Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 18 June 2018 (Why this Onslaught of Big Dam Advocacy by CWC Ideologues?)

In a recent article Ashwin B Pandya, Former, Chairman Central Water Commission (CWC) refuses to acknowledge either the adverse impacts of dams or the better option of using groundwater aquifer for storing water. And thus making unscientific arguments against dam decommissioning and for dams. No one is talking of removal ALL dams as the author seems to postulate and then dismiss it as impossible and irresponsible.

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 18 June 2018 (Why this Onslaught of Big Dam Advocacy by CWC Ideologues?)”

Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 11 June 2018 (Groundwater Pollution: The Hidden Killer Menace Lurking All Over)

Aquifers in 16 States in the country are contaminated by uranium, whose presence in drinking water has been linked to chronic kidney disease by several studies, a recent study has shown. More importantly, uranium doesn’t figure on the list of contaminants monitored under the Bureau of Indian Standards’ drinking water specifications. The main source of this contamination is natural, but groundwater depletion by extensive withdrawal of water for irrigation and nitrite pollution due to the excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers may be exacerbating the problem, said the study.

– The study was carried out by a team of researchers led by Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University in the US. The team, which also included experts from the Central Ground Water Board, the Rajasthan government’s Ground Water Department and Gujarat Water Resources Development Corporation, analysed groundwater samples from 226 locations in Rajasthan and 98 in Gujarat.

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 11 June 2018 (Groundwater Pollution: The Hidden Killer Menace Lurking All Over)”


India’s National Register of Large Dams: Shows how little we know about our dams

The Central Water Commission (CWC) of India’s Union Ministry of Water Resources periodically updates India’s National Register of Large Dams (NRLD), the latest edition seems to have been put up recently[i]. Significantly, this latest edition reports huge jump in number of large dams in India, compared to the previous editions from 2009 that SANDRP has been monitoring. The 2009 edition of NRLD had 5100 large dams and the editions from 2012 to 2016 had listed 5190 to 5170 large dams, but the 2017 edition suddenly reports that now India has 5701 large dams, a jump of over 510 from the editions in last five years. This shows that neither states had been reporting correct figures of number of large dams in India, nor was CWC bothered to collect correct basic information about large dams. Continue reading “India’s National Register of Large Dams: Shows how little we know about our dams”

Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 31 July 2017 (Dams Turning Floods into Disasters, Yet We Continue to Push More & Bigger Dams)  

All through the month, several states in the country have been battling severe flood situation. The Northeastern (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam), Western (Rajasthan Gujurat), Central (Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh) and Eastern (Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal) regions have been particularly affected by floods following incessant rain.

Till July 28, 2017, 293 people have succumbed to flood related accidents. As per govt sources, the economic cost of flood damages has reached 53894.634 lakh.  http://www.ndmindia.nic.in/flood-2017/floodsJuly-2017.htm

Superficially water deluge seems a natural disaster occurring on annual basis. But a closer observation of flood monitoring mechanisms and scores of media reports reveal that most of the flood crisis is man-made and dams have been playing a bigger role in creating a disaster out of a natural phenomenon.

So far there have been more than a dozen reported incidents across country where breaching of aged or unmaintained dams have led to inundation of human habitation. On July 06, 2017 breaching of Shiv Sagar dam was such an incident causing severe floods in several villages in Mirzapur district, Uttar Pradesh. http://amritprabhat.com/mirzapur-mirzapur-floods-with-heavy-rain-dozens-of-houses-and-five-people-of-the-same-family-found-dead-body-of-two-shivsagar-dam-broke/

Similarly, there is information from reliable sources proving that the wrong operation of dams end up creating flood situation in downstream areas which were already facing heavy rains. The devastating floods in Lakhimpur Assam around July 09, 2017, were a result of release of huge amount of water from Ranganadi dam in Arunachal Pradesh. https://scroll.in/article/844509/severity-of-assam-floods-heightens-old-fears-about-dams-in-the-brahmaputra-basin

In one more similar and latest incident, untimely release of water by Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), Jharkhand resulted in flood disaster in Birbhum, Purulia, West Medinipur and Hoogly districts. As per West Bengal Govt the DVC officials discharged the around 2 lakhs cusec of water on 25 July 2017, from many dams built on Damodar river without intimating it.  https://scroll.in/latest/845268/mamata-banerjee-blames-west-bengal-floods-on-centre-run-damodar-valley-corporation  

The third dimension in the flood tragedy is the fact that responsible authorities like Central Water Commission (CWC), concerned state department have failed to issue timely warning in so many incidences which could have otherwise been avoided or mitigated. There are also reports suggesting that there was no prior forecast and warning for ongoing floods in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Similarly there have been dozens of incidents in different parts where flood situation has been either caused or aggravated by faulty dam operation, breach in dams and lack of timely warning by responsible authorities.

The breach in Jaitpura dam and over spilling of Jawai dam in Jalor Rajasthan has inundated several villages. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/jawai-dam-pali-disrict-floods-rajasthan-heavy-rains-rescue-operations-ndrf-food-material/1/1012924.html The breach in Narmada canal has led to floods in Badmer districts. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/jaipur/narmada-canal-damaged/articleshow/59762317.cms

The sudden discharge from Seepu dam on West Banas River, Dharoi dam on Sabarmati river has created severe flooding in downstream districts killing many villagers. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/aerial-survey-of-banas-river-to-be-undertaken-as-death-toll-in-gujarat-floods-touch-111-4768335/ , http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/vadodara/gujarat-sabarmati-waters-flood-anand-villages/articleshow/59786379.cms  

Further, the latest Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) latest report only goes on reinforcing all these issues. The shocking report tells us that out of 4,862 large dams, emergency action plans or disaster management plans of only 349 (seven per cent) large dams had been prepared till March 2016. http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2017/jul/22/huge-delay-in-completion-of-flood-control-projects-in-country-cag-1632017.html

In a similar development another CAG report has put onus on Hirakud dam officials for 2011 floods. http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2017/jul/23/cag-puts-onus-on-hirakud-officials-for-2011-flood-1632412.html 

The CAG has also presented scathing indictment of India’s CWC’s shoddy flood forecasting system. https://www.dailypioneer.com/todays-newspaper/indias-flood-forecast-capability-a-washout-cag.html

The efficiency of flood monitoring can be judged from the fact that Irrigation Department Uttar Pradesh still relies on blade runners to convey flood information in the digital era. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/varanasi/in-e-age-runners-alert-officials-about-flash-floods/articleshow/59676066.cms

The DAM FLOOD sanction of this update is full of such reports proving that dams have turning the floods into disasters.

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 31 July 2017 (Dams Turning Floods into Disasters, Yet We Continue to Push More & Bigger Dams)  “

Dams · Ganga

दो बाॅधों की कहानीः क्या बिहार की अप्रत्याशित बाढ़ एक टाली जा सकने वाली मानव जनित त्रासदी है?

बाणसागर बाॅध, सोन नदी, गंगा नदी और पटना को दर्शाता मानचित्र

21 अगस्त 2016 की सुबह, गंगा नदी का जलस्तर लगातार बढ़ते हुए, पटना में 50.43 मीटर पर पहुॅच गया। जिससे पटना में गंगा नदी अपने पहले के उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर 50.27 मीटर से 16 सैंटीमीटर ऊपर बह रही थी। 22 अगस्त 2016 तक पानी का जलस्तर गंगा नदी के किनारे तीन अन्य स्थानों पर उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर को पार कर गया। जिसका विवरण निम्न हैः-

       स्थान                        22.08.2016 को उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर                      पुराना उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर
बलिया उत्तरप्रदेश                         60.30 मीटर                                     60.25 मीटर (14 सितंबर 2003)
हाथीदाह, बिहार                           43.17 मीटर                                      43.15 मीटर (07 अगस्त 1971)
भागलपुर बिहार                           34.55 मीटर                                      34.50 मीटर (05 सितंबर 2013)

इस तरह से हम देखते हैं कि पटना में उच्चतम बाढ़ का रिकार्ड तोडने के बाद, अब यह बाढ़ गंगा नदी के किनारे बसे बिहार और उत्तरप्रदेश के अन्य इलाकों में पहुॅच रही है। यहाॅ यह बात उल्लेखनीय है कि बिहार में अब तक वर्षा औसत से 14 प्रतिशत कम हुई है। सवाल यह उठता है कि इसके बावजूद गंगा में रिकार्ड तोडने वाली बाढ़ क्यों आयी?

Continue reading “दो बाॅधों की कहानीः क्या बिहार की अप्रत्याशित बाढ़ एक टाली जा सकने वाली मानव जनित त्रासदी है?”


Know our rivers: A beginners guide to river classification 

Who has not seen a river? And who has then, not been moved by a fierce emotion? The common man sees its life granting blessed form, the government or CWC engineer sees in it as a potential dam project, the hydropower developers a site for hydro project, a farmer his crop vitality, fisher folk, boatspeople and river bed cultivators a source of livelihood, the industry & urban water utilities view it as their personal  waste basket, the real estate developer as a potential land grab site, a sand miner as a source of sand and the distraught villager his lifeline. In earlier days, film makers used to see it as site for filming some memorable songs, but these days even that has become a rarity.[1]

Nadi Naare na jaao from Film Mujhe Jeene do
Song “Nadi Naare na jaao” from Film Mujhe Jeene do

Rivers truly are a complex entity that invoke varied emotions and responses!

Leh_Indus river

A river shifts in colour, shape, size, flow pattern of water, silt, nutrients and biota, in fact all its variables seem to change with time and space. The perceptions differ as one moves from mountains to plains to the deltas. The same stream displays a wide variance of characteristics that depend upon the land it flows through and the micro climate along its banks. Rivers many a times seem to mirror the local flavour of the land they flow through. Or is it the local flavour that changes with river flow? Clearly both are interdependent.

Today, as we talk of rivers, their rejuvenation and try to figure out their ecological flow and their health quotient , a good beginning  to understand the existing rivers would be their classification modules. What defines a river? Which factors are used for their classification? How do we actually classify our rivers?

As far as the first of these questions is concerned, none of the official agencies have tried to define a river!

Possiby, the first post independence classification of river basins was attempted in 1949 by precuser institute of current Central Water Commission (CWC). Since then various organisations have followed their own methodology and criteria for basin classification and arrived at different numbers.

Basin Map of Rivers by Central Water Commission
Basin Map of Rivers by Central Water Commission

NIH (National Institute of Hydrology), Roorkee organises our 7 major rivers, that is the Brahmaputra (apparently this includes the Ganga and the Meghna), Godavri, Krishna & Mahanadi (that flow into the Bay of Bengal), and the Indus, Narmada & Tapi (which drain into the Arabian Sea) , along with their tributaries to make up the entire river system in our country.[2] This is clearly problematic and chaotic, since it leaves out vast areas of the country and the rivers that flow through them.

A quick look at the classification based on these 3 aspects –origin, topography and the basin they form.

  • Based on Origin or Source

Depending on the origin or where they begin their journey from, there are the Himalayan (perennial) rivers that rise from the Himalayas and the  Peninsular rivers that originate from the Indian plateau. The Himalayan rivers include the Ganga, the Indus and the Brahmaputra river systems along with their tributaries, which are fed throughout the year by melting ice and rainfall. They are swift, have great erosion capacity and carry huge amounts of silt & sand. They meander along the flat land, create large fertile flood plains in their wake and their banks are dotted by major towns and cities.

The peninsular rivers, on the other hand are more or less dependent on rain. These are gentler in their flow, follow a relatively straighter path, have comparatively less  gradient and include Narmada, Tapi, Godavari, Krishna, Cauveri and Mahanadi rivers, among many others.

  • Based on topography

The Himalayan Rivers flow throughout the year, are prone to flooding and include Indus and the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna.

The Deccan Rivers include the Narmada and Tapi rivers that flow westwards into the Arabian Sea, and the Brahmani, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Pennar & Cauvery that fall into the Bay of Bengal.

The Coastal Rivers are comparatively small in size and numerous in number, with nearly 600 flowing on the west coast itself.

Rivers of the Inland Drainage Basin are centered in western Rajasthan, parts of Kutch in Gujarat and mostly disappear before they reach the sea as the rainfall here is scarce. Some of them drain into salt lakes or simply get lost in the vast desert sands.

Island Rivers Rivers of our islands: A&N islands & Lakshadip group of islands

  • Based on basin formed

On the basis of the basin formed, our rivers are distributed into 7 river systems. The Indus River System originates in Kailash range in Tibet, and includes Zanskar,  Shyok, Nubra ,Hunza (in Kashmir) along with Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej as its principal tributaries. In the Brahmaputra River System, it was earlier assumed that the Mansarovar lake is the source of the Brahmaputra river, however, now it is confirmed that Angsi Glacier is the main source (see: See: http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/china-maps-brahmaputra-indus/article2384885.ece). Most of the course of the river lies outside the country. In India it flows through Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, where it is joined by several tributaries. For more information on this river, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/brahmaputra-the-beautiful-river-or-the-battleground/.

Mighty Brahmaputra in  Assam
Mighty Brahmaputra in Assam

The Narmada River System comprises of the Narmada River that represents the traditional boundary between North & South India and which empties into the Arabian Sea in Bharuch district of Gujarat. Tapi river of the Tapi River System rises in the eastern Satpura Range of Madhya Pradesh and then empties into the Gulf of Cambay of the Arabian Sea, Gujarat. Its major tributaries are Purna, Girna , Panzara , Waghur , Bori  and Aner rivers.

Also called the Vriddh (Old) Ganga or the Dakshin (South) Ganga,  Godavari of the Godavari River System, originates at Trambakeshwar, Maharashtra and empties into the Bay of Bengal. Summers find the river dry, while monsoons widen the river course. Its major tributaries include Indravati, Pranahita, Manjira, Bindusara and Sabari rivers.

The Krishna River System includes Krishna river, one of the longest rivers of the country,that originates at Mahabaleswar, Maharashtra, and meets the sea in the Bay of Bengal at Hamasaladeevi, Andhra Pradesh. Tungabhadra River, formed by Tunga and Bhadra rivers, is one of its principal tributary. Others are  Koyna, Bhima, Mallaprabha, Ghataprabha, Yerla, Warna, Dindi, Musi and Dudhganga rivers.

The Kaveri River System has the Kaveri (or Cauvery) river whose source is Talakaveri in the Western Ghats and it flows into the Bay of Bengal. It has many tributaries including Shimsha, Hemavati, Arkavathy, Kapila, Honnuhole, Lakshmana Tirtha, Kabini, Lokapavani, Bhavani, Noyyal and Amaravati. The Mahanadi of the Mahanadi River System,  a river of eastern India rises in the Satpura Range and flows east into the Bay of Bengal.

Broader definition: Catchment area size

River basins are widely recognized as a practical hydrological unit. And these can also be grouped, based on the size of their catchment areas (CA). This easy to understand river system classification divides them into the following categories as tabulated below:

River basin CA  in sq km No. of river basins CA in million sq. Km % area % Run off % population
Major river basin CA > 20,000 14 2.58 83 85 80
Medium 20,000<CA<2,000 44 0.24 8 7 20
Minor (Coastal areas) CA< 2,000 Many 0.20 9 8
Desert rivers Flow is uncertain & most lost in desert 0.1
Drainage System of Indian Rivers
Drainage System of Indian Rivers

Major river basins include the perennial Himalayan rivers- Indus, Ganga & Brahmaputra, the 7 river systems of central India, the Sabarmati, the Mahi, Narmada & Tapi on the west coast and the Subarnekha, Brahmani & the Mahanadi on the east coast and the 4 river basins of Godavri, Krishna, Pennar and Cauvery, which takes the total to 14. The medium river basins include 23 east flowing rivers such as Baitarni, Matai & Palar.  A few important west flowing rivers are Shetrunji, Bhadra, Vaitarna & Kalinadi. The minor river basins  include the numerous, but essentially small streams that flow in the coastal areas. In the East coast, the land width between the sea and the mountains is about 100 km, while in the West coast, it ranges between 10 to 40 km. The desert rivers flow for a distance and then disappear in the desert of Rajasthan or Rann of Kutch, generally without meeting the sea.[3]

A need for details

Under India-WRIS (Water Resources Information System) project too, the river basin has been taken as the basic hydrological unit, but the country has been divided into 6 water resource regions, 25 basins and 101 sub basins, which are an extension of the earlier 20 basins delineated by CWC, as detailed in the ‘River basin Atlas of India’. [4] The details of the individual catchment area of these 20 river basins is tabulated here:

S No River Basin CA (Sq. Km) Major river River Length, km
1 Indus (Upto border) 321289 Indus(India) 1114
2 Ganga- Brahmaputra-Meghna
a Ganga 861452 Ganga 2525
b Brahmaputra 194413 Brahmaputra (India) 916
c Barak & others 41723 Barak 564
3 Godavari 312812 Godavari 1465
4 Krishna 258948 Krishna 1400
5 Cauvery 81155 Cauvery 800
6 Subernarekha 29169 Subernarekha 395
Burhabalang 164
7 Brahmani & Baitarni 51822 Brahmani 799
Baitarni 355
8 Mahanadi 141589 Mahanadi 851
9 Pennar 55213 Pennar 597
10 Mahi 34842 Mahi 583
11 Sabarmati 21674 Sabarmati 371
12 Narmada 98796 Narmada 1312
13 Tapi 65145 Tapi 724
14 West flowing rivers from Tapi to Tadri 55940 Many independent rivers
15 West flowing rivers from Tadri to Kanyakumari 56177
16 East flowing rivers Between Mahanadi & pennar 86643
17 East flowing rivers Between Pennar & Kanyakumari 100139
18 W flowing rivers of Kutch & Saurashtra includes Luni 321851 Luni 511
19 Area of inland drainage in Rajasthan 60269 Many independent rivers
20 Minor rivers draining into Myanmar & Bangladesh 36202 Many independent rivers

Note: 1. River Length is only for the main stem of the river, does not include tributaries, etc.

  1. Area of inland drainage in Rajasthan is not given in this reference, it has been arrived at by inference.
  2. Indus basin is constibuted by six main rivers: Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, Jhelum and Indus itself. Some tributaries of this system form independent catchment in India (e.g. Tawi river in Chenab basin) as these confluence with the main river only in downstream of the border.

Of course these methods only classify rivers based on their physical & geographical attributes, their drainage area, river length, volume of water carried and tributary details. For a detailed study of a river, what is also needed is its ecological assessment.  The methods for river classification may be varied and still evolving, but this information is fundamental to better understand and map the rivers that criss cross across the country.

And definitely a first step to try and understand our rivers!

Sabita Kaushal, SANDRP  (sabikaushal06@gmail.com)


[1] This blog is part of a series of blogs we plan to put up in view of the India Rivers Week being held during Nov 24-27, 2014, see for details: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/press-release-india-rivers-week-from-24-27-nov-2014-first-irw-event-to-be-held-in-delhi/

[2] Rivers of India: National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee


[3] India’s Water Wealth: KL Rao, Orient Longman, 1975

[4] River basin atlas of India, 2012: A report by Central Water Commission and Indian Space Research Organisation: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/river-basin-atlas-india-report-central-water-commission-and-indian-space-research

Chenab · Floods · Jammu and Kashmir

Why does Central Water Commission have no flood forecasting for Jammu & Kashmir? Why this neglect by Central Government?

During Sept 4-6, 2014 Jammu and Kashmir in North India is facing one of the worst floods. NDTV[1] has reported that these are the worst floods in 60 years (The Times of India reported that this was worst flood of the state since independence based on number of casualties.). More than 160 people have died and some 2500 villages are affected (1615 in the valley, rest in Jammu), out of which 450 are completely submerged (390 in valley)[2]. Over 10 000 people are stranded across the state. The flood has affected almost all 10 districts in the Jammu region. J&K Chief Minister admitted that the rescuers have yet to reach the worst affected South Kashmir region. Jammu Srinagar Highway has remained blocked for over three days. Several rivers have been flowing above the danger mark and most parts of south Kashmir, including Pulwama, Anantnag and Kulgam districts have been submerged. Jhelum was flowing at 30.7 ft in South Kashmir, 7 ft above the danger mark. Chenab river was also flowing above the danger mark at several places.


Authorities have declared the bridge over the Chenab in Akhnoor unsafe for traffic. Source: Vinay Saraf's facebook post
Authorities have declared the bridge over the Chenab in Akhnoor unsafe for traffic. Source: Vinay Saraf’s facebook post

Unprecedented floods Landslides triggered by heavy rainfall have damaged roads, dozens of bridges, buildings and crops. As many as 40 people went missing after a landslide in Thanamandi area of Rajouri district in Jammu region. Heavy rain in the catchment areas of Jhelum river has so far submerged more than 100 villages in the south Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama, where the river was still rising, as well as the north Kashmir districts of Ganderbal, Srinagar and Badgam[3]. The flood has surpassed the 1992 memories and revived the 1959 flood memories[4].

Flood Forecast map of CWC has no sites to forecast floods in J & K
Flood Forecast map of CWC has no sites to forecast floods in J & K

Vehicular traffic has been stopped on the Jammu-Pathankot highway due to incessant rain. Jammu is on red alert and Tawi bridge is also in danger.

Flood image from Vinay Saraf's Facebook post
Flood image from Vinay Saraf’s Facebook post

State Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather said Chenab was flowing at 38 ft at Akhnoor which is four ft above the danger mark cumulatively discharging 2.75 lakh cusecs, a quantum of discharge which equals all other rivers of the state.

The situation is very grim indeed: “According to the Army, the situation in the state is as grim as it was in Uttarakhand last year.” Union Home Minister has visited the state and the prime minister has expressed grief.

VERY HEAVY Rainfall during Sept 3-6 The state received massive 250 mm of rainfall in just three days between Sept 3-4, out of its seasonal monsoon rainfall of 568 mm till Sept 6, 2014. Rainfall just on Sept 6 was 106 mm, which is unbelievable 3116% of the normal rainfall for that date for J&K.

Rainfall Map from IMD showing that J&K received 558 mm rainfall till Sept 6, progressing to excess rainfall category in three days from deficit category on Sept 3, see the next map below
Rainfall Map from IMD showing that J&K received 558 mm rainfall till Sept 6, progressing to excess rainfall category in three days from deficit category on Sept 3, see the next map below

It can be seen from the season rainfall map see above of India Meteorology Department as on Sept 6, 2014 that J&K had received 558 mm rainfall till that date, progressing to Excess Rainfall category (blue colour code) from Deficit season rainfall of 308 mm as on Sept 3, 2014 (see IMD map below), in just three days.

IMD Map of Sept 3, 2014, showing J&K in deficit rainfall category (brown colour) with seasonal rainfall of 308 mm
IMD Map of Sept 3, 2014, showing J&K in deficit rainfall category (brown colour) with seasonal rainfall of 308 mm

CWC has no flood forecasts for J&K However, shockingly, India’s premier water resources body, Central Water Commission, responsible for flood forecasting and providing advisory to the states for tackling floods, has no flood forecast for any place in the state. The CWC’s flood forecast list[5] on Sept 6, 2014 has 18 level forecasts and 8 inflow forecasts, but NONE from J&K. CWC’s Flood forecast site has another option[6] that provides hydrographs for various rivers and location. Again for J&K it provides NO hydrographs. The options on CWC’s Flood Forecast site for list based selection[7] and map based selection[8] again has no information about Jammu & Kashmir.

J&K Flood Control Chief Engineer called the situation Alarming. Photo Source - NNIS
J&K Flood Control Chief Engineer called the situation Alarming. Photo Source – NNIS

This seems like shocking omission on the part of CWC, which functions under Union Ministry of Water Resources and reminds one that CWC completely failed to provide any flood forecast when Uttarakhand faced its worst floods in June 2013[9]. We hope CWC will urgently include the flood vulnerable sites of J&K in its flood forecasting and also explain to the people of J&K and rest of the country why these sites were not included so far.

Akhnoor flood image from Vinay Saraf's Facebook post
Akhnoor flood image from Vinay Saraf’s Facebook post

Mismanaged hydro projects increase the damage In this context, media has reported[10] that Dulhasti Hydropower project on Chenab river decided to open its flood gates DURING the worst flood period, which lead to further increase in flood levels in the downstream areas: “Release of water by NHPC dam is expected to increase the levels of the Chenab massively between Kishtwar and Ramban. Surged level can lead to submergence of the highway.” Such additional floods could have been avoided if the gates were kept opened in anticipation of floods. Such opening of gates during the floods can lead to catastrophic consequences for the downstream areas as happened in case of Srinagar Hydropower project in Uttarakhand in June 2013.

Kids crossing flooded bridge in flood hit J&K Photo Sources - NNIS
Kids crossing flooded bridge in flood hit J&K Photo Sources – NNIS

MoEF’s wrong decisions The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests have been clearing hydropower projects in the Chenab basin even without proper social and environment impact assessment as was evident in case of Sach Khas project most recently. As SANDRP pointed out in a submission to the Expert Appraisal Committee[11], the EIA and public hearing process of the Sach Khas HEP has been fundamentally inadequate and flawed and yet without even acknowledging the issues raised in this submission the EAC has recommended approval of the project. This is bound to be legally untenable decision. Such decisions by the EAC and MoEF are likely to add to the disaster potential in Chanab and other basins in J&K. There is also no cumulative impact assessment of such massive number of big hydropower projects any basins of J&K.

It is well known, as witnessed in case of Uttarakhand in 2013, that hydropower projects hugely add to the disaster potential of the vulnerable areas. We hope the J&K and central governments make this assessment on urgent basis and we hope the apex court does not have to intervene for such assessment as the Supreme Court had to do through its order of Aug 13, 2013 in case of Uttarakhand.


POST SCRIPT: This is one possible fall out of this, also flashed by several newspaper and following CWC questioned by media: http://www.cwc.nic.in/main/webpages/Flood%20Forecasting%20in%20uncovered%20Himalayan%20and%20interstate%20inflow%20forecasting%2011092014.pdf

Stumbled upon this on January 14, 2015. Hope the government will be now implementing this.


[1] http://www.ndtv.com/article/cheat-sheet/over-100-dead-as-jammu-and-kashmir-witnesses-worst-floods-in-50-years-587572?pfrom=home-lateststories

[2] http://www.thekashmirwalla.com/2014/09/death-toll-160-jammu-kashmir-facing-worst-flood-60-years/

[3] http://www.kashmirdispatch.com/headlines/050926328-thousands-flee-homes-in-flood-ravaged-jammu-and-kashmir.htm

[4] For pictures of what people are going through, see: http://www.thekashmirwalla.com/2014/09/pictures-deadly-floods-hit-kashmir/




[8] http://www.india-water.gov.in/eSWIS-MapViewer/

[9] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/central-water-commissions-flood-forecasting-pathetic-performance-in-uttarkhand-disaster/

[10] http://www.kashmirlife.net/kashmir-flooded-chenab-may-witness-upsurge-as-dulhasti-gates-being-opened-65126/

[11] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/sach-khas-hydro-project-in-chenab-basin-another-example-of-wapcoss-shoddy-eia/

[12] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/flood-situation-in-jammu-worsens-toll-mounts-to-100/article1-1260718.aspx


Guesstimating a Future: Questioning Knowledge Formation, Expertise and ‘development’ in Post Independence India            

-Ramya Swayamprakash (ramya.swayamprakash@gmail.com)

Large dams represent a gamut of ideas around the asocial and apolitical nature of water itself, i.e., ‘modern water’[1], expert control, and national space that are stitched together to yield hydraulic bureaucracies or hydrocracies. In the 20th century, the ‘hydraulic mission’ (See Molle et all 2009) was accepted across the globe and entrusted with hydrocracies which became synonymous with the project of ‘development’. These hydrocracies have left an indelible mark on national economies and geographies, constructing massive damming projects i.e. what India’s first Prime Minister called ‘temple[s] of modern India’. The effects of these projects have been a mixed bag. In India, these ideas about water and technology formed a template through which the hydrocracy—which took the form of the Central Water Commission (CWC)— conceived, discussed, and justified technological interventions. Rivers were described as natural features without history, ecology, and society, making a case for greater technological control.

Santhal TRibal Lady budhni-inaugurating-the-power-station-at-the-panchet-dam-in-december-1959-photo-nehru-memorial-museum-and-library-new-delhi.jpg Photo from: The Hindu
Santhal Tribal Lady Budhni inaugurating the power station at the Panchet dam in December 1959 photo Nehru memorial museum and library New Delhi Photo from: The Hindu

Using engineering voices from the Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development (IJPRVD) and Government of India publications, I attempt to puncture the ‘tunnel vision’ of hydraulic development in India. Juxtaposing two contrasting narratives within the engineering community, the attempt is simply to bring out the spirited debate on large dams in post independence India- a fact lost in the din about which narrative won.

Except one engineer, M.Karantha who was the Chief Electrical Inspector of the erstwhile Madras Presidency, all the other engineers quoted in this post viz. A.Khosla, K.L. Vij, S.N.Gupta, Kanwar Sain etc were a part of the Central Water & Power Commission (CW&PC) before it became the Central Water Commission (CWC).[2]

Transforming Rivers into datasets Hydraulic manipulation has a long history in the Indian subcontinent. Hydraulic engineers in the 20th century recast modern irrigation as the logical conclusion of millennia long hydraulic manipulation practices- projecting irrigation, specifically dams and canals, as age-old components of the riverine landscape thus establishing continuity with the ‘unbroken’ tradition of hydraulic manipulation. This projection was selective: it did not acknowledge the colonial state’s role in establishing a radical break in hydraulic principle in the subcontinent by introducing perennial irrigation; barrages and weirs that effectively flattened a river’s variable flow. Instead, independence was projected as the watershed moment at which the millennia long project of hydraulic manipulation would reach fruition in the form of large dam projects.

Interestingly, engineers saw colonialism as helping bring modern science and technology to India; colonialism’s only limitation was ‘that it constituted an insult in that it denied that Indians could fully be partners in the enterprise of modernity’ (Klingensmith 2007: 233). Modernity in their eyes was an inevitable process, denied to India pre-independence. Modern science was a universal, emancipating category. According to S.N. Gupta: ‘[S]cientific, engineering and industrial research directed towards greater understanding and greater control of material surroundings is the keynote of the modern search for progress and power’ (Gupta 1970:3).  The unfinished business of modernity, thus, was the complete control of nature, which could only be realized through the nation-state.

A villager wondering if his village will be submerged under Hirakud Dam. Photo: Biswaksen Bohidar from: http://sadharanapurusha-karunakar.blogspot.in/
A villager wondering if his village will be submerged under Hirakud Dam. Photo: Biswaksen Bohidar from: http://sadharanapurusha-karunakar.blogspot.in/

A System of Limits and Solutions One of the foremost challenges facing post independent India was food security. Narratives for water control underscore this challenge. There were carefully worded alarms about scarcity and impending catastrophe. Such warnings are found with striking regularity in the IJPRVDand the Silver Jubilee Souvenir of the CW&PC. For instance, S.N. Gupta asserted:

[T]he fateful year 1947- the year of India’s independence brought both responsibilities and opportunities. The country was faced with the basic question: Adequate production of food for the growing millions (S.N. Gupta 1970: 1).

The only way to meet this ever-increasing demand was to increase the area under cultivation by providing more water: The food production has to keep pace with the ever increasing requirements of population. The principal remedy for meeting this increased demand is to steadily extend irrigation facilities (Kanwar Sain 1959: 37a).

The answer was simply put: greater investment in developing water resources to ensure that the twin challenges of a rising population and looming food scarcity could be met effectively. Technology would provide solutions to tame nature for human needs.

There are two equally important elements in human progress. They are the development of spirit and character on the one hand, and the mastery of the physical world on the other… Without mastery over nature, our earth, as it stands would support but a small fraction of the present population… I submit that hunger and poverty are no longer beyond solution. The mastery over the physical world gives us the key to the problem. The most thickly populated regions on earth can be satisfactorily fed if the most effective known methods are applied. The technical possibilities of feeding the world will probably always run far ahead of the increase in population (Kanwar Sain 1957:1).This neo-Malthusian trap anticipated more than just technological problems and solutions. The rhetoric about looming scarcity and overpopulation served as a vantage point to drive home arguments for large multipurpose projects. This was an unprecedented move by Indian engineers in conceptualizing Indian rivers. Modeled on the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), these projects would render rivers into a ledger of flows and returns. As a complete system of inter-related projects, the aim was to ensure rivers would no longer ‘run waste to the sea’ (Khosla 1951:2). Basin-wide development therefore came to be premised on the scarcity trap. These visions of scarcity were axiomatic in two ways:

1)                  The ability of science and engineers to forewarn such a possibility due to the exact nature of their science and scientific method.

2)                  The need for planned development to ensure that fragile and unreliable natural resources could be yielded into reliable flows to provide consistent maximum returns.

Without large multi-purpose dam projects to control floods, manufacture electricity, provide water for irrigation, and utilize an ‘inexhaustible source of water supply in the form of rainfall’, all that water would go to waste (Khosla 1970a: 15). These projects would meet the pressing needs of the country:

[K]eeping in view the need of the country, priority has been accorded to projects likely to yield additional food at an early date. Large multi-purpose projects have been phased with a view to an early completion of their irrigation aspect (Dhir 1959: 57).

Indeed, as K.L. Vij stated while commenting on hydro-electric resources in India emphatically:

[E]ssentially the problem is simple, in that it resolves itself into an examination of the possibilities of utilizing “available water supplies” at the maximum possible head (Vij 1959: 64).

It was only through such a thorough examination of hydraulic heads that entire river basins could function as measures of water resources. As stocks of volumes, rivers held enormous possibilities, provided they were engineered holistically so as to ensure maximum returns.

Dr Ho-Chi-Minh, president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and other party members photographed at the dam site during his visit to Bhakra dam on February 8 1958 Photo: photodivison.gov.in

Burgeoning Bureaucracy It’s [sic] (the CW&PC’s) development and march towards organizational expansion has been linked up with the development and planning of projects in the country since Independence and thus the stature of the Commission today is a barometer of the progress achieved by the country in the fields of irrigation and power (Jain 1970a: 21).

Kanwar Sain summed up the times emphatically: ‘[K]ey to the production of wealth is the Kilowatt. Underlying the country’s capacity to produce anything else is our capacity to produce power’ (Sain 1959: 37b. Emphasis added). There is a clear imperative to scale up through expert-led interventions. According to H.S. Desai,

[V]iewed purely from technical angle, and given all the goodwill that such cases deserve other angles, it is felt that engineers could and should have the last word on the development of the water resources of the country (Desai and Rao, 1970: 82).

Development, it might seem, could best achieved if driven by expert-led organizations like CW&PC. This championing of a burgeoning hydrocracy helped incubate and insulate it from overt political and social questions.

Holistic Planning for Basin-wide Development Planning water resource development required rearranging rivers into basin-units instead of geographies or people. Rivers as basin-units, like the larger nation state were comparable and amenable to technological solutions for resource optimization, and wired apolitically. Sain clearly charted out a course for the same:

[T]o make effective use of waters for irrigation, navigation, power and other allied purposes, it is necessary that a careful and unified development of the whole basin is planned irrespective of that number of States or Provincial boundaries that may be involved. It is only in this manner that optimum utilization of resources of the entire water-shed can be made and waste of any potential resources of the valley eliminated. If the entire basin is not developed as a unit there is the possibility of confusion arising when each State starts controlling the river from its own point of view (Sain 1959: 37b-c).

Some of the many voices include those of M.L. Sood, A.N. Khosla and S.K. Jain:

Practically all the river systems of the country run through more than one State. Their balanced development in the interest of navigation and other objects, e.g., irrigation, hydro-electric power and flood control, demands that the entire valley is treated as one unit irrespective of State boundaries (Sood 1959:52).

Modern technology for conservation and utilization of water resources is making rapid strides. With a unified and integrated approach to the development and utilization of surface and ground waters and to problems of agriculture and irrigation, this challenge (of looming resource crunch and a steady population rise) can be met (Khosla 1970a: 14).

It has been well recognized that river basin should be considered a single unit for development of water resources (Jain, 1970:12).

A basin-based approach across rivers was thus, the most efficient means to develop the nation’s water resources: ‘[T]he water and power resources of a region, basin and sub-basin and the transfer and interchange of both water and power between regions, basins and sub-basins in the overall interest of the country and regions concerned’(Khosla 1970a:12). These arguments combined to form the basis for a National Water Grid — an idea first proposed by Sir Arthur Cotton in the 19th century. Post Independence, the grid was seen as a means to ensure that the excesses of one river basin could replenish the deficiencies of another:

Large areas in Western, Central and Southern India have a very low rainfall while in the Northern and Eastern regions heavy monsoon rains cause extensive floods and large volumes of water flow waste to the sea. The National Water Grid has been conceived for remedying this imbalance to a certain extent by transferring waters from surplus regions to deficit areas by interlinking the various river basins so that transfer of water becomes possible (Rao 1979:104).

Rivers, thus, came to be re-conceptualized as units that could be rationally developed for maximum usage through multi-purpose projects. The natural world came to be arranged as a system of excesses and deficits that could be corrected with mathematical precision to yield steady, uniform returns. To the post-independence engineering mind, the National Water Grid was not a possibility but a certainty; the question was when it would become reality & not if it is desirable, viable or acceptable:

[T]hese policies will have to be implemented sooner or later for the survival and prosperity of our country (Rao 1979:100).

Driven by a burgeoning hydrocracy, the National Water Grid would render the riverine landscape entirely legible and amenable to complete development as well as provide impetus to power sector development, with reliable flows for hydropower generation. Tapped from source to mouth, river would cease to flow freely or at all. Instead, they would populate man made lakes; the tail of one reservoir would be the beginning of another hydro-project.

Rivers were thus reified and reconceptualized as prospective models that could be reproducible; a function of heads and cusecs. The development apparatus thus acquired ‘the character of calculability’ (Mitchell 2002:92) that mediated between material realities and the abstractions of science and politics. Numerical indicators came to speak for themselves and became tangible enough to mold facts. Rivers came to be organized in a linear fashion, as reproducible units across landscapes that were framed and solved technologically.

Marking the Elisions Despite their self-assuredness, these claims faced doubts, criticisms, opposition and questions. Engineers’ own admissions about the nature of hydrology are telling:

When the position regarding the resources of the country began to be reconsidered after the attainment of Independence in August 1947, it became apparent that there was very little data to enable an accurate estimate of the power potential to the country. Even selection of schemes for immediate detailed investigations had to be done on an ‘ad hoc’ basis (Vij 1959:64; emphasis original).

Indeed, according to the Five Member Review of the Sardar Sarovar Project by Patil et al, the CWC itself admitted:

Hydrology as a discipline is different from most of the engineering disciplines. Natural phenomena, with which hydrology is concerned, though have underlying physical processes, are complex and not amenable, to deterministic approach: They do not lend themselves to rigorous analysis not offer unique solutions as are possible in engineering mechanics [sic]. Since water resource development activity cannot be delayed for want of data of adequate quality and quantity, best judgement has to be resorted to. In the field of hydrology one has to devise methods to suit the data available and come out with solutions. Accepting a solution in turn needs judgement with due consideration to sociological, economic and political situations (Patil et al, 1994:7; emphasis added, see: www.ielrc.org/content/c9402.pdf).

Development plans preceded data, in lieu of which, projections and assumptions would have to do. Until 1958, when the erstwhile Ministry of Irrigation and Power (now the Ministry of Water Resources) set up a number of gauge and discharge observation stations on the Ganges and its tributaries to assess the flow, plans for river development were based on A.N. Khosla’s pioneering formula to calculate stream flows based on certain assumptions.

Voices of dissent constantly called for a more reflexive, inclusive, and engaged process of development. M.V. Karantha, the Chief Electrical Inspector of the erstwhile Madras Presidency was an early critic. In his article in the March 1952 issue of IJPRVD, he charged that his colleagues built for themselves and for Western observers rather than for India’s villagers. He observed that in India, like in other parts of Asia, ‘it has been the small tail of urban population that has been waging the body, the rural population’ (Karantha 1952: 11). In order to realise the true embodiments of democracy, he asked engineers to realise that engineers should utilise their education and training ‘not only for own self-advancement but also for the benefit of the common man if democracy is to be real and to survive’. According to Karantha, the common man is the single most important denominator for gauging the efficacy of engineering processes and technology. He said,

[I]f we Indian Engineers are to  be praised for what we have done and what we are going to do for our country, obviously the praise has to be for what we have done and what we are going to do for these majority people, the common man (Karantha 1952:11).

Karantha championed the need for local solutions because, ‘[O]ur economic and industrial problems are peculiarly our own’ (Karantha 1952:16). He was particularly critical of western models that were prescriptively and sometimes uncritically imported to India:

[O]nly if we realise that in the field of technology the problem of India is indeed very different from that of the Western countries whose practice we have been blindly adopting. Ours is a country in which the population has now grown beyond any easily manageable limit. Even our annual increase of population is as much as that of the entire population of some of the smaller nations of Europe. Our resources though not bad are like the property of a middle class man which has got to be divided amongst his dozen children. There is too little to go around to all to enable us to act as if we are engineers living in America. We have no great outside markets for manufactured good from which we can enrich ourselves for us to act as if we were the rich British or Swiss engineers. It will be a tremendous task to increase our prosperity yearly even to the extent our population is increasing yearly. It is exceedingly stupid and suicidal for a poor man to imitate a rich man. For a similar reason, it is suicidal for us to imitate our poor country the methods which the rich and prosperous Western countries have adopted. We have no tangible proof whatsoever that we can ever catch up with them for very many decades to come (Karantha 1952: 18).

Karantha was extremely anxious about a centralized bureaucracy:

It seems to be that there is often, for people in our country, a fascination for collecting more power for themselves and to believe that others can never be trusted to do things so efficiently. But more the centralization the less the touch with local conditions which alone are capable of being turned to advantage by way of cheapness and quickness of action, so essential for our country. Engineers sitting far away do not find it easy to tackle endless local problem of varied types. So they insist on standardization, however costly it be. They have also better chances of salaries and promotion, the more the services are centralised. But it is the common man that finally pays for all the costliness, delays and misunderstanding of local problems. Nor is over-centralisation the way to train our people in democracy (Karantha 1952: 20).

In a more focused critique, engineer Ram Kishore examined the financial aspects of irrigation works, asking questions of transparency, efficiency etc. He remarked that:

A large number of irrigation works and other development projects are under consideration, investigation or construction in India. Some of them have been completed. Figures of actual cost in the case of completed projects, and of estimated cost in the case of other projects are usually available with ease, through often very late; but figures of anticipated net profits and other figures for the comparison of different projects are usually not available to the public. They are worked out in Government offices but are not usually published, apparently in order to avoid or reduce criticism.

All estimates and forecasts are in their very nature approximate and liable to prove more or less wrong, or incorrect when the project has been built and developed, more specially when the time of construction and development is long. We all make estimates and forecasts, and it is very important to do so, even if they prove a hundred percent out in the end; only we should try and make our estimates as correct as possible, and also invite suggestions and criticism. All printed literature about Government Projects should be made available to the public, sufficiently in advance of their being sanctioned so that non-government engineers, and others can offer suitable criticism. This is very important in a democratic country, even though it will to some extent increase work in Government offices. It will most probably do a great deal of good. In the absence of correct information criticism, where made, is usually based on wrong information and does more harm than good (Kishore 1952: 29-30).

At first glance, it might have seemed that the development process in post independence India was undeterred. In questioning the centralizing tendencies of the bureaucracy and calling for greater transparency and locality in the planning process, these brief but powerful early critiques point to the frictions in development. Without remarking on which side and why, these critiques offer a radical puncturing to the ‘tunnel vision’ of hydraulic engineers. As a critique coming from within the engineering community itself, they point to the fact that maybe development did not have as much of a buy in as the early heady narratives might have had us believe.

These couple of critical voices cited above were not the only critical voices present in those initial years after independence, there were many others. But these are given here as examples to point out that there were voices even from within engineering fraternity that were pointing that alternative development paths were available, and that the path taken was not the only option available to the society. In fact even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in his speech before the annual meeting of CBIP in November 1958, talked about disease of gigantism plaguing Indian dam establishment (see page 6 of June 2006 issue of “Dams, Rivers & People”, see: https://sandrp.in/drp/June2006.pdf).

Why did Nehru not change the course after that speech is another question. The non-accountable culture that water engineering clan was allowed to indulge in is continuing to damage to this day. But that is another story.

Works cited:

Agnew, John. “The Territorial Trap: The Geographical Assumptions of International Relations Theory.” Review of International Political Economy 1, No. 1 (1994): 53–80.

Dams, Rivers & People, June 2006, p 6 (https://sandrp.in/drp/June2006.pdf)

Dhir, R.D. “Utilisation of Water Resources India.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 2, No. 6 (May 1952): 1-8.

—. “Water Resource Utilisation in India: A Brief Review.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 9, Numbers 6 & 7 (June- July 1959, CW&PC Special Number): 49-51.

Gupta, S.N. “Challenges of Seventies, Eighties ….and Central Water & Power Commission.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970.

—. “Challenges of Seventies, Eighties, And Central Water & Power Commission.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 1-3. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970.

Hayath, M. “Power Development in India.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 9, Numbers  6&7 (June-July 1959, CW&PC Special Number): 39-39i.

Jain, S.K. “25 Years of CWPC- A Historical Review.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 18-22. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970a.

—. “Problems in Irrigation Development in India.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 180-183. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970b.

Karantha, M.V. “The Engineer and the Country.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 3, No. 4 ( March 1952): 11-22.

Khosla, Ajudhiya Nath. “Central Water and Power Commission: April 1945 to April 1970.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 10-17. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970a.

—.“My Reminiscenes of The Central Water Commission.” 20, No. 3 (March 1970b, CW&PC Special Number): 107-111.

—. “Our Plans.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 1, No. 7 (1951): 1-4.

Kishore, Ram, “Financial Aspects of Irrigation Works,” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 2, No. 5(April 1952), 29-30.

Klingensmith, Daniel. One Valley and a Thousand: Dams, Development and Nationalism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Linton, Jamie. What is Water: The History of a Modern Abstraction. Vancouver, Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2010.

Molle, François, Peter P Mollinga, and Philippus Wester. “Hydraulic bureaucracies and the hydraulic mission: Flows of water, flows of power.” Water Alternatives 2, No. 3 (2009): 328‐349.

Patil, J., Vasant Gowarikar, Ramaswamy R Iyer, L. C. Jain, and V. C.Kulandaiswamy. “Report of the Five Member Group Set Up by the Ministry of Water Resources to Discuss Various Issues Relating to the Sardar Sarovar Project.” New Delhi, 21 April 1994.

Rao, Dr. K.L. Cusecs Candidate: Memoirs of an Engineer. New Delhi: Metropolitan Press, 1979.

Rao, G.V., and H.S. Desai. “Role of CW&PC in development of inter-state rivers.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 80-82. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970.

Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Sain, Kanwar. “Administrative Organisations for Water Development Projects and Inter-State Rivers in India.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 166-171. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigaiton and Power, Government of India, 1970.

—. “Developing India’s Water and Power Resources.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 9, Numbers 6 & 7 (June-July 1959, CW&PC Special Number): 37-37b &37c.

—. “The Engineer in the Developing Community.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 7, No. 3 (March 1957): 1-7.

Scott, James. “High Modernist Social Engineering: The Case of the Tennessee Valley Authority.” In Experiencing the State, by Lloyd I Rudolph and John Kurt Jacobsen, 2006. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 3-52.

Sood, M.L. “Inland Navigation in India.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 9, Nos. 6&7 (June-July 1959, CW&PC Special Number): 45-48 & 52.

Thakkar, Himanshu “Who takes decisions for large Dams? How? Why? Who profits? Who pays? Many questions, few answers” South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, October 2005 (https://sandrp.in/dams/Pol_economy_dams.pdf)

Vij, K.L. “India’s Hydro-Electric Resources and Their Assessment.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 9, Numbers 6&7 (June-July 1959, CW&PC Special Number): 63-67.


[1] Jamie Linton contends that the ‘modern idea of water as an objective, homogenous, ahistorical entity is complimented by its physical containment and isolation from people and reinforced by modern techniques of management that have enabled many of us to survive without having to think much about it’. He states that the twin processes of the formulation of water as a chemical formula, i.e. H2O and the development and dissemination of the concept of the hydrologic cycle represent an important contribution to the idea of abstract, modern water. In a philosophical investigation elaborating the fundamental incompatibility of modern water with people, Linton argues that despite being produced in relation to social practice, modern water is nevertheless taken to be entirely independent of social relations. Borrowing from Bruno Latour and Actor Network Theory, he claims that the ‘fictional’ independence of water from society is at the core of the ‘constitution of modern water’. This constitution of modern water holds together ‘only so long as the appearance can be sustained in hydrological and popular discourse’. See Jamie Linton, What is Water? A History of a Modern Abstraction (Kingston and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press 2010, p. 21and 175).

[2] The Central Water & Power Commission (CW&PC) was reconstituted as the Central Water Commission in 1974 & Central Electricity Authority. The CW&PC itself had a long gestation period and was a combination of a bunch of institutions that dealt with inland navigation, power generation, and hydraulic engineering.

[3] To read the story of Budhni Mejhan, see: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/recovering-budhni-mejhan-from-the-silted-landscape-of-modern-india/article3481766.ece

CAG Report · Maharashtra

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

 Ye jo Public hai, Ye sab Jaanti hai!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some of the good conclusions:

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

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

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

Action Suggested with respect to Specific Projects:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is shocking, blatant and unacceptable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19. Construction work should be audited at various stages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com)


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

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

Himalayas · Hydropower

Himalayas cannot take this Hydro onslaught



It is close to a year after the worst ever Himalayan flood disaster that Uttarakhand or possibly the entire Indian Himalayas experienced in June 2013[1]. While there is no doubt that the trigger for this disaster was the untimely and unseasonal rain, the way in which this rain translated  into a massive disaster had a lot to do with how we have been treating the Himalayas in recent years and today. It’s a pity that we still do not have a comprehensive report of this biggest tragedy to tell us what happened during this period, who played what role and what lessons we can learn from this experience.

Floods in Uttarakhand Courtesy: Times of India
Floods in Uttarakhand Courtesy: Times of India

One of the relatively positive steps in the aftermath of the disaster came from the Supreme Court of India, when on Aug 13, 2013, a bench of the apex court directed Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)[2] to set up a committee to investigate into the role of under-construction and completed hydropower projects. One would have expected our regulatory system to automatically initiate such investigations, which alas is not the case. Knowing this, some us wrote to MoEF on July 20, 2013[3], to exactly do such an investigation, but again MoEF played deaf and blind to such letters.

The SC mandated committee was set up through an MoEF order dated Oct 16 2013[4] and MoEF submitted the report on April 16, 2014.

5 MW Motigad Project in Pithorgarh District destroyed by the floods. Photo: Emmanuel Theophilus, Himal Prakriti
5 MW Motigad Project in Pithorgarh District destroyed by the floods. Photo: Emmanuel Theophilus, Himal Prakriti

The committee report, signed by 11 members[5], makes it clear that construction and operation of hydropower projects played a significant role in the disaster. The committee has made detailed recommendations, which includes recommendation to drop at least 23 hydropower projects, to change parameters of some others. The committee also recommended how the post disaster rehabilitation should happen, today we have no policy or regulation about it. While the Supreme Court of India is looking into the recommendations of the committee, the MoEF, instead of setting up a credible body to ensure timely and proper implementation of recommendations of the committee has asked the Court to appoint another committee on the flimsy ground that CWC-CEA have submitted a separate report advocating more hydropower projects! The functioning of the MoEF continues to strengthen the impression that it is working like a lobby for projects rather than an independent environmental regulator. We hope the apex court see through this.

Boulders devouring the Vishnuprayag Project. 26th June 2013 Photo: Matu jan Sangathan
Boulders devouring the Vishnuprayag Project. 26th June 2013 Photo: Matu jan Sangathan

Let us turn our attention to hydropower projects in Himalayas[6]. Indian Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand[7], Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and rest of North East) already has operating large hydropower capacity of 17561 MW. This capacity has leaped by 68% in last decade, the growth rate of National Hydro capacity was much lower at 40%. If you look at Central Electricity Authority’s (CEA is Government of India’s premier technical organisation in power sector) list of under construction hydropower projects in India, you will find that 90% of projects and 95% of under construction capacity is from the Himalayan region. Already 14210 MW hydropower capacity is under construction. In fact CEA has now planned to add unbelievable 65000 MW capacity in 10 years (2017 to 2027) between 13th and 14th Five Year Plans.

Meanwhile, the Expert Appraisal Committee of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on River Valley Projects has been clearing projects at a break-neck speed with almost zero rejection rate. Between April 2007 and Dec 2013[8], this committee recommended final environment clearance to 18030.5 MW capacity, most of which has not entered the implementation stage. Moreover, this committee has recommended 1st stage Environment clearance (what is technically called Terms of Reference Clearance) for a capacity of unimaginable 57702 MW in the same period. This is indicative of the onslaught of hydropower projects which we are likely to see in the coming years. Here again an overwhelming majority of these cleared projects are in Himalayan region.

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

What does all this mean for the Himalayas, the people, the rivers, the forests, the biodiversity rich area? We have not even fully studied the biodiversity of the area. The Himalayas is also very landslide prone, flood prone, geologically fragile and seismically active area. It is also the water tower of much of India (& Asia). We could be putting that water security also at risk, increasing the flood risks for the plains. The Uttarakhand disaster and changing climate have added new unknowns to this equation.

We all know how poor are our project-specific and river basin-wise cumulative social and environmental impact assessments. We know how compromised and flawed our appraisals and regulations are. We know how non-existent is our compliance system. The increasing judicial interventions are indicators of these failures. But court orders cannot replace institutions or make our governance more democratic or accountable. The polity needs to fundamentally change, and we are still far away from that change.

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

The government that is likely to take over post 2014 parliamentary elections has an opportunity to start afresh, but available indicators do not provide such hope. While UPA’s failure is visible in what happened before, during and after the Uttarakhand disaster, the main political opposition that is predicted to take over has not shown any different approach. In fact NDA’s prime ministerial candidate has said that North East India is the heaven for hydropower development. He seems to have no idea about the brewing anger over such projects in Assam and other North Eastern states. That anger is manifest most clearly in the fact that India’s largest capacity under-construction hydropower project, namely the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri HEP has remained stalled for the last 29 months after spending over Rs 5000 crores. The NDA’s PM candidate also has Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) on agenda. Perhaps we have forgotten as to why the NDA lost the 2004 Parliamentary elections.  The arrogant and mindless pursuit of projects like ILR and launching of 50 000 MW hydropower campaign by the then NDA government had played a role in sowing the seeds of people’s anger with that government.

In this context we also need to understand what benefits these hydropower projects are actually providing, as against what the promises and propaganda are telling us. In fact our analysis shows that the benefits are far below the claims and impacts and costs are far higher than the projections. The disaster shows that hydropower projects are also at huge risk in these regions. Due to the June 2013 flood disaster large no of hydropower projects were damaged and generation from the large hydro projects alone dropped by 3730 million units. In monetary terms this would mean just the generation loss at Rs 1119 crores assuming conservative tariff of Rs 3 per unit. The loss in subsequent year and from small hydro would be additional.

It is nobody’s case that no hydropower projects be built in Himalayas or that no roads, townships, tourism and other infrastructure be built in the Himalayan states. But we need to study the impact of these massive interventions (along with all other available options in a participatory way) in what is already a hugely vulnerable area, made worse by what we have done so far in these regions and what climate change is threatening to unleash. In such a situation, such onslaught of hydropower projects on Himalayas is likely to be an invitation to even greater disasters across the Himalayas. Himalayas cannot sustain this onslaught.

It is in this context, that the ongoing Supreme Court case on Uttarakhand provides a glimmer of hope. It is not just hydropower projects or other infrastructure projects in Uttarakhand, or for that matter in other Himalayan states that will need to take guidance from the outcome of this case, but it could provide guidance for all kinds of interventions all across Indian Himalayas. Our Himalayan neighbors can also learn from this process. Let us end on that hopeful note here!

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)


[1] For SANDRP blogs on Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/?s=Uttarakhand

[2] For details of Supreme Court order, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/uttarakhand-flood-disaster-supreme-courts-directions-on-uttarakhand-hydropower-projects/

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/uttarakhand-disaster-moef-should-suspect-clearances-to-hydropower-projects-and-institute-enquiry-in-the-role-of-heps/

[4] For Details of MoEF order, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/expert-committee-following-sc-order-of-13-aug-13-on-uttarakhand-needs-full-mandate-and-trimming-down/

[5] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/

[6] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/massive-hydropower-capacity-being-developed-by-india-himalayas-cannot-take-this-onslought/

[7] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/uttarakhand-existing-under-construction-and-proposed-hydropower-projects-how-do-they-add-to-the-disaster-potential-in-uttarakhand/

[8] For details of projects cleared during April 2007 to Dec 2012, see: https://sandrp.in/env_governance/TOR_and_EC_Clearance_status_all_India_Overview_Feb2013.pdf and https://sandrp.in/env_governance/EAC_meetings_Decisions_All_India_Apr_2007_to_Dec_2012.pdf

[9] An edited version of this published in June 2014 issue of CIVIL SOCIETY: http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/pages/Details.aspx?551