DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 031022: Great Victory of People: MP govt scraps all contracts related to Maheshwar Dam

(Feature image: A protest by Narmada Bachao Andolan in Nov. 2006. Source: @Sripadmanthan)

On Sept 27, 2022, the Madhya Pradesh Government cancelled all contracts related to the Maheshwar Dam Project on Narmada. This massive dam on Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh upstream of Sardar Sarovar Project and downstream of the Omkareshwar Project was to be a multi-purpose project with a 400 MW hydropower component and water supply component among others. It was opposed by the people’s movement lead by Narmada Bachao Andolan for over two decades now. The project being implemented by the private textile company S Kumars showed no will or intention of taking care of the social or environment impacts of the project. Madhya Pradesh government so far was trying to push ahead with the project by hook or by crook, but finally had the sense to realise that this is going to be a massively costly affair at estimated Rs 42000 crores and the state and the people of state are only going to suffer costs and adverse impacts. The cancellation of all the contracts for the project signals a major victory of the people’s movement.

While congratulating the state government for cancelling the contracts, we would also suggest that the government needs to quickly decide about decommissioning of the dam, so that it does not pose safety risk to the people upstream and downstream and also perpetuates unnecessary adverse social and environment impacts. Earlier the dam is decommissioned, quicker will be the relief from these impacts. Moreover, the MP government should also not let the private company go scot free and all attempts should be made to recover the money spent and also penalise them for breach of the contracts. The private company should also be made to pay for the decommissioning costs.

Continue reading DRP NB 031022: Great Victory of People: MP govt scraps all contracts related to Maheshwar Dam
Dams, Rivers & People

Dams, Rivers & People 2020 through the eyes of the Cartoons

A good cartoon can say a lot more than words and possibly more effectively. As in 2019[i], we are sharing the key events on the issues that we focus on namely Dams, Rivers, Environment and People using cartoons. As you can see, we have sourced them from the various internet sources during the just concluding year 2020.

Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People 2020 through the eyes of the Cartoons”
Free flowing rivers

World Rivers Day 2020: Celebrating Rivers across the world

The World Rivers Day[i] (WRD) is celebrated annually on the fourth Sunday of September. The event strives to highlight the invaluable ecological, hydrological services and cultural, recreational values offered by the rivers. Indeed, the most of the once wild, scenic, free flowing rivers across the globe are facing existential crisis on account of various anthropogenic activities hastened over the past century.

However, there are small but significant steps being undertaken by individuals, organizations and governments to restore some of the flowing eco-systems. This account attempts to compile some such positive developments that have taken place in the one year.

We have already published a compilation of the positive river stories of India on the occasion of International Day of Actions for Rivers being held on March 14 2020. In addition to Indian rivers, this compilation also covers some remarkable development concerning river conservation worldwide. There could be many more stories and developments happening, we invite readers to send us such stories they know about. 

Continue reading “World Rivers Day 2020: Celebrating Rivers across the world”
Hydropower Performance

India’s hydro generation in 2019-20

In 2019-20 power generation from India’s large hydropower projects[i] was 11.26% of total electricity generation in India. In 2016-17, for the first time in independent India’s history, power generation from large hydropower projects in India fell below 10% of total electricity generation and remained below 10% for the next three years: 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. This calculation is based on actual generation (measured as Million or Billion Units[ii]) as reported by Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and not installed capacity (measured in Mega Watts). Continue reading “India’s hydro generation in 2019-20”

Dams

Celebrating our Rivers on the World Rivers Day, 2016!

Above: Parshuram Kund on River Lohit, Arunachal Pradesh

Since 2005, last Sunday of every September is celebrated as the World Rivers Day. The tradition started in 1980s in British Columbia when some river activists came together for their rivers. Its only grown since then.

All through the year we hear about water conflicts, river pollution, degrading freshwater biodiversity, damming of living rivers, mismanagment, concretisation and encroachment on Indian Rivers. As I write this, Cauvery Water Conflict and simmering, serious discontent over the Indus Water Treaty governing 6 rivers between India and Pakistan is mounting. A simple google search on Indian Rivers throws up images of filth, pollution, droughts and floods. Lest we forget, thats not the whole picture. We are still the custodians of an amazing legacy. India still holds some of the most beautiful, healthy and life giving rivers in the world. There are people and communities nurturing their rivers and protecting them. All is not lost and this is a battle worth fighting, full of positive energy. Continue reading “Celebrating our Rivers on the World Rivers Day, 2016!”

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”

Dams · Hydropeaking · Hydropower

India’s Free Flowing Frontier Part I: Dibang at Nizamghat

What does it mean when landscapes, riverscapes, ways of life are altered forever? When a mighty, flowing river is plugged and made to stop, flow in tunnel and released as per our whims? For most of us, life and environment are so fundamentally modified that we would hardly question it. But as our worldview and our politics is set to dam some of the last free flowing rivers in the North East India into Hydro-Electricity Banks, what is at stake? Continue reading “India’s Free Flowing Frontier Part I: Dibang at Nizamghat”

Dams · Fish Sanctuaries

Celebrating India’s Riverine Fisheries on the World Fisheries Day

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”

Dams

International Day for Biological Diversity, 2015: Biodiversity Rich Rivers are a fundamental building block of Development

May 22 has been proclaimed as the International Day for Biological Diversity by the United Nations (https://www.cbd.int/idb/). The theme for this year’s celebration is Sustainable Development[1].

Beyond its ceremonial value, what is the status of biodiversity in India and what are the safeguards in place? Let us look at the issue from the prism of rivers. Rivers are an apt indicator as they connect terrestrial, riparian, aquatic, estuarine, even marine biodiversity as they flow and are a reflection of the issues faced by these ecosystems. Although it is difficult to believe, Indian Rivers are the richest repositories of biodiversity and can be classified as Endangered Species themselves[2]! We are the 8th richest country in the world and third in Asia when it comes to fish diversity: a megadiverity hotspot. Indian rivers hold about 50% of all aquatic water plants and are home to thousands of species of migratory and resident water birds, amphibians, reptiles, riparian plants, phyto and zoo plankton, etc.

So how are we treating our rivers?

Just three days ahead of the International Day for Biological Diversity, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) issued Environmental Clearance to 3000 MW Dibang[3] Hydropower Project on Dibang River, one of the important tributaries of Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh. The project will submerge more than 4700 hectares or 11,624 acres of rich forests under its reservoir. The EIA of the project done by National Productivity Council (Guwahati) was so flawed that it included exotic fish species never found in the river in its list, while omitting Rare, endangered and threatened species. These forests harbor endangered species such as tiger, leopard, serow as well as the critically endangered takin, all of which are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The grasslands in the area are home to endangered Bengal Florican. Other species include the critically endangered white-rumped vulture, the slender-billed vulture and the white-winged wood duck. The project site lies in an area identified by the Bombay Natural History Society as a Ramsar site and an Important Bird Area. The habitat of six endangered plants (Aconitum ferox, Coelogyne mossiae, Dendrobium aurantiacum, Paphiopedilum fairieanum, Paphiopedilum venustum and Vanda coerulea) will be submerged by the reservoir. The project will also impact aquatic species; the dam will block the breeding migration of several endangered fish species.[4]

Dibang Valley tribes Photo from go ibibo/dibangvalley
Dibang Valley tribes Photo from go ibibo/dibangvalley

The Expert Appraisal Committee for River Valley and Hydropower Projects (EAC) which gives Environmental Clearance to dam projects in two stages has a flawless rack record of 100% project clearance[5]. Never in the past has this committee rejected a proposal, based on merits or for its irreversible environmental impacts. Nor has it recommended strict action against EIA agencies which churn out compromised, cut & paste EIA reports[6]. SANDRP has pointed out several instances where projects have been started without environmental clearance and at times even finished, but the EAC does not seem particularly bothered.

In its upcoming meeting on the 4th June, just a day ahead of World Environment Day, the EAC will discuss 3097 MW Etalin HEP by Jindal Power also in Dibang valley in Arunachal Pradesh, which is set to submerge 1165.6 hectares of forest. The EIA of this project has been remarkably poor in recording the rich biodiversity of the region. SANDRP has pointed this out to the EAC. For the region where species like Tiger are recorded, the EIA study mentions only 45 mammal species. This region is being marked for its importance even by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

The Siang Basin Study conducted by RS Envirolinks Pvt Limited to understand the impacts of over 44 Hydropower dams in Basin which the EAC cleared in 2014, involves submergence of more than 18,000 hectares of virgin forests also in Arunachal. The regions is rich in orchids (more than 100 species!), holds 16 species of rhododendrons, 14 species of Bamboos and 14 species of canes and overall 27 RET species and 46 endemic plant species. 25 (18%) mammalian species found are Schedule I of WPA (Wildlife Protection Act), while 26 are under Schedule II! There are 447 species of birds, of which 31 are Schedule I species. The single basin consists of 5 Important Bird Areas!! (IBAs)[7]

Projects planned in the Siang Basin Phot from CIA/ CCS of Siang Basin
Projects planned in the Siang Basin Phot from CIA/ CCS of Siang Basin

The Subansiri Basin Study done by IRG System South Asia to study impact of over 19 dams in this basin, does not even mention the presence of Gangetic Dolphins in the river, which is India’s National aquatic animal and will be severely impacted by the dam. Subansiri is one of the only tributaries of Brahmaputra with a resident population of the endangered Gangetic Dolphin (Baruah et al, 2012, Grave Danger for the Ganges Dolphin (Platanista ganegtica) in the Subansiri River due to large Hydroelectric Project).

There is no consolidated estimation of the impact of all the dams in Arunachal on rare and endangered species or their migratory routes or the biodiverse habitats in the downstream including the Memorial D Erring Sanctuary, where Lower Siang HEP and all the projects in the upstream will lead to water level fluctuation of more than 22 feet in a single day[8]! Most of the aquatic as well as riparian species are sensitive to flow changes, but so far there has been no study to understand the impacts of water level fluctuation, peaking, damming, erosion and changes in silt pattern, etc., on any species, before clearing these projects. Similarly, the impacts of peaking of all these projects on Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Assam, which is a habitat of the critically endangered Bengal Florian, Gangetic Dolphin and a number of RET species is again left to imagination.

Dibru Saikhowa National Park  Photo: Kolkata Birds
Dibru Saikhowa National Park Photo: Kolkata Birds

In case of 780 MW Nyamjang Chhu Hydropower project in Tawang basin in Arunachal Pradesh, the EIA did not even mention that the dam site itself was at the breeding and wintering grounds of Black Necked Cranes, which are not only rare, but worshipped by local Buddhist Monpa Communities. No questions were asked either by the EAC or the MoEF about this omission. Environmental Clearance was granted to this project without considering these aspects. It is only now that Tawang Basin Study, of which Nyamjangchhu is an important tributary, is mentioning this issue strongly[9]. Will the MoEF and CC act on it or will the recommendation be stifled?

In case of Uttarakhand, a state with an unprecedented flood of hydropower projects and associated tunneling, blasting and disasters, Wildlife Institute of India had clearly recommended way back in 2012 dropping 24 HEPs in Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basin being planned and constructed, for their irreversible impacts on land and aquatic biodiversity and protected areas. This recommendation was also upheld in 2014 by the Committee (headed by Dr. Ravi Chopra) appointed under Supreme Court orders following the Uttarakhand Disaster in June 2013. The MoEF did not act on this report,  and even presented contradictory affidavits on this report to the Hon. Supreme Court and the PMO itself has pressurized that 24 projects cannot be dropped. Even the IIT Consortium, working on Ganga River Basin Management Plan gave an ambiguous report to push these projects[10]! These projects are affecting even protected areas like Valley of Flowers, Nandadevi Biosphere Reserve, etc. Same is the case with Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim.

Why are biodiversity issues so chronically neglected in our river governance?

It is darkly ironical to note that erstwhile Environment Minister Jayanti Natarajan pushed Wildlife Clearance for Lower Demwe Dam[11] in Arunachal even when its impacts on Dibru Saikhowa National Park were not completely studied, stating that such studies should be carried out “Concurrently” with dam construction! The present regime has gone a step further. The Environments Clearance letter of Dibang issued four days back (19th May 2015), which did not pay heed to critical issue raised by several groups, has stated that a study on downstream impact and ecosystem has to be undertaken “5 years after commissioning of the project”. Needless to say, no comprehensive downstream impact assessment for Dibang has been carried out before issuing this EC letter.

There is a member from the National Biodiversity Authority, formed under the National Biodiversity Act 2002 at all times in the EAC on River Valley Projects. Till now, we have not seen a single project being rejected because of its impacts on biodiversity. In fact, biodiversity issues are not even discussed in the EAC minutes. As per the National Biodiversity Act 2002 (Section 4), the National Biodiversity Authority or the Central government is empowered to conduct biodiversity impact assessment and public hearing for projects which endanger biodiversity, but it has never done that in the past! In effect, there has been no Biodiversity Impact Assessment of any dam projects till date.

Seetha Nadi, free flowing river in Karnataka Western Ghats. Photo: SANDRP
Seetha Nadi, free flowing river in Karnataka Western Ghats. Photo: SANDRP

The National Board for Wildlife, through its Standing Committee recommends Wildlife Clearance to projects within Protected Areas, or within 10 kms radius of Protected Areas. The constitution of Wildlife Board was by the new government has made the Board ineffectual. The New National Board for Wildlife constituted by the government included only a fraction of members against the clear provision of this Law. It has no NGO representation, only 2 experts in place of 10 and incomplete state representation. Despite huge opposition to this blatantly illegal constitution, the NBWL conducted its first meeting and cleared almost all projects before it, including Teesta IV Hydropower project in Sikkim. Shockingly, the members from the earlier NBWL had actually visited the region and had prepared an extensive report on violations by Teesta IV [12]as well as other HEPs in Sikkim which encroached in various protected areas of the State. But the new NBWL did not even mention this report while clearing the project! In tandem, the ministry severely reduced Eco-sensitive zoning around Protected Areas in Sikkim, leaving it to mere 25 meters in most cases![13] Incidentally, Sikkim is the most species-rich state in the country, which is facing the maximum impact of hydropower dams by private and government dam lobby.

The NBWL is still in project clearing spree, having cleared Shirapur Lift Irrigation Project in its latest 33rd meeting in March 2015. The Shirapur project cuts right through the habitat of critically endangered Great Indian Bustard (it will take 93 hectares of the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary itself), despite the fact that the scheme had violated Wildlife Protection Act 1986, is half-complete already and is remarkably unviable![14]

In the 33rd Meeting, the NBWL also sanctioned one more water abstraction project inside the National Chambal Sanctuary, a 26 MLD Chambal Bundi Water Supply project despite the fact that Wildlife Institute of India had issued a strict warning against any further abstraction of water from the sanctuary, looking at its impact of critically endangered Ghariyal.

The Forest Advisory Committee, instituted under the Forest Conservation Act (1974) does not consider biodiversity issues while sanctioning forest diversion for projects. It has already issued a Stage I Forest clearance to the controversial Dibang Hydropower Project, bowing down to the pressures from Power Ministry and higher offices after rejecting it several times.

Similar is the case with Western Ghats where the Ministry shockingly rejected Western Ghats Expert Ecology Report by Prof. Madhav Gadgil. This was preceded by efforts of hiding the report as long as possible. In the meantime, the EAC considered and recommended 220 MW Gundia HEP in Western Ghats of Karnataka, despite a poor EIA by Karnataka Power Corporation Limited. The MoEF&CC has also stifled the Kasturirangan Committee report which was a severely diluted and flawed as compared to Gadgil Committee Report. In effect, Western Ghats does not have any protection from the Ministry at this time.

These are governance issues at a scale which can be hardly monitored by any single group. Actual issues related to compliance, implementation, people’s participation are independent of these issues and just as stark. But it is unfortunate to see that environmental governance of rivers, at this moment does not place any value on the biodiversity supported by rivers. One exception is the report on Environmental Flows recently brought out by the Ministry of Water Resources which at least attempts to give some importance to ecological integrity of rivers.[15] This report needs to be implemented urgently.

In stead the government is pushing ill conceived project like the Ken Betwa River Link project that will not only submerge 4600 ha of Panna tiger Reserve, destroy the Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary in the downstream and thus also affected habitat of some rare and endangered fish species, destroy the habitat of rare and endangered vulture species, all for projects that have almost no justification.

In India, as in the world, biodiversity is closely linked with human well-being, livelihoods, cultural values and even mitigation of Climate Change. Riverine fish like Hilsa (Tenuolsa ilisha) are not only important for their biodiversity values, but are an important source of protein and livelihoods for millions of fishermen, who are today impacted by dams. Mahseer is not only an endangered fish as per the Wildlife Protection Act, it is also worshipped as a reincarnation of Vishnu in riverine fish sanctuaries. Black Necked Cranes are not only a rare specie, but believed to be a reincarnation of the 6th Dalai Lama by Monpa tribes, Khangchengdzonga National Park is not only a Protected Area as per the law, it is also a sacred mountain for the Sikkimese, Free flowing rivers, mangrove forests, riparian zones are not only an abstract value, but a robust mitigation measure against climate change. It’s not for nothing that Biodiversity is referred to as a “Fundamental building block for Sustainable Development”.[16]

But in the race for short sighted projects in terms of irrigation dams, Hydropower projects, water diversion schemes, Interlinking schemes, embankments, riverfront development and even ill conceived “River Cleaning” drives, biodiversity values and all those who depend on it are suffering. The statement brought out by India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar on this day[17]says the same old things and provides no new direction. Perhaps the new direction lies with the people themselves.

– Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] https://www.cbd.int/idb/

[2] https://sandrp.in/rivers/Endangered_Riverine_Biodiversity_India_Nov2012.pdf

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/

[4] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/submerged-what-to-expect-if-the-dibang-river-is-dammed/

[5] https://sandrp.in/env_governance/EAC_meetings_Decisions_All_India_Apr_2007_to_Dec_2012.pdf

[6] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/tragedy-of-errors-environmental-governance-and-the-sonthi-lift-irrigation-scheme/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/mohanpura-dam-in-madhya-pradesh/,

[7] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/cumulative-impact-assessment-study-of-siang-basin-in-arunachal-needs-urgent-improvement/

[8] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/cumulative-impact-assessment-study-of-siang-basin-in-arunachal-needs-urgent-improvement/

[9] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/cumulative-impact-assessment-of-tawang-basin-highlights-from-the-nehu-study/

[10] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/why-is-the-iit-consortium-acting-like-a-hydropower-lobby/

[11] https://sandrp.in/dams/Demwe_Lower_Unacceptable_Wildlife_Clearance.pdf

[12] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/mockery-of-esas-in-sikkim-when-governments-collude-to-violate-laws/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/hydro-power-projects-violating-sc-order-in-greenest-state-of-india/,

[13] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/mockery-of-esas-in-sikkim-when-governments-collude-to-violate-laws/

[14] https://sandrp.in/irrigation/ShirapurLIS_SANDRP_Sbmsn_to_EAC_Jan2013.pdf

[15] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/mowr-report-on-assessment-of-e-flows-is-welcome-needs-urgent-implementation/

[16] http://www.iied.org/biodiversity-fundamental-building-block-sustainable-development

[17] http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=121919

Arunachal Pradesh · Environment Impact Assessment · Expert Appraisal Committee

Submerged – what to expect if the Dibang river is dammed

Guest Blog by: : Karthik Teegalapalli (kartix@gmail.com) a researcher with the Nature Conservation Foundation

In April 2014, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) decided to deny clearance to the 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Hydro-electric Project, the largest capacity hydro project in the country proposed to be developed by the National Hydropower Power Corporation (NHPC) in the biodiversity-rich Arunachal Pradesh State (Saikia 2014). The project was also denied clearance in July 2013. More recently though, the project has been recommended forest clearance by the FAC and Environment Clearance by the Expert Appraisal Committee. Therefore it is pertinent to look at the impacts the project may have in some detail.

Ecological impacts The project, in its earlier version involved diversion of more than 5000 hectares of relatively undisturbed grassland and tropical forest habitat. These and the adjoining forests harbour endangered species such as tiger, leopard, serow as well as the critically endangered takin, all of which are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (these species are also listed as present in the area in the Environmental Impact Assessment report of the project, undertaken by National Productivity Council, Guwahati). The grasslands in the area harbour the critically endangered Bengal Florican, a grassland habitat specialist (Sinha et al. 2014). Other species recorded from the area include the critically endangered white-rumped vulture, the slender-billed vulture and the white-winged wood duck. The project site lies in an area identified by the Bombay Natural History Society as a Ramsar site and an Important Bird Area (Islam & Rahmani 2004). The habitat of six endangered plants (Aconitum ferox, Coelogyne mossiae, Dendrobium aurantiacum, Paphiopedilum fairieanum, Paphiopedilum venustum and Vanda coerulea) will be submerged by the reservoir (Chernaik 2007).

The project will also affect aquatic species; the dam will block the breeding migration of four species of fish: the Vulnerable snow trout Schizothorax richardsonii, Endangered golden mahseer Tor putitora, Near-Threatened mahseer Tor tor, and chaguni Chagunius chagunio. The recommendation of the Environmental Management Plan of the Project to establish fish hatcheries for these species is impractical and can have further damaging effects on the species due to collection of eggs and spawn from the wild population.

The project will have other collateral damages such as through Compensatory Afforestation (CA) that often involves converting an area with diverse native species into monocultures, as has been shown for other dams such as the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river (Bhatnagar 2004). The project involves CA of a relatively large area of over 100 sq. km (double the area of forest being affected by the project). The ill-effects of this conversion particularly for the project can be expected to be higher if tree-less natural grassland habitats in Dibang Forest Division, Namsai Forest Division and Anini Social Forestry that harbour grassland habitat specialists are planted with undesired native or non-native tree species. Perhaps the irreversible loss of biodiversity in the forests and grasslands that will be diverted for the project could never be ‘compensated’.

During the construction phase of the project, an estimated 32 lakh truckloads of boulders and 16 lakh truckloads of sand is to be extracted from the Dibang river basin. Unsustainable extraction of sand and boulders has significant negative effects on geomorphology, bank stability, flood character of the river, water quality, river flow, and the biodiversity in the river basin (Padmalal et al. 2008). The project during the construction is to generate 198 lakh cubic meters of muck which will be disposed in the river bank which will cause further loss of 120 ha of river habitat. Construction of new roads (64 km) and widening of existing roads (19.5 km) will also lead to removal of trees and increase the vulnerability of the region to landslides and erosion (Chernaik 2007).

Social impacts The Lower Dibang valley is currently a region of relatively low human population density (~14/km2); the entire population of the Idu-Mishmi tribe is about 12,000. The influx of approximately 6,000 project staff (which is very likely an underestimate) for a period of 8 years or more will affect their way of life, their culture and their tradition as well as open up access to relatively moderately disturbed habitat and biodiversity in the region.

Downstream effects include those on fisheries, agricultural lands and wetlands (beels) and the dam will also increase the vulnerability of the region to flash floods. For instance, in the year 2007, flash floods caused due to sudden release of water from the relatively smaller 405 MW Ranganadi project in the Lower Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh swamped 83 villages and caused huge loss of lives and property in the Assam State. The project will have a considerable impact on the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Assam which has not been studied in detail in the EIA.

On shaky grounds A critical issue with the project is that the site lies close to an active Fault Line in the Mishmi Thrust of the Mayudia Group in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh with a history of several seismic activities including the Great Assam earthquake of 8.6 magnitude in 1950 (Figure 1, Misra 2009). In the event of an earthquake, the project poses a risk of catastrophic submergence of several villages and vast areas of forests downstream. The recommendations of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the project are cursory and suggest further research on the natural seismicity of the region as well as reservoir-induced seismicity, which should be the basis for the decision about the project.

Figure 1 (reproduced from Misra, 2009) showing the location of the fault lines around the proposed project site. 1 is the location of the Fault line and 2 is the location of the proposed site.
Figure 1 (Modified from Misra, 2009) showing the location of the fault lines around the proposed project site. 1 is the location of the Fault line and 2 is the location of the proposed site.

Notwithstanding these, in Oct 2014 the project was cleared by the FAC constituted by the new Government, although the committee still had four of the six members who had earlier twice recommended rejection of clearance. Is this decision driven by changes made by NHPC in their project plan? Clearly not. Diversion of forests has now been reduced by a mere 9% to about 4600 hectares; instead of 3.55 lakh trees, the felling has been reduced to 3.24 lakh trees, the power generation capacity has been reduced by 2.3% and the height of the proposed dam reduced by 10 m. In fact, the FAC rejection of April 2014 was for this 10 m rejection proposal!

The beautiful Dibang valley, that faces the threat of submergence due to the Dibang Multipurpose Project (Photography by Soumya Dasgupta).
The beautiful Dibang valley, that faces the threat of submergence due to the Dibang Multipurpose Project (Photography by Soumya Dasgupta).

NHPC misleadingly and baselessly claimed that they ‘were not in a position to reduce the height of the dam any further, as it would significantly affect the power generation’. The decision to provide clearance to the project seems like a hasty one driven by the blinders of development and the consequences of such projects is evident from the fate of the Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project in the same State, also by NHPC. After 12 years since the LSHP was initiated and after an expenditure of over Rs. 5000 crores, the work has been on a standstill for the last 35 months as a result of India’s biggest anti-dam people’s movement (Dandekar & Thakkar 2014). Considering the economic, ecological, environmental and social costs of the project as well as the geophysical risk it poses, it would be prudent to withdraw the project till a credible, detailed cumulative study covering these aspects is undertaken in a transparent and participatory way. While the rest of the world is recognising the ill-effects of dams, with the largest dam removal project on the Elwha river in the United States completed just three months back, it is paradoxical that we are heading in the other direction; of building the highest dam in the country and largest capacity reservoir of the North East India without even basic studies, credible impact assessment and democratic decision making process.

References:

Bhatnagar, D. (2004) Uprooting Forests, Planting Trees: Success of Compensatory Afforestation Measures Mitigating the Deforestation for the Sardar Sarovar Dam, India. University of California at Berkeley.

Chernaik, M. (2007) Evaluation of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report & Environmental Management Plan for the Dibang Multipurpose Project (3000 MW) https://www.elaw.org/system/files/Evaluation+of+the+EIA+report+for+the+proposed+Dibang+dam.doc

Dandekar, P. & Thakkar, H. (2014). Manipulating Environment & Forest Clearances for Dibang Project: Déjà vu: LSHP History repeated: Will it be tragedy or comedy https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/

Islam, M. Z. & Rahmani, A. R. (2004) Important bird areas in India: priority sites for conservation. Indian Bird Conservation Network, Bombay Natural History Society and BirdLife International (UK).

Misra, D. K. (2009) Litho-tectonic sequence and their regional correlation along the Lohit and Dibang Valleys, Eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Journal of the Geological Society of India, 73: 213-219.

Padmalal, D., Maya, K., Sreebha, S. & Sreeja, R. (2008) Environmental effects of river sand mining: a case from the river catchments of Vembanad lake, Southwest coast of India. Environmental Geology, 54(4): 879-889.

Saikia, P. J. (2014). Six years after PM laying the foundation ston: No clearance, no work for 3000 MW Dibang Dam.

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/six-years-after-pm-laying-foundation-stone-no-clearance-no-work-for-3000-mw-dibang-dam/

Sinha, A., Hoque, J., Pradhan, T., Bakshi, M. K., Pulu, J., Singh, A. K. & Ahmed, F. (2012) Sighting record of Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis (Gmelin, 1789) (Aves: Gruiformes: Otididae) in Lower Dibang Valley District, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Journal of Threatened Taxa, 4(14): 3375-3376.

Also see:
https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/insensitivity-analysis-of-dibang-multipurpose-project-fac-recommends-dibang-at-10-mt-height-reduction-will-destroy-4577-hectares-forest/

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/dibang-project-rejected-forest-clearance-for-the-second-time/