Expert Appraisal Committee

Environment and Forest Clearances for Dam Projects in 2021

EAC Decisions In the table below, we have given details of the proposals discussed and cleared by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change’s (MoEF) Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley and Hydropower Projects from Dec. 22, 2020 to Dec. 23, 2021.

Continue reading “Environment and Forest Clearances for Dam Projects in 2021”
Environment Impact Assessment · Ganga

Kanhar Project in UP: Another unwanted dam

Guest Blog by: Debadityo Sinha (

  • We do not want dams; in fact we don’t need it. It is the industries for which they need water, and for which they want us to give up our fertile ancestral land and destroy the forests which we have protected since centuries and put our children in danger.”

An affected villager

Kanhar Dam is one of those projects which is an example of how so called developments worsen the situation for the people and environment. The project conceived 37 years ago has been in abeyance since last 25 years. With the latest inauguration of construction of the dam on 5th December, 2014 after a span of 25 years without a fresh proper cost benefit analysis (CBA), any environment impact assessment (EIA) or Social Impact Assessment (SIA) ever, the commencement of project activities is making way for a large social uprising in the heavily industrialized zone of Uttar Pradesh.

Google Earth Image showing the proposed dam site
Google Earth Image showing the proposed dam site

Kanhar Irrigation Project is located downstream of the confluence of River Pagan with Kanhar near village Sugawan in Tehsil Dudhi of District Sonebhadra, Uttar Pradesh. It was originally approved by the Central Water Commission in September, 1976 at an initial budget of Rs. 27.75 Crores. Initially, there was some foundation work undertaken but the project was soon stalled due to inter-state issues, lack of funds and volcanic protests from tribal communities of the region. As per a progress report of the project for 1998-99, the construction work is completely abandoned since 1989-90. Since then, there are numerous occasions when the project was inaugurated, notable among them is one on 15th January, 2011 when the then Chief Minister Mayawati laid foundation stone again. Another inauguration took place when on 12th November, 2012 when Mr. Shiv Pal Singh Yadav (uncle of present CM Akhilesh Yadav), the Irrigation Minister of Uttar Pradesh laid another foundation stone to start the work of spillway. However no work could be taken up.

The project proposes a 3.003 km long earthen dam having a maximum height of 39.90 m from deepest bed level which may be increased to 52.90 m if linked to Rihand reservoir. The project envisages submergence of 4131.5 Ha of land which includes parts of Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand mostly dominated by tribal communities. The project is expected to provide irrigation to Dudhi and Robertsganj Tehsils via left and right canals emerging from both sides of the dam with capacity of 192 and 479 cusec respectively. The culturable command area of the project is 47,302 ha. The project imposes enormous threat not only on the environment and ecology but also to thousands of tribal families of Vindhyas living there since hundreds of years and has demanded for protection of their forests and proper implementation of R & R (Rehabilitation and Resettlements).

Kanhar Project Map As per 1976 documents
Kanhar Project Map As per 1976 documents

The controversy actually began when the Central Water Commission in its 106th meeting of Advisory Committee for the ‘techno-viability of irrigation, flood control and multipurpose project proposals’ approved the project at an estimated cost of Rs. 652.59 crores at 2008-09 price level. A bare perusal of the minutes shows that there is no consideration of the environment and social impacts of the project. The minutes also show that the approval was granted in the presence of representatives of Ministry of Environment and Forests and Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

Local Voices Suppressed

The inauguration of the project held on 5th December 2014 was marked by the presence of heavy police force and paramilitary forces which were deployed to guard the construction site on the river bed. Few roads have been blocked by Police and it is reported that the entry to the project site is stopped 1.5 km ahead of the construction site. To speed up the work, regular increase of heavy equipments and machinery is in progress.  CCTV cameras are also reported to be installed at the site to keep a regular check on the activities.

Forests Devmanwa Pahadi in village Bhisur
Forests Devmanwa Pahadi in village Bhisur

There is a constant effort by the administrative authorities to suppress the voices of aggrieved and affected raised against the project  and those who have attempted to do so are being arrested under the Uttar Pradesh Gunda Niyantran Adhiniyam, 1970 or ‘Gunda Act’. There are repeated incidences of arrests and FIRs against the local people. Incidences of people-police clashes are now becoming a daily routine affairs. Recently the SDM, Dudhi along with the other policemen was also injured in a similar clash. In retaliation to it, there were series of arrests being made by the police and FIRs were filed against 500 unnamed locals. There is an atmosphere of fear already created among the villagers in the region.

The question arises is, whether due procedure has been adopted by the state government as prescribed under law? And if yes then what is the reason for suppressing the voices and why is so such chaos being generated by the government? The project is in controversy due to several questions which are still left unanswered and requires a detailed clarification from the State Government.

The rise of Kanhar Bachao Andolan

The Kanhar Bachao Andolan (KBA) is the first of its kind integrated protest which emerged in the form of an organization in the year 2002 under leadership of a Gandhian activist Bhai Maheshanandji of Gram Sawaraj Samiti based in Dudhi tehsil of Sonebhadra and Gram Pradhans of villages which would be submerged if the project is implemented. The KBA has been raising the issue of tribal rights and discrepancies in the R & R before the state govt. through representations, protests and petitions in High Court. There is a continuous peaceful campaign against the project by KBA since a decade including the unceasing protest which started from 5th December, 2014 on the other side of the River Kanhar opposite to the construction site. Fanishwar Jaiswal, who is a former-Gram Pradhan of Bhisur village and an active member of KBA said, “There was a public meeting organized by the MLA of Dudhi in June, 2014 to address the R & R issues. The Gram Pradhans of several villages presented their views against this project and also submitted written representations; however those views and protests were never registered by the government in any of their reports.”

Protests on Kanhar RIver Bank at Sugawaman village
Protests on Kanhar RIver Bank at Sugawaman village

Rich Forests and Tribal Culture at Stake

I got a chance to visit Sonebhadra district in July, 2014 where I came to know about this project and the ongoing protests. I visited the project area and interacted with the people of Sundari and Bhisur villages of Dudhi tehsil which are the affected villages among several others. Dense forests and agricultural fields were the most common landscape feature.  One could have seen the abandoned machines, several of which were half-sunk to the soil, broken houses with ghostly appearances which were informed as the once constructed officer’s colonies of the project and old rusted sign boards stating ‘Kanhar Sinchai Pariyojna’. Those structure and abandoned equipments were clear evidences of the Kanhar project which was abandoned long back by the government.

Till 1984, a large number of trees were felled by the government in the midst of protests by the tribal communities. But, since then the work did not take place and there was no displacement of tribals. They have now planted more forests in their villages and have their own regulation bodies for protection of these Forests. “Cutting trees is seen as sin in our culture and we have strict fines and punishments if someone does that. Trees are our life and we are protecting them for our children”, said Pradhan of village Sundari which will be the first village to be submerged by the project.

Sundari Forests to be affected due to Kanhar Dam in Uttar Pradesh
Sundari Forests to be affected due to Kanhar Dam in Uttar Pradesh

We discussed about the status of biodiversity and came to know about their dependence on traditional medicines which they obtain directly from the forests. All the villagers I met were satisfied with their rural lifestyle and have developed their own way of sustaining agricultural production by choice of specific vegetable, pulses and crops depending on climate.

It was informed that every year elephants visit the Kanhar River from the Chhattisgarh side. Animals like Sloth Bear, Leopard, Blackbuck, Chinkara and several reptiles are abundantly noticed by people due to presence of hills and forests in the region.

‘We do not want dams; in fact we don’t need it. It is for the industries which need water, and for which they want us to give up our fertile ancestral land and destroy the forests which we have protected since centuries’, said a villager.

It is suspected that the Kanhar dam is being constructed to supplement the Rihand dam to provide water for the industries in Sonebhadra and adjoining region. It seems that the government has not learnt from the experience of Rihand dam which was constructed in 1960s in the same district in the name of irrigation, but gradually diverted the water for thermal power plants and industries. The water in Rihand dam is now severely contaminated with heavy metals which has entered the food chain through agriculture and fish.  Like the Rihand dam, the new project will cause more destruction than good to the people of the region.

Vindhya Bachao’s Intervention

It is very clear that the project is going to destroy a huge area of dense forests and going to displace not only the tribal communities from their roots but also affect the rich flora and fauna of the Sonebhadra. To know about the actual status of the environment and forests clearance of the project, RTI (Right to Information) applications were filed with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in July, 2014. The belated reply was received only in Dec, 2014 on initiating a first appeal.  The responses states that the ‘Environment Clearance’ was granted on 14.04.1980 which is more than 30 years old and therefore any further information with respect to the same cannot be granted since the same is exempted under the RTI Act 2005. Hence, two things are clear that the project requires a fresh ‘Environment Clearance’ under the EIA Notification, 2006 & a forests clearance prior to start of any construction activity.

Police at Kanhar Dam protests
Police at Kanhar Dam protests

In view of this fact, On 22nd December, 2014 an application was filed by Advocate Parul Gupta on behalf of applicants Debadityo Sinha (Vindhya Bachao) and O.D. Singh (People’s Union for Civil Liberties) before the National Green Tribunal praying for taking action against the UP Government for carrying out construction activity of the project without statutory clearances under EIA Notification, 2006 and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The application came up before the bench of Justice Swatanter Kumar on 24th December 2014 wherein stay orders were issued against the Government with clear indication that no construction activity shall be allowed to be undertaken if they do not have ‘Environment’ ‘ and ‘Forest’ Clearance’ as prescribed under law.

The major Environmental and Social issues which require to be carefully considered before the project is allowed to move ahead are as follows:

  1. Large Social Implications: Nearly 10,000 tribal families are going to be affected directly who will lose their ancestral land permanently. Gram Sabhas of the project affected villages has already passed a consensus against the project and submitted the same to the State Govt.
  1. Dense Forests will be lost: The Renukoot Forest Division is one of the dense forests of Sonebhadra with tree density of 652 per hectare as per data obtained from a forest clearance application involving the same forest division. The Kanhar project document shows 4439.294 Ha of land categorized as ‘Forest and others’. In such case, lakhs of trees will be affected by this project which would cause significant impact on environment, wildlife and livelihood of tribals.
  1. Loss of Rich Biodiversity: Vindhyan mountain range is known for the wildlife and rich diversity of medicinal plants which are inherently linked with tribal culture. Scientific Publications shows there are at least 105 species of medicinal plants in the region which are extensively used as traditional treatment by tribal people. The project will endanger the remaining few patches of forests which are not only the last few remaining patches of rich biodiversity but refuge to several wild animals in this heavily disturbed landscape. Conversations with the villagers will reveal presence of mammals like Sloth Bear, Leopard, Blackbuck, Chinkara, Jackal etc and several reptiles including Bengal monitor and snake species in these forests. The submergence area falling in Chhattisgarh is reported to be an elephant corridor.
  1. Immense loss to ecology of river Sone and Ganga: Kanhar is a major tributary of River Sone which forms an important catchment of Ganga River Basin. After construction of Rihand Dam and Bansagar dam and various other water abstraction structures owing to number of industries in the region because of availability of coal mines-River Sone is one of the most exploited system which has lost its riverine characteristics. Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute reported disappearance of 20 fish species from Sone in the time span between 1976 and 2011 which is attributed to increased abstraction of water from the Sone river system. The report clearly states that ‘damming of rivers or tributaries is the root cause of river obstructions causing severe modifications and perturbations to the river flow, velocity, depth, substratum, pools, ecology and fish habitat’. There is reporting of 14 exotic alien species in the river. The report claims that the river Sone is in critically modified (class F) condition with discharge of mere 5.16% of Mean Annual Runoff (MAR) and it will require at least 34.2% of MAR to bring it to slightly modified class (class B). In such a scenario, damming of 5200 km2 of the total catchment of 5,654 km2 of river Kanhar will be disastrous for the river Sone depriving it of the major share of the present water availability. As Sone river system forms an important catchment of River Ganga, the impact on ecology of River Ganga is undeniable.
  1. Contribution to Climate Change: We will lose lakhs of trees which would act as carbon-absorption system. To double the problem, the carbon which is locked in the forests will be released to atmosphere when these trees will be felled. While Carbon Dioxide is released from aerobic decomposition of plants, the anaerobic decomposition of organic matters will release methane which is 24 times more potential GHG than Carbon Dioxide. There is global evidence which support production of GHGs in dams, the quantity of which varies on several parameters like climatic conditions, water depth, water fluctuation, area of submergence, dissolved oxygen etc. Emission of GHGs like Methane is known for a positive feedback trigger which would lead to more absorption of heat causing further rise in temperature, thus increasing the rate of anaerobic decay in the reservoirs and release of more Methane.
  1. Lack of Proper Cost-Benefit Analysis: The cost benefit ratio of such projects are calculated on investment and direct benefits from the projects with consideration of impact of project on people & ecosystem, which are often underestimated and excluding socio-cultural costs and cost of a healthy environment and cost of services provided by the river, forest and other ecosystems. The monetary value of the impacts such as on forests, biodiversity, fishing, non-use values, public money spent on infrastructures, cultural loss and other negative impacts are not considered at all.
  1. Lack of Options assessment There has been no options assessment as to establish that this proposed dam is the best option for water resources development in the Kanhar/ Sone basin.


There is no justification for the project. There has not even been an application of mind if the project is beneficial to the people and society. There is not even any impact assessment, nor any democratic decision making process. A huge amount of public money is already spent on development of schools, roads, hospitals, houses etc in the area, which will be lost permanently by this project. At the time, when this project was incepted in 1976 the environment and social scenario of the country and this region was very different from what it is today.  River Sone was not in critically modified state, Forests of Sonebhadra and adjoining regions were still intact, human population was lesser, technology was not so advanced, science of climate change was not fully understood and the need of protection of environment was not felt or required as it is today.  In 1976, protection of rivers was not a primary concern as the problems were not evident as it is today. In such scenario furthering such abandoned projects shows poor understanding of environment and insensitive attitude by the policy makers. It is thus important to undertake a proper cost-benefit analysis, a fresh Environment Impact Assessment and Social Impact Assessment, conduct proper options assessment to understand the implications of this project on the ecological balance and people keeping into account the present scenario. Such studies should undergo a detailed scrutiny and public consultation process.

Panoramic photograph of project site Photo by author
Panoramic photograph of project site Photo by author

POST SCRIPT UPDATE on March 16 2015 from the author:

Update from NGT hearing dated 12th March, 2015

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has filed its reply before the National Green Tribunal confirming that there exists a confusion with respect to grant of forest clearance diverting 2500 acres of forest land for construction of the Kanhar dam. The Ministry has defended itself claiming that the Forest Clearance dates back to the time when the Ministry was not in existence and therefore the files pertaining to the same cannot be traced. However, it has shifted the burden of proof on the State of U.P. indicating that a letter dated 28.8.1980 by the then ministry of agriculture implies the grant of fc and must be produced by the state.

The state in defence has filed a bunch of letters which according to them refers to the grant of forest clearance. However, the state has failed to produce thee letter dated 28.8.1980 which is claimed to be the FC granted to the project.

The court observed that :

Learned counsel appearing for MoEF submits that the original letter of 1980 granting Forest Clearance to the Project Proponent is not available in the records of the MoEF. Similar stand is taken by the Project Proponent. However, both of them submit that the preceding and subsequent transactions establish that clearance was granted.
Since it is a matter of fact and has to be determined on the basis of record and evidence produced by the parties, we grant liberty to the Applicant to file Replies to this Affidavit, if any, within three days from today.
We also make it clear that one of the contentions raised before the Tribunal is whether it is an ongoing project for number of years or it’s a project which still has to take off and which law will be subsequently applicable today. Let the Learned counsel appearing for the parties also address to the Tribunal on this issue on the next date of hearing. 

Ms. Parul Gupta appeared for the applicants while Mr. Pinaki Mishra and Mr. Vivek Chhib appeared as counsel for State of U.P. and MOEFCC respectively. The matter is now listed for two days- 24th March, 2015 and 25th March, 2015 for arguments. For the order click here   , for Press Release click here

POST SCRIPT ON April 14, 2015:

Urgent Alert

Firing in Sonbhadra, UP

Police firing in Kanhar anti dam proterstors early morning today

against illegal land acquisition by UP Govt

Firing done on the day of Ambedkar Jyanti

Police firing on anti land acquisition protesters at Kanhar dam early morning today. One tribal leader Akku kharwar from Sundari village have been hit by bullet in chest, Around 8 people have been grievously injured in the firing and lathi charge by the police. Thousands of men and women are assembled at the site to intensify the protest against on Ambedkar jyanti. The protesters were carrying the photo of Baba Saheb to mark the day as ” Save the Constitution Day”. Akhilesh Govt fired arbitrarily on the protesters among whom women are in the forefront. Most of the women have injured. The firing is being done by the Inspector of Amwar police station Duddhi Tehsil, Sonbhdara, UP.

Condemn this criminal Act and join in the struggle of the people who are fighting against the illegal land acquistion and constructing illegal Dam on kanhar river.

Dy Gen Sec
All India Union of Forest Working People

POST SCRIPT on April 20, 2015: Update from Roma: 

Kanhar Dam – Legitimate demands of dalit farmers in UP being crushed ruthlessly, Chhattisgarh adivasi peasants being kept in the dark – says a fact finding team of
Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan

A fact finding team of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan consisting of Alok Shukla, Sudha Bharadwaj, Jangsay Poya, Degree Prasad Chouhan and Bijay Gupta visited the dam affected villages of the Kanhar Dam in UP and Chhattisgarh on 19th April 2015.
The team first visited Village Bheesur which is closest to the dam site and interacted with the affected families who are mostly of the Dalit community who were still deeply affected by the repression of the 14th April and 18th April.
The affected men and women were very articulate about their grievances and extremely legitimate demands. They explained that they were first told about the Kanhar Dam in the year 1976 when the then Chief Minister ND Tiwari promised 5 acres of land, one job in each family and a house measuring 40’x60’, apart from full facilities of education, health, electricity and water to the 11 affected villages of Uttar Pradesh namely Sundari, Korchi, Nachantad, Bheesur, Sugwaman, Kasivakhar, Khudri, Bairkhad, Lambi, Kohda and Amwaar. In 1983 it is correct that compensation payments were made at the rate of Rs. 1800 per bigha (approximately Rs. 2700 per acre) to the then heads of households. After this the villagers have got no notice whatsoever.
On 07-11-2012 the Irrigation Minister laid the foundation stone of the dam. It was claimed that now a consolidated sum of Rs7,11,000 would be given to the heads of households as identified in 1983 and houses of 45’x10’ dimensions would be constructed for them. The farmers are rightly arguing that they have been in physical possession of the lands all these years and therefore they should be compensated as per the 2013 Act. The government must be sensitive to the fact that the earlier households have multiplied and the compensation must be provided to all adult families who will lose their livelihood. It is also very pertinent that in the meanwhile the Forest Rights Act, 2006 has come into existence and we found that many of the farmers have been granted Pattas under the Act; however the government is refusing to compensate them for the loss of such lands, which is absolutely against the spirit of the Act.
The work of the dam was started on 04.12.2014 and from 23.12.2014 the villagers were sitting in continuous dharna. On that very day, efforts were made to intimidate them. While the SDM and District Magistrate did not intervene till about 6pm, at about 7pm the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of which about 150 jawans were deployed at the dam site interfered. After the Tehsildar assaulted a young man Atiq Ahmed, people rushed in from the weekly market and a fracas ensued. Right from that day cases were foisted on 16 named and 500 unnamed persons.
Despite this, the villagers continued with their peaceful protest, however since the government was not carrying on any negotiations and at the same time the dam work was progressing, on 14th April they decided to shift the venue of the dharna closer to the site. The PAC opened fire and a bullet passed through Akklu Chero (Cherwa) – an adivasi of Sundari village. 39 persons were injured, 12 of them seriously. The deployment of the PAC was increased to about 500-1000 jawans.
On 18th April early in the morning the administration was determined to remove the protestors. The district force and PAC surrounded the dharna site, uprooted the pandal and mercilessly beat and chased the villagers right up to their villagers. They entered Village Bheesur and not only beat up men and women, but vandalized a motor and motorcycle of Ram Lochan. Colesia showed us her injured arm and fingers and was in tears because she did not know where her husband Mata Prasad was.
People were not certain where missing family members were since the injured have been taken to the Dudhi Health Centre and if any person tries to contact them they face the threat of arrest since between the cases made out against them for the events of 23rd December, 14th April and 18th April cover about 956 persons. But the team found out that the following had been injured mostly with fractures and were possibly hospitalized. The number of women injured is significant:-
Village Bheesur – Rajkalia, Kismatiya Mata Prasad, Uday Kumar and Phoujdar (all ST)
Village Korchi – Phoolmatiya, Butan.
Village Sundari – Ram Bichar, Shanichar, Zahoor, Azimuddin, Jogi.
Village Pathori Chattan – Bhagmani, Ram Prasad, Dharmjeet.
Similarly the PAC people chased the protestors of Village Sundari too right up to the houses on the outskirts of the village. They damaged motorbikes and cycles even setting fire to them.
We observed that the work at the dam site seemed to be progressing fairly fast. The height of the dam which was earlier stated to be about 39.90 m appears to have been increased subsequently to 52.90 m increasing the apprehensions of the people. The Police had cordoned off the area and there were still a large number of PAC trucks and personnel in their makeshift camp of sheets.
When the team reached Village Sundari, there was an extremely tense atmosphere. Some dominant caste-class persons were holding a meeting in which others seemed to be quite subdued. Some very vocal local leaders told us that they do not want any interference from any outside NGO or organization. Most of them were quoting the DM Sanjay Kumar belligerently saying that he had said that all protest and movements should stop. Otherwise he would foist so many cases that they would rot in jail for the rest of their lives and use up all the compensation in paying lawyers. Some persons who seemed to have been sent by the administration were clicking our photos when we introduced ourselves. The leaders told us that they had decided to accept the compensation and would be going to the DM to inform him so as that was the only way the cases would be lifted. While it was clear that not all the persons in the meeting were in agreement with this “decision”, they were clearly cowed down by the cases and the pressure being brought by the administration.
However our most tragic experience was in the affected villages of Chhattisgarh in block Ramchandrapur of district Balrampur. They fall in the “Sanawal” constituency of erstwhile Home Minister Ram Vichar Netam who had assured the villages that there would be no submergence whatsoever in Chhattisgarh. Even when the current MLA Brihaspati Singh of Congress tried to hold a meeting at Sanawal in which he
invited the protestors of UP, lumpen supporters of Ram Vichar Netam made it difficult for him to educate the villagers about this.
We were shocked to find that the Water Resources Department of Chhattisgarh admits that the following 19 villages are to be submerged – Jhara, Kushpher, Semarva, Dhouli, Pachaval, Libra, Kameshwarnagar, Sanawal, Tendua, Dugru, Kundru, Talkeshwarpur, Chuna Pathar, Indravatipur, Barvahi, Sundarpur, Minuvakhar and Trishuli; and 8 to be partially submerged – Chera, Salvahi, Mahadevpur, Kurludih, Tatiather, Peeparpan, Ananpur, and Silaju. Yet the villages are in blissful ignorance.
Only after the incident on the UP side of the dam occurred, on 18th April an Engineer came to Jhara village and stated that 250 acres of land would be submerged out of which 100 acres was private land. But even this is not the truth since it is clear that the entire village is to be submerged. As we were leaving Jhara village we saw a whole convoy of 6 Government Scorpios rushing through the village. Clearly, the state at some point has to begin some legal acquisition proceedings and seem to be at a loss as to how to do so.
Strangely enough, keeping up the pretence of no submergence Shri Netam has had many constructions sanctioned in Sanawal and surrounding villages whereas ordinarily, once there is an intention to acquire, government expenditure is kept to a minimum.
As we returned to Ambikapur, we heard that another fact finding team from Delhi who were to meet with the injured in hospital and the Collector Sonebhadra, had been detained for questioning.
The rapidity and the ruthlessness with which the dam is being built, at any cost, indicates that is unlikely to be for the stated purpose of irrigation. With large industrial projects coming up in Sonebhadra UP and even in neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, on the cusp of which this dam channelizes the waters of Kanhar and Pang rivers, it appears to be that providing water to these projects and also hydel power are likely to be the real causes.
The Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan comes to the following tentative conclusions on the basis of its fact finding –
1. The demands of the project affected farmers, particularly dalits and adivasis, are eminently reasonable and the administration should enter into sympathetic discussion with them to redress their very legitimate and legal grievances. Work on the dam should be stopped during such negotiations so as to create an atmosphere of good will.
2. The PAC used excessive and unnecessary force on the protestors on both 14th April and 18th April. The complaints of the protestors should be registered as FIRs and action should be taken against the errant police jawans.
3. Using the threat of false cases against the protestors to arm-twist them to accept unjust compensation and rehabilitation is a form of state terror. The cases must be reviewed particularly the practice of filing cases against “unknown” persons, and malicious cases must be withdrawn.
4. In the State of Chhattisgarh, there has been absolutely no transparency, information or following of legal procedure with regard to affected 27 villages. The provisions of the 2013 Act beginning with the pre-acquisition procedure of Social Impact Assessment, Gram Sabha Consultation (all these areas are Scheduled areas), determination of Forest Rights, Public Hearing on Rehabilitation and Resettlement packages etc must be strictly followed.
5. Finally, the attitude of the Uttar Pradesh Government and the district administration of Sonabhadra in restraining activists from entering the area or making an enquiry into the facts on the ground is undemocratic and reprehensible.

Delhi Contact : c/o NTUI, B – 137, Dayanand Colony, Lajpat Nr. Ph IV, NewDelhi – 110024, Ph -9868217276, 9868857723,011-26214538

Lucknow contact : 222, Vidhayak Awas, Aish Bagh Road, Rajinder Nagar, Lucknow, UP
Dehradun Contact : c/o Mahila Manch, E block,Saraswati Vihar, Near Homeguard off, Kargi, Dehrdun, Uttarakhand. ph- 09412348071
From: Sandeep Pandey <>” <>
Cc: Amod Kumar <>; Rigzin Samphel <>; Sanjay Kumar <>
Sent: Saturday, April 25, 2015 1:34 AM
Subject: Stop construction of Kanhar Dam
To:                  Shri Akhilesh Yadav
                       CM, UP
From:              Ajay Shekhar and Sandeep Pandey
                       Socialist Party (India)
Sub: Work on Kanhar dam should stop untill court decisions are pronounced.
Dear Akhilesh ji,
                       We want to ask you why your government is trying to forcibly acquire land for Kanhar Dam in Dist. Sonebhadra violating the law of the land whereas your party is opposing the amendments proposed by the Narendra Modi government in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. In light of the recent incidents of use of force by the District administration on 14th and 18th April, 2015, we wish to say the following.
(1) The SC judgement in the case of Niyamgiri hills, empowering the tribals to take a final decision on whether to allow multinational company to undertake bauxite mining there, should be now a precedent in all projects proposed in tribals areas. In addition the 73rd amendment to Constitution empowering Gram Sabhas to take decisions on economic planning for development should be honoured. Case no. 67043/2011 is pending in Allahabad HC relating to this right of GS and we expect that the district administration of Sonebhadra and Government of UP will wait for a decision on this.
(2) The project is 37 years old and was abandoned in 1984. The forest clearance dates back to 14/4/1980. It is a joke if the administration claims that it has the necessary environment and forest clearances on the basis of a clearance obtained 35 years back. Why is the Sonebhadra administration and UP government not prepared to wait for the National Green Tribunal judgement on this matter?
(3) It is another joke that the district administration wants to proceed on the process of acquisition done around 35 years back whereas the people have not given up their possession till date. The District Magistrate of Sonebhadra claims that he’ll rehabilitate the people displaced due to dam construction in the most ideal manner. But all he has are plans for their housing. What about their livelihood? We believe that land for land is the only proper compensation for a person whose livelihood depends on agriculture.
(4) Force should not be used against people who agitate peacefully. Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia severed relationship with his own government in Kerala because there was police firing over people in an incident in 1954. It is people’s democratic right to protest peacefully and government’s must find peaceful resolution to problems.
                       We commit to stand by the people in this struggle against the government which is for namesake socialist but is actually serving the interests of capitalists. We condemn all the repressive actions of the government and attempts by the district administration to terrorize people into submission so that they accept the displacement and rehabilitation package.
                       We hope that the Government of UP would act in a democratic spirit and respect the rights of people. It should immediately halt the construction work at Kanhar dam site and withdraw all the cases foisted on people so that people in jail may be released.
Ajay Shekhar, Vice President, U.P. and Sandeep Pandey, National Vice President, Socialist Party (India) after a visit to the dam site, Sundari and Bhisur villages on 20 April, 2015.

Further reading:

कनहर कथा
– छत्‍तीसगढ़ सीमा पर संगीनों के साए में कनहर बांध का निर्माण
(Nai Duniya)
– Despite NGT stay, UP govt goes ahead with construction of dam

– “Kanhar dam case: Green panel pulls up environment ministry” By IANS | 22 Feb, 2015 (FEB 23, 2015)


  1. For NGT order on Kanhar Dam, see:
  2. For a brief video clip on project location, see:
Ministry of Environment and Forests

MoEFCC orders “Don’t Ask Additional information unless Inevitable” (Or: “Just clear the projects and don’t bother about informed decisions”)  

Even as the government is set to review 6 of the foundational environmental laws of India, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC, formerly MoEF) has been issuing a slew of orders, circulars and Office Memorandums (OM)[1] lately for “streamlining” Environmental and Forest Clearance process.

Having said that, there is no doubt that the system of Environment and Forest clearance needs to be made stronger, accountable, transparent, democratic and informed. Ironically, the only way the government has sought to do this is to make the system more industry-friendly. A vast majority of orders passed lately by MoEFCC are pro-industry and anti-environment. Drop by drop, such orders and circulars are making it impossible to rely on the original Environment acts and Notifications as the orders have interpreted Acts in convenient ways. At the same time, the misleading, non-compliance, hiding of information, willfully providing wrong information is rampant from project proponent side, with MoEF taking no firm action. We have illustrated this with very few examples below.

When this is a known case, accelerating clearance process, ignoring necessary studies and bypassing checks and balances is only accelerating our fall to the bottom.

Take an example of  OM issued on the 7th October, 2014 titled “Seeking additional studies by EACs/ SEACs during appraisal of project beyond the Terms of Reference (ToRs) prescribed under EIA[2] Notification 2006”(No. 22-A3/ 2O14-IA-III).[3]

In a nutshell, this OM states that “It has been brought to its notice” that Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC for short. EAC is at the center, considering Environmental Clearances for bigger projects) and State Expert Appraisal Committees ( SEAC for short. SEAC is at State level, considering smaller projects for Environmental clearance) have been asking for “additional studies which do not form a part of TOR” and this “delays the whole process and is against the spirit of EIA Notification (2006)” It further says that EAC/ SEAC should address all issues at the primary scoping clearance stage [4]itself, based on Form I submitted by the proponent and meeting of proponent with EAC and should ensure that “no fresh issues are raised later” and that additional information/ additional studies should be asked only if it is proved to be “inevitable”.

This OM clearly seems to be brought out due to pressure from project-related ministries state and industry lobby. We need to understand that EACs and SEACs were asking for Additional Studies in very rare cases. EACs like the one on River valley and Hydropower projects have a clearance record of 100% and rarely asks for additional studies. So what was the need for this specific OM?

This OM does not serve any purpose other than discouraging the committees from asking additional information or studies post TOR stage and is a regressive step.

In reality, the very need for asking such additional studies or information is due to severely compromised information provided by the proponents themselves at the Scoping Clearance stage.

Looking at the EC process it seems hiding information, providing false information, misleading the EAC and even committing blatant violations has become the norm rather than an exception. In very rare cases, when this is exposed before EAC, they have asked for additional studies (instead of taking any strong action, for example rejecting the application or postponing decision till the studies are done, as per the Law and prudent decision making norms). The OM is effectively stating that EACs should process applications based on any shoddy information they receive and should close their eyes even when critical issues surface later in the process. This is like accelerating a flawed process, in a race to the bottom.

Rather than passing such OMs, the Ministry needs to ensure that all the steps of EC process are complied with. That’s not the case today and that’s a more pressing problem than the additional studies. It is this non-compliance that is damaging the “Spirit of EIA Notification 2006” about which the MoEF seems to be least concerned. There is no need for any additional OMs to fix these issues, only real concern for spirit of EIA Notification and other related laws.

Below we give a few examples which indicate the gaping holes in the current system is and how “not asking for fresh information or additional studies” will result in severely flawed environmental decision making.

  1. Basic Project Information (Form I & PFR) has been incorrect, false or incomplete on many occasions:

The OM states that the EACs/ SEACs should base their TORs on basic project information (in the form of Form I & Pre-feasibility Reports – PFR) submitted by the proponent and a brief meeting with the proponent. (Note here that there is no role for any external agency and the Ministry is fully relying of the proponent for project information submitted at this stage.) Form I asks limited questions and a number of times, the answers provided by the proponent are incorrect, incomplete or misleading. Seems to be a sure way to make wrong decisions, doesnt it?

For example:

Sonthi Lift Irrigation Scheme in Karnataka, the Form I took the MoEF for a royal ride. The project was already significantly finished, in violation of the EIA notification and EPA (1986) when the officials approached MoEF for “Scoping” Clearance! And even after pointing out all the blatant violations, the MoEF accepted the project, with no action taken again the violators (Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited). We had pointed this out at many stages, see SANDRP’s submissions and notes:

In case of 1750 MW Lower Demwe Project in Arunchal, which is part of a string of projects in Lohit Basin with huge cumulative impacts and downstream impacts on Assam, the Form I says “No cumulative impacts”.

In case of 72 MW Rolep project in Sikkim, Form I does not clarify that the project falls is a high landslide and flashflood zone, when landslides and flash floods have occurred at the site itself.

In case of Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme in Maharashtra, the Form I was a joke as the half-finished project with canals has been sitting idle for many years in Solapur, blatantly violating EPA,1986. Not only does the Form I hide that the project is nearly finished, is also states that the project “does not affect important ecological areas” or “areas for sensitive species”, when the canal of the project will take 92 hectares from Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary. Incidentally, the MoEF has a special plan for protection of the Great Indian Bustard! (See SANDRP’s submission at TOR Stage

These are only a few indicative examples and the violations are on a huge scale. We and others have pointed this out to the EAC and MoEFCC over the years, but no action was taken, thus encouraging the developers. We have not heard of a single instance when the MoEFCC has rejected the proposal based on problems with Form I/ PFR and as per the Clause 8 (vi) of EIA Notification 2006, which is reiterated in the present OM.

And now the Ministry wants EAC to take action only based on such information, and without any further studies!

  1. No action is taken when EIA is prepared violating granted Terms of Reference (TOR):

The Ministry is saying that asking for additional information is against the spirit of EIA Notification 2006. The same Ministry does not bat an eyelid when projects are recommended EC (Environment Clearance) by EACs even when they violate the TORs based on which the project received first stage clearance! Is that not against the spirit of EIA Notification?

Here too, SANDRP has pointed this out a large number of times, but this has not been acknowledged in most cases. Some examples:

EIA EMP of Kalai II Project in Arunachal Pradesh, major issues like hydrology, biology, geological aspects spelled out in TORs were not even addressed in the EIA EMP by none other than WAPCOS, Ministry of Water Resources enterprise, famous for shoddy studies. (See SANDRPs note:

TORs issues for the 3000 MW Dibang Project in Arunachal Pradesh, India’s largest capacity hydropower project, were not fulfilled and yet EAC recommended Environment Clearance, see:

TORs issued for the 660 MW Kiru and 560 MW Kwar HEPs in Jammu and Kashmir, were not fulfilled as pointed out by SANDRP (see: submission.

TORs issued for Sach Khas Project in Himachal Pradesh had specifically asked for study of impact of sudden release of huge quantities of water for generating hydropower (Peaking) on biology of the river. This was not done by WAOCOS, but the EAC and hence the MoEF did not consider this point, even after SANDRP made a specific submission on it. See SANDRPs note:

Again this is just an indicative list, showing the extent of real problems.

  1. No action was taken when EIA was plagiarized

There have been multiple occasions when EIA is exceedingly shoddy and even plagiarized! In these cases too, although it has been brought to the notice of EAC/ MoEF, no action has been taken.

For example: In case of Mohanpura Irrigation Project in Madhya Pradesh, plagiarising in WAPCOS EIA was pointed out to the EAC by SANDRP and individual researchers (see : but the MoEF took no action against the agency.

In case of Sonthi lift Irrigation scheme, the entire EIA was so poorly plagiarized by WAPCOS that even the name of the original project (Kundalia major multipurpose project from Madhya Pradesh) was all over the EIA for a Karnataka Project! SANDRP pointed out this too, but there was no response on this point.

These are again just indicative examples.

  1. No action was taken when EIA provided misleading information

There are several such examples but the most recent example, is 3000 MW Dibang Project in Arunachal. The EIA agency and Project Proponent has issued misleading information about the impact of the project on the downstream Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Assam. The report states that the water level rise or fall at Dibru Saikhowa due to sudden water release from all projects in the upstream Arunachal Pradesh will be less than one meter, when a different study also considered by EAC shows that this fluctuation when all upstream projects hold back and release water will be 7-8 feet (more two meters)! SANDRP had pointed this discrepancy, but the EAC did not even take a note of this in the meeting and actually recommended clearance to this project! (

In other cases, basic information like length of the river, location of the project, area of submergence, area of affected population has also been wrong in the EIA and yet the EAC has recommended clearance for the projects, despite these issues being pointed out.  Some examples in this regard include: Bansujara Project, ( and Chinki Multipurpose project (, both in Madhya Pradesh, EIA in both cases done by WAPCOS.

To reiterate, the above is a brief, indicative list. SANDRP and other organizations routinely look at the EC process, and we are overwhelmed at the level of non-compliance happening at the proponent end as well as EAC and MoEF level.

The affected communities see how their submissions are either misrepresented in the EIAs, or just not considered by the EAC even when objections are loud and clear in Public hearing reports (like in case of Dibang EIA).

  1. MoEFCC further denigrates the Public Consultation Process

By ordering that no additional information should be sought after TOR stage, the MoEF is deriding the importance of Public Hearing which take places as a part of the Environment Impact Assessment Study, after TORs have been granted. Like in the case of Dibang, major issues raised by affected people have not been raised either in Form I or in TORs or in the EIA and need additional studies.

Now by discouraging additional studies, the MoEFCC is suggesting that even public consultations are immaterial. No more studies, after TOR please! This is an insult of the public consultation process which should form the heart of appraisal and assessment process.

For the same reason, in many countries public hearing is conducted before granting Terms of Reference. In the absence of any such provision, simply stating that additional studies should not be recommended after TOR stage is a seriously regressive step.

  1. Project application documents not availalble in public domain

For basic transparency in Environment appraisal process it is necessary that all the documents (Form 1 and PFR at TOR stage & EIA-EMP and Public consultation documents at EC stage) that accompany the application for environmental clearance are put out in public domain well in advance ( at least ten days) before the projects are discussed by EAC.

Ironically, MoEFCC does not have any legal requirement in this regard and it was Central Information Commission that in 2012 directed the MoEFCC to ensure that. But this is not happening. In fact the projects that are on the EAC agenda are many times not even listed on the relevant environment clearance website (

When this was brought to the attention of the MoEFCC’s concerned officials and EAC, they have taken no action in most cases. The situation has particularly worsened since June 2014, after the new BJP-led government came to power at the centre. It is on areas like these that we need MoEFCC to be pro-active. ( Pass some OMs here!)

In the end The system of Environmental Appraisal and Clearance today lacks accountability, transparency, democratic norms and compliance. Some of the major reasons for asking for additional studies is when the Form I, PFR and EIA do not adequately address issues.

In order to bring in speed and accountability in the appraisal process, there is a need to:

  1. Blacklist and debar EIA consultants which provide plagiarized, misleading or false data in EIA reports
  2. Reject applications based on false or misleading Form I – PFR
  3. Reject applications which do not conform with TORs granted
  4. Consider submissions received from civil society and affected groups at the time of TORs and EC process carefully and consider these as inputs and help for a holistic appraisal, not as adversaries. Invite organisations/ individuals in the EAC meetings when those specific projects are discussed.
  5. MoEFCC needs to ask EAC to show application of mind while appraising projects, submissions, public hearing processes and considering proponent’s response. This serious consideration by the part of EAC should be reflected unambiguously in the minutes of the EAC meetings.
  6. MoEFCC needs to appoint as members and chairpersons of EAC only such persons with a track record indicating knowledge, experience and independence on environment issues. A recent NGT order asked MoEFCC to do exactly, this, but MoEFCC has yet to implement this order.
  7. MoEFCC needs to ensure that all the relevant documents for projects on EAC agenda are put in public domain at least ten days in advance of the EAC meeting, as directed by the Central Information Commission. In absence of such documents in public domain, the EAC should not be considering the projects. (MoEFCC should in fact come out with a notification on this!)
  8. Reject projects which have violated EPA (1986) and EIA Notification (2006). Here too, the MoEFCC regularizes blatant violations by passing OMs.

Most of the above is enshrined in the EIA Notification (2006) and the Environment Protection Act (2006) and there is no need for passing any OM for this, but such steps will automatically make the EC process not only efficient and swift, but also responsive, pro-environment and pro-people.

And this should be the main concern of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

– Parineeta Dandekar ( 

with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar (



[2] EIA: Environmental Impact Assessment


[4] Scoping clearance stage is first stage of Environmental Appraisal Process when the EAC grants Terms of Reference (TOR) to the project based on which Environment Impact Assessment is carried out later

Himachal Pradesh

The Socio-Ecological Effects of Small Hydropower Development in Himachal Pradesh

J. Mark Baker (, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA, USA


This article is part one of a two part summary of the results of a study on the socio-ecological impacts of privatized, small, run-of-the-river hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh.[1]  It is based on field research conducted in 2012 on all 49 commissioned small hydropower projects in the state.

Map 1

In the late 1990s Himachal Pradesh, as did other states in this region, launched a series of initiatives to privatize and promote small hydropower production (Sinclair 2003).  In 2006 these initiatives were incorporated into a new hydropower policy that aimed to generate revenue through the sale of surplus power to neighboring states and to promote the state’s own development (GoHP 2006).  Because the levels of investment necessary to develop hydropower exceed the state’s financial resources as claimed by the policy, Himachal Pradesh’s power policy provides for private sector involvement and uses central government subsidies.  Small hydropower project construction and operation in Himachal Pradesh is entirely privatized (GoHP 2006).  Small hydropower projects mostly utilize run-of-the-river power generation technologies to convert hydropower into electricity; this study uses the Himachal Pradesh government definition of small as 5MW or less (though the Government of India defines small as below 25 MW capacity).[2]  By 2012, only six years after the implementation of the policy, there were a total of 49 small hydropower projects generating electricity in the state (including the approximately 8 projects commissioned before 2006) (map 1).  Additionally, approximately 50 more projects were under construction, and approximately 400 were in various stages of planning and approval (GoHP 2012) (map 2).[3]

Map 2

The state established a nodal agency, Himurja, to oversee the private development of the state’s small hydropower potential, and to promote utilization of renewable energy more generally.  In 2006 the state formalized the processes and mechanisms that govern private sector involvement in electricity production by passing the Hydropower Policy.  Himurja plays a central role in this process by allocating government-identified small hydropower project sites to private corporations.  After receiving an allotted project site, the corporation (referred to as the project developer or independent power producer) must prepare a series of detailed project reports that include, for example, two years of streamflow data and analysis of the engineering, economic, hydrological, geological, and environmental characteristics of the project.  Once Himurja officers approve these reports, they and the project developer sign a Memorandum of Understanding, a Techno-Economic Clearance document and eventually an Implementation Agreement.  At that point the developer begins the work of securing the required No Objection Certificates (NOCs) from the relevant state and local government entities including the Wildlife Department, Forest Department, Irrigation and Public Health Department Fisheries Department, Public Works Department, Pollution Control Board, Revenue Department, and affected Panchayats.  After obtaining the required certificates, the power producer may commence project construction.

Construction costs generally range from Rs 6-8 crores per megawatt, but these are quickly recouped through the sale of electricity to the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board.  Once the project is commissioned, the HP State Electricity Board guarantees the independent power producer a purchase price of Rs 2.50 per kilowatt hour – the equivalent of approximately Rs 2.2 crores per megawatt per year.[4]  The project reverts to the state government free of cost after 40 years of operation.  The developer pays the state government no power royalties for the first 12 years of the project’s life.  However, for the next 18 years the developer must provide 12% of the power it produces free of charge to the state; for the remaining 10 years it must provide 18% free electricity to the state.

For small hydropower projects, there is no requirement that the project developer prepare a formal environmental and social impact assessment or environmental and social management plan subject to public review.  Nor is the developer required to hold public hearings about the proposed project.  This is a serious issue because the absence of a formal environmental assessment and hearing process prevents members of project-affected communities and other civil society groups from sharing concerns about the projects’ anticipated effects.  This is one of the reasons for the growing and significant level of local opposition to small hydropower development in the state.  A significant amount of the local opposition to small hydropower projects stems from the ways in which such projects disrupt rural livelihoods, combined with the inadequacy of local benefits such as rural employment generation and other forms of direct compensation.  The next sections describe some of the livelihood disruptions the commissioned small hydropower projects have caused.  The discussion is organized district by district, reflecting the geographical pattern of these disruptions.

District Kangra – disruption to local irrigation systems and farmer collective action

The majority of District Kangra lies on the southern side of the Dhaula Dhar mountain range, from where it extends across Kangra Valley and into the Sivalik Hills.  The district is notable for its extensive network of community-managed gravity flow irrigation systems (kuhls).  In Kangra Valley alone 750 large and more than 2100 small kuhls irrigate approximately 40000 hectares (Baker 2005) (figure 1).[5]  Kuhl irrigation water is crucial for both kharif crops (rice and corn) and rabi crops (wheat and potatoes).  These crops, except for potatoes, are almost entirely used for home consumption.  Historically, kuhl irrigation water was essential for driving water-powered mills (gharats) and other machines, as well as irrigating home gardens, watering livestock, and meeting household needs for non-potable water.  The importance of ensuring the continuity of these kuhl irrigation systems is reflected in the language of the No Objection Certificates that project developers must obtain from the Irrigation and Public Health Department as well as from village panchayat pradhans.  These certificates contain language that protects community-managed kuhls from disruptions by small hydropower projects and requires the developer to pay full compensation if a project damages or disrupts a community-managed kuhl.

Fig 1

Despite the protections delineated in the No Objection Certificates, small hydropower projects commonly disrupt kuhl irrigation systems or cause them to cease functioning altogether, either by physically damaging the irrigation system or by diverting the water on which the irrigation system relies (figure 2).  When a kuhl is damaged or deprived of water, farmers must shift to rainfed cultivation.  Output from rainfed crops is invariably much less than for irrigated crops, in part due to unpredictable rainfall, increased vulnerability to drought, and damage from hailstorms at harvest time.  Throughout the state, small hydropower projects have disabled a total of at least 13 kuhl irrigation systems; in none of these cases did the project developer compensate farmers for their losses.  This level of disturbance to irrigation is significant – for example, one of the disabled kuhls was the primary source of irrigation water for approximately 2000 households.

Fig 2

Not all local farmers have not stood by idly, watching the lifeline of their subsistence agricultural economy go dry.  Our research documented countless visits from village representatives to district administrative authorities petitioning them to intercede on their behalf in order to seek redress, compensation, and/or release of adequate water flows necessary for irrigation.  Despite these frequent and often repeated requests, we did not encounter one instance in which the district administration prevailed upon the power producer to either compensate for disruptions to these irrigation systems or reduce water diversion to provide adequate water supply.[6]

Seeing the futility of seeking redress for damage or guaranteed minimum flows from already-constructed projects, farming communities in Kangra have started blocking construction of hydropower projects until the power developer agrees to binding conditions.  One example of this concerns Ganetta Kuhl, which diverts water from the Baner stream and conveys it 22 kilometers to the cultivated lands of more than 500 households in 12 different villages.  The diversion weir for a partially completed small hydropower plant is located upstream of the kuhl’s diversion point.[7]  Farmers worried that the project’s water diversion would reduce the water available to them.  When letters outlining farmers’ concerns sent to Prodigy Hydro Power, the deputy commissioner, and even to the chief minister by the panchayat pradhan and kuhl committee president did not produce results, the irrigators used the threat of opposition and civil disobedience to block further project construction (figure 3).  As a result, project construction work was halted for many months.  Finally, in 2013, the project developer agreed to the farmers’ demands, including that their water rights be guaranteed, and in return the farmers rescinded their threats; construction work on this project is currently underway.

Fig 3

The problems associated with project disruption of traditional irrigation systems are most pronounced in District Kangra due to the large number of kuhl irrigation systems.  However, our research revealed that any location in the state in which kuhl diversion structures are located between a project’s trench weir and tail race were liable to experience water shortages during the year.

Chamba District – landslides, damaged watermills, and local activism

District Chamba lies to the north of District Kangra and contains the headwaters of the Ravi River and key tributaries, all of which have cut deeply into the Himalayan mountains.  Because it lacks the broad arable plains that characterize the kuhl-irrigated Kangra Valley, farmers in Chamba combine rainfed cultivation on terraced fields carved into steep slopes with a high level of dependence on timber and non-timber forest resources, which meet both subsistence needs and generate revenue.  The streams that flow from the forests down through the cultivated fields and villages to eventually join the Ravi River often power 10, 20, or more gharats (water-powered mills).

One of Chamba District’s defining characteristics is its steep topography.  Not only are the roads carved, at times precariously, into steep mountain faces, but there are also numerous signs of natural and human-caused landslides.  In some instances the failure of a terraced field has initiated a landslide whose head swale climbs higher upslope each monsoon season.  In other cases road construction is clearly the culprit, especially where roads traverse steep, unstable slopes or cross ravines that may washout during monsoon storms.

Fig 4

In steep, geologically unstable terrain such as this, small hydropower projects trigger large landslides that not only cause extensive environmental damage but may also damage or destroy the project itself.[8]  The Terailla Project is a case in point.  Located beyond the small town of Tissa in a remote area of Chamba District, this is one of four small hydropower projects that take turns diverting and returning the Terailla River’s water in quick succession.  The power channel of the Terailla Project is carved from a steep, unstable slope containing loose gravel and large rocks and boulders.  After the project was commissioned in 2007, landslides destroyed large sections of the power channel.  Car-size boulders slid downslope and deformed the one meter diameter pipe near the upper end of the power channel (figure 4).  Two other landslides carried large sections of the concrete box power channel down the slope towards the source stream (figure 5).  As of the summer of 2012 this power project had been nonoperational for one year due to the landslide damage.[9]

Fig 5

The upper edge of the growing landslide continues to move upslope and is now destroying the common grazing grounds of the adjacent village; if the rate of the slide’s uphill movement continues, then it will begin approaching the village itself.  Additionally, project roads constructed across adjacent steep slopes to provide access to the diversion weir and to the power house have themselves triggered further landslides.  Despite the clear potential for landslides in this area, the Detailed Project Report submitted by the power developer to HIMURJA states that there is no landslide risk in the project area.  That this faulty assessment was accepted and the project approved suggests there are problems with the government review process.

The four tightly spaced small hydropower projects along the Terailla River have triggered numerous small and large landslides and wrought negative environmental and livelihood impacts.  These include damage to grazing land and cultivated areas, destruction of gharats and other landslide-related damage.  The cumulative negative effects of these projects have generated significant local opposition.  Local community members have protested on numerous occasions and filed multiple court cases against these projects.   Some protesters, including local village women, have been arrested and detained overnight in jail.  The close proximity of these projects along one stream reach raises concerns about the cumulative impacts of clustered small hydropower projects.  This is especially troubling because the project review process contains no mechanism for assessing the cumulative impacts of multiple projects located along the same stream or river.

Damage to gharats from small hydropower projects occurs commonly in Chamba.  Gharats are the most common method for grinding corn, wheat, and occasionally rice.  In exchange for grinding neighbors’ grain, the gharat owner usually receives 10% of the volume of grain they grind.  These in-kind payments support the gharat owner’s family.  Interestingly, in our surveys we found many examples of woman-owned and managed gharats; in most of these cases the woman was either a widow or the head of her household.  Thus gharats are an important livelihood source for this otherwise disadvantaged group of people.

Fig 6

The 49 commissioned small hydropower projects in the state have stopped 104 gharats, either by destroying them due to land and rockslides or by diverting so much water that the gharat had to be abandoned due to lack of water (figures 6 and 7).[10]  The elimination of these 104 gharats weakens the economic stability of the large number of households whose livelihoods they previously sustained.  Although the Irrigation and Public Health Department No Objection Certificate directs the power developer to provide adequate water flows for gharats, the policy contains no requirement that compensation be paid gharat owners if the project damages their gharat or restricts the water available for diversion.  This gap in the hydropower policy, which stems from urban policy makers’ general dismissal and undervaluation of gharats’ importance, suggests why the owners of many of these gharats received no compensation.[11]

Fig 7

Seeing the pattern of uncompensated damage, gharat owners in one stream in Chamba decided on a proactive strategy.  For six months, using threats of direct action against a newly-commissioned small hydropower project, the owners of 12 project-affected gharats stopped the power project from operating until an acceptable compensation agreement was successfully negotiated.  Eventually, through negotiations between the gharat owners, the power developer and the district commissioner, an agreement was reached that ensured acceptable levels of compensation for affected gharat owners.  Based on the assumption that the gharat contributed the equivalent of a daily wage for the household (Rs 120), and the expected life of the power project (40 years), the negotiated settlement consisted of a series of five annual payments which together would total the equivalent of 40 years of daily wage labor.  After the first payment had been made to the concerned gharat owners, they removed their opposition to the project and it began producing and selling electricity.  However, as one gharat owner noted, if their payments cease, they will again stop the project through direct action.

The ability of these gharat owners to successfully engage in direct action and then negotiation reflects the pre-existing patterns of social activism and strong local governance traditions prevalent in Chamba.  Local leaders, inspired by Gandhian ideologies of self-governance and sustainable local livelihoods, have worked to strengthen village panchayat institutions over the last two decades.  This awareness building and social mobilization has centered on defending village community timber and non-timber forest product rights, advocating for community-based medicinal herb collection, and strengthening village level democratic institutions (Gaul 2001).  The resulting awareness and knowledge concerning local rights and democratic process has empowered local communities to defend against livelihood threats, including threats from small hydropower projects.

Kullu District – threats to apple wealth, tourism

Kullu District’s fame, which extends throughout India and indeed the world, stems from a variety of characteristics that also influence the pattern of socio-economic and environmental consequences of small hydropower development.  The district, located to the east of Districts Kangra and Chamba, tends to be relatively wealthy, in part due to the revenue from the cultivation of apples and stone fruit.  Other key sources of local revenues include the film productions that regularly occur in the picturesque mountainous scenery, year-round tourism resulting from Kullu’s attraction to honeymooners and outdoor sports enthusiasts, and Kullu’s prominent pilgrimage destinations, which attract large numbers of pilgrims from throughout north India.  The streams and rivers of Kullu District also support the largest number of private trout farms in the state as well as the Fisheries Department’s fish stocking program, which in turn attracts anglers from around the world and whose efforts are supported by the Himachal Angling Association.  Lastly, parts of the district possess unique ecological and biodiversity values, which conservation efforts within the Forest Department, and especially the creation of the Great Himalaya National Park, seek to conserve and maintain.

The diverse elements of the economic foundations of the district – fruit cultivation, commercial film production, tourism, pilgrimage, fisheries opportunities, and conservation values – also heighten the stakes associated with the proliferation of hydropower projects.  The cumulative impacts of the 11 completed small hydropower projects in the district (with many more under construction and planned) undermine the integrity and value of these elements.

The cumulative effects of transmission line infrastructure threaten the aesthetic and economic values of the Kullu landscape.  As noted previously, private power developers are responsible for constructing power towers and installing transmission lines to convey the electricity they produce to the nearest HPSEB substation.  This is a significant undertaking as the distance between power projects and substations ranges from 3 to 15 kilometers.  When multiple power projects are located in one valley, each must separately construct transmission infrastructure; as the density of power projects increases, so does the resulting network of transmission lines spreading across the picturesque mountain landscape.  Already this density has created negative effects.  Residents we surveyed decried the ugly transmission lines that cut through the fruit orchards in the main Kullu Valley and also traverse the deodar forests and cultivated areas of the tributary watersheds of the Beas River.  Many Kullu residents link the area’s natural beauty with the tourism and film industry and are worried about the negative effects on it of hydropower development.  For example, a panchayat pradhan likened the white boulders of the dewatered reach of the Beas River to bleached bones and asked whether tourists would like to see those instead of clean, free running water.  Regarding transmission lines, one local film production manager noted ruefully that the density of transmission lines in the valley has already disrupted shooting operations and is challenging the ability of film crews to obtain sequences not marred by transmission lines. Seeing the damage to apple orchards from transmission line construction and the fact that at least one person has died from electrocution from a low hanging power line, families that own land where towers need to be constructed are increasingly reluctant to sell the small plot of land necessary to construct the power tower.

Kullu District – threats to fisheries-based livelihoods

The negative effects of small hydropower development on water quality and fisheries-based livelihoods were also particularly evident in Kullu District.  In addition to reducing the quantity of water available for kuhl irrigation systems and for gharats, as discussed above, small hydropower projects also affect water quality.  Project managers clean desilting tanks by flushing the accumulated silt directly back into the source stream, thus creating a slug of sediment that harms downstream water quality and aquatic habitat and species.

These sediment slugs negatively affect downstream fisheries operations, both private and government.  The Himachal Pradesh Fisheries Department’s oldest trout hatchery is located at Patlikuhl in Kullu Valley (figure 8).  Established in 1909, the hatchery diverts water from the Sujan stream before it joins the Beas River.  In 1988 a joint Indo-Norwegian effort was initiated to commercialize trout production (Sehgal 1999).  The hatchery now operates independently of Norwegian support.  In 2009-2010 it produced 3.75 lakhs of fish ova, 80 metric tons of fish feed (sold to local fish farmers and as far away as Sikkim, Bhutan, and Uttarakhand), and 12 metric tons of fish (Fisheries Department records 2012).  This fish hatchery operation anchors the state’s fish stocking program and supplies fingerlings and other inputs to the growing number of households in Kullu that have established fish farming operations.  The hatchery depends on clean, cold, oxygenated water to successfully manage the large number of tanks where fish eggs are fertilized and the ova are reared to become fingerlings or adults.  Already, commissioned power projects (small and large) have increased sedimentation in the Sujan stream and more projects are planned.  Hatchery managers are concerned about the threats to their source water posed by upstream hydropower development; they have written letters expressing this concern to the Director of the Fisheries Department.

Fig 8

When asked about the Fisheries Department’s ability to require water quality protection measures as a condition for approving the No Objection Certificate, the Fisheries Department official in charge of the Patlikuhl fish hatchery stated that initially department officers had attempted to restrict the proliferation of small hydropower projects due to their negative effects on fisheries and aquatic ecology.  In some instances they had refused to provide a No Objection Certificate or they had required stringent water quality protection measures.  However, the officer noted in a resigned manner that eventually they “had to give the NOC; it is the policy of the government” (to promote small hydropower).

Many local communities share the Fisheries Department’s concerns about the negative water quality impacts of small hydropower projects, especially given the recent growth of fish farming.  The fingerlings and fish food from the Patlikuhl Fish Hatchery have enabled fish farming in Kullu District to grow rapidly from only four or five small private fish farms a few years ago to 52 farms.  In 2011 these farms produced more than 50 metric tons of trout, which were sold to local and more distant markets at Rs 250-350 per kilogram and netted each of these 52 families approximately Rs 3 lakhs.  This scale of economic production is significant.  And, given the market and transportation linkages with large cities such as Chandigarh, Delhi, and even Mumbai, the potential demand for farmed trout far exceeds current production.  However, the negative effects on water quality from hydropower development could significantly limit realization of this potential.

The potential threat small hydropower development poses for fish farming has strengthened local community opposition, which occasionally manifests as local panchayat refusal to grant the No Objection Certificate.  One example of this concerns the controversy over small hydropower development planned for Haripur Nullah, a tributary of the Beas River on the east side of Kullu Valley.  A project developer had been seeking the requisite NOCs from the three panchayats within whose boundaries the project fell.  Concerned residents, including retired government officers and educators, had earlier formed a local organization (Jan Jagran Vikas Sanstha, JJVS) to successfully oppose a planned ski resort in their area (Asher 2008).  This same group of individuals mobilized against the proposed small hydropower project, due to the anticipated damage to the private and government fish farms the stream supports and the negative effects on the four affected kuhls, the numerous gharats along Haripur Nullah, and the local government seed farm and private agricultural production in the project affected area.  Due to this well organized local opposition, at eight different meetings the developer was unsuccessful in obtaining the NOC.  Finally, just prior to a panchayat election (which the pradhan was not planning to contest) the developer, through a “miracle” (as recounted by JJVS members), managed to obtain a signed NOC from the pradhan.  JJVS members rejected the validity of the NOC, which they claimed was obtained through undue influence, and sought redress through the district administration as well as the local courts.[12]  Meanwhile, despite continued local opposition, the project developer has begun construction.

The intersections between fish, livelihoods, and small hydropower development extend to both sport fishing and subsistence fishing.  Individuals that engage in subsistence fishing obtain cast net licenses from the Fisheries Department.  In 2011 there were 350, 200, and 2000 cast net license holders in Districts Kullu, Chamba, and Kangra, respectively.  The Fisheries Department estimates that in the state overall approximately 10000 households depend entirely or significantly on subsistence fishing for their livelihood.  Sport fishing is also a significant and growing source of economic revenue, especially for those who operate fishing lodges and otherwise cater to sport fishers.  In 2011 the Fisheries Department allocated 752 sport fishing licenses in Kullu District, the center of sport fishing for Himachal Pradesh.  The Tirthan River, which flows out of the Great Himalaya National Park and travels approximately 16 kilometers before it joins with the Sainj and then the Beas Rivers, is one of the centers of sport trout fishing.  The Himachal Angling Association, an active organization that promotes sport fishing, held its 2012 Trout Anglers Meet at Sai Ropa on the Tirthan River.  The keynote address at the angling competition, given by the Association’s Secretary General, advanced strategies for strengthening “Angling Tourism” and denounced the negative impacts of small hydropower development on fisheries and the livelihoods they support.

Fig 9

The competition was attended by Mr. Dilaram Shabab, the retired MLA from this area who had spearheaded the successful effort to have the Tirthan River watershed declared off limits to small hydropower development (figure 9).  Local panchayats, community members, and fishing lodge owners, with the able support and vision of Mr. Dilaram Shabab, as well as eventual backing from Fisheries Department, Forest Department and Great Himalayan National Park officials, launched a five year court battle against small hydropower development in this watershed.  After three years of arguments and rulings in the Kullu District Court and more than one year in the High Court in Shimla, the High Court presiding judge ruled in favor of the arguments set forth concerning the negative effects on the environment, fisheries, and affected communities of the planned small hydropower projects in the watershed.  The court declared the Tirthan off limits to all hydropower projects, and it cancelled the 9 previously approved small hydropower projects (Civil Writ Petition 1038 2006).[13]  This is the only example in Himachal Pradesh of a watershed being declared permanently off limits to hydro development.

This concludes part one of this two part article.  The second part will address labor issues related to small hydropower development and the functioning of the Local Area Development Authority (LADA).  It will also discuss two promising institutional models for small hydropower development and offer a set of recommendations.

J. Mark Baker (, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA, USA

Please see Part II of this piece here:


Asher, Manshi (2008): “Impacts of the Proposed Himalayan Ski Village Project in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh – A Preliminary Fact Finding Report” (Himachal Pradesh: Him Niti   and Jan Jagran Evan Vikas Samiti).

Baker, J Mark (2005): The Kuhls of Kangra: Community Managed Irrigation in the Western Himalaya (Delhi: Permanent Black).

Gaul, Karen K (2001): “On the Move: Shifting Strategies in Environmental Activism in Chamba District of Himachal Pradesh”,  Himalaya, 21(2):70-78.

Government of Himachal Pradesh (2006): “Hydro Power Policy”, (Shimla).

Government of Himachal Pradesh (2012): “Memorandums of Understanding”, Himachal Pradesh Energy Development Agency (Himurja).  Viewed on 25 May 2012. Website: (

Payne, Adam (2010): “Rivers of Power, Forests of Beauty: Neo-Liberalism, Conservation and the Governmental Use of Terror in Struggles Over Natural Resources”, Columbia Undergraduate Journal of South Asian Studies, 2(1):61-92.

Sehgal, KL (1999): “Coldwater Fish and Fisheries in the Indian Himalayas: Culture” in T Petr  (ed.), Fish and fisheries at higher altitudes: Asia. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 385. (Rome: FAOF).

Selvaraj, S and A Badola (2012): “Validation of the Small Hydro Power Project by Prodigy Hydro Power Private Limited”, (Neuilly Sur Seine, France: Bureau Veritas Certification).

Sinclair, John (2003): “Assessing the Impacts of Micro-Hydro Development in Kullu District, Himachal Pradesh, India”, Mountain Research and Development, 23(1):11-13.


[1] The material presented here is partly excerpted from a recent article in Economic and Political Weekly, “Small Hydropower Development in Himachal Pradesh: an Analysis of Socioecological Effects,” vol XLIX no 21, pages 77-86.

[2] Run-of-the-river power small hydro projects divert water from a source stream or river through a dam or trench weir into a settling tank where the silt and sediment load settles to the bottom.  From there the water is conveyed through a power channel (usually a large diameter pipe or concrete box tunnel) away from the source stream along a slight downhill gradient.  The power channel length varies from one to as long as eight kilometers.  From the power channel the water flows into the forebay and then passes into the steeply sloped penstock and then inside the power house where the force of the water is used to drive one or more turbines.  The electricity the turbines produce is monitored and managed through a complex set of operating controls.  Power lines one to fifteen kilometers in length convey the generated power to the nearest HP State Electricity Board substation, at which point the power joins the state’s power grid.

[3] The 49 commissioned power projects have a total generating capacity of about 200 MW, which represents about 20% of the small hydropower potential in the state.  Some of these projects were commissioned prior to the 2006 Hydropower Policy.  This article restricts its focus to small (5 MW or less, as defined by the Himachal Pradesh Power Policy) hydropower projects, which are often considered socially and environmentally benign.  Large hydropower projects are also proliferating across the state, and have their own socio-ecological impacts.  Sometimes small and large hydropower projects are located on the same stream or river; however, most of the commissioned small hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh are located in different watercourses, and generally upstream, of medium and large hydropower projects.

[4] This rate of return assumes the power project operates at full capacity year round.  However, even at half capacity, these projects still fetch a handsome return on investment, especially when central government subsidies are taken into account.

[5] A large kuhl may be defined as irrigating land in more than one village while a small kuhl irrigates land within one village.

[6] This is primarily due to the reluctance of power producers to allow water to flow across their diversion weir without capturing it and harnessing it to generate power and revenue.  Farmers, especially subsistence farmers using traditional irrigation systems, generally do not have the political power and access to the district’s administrative machinery to force power producers to forego potential revenue in order to allow local traditions of water management to flourish.  While some farmers in Sirmaur District resorted to the purchase of diesel pumpsets to lift water to irrigate cash crops (bell peppers, green beans and tomatoes), these efforts also failed due to the lack of water in the stream reach between the hydroproject’s diversion weir and tail race.

[7] Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, this same project received validation through a third party assessment under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol for producing Certified Emissions Reductions and satisfying the criteria for being a quality project (Selvaraj, S. et al. 2012).

[8] Indeed, the destructive landslides and other environmental degradation associated with this form of hydropower along the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins resulted in the August 2013 Supreme Court stay on further hydropower development in neighboring Uttarakhand (Hon K S Radhakrishnan 2013).

[9] The Detailed Project Report for this project should have identified these landslide and slippage risks.  In this case the report did not mention this risk.  In the conclusion of the “Geological and Geotechnical Studies” chapter, the report notes that “on the basis of geological investigation carried out it is recommended that weir site, feeder channel, desilting tank, power channel, forebay, penstock and powerhouse sites are geologically suitable for construction.  There is no major geological problem around the study area.”  The next line notes that “there is no landslide zone.”  Clearly this report, upon which approval was granted to the project developer to construct the project, contained inaccurate information about landslide risk.  This raises the issue of how much review of the Detailed Project Reports Himurja officers should undertake.  At least in this case, ground truthing could have avoided these severe and ongoing problems.

[10] In more than one instance, though the power developer told us that no gharats were located between the project’s diversion weir and tail race, site visits to the stream reach revealed this not to be true.

[11] Compensation rates for those gharat owners that did receive some form of compensation varied widely and seemed to depend on the relative bargaining power of gharat owners.  Compensation ranged from monthly payments of Rs 3000 to lump sum payments of Rs 2 to 16.5 lakhs.

[12] The members of JJVS hypothesized that the pradhan had either been paid or coerced into authorizing the NOC, though there is no evidence to support this since there has been no investigation into this issue.  Using monetary incentives to obtain the necessary no objection clearances is common practice.  We heard many instances in which a No Objection Certificate was obtained from a panchayat for a payment of between Rs 30000 to 50000.  As discussed above, NOCs must be obtained from a number of different government agencies, in addition to the project-affected panchayats.  A general rule of thumb appears to be that obtaining NOCs from all the necessary entities usually costs approximately Rs 50 lakhs per megawatt of installed capacity.

[13] The court decision hinged on the anticipated negative effects of the projects on trout and other Tirthan River fisheries, anticipated local livelihood disruptions related to damage to gharats and kuhl irrigation, the fact that the projects would provide little local benefit (minimal local employment would be provided, electricity was not needed locally), and claims that the project documents lacked a real assessment of the burdens of the project on local communities.  The proximity of the projects along the Tirthan River to the Great Himalaya National Park, with its populations of threatened Western Tragopan, Monal and other pheasants, Musk Deer and other species, also influenced the court’s judgment concerning the relative merits and demerits of these small hydropower projects (Payne 2010).

Related subsequent stories:


Himalayas · Hydropower

Himalayas cannot take this Hydro onslaught



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Himanshu Thakkar (


[1] For SANDRP blogs on Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013, see:

[2] For details of Supreme Court order, see:


[4] For Details of MoEF order, see:




[8] For details of projects cleared during April 2007 to Dec 2012, see: and

[9] An edited version of this published in June 2014 issue of CIVIL SOCIETY:

Interlinking of RIvers · Maharashtra · Uttarakhand

Challenges for the new NDA government in India

National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP’s Mr. Narendra Modi has been given a mandate to govern India for the next five years. Without going into the political and social facets related to this issue, there are a number of justifiable concerns about this government’s stand on critical issues of water and environment.

While the importance of water and environment sectors for the people, their livelihoods, society and economy is acknowledged, how crucial these sectors are for them is not easily appreciated. For example, environment is important not only for tigers and trees, but also for livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Indians who depend on natural resources. More than 60-65% Indians continue to depend on agriculture and every farm can benefit from better water resource management.

Some of the major challenges plaguing the water and environment sectors in India include: urgent need for an inclusive, democratic and accountable governance, holistic assessment of impacts the very many interventions in the Himalayas (lessons from Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013[1]), ecological restoration of Ganga and other rivers, dealing with climate change in a way that protects lives and livelihoods of the vulnerable sections, etc., to name a few.

The leaders of the party forming the new government have already declared their agenda in terms of completion of Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on Narmada, pushing interlinking of rivers (ILR), pushing for more dams in the name of irrigation, pushing big hydropower projects in North East India (Mr Modi had said in his campaign that NE is heaven for hydropower projects) and mega industrial initiatives like the Delhi Mumbai Investment Corridor.

This agenda indicates that the importance of water and environment to the vast millions is not understood. Nor is the significance of the challenges to this sector appreciated.  Pushing the above agenda is not only fraught with serious risks in terms of social, environmental, economic and interstate issues, but these projects are not likely to deliver the promise of this party at the elections: Better life, more jobs, more development, fulfillment of  basic needs of the people who do not have access to these at the moment. Pushing this agenda is not likely to deliver stated promises, however blind push for more and bigger projects will compound strife and conflicts.

Let us look at the issues related to the NDA Agenda. These are not incidental issues, but issues inherent to the nature of these centralized, mega projects themselves.

Does ILR have scientific basis? The basic premise of ILR is that certain basins are water surplus and others are water deficit. It is assumed that occurrence of floods in a basin means there is surplus water in the basin and occurrence of drought or water scarcity in other basin means it is water deficit. This premise itself is not scientifically, ecologically and socially robust.

While this is said, there is no attempt at assessing and exhausting the available water options in any basin in India. Twithout this exercise, there can be no scientific basis for declaring a basin surplus or deficit. The ILR advocates seem to ignore the reality that India’s water lifeline is groundwater and the best way to sustain groundwater is through local water systems and recharge. They also seem to ignore the massive social, environmental impacts and constitutional issues. ILR is basically a collection of large number of major irrigation projects (over 84), but proponents of ILR do not seem to realize that in last two decades, there has been no addition to net irrigated area by these projects, in spite of addition of thousands of new projects.[2]

“Sabarmati Model” holds no water for Ganga or other rivers During the elections in Varanasi constituency that elected Mr Modi, the issue of cleaning of Ganga remained prominent. BJP claimed that they will clean up Ganga at Varanasi the way they cleaned up Sabarmati River that flows through Ahmedabad in Gujarat. The trouble with this claim is that Sabarmati has not been cleaned up at all. The water flowing through Sabarmati as it flows through the city of Ahmedabad is actually the water of Narmada River, diverted into Sabarmati. Ahmedabad has no right over this water which was supposed to be meant for Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat. If you go upstream along Sabarmati River from the point where Narmada Main Canal releases water in Sabarmati, you will see the reality of dry Sabarmati River. And if you go down to the Vasna barrage, downstream of Ahmedabad along the Sabarmati, you will see the state of polluted Sabarmati River. This model clearly holds no water either for Ganga or any other river.

River Ministry? There is speculation in media[3] that the new NDA government is going to create a new River Ministry at the centre. The same media report also stated that this ministry will push Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR)! This seems like a proposal for Ministry of River Destruction, since ILR is a recipe for destruction of rivers. If at all the new government is  interested in an act of goodwill towards rivers, it needs to start with understanding what is a river and what are its  various functions along the various stretches during various periods, including the social, ecological, economic, hydrological, geo morphological, biodiversity related, groundwater related and most importantly, livelihoods related functions. This exercise will mean understanding the roles of various arms of the government which affect the river. Some key ministries which affect river profoundly include: Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Power, Ministry of Urban Affairs, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Home Affairs (Disaster Management), Ministry of Agriculture, Department of North East Region, Ministry of Non Conventional Sources of Energy, to name only a few. How is this new proposed Ministry of River Going to coordinate with these ministries? Moreover, according to India’s constitution, Rivers are essentially state subjects and no state is likely to welcome such infringement of centre into what the states see as their domain of responsibility.

Ganga a National Project? There are statements from Mr Amit Shah[4], that the new government will give National status to the Ganga Project. It is not clear what is meant by this. Ganga is already under the Prime-Minister headed National Ganga River Basin Authority, but the Authority, five years after its constitution, has failed to change a single attribute affecting the Ganga. Similarly, Ganga River Basin Management Plan that IIT consortium is working on is already known to be pathetic in its understanding of the river, while pushing for privatization. We do not need another project in the name of Ganga, national or local. If the aim of declaring Ganga as a National Project is to wrest its control from the state, as the media suggests, then it is going to raise a lot of hackles.

What we need is a new approach to river governance, which is based on ecological, and not engineering principles, which is participatory, and not exclusive and which is democratic and not autocratic.

Himalayas & Hydro-onslaught Irrefutable evidence shows that building large number of major hydropower projects in Himalayas is having unprecedented impacts, some are known, many are unknown. The flawed environmental governance around these projects is well known in terms of dishonest EIAs, flawed and compromised appraisals, ineffective (these are consultations just in the namesake, in reality there is no basis for  informed participation) public hearing and non-existent compliance, both at project and cumulative level. One implication of this was felt in terms of the role of such projects in the Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013, after which, no political leader from any party spoke about this. It was left to the Supreme Court to order and enquiry into this. The report of this investigation clearly indicates the role of hydropower projects in increasing the proportions of the disaster, and more work on this issue remains to be done. In North East itself, India’s biggest mass based public agitation against dams & hydropower projects has been going on. The anger of people has led to stoppage of the work on 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower project (largest capacity hydropower project under implementation in India) for 30 months now, after over Rs 5000 crores were irresponsibly spent by NHPC without completing even basic studies. Mindless pushing of more such projects in the region is clearly not a prudent move.

Source: MATU Jansangathan
Source: MATU Jansangathan

BJP manifesto’s promise of expeditious and single window environment clearances is clearly dangerous in this context. What India needs is stronger and not weaker environmental governance. The advocacy[5] to “reduce time and transaction costs for the industry” under the circumstances seems inappropriate particularly from an organisation which was possibly the only environmental organisation represented on the completely flawed EIA registration process at Quality Council of India. The QCI process failed to achieve any improvement in the quality of EIA in almost 4 years of its existence

Sardar Sarovar Dam The new government wants to take the SSP Dam from its current height of 121.92 m to its final design height of 138.68 m. Firstly, there are serious doubts if this height increase is required since it can be shown that Gujarat and Rajasthan can get their share of water from Narmada without this increase in height. Secondly, Gujarat is not even in a position to use more than 20% of the water it already gets from the river at current height of the dam for the purposes for which the project was designed: providing water for the drought affected regions in Kutch, Saurashtra & North Gujarat. On the other hand, urban centres, industrials areas, SEZs, cosmetic river beautification schemes have appropriated a large chunk of SSP waters without legal, democratic sanction or justification. Gujarat really does not have a case for increasing the height of SSP Dam.

Moreover, this will also entail such massive additional submergence, displacement and disruption of lives of tribals and farmers that it is sure to create huge opposition. The just rehabilitation of already affected people is far from complete, in fact, most of the affected population has not been given minimum 2 ha of land required under the Narmada Tribunal award and subsequent accepted policies.

Mr Modi during his tenure of 13 years as Chief Minister of Gujarat failed to complete the canal network of SSP in the drought prone areas in whose name the project has always been justified. It needs to be noted that the agitation against SSP did not stop Gujarat government from going ahead with construction of canal network. It was not for lack of finances that SSP could not complete the canal network. SSP has been getting largest quantum of money from the Government of India’s Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme ever since the AIBP scheme started in 1996. This support to SSP from AIBP was clearly wrong since SSP was never the last mile project for which AIBP was meant, but the big dam lobby in Union Water Resources ministry and Gujarat government were hand in glove in this misallocation of AIBP money for SSP. In fact, Mr Modi arm-twisted the Planning Commission in 2011-12 to sanction the escalated costs for SSP even when the issues raised by Planning Commission officers remained unanswered.

Unused Narmada Canal waters flow into Salt pans, not only at a hige cost, but also affecting lievlihoods of  salt pan workers and the ecology Photo: Counterview
Unused Narmada Canal waters flow into Salt pans, not only at a huge cost, but also affecting livelihoods of salt pan workers and the ecology Photo: Counterview

It is the ineptitude of Gujarat Government under Mr Modi that is on show in why it could not complete the canal network on drought prone areas in Gujarat. Mr Modi would do well to remember the reasons for that failure before he considers the mega projects agenda as Prime Minister.

Moreover, on SSP, the issues of completing repairs of the damages the Sardar Sarovar dam structure suffered four years ago & related issue of safety of the dam are yet to be resolved[6] and Gujarat has embarked on building another Garudeshwar Dam in immediate downstream without any impact assessments, participatory democratic process or required sanctions[7]. The legality of the Garudeshwar Dam work stands challenged in the National Green Tribunal by the affected tribals.

MAJOR RISKS FOR NEW GOVERNMENT Some major risks for the new government include: the track record of Gujarat government that Mr Modi headed for the last 13 years; no checks from coalition of parties; poor image, strength, morale and track record of Congress as the chief opposition party; large sections of almost completely subservient media[8] and BJP’s problematic manifesto[9].

Why UPA faced people’s anger The new government also needs to remember why the outgoing ruling coalition of UPA (United Progressive Alliance) lost so badly in spite of some unprecedentedly remarkable, and pro people steps taken by it. Absence of accountable and participatory governance (which also manifested in terms numerous scams) was one of the major reasons as to why there was huge anger in people’s mind about the UPA regime. Another aspect of corruption and high-handedness was apparent in the scandalous way UPA dealt with governance of environmental issues: blatantly changing its environment ministers from bad to worse.

Even if we leave aside the Rajas and Balus of UPA I, the UPA II began on a positive note with appointment of Mr Jairam Ramesh as environment minister. While we had our share of criticism of functioning of Mr Ramesh as environment minister[10], he was possibly the best environment minister India have had.

But under pressure from misguided and misinformed corporate vested interests, Mr Ramesh was removed (kicked upstairs) and Mrs Jayanthi Natarajan was brought in. She did not really help the cause of environment as is apparent, for example, from her answers to the two debates on Ganga river in Parliament (these debates were unprecedented in their own right) as also sanctioning projects rejected by statutory bodies like Forest Advisory Committee.

Strangely, she too was removed to bring in disastrously, Mr Veerappa Moily[11], who also held the Oil and Petroleum ministry. Mr Moily then went about the designated task of green lighting everything, not bothering about governance issues, people’s concerns or environmental consequences. This led to massive anger anger against Moily as well as UPA.[12]

Such arrogant handling of governance of environmental issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of most vulnerable sections of people was bound to be punished[13]. This is clearly another reason behind the anger of people that UPA government faced in the elections.

Playing favorites UPA is also guilty of playing favorites when it came to appointing non governmental persons in environmental decision making. In almost every committee on environmental decision making, including Prime Ministers’ Council on Climate Change, National Tiger Task Force, Coastal Zone Management Committee, National Ganga Authority, Inter Ministerial Group on Ganga, Western Ghats Task Force, QCI process on registration of EIA consultants, 12th Plan working Groups to name only a few, everywhere one could find representatives of only particular organisation. Leaving aside the issue of effectiveness of the role played by representatives from this organisation, such tendencies of playing favorites is bound to raise serious questions. While many people at grassroots may not be aware of this inappropriate action by UPA government, the resultant outcomes of these committee invited various reactions ranging from disbelief, anger and even an uproar, as it happened in case of Kasturirangan Committee on Western Ghats.

While the result of anger of the voters could be seen in decimation of the UPA in the elections, the new NDA government will also do well to remember that even the Vajpayee government was voted out in 2004 for similar reasons. The mindless pursuit of agenda of inter linking of rivers and 50000 MW Hydropower initiatives, disregarding all the concerns and protests of the people across the country, along with the rejection of India Shining campaign were some of the causes for the voting out of the previous NDA regime in 2004.

SOME SPECIFIC TASKS In what follows we have given several examples of specific tasks before the new government. This is not an exhaustive, but only an indicative list.

Ganga Action Plan, Rivers Action Plans, NGBRA, CPCB, SPCBs Mr Modi has said that he would like to give priority to cleaning of Ganga River. Any such effort has any chance of success only if there is an attempt at understanding why our efforts at river pollution for the last 40 years have shown no impact:

Þ    Water Pollution Control Act, 1974 The Water Pollution Control Act led to setting up a huge and powerful bureaucracy including Central and state pollution control boards. 40 years after setting up of  this whole institutional and legal infrastructure, we do not  have a single that this establishment can claim to have cleaned up.

Þ    Ganga Action Plan, 1986 This plan was launched with much fanfare by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, but without trying to understand why the water pollution bureaucracy failed.

Þ    National River Conservation Authority 1994 This authority, the only institution in the name or river conservation in India, had Prime Minister of India, no less, its chairman. In ten years of UPA, the Prime Minister of India did not get time for a single meeting of this authority.

Þ    GAP II 2000 The second phase of GAP was launched, again without making any honest attempt at understanding the failure of GAP I.

Þ    NGBRA 2009 In Feb 2009, just before the last parliamentary elections, National Ganga River Basin Authority, again under Prime Minister. As noted earlier, this too has failed to make any impact on the state of Ganga.

What all this shows is that we have tried many things, including legal, institutional, financial, and authoritative, with Prime Minister at the helm, but have achieved no success. This is also true of the previous NDA regime during 1998-2006. If we do not make an honest attempt at understanding the reasons for these failures, there is little hope for success in future.  The efforts at river cleaning has not suffered due to lack of money (over Rs 20 000 crores have been spent on Ganga alone, as per one estimate), for lack of institutions, for lack of political attention, for lack of media attention, for lack of judicial attention, for lack of infrastructure [where infrastructure exists (e.g. Delhi with the highest Sewage Treatment Capacity], there too there is no change in state of river), or technology. One major reason for the failure was the complete disconnect between the people whose lives depend on the river and those who took the decisions or managed the system. In other words, unless you make the river governance more democratic, there is no hope for Ganga or other rivers.

Some basic steps to make governance of rivers democratic could include: Setting up of management committee (with 50% independent members from outside the government) for management of each Sewage Treatment Plant, each freshwater treatment plant, each tributary, each 10 km stretch of river, each water utility, each city (& sub city level where cities have population above 1 lakh). These committees should be legally empowered and the officials should be made responsible to these committees.

Jayanthi Tax In this regard, it would be useful to remember that during the election campaign, Mr Modi had accused Mrs Jayanthi Natarajan for collecting Jayanthi Tax as environment Minister, allegedly for collecting bribes for environment clearances. This was a very serious charge Mr Modi had leveled. Now that he heads the new government at centre, he must institute a credible enquiry into this charge to prove that he was not making just frivolous statements.

Maharashtra Irrigation Scam One state that has given NDA the highest number of seats after Uttar Pradesh is Maharashtra, the NDA coalition got 42 of 48 seats in this state. One of the major reasons for this debacle of UPA was that the UPA here got a very corrupt image, in spite of its Chief Minister having a relatively clean image. This was largely due to the massive Rs 70 000 crores irrigation scam in that state. The NDA partners in Maharashtra also played a role in exposing this corruption, although the top brass of NDA was also allegedly involved in the scandal. To this  corrupt image was added the arrogance shown, for example, by deputy Chief Minister (who resigned on charges of corruption, but came back even without any investigation into the charges) when he first  asked how are people  expecting him to give water from dams – by urinating in the dams? During elections he actually threatened a village that water will be cut off if they do not vote for his party! This combination of corruption and arrogance was sufficient to enrage the voters.

Here again one expects the NDA government at centre to take decisive credible action in exposing the guilty in Maharashtra irrigation scam and brining to book those who are responsible both among the politicians and bureaucrats-engineers. Here, as BJP spokespersons in Maharashtra have been saying, the Madhav Chitale committee has basically done white washing role[14] and hence we need an independent investigation. We hope NDA government at centre will take this up urgently.

Andhra Pradesh Irrigation Scam Similar action is also required in Andhra Pradesh Irrigation scam exposed by the CAG report[15].

AIBP As noted above, the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Program has majorly failed in achieving any additional net irrigation area by major projects at national level. The CAG has noted in more than one report the failure of AIBP and so has the Planning Commission. The new NDA government could start with instituting a credible independent enquiry into the reasons for failure of this scheme.

Uttarakhand Disaster and role of hydropower projects[16] Following the worst ever disaster faced by the state of Uttarakhand in June 2013, the role played by indiscriminate construction of hydropower projects and other infrastructure needed to be investigated since prime facie they had played significant role in increasing the proportions of disaster. The UPA government did nothing, and it was left to the Supreme Court to ask MoEF to set up an Expert Body for this. In the meantime, SC ordered stay on any more projects. The MoEF along with Central Water Commission and Central Electricity Authority and the Congress’s Uttarakhand state government, have been trying to push more projects in stead of honoring the Apex Court orders. In April 2014, the report of Expert Body lead by Dr Ravi Chopra has been submitted. The new Union government, it is hoped, will take credible steps to implement the recommendations of the Expert Body at the earliest date.

Independent National Environment Monitor It is well known that MoEF as an independent environmental regulator is seriously compromised with shoddy EIAs, flawed appraisal and non existent compliance. This situation has remained unchanged for the last decade and more. The Supreme Court of India, seeing this, had in 2011 ordered that an Independent Environment Regulator needs to be set up at National and state level. The outgoing central government had shown reluctance to do anything in this regard, in spite of repeated Supreme Court orders. The new government has a historical opportunity to indeed set up a truly independent & accountable environment regulator, at the same time increasing the transparency and participation of people in the environmental governance through fresh round of democratic reforms.

Cabinet Committee on Investment One of the flawed legacy of the previous UPA government is the Cabinet Committee on Investment, which has been created to bypass the statutory work of the MoEF. The new Union government would do well to disband this extra legal committee.

Polavaram Project Authority Even as elections were underway, in a most inappropriate decision, the outgoing government set up a Polvaram Project Authority, without even consulting affected states of Orissa and Chhattisgarh. In both these states there is either BJP government or BJP led government. There are also cases going on against this project, including civil suits filed by the governments of Chhattisgarh and Orissa. In the interest of these states and affected tribals, the new Union Government should scrap the Polavaram Project Authority.

Tribals protesting against Polavaram Project Photo:
Tribals protesting against Polavaram Project Photo:

Mullaperiyar The 119 year old Mullaperiyar dam has already suffered damages in the past and there is no doubt that it has limited life. To overcome the inflexible attitude of Tamil Nadu and respecting the constitutional duty of Kerala government to protect the life and property of people of Kerala, it become the duty of the Union government to initiate process for new a arrangement (e.g. lower the intake level to 50 ft from current 106 ft, as seen promising both by the Empowered Body and Supreme Court in May 2014) and decommissioning of the dam in a time bound manner. The previous Union government completely failed in this and the new government has an opportunity to correct this.

Central Water Commission Central Water Commission is India’s premier technical body on water resources. Water resources development and management has always remained crucial to any country’s water, food, livelihood and environment security. However, for this we need a really independent and credible technical body at the top, on the lines of United States Geological Survey (USGS). USGS, is known to be source of very reliable water resources data world over. However, USGS’s main task is to gather data and put it in public domain. Use of that data for development tasks and such other functions are not the mandate of USGS, there are other bodies for that. Unfortunately in India, CWC tasked with data gathering, sanctioning projects, monitoring and so many other contradictory functions. Moreover, CWC is working more like a big dam lobby, and even the assessment of hydrological data, flood forecasting functioning, water use data and projections, climate change implications, dam safety issues, etc are all getting colored by the lobbying tendency of those who head CWC. This is having a very deleterious effect on the water resources development and management in India.

It is high time that there are reforms in CWC to separate its various contradictory functions and make its functioning transparent, accountable and participatory. The new Union government has a chance to initiate such reforms in CWC and Ministry of Water Resources.

Technical Advisory Committee of CWC The TAC of CWC is a very little known, but powerful body. It sanctions projects worth thousands of crores every year, but its functioning is completely non transparent, unaccountable and it has no independent members. Since the new government has been raising the issue of corruption by UPA during the election campaign, it is hoped that the new government will work to fight corruption and one of the key steps it can do is to make the functioning of TAC transparent, accountable and ensure that at least 50% members of the TAC are non governmental, independent people with track record of having shown independent mind.

Urban Water Sector The social, environmental, economic and carbon footprint of this sector increasing at huge pace, without any success story in sight. The big cities are find it easy to promote construction of big dams rather than go for rain water harvesting, sewage water treatment & recycle, demand side measurement, groundwater recharge, reduction in losses and such other measures. SANDRP report on unjustified dams being pushed in Mumbai highlights this issue. The 12th Plan Working Group report on Urban water issues have several useful recommendations that has remained unimplemented. These need to be urgently implemented.

Climate Change Climate change in the biggest threat that vulnerable sections of Indian people face, as do the vulnerable sections of the rest of the world. This is not only relevant for water and environment sectors that we are discussing here, but for all sectors. As Environmental Groups in Gujarat have noted[17], people of Gujarat do not have good experience of the Modi regime in the state. The record of the 10 year long UPA government is very poor on this issue. We hope the new Union government will do better and begin with identification of the sections of the people who are vulnerable and start working on action plan to address the concerns of such sections, while also reducing the carbon footprint of India through reduction in consumption patterns of richer sections.

Suggestions for positive actions As analysed by Dr. Ashok Gulati (former chairman of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices) and Dr. Tushar Shah (International Water Management Institute) separately, the relatively high agricultural growth in Gujarat in first decade of  current millennium was largely due to local water harvesting work that happened in Gujarat through check dams, groundwater recharge etc, largely in non governmental sector. The new government at centre can bring about changes in policies and programs to learn lessons from such success stories to achieve such results all over India.

  • Similarly on the issue or river rejuvenation, management and conservation front as also environmental management front, a decentralized bottom up community driven approach can be taken up.
  • It can encourage people led, scientific and ecological river restoration work.
  • Promote System of Rice Intensification in a major way, it can not only reduce water use, fertiliser use, use of other chemicals, reduce seed requirement, increase farmers’ income, reduce agriculture sector’s carbon footprint and thus help mitigate and also adaptation to changing climate. This is possible in other crops too, as has been demonstrated at farmer level.
  • Encourage measures that can help increase carbon content of the soil, this will also have multiple benefits to farmers, economy and environment.
  • It can strengthen implementation of Forest Rights Act which UPA, despite introducing it, failed to do.
  • It can protect free flowing rivers for their social, ecological, cultural values.
  • It can also engage more effectively with civil society and community groups in a credible manner.
  • A recent SANDRP study “Shrinking and Sinking Deltas: Role of Large Dams” has shown that large dams are playing big  role in sinking of deltas in India. This is not even properly studied. The new government can initiate a scientific study in this regard and ensure that before taking up any new project, this aspect is studied.

Conclusion I started writing this brief note following questions from several media friends, but it has become much longer! So let us come to the conclusion. I am not even sure if the new government is in any mood to listen to such unsolicited suggestions, but let us put it out and hope for the best! I decided to put this out, even as Mr Modi prepares to take office on May 26.

This article tries to show the risks, challenges and some immediate tasks of the new government at the centre. In sum, the new NDA government would do well not to forget the reasons for rejection of NDA in 2004 and UPA now in 2014. Both were guilty of bull dozing ahead with their agendas without listening to the people.  Avoiding that may be the biggest challenge this government faces, besides the specific ones mentioned above.

Himanshu Thakkar[18] (












[11] and


[13] For example, Dakshin Kannada and Mangalore saw a huge socio-political movement against Moily and Congress due to his politically motivated support to Yettinahole Diversion Project.

[14] and




[18] The numerous suggestions given by Ms Parineeta Dandekar of SANDRP are gratefully acknowledged.




Gujarat is taking up massive project in ecosensitive zone in the middle of the river without impact assessments or legally mandatory clearances

Letters have been sent by some eminent citizens and activists of Gujarat to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Gujarat Environment Impact Assessment Authority that the massive Gujarat Project of setting up world’s tallest statue is being taken up by the Gujarat government without social or environmental impact assessment, without necessary public consultation process and without clearance under the Environment Protection Act 1986, Environment Impact Assessment of 2006 and also wildlife protection Act of 1972. The necessary permission from the Environment and Rehabilitation Subgroups of the Narmada Control Authority has also not been taken, nor have the party states been taken into account. The Tourism project involves massive constructions in the middle of the eco-sensitive river, just 3.2 km downstream from the Sardar Sarovar Dam and Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary. Given below is the letter to sent to the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Mrs Jayanti Natarajan and secretary, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. Similar letter has gone to Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources since he is the ex-officio chairman of the Narmada Control Authority. Another letter has gone to the Gujarat state EIA authority and concerned state government agencies.

Considering the importance of this issue, SANDRP is happy to share it on our blog, SANDRP Coordinator is also a signatory to the letter.

7 November 2013


Dr V. Rajagopalan

The Secretary

Ministry of Environment & Forests

Government of India

Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road,

New Delhi – 110 003.

Sub:  To seek detailed environmental scrutiny of project called ‘Statue of Unity’ planned inside Narmada River, 3.2 Kms. downstream of Sardar Sarovar Dam and Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary by a joint venture of Government of Gujarat and a trust – ‘Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust’ (SVPRET) and to immediately stop all construction activity in the region.

Dear Sir,

We would like to bring to your attention that work on a project that proposes to build the world’s largest statue in the form of ‘Statue of Unity’ near Sardar Sarovar Dam in the river downstream from the dam, just 3.2 km from the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary, in eco-sensitive zone and involving massive infrastructure (see annexure) has started work without legally mandatory environment clearance, environment and social impact assessment or any public consultation process.

This is clearly illegal, in violation of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and EIA notification of September 2006 and a number of NGT and Court orders about such massive kind of construction on the riverbed. On 31 October 2013, the foundation stone was laid for the project amidst huge fanfare and media attention. Tenders have also been floated. Even the work for the Garudeshwar weir, proposed about 12 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, began without any social or environmental impact assessment, public consultation and environmental clearance from the Environmental Sub Group (ESG) of Narmada Control Authority’s (NCA).

The website clearly state the purpose of tourism and involvement of the ‘Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust’ (SVPRET) to build ‘Statue of Unity’,  3.2 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam  inside the Narmada River on an islet called Sadhu bet.

The website ( says:

“A 13km. long water body (pond) will create an excellent tourist spot with available infrastructure on both the banks.

The Statue of Unity is planned to be erected in the river bed on downstream of the main dam in the Garudeshwar Weir pond. A permanent standing water pool in and around the Statue of Unity will be created by Garudeshwar Weir, which will enable boating activity around the statue.” (Emphasis added.)

The estimated cost of the project is more than Rs. 2,500/- corers (Rs 2063 crores is the cost of “DESIGN, ENGINEERING, PROCUREMENT CONSTRUCTION, OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE OF THE STATUE OF UNITY D/S of Sardar Sarovar Dam, Village Kevadia Ta. Nandod, District of Narmada Gujarat State, India” as per tender notice, see: The Government of Gujarat website ( clearly state that “A monument, that will not just be a mute memorial like the rest, but a fully functional, purpose-serving tribute that will boost tourism and facilitate development in the surrounding tribal areas” and will involve huge infrastructure as described in the Annexure downloaded from the official website.

The key issues that beg immediate scrutiny is as follows:

(1)   The project clearly needs environment clearance under the EIA notification of September 2006, but has not applied for or obtained the clearance at any stage.

(2)   The Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary boundary is touching the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir (as a part of the Environmental Protection measures of the Sardar Sarovar Project, the earlier Dhumkal Sloth Bear Sanctuary was extended to meet the reservoir boundaries and is called Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary.) Since the statute is only 3.2 kms from the Sardar Sarovar Dam, it is certainly near by Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary.

(3)   The Project involves construction in the river bed and proposed reservoir, close to sanctuary in eco-sensitive zone, and hence will have serious impacts on the ecology and environment. Hence, and EIA and EC is crucial.

(4)   The project will affect the downstream river, its biodiversity, people and livelihoods and other related aspects.

(5)   A comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the ‘Statue of Unity’ and its contribution to the cumulative impact of all the projects and activities in the area has not been done.

(6)   The project also needs public consultation, but none has happened so far.

(7)   During the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam due to hard rock digging, the seismic area already carries the burden of artificial activity in the bed rock and added load in what is deemed geologically fault line area. Public reports on geotechnical and geological studies on the proposed site have raised issues of structural stability as well as safety. This cannot be taken casually by authorities. The seismic hazard analysis claimed to have been done by the Gujarat Government’s in-house “Institute of Seismological Research” ( or the Geological and Geotechnical investigation commissioned to another government institute WAPCOS cannot be considered credible unless peer reviewed and put in public domain.

In view of the above facts on record, we demand that:

  1. Direct the Government of Gujarat to submit application for environment clearance and till that is obtained, not to do any work related to the project.
  2. Direct the Government of Gujarat to immediately stop planned project called ‘Statue of Unity’ and direct them to stop all other activities related to the ‘Statue of Unity’.
  3. Declare the action – of the foundation stone installation on 31 October 2013 for the project called ‘Statue of Unity’ – of the Chief Minister of Gujarat State as illegal, in violation of the EIA notification of September 2006 and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

We will look forward to your urgent action and also point wise response.

Yours Sincerely,

Rohit Prajapati

[Rohit Prajapati] (

Girish Patel

[Girish Patel] (

Himanshu Thakkar

[Himanshu Thakkar] (

Nandini Oza

[Nandini Oza] (

Trupti Shah

[Trupti Shah] (

Shripad Dharmadhikary

[Shripad Dharmadhikary] (

Lakhan Musafir

[Lakhan Musafir]

Chinu Srinivasan

[S. Srinivasan] (

Persis Ginwalla

[Persis Ginwalla] (

Prasad Chacko

[Prasad Chacko] (

Rajni Dave

[Rajni Dave] (

Anand Mazgaonkar

[Anand Mazgaonkar] (

Swati Desai

[Swati Desai] (


[Krishnakant] (

Xavier Manjooran

[Xavier Manjooran] (

Ghanshyam Shah

[Ghanshyam Shah] (

Mahesh Pandya

[Mahesh Pandya] (

Saroop Dhruv

[Saroop Dhruv] (

Hiren Gandhi

[Hiren Gandhi] (

Ishwarbhai Prajapati

[Ishwarbhai Prajapati] (

Raju Deepti

[Raju Deepti] (

Deepti Raju

[Deepti Raju] (

Amrish Brahmbhatt

[Amrish Brahmbhatt] (

Copy to:

The Chief Minister of Gujarat

Government of Gujarat

3rd Floor, Swarnim Sankul-1, New Sachivalaya, Gandhinagar-382 010.

The Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat

1st Block, 3rd Floor, Sachivalaya, Gandhinagar.

The Principal Secretary, Forest & Environment Department

Government of Gujarat

14th Block, 8th Floor, Sachivalaya, Gandhinagar.

The Member Secretary

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust

1st Floor, Block No 12, New Sachivalaya Complex, Gandhinagar – 382 010


Features of the project as per the following links:

Stepping UP TO BUILD HIGH. Stepping ahead to THE FUTURE.

The Statue of Unity will be a naturalistic and historically accurate representation of Sardar wearing characteristic garments in a walking pose.

  • The rich bronze cladding on the Statue gives it a marvelous look
  • World’s fastest elevators to keep the visitor’s tour engaging
  • The public three-level base of the Statue – exhibit floor, mezzanine and roof – contains the Memorial Garden and a large continuous exhibit hall that will be developed as a visitor attraction focusing on the contributions of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
  • The observation deck at 500ft can accommodate 200 people at a time. The panoramic view from this level will enable visitors to see the beautiful Satpuda & Vindhyachal mountain ranges, the 256kms long Sardar Sarovar Reservoir and the 12kms long Garudeshwar Reservoir
  • Access to the statue is via boat ride (3.5kms)
  • An elaborate Gallery for a massive panoramic view of the World’s largest irrigation dam, the river and the hilly terrain, and an illustrious sight of Arabian Sea
  • A state-of-the-art Underwater Aquarium
  • A large modern canopied public plaza, overlooking the river and the Statue, will have scrumptious food stalls, ornate gift shops, retail kiosks and other visitor amenities

The project would include:

Museum & Audio Visual Gallery:

The Statue of Unity Project will also include a unique museum and audio-visual department depicting the life and times of Sardar Vallabhbai Patel.


A Laser, Light and Sound show:

A Laser, Light and Sound show on the efforts of Unification of India.


Research Centre:

A research centre dedicated to the research and development of subjects close to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s heart like Good Governance and Agriculture Development. Here, subjects like Water Management and Tribal Development will also be studied and researched.

A Monumental Lift:

A heavy-load open lift with a panoramic view will be built alongside the Statue of Unity. Visitors will be able to rise up to the height of the structure’s head, walk into a viewing gallery and enjoy a panoramic view of the Sardar Sarovar Nigam project and the surrounding region from an astounding height of close to 400ft.

Hospitality & Entertainment:

Refreshment areas like restaurants and recreational spots to make the project area an attractive tourist spot, thus facilitating tourism and employment for the surrounding tribal region.


Ferry Services :

The statue and surrounding area will be accessed by special boats to avoid vehicular traffic and pollution

Sardar Patel brought the nation together and this tribute, the Statue of Unity, will bring the country national pride. Plans will be laid for convention and training centres, development and formulation of tourism plan and provision of technical and managerial assistance for bids to invite EPC contract.


  • The project site will be connected with modern connectivity infrastructure such as expressways, improved rail system and helipads
  • Through scientific area planning, clean industries will be located around the project site
  • Research facilities in the area of biotechnology, clean energy and ethnic crafts will generate white collar jobs in this area
  • Location and development of educational institutions in the areas of agriculture, animal husbandry, pisciculture will generate an educational and skill development complex to support economic activity in the region
  • Development of tourism infrastructure to support MICE – Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions; which will generate huge livelihood opportunities for the local tribal population

For Further Details:

For Project Organisation:










Small Hydro, MNRE and environmental impacts: Nero’s fiddle playing

Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India recently published a report on ‘Developmental Impacts and Sustainable Governance Aspects of Renewable Energy Projects’. Around the same time, Karnataka High Court upheld Elephant Task Force’s recommendation about impacts of Small Hydro Projects (SHPs) on Elephant habitats and directed Karnataka Government to review clearances of all such projects affecting elephant habitats[i]. SHPs are hydel projects between 2 MW-25 MW installed capacity. Looking at the unaddressed impacts of SHPs, such a report by MNRE was sorely needed and was looked at as a welcome initiative.

Unfortunately, the MNRE Report has entirely excluded the small hydel sector from its assessment.

Agitation against 4.5 MW Hul HEP in Himachal Pradesh as it is affecting forests, irrigation channels, mills and drinking water sources of villagers. Source: Sal Ghati Bachao Andolan
Agitation against 4.5 MW Hul HEP in Himachal Pradesh as it is affecting forests, irrigation channels, mills and drinking water sources of villagers. Source: Sal Ghati Bachao Andolan

SHPs can have and are having severe impacts on communities and ecosystems. They fall under the MNRE and are exempt from environmental impact assessment, public hearing, and environmental management plan as EIA Notification 2006 restricts itself to projects above 25 MW. They get subsidies, tax rebates, tax holidays from the MNRE, apart from other benefits and preferential tariffs from states. Most of the SHP sector is crowded with private investors, wanting to make a quick buck from rivers, without any regulations. The rush is most prominent in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and now Kerala, where cascades of such dams are coming across pristine rivers.

Despite MNRE’s supposed intention, most SHPs are not supplying electricity to any “remote and inaccessible areas”.[ii] Most projects are grid connected, so the local communities do not get electricity from the projects in their backyards, across their rivers which have significant impacts on local water availability, habitat loss, submergence and fraudulent practices.

Following a petition from Western Ghats Forum, Karnataka High Court has ordered a ban on SHPs in Western Ghats, Uttarakhand High Court had cancelled as many as 56 SHPs. In Himachal, communities fought a long and lonely struggle against the 4.5 MW Hul project affecting drinking water security and irrigation of 6 villages, as well as ancient oak forests. [iii]Projects like 24.75 Kukke I in Dakshin Kannada can submerge a massive 388 hectares, including extremely biodiverse forests, plantations and houses.[iv] Greenko’s Perla and Shemburi Projects[v], Basavanna and Mauneshwara SHPs in Karnataka are examples where two 24.75 MW SHPs are fraudulently shown as separate projects, but are single projects on the same river with a common dam. Maruthi Gen projects, also in Karnataka were not only clubbed together, but also hid their significant impact on forest land[vi] . Submergence data of SHPs is routinely hidden & affected communities are kept in dark till water actually floods their lands.

The issues are serious and have been raised by many. As the projects are outside the purview of EIA Notification, none of their impacts are studied; neither do the communities get a platform to record their protests. Hence, a study on the environmental impacts of renewable energy projects was needed to address these issues.

Considering these serious aspects, it is very surprising that MNRE Report on impacts of Renewable Energy projects has chosen not to look at this sector at all.  The report does not assess impacts of any such projects, neither does it offer any recommendations for this sector under MNRE. It only makes a sketchy study of wind and solar energy projects. The report makes incorrect statements like: “All hydroelectric power projects have to get environmental clearances which under two categories: category B if capacity of projects is between 50 to 25 MW”, effectively refusing to acknowledge hundreds of SHPs, under the purview of MNRE not requiring any environmental regulation.It states incorrect facts like “There are institutions and processes governing every operational aspect of RE project development and local institutions, in the form of democratic bodies, to safeguard micro level ecological and social concerns.” This is patently untrue for SHPs, which are highly unregulated and non-participatory.

The TORs of the study stress assessment of impacts of solar and wind projects, but do not exclude hydel projects. While TORs should have stressed on impacts of SHPs, looking at the number of protests and inherent problems, that does not warrant report writers’ complete neglect of this sector. Executive Summary states that this study has been done in response to WGEEP and HLWG report recommendations. Despite the fact that WGEEP specifically banned SHPs in Ecologically Sensitive Zone I, this report has chosen to turn a Nelson’s eye to the sector.

Even with regards to solar and wind projects, the report seems inadequate. For primary data, the authors visited 6 wind energy farms and 1 solar energy site. At the solar energy site, interaction was exclusively with project management and engineers. Social and environmental impacts cannot be understood through interviews with project management alone. While the report documents the devastation around wind energy farms in Maharashtra, it is not reflected in conclusions and recommendations.

The report is entirely silent on Clean Development Mechanism applications of SHPs, which are routinely full of lies and incorrect information. CDM credits give project additional pocketable profits, while the affected communities get only unaddressed impacts. Considering the forest land submerged by Small hydel Projects, and their impacts on adaptation and mitigation potential of local communities, they are also problematic from perspective of climate change.

The report ends with unacceptable conclusions and recommendations, most surprising being: “The RE project development is regulated by environmental and social governance system. The current regulatory mechanism is strong… No new changes are required in the legal framework or the governance structure to mitigate environmental and social impacts.” It even pushes for a “fast channel for quick clearances”.

The report says that environmental impacts of RE projects “are not significant” and social impacts of are “not negative”. Report writers need to visit SHPs in Himachal, Uttarakhand and Karnataka where people have lost irrigation channels, water mills, plantations and even lives, when sudden water was released from projects like Perla-Shemburi in Bantwal[vii], Karnataka.

Sweeping conclusions and recommendations for the entire RE sector is highly problematic, especially when there are several examples of unaddressed impacts, which depend on specific site and project.

The report does include some welcome recommendations. These include: siting policy for projects including zonation and increased participation of local communities in planning and decision making about natural resources, affected by the projects. It recommends issuing clear guidelines such that community welfare is not compromised due to RE projects and about proponent’s responsibilities in the zone of influence of the RE project. The report recommends zonation of projects in go-green (no objection), go slow and no go areas for RE project development. These need to be implemented by the MNRE. If the report would have looked at the entire RE sector, it could have made some valuable observations and recommendations.

There is a very urgent need to bring projects between 1 – 25 MW under the purview of EIA Notification 2006. Several representations and evidences later, it is clear that MoEF does not have the will to do so. It was expected that MNRE will raise these issues, but if this report is an indication, MNRE too is not willing to accept the challenges of SHP development, or regulating the impacts.

Lower installed capacity does not always mean lower social or environmental impacts. Targeted efforts are needed to assess, address and mitigate impacts. For this, the first step will be to acknowledge impacts, not brush them under the carpet. World over, impacts of small hydro projects are being highlighted.

As India is looking at expanding its renewable energy sector, it needs to be truly sustainable and clean, not just an assumption. Hence, MNRE’s effort at addressing environmental and social impacts of renewable energy projects is a welcome move. But by refusing to acknowledge the impacts of Small Hydel Projects in its report, MNRE reminds one of Nero, playing his fiddle, when the forests around are being submerged or destroyed in the name of clean energy.

Parineeta Dandekar

Expert Appraisal Committee · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Reconstituted Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects: MoEF has neither environment sense, nor guts: Unacceptable Committee

Press Statement                                                                                             September 7, 2013

Reconstituted Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects:

MoEF has neither environment sense, nor guts: Unacceptable Committee

On Sept 5, 2013, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests came out with “Re-constitution of Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley & Hydro Electric Project” (see: Mr Alok Perti, former Coal Secretary, has been made chairperson of the committee that appraises all major irrigation projects, dams, hydropower projects and river valley projects for Environment clearances at two stages (TOR and final). It is shocking to see that Mr Perti who has absolutely no environment credentials, who has been known to be anti environment, who has been accusing the environment ministry to be in road block of coal mining and who has shown his ignorance of environment issues on several occasions has been selected as chair person, putting aside basic environmental sense. This reconstituted EAC on RiverValley and Hydropower projects is completely unacceptable.

It is equally disturbing to see that the committee has no woman representation, no sociologist, no one from non-government organisations. All ten members are either from government, government organisations or government funded academic organisations. This means that none of them would be in a position to take a stand independent of the government stand. The committee also has no river expert, climate change-water expert or disaster management expert, all of which are crucially important issues for a committee like this that decides the fate of India’s rivers, even more so after the Uttarakhand disaster. P K Chaudhuri, one of the members of the new committee also has had nothing to do with rivers, water or environment. Hardip S Kingra, who was involved in Commonwealth games organisation and also chairman of National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation has had no work related to rivers or environment.

Specifically, Mr Alok Perti, who has been senior functionary, including secretary of currently controversial Coal Ministry from Oct 2009 to earlier this year and before Oct 2009 in ministries like defense and family welfare, clearly has had no background on environment or rivers. As coal secretary, he had accused MoEF for stalling the growth by not giving clearances to coal mining projects automatically. The Economic Times quoted Perti as saying in a report[1]: “India has to decide whether she wants electricity or tigers.” Such simplistic statements reflect he has absolutely no understanding of environment, biodiversity, leave aside rivers. Perti’s anti civil society stance was also exposed when he refused to discuss issues with activists and asked them to go and file RTIs[2]. These are only a couple of examples we are giving here, there are many others. By appointing such a person as chairman of the EAC on RVP, the MoEF has shown it has no guts or interest in protecting the environment or forests which is supposed to be its mandate. This committee is clearly unacceptable and will also not stand legal scrutiny.

Ritwick Dutta (, 09810044660, ERC and LIEF, Delhi)

Parineeta Dandekar (, 09860030742, SANDRP, Pune)

Himanshu Thakkar (, 09968242798, SANDRP, Delhi)

Manoj Mishra (, 09910153601, YJA, Delhi)



9 Sept 2013


Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan,

Union Minister of State (IC) of Environment and Forests,

Paryavaran Bhawan, Lodhi Road, New Delhi,


Dr V Rajagopalan,


Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi,


Maninder Singh

Joint Secretary,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi,


Mr. B. B. Barman

Director (IA) River Valley Projects,

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi,


Subject: Urgent concerns about reconstituted Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Proejcts


Respected madam and sirs,


On Sept 5, 2013, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests came out with “Re-constitution of Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley & Hydro Electric Project” (see: Mr Alok Perti, former Coal Secretary, has been made chairperson of the committee that appraises all major irrigation projects, dams, hydropower projects and river valley projects for Environment clearances at two stages (TOR and final). It is shocking to see that Mr Perti who has absolutely no environment credentials, who has been known to be anti environment, who has been accusing the environment ministry to be in road block of coal mining and who has shown his ignorance of environment issues on several occasions has been selected as chair person, putting aside basic environmental sense. This reconstituted EAC on River Valley and Hydropower projects is completely unacceptable.


It is equally disturbing to see that the committee has no woman representation, no sociologist, no one from non-government organisations. All ten members are either from government, or from government organisations or government funded academic organisations. This means that none of them would be in a position to take a stand independent of the government stand. The committee also has no river expert, climate change-water expert or disaster management expert, all of which are crucially important issues for a committee like this that decides the fate of India’s rivers, even more so after the Uttarakhand disaster. P K Chaudhuri, one of the members of the new committee also has done no work with rivers, water or environment, going by his CV. Hardip S Kingra, who was involved in Commonwealth games organisation and also chairman of National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation has had no work related to rivers or environment.


Specifically, Mr Alok Perti, who has been senior functionary, including secretary of currently controversial Coal Ministry from Oct 2009 to early 2013 and before Oct 2009 he has been in ministries like defense and family welfare, clearly has had no background on environment or rivers. As coal secretary, he had accused MoEF for stalling the growth by not giving clearances to coal mining projects automatically. The Economic Times quoted Perti as saying in a report[1]: “India has to decide whether she wants electricity or tigers.” Such simplistic statements reflect he has absolutely no understanding of environment, biodiversity, leave aside rivers. Perti’s anti civil society stance was also exposed when he refused to discuss issues with activists and asked them to go and file RTIs[2]. By appointing such a person as chairman of the EAC on RVP, the MoEF has shown it has no interest in protecting the environment or forests which is supposed to be its mandate. This committee is clearly unacceptable and will also not stand legal scrutiny.


Under the circumstances, we demand that:

1. The notification (No. J-12011/EAC /2010-IA-I dated Sept 5, 2013) of reconstitution of the EAC be cancelled;

2. A participatory process be initiated for reconstitution of the EAC with the norms some of suggested in our letter to you dated June 29, 2013, see:;

3. The EAC meeting slated for Sept 23-24, 2013 should be cancelled.


We will look forward to early reply from you.


Thanking you,


Prof. M. K. Prasad, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, Cochin

Ramaswamy R. Iyer, former secretary, Government of India, Delhi.

Madhu Bhaduri, former ambassador, Delhi.

Ravi Chopra, People’s Science Institute and member NGBRA, Dehra Doon

Ritwick Dutta, ERC and LIEF, Delhi.

Manoj Mishra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi

Prof. S. Janakarajan, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai,

Vimal Bhai, MATU jansangathan, Uttarakhand

Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune,

10. Latha Anantha, River Research Centre, Kerala

Sujit Patwardhan, Parisar, Pune

Debi Goenka, Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai

Souparna Lahiri, All India Forum of Forest Movements, Delhi.

Rohit Prajapati, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat   –

Soumya Dutta, Climate & Energy Group, Beyond Copenhagen collective, Delhi

Joy KJ, Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management, Pune

Anurag Modi, Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, Betul, Madhya Pradesh

Dr Brij Gopal, Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia, Jaipur,  

Rahul Banerjee, Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, Indore

20. Subhadra Khaperde, Kansari Nu Vadavno, Indore

Shankar Tadwal, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, Alirajpur

Samantha Agarwal, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, Raipur, Chhattisgarh.

Dr V Rukmini Rao, Gramya Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad.

Tarun Nair, Researchers for Wildlife Conservation, Bangalore.

Shankar Sharma, Mysore

C.G. Madhusoodhanan, Research Scholar,Indian Institute of Technology Bombay

Pushp Jain, EIA Resource and Response Centre, New Delhi

Gopakumar Menon, Wildlifer, Bangalore.

Gopal Krishna, Toxics Watch Alliance, Delhi.

30. Jai Sen, CACIM, New Delhi,

Samir Mehta, International Rivers, Mumbai

E Theophilus, Malika Virdi, K Ramnarayan, Himal Prakriti, Munsiari, Uttarakhand,

Neeraj Vagholikar, Kalpavriksh, Pune,

PT George, Intercultural Resources, Delhi,

Akhil Gogoi, President, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, Assam,

Subir Bhaumik, Veteran Journalist and author of “Troubled Periphery: Crisis of India’s Northeast” (Sage, 2009),

Ravindra Nath, Rural Volunteers Centre (RVC), Akajan, Dhemaji, Assam,

Sanjib Baruah, Professor, Bard College, New York,

Shashwati Goswami, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Mass Communication,

40. Mrinal Gohain, ActionAid, Guwahati,

Keshav Krishna Chatradhara, Peoples Movement for Subansiri & Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV), Assam,

Girin Chetia, North East Affected Area Development Society, Jorhat, Assam,

Azing Pertin, Echo of Arunachal, Arunachal Pradesh,

Parag Jyoti Saikia, SANDRP, Delhi.

Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, Pune.

Additional names in letter sent independently by CORE ( on 190913) :

46. Centre for Organisation Research and Education (CORE)

Reformed Education and Development Society (READS) Manipur

Forum for Indigenous Perspective and Action (FIPA)

Action Committee  Against Tipaimukh Project (ACTIP)

50. All Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union Manipur (ALLAFUM)

All Manipur Thanga People’s Welfare Association (AMTPWA)

Rural Education and Action for Change Manipur (REACH-M)

All Tribal Women Organisation(ATWO)

Weaker Section Development Council(WSDC)

Rongmei Luh Phuam (Assam, Manipur and Nagaland)


River Basin Friends North East

58. Anthony Deb Barma of Borok Peoples’ Human Rights Organisation (BPHRO), Tripura

Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, c/o 86-D, AD block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi)


Uttarakhand Flood disaster: Supreme Court’s directions on Uttarakhand Hydropower Projects

On August 13, 2013, while disposing off a bunch of petitions[i] regarding the controversial 330 MW Srinagar Hydropower Project on AlaknandaRiver in Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court bench of Justice K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra have given some welcome directions on the Uttarakhand hydropower projects.

Perusal of the full judgment[ii] shows that the decision is disappointing on the Srinagar project issue, since the court has directed that the project be completed and disposed off all objections to that, while asking for implementation of the Environment Managemnet Plan and conditions etc. However, there are several contradictions in this regard that seems to have escaped the attention of the court, and a review petition on that part could be field by the petitioners. Importantly, Prof Bharat Jhunjhunwala, who argued the case in person, should be thanked for the role he played in this case.

Courts’s concerns on Uttarakhand Hydro Projects However, the most pertinent and interesting part of the order starts at the bottom on p 62 with the title “Court’s concerns” and goes on till the end of the order on p 72.

In these pages, the order notes that AHEC (Alernate Hydro Energy Centre at IIT Rurkee) has not done the cumulative impact assessment it was asked to do. This is very important to note. The order says, (para 46), “We have gone through the Reports and, prima facie, we are of the view that the AHEC Report has not made any in-depth study on the cumulative impact of all project components like construction of dam, tunnels, blasting, power-house, Muck disposal, mining, deforestation etc. by the various projects in question and its consequences on Alaknanda as well as Bhagirathi river basins so also on Ganga which is a pristine river.” After this clear statement from the Highest Court, no one should rely on this report now on.

We are glad that this statement of Supreme Court supports what SANDRP has been saying for years[iii].

This part the order also refers to the BK Chaturvedi Committee (appointed by the National Ganga River Basin Authority in June 2012) report submitted in April 2013 to emphasise that, “The River Ganga has over a period of years suffered environmental degradation due to various factors.” The court should have directed that the MoEF should make the report of the BK Chaturvedi committee report public since the MoEF has not yet done that. The committee itself stands discredited[iv] since none of the independent members of the committee accepted the report.

The operative part of the order says:

“(1) We direct the MoEF as well as State of Uttarakhand not to grant any further environmental clearance or forest clearance for any hydroelectric power project in the State of Uttarakhand, until further orders.”

This means that environment or forest clearance to any hydropower projects of any size in Uttarakhand cannot be given either by MoEF or by the Government of Uttarakhand till further orders.

“(2) MoEF is directed to constitute an Expert Body consisting of representatives of the State Government, WII, Central Electricity Authority, Central Water Commission and other expert bodies to make a detailed study as to whether Hydroelectric Power Projects existing and under construction have contributed to the environmental degradation, if so, to what extent and also whether it has contributed to the present tragedy occurred at Uttarakhand in the month of June 2013.”

This direction has two parts: A. assessment of cumulative impacts of existing and under construction hydropower projects[v] to the environment degradation in Uttarakhand and B. Whether the projects have contributed to the Uttarakhand flood disaster, if so to what extent.

Only a credible independent panel with sufficient number of independent members can provide a credible report in this regard, the committee should be chaired by a non government person of the stature of Prof Madhav Gadgil. We hope the MoEF will soon constitute such an expert body and also ask the expert body to hold public hearings at various relevant places and seek wider public consultation. The mandate of the committee should be for the entire Uttarakhand and not just Bhagirathi and Alaknanda sub basins. The committee should have credible and independent geologist, sociologist, environmentalist, river expert and disaster management expert.

“(3) 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 BhagirathRiver basins.”

Here it may be remembered that it was MoEF that had asked Wildlife Institute of India to submit a report on the cumulative impact of the hydropower projects in Uttarakhand on aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. It should also be remembered that WII is one of the credible institutes and is also a centre of excellence of the MoEF. There is no reason for MoEF to reject the clear recommendation of the WII report that the 24 projects listed by it should be dropped. The clearances given to the projects like the 300 MW Alaknanda Badrinath HEP of GMR should be suspended immediately keeping this direction in mind.

“(4) The Disaster Management Authority, Uttarakhand would submit a Report to this Court as to whether they had any Disaster Management Plan is in place in the State of Uttarakhand and how effective that plan was for combating the present unprecedented tragedy at Uttarakhand.”

This direction should have also been for the National Disaster Management Authority since preparation of proper State Disaster Management Plan and ensuring setting up of required machinery for its implementation is also a mandate of the NDMA. This is particularly important in view of the failure also of NDMA as reported by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India report of March 2013. Since the court has asked in para 52 that, “Reports would be submitted within a period of three months. Communicate the order to the Central and State Disaster Management Authority, Uttarakhand.”, it is implied that NDMA is also to submit a report.

Since the original petitions and applications are disposed off, it is not clear if the original petition survives or a new case will be registered. It is also not clear if the original petitioners survive. In such cases it is the normal practice of the court to appoint and Amicus Curie and it would be interesting to see whom the court appoints for such a purpose.

These orders are indeed welcome in view of the fact that hydropower projects in Uttarakhand have certainly played big role in increasing the disaster potential and disaster proportions in Uttarakhand floods in June 2013. More than twenty groups and individuals of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and other states have already written to the MoEF in July 2013[vi], asking for suspension of such hydropower projects that have prime facie played such a role and set up an independent enquiry. The MoEF has not yet responded to this letter. We are glad now SC has asked for such an inquiry.

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (

August 14, 2013

[i] These includes Civil Appeal No 6736 of 2013, Special Leave Petition no 362 of 2012, Civil Appeal nos 6746-47 of 2013 (arising out of SLP (Civil) nos 5849-50 of 2012 and Transfer cases (C) (National Green Tribunal) numbers 55 to 57 of 2013.

[v] For basin wise and size wise details of existing, under construction and planned Hydropower projects in Uttarakhand see: