Govt and media typically report the status of water storage in India using the CWC’s Weekly Reservoir Storage Bulletin, which contain information about just 91 reservoirs in India. In this article we show that the state websites provide information about huge 3863 reservoirs, which even if not sufficient, is a huge improvement over just 91 reservoirs that CWC bulletin includes. We hope all concerned will try to improve the reservoir storage reporting.
It should be added here that this measures only surface water stored in some of the large reservoirs of India. This excludes large number of big reservoirs, lakhs of smaller reservoirs, groundwater aquifers and soil moisture storage. In spite of these limitations, this provides more accurate picture than just the 91 reservoirs of CWC that everyone in India, including media, govt monitoring and policy makers look at.
The current ongoing episode of Muddy Siang River water in Arunachal Pradesh is due to landslides in the upstream Tibet, triggered by the earthquakes starting on Nov 17, 2017 or possibly earlier. This is revealed by the satellite pictures and work of two researchers, first published in Arunachal Times on Dec 21, 2017[i]. These landslides are partly blocking the Siang flow and could lead to massive floods in the downstream Arunachal Pradesh and Assam any day.
It is proposed that the current CWC and CGWB should be reconstituted along following lines. Encouraged by communication from the committee and MoWR that the suggestions need not be limited by the TORs since TORs are also extendable, I have proposed a new institutional structure that is different than the current one. A brief outline of this was presented at the 6th meeting of Mihir Shah headed committee on Jan 11, 2016, it is elaborated here further. Continue reading “Submission to Mihir Shah Committee For Restructuring of CWC & CGWB”→
By law, rivers in India belong to the government, however, government has no particular agency that governs our rivers. Our constitution or law does not provide any direct protection to rivers. A large number of entities at centre and state level take decisions that affect our rivers but they do not even seem aware of such impacts. That the decisions and working of a large number of agencies affect the rivers is expected considering the landscape level existence of rivers and society’s wide ranging needs for water and other services provided by the rivers. But the complete neglect of the rivers is certainly not expected. More importantly, people seem to have no role in governance of our rivers! There seems to be neither an understanding nor a recognition that lives and livelihoods of so many people depend on rivers. Nor an understanding as to what is a river and what are its role in the ecosystem, in current and future well being of the society. These blindspots about our understanding of rivers get reflected in our governance of rivers.
India remains an agrarian country, and our water use practices have prioritised use of water for irrigation. Archaic water laws during the British rule looked at water as a resource to be exploited under the jurisdiction of the government. The 1873 Northern India Canal and Drainage Act, stated ‘use and control for public purposes the water of all rivers and streams flowing in natural channels’ as a right of the Government, without any credible and democratic way of deciding what is public purpose. In the same vein the Madhya Pradesh Irrigation Act of 1931 asserted direct state control over water, which find an echo even today in the Bihar Irrigation Act, of 1997 that stresses that all rights in surface water vest with the Government. In fact post colonial water governance did not see any break from the past and essentially the same paradigm prevalant during colonial times continued after independence.
Water in India, as per our constitution is a state (government) subject, and by the same logic water laws in the country too are mostly state based. Thus the state has the constitutional power to make laws, to implement & regulate water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage & hydropower. However, there is nothing in the constitution or law that shows an understanding of what is a river, what services it provides or if there is anything worth conserving in rivers. There is no legal protection for rivers in India.
Moreover as most of the rivers flow through more than one states, the rivers become cause of major interstate disputes when they are seen as sites of big dams. Smaller projects are rarely the reason for intractable interstate disputes. Unfortunately, in post-indepednence India, politicians love big dams and they are seen as most important, if not the only saleable development projects.
The centre can intervene for any interstate differences by constituting a Water Dispute Tribunal for the mediation of the water dispute, but only if invited to do so by the state government. It is within the Central Government powers to regulate and develop inter-State rivers under entry 56 of the constitution, but these powers are rarely used. Entry 56 reads: “Regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest.”
Instead many different regulatory mechanisms have been harnessed and committees formed under various ministries for water management in inter state river basins.
Let’s take a tour of the various agencies involved in governance of rivers in India.
AT THE CENTRE:
Ministry for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
It is the apex body at the union level responsible for the country’s water resources and its functions from the river perspective are:
Rejuvenation of Ganga River and also National Ganga River Basin Authority
To resolve differences relating to inter-state rivers
To oversee implementation of inter-state projects occasionally
To manage, monitor and sanction funds for centrally funded schemes like Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Program, Command Area Development, Rehabilitation of Water Bodies, Bharat Nirman, etc.
Operation of central network for flood forecasting and warning on inter-state rivers (CWC task)
Preparation of flood control master plans for the Ganga and the Brahmaputra
Talks and negotiations on river waters with neighbouring countries
Operation of the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan, Ganga Water Treaty with Bangladesh, Mahakali, Kosi, Gandak and other treaties with Nepal, Water Cooperation with Bhutan, Exchange of Data with China under MoU, etc.
There are a plethora of offices/bodies under the water resource ministry, who work under their control. These include the following:
Central Water Commission (CWC) Supposed to be a premier Technical Organization, the CWC is responsible for schemes for control, conservation and utilization of all water resources for various purposes, which includes flood control & irrigation, and overall planning& development of river basins. It also monitors the river water quality at 396 stations located in all the major river basins of India. It is also responsible for co-ordination with states for establishing River Basin Organisations , like
This gives a misleading picture that for practically every river basin there is a basin organisation. In reality, review of CWC annual reports show that there is hardly any activity of these organisations, they in any case do not work to protect the rivers.
A multidisciplinary scientific organization for the scientific & sustainable development and management of India’s ground water resources. A Central Ground Water Authority has been in 1996 through a Supreme Court order with powers under Environment Protection Act, 1986. On the face of it, CGWB and CGWA may not have any direct role in governance of rivers, the fact is they have a huge role. Firstly, destruction of rivers mean that the groundwater recharge that happens by flowing rivers would stop. CGWB and CGWA should be concerned about this, but have shown no such concern. Secondly, when there is over exploitation of groundwater, it has impact on flow of downstream rivers, particularly in lean season and in low rainfall areas.
Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS): A principal central agency that provides R&D, and deals with research, services and support pertaining to projects on water resources, energy & water borne transport including those related to rivers.
Central Soil and Materials Research Station (CMRS): It deals with field explorations, laboratory investigations and research in the field of geotechnical engineering and civil engineering materials, particularly for construction of river valley projects and safety evaluation of existing dams.
Set up in 1981-82, the main task of this organisation is to do studies related to inter-linking of rivers. In that sense, it is an anti-river organisation! An autonomous society, some of NWDA’s river related functions include to:
Carry out detailed surveys about the quantum of water that can be transferred to other basins/States
Prepare feasibility report of the various components of the scheme relating to Peninsular Rivers development and Himalayan Rivers development
Prepare detailed project report of river link proposals
Prepare pre-feasibility/feasibility report of the intra-state links
NWDA has not been confident enough to put any of its work in public domain. Some feasibility reports are out following repeated Supreme Court orders in 2002. A perusal of some of these studies shows that it has no concern for the rivers or the services provided by the rivers. It sees all water flowing to the sea as a waste! Which means rivers are a wasteful resource! In its environment impact assessments or in its cost benefit analysis there is no accounting of the services of rivers that would be destroyed if the proposed project go ahead!
National Institute of Hydrology (NIH)
A “premier” Institute in the area of hydrology and water resources, it aids, promotes & coordinates work in the field of hydrology and water resources development. However, it is not known to stand up or speak up for rivers. Its classification of rivers, as mentioned in an earlier blog, leaves a lot to be desired. The non participatory tendencies of NIH was apparent in the way it organised a workshop on Environment Flows in Oct 2013. NIH did not find it necessary to invite even the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for the workshop! NIH also parterned with CIFRI for a flawed assessment of e-flows for Teesta IV project, among other such studies.
Farakka Barrage Authority It is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Farakka Barrage Project, (FBP), which regulate the flow of water to the Bhagirathi-Hooghly through the feeder canal to maintain navigability of the Kolkata Port.
National Water Academy Earlier known as Central Training Unit, it has been established to impart in house training to water resources personnel from government organisations. Its curriculum includes watershed management, flood forecast &management, environmental management for river valley projects and workshop on River Basin Organisations.
Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) The techno-economic appraisal of irrigation, flood control and multipurpose projects proposed by the State/ Central Governments or other organisations is done by TAC of Ministry for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, for Irrigation, Flood Control and Multipurpose Projects and thereafter make appropriate recommendation. Once found acceptable by the TAC, it is recommended for investment clearance by the Planning Commission and inclusion in the Five Year Plan/Annual Plan. In the functioning of TAC, lack of transparency, participatory governance is the norm. TAC has no member from outside the government, nor does it put up its agenda or minutes of the meeings in public domain. At the initiative of SANDRP, following a letter written to the government in April 2011, minutes of some of the TAC meetings were for the first time put up in public domain, but even that has stopped since July 2012.
Interstate River Basin Boards For several Inter State Basins, Boards have been set up for co-ordination and implementation and to deal with individual basins/ projects/ interstate disputes. Some of them are listed here.
Bansagar Control Board for execution of Bansagar Dam on Sone river and connected works
Betwa River Board for the execution of the Rajghat Dam Project
Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB), which refers to the reach of Yamuna from its origin at Yamunotri to Okhla Barrage at Delhi and includes all the states in this basin.
The Brahmaputra Board: Its objective is planning & integrated implementation of measures for control of floods and bank erosion in Brahmaputra and for matters connected therewith
Narmada Control Authority (NCA): For proper implementation of the decisions & directions of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal. There are number of supporting statutory mechanisms: Environment Sub Group of NCA, Rehabilitation Sub Group of NCA, Review Committee of NCA and Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee.
The Tungabhadra Board: Regulates water for irrigation, hydro-power generation and other uses from the Tungabhadra reservoir
Ganga Flood Conrol Commission has been set up for specific tasks related to floods in the Ganga basin, including coordination with upstream Nepal.
Public Sector Enterprises under Union Ministry of Water Resources:
Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS) Limited: Provides consultancy services in Water Resources, Power and Infrastructure Sectors. The shoddy work of WAPCOS in doing environmental impact assessment and cumulative basin level impact assessment has been repeatedly highlighted by SANDRP. WAPCOS is also involved in Water projects that India funds abroad including in Afghanistan, Bhutan, etc. During a recent visit to Bhutan, SANDRP heard similar complaints about shoddy EIAs and over charging by WAPCOS and also about Bhutan government having no option, but to give the work to WAPCOS, since India as a funder was dictating the terms.
National Projects Construction Corporation Limited (NPCC): Carries out infrastructure work and other related activities for development of the nation that includes dam construction
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC)
The nodal agency that plans, promotes, co-ordinates and oversees the implementation of the country’s environmental & forestry policies and programmes, its primary concern is implementation of policies and programmes relating to conserve our natural resources that includes rivers.
The ministry also accords environment and forest clearance to hydropower projects and dams all over India. The Environment Clearnace is given by the ministry for hydropower projects above 50 MW and for irrigation projects with command area above 10 000 ha. For the environment appraisal of these projects, the ministry has set up Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydropower Projects. The functioning of the ministry and EAC on this score is most shoddy, inadequate, inconsistent and far from any concern for rivers. In fact if you pick up Environmental Impact Assessment of any project cleared by the EAC and the ministry, you would not find anything about the value of rivers in any of its reports.
The Forest Department (FD) under MoEF & CC governs rivers that flow through the forests. Since a huge about 23% of land of the country or about 76 million ha of land comes under this department a very large segment of India’s rivers come under the FD. However, there is no evidence of FD taking any action to protect the rivers or aquatic biodiversity. In fact we have been reading the FD proposals for diversion of forest land that come before the Forest Advisory Committee over the years and we see absolutely no concern or even recognition of the impact of such diversions on rivers or aquatic biodiversity, the FD does not even seem to acknowledge the existence of river and aquatic biodiversity.
The Wildlife Department (WLD) under MoEF & CC has powers under the Wildlife Act of 1972 to have their say whenever any activity or development project affects the aquatic life in protected areas or even flows into or out of any protected areas. However there is little evidence to show that WLD has used these powers to protect rivers, flows & aquatic life therein even as projects are well into implementation, without even taking consent of the Chief Wildlife Warden, State Board of Wildlife or National Board of Wildlife.
The MoEF & CC has been sitting for years over a proposal to notify River Regulation Zone for protection so that riverbeds and floodplains are protected.
National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD) The name is misleading here, as the name suggests it works for conservation of rivers, but its only focus is pollution. So either the name is misleading or it reflects poor understanding of the government when they equate river conservation with pollution control work. It is supposed to be governed by National River Conservaion Authority, chaired by Prime Minister, but that authority has never met during the 10 years of UPA government and now almost six months of NDA government. This shows how much of a priority rivers are for the government.
Under the MoEF & CC, NRCD works for conservation of rivers, lakes and wetlands through 2 central schemes:
National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) : To improve water quality of rivers through implementation of pollution abatement schemes in identified polluted stretches of rivers
National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems (NPCA): To conserve aquatic ecosystems (lakes and wetlands)
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
A statutory organisation, under MoEF & CC, the CPCB sets standards and regulations for prevention and control of pollution. It also monitors water quality of all important water bodies located on 206 rivers of the country. CPCB, along with state pollution control boards and the whole pollution control machinery were set up following the 1974 water pollution control act. 40 years after setting up of this elaborate bureaucracy, we have not heard of a single success story where this machinery has achieved a clean river. However, there are large number of examples of its failure and the machinery being a den of corruption. The Supreme Court of India on Oct 29, 2014 said: “This is an institutional failure and your story is a complete story of failure, frustration and disaster.”
National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA)
Set up in 2009 through a notification under Environment Protection Act (EPA) of 1986, it’s functions include development of a Ganga River Basin Management Plan, regulation of activities aimed at prevention, control and abatement of pollution, to maintain water flow and quality and to take measures relevant to the river ecology in the Ganga basin states. So far there has been absoltely no sign of impact of functioning of this authority on the Ganga. The authority met just three times during first five years of its existence and frustated independent members twice resigned. The NDA government at the centre that took office in May 2014 reconstituted it without either public process or even public information, in fact even the earlier members did not know they have been removed!
Water Quality Assessment Authority
Established under EPA 1986 in 2001, WQAA’s functions include issuing direction and taking measures on the following matters:
Investigate and carry out research on problems of water pollution
Prepare manuals, codes or guides to prevent, control and for abatement of water pollution
Direct agencies to take measures to restore water quality of the river / water bodies
Restrict water abstraction of treated sewage / trade effluent on land, rivers and other water bodies to mitigate crisis of water quality
Maintain minimum discharge for sustenance of aquatic life forms in riverine system
Utilize self-assimilation capacities at the critical river stretches to minimise cost of effluent treatment
Review the status of quality of national water resources (both surface water & ground water) and identify “Hot Spots” for taking necessary actions
It is amazing that more than 13 years after constitution of WQAA, we see no sign of its functioning either on the state of our rivers or in governance of our rivers.
Ministry of Power
MoP is primarily responsible for the development of electrical energy in the country and all matters relating to hydro-electric power (except small/mini/micro hydel projects of and below 25 MW capacity). It also deals with matters relating to these agencies:
Central Electricity Authority
CEA accords techno economic clearance to hydropower projects under Electricity Act 2003. The Section 8(2) of the Act states, “The (Central Electricity) Authority shall, before concurring in any (hydropower) scheme submitted to it under sub-section (1) have particular regard to, whether or not in its opinion,- (a) the proposed river-works will prejudice the prospects for the best ultimate development of the river or its tributaries for power generation, consistent with the requirements of drinking water, irrigation, navigation, flood-control, or other public purposes, and for this purpose the Authority shall satisfy itself, after consultation with the State Government, the Central Government, or such other agencies as it may deem appropriate, that an adequate study has been made of the optimum location of dams and other river-works”. (Emphasis added.)
This provision could have been used for the protection of rivers, since it requires the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) to give concurrence to hydro projects only after satisfying that the proposal is optimum with respect to all other uses of the rivers. Unfortunately, as the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) found out through applications under the Right to Information Act, while giving concurrence to hydropower schemes under this Act, the CEA consults only two organisations, namely the Geological Society of India (GSI) and the Central Water Commission (CWC). GSI and CWC evaluate the scheme from specific parameters of geology and hydrology, but do not look at basin wide issues as required under the Act. The CEA itself is not capable of ensuring basin wide optimisation that the Act requires, nor does it consult the concerned stakeholders. Thus the Act is not being followed.
The Damodar Valley Corporation
The Bhakra Beas Management Board (except matters relating to irrigation)
National Thermal Power Corporation Limited
National Hydro-electric Power Corporation Limited
North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited
Tehri Hydro Development Corporation
Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd.
Power Grid Corporation of India Limited
Power Finance Corporation Limited
Centra and state electricity regulatory commissions
All of these authorities, involved in sanctioning, developing, regulating, financing and operating hydropower projects have direct impact on rivers.
Ministry of Agriculture (MoA)
Agriculture remains the biggest user of water in India. MoA is the apex body for formulation and administration of the rules,regulations and laws relating to agriculture in India, it’s portfolio also includes research on matters relating to irrigation, flood control, anti-water-logging, drainage, soil and water conservation, watershed development and anti-erosion.
This department under MoA also looks at Riverine fisheries on which more than 10 million Indians depend directly. The Department or corresponding State Fisheries Departments in respective states have absolutely no interest in welfare of rivers, despite the fact that damming and pollution is directly affecting fish yield. We looked at the way how Maharashtra Fisheries Department functions vis a vis rivers and Riverine Fisheries and we were clearly told that rivers are not a part of their jurisdiction!
Department of Agriculture And Cooperation
It focuses on sustaining the current momentum by stabilizing food grain production to ensure food security. Its water related agenda includes increased availability of irrigation water leading to increase in the irrigated area, farm productivity and crop production.
Soil and Land Use Survey of India (SLUSI), a pivotal organisation under it carries out survey and soil conservation activities for catchment of river valley projects & flood prone rivers for demarcation of watersheds.
Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE)
It coordinates and promotes agricultural research and education.
Ministry of Rural Development
Though this nodal Ministry is mainly responsible for most of the development and welfare activities in the rural areas, water supply & sanitation schemes involve the rivers as a water source or affects rivers directly or indirectly. In some areas, projects involve rivers, as in the case of the MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) in Madhya Pradesh, which was to revive a river in Khargone district, and increase surface flows.
Ministry of Urban Development
The apex body for formulation and administration of the rules and regulations and laws relating to the housing and urban development, of which urban water supply & sanitation is an essential division. Increasingly, Urban areas are dependent for its water sources on rivers from farther and farther areas and they are invariably dumping mostly untreated sewage and even solid waste into the nearby rivers without any impunity. Urban areas are also destroying the water bodies in the cities and encroaching on the floodplains and even riverbeds.
National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI)
NEERI conducts research and innovations in environmental science and engineering to help find solutions to environmental pollution and natural resource problems. It has 5 zonal laboratories at Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. NEERI is also into the Environmental Impact Assessment business and some of the EIAs it has done of hydropoer projects are pretty shoddy.
State Level Agencies
As per India’s constitution, water remains a state subject and hence state governmnet role in the fate of rivers is also very crucial. At each state level, the involved agencies related to Rivers include the following :
Environment Department: Responsibility includes environment protection, pollution monitoring, control abatement and awareness. The department is also involved in regulating and sanctioning hydropower projects of 25-50 MW capacity and also smaller irrigation projects through State Environment Impact Assessment Agency and State Environment Appraisal Agency.
State Pollution Control Boards
SPCBs have been set up in all states under the Water Pollution Control Act of 1974. At the State level, this board is responsible for implementation of legislations relating to prevention & control of environmental pollution, and conservation of natural resources. The SPCBs are also required to give consent to establish and consent to operate for all the major projects, including dams and hydropower projects. They also conduct public hearings required under the EIA notification of Sept 2006. As mentioned earlier, we do not see a success story in functioning of any SPCB in either achieving a clean river or protection of rivers.
Water Resources (or Irrigation) Department: Aim is to regulate water resources within the State (e.g. Department of Irrigation, Government of Punjab) as per State Water Policy and to facilitate & ensure judicious, equitable and sustainable management, allocation and utilization of water resources. Some special state level agencies include the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority. Besides these, there are Irrigation Development Corporations, to accelerate the completion of irrigation projects in Maharashtra State. Such corporations have been set up in a number of states including Karnataka, Gujarat, among others.
Power Department: Responsible for generation, transmission, distribution and despatching of electric power supply, including hydropower, for example Energy & Power Department of Sikkim and Power & Electricity Department, Mizoram. Some states have also set up state level corporations for hydropower development (e.g. Himachal Pradesh Power Development Corporation).
Judiciary, Media, Religion, Civil Society & Society at large All these agencies also have a big role in deciding the fate of our rivers and need to play that role effectively. Unfortunately, considering the state of our rivers, we can conclude that inspite of some notable exceptions in case of all these, in general, we have not succeedded in protecting our rivers.
As far as role of political parties & leaders are concerned, we do not seem to have even any positive exceptions in terms of achieving better state of our rivers.
Some rare bright lights in this scenario, apart from community efforts at coordination, communication and governance include the WRIS (Water Resources Information System of India), a joint venture between MoWR and ISRO. The site is indeed a useful reference for information about many basins in the country (although the claimed focus is on “Water Resources” and not rivers!). It also includes Watershed Atlas, River Basin Atlas of the country and individual basin profiles which look comprehensive.
In Conclusion: Rivers are more than just a water source We have a complex network of river systems in the country. The myriad government agencies listed here majorly affect rivers, and a close co ordination and involvement between these institutions is essential to implement any river policy or project to ensure continued existence and sustenance of rivers. River management and their judicious use encompasses a whole lot of diverse characteristics and these fall under the jurisdiction of many of the above mentioned agencies, who need to work in a together in a cohesive manner. The river governance need to be democratic and communities should have a key role in informed, participatory decision making. This is certainly possible if there is a will.
Even though humans have built homes and civilisations along river banks since time immemorial, and water has been vital for life and growth, used for drinking, irrigation, transportation and energy sources, our society and governance system seem to have failed to understand the true value of our rivers. Today, these rivers that are our lifeline seem to be more often misused than used.
The fact that a large number of entities are involved in governing the fate of the rivers should not be such a problem as long as each of them is aware that their decisions are affecting the fate of the rivers and that they are involved in governing the rivers. The second major problem is that there are no river specific, legally empowered coordinating agency that will ensure that rivers continue to survive and exist in a healthy state. In effect, while the government has monoploy over rivers, it is not bothered to ensure continued and healthy existence for rivers.
We may have created these techno legal frameworks for our short sighted priorities, but what would be a first step of help for rivers is recognition of rivers, its services, need for their continued and sustained existence and legal protection for the same. A legally empowered and participatory coordination mechanism that is willing to understand and speak from the rivers perspective, for each river could also help. An agency that will understand and appreciate rivers, rather than see it as a simple linear source of water, power or transport system.
Even though the new NDA govt at the centre since May 2014 has claimed that river rejuvenation is its priority, we see that the government so far has only indulged in tokenism and symbolism. On the contrary, in terms of deeds a large of their actions are against the interest of sustained existence of rivers.
Welspun Energy which is famous for renewable sources of energy like solar and wind power plants in India, is now becoming more infamous in thermal power sectors in India. While, the Environmental Clearance of one of its thermal power plant in Katni (Madhya Pradesh) is under controversy since 2 years alleging fake public hearing and protests from farmers for forcefully acquiring land with help of local administration,… an action replay is observed in another thermal power plant proposed by the company in Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh. While High Court of Madhya Pradesh has issued notices to Central and State government of M.P. for Katni Thermal Power Plant raising question on the whole EIA process[i], the proposed 1320 MW Mirzapur thermal power plant is awaiting EC and is facing huge opposition from local people and Banaras Hindu University which has its new 2700 acres of south campus very near to the project site. Students of BHU even sent a written petition to MoEF alleging that public hearing was not communicated properly and the EIA concealed several critical information.In this article, we tried to highlight the issues related to water where the company has been alleged to conceal information and not taking into account the factors which will is bound to have significant impact on environment.
A 1320 MW coal based thermal power plant is proposed at village Dadri Khurd in Mirzapur by M/s Welspun Energy (U.P.) Pvt. Ltd. Issues like concealment of wildlife data and utilizing forest areas caught the eyes of environmentally concerned people after the Site Visit report prepared by Vindhya Bachao was made public. One of the key issues raised was the impact of water withdrawal and the manner in which it is proposed in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report. The project proponent concealed information regarding the presence of an entire river, water-falls, a University campus of 2700 acres and the fact that the same water source provides drinking water to the entire campus!
The project was considered for Environmental Clearance by Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) – Thermal Power and Coal Mines on 26th March, 2013 and 18th November, 2013, and was deferred both the times. Local activists and Banaras Hindu University have made representations for shifting of this project to MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests) already. The project is being under consideration for third time by EAC in its meeting dated 25th March, 2014. This article presents a short summary of the contradictions between the claims made by the Company and the reality at the ground level. It also illustrates the extent to which a company can go to mislead the authorities to get an Environmental Clearance.
1. No EIA of withdrawal of water from Ganga
Ecological Flow ignored while giving NOC to withdraw Ganga water
The project proponent wrote in its EIA that 40 lakh liters of water per hour will be required by the power plant which will be withdrawn from River Ganga via Upper Khajuri Reservoir. In the NOC (No Objection Certificate) letter given by CWC (Central Water Commission), the dry period of Ganga has been written as January to May. According to researchers based in Varanasi and Mirzapur, the water flow in Ganga improves only around July after the onset of monsoons. Apart from this, one can visually make out the state of river Ganga in Mirzapur which starts drying in October and by November end, the river looks completely dry. In any case, the extraction of water in lean season will not only affect the river ecology but the livelihood of people dependent on the river as well specially the fishermen. Mirzapur stretch also reportedly has Gangetic Dolphins, which will be also affected due to the proposed activity. However, it is ironical to see that the country’s premier institutions like CWC ignored the water flow of Ganga at Mirzapur while giving NOC to withdraw water. Not only the lean season has been altered for the project but the high level of pollution in Ganga has also kept aside while allowing so much water (36 MCM) to be pumped for the power plant. Mirzapur lies between Allahabad and Varanasi, both of which lie on the banks of Ganga, and are responsible for its severely polluted state. No doubt the water quality of Ganga at Mirzapur is not great and there should be enough water present in the river to allow safe dispersal of pollutants and improving the self cleansing capacity of the river. In such a crisis, the decision of the CWC to allow withdrawal of water from Ganga is extremely incongruous.
In a response to a representation that we sent to the MoEF regarding this, the company replied that they are using just 0.0003% of total 60,000 Cu.mec. water flow in the Ganges. It must be mentioned here that this calculation was based on the consideration of 4 lakh litres of water required per hour, instead of 40 lakh/hour. As discussed earlier, such huge extraction of water will have significant impact on the river flow in lean season. There has been no impact assessment of the withdrawal of water from Ganga which was required to be done as per the TOR issued to the project.
The Distance of Upper Khajuri Reservoir by road from Mirzapur is at least 24 Km and from Upper Khajuri reservoir to the proposed site is another 7 Km. The elevation of the proposed project site is at 630 feet while the elevation of Upper Khajuri dam and river Ganga is at approx. 510 feet and 260 feet respectively. The pipeline crosses through several Reserve Forests like Barkachha RF, Daanti RF, Marihaan Reserve Forest and Patehra which are home to at least six Schedule I species including Sloth Bear, Chinkara and Vultures. According to a reply under RTI application from the forest department, it is also noted that the region has a very small population of Swamp deer and Mugger Crocodile too.
2. Diversion of Irrigation Reservoir to Industrial Use, was there any participation of the affected people in this decision?
i) Imprudent approach to use Upper Khajuri The project proponent says that the water for dry season of Ganga will be met from Upper Khajuri Dam, which will be filled up during monsoon.The company also added that 9.5 MCM will be also pumped for agricultural needs of the people. Firstly, the reservoir is very much in use and is source of irrigation and drinking water. The subsequent question that arises is whether they have the permission for additional 9.5 MCM to be withdrawn and whether there is any checking mechanism to monitor that only 36 MCM water is being pumped and no more? Will they be able to maintain the water quality, which will be effected due to ingress of Ganges water?
According to the information available on WRIS-NRSC website, the Upper Khajuri Reservoir is a very old reservoir developed in 1962 as a medium irrigation project with potential created at 7280 Ha with a live storage-capacity of 37.834 MCM.
Our concern here is, whether the idea of filling up of a rain-fed reservoir with the severely polluted water from Ganga will solve the problem or escalate it? There are several agricultural fields adjoining Upper Khajuri reservoir that will be submerged. In addition, the clean water available to the farmers will be completely jeopardised and there will be increased threat of contamination of the fields due to the constant filling of polluted water from Ganga. It is worth noting that the current source of water for the reservoir is rainfall surface run-off which gets enough time to clean its water from suspended particles and other contaminants.
ii) No Mention of downstream features and impacts of alteration to Upper Khajuri reservoirThe EIA report does not mention the important downstream features and uses of Upper Khajuri Reservoir. The Upper Khajuri Reservoir (UKR) is connected to Lower Khajuri Reservoir (LKR) via River Khajuri. River Khajuri runs alongside the Banaras Hindu University’s South Campus (A k.a. RGSC-Rajiv Gandhi South Campus) and has to two of the famous water-falls of Mirzapur, namely Wyndham Fall and Kharanja Fall.
Wyndham fall is a very famous historical water fall and nature park being maintained by Forest Department, which is on River Khajuri. The length of the river between Upper and Lower Khajuri Reservoir is very short, which is approximately less than 10 Km. The LKR is the source of drinking water to the entire BHU South Campus and any alteration to Upper Khajuri Reservoir will directly affect the Lower Khajuri Reservoir as both of them are connected via River Khajuri.
The EIA report not only ignores the presence of 2700 acres of RGSC-BHU, but also does not even mention the presence of River Khajuri, Wyndham Fall and Lower Khajuri Reservoir (LKR). LKR, commissioned in 1949 as per CWC register of Large Dams in India has gross storage capacity of 120.37 MCM (Million Cubic Meters). UKR, commissioned in 1958 has gross storage capacity of 44.74 MCM and live storage capacity of 37.83 MCM. As CWC register shows, both are irrigation projects.
A representation from Banaras Hindu University has already been sent to MoEF on 18th September, 2013, in which they have mentioned that any alteration to Upper Khajuri will jeopardise the drinking water source of the campus. In the same letter it has been demanded to shift the site of the project far from the campus.
Opposition is also coming from the students of RGSC. Students recently sent a petition with more than 500 signatures showing opposition to the use of Upper Khajuri dam and saying that Khajuri River has cultural values for the students and they are sentimentally attached to the river system, especially the Wyndham fall and Kharanja fall. They also showed concern regarding water quality as it is also the source of drinking water for them. The same petition also alleged that the information about public hearing was not communicated properly, due to which no one from RGSC could participate in the Public Hearing and register their complaint.
3. No Impact on water resources?
Under the Terms of Reference recommended by MoEF for EIA of the project, it was mandatory to:
“Study on the impact on river/marine ecology (as may be applicable) due to the proposed withdrawal of water/ discharge of treated wastewater into the river/ creek/ sea etc shall be carried out and submitted alongwith the EIA Report.”
The company repeatedly maintained in the EIA report that there will be no impact on water resources due to the project.
In the EIA report they wrote that the project will be designed for zero waste water discharge and the waste water generation will be only 1% of freshwater withdrawn. This magical prediction is based on their theoretical design. However, it is highly impractical. Moreover, there is no mention of River Khajuri, Wyndham fall and most importantly, the fact that the same water source is also used for drinking water by BHU and also irrigation. Apart from withdrawal of water, what concerns us is the impact of water pollution on the water sources. In a thermal power plant project, the water pollution range from discharges from cooling tower blow down, boiler blow down, demineralisation plant effluent, coal handling plant dust suppression, ash handling, Leachate of heavy metal (especially Mercury) from ash pond, effluent from oil handling and transformer areas, power house and turbine area effluent and domestic waste water. No detailed assessment of impacts on water due to withdrawal or discharge is given in the EIA report.
Though the company’s arguments have seems to have convinced State Government and Central Water Commission, it is becoming very hard for the BHU Professors to accept that this will not jeopardize the drinking water supply of the campus. As the Upper Khajuri dam and river Khajuri is being used extensively for drinking water, this will severely affect the water quality. As the length of river Khajuri between UKR and LKR is short, one cannot expect the self cleaning capacity of the river will be too sufficient. The impact of the water withdrawal on the aquatic ecology, groundwater recharge, irrigation, water falls was also required, none has been done.
EAC in its meeting dated 26th March, 2013 raised this issue to project proponent and asked for some other alternative water source for the project site, since the dam was constructed for drinking and agricultural needs and not for industrial purposes.
In our representation to EAC we also emphasized that water from Ganga will have very very high levels of BOD, coliforms and other pollutants, which will cumulatively jeopardize the water quality in the streams leaving this entire region in severe crisis of drinking water. Apart from that, contaminants like Zinc, Aresinc, Chromium, Phosphate, Copper and radioactive element like Uranium will impose heavy threat to the water quality of the local water sources as the waste water will be finally discharged in local nallah which will drain either into Khajuri river or some other wetland. The company has still kept a mum on the disclosure of that local nallah till now, where the wastewater is to be discharged.
On raising the issue regarding water discharge and impact on water resources to EAC in November last year, the company responded as follows:
“The desired water is sourced primarily from Ganga River flowing at a distance of 17 km from project site for which desired approvals have already been obtained from State & Central Government. The same is only intermediately stored at Upper Khajuri Dam, which is finally pumped to reservoir at project site. Therefore, our source of water is not common as Vindham Falls…
I. Referring Point No. I, we confirm that Upper Khajuri Dam will be used as intermediate storage of water from Ganga & ultimately will be pumped to our project site after fulfilling the commitment with State Government for irrigation & other purposes of local community…
Total water requirement for power project including irrigation requirement would be met by pumping water from river Ganges and storing In Upper Khajuri Dam and there is no conflict of interest as for as BHU and Vindham fall is concerned.”
We just hope EAC takes note of the silly and unscientific replies of the project proponent while making any decision in future of this project. In any case, an assessment of the quality of the Ganga water, how it will affect the UKR and Khauri river and downstream ecology and how will it ensured that water used by the company will be exactly same as the water pumped from Ganga minus the losses? Why can the project not be asked to build their own facility rather than using the UKR?
4. Other Issues with the Project There are numerous environmental issues which were raised by Vindhya Bachao in its ‘Site Visit Report’ submitted to MOEF on 15th November, 2013 – including location of the project site inside a forest area, presence of Schedule I animals in the project site – which are in direct contradiction to the claims made in the EIA report that no forest land is involved and no endangered animal is present in project area. Some other issues were also reported like illegal means of getting signatures in support of the project in the form of job application form. The Site visit report prepared by Vindhya Bachao, BHU’s representation and all EIA documents of the project can be accessed at www.vindhyabachao.org/welspun.
It is also interesting to see what stand Mr. Narendra Modi, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate who will be contesting from Varanasi, just 60 km downstream of Mirzapur, will take. While he tries to woo people of Varanasi for clean Ganga, will he understand the ecology of Ganga? And can he prevent further destruction of this mighty, holy river from companies like Welspun. This becomes particularly interesting since Welspun has flourished in Gujarat under Modi’s rule.