Apart from mentioning Govt failure in checking Ganga pollution, the Comptroller & Auditor General’s (CAG) performance audit report on Ganga rejuvenation tabled in Parliament on December 19, 2017 specifically mentions that National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) “could not finalize the long-term action plans even after more than six-and-a-half years of signing of agreement with the consortium of Indian Institutes of Technology”. The fact that NMCG does not have a “river basin management plan even after a lapse of more than 8 years of National Ganga River Basin Authority notification”, mentioned in the report also has great significance.
It is surprising that NMCG is working without a river basin management plan or a long-term action plan. The CAG performance audit is also lacking. It rightly mentions that infrastructure to treat pollution has not been created but does no assessment whether the creation of infrastructure alone would revive the river.
Further, CAG audit does not look into the issues if lessons from past failures have been learnt, corrections done, independent scrutiny institutionalised, participatory governance achieved, and if this business as usual approach is going to achieve any better results even if all the money were spent, all the DPRs were sanctioned, all the meetings happened, all the manpower available and all the STPs constructed?
Hence it critical that CAG performance audit should have tried to address these issues. Can the state of Ganga improve without improving the state of tributaries? CAG does not even look at this issue.
In an unprecedented first ever Audit report, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) which recently conducted Performance Audit on ‘Environmental Clearance and Post Clearance Monitoring’ has unambiguously stated that the existing processes for grant of Environmental Clearance are fraught with serious violations, noncompliance and deficiencies.[i] In fact River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects have been highlighted for poorest quality of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Reports, maximum irregularities during Public Hearings, and non-compliance of Environmental Clearance conditions.
This is a resounding slap on the face of the functioning of the current and past Expert Appraisal Committee’s (EACs on Dams and vindicates and validates what SANDRP and other civil society groups have been saying for long. This is indeed much needed critical feedback when EAC is seeking to make its proceedings less and less transparent and providing false justifications for the same.Continue reading “CAG validates concerns about shoddy environmental appraisal of Dams”→
20 hydro projects stalled or stressed The Power Minister Piyush Goyal on March 09, 2017 in a written statement has informed the parliament that as many as 20 under construction HPPs totalling 6,329 MW are either stalled or stressed in the country and Rs 30,147.08 crore has already been spent on them. These projects include 2,000 MW Subansiri Lower of NHPC Ltd, 500 Mw Teesta VI of Lanco Teesta Hydro Power Ltd, 120 MW Rangit-IV of Jal Power Corp, 300 Mw Panan of Himagiri Hydro Energy Pvt Ltd, 850 MW Ratle of GVK Ratle HEP Pvt Ltd, 100 Mw Sorang of Himachal Sorang Power Ltd and 960 MW Polavaram of Polavaram Project Authority.
An audit report by Comptroller and Auditor General of India that got tabled in Meghalaya assembly on 23rd March 2016 reveals sorry state of affairs on water supply schemes. It brings under scanner the corrupt practices of Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED), presents before us the real causes of the delays in completion of these schemes. This performance review shows that PHED has failed to learn any lesson from similar indictment from constitutional auditor in past and continued its business as usual with impunity. The audit also shows in unambiguous manner how PHED officials failed to supply information and documents in support of their claims. CAG auditors have also presented photographic evidence of the undue favours granted to contractors and thus has shown that works that are shown as executed and paid for on records don’t exist on site. Will this performance audit of drinking water schemes in Meghalaya initiate a phase of more credible public audit, CAG try to ensure that performance audit leads to actual change on ground? I hope that citizens’ groups in Meghalaya will be able to use this. Continue reading “CAG REPORT: Water Woes in Meghalaya”→
Year-end provides a wonderful opportunity for us to take stock of siatuations. If we look at India’s water sector, the above-average rainfall in 2013 monsoon would mean good agricultural production.
But the water sector as a whole is showing increasing signs of trouble.
Let us take few examples. The most striking crisis of 2013 was the unprecedented flood disaster in Uttarakhand in June where thousands perished. Experts and media called it a man-made disaster with a significant role played by existing and under construction hydropower projects and other unsustainable infrastructure. (SANDRPs Report) The Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to set up a committee to look into the role played by existing and under construction hydropower projects in the disaster and also directed that no further clearance to any hydropower projects be given till further orders. This order was possibly the only hopeful sign since Uttarakhand government, other Himalayan states or the central agencies including NDMA and MoEF, seem to have learnt no lessons from the disaster.
Earlier in 2012-13 we saw triple crisis in Maharashtra in the form of worst drought in 40 years, worst irrigation scam in independent India and agitation against diversion of huge quantity of water from agriculture to non agriculture sector without any participatory process. In Andhra Pradesh too, a massive irrigation scam was exposed by the CAG report. In fact inequity in the distribution of costs and benefits related to water sector project lies at the heart of the bifurcation of the troubled state.
In Chhattisgarh and downstream Orissa, thermal power plans of massive capacities are going to impact the water situation so fundamentally that big trouble is likely to erupt there, which may impact several other sectors. Madhya Pradesh government is on a big dam building spree in all its river basins, including Narmada, Chambal and also the water scarce Bundelkhand. All of these projects are for canal irrigation when canal irrigation has failed to add any area to the total net irrigation at national level for over two decades now. We could see a new massive irrigation scam in MP in coming years, in addition to agitations and interstate disputes. Gujarat too saw a very bad drought in 2012-13, and there is increasing perception that Gujarat government is by design not building the distribution network to take the Narmada Dam waters to Kutch and Saurashtra, for whom the project was justified and built.
In North East India it is now two years since massive agitation has led to stoppage of work at ongoing 2000 MW Lower Subansiri hydropower project. This is India’s largest under construction hydropower project on which over Rs 5000 crores have been spent without putting in place basic studies or participatory decision making process. Similar fate awaits if the government goes ahead with other hydropower development projects in the region without learning lessons from this episode. During the year, Forest Advisory Committee’s rejection to grant forest clearance to 3000 MW Dibang and 1500 MW Tipaimukh projects in the region was a good sign, so is the stoppage of work at Maphithel dam in Manipur by the National Green Tribunal.
But we have seen no sign of improvement in environment governance. The year saw the questionable appointment of former Coal Secretary as chairman of the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Committee, by Union Ministry of Environment and Forest. In fact, several of the new appointees in the committee do not have any background in environmental issues. The year also began on the wrong note with the environment clearance to the 620 MW Luhri hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh, designed to destroy the last flowing stretch of SutlejRiver in the state. In April 2013, the Forest Advisory Committee took the most shocking decision of approving the completely unjustifiable Kalu dam for Mumbai Metropolitan Region, without any assessments. The same FAC had rejected the proposal one year back and the reasons for that rejections stand even today.
In Western Ghats, the decision of the Union government of dumping the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel Report (Gadgil Report) and instead in principle accepting the-much criticized Kasturirangan committee Report has already led to full blown crisis in Kerala and is threatening to engulf more areas. This crisis was completely avoidable if the MoEF, in stead had used last two years to encourage public education on the need for implementing the Gadgil panel recommendations.
While relatively poorer states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa has shown big jump in agriculture growth rates in recent years, these have come at the cost of huge depletion in groundwater levels. As Vijayshankar of Samaj Pragati Sahyog said at a conference in Delhi recently, in Rajasthan, the level of groundwater development (ratio of annual groundwater draft to annual utilizable recharge) increased alarmingly from 59% in 1995 to 135% in 2009, indicating that Rajasthan is now in the overexploited category. Of the 236 blocks in Rajasthan, massive 164 (69%) were in over exploited category in 2009. In Madhya Pradesh, while the state groundwater use has moved from 48 to 56%, about 89 blocks out of total 313 (28%) are using unsafe levels of groundwater.
This fresh news of groundwater depletion in new areas is bad sign in medium and long range. “Over the last four decades, around 84 per cent of the total addition to the net irrigated area has come from groundwater. India is by far the largest and fastest growing consumer of groundwater in the world. But groundwater is being exploited beyond sustainable levels and with an estimated 30 million groundwater structures in play, India may be hurtling towards a serious crisis of groundwater over-extraction and quality deterioration”, said Planning Commission member Mihir Shah at a recent meeting in Delhi. 12th Five Year Plan has started the new scheme of mapping groundwater aquifers of India, which is a useful step, but we have yet to crack the puzzle of how to regulate groundwater use to ensure its equitable and sustainable use for priority sectors.
The state of our rivers as also the reservoirs and other water infrastructure is deteriorating but our water resources establishment has shown little concern for that. The IIT consortium report on the Ganga River Basin Management Plan is due soon, but if the pathetic interim report is any sign, there is little hope there.
The year 2012 ended with the National Water Resources Council approving the National Water Policy 2012. At the end of 2013 we have yet to see a credible plan in place for implementing the policy provisions. The year saw proposal from Union Ministry of Water Resources for a new Draft National Water Framework Law, Draft River Basin Management Bill and draft National Policy Guidelines for water sharing/ distribution amongst states. None of them have reached finality and all of them are likely to be opposed by states as an encroachment on their constitutional domain. In fact the interstate Mahadayi River conflict has reached a flashpoint with upstream Karnataka and Maharashtra starting dams in the basin without even statutory clearances from the centre or consent from downstream state of Goa.
While all this looks rather bleak, increasing agitations and informed protests all over India on water issues is certainly hopeful sign. More community groups are challenging inadequately done environmental impact assessments, cumulative impact assessments, basin studies, downstream impact assessments, concepts like eflows etc, raising very informed and pertinent questions. Most of these studies have been the monopoly of select, fraudulent EIA agencies. Critical questions indicate that these studies cannot be done excluding local communities, their knowledge and their concerns. Among other hopeful signs include some of the decisions of the National Green Tribunal on Yamuna and other rivers.
The underlying theme of these events is the increasing trend of state in India working for the interest of the corporate interests to the exclusion of people, environment and democracy. It is a challenge for us all to see how to reverse this trend.
The year 2013 also marks the end of the current term of the Union government. While there is little to hope from the two main political parties ruling the centre and the states mentioned above, perhaps the emerging political alternative in Delhi will grow and move in right direction. Let us hope for the best.
Recently tabled CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) audit report on Bihar contains a performance review of implementation of flood control measures[i] in this most flood prone state. Most of the rivers in North Bihar originate in the Himalayan range in Nepal and cause floods in downstream Bihar with recurrent frequency. 73 percent of geographical area in Bihar is said to be under the threat of flood every year and 16.5 percent of total flood affected areas of India is located in this state.
On reading this performance review, one gets an idea of how CAG audit teams’ knowledge base on flood issue in Bihar relied heavily on Ganga Flood Control Commission (set up by Government of India in April 1972) recommendations, Bihar Flood Management Rules of 2003, Guide on Flood Management Programmes issued by Govt of India etc. However, the performance audit fails to draw upon the numerous writings by Dinesh Mishra of Barh Mukti Abhiyan (Freedom from Floods campaigns) and others. The performance audit also fails to draw upon the recommendations in the civil society fact finding mission following the massive floods due to Kosi embankment breach at Kusaha in Nepal[ii], Kosi Deluge: the Worst is Still to Come.
So when a performance audit report fails to draw upon the writings from ecologists and environmental historians, what recommendation flows from it? The same that would have flowed from the various official Ganga Flood Control Commission (GFCC) reports: build high dams in Nepal to trap the silt, at Barah Kshetra and on the tributaries of the river Kosi, a reservoir with adequate flood cushion at Noonthore on the Bagmati river, three dams over the river Gandak and a multipurpose reservoir at Chisapani on the river Kamla Balan. It is out of this blind faith in looking at high dams as providing flood control and flood cushion solution that CAG audit raised an audit observation that Bihar had failed to prepare even the Detailed Project Report on these proposed dams. The reply that state flood control department filed in November 2012 stated that a Joint Project Office was established at Biratnagar (Nepal) to study the feasibility of proposal of dam on Bagmati, Kamla Balan and Kosi rivers and the DPR of dam at Barah Kshetra was expected to be prepared by February 2013. The audit could have raised the question about the appropriateness of spending money on such futile exercise.
Misplaced faith in structural solutions Dinesh Mishra responds to this fallacy of the auditors stating, “The CAG report repeats what is told to it by the Govt. of Bihar (GoB) as the long term plan that was proposed for the first time in 1937 and nearly eight decades later the proposal is still under ‘active’ consideration of the two governments. Neither the GoB nor the CAG brings out this fact that there is massive resistance to any dam building in Nepal and more so if it is done by India. That is the reason why it has taken 16 years to work on the DPR so far without getting the same ready for any negotiation.” Dinesh Mishra adds, “There is no talking about seismicity, downstream impacts of large dams and strategic defence of the dam itself. We are not sure whether these structures would ever be built, but it is a carrot dangled before the flood victims of the state as if once the dam is built, all the flood problems of the state will be solved” (emphasis added).
No review of reasons for the Kosi disaster of 2008 Also missing from performance review are references to reasons for massive floods in the year 2008 following the breach in Kosi embankment at Kusaha and the pending recommendations by the still ongoing enquiry committee of Kosi High Level Commission. The audit fails to go indepth into how improper maintanance of the embankment lead to this flood disaster, who were responsible for improper maintanance and what system is needed to ensure such blunders are not repeated in future. The audit could have also gone into the role played by GFCC, Kosi High Level Committee and others in the Aug 2008 Kosi flood disaster. The audit continues to display an understanding that looks at more and more embankments straight jacketing the river, or unproved technological remedies such as Intra Linking of Rivers as potential solutions. Hence it raises questions on the non-completion of DPRs on Intra-linking of rivers and on completion of only 61.47 kms embankment against the target of 1535 kms as envisaged in the 11th Five Year plan.
Need to audit CWC’s flood forecasting performance The audit report does however mention those long term non-structural measures, such as flood plains zoning bill and establishment of flood forecasting units at field levels in upstream Nepal that were also recommended in 2004 by GFCC. The audit scrutiny showed that the state water resource dept had failed to enact flood plain zoning bill as well as in establishing flood forecasting units at field levels in all 16 test checked divisions out of 60 flood control divisions. The Audit should have also looked at the quality and use of flood forecasting by the state government and central agency like the Central Water Commisssion. CWC’s flood forecasting and its role in other aspects of flood management in Bihar also need a performance appraisal urgently. The Role played by Farakka Dam in creating backwater effect in Bihar, thus prolonging the flood duration in Bihar and also increasing the height of floods is another aspect that needs scrutiny.
Non implementation of Flood Plain Zoning Bill The flood plain zoning bill would have provided framework for regulation of development activities with the help of flood management maps. In November 2012, replying to this audit observation, department sought to justify its inaction by arguing that flood plain zoning is “impracticable and hindrance in the pace of development of state”. In the wake up of recent disaster in Uttarakhand, Bihar as well as other states would do well to give up on this misconceived tactic of shooting down any advocacy for environmental regulations by terming it as arresting ‘the pace of development’.
Bihar evaluating detention basin DPRs? The audit also pointed out that the suggestion of creating detention basins, i.e. adapting natural depressions/ swamps and lakes for flood moderation was not implemented by the dept as they had neither identified any sites nor released any funds to any divisions to undertake this work during 2007 to 2012. When this was pointed out by CAG auditors, the dept replied in August 2012 claiming that the DPRs of detention basins was under evaluation and final plans would be prepared by December 2012. However, till February 2013, no further progress on this was communicated by dept.
The audit also observed very serious deficiencies in financial management by the department. During the five year period 2007 to 2012, the dept had failed to utilise 11 to 44 percent of the available funds mainly due to delayed/ non-sanctioning of the schemes, delay in land acquisition, opposition by local people and non-passing of bills by the treasuries. Worse still, audit scrutiny showed that the dept had made 30 allotments amounting to Rs 47.47 crore to divisions on the last day of financial year.
Audit scrutiny of flood protection scheme revealed that the contract management of the dept was deficient as was evident from the cases of non-publicity of tender, allotment of works to ineligible contractor, loss to government owing to undue favour extended to a particular contractor and loss of Rs 103 crore due to non-availing of the benefit of competitive bidding in execution of Bagmati extension scheme. Audit also noticed other deficiencies such as non adherence to flood calendar in 44 percent of test-checked works, infructuous expenditure worth Rs 68.50 crore in four test-checked divisions and excess payment of Rs 6.25 crore in two test-checked divisions. Audit also pointed out that dept had incurred an unfruitful expense of Rs 20.21 crore due to abandoning, closure/ postponement of zamindari bandh in two test-checked divisions.
The office of CAG of India has indulged in lot of talk around the idea of environmental auditing. An International Centre for Environment Audit and Sustainable Development was inaugurated at Jaipur in May 2013 and the office of the CAG of India has held a few consultations on environment auditing in recent past. However, performance reviews such as this one clearly points out the need for CAG auditors to equip themselves better in the realm of understanding the ecological aspects around flood, flood plains and flood management; rather than simply drawing up from the reports in official domain such as Ganga Flood Control Commission etc. Will the newly appointed head of India’s Supreme Audit Institution devote his labour to this urgent tak?
(Author is a research scholar at Centre for Studies in Science Policies, JNU, New Delhi.)