Environment Impact Assessment · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Draft EIA Notification 2020: Dilutes EIA process & encourages violations

Guest Blog by Amruta Pradhan

The Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has issued Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 in March 2020. The opening paragraph of the draft notification 2020 states that the purpose of the notification is “imposing certain restrictions and prohibition” on the development projects. The purpose of amending the notification is said to “make the process more transparent and expedient”. However, as one reads through the 83 paged verbose notification and puts several pieces of the proposed amendments together, it becomes more and more clear that the purpose is in fact dilution of the EIA process, protecting the project proponents from any kind of public scrutiny, covering up for the violations and making the Environmental Clearance (EC) process more and more non-transparent, undemocratic, unjust and unaccountable. Continue reading “Draft EIA Notification 2020: Dilutes EIA process & encourages violations”

Arunachal Pradesh · brahmaputra · Hydropower

Open letter to MoEF & River Valley EAC: Review Recommendation to grant EC to Etalin HEP

The MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects in its meeting in January 2017 recommended Environmental Clearance (EC) to the controversial 3097 MW Etalin Hydropower project in Dibang River Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. However, since the stage I forest clearance to Etalin HEP has not yet been accorded, the EC letter has not yet been issued. Hence there is an opportunity to stop EC to the project till the EAC reviews its decision.

It may be noted that Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in its meeting on April 23, 2020, has decided in the context of Etalin Project: “As this is a large sized project in the Himalayas, inputs of IA (Impact Assessment) Division of the Ministry on whether environmental impacts of the proposed project and mitigating measures have been considered, will be obtained.” This provides an opportunity for the MoEF to direct the IA Division and EAC to review its decision to recommend EC to the Etalin Project.

Continue reading “Open letter to MoEF & River Valley EAC: Review Recommendation to grant EC to Etalin HEP”

Environment Impact Assessment · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Draft EIA 2020 will weaken every aspect of EIA process

Experience of the current Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process under the current EIA notification of Sept 2006 tells us that the process needs strengthening in every aspect. The Narendra Modi government has now proposed a new EIA notification, whose draft has been made public, strangely during the lockdown period. The draft notification, in stead, proposes weakening of the whole EIA process in practically every aspect. Continue reading “Draft EIA 2020 will weaken every aspect of EIA process”

Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · River Valley Projects

Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects Green signals all in 2019

Even as the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects (RVP) appointed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in December 2016 completes three years with the end of 2019, it has kept up its record of green signaling everything that came its way in 2019.

There was just one exception: EAC in its meeting on January 28, 2019 rejected the proposal for EC (Env Clearance) extension for the Brutang Major Irrigation Project in Nayagarh District of Odisha, but it was essentially on procedural issue and the EAC “recommended for taking of the proposal afresh”, so it was not a full stop, but only a comma. The EAC failed to creditably appraise the EIA, the TORs, the public consultation process and decide on merit if the project was fit for approval. It approved everything that came its way, at the most occasionally asking for additional information. Never looking into the adequacy of the impact assessment or public consultation process or optimality of the project. Continue reading “Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects Green signals all in 2019”

Arunachal Pradesh · Cumulative Impact Assessment · Dams · Himachal Pradesh · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Cumulative Impact Assessment documents not in public domain anymore? Letter to MoEF and CC

Even as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has been sanctioning cascades of hydropower projects on here-to free flowing rivers in the Himalaya and North East India, Cumulative Assessment of the Impacts of these projects became a crucial area of concern. Over 70 dams are planned one after other for the rivers of the Upper Ganga Basin, 44 dams across the Siang Basin in Arunachal Pradesh famed for its pristine forests and biodiversity, 12 dams across the Lohit Basin, 19 for Subansiri basin. These are bumper to bumper projects, one starting where the other ends. Continue reading “Cumulative Impact Assessment documents not in public domain anymore? Letter to MoEF and CC”

Expert Appraisal Committee · River Valley Projects

Why the Decisions and minutes of the 86th meeting of EAC on River Valley Projects need to be reviewed

September 22, 2015

To

Chairman and Members,

Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects,

Ministry of Environment and Forests,

New Delhi

Respected Chairman and Members,

We have just seen the minutes of the 86th meeting (uploaded on Sept 14, 2015, but clearance letters in some cases have already been issued even before the EAC minutes are made public or the minutes are finalised at the next EAC meeting) of the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Committee, held on Aug 24-25, 2015.

The minutes make a disturbing reading. The EAC seems to be bending every ecological norm, facts and even legal stipulations to push ahead with every project that the government wants them to clear. There seems to be no application of mind from the EAC on the proposals. The minutes are not even internally consistent. It is putting forward facts in misleading fashion to give a wrong picture. Continue reading “Why the Decisions and minutes of the 86th meeting of EAC on River Valley Projects need to be reviewed”

Arunachal Pradesh · Assam · brahmaputra

Is government at all serious in addressing the issues raised by Movement against the Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project?

Minutes of Government of India meeting on Lower Subansiri HEP in Dec 2014 rejected by movement:

Shoddy Cumulative impact assessments, lack of public consultations won’t help

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

Continue reading “Is government at all serious in addressing the issues raised by Movement against the Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project?”

Ganga · Hydropower · Uttarakhand

Why is the IIT Consortium acting like a hydropower lobby?

In a shocking development, Consortium of Indian Institute of Technology (IITC) has submitted a report that is a shot in the arm for the hydropower lobby in Ganga basin in Uttarakhand. This IITC report is being used by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to push ahead 24 Hydropower Projects in Uttarakhand which were recommended to be cancelled by two official expert reports, both commissioned on the orders of the Supreme Court of India. It seems the authors of the IITC report are jeopardizing the formidable reputation of the IITs and over a dozen other institutes which are a part of IITC, possibly for some short term gains.

Sounds ridiculous? Read on..

WII report The first expert report mentioned above is the report of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), commissioned by the MoEF & CC to assess the cumulative impact of some 70 hydropower projects in Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basin in Uttarakhand. WII submitted the report to MoEF&CC in April 2012 and among other recommendations, said that 24 of these projects should be dropped due to their irreversible & long term impact on aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. At the outset it should be mentioned that the WII (“an internationally acclaimed”, “autonomous institute of MoEF&CC”, see: http://www.wii.gov.in/) recommendation of dropping 24 projects was based on assessment of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity impacts of the series of hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basins in Uttarakhand. WII was commissioned to do this study by the MoEF&CC following an earlier SC order based on CEC (Central Empowered Committee) recommendation.

MoEF&CC, did not want to take the recommended action, so it sat on the recommendation of the WII report.

EB report following SC directions to Ministry to take stand on WII report On Aug 13, 2013, following the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013, the Supreme Court directions, among other things included, “MoEF is directed to examine, as noticed by WII in its report, as to whether the proposed 24 projects are causing significant impact on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirath River basins.” Again, MoEF&CC did not want to do any such examination on its own. Since MoEF&CC was setting up an expert body to examine the role of hydropower projects in the Uttarakhand disaster as per other directions of the same SC order of Aug 13, 2013, the ministry included such examination also in the Terms of Reference of the Expert Body (EB) under chairmanship of Dr Ravi Chopra.

The EB terms of reference were even wider than that of WII study and the expertise available with EB was also wider. With such expertise and terms of reference, the EB report (by 11 of the 13 members of EB) submitted to MoEF&CC in April 2014 came to the conclusion that 23 of the 24 projects in WII list should be dropped and even the 24th project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A should go ahead only after significant modifications. Thus, essentially, EB too endorsed the WII recommendation.

It should be noted here that the WII recommendations were peer reviewed (during the work of Expert Body in 2013-14) by renowned biodiversity expert Dr Brij Gopal. Dr Brij Gopal too endorsed WII recommendation that the 24 projects should be dropped. The peer review was sought by the Central Water Commission representative at the 2nd EB Meeting. Despite objections from some EB members, the Chairman agreed to such a review and proposed the name of Dr. Brij Gopal which was promptly seconded by the Vice-Chairman, Dr. B.P. Das – a former Chief Engineer (Irr), Govt of Odisha and former Vice Chairman of the MOEF&CC’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects. In fact Dr. Brij Gopal suggested that more projects needed to be dropped.

MoEF&CC still did not want to take action on the 24 projects. So using the dissenting report by two government agencies which were largely toeing their official position in EB, the MoEF&CC suggested to the Supreme Court of India on May 7, 2014 that it wants to set up another committee. Seeing no validity in this, the Honorable SC rejected this suggestion and asked MoEF&CC to take a stand. SC has also since then put a stay on any further work on these 24 projects.

Still not ready to take a stand, MoEF&CC, used the reason that since IITC was already working on Ganga River Basin Management Plan (GRBMP) for the ministry since 2010 went ahead and gave the task of reconciling the two EB reports to IITC. In effect this is tantamount to violating the SC directions of not appointing another committee. However, unlike the picture it tried to give to SC, this task was not part of GRBMP work, but given to IITC through a fresh TOR.

Perturbed at not receiving any serious required response from MoEF&CC after repeated orders, the apex court judges of the Supreme Court rightly said the ministry was behaving like Kumbhakarna and Rip Van Winkle.

On Oct 9, 2014, the MoEF&CC submitted an affidavit to the SC, relying entirely on a report from IITC. And lo and behold, IITC had provided a report to the MoEF&CC, certifying that with some vaguely defined criteria, all the 24 projects can go ahead and there is no need to cancel any project! Serendipitously, this is exactly what the MoEF&CC & the hydropower lobby wanted!

It needs to be stated here that IITC had no mandate to submit such a report and the report is unprofessional, inadequate, unwarranted and inconsistent.

Let us see how.

Authors of the IITC report IITC report was authored by eight persons: Dr Vinod Tare (Civil Engineering Dept, IIT Kanpur, see: http://www.iitk.ac.in/ce/CIVIL/faculty.htm), Dr I M Mishra (Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Roorkee, see: http://www.iitr.ac.in/departments/CH/pages/People+Faculty+imishfch.html#), Dr Purnendu Bose (Civil Engineering Department, IIT Kanpur, see: http://www.iitk.ac.in/ce/CIVIL/faculty.htm), Dr Ligy Philip (Civil Engineering Dept, IIT Madras, see: http://www.civil.iitm.ac.in/people/faculty/ligy/about.html), Dr B S Murty (Civil Engineering Dept, IIT Madras, see: http://www.civil.iitm.ac.in/?q=murty_edu), Dr R P Mathur (formerly Prof of Civil Engineering, University of Roorkee), Dr M Jawed (Dept of Civil Engineering, IIT Guwahati, see: http://www.iitg.ac.in/jawed/homepage/index.html) & Dr Gautam Roy (Consultant GRBMP and former student of Civil Engineering Department at IIT Kanpur). A perusal of the available information on professional background of these persons shows that none of them have expertise on the aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity of the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin, to decide on the appropriateness of the WII recommendations. Hence at the outset it seems inappropriate for IITC to sit on judgment over recommendation of an expert body, on subject matter of which IITC has no expertise.

The IITC team of 8 persons listed above, all with essentially engineering background have now also reviewed the EB report and made their own recommendations, again without having the expertise that was available at EB command. It is thus inappropriate for IITC to comment on the recommendations of the EB which had two biodiversity experts from FRI (Forest Research Institute) and WII, besides experts from Uttarakhand in various other disciplines. IITC is thus being unprofessional.

What does IITC report say The IITC report essentially says that ALL the 24 projects can go ahead if they satisfy three criteria: Aviral Dhara, Environmental flows and longitudinal connectivity. The first thing that strikes about these three terms is that they are all vaguely defined and can have flexible interpretations. They are also interconnected and not necessarily independent of each other. Most importantly, they do not take care of the issues based on which the two expert reports said that these 23 projects should be dropped and even the 24th Project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A may be dropped or modified. But first let us understand these three vaguely defined, flexible and interconnected terms.

Aviral Dhara: According to the IITC report para 2.1 (see also: “Ganga River Basin Management Plan Extended Summary” of June 2014 available at: http://gangapedia.iitk.ac.in/sites/default/files/2014-06-12_GRBMP_Extended%20Summary.pdf): “Aviral Dhara in this context means that the flow of water, sediments and other natural constituents are continuous and adequate over the entire length of the river throughout the year.” There is no definition of what is adequate here, nor it is clarified as to adequacy is from what point of view. Here it should be noted that Aviral literally means uninterrupted, but neither IITC nor MOEF&CC provide this interpretation. According to MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014 (para 8(c)), Aviral means “to flow round the clock” or “continuous flow”.

Environment Flows: For Environmental flows, the “objective” of GRBMP is (see p 9 of the GRMBP Extended Summary) “Environmental Flows shall be maintained in all rivers and tributaries of Ganga River System to fulfill their geological, ecological, socio‐economic and cultural functions.” The E-flows thus would than depend on identifying functions of the river from geology, ecology, socio-economic and cultural perspectives, which can vary. The GRMBP extended summary does not provide clarity on e-flows for any of these aspects and how to go about arriving at required environment flow. It should be mentioned here that to arrive at environment flows, there are about 200 methodologies available globally. The IITC report attached with the MOEF&CC affidavit remains even vaguer as it says maintenance of E-flow should lead “to river stability and ecological balance in the downstream areas.”

Clarity on environmental flows is crucial as the affidavit from MOEF&CC itself agrees that MOEF&CC did not address the issue of eflows adequately while granting environmental clearances in Uttarakhand. One of the basic reasons behind this was lack of clarity on the issue and the same mistake is being repeated in the IITC Report.

Longitudinal Connectivity: In MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014, it is stated (para 6(b)/ 8(b)) that longitudinal connectivity is necessary to ensure “non-disruptive biota movement and silt transportation along the river course that are essential ingredients of a river ecology and its wholesomeness. Otherwise, a fragmented river stands to lose its basic character along with its native aquatic bio-diversity and ecological integrity.”

One of the two places where the term longitudinal connectivity appears in the GRMBP Extended Summary quoted earlier, says: “For dams and barrages, a precondition is essential that they cannot violate the longitudinal connectivity in River Ganga and her major tributaries. Besides they must allow E‐Flows (Environmental Flows) all along the river. A potential method for ensuring river connectivity through dams/ barrages has been suggested.”

The only other place in the GRBMP Extended Summary where the term longitudinal connectivity appears is interesting as it connects all the three terms that IITC has used: “Thus, while longitudinal connectivity in river network is an essential first step to maintain “Aviral Dhara”, having adequate river flows depends much on basin’s overall water status.” This statement is thus also making all three terms even more flexible, subjective and vague since they are dependent on “basin’s overall water status”. This leaves the door open to later reduce the quantum of E-Flows.

It is thus clear that the IITC report annexed by the MOEF&CC with their Oct 9, 2014 affidavit says that if these three vaguely defined terms that are flexible and prone to subjective interpretations are satisfied, then all the 24 projects can go ahead.

While these three, when clearly defined and properly implemented, are necessary conditions for any hydropower project, to say that they are sufficient condition is not only misleading, but also showing lack of understanding of the environmental issues related to hydropower projects. The MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014 relies exclusively on this IITC report and wants to allow all 24 project based on these three vaguely defined, flexible criteria from IITC report.

However, these three criteria are not sufficient to take a decision about these 24 projects as they exclude large number of criteria that the two expert reports considered, including: terrestrial biodiversity (completely absent in IITC report), cumulative impact (completely absent in IITC report it only looks at project specific issues), projects’ location in hazardous zone, projects increasing the disaster potential of the area, among many others.

The SC’s original direction was to examine if the 24 projects would have significant impact on the biodiversity. So the examination for these 24 projects must be done from the total biodiversity aspect and not on the basis of flow alone. The IITC itself has said in the GRBMP Interim Report of Sept 2013 that if biodiversity impact is significant then the project should be disallowed. It is clear IITC has again been inconsistent.

IITC is inconsistent It should be added here that in table 4.2 of their “Interim GRBMP” of Sept 2013 (see: https://nmcg.nic.in/writereaddata/fileupload/25_GRBMPInterim_Rep.pdf), IITC provides larger set of criteria for deciding permissibility of dams and barrages in the Ganga Basin, which include criteria like threat to terrestrial biodiversity, rare, endangered and threatened (RET) species, geological hazards, loss of historical, religious and cultural sites, among others. But these are no longer considered by the IITC in their current report under discussion. The IITC is also being inconsistent, besides being unprofessional and vague.

IITC report shows lack of understanding on basic environmental issues It is also disturbing to read the IITC report saying (section 2.1, last but one para), “However, projects on streams/ rivers with negligible biota may be allowed to proceed as per the environmental and other clearances already given to such projects provided that adequate provision is made to ensure the mandated E-flows. The adverse environmental impacts of such projects on the Ganga river system as a whole are expected to be negligible. Such projects may, therefore, be kept out of Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA) for their approval.”

Firstly, this shows that IITC is out-rightly overruling the recommendation of the WII and EB on criteria of terrestrial biodiversity, geological stability and so on. IITC is doing that too without providing any reasoning or basis. Significant number of the 24 projects have been recommended for rejection by WII and EB based on these criteria. Such baseless rejection of the recommendation by IITC not only shows their poor understanding of environmental and geological issues, but also shows their pro hydro bias.

Secondly, IITC makes the contention that the adverse environment impacts of such projects on Ganga river system is expected to be negligible, without providing any basis or scientific logic or reasoning.

Thirdly, suggesting that all such projects may be kept out of the CEIA seems to show poor understanding of the basics CEIA by the authors of IITC report. Large number of even so called low impact interventions can also cumulatively have big impacts and to exclude them is against the very spirit of CEIA. It also then raises doubts about competence of IITC to prepare GRBMP, since GRBMP is supposed to also look at the cumulative impact assessment and carrying capacity of major interventions in the Ganga Basin. IITC authors do not seem to understand that even aquatic biota gets affected by geological and other factors, that fish is not the only aquatic biota and that there is upstream downstream linkages in lifecycle of the aquatic biota and that there are linkages between aquatic and terrestrial biota life cycles, affected by hydrology.

The above stated issues raise serious doubts about the appropriateness of the IITC report and MOEF&CC’s attempts to push ahead with the 24 hydropower projects in fragile and disaster prone Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin based on the inappropriate IITC report. Particularly when these projects were to be cancelled as per two expert reports, both commissioned following two separate apex court orders.

Issue of cumulative impacts cannot be taken care of through project specific actions Here it should be noted that the WII report has made its recommendation about dropping 24 HEPs based on cumulative impact assessment of all the operating, under construction and planned projects in the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda River basins. The same is true with respect to EB recommendation. The conclusions arrived at based on cumulative impact assessment by the WII and EB cannot and should not be sought to be addressed by looking at project specific steps or actions as MOEF&CC affidavit and IITC reports are doing.

Did Project Management Board allow IITC to do this report? The IITC task of GRBMP is being overseen by a Project Management Board (PMB) comprising of senior persons of all the seven IITs and some invited members. The IITC report dated July 21, 2014 mentions, “The PMB in its fifth meeting held on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at IIT Delhi agreed to examine the two reports in the broader framework developed for GRMBP.”

While this is what IITC claims in its July 21, 2014 report, this claim is not supported by the Minutes of the relevant meeting of PMB, as we see below. From the reading of the minutes, it seems that the IITC had no mandate or clearance to do this report.

In the minutes of the fifth meeting of PMB held on June 24, 2014, para 7 seems to be the only relevant para in this context, which reads as follows: “Project Coordinator sought the directions from PMB about the modus operandi for follow-up actions after submission of the final draft of GRBMP – such as responding to queries and comments on GRBMP and dealing with requests for other inputs on Ganga Basin received from government and other agencies. He mentioned that IITC is obliged to respond to such requests based on the work done in preparing GRBMP, and the help of only active contributors of IITC would be needed rather than the existing mechanism of going through PICC and PMB. Professor Manna, Director, IIT Kanpur stated that IIT Kanpur is willing to take the responsibility on behalf of IITC of such matters and Project Coordinator may take the help and advice of concerned IIT Team members as and when needed. It was opined that each IIT may compile the list of new faculty members who may have joined after GRBMP project was started and communicate the same to the Project Coordinator. Professor Khakhar suggested that Directors of the 7 IITs may discuss the matter and communicate the decision to the Project Coordinator on modus operandi for submission of first version of GRBMP, and responding to queries and comments on GRBMP and dealing with requests for other inputs on Ganga Basin received from government and other agencies.”

The first thing that strikes about this para is that the Project Coordinator (Dr Vinod Tare) raised this in the context of “follow-up actions after submission of the final draft of GRBMP”, which is not the case with respect to current issue, since the final draft of the GRBMP is yet to be submitted. There is nothing in this para to support the contention quoted above from the preface of the IITC report that PMB “agreed to examine the two reports in the broader framework developed for GRMBP.”

If this is the only para that is relevant in the context of IITC report to MOEF&CC dated July 21, 2014 and if this para is not applicable at this stage since it is applicable only after submission of final draft of GRBMP, then the question arises, if the IITC had the permission from PMB to submit such a report and if the MOEF&CC should have submitted this report as authorized IITC report? These questions can be answered by only the IITC, its PMB and MOEF&CC, but they are relevant since it is this report purportedly from IITC that is sought to be used by MOEF&CC to ensure that all the 24 projects under discussion go ahead. In fact PMB and all concerned from IITC should quickly clarify that this report cannot be called IITC report, but only from the specific 8 persons listed above. The authors should be asked to remove the claim that this is IITC report.

IITR has poor track record and conflict of interest Here it is pertinent to note that of the four IITs involved in this report of IITC, IIT Roorkee (IITR) has already proven to have a poor and biased track record and should not have been involved in any case. The IITR was in fact commissioned in July 2010 by MOEF&CC to do cumulative impact assessment of the hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin. The report submitted by IITR was so pathetic that it was not accepted and it invited adverse comments from official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects, the Inter Ministerial Group on Ganga Basin Projects and also the Supreme Court of India in Aug 2013 order. (The report was also criticized by other organisations[1].)

Thus, IITR stands discredited on the precise issue of cumulative impacts of hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin. To include such an institute for another IITC report now on the same issue not only brings discredit to the whole effort, but raises the issue of conflict of interest.

While some issues are based on procedures and propriety, other issues relate to merit of IITC recommendations as they do not hold the experience or expertise to deal with serious problems related to cumulative impacts, terrestrial biodiversity and RET species, deforestation, and disaster potential of the region.

Thus, on both these counts (technical and merit based), the IITC Report is under cloud and does not hold enough ground to base further informed decisions.

Conclusion In view of the above, it is clear that IITC report is not adequate, reliable, or consistent to take a decision about 23 hydropower projects which have been recommended to be dropped and 24th project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A project which has been recommended to be dropped/ modified by the WII and EB. IITC had neither the expertise nor the mandate to submit such a report. The MOEF&CC should not be relying on this report and rather coming out with its own position as directed by the Supreme Court of India repeatedly, keeping in mind the issues and merits of the two expert reports, both submitted following two separate apex court orders.

It is unfortunate that IITC has submitted a report that is obviously music to both hydropower developers and government. MoEF&CC has already offered more such work to IITC. We hope IITC will go beyond such short term interests and be more consistent, professional and work towards rejuvenation of the Ganga and other rivers.

This current work is discrediting their future work of GRBMP too.

-Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP (Being an IIT Mumbai alumni myself, I am writing this with a sense of sadness)

[1] For example, see: http://www.sandrp.in/hydropower/Pathetic_Cumulative_Impact_Assessment_of_Ganga_Hydro_projects.pdf

Chenab · Cumulative Impact Assessment · Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee · Himachal Pradesh · Hydropeaking · Hydropower · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Sach Khas Hydro project in Chenab Basin: Another example of WAPCOS’s shoddy EIA

Even after multiple appeals by various experts, organizations and local people, Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) set up by Ministry of Environment & Forest (MoEF) has once again chosen to ignore alarms of changing climate such as disaster of Uttarakhand in 2013 and has continued to consider Hydro Power Projects on Chenab Basin for Environmental Clearance (EC) before the Cumulative Impact Assessment of Chenab Basin has been accepted by MoEF. While on one hand the State Government of Himachal Pradesh has promptly appointed a committee headed by Chief Secretary to supervise and monitor all the progress and to “sort out” problems of getting various clearances “without delay in single window system”[i], on the other hand overall transparency of the Environmental Clearance Process has been steadily decreasing.

Sach Khas HEP (260 + 7 MW) (located in Chamba District of Himachal Pradesh) was considered by EAC in its 76th meeting held on August 11, 2014. Even though the project was considered for EC, no documents were uploaded on the website. Website does not even list the project under “Awaiting EC” category. This is in clear violation with MoEF norms, basic norms of transparency and Central Information Commission (CIC) orders. There are no fixed guidelines for documents to the uploaded, the time by when they should be uploaded and rules that project cannot be considered if the documents are not uploaded.

SANDRP recently sent a detailed submission to EAC pointing out several irregularities of the project. The comments were based on reading of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report available on the HP Pollution Control Board Website (which cannot be substitute for putting up the documents on EAC website). Environmental Management Plan (EMP) of the project is not accessible at all! Non availability of EMP on the HP Pollution Control Board website too is a violation of EIA notification 2006.

The EIA report which is prepared by WAPCOS is another example of a poorly conducted EIA with generic impact prediction and no detailed assessment or quantification of the impacts. Moreover since EMP is not available in the public domain, there is no way to assess how effectively the impacts have been translated into mitigation measures. Violations of Terms of Reference (TOR) issued by EAC at the time of scoping clearance is a serious concern.

Project Profile

Sach Khas HEP is a Dam-toe powerhouse scheme. The project has a Concrete Dam & Spillway with Gross storage of 25.24 MCM, Live Storage of 8.69 MCM and Reservoir Stretch at FRL of 8.2 km (approx.) Three intakes each leading to 5.8m diameter penstocks are planned to be located on three of the right bank non-overflow blocks. Three penstocks offtaking from the intakes are proposed to direct the flows to an underground powerhouse on the right bank of the Chenab river housing 3 units of 86.67 MW turbines with a total installed capacity of 260 MW. The project also proposes to construct 2 units of 7 MW each to be installed to utilize the mandatory environmental releases. The EIA mentions (p 2.19) that the HP government has allocated 3.5 MW Hydropower project on Chhou Nala in the project area to the project authority, so this is integral part of the project.

Sach Khas Dam Site

Sach Khas Hydro Electric Project was considered before completion of Cumulative Impact Assessment of Chenab Basin

Chenab basin may have one of the highest concentrations of hydropower projects among all basins in India[i]. The basin has over 60 HEPs under various stages of planning, construction and commissioning in states of Himachal Pradesh (HP) and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). 49 of these projects are planned or under construction in Chenab in HP and of which 28 projects of combined generation capacity of 5,800 MW are at an advanced stage of obtaining (Environment Ministry) clearances[ii]. MoEF sanctioned TORs for Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) of the HEPs on Chenab in HP in February 2012 however the project specific ECs were delinked from the CIAs[iii].

MoEFs Office Memorandum dated May 28 2013 states, “While, first project in a basin could come up without insisting on cumulative impact study, for all subsequent hydro-power projects in the basin, it should be incumbent on the developer of second/ other project(s) to incorporate all possible and potential impacts of the other project (s) in the basin to get a cumulative impact assessment done.”

We had pointed out in our submission against Kiru & Kwar projects in Jammu & Kashmir that CIA of all the proposed, under construction and operational projects and carrying capacity assessment (CCA) of the Chenab River basin to see if it can support the massive number of HEPs in safe and sustainable way is one of the first steps before considering clearances to HEPs in this region. Looking at the fragility of the Himalayan ecosystem, considering any hydropower project in the basin without these studies will be an invitation to disaster[iv]. This fact has been repeatedly highlighted by multiple organizations and experts including SANDRP.

Sach Khas EIA Study: Gross violation of TOR

The EIA violates several stipulations of TOR issued on Feb 22, 2013, which also included the stipulations of EAC in Sept 2012 and Nov 2012 meetings where the project TOR was considered and also Annexure attached with the TOR. This has severely affected the overall quality of the EIA report.

About assessing the impacts of the project on wild life the TOR said: “Reaching conclusion about the absence of such (Rare, Endangered & Threatened) species in the study area, based on such (conventional sampling) methodology is misleading” as such “species are usually secretive in behavior”, “species specific methodologies should be adopted to ascertain their presence in the study area”, “If the need be, modern methods like camera trapping can be resorted to”. None of this is shown to be done in any credible way in EIA.

TOR also recommends intense study of available fish species in the river particularly during summer (lean) months with help of experimental fishing with the help of different types of cast and grill nets. There is no evidence in EIA of any such intensive efforts detailed here. In fact the field survey in summer moths was done in May June 2010, years before the EAC stipulation.

TOR (EAC minutes of Sept 2012) state “Chenab river in this stretch has good fish species diversity & their sustenance has to be studied by a reputed institute.” This is entirely missing. TOR (EAC minutes of Sept 2012) states “During the day, the adequacy of this discharge (12 cumecs) from aquatic biodiversity consideration needs to be substantiated”. This again is missing. TOR said 10 MW secondary station may be a more desirable option. This is not even assessed. TOR said Impacts of abrupt peaking need to be assessed. This is also not done. Site specific E-Flow studies and peaking studies stipulated by TOR are missing. TOR states that Public Hearing / consultations should be addressed & incorporated in the EIA-EMP. However there is no evidence of this in the report.

TOR also required following to be included in EIA, but many of them found to be missing: L section of ALL upstream, downstream projects; Project layout showing all components with A-3 scale of clarity and 1: 50000 scale; drainage pattern map of river upto project; critically degraded areas delineated; Demarcation of snowfed/ rainfed areas; different riverine habitats like rapids, pools, side pools, variations, etc;

Contradictions in basic project parameters

The EIA report provides contradictions in even in basic parameters of the project components: So section 2.1 on page 2.1 says, “The envisaged tail water level upstream of the Saichu Nala confluence is 2150 m.” This i s when the TWL is supposed to 2149 m as per diagram on next page from the EIA. Section 2.3 says: “River bed elevation at the proposed dam axis is 2145m.” At the same time, the tail water level is 2149 m. How can Tail water level of hydropower project be higher than the river bed level at the dam site? This means that the project is occupying the river elevation beyond what HPPCL has allocated to it. Page 23 of EIA says: “…the centerline of the machines in the powerhouse is proposed at 2138.00m…” So the Centre line o the power house is full 11 m BELOW the tail water level of 2149 m? How will the water from power house CLIMB 11 m to reach TWL level?

EIA report unacceptable on many fronts

Dam ht of 70 m was stated in TOR, however the report states it to be 74 from river bed. The submergence area, consequently has gone up from 70 ha at TOR stage to 82.16 ha, as mentioned in Table 2.2 of EIA. Total land requirement which was 102.48 ha as per TOR ha has now increased to 125.62 ha, with forest land requirement going up to 118.22 ha. This is a significant departure from TOR that should be requiring fresh scoping clearance. Part of the field study has been done for the project more than four years ago and rest too more than three years ago. There are not details as to exactly what was done in field study. EAC had noted in their meeting in Sept 2012, while considering fresh scoping clearance for the project, “EIA and EMP should be carried out afresh keeping in view the drastic changes in the features due to increase in installed capacity of the power house.” (Emphasis added.) The EIA report is thus unacceptable on multiple fronts.

No cognizance of Cumulative Impacts

CIA of the entire Chenab basin including HP and J&K is not being considered, which itself is violating MoEFs Office Memorandum dated May 28 2013. The OM states that all states were to initiate carrying capacity studies within three months from the date of the OM No. J-11013/I/2013-IA-I. Since this has not happened in case of Chanab basin in J&K, considering any more projects in the basin for Environmental clearance will be in violation of the MoEF OM.

On Cumulative Impact Assessment, the OM said, “While, first project in a basin could come up without insisting on cumulative impact study, for all subsequent hydro-power projects in the basin, it should be incumbent on the developer of second/ other project(s) to incorporate all possible and potential impacts of the other project (s) in the basin to get a cumulative impact assessment done.” The EIA of both the projects does not include the cumulative impacts.

The project is located between Purthi HEP upstream and Duggar HEP downstream. Elevation difference between TWL of Purthi (2220m) and FRL of Sach Khas (2219m) is barely 1 m. The horizontal distance between them is as less as 117m. This is clearly unacceptable and in violation of the minimalist EAC-MoEF norms.

Elevation difference between TWL of Sach Khas (2149m) and the FRL of Duggar (2105 m) is 44 m and the horizontal distance is 6 km. This is thus a cascade of three among many other projects in the basin.

Cascade of three projects

Purthi HEP Site

Dugar HEP Site

Even so the report does not even mention the other two projects. EIA study is project specific and no cumulative impacts are assessed along with the other two projects. The EIA does not provide a list of all the HEP projects taken up in the Chenab basin in HP state[i]. The MoEF sanctioned TORs for conducting Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) of Chenab In February 2012. EAC considering any further project in Chenab basin before completion of the CIA study of the basin by a credible agency (not WAPCOS) and finalised in a participatory way will be in violation of the MoEF order of May 2013.

EIA report completely misses out on the detailed analysis of cumulative impacts in terms of disaster potential of the area and how the project will increase that; impacts on flora, fauna, carrying capacity, livelihoods; cumulative downstream impact, cumulative impact of hydro peaking. impacts on springs and drainage pattern; impacts of forest diversion on environment, hydrology and society and implementation of the Forest Rights Act; changing silt flow pattern in different phases, impacts of mining, tunneling, blasting etc. Impact of reduction in adaptive capacity of the people and area to disasters in normal circumstance AND with climate change has not been assessed. Project makes no assessment of impact of climate change on the project even when over 60% of the catchment area of the project is snow-fed and glacier fed. Options assessment in terms of non dam options as required under EIA manual and National Water Policy are missing.

Generic impact prediction

Impact prediction is too generic with no detailed assessment, which is what EIA is supposed to do. Impacts have not been quantified at all. The EIA report merely states the likely impacts in 2 or 3 sentences. Several important impacts have gone missing. None of the serious impacts have been quantified. For an informed decision making and effective mitigation and EMP quantification of impacts is essentially a pre requisite. Following are some such incidences:

Impacts of blasting & tunneling: TOR for the impacts on “Socio-economic aspects” says, “Impacts of Blasting activity during project construction which generally destabilize the land mass and leads to landslides, damage to properties and drying up of natural springs and cause noise pollution will be studied.”(p.196 of EIA Report). The total area required for Underground Works is 2.44 Ha. The project proposes underground power house with an installed capacity of (260+7). There are three TRTs proposed of length 99.75m, 113.13m, and 132.35m. Even so the impacts of blasting for such huge construction are simply disregarded in the EIA report by stating that “The overall impact due to blasting operations will be restricted well below the surface and no major impacts are envisaged at the ground level.” (p.165). While assessing the impacts of blasting on wild life the report states that direct sighting of the animals has not been found in the study area and the possible reason could be habitation of few villages. No attempt has been made to assess impacts of blasting like damage to properties, drying up of springs etc. This is a clear violation of TOR.

Impacts of Peaking & diurnal flow fluctuation: In the lean season during peaking power generation the reservoir will be filled up to FRL. As stated in report, this will result in drying of river stretch downstream of dam site of Sach Khas hydroelectric project for a stretch of 6.0 km, i.e. upto tail end of reservoir of Dugar hydroelectric project. The drying of river stretch to fill the reservoir upto FRL for peaking power will last even upto 23.5 hours, after which there will continuous flow equivalent to rated discharge of 428.1 cumec for 0.5 to 2 hours. Such significant diurnal fluctuation with no free flowing river stretch will have serious impacts on river eco system. There is no assessment of these impacts. Instead the report projects this as a positive impact stating “In such a scenario, significant re-aeration from natural atmosphere takes place, which maintains Dissolved Oxygen in the water body.” This is absurd, not substantiated and unscientific.

International experts have clearly concluded that: “If it is peaking it is not ROR”[ii]. In this case the EIA says the project will be peaking and yet ROR project, which is clear contradiction in terms.

Impacts on wild life: EIA report lists 18 faunal species found in the study area. Out of them 8 species are Schedule I species and 8 Schedule II species. Even so while assessing the impacts of increased accessibility, Chapter 9.6.2 b(I) of the report mentions “Since significant wildlife population is not found in the region, adverse impacts of such interferences are likely to be marginal.” If the project has so many schedule I and II species, the impact of the project on them must be assessed in the EIA. Moreover, massive construction activities, the impacts of long reservoir with fluctuating levels on daily basis, high diurnal fluctuation and dry river stretch of 6km on wild life could be serious. But the report fails to attempt any assessment of the same.

Impacts on geophysical environment are missing: The project involves Underground Works of 2.44 Ha. This involves construction of underground powerhouse, three headrace tunnels and several other structures. This will have serious impacts on the geophysical environment of the region and may activate old and new landslides in the vicinity of the project. The report makes no detailed assessment of this. Generic comments like “Removal of trees on slopes and re-working of the slopes in the immediate vicinity of roads can encourage landslides, erosion gullies, etc.” (p.176) have been made throughout the report. Such generic statements can be found in every WAPCOS report. Such statements render the whole EIA exercise as a farce. Project specific, site specific impact assessment has to be done by the EIA. Considering that the project is situated between Purthi HEP upstream and Duggar HEP downstream, a detailed assessment of the geophysical environment and impact of all the project activities is necessary. Further since the EMP is not at all available in public domain, it is difficult to assess what measures are suggested and how effective measures to arrest possible landslides have been suggested.

Downstream view of Sach Khas

Right Bank Drift at Sach Khas

No assessment for Environmental Flow Releases

TOR states that the minimum environmental flow shall be 20% of the flow of four consecutive lean months of 90% dependable year, 30% of the average monsoon flow. The flow for remaining months shall be in between 20-30%, depending on the site specific requirements (p.192). Further the TOR specifically states that a site specific study shall be carried out by an expert organization (p.193).

The TOR also mandated, “A site specific study shall be carried out by an expert organisation.” However completely violating the TOR, the EIA report makes no attempt for the site specific study to establish environmental flows. Instead it proposes to construct 2 units of 7 MW each to be installed to utilize the mandatory environmental releases. This completely defeats the basic purpose of the environmental flow releases. Such flows will help neither the riverine biodiversity, nor fish migration nor provide upstream downstream connectivity.

Socio-economic profile of the study area and Rehabilitation & Resettlement Plan are missing

TOR specifies a detailed assessment of socio-economic profile within 10 km of the study area including demographic profile, economic structure, developmental profile, agricultural practices, ethnographic structure etc. It also specifies documentation sensitive habitats (in terms of historical, cultural, religious and economic importance) of dependence of the local people on minor forest produce and their cattle grazing rights in the forest land. As per the TOR the EIA report is required to list details of all the project affected families.

Report however excludes assessment of socio economic impact of the study area. The total land required for the project is 125.62 ha, of which about 118.22 ha is forest land and the balance land 7.4 ha is private land. There are cursory mentions of habitations in the study area. Chapter 8.7 ‘Economically Important plant species’ states that in study area the local people are dependent on the forest produce such as fruits, timber, fuel wood, dyes and fodder for their livelihood. However the EIA report does not even estimate the population displaced due to land acquisition and impact of the various components of the project on livelihood of the people. Further detailed study is then out of question. This is again gross violation of TOR.

Indus Water Treaty

Chenab basin is international basin as per the Indus Water Treaty. A recent order of the international court has debarred India from operating any projects below MDDL and has disallowed provision for facility to achieve drawdown below MDDL in any future project[i] (for details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/international-court-asks-india-to-release-more-water-and-rejects-plea-to-re-interpret-february-verdict-on-kishanganga/). The EIA described gate opening in this project for silt removal, which stands debarred by international court. The EIA thus is in violation of the verdict of international Court.

The EIA says (p. 21 bottom), “Five low level sluices with crest at 2167m of size 7.5m width and 12.3m height are proposed for flood passage. Drawdown flushing of the reservoir shall be carried out through these sluices for flushing out of the sediment entrapped in the reservoir. Detailed studies on sedimentation and reservoir flushing can be taken up at detailed planning stage.” The MDDL of the project is 2209.3 m as mentioned in the same para. This means the project envisages sediment flushing by drawdown to 2167 m (sluice crest level, the sluice bottom level wll be 12.3 m below that), about 42.3 m below the MDDL. This is clearly not allowed under PCA order cited above on Indus Treaty.

Impact of 3.5 MW Chhou Nala HEP to be constructed for the project not assessed

The EIA mentions (p 2.19) that the HP government has allocated 3.5 MW Hydropower project on Chhou Nala in the project area to the project authority, so this is integral part of the project. But the EIA does not contain any impacts of the SHP. The stream on which this is planned is extremely important for the people as drinking water schemes, irrigation Kuhls and gharats of Rai, Chhou and Thandal villages are located on this stream in the proposed project area. Thus the project will have huge impacts, but there is no assessment of these impacts. This is another glaring omission of EIA. It was shocking to read that the resident commissioner said at the public hearing that this question is not part of Environmental Public hearing, when it is very much part of it.

Public hearing report

At several places either no information is given or misleading information has been presented. For example the project representatives mis-informed the people at PH that 15-20% water will be released, when minimum water they need to release is above 20%. DFO said that soil will be spread over the muck disposal site for tree planting over it, but there is no provision of this in EIA-EMP. Many questions were provided with vague answers or no answers at all. No clear answer was given when asked if the muck dumping sites have been decided in consultation with the local people, implied answer is clearly that local people have NOT be consulted. When asked about agreements to ensure that the company implements EMP and Social Management Plan as required, there was no promise that such an agreement will be signed with the village gram sabhas. The affected people raised the issue of erosion impact of diversion tunnel, but no specific response was provided in response to this issue. When a resident of Chhou village raised the issue of vulnerability of the village to the landslides, no clear answer was given by the project developer. When the same person asked that our cremation ground is going under submergence, what is the company planning about it, the project developer replied that IF the cremation ground goes under submergence, we will think about this. This only shows that the project developer and EIA consultant have not even done an assessment of such basic aspects. The PH report accepts that close to 100 workers are already working without even basic sanitation facilities, this is clear violation of EIA notification further the EIA Agency fails to mention this.

EIA is full of cut and paste, generic statements, no actual assessments

Out of nine chapters of EIA, only the last chapter is about impacts assessments! So out of 170 pages of nine chapters, only 31 pages of chapter 9 is supposedly about impact assessment and there too mostly there is no real impact assessment, mostly only generic statements that can be included in any EIA. There are several unnecessary sections in the EIA like chapter 3 on “Construction Methodology” which is unnecessary in EIA. In most other sections too, the information is just cut and paste from DPR. By way of impact prediction, the EIA report is only listing them doing absolutely NO ASSESSMENT and no quantification of impacts is attempted. Further since the EMP is not available in the public domain, it is impossible to assess if the measures provided in the EMP are effective. Such EIA is definitely not acceptable.

No proper referencing The EIA does not provide references to the specific information, without this it is difficult to cross check which information is from which secondary sources and how credible it is and which information is from primary survey.

Conclusion

This is another most shoddy piece of EIA by WAPCOS.

Moreover, as we can see the EIA has not done several impact assessments, has violated large no of TORs on several counts, the EIA-EMP are not available on EAC website, the project parameters have undergone changes necessitating fresh scoping clearance as mentioned in TOR but that has not happened, baseline study is 3-4 years old, EAC stipulation of fresh EIA-EMP has been violated, Project is using larger riverine stretch than given by HP govt, there is no proper referencing, hydrology is weak, EMP is not available on HPPCB website in violation of EIA notification, among several other issues listed above. Every conceivable serious problem can be found in this EIA of WAPCOS.

It is full of generic statements that can be pasted in any EIA without any attempt at project specific impact assessment. SANDRP has been pointing to EAC and MoEF about such unacceptable EIA by WAPCOS for several years, but neither EAC, nor MoEF has taken any action in this regard. SANDRP has once again urged to EAC and MoEF to reject this EIA and recommend blacklisting of WAPCOS and to issue fresh scoping clearance for the project as mentioned in the TOR since the project parameters (dam height, submergence area, land requirement, etc) have gone through significant changes.

We sincerely hope the EAC will not only take serious cognition of these and not recommend clearance to the project, but also direct the project proponent and EIA consultant to implement other recommendations made above.

 Amruta Pradhan (amrutapradhan@gmail.com), Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

[i] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/international-court-asks-india-to-release-more-water-and-rejects-plea-to-re-interpret-february-verdict-on-kishanganga/

[ii] See for example https://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Hydro_%20Electric_Projects_in_Chenab_River_Basin.pdf

[iii] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/if-its-peaking-its-not-an-ror-interview-with-dr-thomas-hardy-iahr-and-texas-state-university/

[iv] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/pm-kick-starts-850-mw-ratle-project-in-jk-without-full-impact-assessment-invitation-to-another-disaster-in-chenab-basin/

[v] https://sandrp.in/hydropower/Dams_on_Chenab_How_many_are_too_many_Dec2012.pdf

[vii] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/pm-kick-starts-850-mw-ratle-project-in-jk-without-full-impact-assessment-invitation-to-another-disaster-in-chenab-basin/

[viii] Refer to SANDRP studies on Chenab

– https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/pm-kick-starts-850-mw-ratle-project-in-jk-without-full-impact-assessment-invitation-to-another-disaster-in-chenab-basin/

– https://sandrp.in/hydropower/Dams_on_Chenab_How_many_are_too_many_Dec2012.pdf

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

[ix] http://northgazette.com/news/2013/04/25/special-committee-to-monitor-hydro-projects-in-hp-cm/

Arunachal Pradesh · Expert Appraisal Committee

Hydromania in Arunachal Pradesh: Massive 1850 MW Dam Planned Without Any Basic Data, Not even Water Flow Data…

‘MoU Virus’ was the term used by former environment minister Jairam Ramesh in May 2008 to describe the speed at which the Memorandum of Understanding or MoUs for hydropower projects were signed by Arunachal Pradesh government. Five years after that virus attack, the ill-effects are clearly visible. The construction of Lower Subansiri hydropower project has been stopped for 26 months now. Environment and Forest clearances are yet to be accorded to 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose dam, even though the foundation stone for this dam was laid by none other than the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on 31st January 2008. Lower Siang hydropower project public hearing was vehemently opposed by people. But learning no lesson from these, the government of Arunachal Pradesh and the center is going ahead with its gigantic plan to make Arunachal Pradesh the ‘future powerhouse’ of the country. In doing so scientific studies and ground realities have been blatantly neglected.

Oju hydropower project in the Subansiri river basin with a proposed installed capacity of 1850 MW is the latest example of the hydromania, which has gripped the government of Arunachal Pradesh and the center. Oju HEP is the upper most project proposed on the Subansiri river in the Upper Subansiri district with a catchment area of 9827 sq. km. up to the dam site. The project was considered for Terms of Reference (TOR) or first stage of environmental clearance by the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydroelectric projects (EAC) in its 72nd meeting held on 20th and 21st February this year. But there is little information available about the actual situation of the project area.  Before going any further, consider the following situations –

Any scientific study is yet to be done at the dam site. Water flow data which is a prerequisite for construction of a hydropower dam is not available for the proposed dam site. No gauge and discharge measurement site at the project site or anywhere in the catchment of the dam.

The project area is totally under forest cover. It holds rich biodiversity which is yet to be explored.

* There is no road to reach the project area. The distance between the dam site of Oju hydropower project and Limeking town, the last point of motarable road is 60 km. From Daporijo, the headquarters of Upper Subansiri district, the dam site is 210 km away. 

Tentative Road Network to Project Site Source: Oju PFR
Tentative Road Network to Project Site
Source: Oju PFR

A small hydropower project is proposed to be constructed in a nearby stream in order to fulfill the electricity requirement during the construction of the project.  

SNC-Lavalin, the consultants hired for preparation of detailed project report, is known to be one of most corrupt engineering firms in the world.

All the situations mentioned above are drawn from the project documents submitted to MoEF. It was shocking to find that without any environmental baseline assessment, the Pre Feasibility Report and Form I made all kinds of sweeping assertions. This hydromania is leading to nothing but ignorant, unscientific and corrupt decision making. 

SANDRP after reviewing the project documents, made a detailed submission to EAC on February 13th pointing out the critical issues related with Oju HEP. We asked the EAC not to consider the project for TOR clearance. We also demanded that the project proponent should  be  asked  to  get  at  least  five  years’  daily  water  flow, gauge, rainfall and sediment data at the project site before applying for TOR clearance. The critical issues mentioned in SANDRP’s submission on Oju HEP to EAC are listed below.

Critical Issues of Oju HEP

No More Projects Should be Cleared in Subansiri basin before Completion of Basin Study From 20007 to 2013, four projects in Subansiri basin has been considered by EAC along with one sub-basin study. All the four projects have been given TOR clearance. Subansiri Upper HEP has been given TOR extension on 6th June 2013. The total installed capacity of these projects are 4960 MW. It is also important to note that 2000 MW Lower Subansiri project is in under construction phase. This implies that nearly 6960 MW of capacity has already been given clearance by EAC without any cumulative impacts assessment study of Subansiri basin being completed through a participatory process. This capacity is in addition to the small hydropower projects in the basin.

The Subansiri sub-basin study was discussed for the first time in 68th EAC meeting in 2013. In that meeting the EAC had stated that “optimal number and locations of HEPs and similar projects to be planned in the basin conforming strictly to ecological and environmental sustainability is to be clearly delineated.” This can only be known once the basin study is completed.

In this situation, no more projects in Subansiri basin should be given any clearance till the cumulative study is being completed. Besides, the EAC must take into account the fact that cumulative impact assessment study of the basin is major demand of the organizations whose agitation has stopped the construction work of Lower Subansiri with the support of the people of Assam. Therefore it is very essential that a through and detailed cumulative impact assessment study is done for Subansiri in participation with all the people of the basin. Without this, clearances given to projects would face the same fate as the Lower Subansiri project is now facing: Work stopped for 26 months till now.

A list of projects cleared by EAC in Subansiri basin is given below.

Sl. No Project State Sub-Basin Ins Cap Status Meeting date Total Area Req. ha Forest Land, ha
1. Subansiri Lower AP Subansiri 2000 Under construction EC on 16-07-03 4111 4039.9
2. Subansiri Middle AP Kamla 1600 TOR Approved 25-09-10 3180 1333
3. Nalo HEP AP Subansiri 360 TOR Approved 11-12-11 662.94
4. Naba AP Subansiri 1000 TOR Approved 03-05-13 658
5. Subansiri Upper AP Subansiri 2000 TOR Ext Granted 06-06-13 3155 2170

Premature application Reading the PFR and Form I on the EAC website shows that project has come rather prematurely for TOR clearance. There is no gauge and discharge measurement site at the project site or anywhere in the catchment, the nearest site is at Upper Subansiri dam site with catchment area about 50% higher than that of Oju HEP. Even for this site, the flow measurement observations are available only for 6 years. How can optimum parameters of a massive project with 1850 MW capacity be formulated without any flow measurements, which is the most important parameter for hydropower project. Even now the flow measurements do not seem to have begun. There are no roads to the project area. It should be remembered that this is a virgin site, and there have been no environmental baseline assessments and yet the PFR and Form I are making all kind of sweeping assertions. The PP should be asked to get back with such an application only after they have at least five years of observation data of water flow and other parameters. That the application is premature is also apparent from the drastic changes the project capacity has gone through so far, as described in PFR. 

Oju HEP's nearest gauge is located in Menga, also the site for Subansiri Upper HEP. But there are four hydropower projects planned between Oju and Subansiri Upper.  Source: Form I of Oju HEP
Oju HEP’s nearest gauge station is located at Menga which the site for Subansiri Upper HEP. But there are four hydropower projects planned between Oju and Subansiri Upper. Source: Form I of Oju HEP

This premature-ness of the proposal is further confirmed when we see contradictory figures in the submitted documents about basic project parameters. For example dam height is given as 110 m (sec 8) at one place and 115 m at another place. Live Storage capacity is given as 2.065 MCM at some place, 3.3 MCM elsewhere (e.g. sec 4.4 of PFR). Power intake design discharge is given as 327.4 cumecs at some places and 333.39 cumecs elsewhere (e.g. sec 2.2 of Form 1).

Proposal in contradiction with Cumulative Impact Assessment This proposal before EAC for a 1850 MW Oju project is in contradiction with what is given in the Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) commissioned by the CWC and which was discussed in the 68th meeting of  EAC. The CIA says (see para 3 of Ex Summary) that there are two Oju projects: “Oju – I (1925 MW), Oju – II (2580 MW)”. However, the proposal now before the EAC is one project with capacity lower than any single project! However, Table on page 15 of CIA says Oju I has 700 MW and Oju II has 1000 MW capacity! The CIA says the submergence area of Oju I is 72.3 ha, though the proposal now before EAC for the same dam says the dam has submergence area of 42.3 ha! CIA says design flood is 10500 cumecs for Oju I (same dam as Oju now before EAC), but the proposal before EAC says PMF is much lower at 5983. This shocking series of numbers show that both the reports of Oju project before EAC and the CIA are misleading and do not seem to know what they are talking about. This is not an exhaustive list of contradictions, there are many more, this is only for illustration. 

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

Proposal different than allotment The PP was allotted two separate projects Oju I and II by Arunachal Pradesh government, but they have decided to club the two, but there is no agreement between Arunachal Pradesh and PP for the new parameters in the project proposed before EAC. Without such an agreement, EAC consideration of the project would be vacuous.

Huge Land Requirement The Form I of Oju project states that the area which will come under submergence due to the formation of the reservoir excluding the river bed is 34.3 ha. Including the river bed the total submergence is 43.2 ha. But the total land requirement is 760 ha implying that the required for dam, water conductor system, power house and other project appurtenances is about 727 ha. It is not clear why 760 ha of land is required for the project when reservoir submergence is 43.2 ha.

Contradictory figures about Land Requirement The Form I in the table providing basin information about the project states that “The total land to be acquired for the project is 760 ha.” But the PFR in section 12.2 in page 15 states “It is estimated that about 790 Ha of land would be required for development of the Project.” This shows that the project proponent is not clear about the land requirement for the project. 

Threat to Huge Forest area The construction of Oju HEP will be a threat to a huge forest area. Page 17 the Form I states “…760 ha of land with forest cover is to be acquired for the project. Forest cover is also observed within the project as well as area within 15 km from the project site.” But the PFR does not specify how much forest area will be actually diverted. 

River Subansiri flowing through its lush green valley
River Subansiri flowing through its lush green valley

Installed Capacity is more than 1850 MW The installed capacity of Oju project is more than 1850 MW since a dam toe power house of 28 MW is also planned. This makes the total installed capacity in 1878 MW. The documents in most of the places mentioned installed capacity of the project as 1850 MW. The EAC therefore should ask the project proponent to apply for fresh TOR clearance with renewed installed capacity.

Oju Project Proponent aims to Construct Three Projects in the Name of One: Small Hydro project to Power the Construction Work The EAC should take a note that project proponent of Oju, is aiming to construct three hydro power projects in the name of one. We have already mentioned about the first two. Now in section 10.7 of page 10-7, the PFR documents states “The power requirement for construction activities is estimated to about 25.0 MVA taking into consideration the capacity of electric driven equipments which are to work during the construction period and lighting. The possibility of constructing small hydro power plants on streams in the vicinity of the project would also be explored at DPR stage.”

The Form I also mentioned about small HEP in page 10 -“The estimated peak requirement of power is about 25MW required for construction activity of major works such as tunnels, adits, barrage area and power house complex. Construction power requirement is proposed to be met by DG Sets/Small HEP.” Full details including impact assessment of this small HEP should be included in the TOR.

Stretch of Free Flowing River between Two Projects on Subansiri It is not clear how much flowing river stretch is available between Oju and downstream Nare HEP. According to the minimalist norms followed by EAC the free flowing stretch between two projects should be minimum one kilometer. But the PFR of Oju HEP have not clearly mentioned this distance anywhere. The Cascade development figure given in the PFR says that the elevation difference between TWL of Oju (1300 m) and FRL of Nare (1280 m) is just 20 m. If we look at the average slop at the site, this translates to about half a km. The PP should be asked to change the parameters to increase this to more than a km at least.

It is also important to specify this distance between two projects because of the cumulative impacts of the project. The Siang basin study in its recent version, which will be discussed in the same 72nd EAC meeting has asked to change the FRL and TWL of some of the projects because they have not kept minimum distance of one kilometer between projects. The basin study report in section 12.1.3 stated “…..it is recommended that FRL of three projects viz. Tato II, Naying and Siyom Middle should be slightly reduced so that free flowing river stretches of 1 Km can be maintained between FRL and TWL of these four projects in cascade.”

Therefore Oju HEP PFR should clearly mention the distance between its TWL and FRL of the downstream project. EAC also should make this compulsory for all the projects in other river basins.

Form I and PFR contradictory about the Generating Units The Form I of Oju HEP in page 20 states that the installed capacity of 1850 MW will be generated through eight units of 231.25 MW each. But PFR on the other hand, in section 9 of page 8 states “The underground powerhouse, housing eight units of 225 MW each, is proposed on the right bank of the river Subansiri.” It is surprising to find such contradictions in the Form I and PFR of Oju project.

The PFR in page 13 again states “As mentioned earlier, project’s installed capacity has been fixed at 1850 MW and correspondingly, eight generating units of 231.25 MW, each, are proposed in the powerhouse.”

Huge Diversion of the River The Oju HEP will divert a huge length of the river. Page 1 of the PFR states, “The dam site is located at about 60 km upstream of Limeking and powerhouse site is located at about 40 km upstream of Limeking on the right bank of Subansiri river.” This implies that the river has been diverted for 20 km between the dam site and the power house (The head race length is 14.82 km). . This is a huge diversion of the river Subansiri which will have disastrous impacts on the health and ecosystem of the river. But neither the Form I nor the PFR provide what is the length of the river to be diverted for the project.

Subansiri carries significant amount of sediment The PFR report of Oju project in section 7.5.2 states “Since Subansiri River is expected to carry some amount of sediment during monsoons, effective management of sediment removal from the reservoir should be ensured.” Stating that the river carries some sediment is not correct since this river system is known for high sedimentation due to its location in the young Himalayan mountain range.

Reference to this can be found in the January-March, 2003 issue Ecologist Asia (page 12) which was focused on dams in northeast “The catchments of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries show significantly high rates of basin denudation especially after the great earthquake of 1950. The catchments of the Subansiri, Jia Bharali and the Manas along with the Dihang (Siang) are estimated to have experienced an average denudation of 73-157 cm./1000 years over just 24 years (1955-79). The increasing amounts of sediment and water yields downstream indicate an increase in sediment yield by a whopping 240% accompanied by an equally significant rise of nearly 120% in water yield during the period 1971-1979 between Tsela D’Zong (China) and Ranaghat (India).

Therefore first the sediment flow should be properly assessed.

Detailed and Thorough Options Assessment A detailed and through options assessment should be done for Oju project. There can be several other cost effective options for power generation in this area and options assessment should look into all such options. The options assessment should also look at whether the local people or the state needs such a huge capacity hydropower project.

It is important here to note that successful sub-megawatt capacity hydropower projects (Less than 1 MW) are currently under operation in Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh. (see – Anjaw shines in hydro power sector).

The TOR for the project does not include the following key aspects:

1. Issues related to cumulative impact assessment due to various components of the project and various projects in the basin.

2. The disaster vulnerability of the area on various aspects like landslides, earthquakes, floods, etc and how these will change with changing climate and how the project will change the disaster vulnerability of the area. There should be a separate chapter in EIA on this.

3. The project should do actual environment flow assessment and not just take the EAC norms as given. There should be separate chapter in EIA on this. The statement in Form 1 section 1.24 “Environmental Flows as per MOEF norms shall be released” is thus clearly premature and unwarranted. Eflows should be on daily changing basis and not seasonal averages.

4. Full Downstream social and environmental Impact Assessment

5. Impacts Peaking Power Operations

6. Assessment of impact of reservoir operation and mechanism to achieve transparent, accountable reservoir operation.

7. Impacts of Silt Management operations at various points of time and space.

8. Impacts of Tunneling and Blasting

9. Impacts of Mining of materials for the project.

10. Impacts of Backwater Effects of the reservoir in flood season

11. Impacts of Climate Change on dam

12. Impacts of the project on the adaptation capacity of the people in view of changing climate

13. Impact of peaking operation of the project on downstream areas and communities

No de-sanding chambers proposed in Silt Laden River The PFR in section 7.5.2 in page 7-5 states that “In this regard, it may be noted that no de-sanding chambers are proposed in the project in view of a relatively high dam with reservoir extending to almost 3.13 km.” Keeping no provision of de-sanding or de-silting chamber in the dam could have serious impacts on reservoir operations.

Form 1 undertaking not signed Page 2 of Form 1 is supposed to be an undertaking about the accuracy of information in Form 1, but there is no name, place or date for the signatory, all places are blank.

Poor reputation of consultants The PP has hired SNC Lavalin as consultant for DPR. However, SNC Lavalin has poor reputation in their country of origin (Canada[1]), globally[2] and even in Indian state of Kerala[3]. How dependable would the work of such an agency be is a big question mark.

Parag Jyoti Saikia (with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar)


[1] Out of  over 250 companies on World Bank’s current black listed from bidding on its global projects under its fraud and corruption policy, 115 are from SNC Lavalin and its affiliates, see: http://business.financialpost.com/2013/09/18/canada-now-dominates-world-bank-corruption-list-thanks-to-snc-lavalin/

[2] See: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/daniel-tencer/snc-lavalin_b_4110591.html, the company has been banned by the World Bank due to corruption issues: “SNC-Lavalin, the engineering giant based out of Montreal that has now pretty much become a national (and international) embarrassment.” Its CEO has been arrested more than once for corruption charges.

[3] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SNC_Lavalin_scandal, there was a CBI inquiry in relation to hydropower projects related work and several politicians have been charge sheeted.