The Union Finance Minister (FM) Smt. Nirmala Seetharaman in her budget for 2022-23 presented in the parliament on Feb 1, 2022 provided Rs 4300 Cr for the controversial Ken Betwa Project in Revised Estimates for 2021-22 and Rs 1400 Cr in Budget estimates for 2022-23. The KBP has not received the final forest clearance. In fact its stage I forest clearance conditions cannot be implemented without changing the project and its cost benefits and impacts. Its wildlife clearance has been questioned by the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court of India and the comprehensive scathing report of the CEC Is yet to be heard by the SC. Its environmental clearance is under challenge before the National Green Tribunal. The hydrological figures that are supposed to provide the scientific basis for the project are neither in public domain, nor has it gone through any independent scrutiny. In this situation, the allocation of the funds for the project in the Union Budget and inclusion of a statement about the project in the speech of the President of India before the Joint Session of Parliament on Jan 31, 2022 are inappropriate. They seem to be timed in view of the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections.
March 14 is International Day of Action for Rivers, against destructive projects. The main objective is to ensure that the river people have their say in the decision-making processes which affect their rivers and related livelihoods sources and that the decisions are informed decisions.
Here we are bringing forth the struggles of riverine communities in India in past one year to make decision makers aware of their hardships and impacts of destructive hydro and dam projects on the riverine eco-system.
A for Athirapally, B for Bodhghat, C for Cauvery, D for Dibang, E for Etalin, seems to be the new growth alphabets from the Prime Minister’s Office. With the economic growth in negative territory, depression in the corner, the old and trusted Big Dams as major infrastructure to push up expenditure and hope for the growth was a formula used even in 1930s by US president Franklin D Roosevelt to bring the US economy out of the Great depression of 1929. It started with the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of May 1933, which then was pushed as growth model to other countries. In India it came in the form of Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) Act of 1948.
However that 20th century model was a failure even then, as the first CEO of the DVC, Sudhir Sen wrote. That model is no longer relevant in 21st century except possibly as an easy route to corruption and kickbacks. These dams and hydropower projects are no longer even economically viable and better options are now available for irrigation and power. In the changing climate scene they are even less relevant places of worship (temples). Dams and hydropower projects are seeing slow down across the globe, not just in India.
Above: Women fishing in small pools near (सादिया घाट) Sadiya Ghat on (लोहित) Lohit and Dibang Rivers. Women use several gear, baskets and nets to catch fish from the slush. The activity is accompanied by laughter, chatter and songs. Photo: Author
21st November is celebrated as World Fisheries Day. Since the past few years we have been trying to highlight the significance and richness of India’s riverine fisheries which support over 10 million people by providing livelihoods and nutritional security. Ironically, although India is the world’s biggest inland fish producer, our riverine fisheries are woefully neglected. We do not have a record of riverine fish catch and its trends, people dependent on riverine fishing, species of fish and their population trends, etc. Interventions like dams, water abstraction and pollution have severely affected riverine fisheries, which do not find a place in the dominant water management narrative.Continue reading “Celebrating India’s Riverine Fisheries on the World Fisheries Day”→
PROJECT UNABLE TO SUBMIT SATISFACTORY PROPOSAL EVEN SIX YEARS AFTER PM LAID FOUNDATION STONE!
In a remarkable decision, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of MoEF has rejected the forest clearance to 3000 MW Dibang multipurpose project for the second time in its meeting held on 29 -30 April 2014. In that meeting FAC considered the Dibang multipurpose project for diversion of massive 4577.84 ha of biodiversity rich forest land which would lead to cutting down of huge 3.24 lac trees.
The foundation stone of 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Dam was laid on 31st January 2008, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Six years have passed since then but the project is yet to get the necessary forest and environment clearances. This in a way reflects the state of environment governance in India where the foundation stone of mega dam is laid without getting any necessary clearance.
This project was considered for forest clearance in the FAC meeting held on July 11th and 12th 2013. The FAC meeting minutes noted “Felling of more than 3.5 lakh trees most likely to have adverse impact on general eco-system of the area, recovery of which may be very difficult through any type of mitigate measures”.
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River valley and Hydroelectric projects considered Dibang multipurpose project in its 68th meeting on September 23rd 2013 for environment clearance but this was in complete violation of norms. Following the “Lafarge vs Union of India and others” case of 2011, the Supreme Court of India had said that a project without forest clearance cannot be considered for environment clearance. SANDRP had pointed this out in our submission to EAC dated 20/09/2013. But EAC seemed to take no account of that.
Out of the 168 projects proposed for Arunachal Pradesh, this is the only multipurpose project. The minutes of 68th EAC meeting states that this project has dual objectives. The primary objective is flood moderation while electricity generation is its secondary objective. This is highly doubtful though since the project does not have the adequate storage capacity. On the other hand, the installed capacity of the project i.e. 3000 MW is also one of the highest among 168 hydropower projects.
The Dibang multipurpose dam is located 1.5 km upstream of confluence of Ashu Pani with Dibang river at Munli village in Lower Dibang Valley district. Construction of this dam involves two districts of Arunachal Pradesh viz. Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley districts. All the project components e.g. dam, power house will be are located in Lower Dibang Valley District while reservoir which will submerge 43 km length of the river will fall in both districts. The total land requirement for this dam is 5794.142 ha out of the 5022.842 is forest area with very rich bio-diversity. Submergence of such a huge forest is one of the major concerns associated with this dam and that is why the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has refused forest clearance to this project.
The Dibang multipurpose project plans to construct 288 meter high concrete gravity dam with an underground dam toe power house. The reservoir of this project will submerge 40.09 sq km area. The total cost of the project at November 2007 price level was estimated at 15886.39 crores.
It is important to note that the public hearing for the project faced vehement opposition of the local people. The public hearing of the project has been halted for several times. The local people expressed serious concern regarding Dibang multipurpose project and feared that influx of outsiders for dam building will lead to a demographic imbalance in the Dibang valley. This is a serious issue since the primary inhabitants of Dibang valley are Mishmi (Idu) which is a very small community with a population of 11,023 according to 2001 census. According to NHPC estimation a workforce of 5800 people (labour and technical staff) would be needed for the Dibang multipurpose project. But All Idu Mishmi Students Union (AIMSU) has contested this figure and opined that a single project would bring about 15,000 people into the region. It is also reported that NHPC claim that the project will cause ‘negligible human displacement’ grossly undermines its harmful impacts on smaller ethnic community such as Idu Mishmis. A video of the protest by local people can be seen here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8TCUKh2hQY
No cumulative impact assessment of dams in Dibang valley has been conducted e even though 17 projects have been proposed for this region. The TOR clearance had been given to 86 MW Ithum and 3097MW Etalin HEP in the basin by EAC. Without any cumulative impact assessment study of the basin no project should be given environment clearance. People from Dibang valley has also written to previous EAC on demanding cumulative impact assessment study. A letter to EAC from a local person Raju Mimi, dated January 31st 2013 stated “Since the 3097 MW Etalin project is on agenda again for the 64th EAC meeting to be held on Feb 1st – 2nd 2013, we re-iterate our demand to have prior cumulative impact assessment of multiple hydropower projects by urgently commissioning a Dibang river basin study.”
Other Glaring Issues of Dibang Multipurpose Along with the above mentioned issues SANDRP had made detailed submission to EAC pointing to some of the glaring concerns associated with the project. Some of these issues are –
Incomplete and Shoddy Downstream Impact Assessment: The downstream impact assessment done for the Dibang multipurpose does not take into account impacts of the dam in Assam. The downstream impact assessment study does no assessment beyond Dibru-Saikhowa and whatever has been done is also very much inadequate.
No Public Hearing Held in Assam: Even though the Dibang multipurpose will have severe impacts in downstream Assam, there was no public hearing held for the project in Assam.
Mining for the Dibang Multipurpose will lead to Catastrophes: Mining of boulder, sand and other construction material for the Dibang multipurpose project will have very severe impacts on the river as well as on the local environment. The amount of boulder required for the construction of this project is 193 lakh cubic meter as stated in the project document. This is really astonishing figure and impact of such mining on the river bed and nearby areas will be catastrophic. The fragility of the Himalayan mountain range is not unknown to anyone and mining in such a sensitive hilly area will area will only increase the risk of landslide and disaster. The catastrophe of Uttarakhand floods is a clear example of this.
No Climate Change Assessment Impact of climate change on the project and impact of the project on the local climate. No attempt has been made to assess the impact of green house gas emissions from the reservoir of the dam which extends to 43 km.
No assessment impacts of peaking power operations Impacts Detail assessment of impacts of peaking power operation during non-monsoon months not done. Impacts on the flow characters of the river due to this dam, what will be the changes and how these will impact downstream areas.
No Assessment of Disaster Potential Impact of the project on disaster potential in the project area as well in the downstream including Assam due to construction and also operation at various stages, say on landslides, flash floods, etc.
No Assessment of SiltFlushing Impact of changing silt flows downstream from desilting chamber and from silt flushing in monsoon on the downstream areas not analyzed. A detail account of how the silt from the dam would be flushed out annually and what would be the impact of this in the downstream as well as on the geo morphology, erosion, stability of structures etc was not done.
What did the EAC say in 68th Meeting The EAC in its 68th meeting did not recommend environment clearance to the project and instead pointed out several issues in the EIA – EMP report. Some of the important issue pointed out by EAC are –
1. Attempts may be made to avoid submergence of huge area of rich forest land. It merits mention that due to the very high forest land submergence, forest clearance has not yet been accorded by FAC.
2. Environmental Flow in the diverted portion of about 1.2 km i.e. between dam and TWL of dam toe PH is to be reassessed and a suitable quantity is to be proposed for release as per extant norms. 4% flow as suggested was found to be inadequate.
3. Numbers of Fish species reported was found to be on lower side and NHPC was asked to verify this and report accurately.
4. Number of plant species reported also appeared to be on lower side and to be rechecked by NHPC.
5.At this altitude of the project (about 3000m), snow leopard should have been sighted. It may be erroneous to report that leopard was not found in the study area. Therefore, this may be relooked.
6. Study area in back water/ submergence is also to be extended for proper inventory of both flora, fauna/bio-diversity.
The impacts of the Dibang multipurpose project are going to severe on the river, people and overall ecology of Dibang river basin. But sad part is that no proper assessment of these impacts has been done till now. Looking back at the six years since the laying foundation stone for the project we reiterate what Forest Advisory Committee said about the project “ecological, environmental and social costs of diversion of such a vast tract of forest land, which is a major source of livelihood of the tribal population of the State, will far outweigh the benefits likely to accrue from the project.”