin keeping this in mind.
  • Releases based on daily flows rather than monthly or seasonal averages in all rivers. Define uninterrupted flows to arrive at uninterrupted daily flows.
  • Monitoring of e-flows and other environmental compliance by independent group involving at least 50% of the monitoring group from local communities.
  • Assuring that e-flows through well designed fish passages (taking consideration of Guideline 7, Annex IX).
  • The IMG has recommended that a technical group may be made to study alternatives including the alternative suggested by Prof Bharat Jhunjhunwala that only partial dams across rivers may be allowed. This should happen expeditiously. The proposed projects should be stopped till this is done.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (http://sandrp.in

Endorsed by:
EAS Sarma, Former Union Power Minister, Visakhapattanam, eassarma@gmail.com

Vimal Bhai, Matu Jansangathan, Uttarakhand, bhaivimal@gmail.com

Malika Virdi, Himal Prakriti, Uttarakhand, malika.virdi@gmail.com

E Theophilus, Himal Prakriti, Uttarakhand, etheophilus@gmail.com

Ramnarayan K,  Save the Rivers Campaign Uttarakhand, ramnarayan.k@gmail.com

Dr Latha Anantha, River Research Centre, Kerala, rrckerala@gmail.com

Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, Pune, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

Samir Mehta, International Rivers, Mumbai, samir@internationalrivers.org

Tarini Manchanda, Independent film maker, Delhi,  mtarini@gmail.com

 

Current state of our National River at Haridwar  Photo: SANDRP
Current state of our National River at Haridwar Photo: SANDRP

[1] The author is thankful to Parineeta Dandekar, Shripad Dharmadhikary and Samir Mehta among others for providing comments on earlier drafts.

[2] Prof Bharat Jhunjhunwala provided the copy.

[3] One of the members of the IMG started discussing the report in public domain through her writings even before the report was in public domain, see: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/training-engineers-not-ganga and http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/ganga-saga-part-ii-redesign-dams-not-rivers. This can create misleading impression about the report, when the readers do not have benefit of cross checking what the report is actually saying. The articles in any case are full of serious errors, for example it said: “Most of the proposed projects are run-of-the-river schemes, which are seemingly benevolent as compared to large dams”, not understanding that EACH of the so called run of the river schemes ALSO involves a dam, most of them are large dams as per international definition. It incorrectly said, “Run-of-the-river projects, which used flowing water as the raw material for energy”, in reality NONE of the so-called ROR projects generate power from flow of the water in the river, they all dam and divert the water away from the river to produce power. It also tried to dilute the impact of the projects on rivers (akin to killing of rivers) by saying projects “affect” rivers. It misleadingly wrote, “The hydropower engineers argued for 10 per cent e-flow” without mentioning that the EAC of MoEF is prescribing 20-30% of mean season flows. The article claimed that figures of water flow and tariffs were modified by IIT-Roorkee, but in the entire IMG report, (except the Annexure XI written by author of the articles), there is no mention of any of these. The article talks about engineers’ claims that “this source provides power during peak demand hours”, but as we noted above the IMG has not even looked at the impact of peaking generation. There is not even an attempt to understand how much of the current generation from hydropower projects is happening during peaking hours, or what is the generation performance of hydropower projects, issues that SANDRP has been raising for many years.