A number of welcome developments around dams appear in this week’s DRP News Bulletin from SANDRP. The prominent is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation declaring that it may not need Pinjal Dam, which SANDRP had said in its report way back in 2012-13 and the then BMC commissioner had agreed to in an interview to NDTV. This should also lead to cancellation of the Damanganga Pinjal River Link proposal. The Maharashtra govt decision to review the need for Human dam is also welcome. The Kerala State Information Commissioner’s decision to direct that the Dam Break Analysis should be in public domain is also a useful precedent that all states and CWC need to follow immediately and also amend the proposed Dam Safety Act to include a provision that all Dam Safety related information, including meeting minutes, agenda, decisions, status reports etc will be in public domain.
Guest blog by: Madhusoodhanan C.G. and Sreeja K.G
The state of Kerala experienced extreme precipitation events during the 2018 South West monsoon period with multiple episodes culminating in devastating floods across the state during 14th-18th August 2018. This year, with an early onset of monsoons that dovetailed with strong summer showers, the state received about 41% excess rainfall (2394 mm against the normal of 1700 mm) during the period June 1st to August 22nd . Almost all of its reservoirs were near full storage by mid-July.
The heavy downpour and the uncontrolled opening of the spillway gates of almost all reservoirs that inundated huge stretches of river banks and floodplains, along with massive landslides across the Western Ghats affected more than 1.5 million people, with close to 500 human casualties, immense losses to property, livelihoods and resource security apart from the extensive damage to forests, wildlife and biodiversity. Maximum destruction was observed along the rivers of Periyar, Chalakudy and Pamba, all having multiple dams on their tributaries. The debate is still on as to the various reasons, both manmade and natural, behind the floods and the resultant wide-ranging casualties [2,3,4,5,6]. Meanwhile things have taken a rather unexpected turn in the flood ravaged state.
The India Rivers Week 2018, in fifth year, will be held at WWF, Delhi during Nov 24-26, 2018. The focus of the IRW this time is: “Can India Rejuvenate Ganga?“. Shri Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General of the National Mission for Clean Ganga will address the inaugural session with Chief Guest Shri Jairam Ramesh, former Union Minister, in Chair. The meeting will see over 150 people from all over India participate to discuss state of India’s rivers at the only meeting in India focussing exclusively on rivers.
The Annual River Lecture will be given by Prof Rajiv Sinha of Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. The Bhagirath Prayas Samman award for the best work on River Conservation and the Anupam Mishra Medal for exemplary media work on River conservation will be given away by famous Chipco leader Shri Chandiprasad Bhatt.
Shri U P Singh, Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources has agreed to the chief guest at the concluding session on Nov 26, Monday. Started in 2014, the meeting is collectively organised by Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, WWF-India, INTACH, Toxics Link, People’s Science Institute (Dehradun), Peace Institute and SANDRP.
For more information, please see: https://indiariversforum.org/2018/11/19/india-rivers-week-2018/. Follow IRW at: https://www.facebook.com/IndiaRiversWeek/ and https://twitter.com/IndiaRiversWeek
In its latest report, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has questioned implementation of sixteen National Irrigation Projects. Before this, the CAG has held mismanagement in dams’ operation responsible for Chennai floods in 2015. Both these reports are available on its website now.
The CAG report on National Irrigation Projects, tabled in Parliament on July 20, has revealed that sixteen major multi-purpose water projects, taken up on an expeditious basis about a decade ago, are nowhere near completion, with no work being undertaken in as many as 11 projects despite the incumbent govt’s much-wanted focus on improving irrigation facilities in the country.
The report also mentioned that out of the 16 projects, undertaken under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP) in Feb 2008, only five projects with estimated irrigation potential of 25.10 lakh hectares were under implementation and even these projects suffer from 8 to 99 per cent shortfall in physical progress, the CAG said. The remaining 11 projects with estimated irrigation potential of 10.48 lakh hectares are yet to commence and are at different stages of approval.
In this comprehensive article Mumbai-based author Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar throws the light on the plight of Uraban Rivers. “Rivers and streams have borne the brunt of the recent urban explosion in India, a nation whose population has nearly doubled in the last 40 years to 1.35 billion. Unplanned growth has led to the use of water bodies as dumping grounds for sewage and industrial effluent. According to CPCB, 63 % of the urban sewage flowing into rivers (some 62 billion liters a day) is untreated.
In addition, riverbanks, wetlands, and floodplains have been claimed over time by infrastructure, slums, offices, and housing developments – all of which has narrowed natural river channels and distorted flow, greatly reducing the ability of India’s rivers to buffer flooding. It also has taken a toll on biodiversity. http://e360.yale.edu/features/dying-waters-india-struggles-to-clean-up-its-polluted-urban-rivers (Yale Environment 360, 15 Feb. 2018)
PRESS STATEMENT ON WORLD EARTH DAY: APRIL 22, 2013
We the signatories to this statement would like to bring some key issues to the attention of all concerned on the proposed Lakhwar Dam Project on the Yamuna River in Upper Yamuna River Basin in Dehradun district of Uttarakhand state.
The proposed dam involves a massive 204 m high dam with storage capacity of 580 Million Cubic meters, submergence area of 1385.2 ha, including 868.08 ha forest land, at least 50 villages to be affected by submergence of land in the upstream, many more in the downstream area. This site is just about 120 km downstream of the river’s origins from the holy shrine of Yamunotri. The composite project involves, in addition to the Lakhwar dam with 300 MW underground power house, another 86 m high Vyasi dam with 2.7 km long tunnel and 120 MW underground power house and a barrage at Katapathar.
As can be seen from the details below:
a) The project has not undergone basic, credible environment or social appraisal in any participatory manner.
b) It does not have legally valid environment or forest clearance.
c) There has not been any cumulative impact assessment of various existing, under construction and planned dams and hydro-projects in the Yamuna system.
d) There has not been any credible assessment about options for the project.
e) The project is to come up in an area that is seismically active, prone to flash floods and also prone to erosion and land slides.
f) The spillway capacity of the project has been awfully underestimated resulting in significant risks of dam damage / breakage with concomitant risks of unprecedented downstream flooding and destruction. It may be mentioned here that Delhi is a major city standing in the path of the river in the downstream area.
g) The religious and spiritual importance of the Yamuna River is at risk since whatever remains of the river will be completely destroyed both in the upstream and downstream of the project.
h) No agreement exists among the Upper Yamuna basin states about sharing of costs and benefits of the project, which should be a pre-condition for taking up any such project.
i) It is well known that Yamuna River is already one of the most threatened rivers in the country and the project shall further adversely affect the river system.
Recently as well as earlier last year thousands of people from Allahabad/ Vrindavan marched to Delhi, seeking a revival of their river Yamuna. The focus of the authorities should be on ways and means to restore the river Yamuna system rather than take such massive project without even basic appraisal.
We thus urge the official agencies at both the state and at the centre level to not go ahead with this project. We urge them to rather take steps to protect and preserve than destroy one of the biggest and culturally important river, without even basic appraisal at project or basin level or any options assessment carried out in a due participatory manner.
We hope that the government will not go ahead with this project until all the issues mentioned have been satisfactorily resolved.
Ramaswamy Iyer, Former Union Water Resources Secretary, Delhi, email@example.com
E.A.S. Sarma, Former Union Power Secretary, Vishakhapattanam, firstname.lastname@example.org
Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Badwani, email@example.com
Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh, Pune, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rajendra Singh, Tarun Bharat Sangh, Rajasthan, email@example.com
Prof. MK Prasad, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, Cochin, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Mumbai email@example.com
Prashant Bhushan, Senior Supreme Court Lawyer, Delhi, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vandana Shiva, Navdanya, Delhi, email@example.com
10. Amit Bhaduri, Prof. Emeritus, JNU, Delhi, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ravi Agarwal, Toxics Link, New Delhi, email@example.com
Madhu Bhaduri, Former Indian Ambassador & member Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi, firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof S. Janakarajan, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, email@example.com
Dr Dinesh Mishra, Barh Mukti Abhiyan, Bihar, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharad Lele, Centre for Environment and Development, Bangalore, email@example.com
S. Faizi CBD Alliance, Kerala, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rohit Prajapati, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat, email@example.com
Bharat Jhunjhunwala, Former Professor-IIM Bengaluru, Uttarakhand, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vimalbhai, Matu Jansangthan, Uttarakhand, email@example.com
20. E Theophilus, Malika Virdi, Himal Prakriti, Uttarakhand, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ramnarayan K, Save the Rivers Campaign Uttarakhand, email@example.com
Kalyani Menon-Sen, Feminist Learning Partnerships, Gurgaon, firstname.lastname@example.org
Renuka Huidrom, Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur, email@example.com
Shweta Narayan, The Other Media, Chennai, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wilfred Dcosta, Indian Social Action Forum – INSAF, New Delhi email@example.com
Nidhi Agarwal, Activist, Community rights on environment, Delhi, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rahul Banerjee, Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, Indore, email@example.com
30. Subhadra Khaperde, Kansari Nu Vadavno, Khargone, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shankar Tadwal, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, Alirajpur, email@example.com
Michael Mazgaonkar, Gujarat, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ranjan Panda, Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha, email@example.com
M Gopakumar, Bangalore, firstname.lastname@example.org
Janak Daftari, Jal Biradari, Mithi Nadi Sansad, Mumbai, email@example.com
Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Ahdyayan Kendra, Pune, firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof Rohan D’Souza, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, email@example.com
Dr Brij Gopal, Jaipur, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alok Agarwal, Narmada Bachao Andolan & Jan Sangharsh Morch, Madhya Pradesh, email@example.com
40. Debi Goenka, Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shardul Bajikar, Editor – Natural History, Saveus Wildlife India, Mumbai email@example.com
Sankar Ray, Kolkata, firstname.lastname@example.org
Samir Mehta, International Rivers, Mumbai, email@example.com
V Rukmini Rao, Gramya Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Latha Anantha, River Research Centre, Kerala, email@example.com
Mrs Anjali Damania, Aam Admi Party, Mumbai, firstname.lastname@example.org
Manshi Asher, Him Dhara, Himachal Pradesh, email@example.com
Commodore (rtd) Lokesh Batra, Social and RTI activist, NOIDA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Arun Tiwari, Water activist, Delhi, email@example.com
50. Ananda Banerjee, Writer and member, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi,
Sudha Mohan, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Sitaram Taigor, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Madhya Pradesh, email@example.com
Bhim S Rawat, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi, firstname.lastname@example.org
Prasad Chacko, Social activist, Ahmedabad, email@example.com
Swathi Seshadri, EQUATIONS, Bangalore, firstname.lastname@example.org
Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, Pune, email@example.com,
Manoj Mishra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi (09910153601, firstname.lastname@example.org)
58. Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, 86-D, AD block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi (09968242798, email@example.com)
1. No Options Assessment There has been no assessment to show that this project is the best option available for the services that it is supposed to provide, including water supply to Delhi, irrigation in Uttarakhand, hydropower generation and water storage. It was not done during the process preceding the now out-dated environmental clearance given in 1986, nor has it been done subsequently.
It is well known that Delhi has much cheaper, environment friendly and local options that has not been explored with any sense of seriousness. These include reduction in transmission & distribution losses (which stand at 35%), rainwater harvesting (as National Green Tribunal order in April 2013 exposed, even the Delhi Metro is not doing this) including groundwater recharge, demand side management, stopping non essential water use, protection of local water bodies, protection of flood plains, streams and the ridge, recycle and reuse of treated sewage, among others.
As far as irrigation in Uttarakhand is concerned, in this relatively high rainfall area, and considering the local agro-geo-climatic situation and suitable cropping patterns, better options exist. Similarly about other claimed services.
It may be added here that the EIA manual of Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, the National Water Policy and best practices around the world including the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams, require such an options assessment study, including no project scenario, before embarking on such costly and risky projects.
2. No Basin wide cumulative impact assessment or basin study: Yamuna River is already in very bad situation in many senses, including being very polluted for lack of surface water flow. The river basin also has large number of projects existing and under construction, See: http://www.sandrp.in/basin_maps/Major_Hydro_Projects_in_Yamuna_Basin.pdf, for details. Particularly, see the concentration of projects in narrow upper Yamuna Basin. However, there has been no basin wide cumulative impact assessment of projects and water use in the basin in the context of its carrying capacity on various aspects. Without such an assessment, adding more projects may not only be unsustainable, it may actually be worse than zero sum game, since the new projects will have large number of adverse impacts. That we may have already crossed the basin carrying capacity upstream of Delhi seems evident from the worsening state of Yamuna over the past decades in spite of investment of thousands of crores rupees. Adding this project with its massive impacts without such an assessment may actually be an invitation to disaster.
We learn that a Yamuna basin study has been assigned to the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education (Dehradun). However, it should be noted that in the first place, ICFRE has had poor track record. Its EIA study for the Renuka dam in the same Yamuna basin was so poor that it was based on the poor quality of the study that the National Green Tribunal stayed the work on the project for over a year now.
3. No valid environment clearance, no valid EIA-EMP or Public consultation process
The Composite Lakhwar Vyasi project got environment clearance 27 years back in 1986 without any comprehensive environment impact assessment (EIA) or preparation of environment management plan (EMP) or any participatory process. Some preliminary work started, continued only till 1992 and stopped thereafter for lack of funds.
a) In Sept 2007, the 120 MW Vyasi HEP, part of the original composite project, sought and got environment clearance although the minutes of the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF notes a number of unresolved issues. In Nov 2010 EAC meeting, the EAC considered the Lakhwar Dam for Env clearance, and raised a number of questions, none of them were ever resolved. The EAC did not consider the project in any meeting after Nov 2010.
This sequence of events makes it clear that Lakhwar Dam does not have valid environment clearance. The MoEF and project proponent assumption that the Environment Clearance (EC) of 1986 is valid is not correct, since if that EC was not valid for the Vyasi HEP which has sought and received fresh EC in Sept 2007, then how could Lakhwar HEP Dam of which Vyasi HEP is a part, continue to possess a valid EC.
Thus to give investment clearance to Lakhwar dam without valid EC will be imprudent, and might invite long drawn legal challenge to the project, resulting in more delays and in turn unnecessary cost escalations.
b) The project also does not have valid EIA-EMP. What ever assessments were done before the 1986 EC cannot be considered adequate or valid today. The environment standards and also environment situation has hugely changed in the intervening 27 years.
The project did not have any public consultation process in 1986 or anytime there after. Fresh EC will require that and the project must go through that process.
4. Issues raised by EAC remain unresolved: When the 43rd meeting of EAC considered the project for EC on Nov 12-13, 2010, the minutes of the meeting raised a large number of questions, all of them remain unresolved. These issues are fundamental in nature. Without resolving these issues, the project should not go ahead.
Just to illustrate, EAC raised questions about the need and usefulness of various project components. It is clear from the EAC minutes that the project also involves construction of Katapathar barrage downstream from Vyasi Power House at Hatiari. However, just about 10 km downstream from this barrage there is an existing barrage at Dak Pathar. It is not clear why this Katapathar barrage is required, the EAC asked. None of these issues have been resolved.
5. Project does not have valid forest clearance: The composite Lakhwar Vyasi project requires a very large area of forest land, at 868.08 ha, the diversion was originally permitted for the UP irrigation Dept, which was then transferred to Uttaranchal Irrigation Dept upon creation of the separate Uttaranchal State. However, the project has now been transferred to Uttaranchal Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited. The Vyasi Project was earlier transferred to NHPC and now stands transferred to UJVNL.
In Aug 2012 FAC (Forest Advisory Committee is a statutory body under the Forest Conservation Act 1980) meeting, there was a proposal put forward to transfer the clearance for 99.93 ha (out of total forest land of Rs 868.08 ha for composite project) forest land required only for the Vyasi Project to UJVNL from Uttaranchal Irrigation Dept. While discussing this proposal, FAC noted that the Vyasi project was earlier transferred NHPC, without getting the forest clearance transferred in favour of NHPC. In fact FAC has recommended, “State Govt shall examine the reasons for not obtaining prior approval of the Central Govt under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for change of user agency from irrigation dept to NHPC and fix responsibility”. Secondly what is apparent from the minutes of the Aug 2012 FAC meeting is that even the Catchment Area Treatment Plan for the Vyasi project has not yet been prepared. This shocking state of lack of preparation of basic management plan is the consequence of allowing the project based on outdated clearances. The FAC has now asked the user agency to fulfil all such requirements, before which the project will not be given stage II forest clearance. So the Vyasi Project also so far does not have stage II forest clearance.
Most importantly, the transfer of forest clearance for the remaining 768.15 ha of forest land required for the Lakhwar project from Uttarakhnd irrigation dept to the current project agency UJVNL has not been even sought. So the Lakhwar project does not have valid forest clearance even for first stage, and surely no stage II forest clearance. Under the circumstances, the project does not have legal sanction.
6. Inadeaquate spillway capacity The project spillway capacity is proposed to be of 8000 cumecs, as per official website, see: http://india-wris.nrsc.gov.in/wrpinfo/index.php?title=Lakhwar_D00723. However, as per the latest estimates, the location is likely to experience probable Maximum Flood of 18000 cumecs. This is as per a paper titled “The probable maximum flood at the Ukai and Lakhwar dam sites in India” by P R Rakhecha and C Clark, presented in the year 2000 at an international Symposium. Dr Rakhecha later joined Govt of India’s Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune. The paper concludes: “For the Lakhwar dam site there would be significant flow over the dam crest after 12 h from the start of the storm hydrograph and this would be maintained for over 18 h. The maximum depth of flow over the crest would be 4 m which is large enough to cause major if not catastrophic damage to the dam structure.”
Thus the spillway capacity of the project needs to be reviewed and it would not be prudent to go ahead without the same as the new PMF could cause major damage to the dam, the paper says. Any damage to this massive structure will have far reaching consequences all along the downstream area, right upto Delhi and downstream.
In fact even for the Vyasi HEP, while discussing the project in the EAC meeting of Aug 16, 2007, the minutes notes that the clarification sought by EAC on Dam Break Analysis for the project is incomplete, inadequate and far from satisfactory and the EAC desired further concurrence of Central Water Commission. In fact, EAC should not have recommended EC to the Vyasi Project with a flawed study. For the bigger Lakhwar project, there has not even been any such appraisal.
7. No agreement among Upper Yamuna basin states, Unresolved disputes The Lakhwar storage project is part of the Upper Yamuna basin. An interstate agreement was arrived at in 1994 for sharing of water in the Upper Yamuna basin among the basin states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh (now also Uttarakhand), Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan. Each project under the agreement required separate agreements. However, there has been no agreement on sharing the costs and benefits of the individual projects under the agreement.
On Renuka project also in the same Upper Yamuna basin, there was an agreement that was arrived at in 1994, but the Ministry of Law has said that the agreement is no longer valid. For several years now the Upper Yamuna River Basin Board has been holding meetings, but has failed to arrive at any agreement for sharing the costs and benefits of Renuka dam. For Lakhwar dam there has been not been any serious attempt in that direction. The current project proposal envisages to provide 50% of water (about 165 MCM) to Delhi and 50% to Uttarakhand for irrigation (see: http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/work-on-300-mw-lakhwar-project-to-begin-by-aug-112062200178_1.html dated June 22, 2012 includes statement from project proponent UJVNL (Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd) Chairman). However, this proposal completely ignores the claims of share from the project by Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. To go ahead with the project without an inter state agreement on sharing costs and benefits would surely not be prudent.
8. Inadequate cost estimates As per estimate as on March 1996 the cost of the project is Rs 1446 crore out of which Rs 227 crore have been spent (see: official website http://uttarakhandirrigation.com/lakhwar_vyasi_project.html). Note that this cost was for the composite project, including Vyasi HEP. As per UJVNL official webstie http://www.uttarakhandjalvidyut.com/lakhwar.php, the cost of Lakhwar Project alone is Rs 4620.48 crore on Feb 2010. The same site gives the cost of Vyasi HEP at Rs 1010.89 crores, so the cost of combined project at Feb 2010 PL is Rs 5631.37 crores. The cost has thus seen 300% escalation in 14 years between 1996 and 2010. This is a very costly project and the cost is likely to be even higher at current prices. In any case, the estimate should be for current price level and the cost benefit calculations should also be for the latest date.
9. Seismically active area, erosion prone landscape: The project area is seismically active, flash flood, land slides, cloud bursts and erosion prone. In the context of changing climate, all these factors are likely to be further accentuated. When the project was first proposed in mid 1980s, none of these issues as also the issues of biodiversity conservation, need to conserve forests for local adaptation, forest rights compliance, environment flows etc were seen as relevant or important. However, all of these issues are important today. The project clearly needs to be reappraised keeping all these issues in mind.
The MoEF is seeking comments on “Report of the Committee to formulate objective parameters for identification of inviolate forest areas”. 23rd Feb is the last day! The comments are to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org subject line “Comments on “Report o the Committee to formulate objective parameters for identification of inviolate forest areas”” as per announcement on MoEF website.The report of the committee can be found at: http://moef.nic.in/assets/Report_on_Inviolate_Forest_area.pdf
Looking at the highly unacceptable nature of the report as it now stands, SANDRP (and its partners) have sent the following letter to the MoEF. We urge as many people to send in comments on this report.
Ms. Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister of Environment and Forests
2. Dr. V RAJAGOPALAN: Secretary(E&F)
Subject: “Comments on “Report o the Committee to formulate objective parameters for identification of inviolate forest areas”: Faulty and exclusionary process to determine criteria for the declaration of inviolate forest areas with respect to coal mining
Dear Ms. Natarajan and Dr Rajagopalan,
We the undersigned would like to put forward our strong objection to the process followed by the MoEF in the drafting of the above mentioned criteria (Report of the Committee to Formulate Objective Parameters for Identification of Inviolate Forest Areas, July 2012) and the short-sighted nature of the approach to identify which forests of India are to be exposed to exploitation by coal mining. Here we would like to point out that the GOM that asked for the expert committee report on this issue was the GOM for environment and development issues in general and if the specific areas need protected since they are inviolate, they should also be inviolate for all purposes and projects?
This process should be open to public input and engagement, and highlighting that any criteria must take into account the multifaceted nature of human-forest interactions in the country and the millions of livelihoods that depend on the country’s forests, aside from issues of forest cover, forest types, biodiversity, wildlife and endangered species and areas, intact landscapes and hydrological value. Some key missing issues include livelihood issues, cultural issues and interlinking issues with other areas. Another set of parameters missing are: seismically active, flood prone, erosion prone, coastal and such other vulnerable areas. Areas where tribals are in majority should also be excluded without free, prior and informed consent of all the gram sabhas in the region. It is amazing that the social and democratic governance issues get no place in the parameters.
The grids are not being assigned values of eco sensitivity as per the Pronab Sen Committee report or as per the methodology followed by the WGEEP for the Western Ghats.
Issue of carrying capacity and cumulative impact assessments and linkages across the areas are key issues.
The MoEF has kept this process secretive and opaque. By keeping this process behind closed doors and only at internet level in English language, the MoEF has made this process to determine “forest trade-offs” extremely exclusive, expert-driven and narrow in scope. This is contrary our constitution’s stated objectives of upholding democracy and promoting inclusive growth. The fact that this report was finalised in July 2012 and yet only uploaded in the public domain on January 24, 2013, with a period of less than one month for comments, is unacceptable and indicative of the opaque manner in which this critical issue has been approached.
Our overarching and firm objection is that the MoEF has adopted a non-participatory and undemocratic approach of arriving at these parameters, preferring to work behind closed doors. Our first demand therefore is that these parameters be opened up for extensive public debate, scrutiny and contribution, in such a manner as to hear from those people and organisations that stand to be most affected. This process, of course, cannot be accomplished in less than a month, so we are asking that a new process to achieve the same be announced. Some essential parameters of the process include: translation of the report in local languages, facilitation to ensure that it reaches the communities concerned and affected and a credible independent and transparent process for getting inputs, the process should also be transparent to show how the inputs were used.
Without prejudice to the above, we would also like to raise strong substantive concerns related to the parameters that have been suggested, which go beyond the issues of process stated above. While the suggested criteria appear to recognise the importance of forests for their biological, landscape, hydrological, wildlife and forest cover and forest type values, they are completely silent on the issue of the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities, their cultural issues and also the inter-linkage issues. As you are no doubt aware, India’s forests are a critical survival resource of millions of Indians. These livelihoods are invariably severely compromised, if not destroyed entirely, by mining, dams and other activities that destroy the forests.
Such a contradictory approach to India’s forests devoid of their socio-economic context is disconcerting and is also illegal in the context of forest rights act, PESA, Scheduled areas act and Panchayat Raj act. For a country which has a large part of its population dependent directly or indirectly on forests, the future of these same forests cannot be determined solely through the parameters listed in the report.
The proposed system of weights/scoring is also faulty and arbitrary. The system of averaging the score rigs the process such that a high score on any one parameter (for example, areas notified as Conservation Reserves) is not sufficient to protect the area. By stating that only areas with an average score above 70 will be considered inviolate, the system is in effect discounting the need to protect any area that scores less than 70. This includes, by the committee’s proposal, areas outside the PA network with more than 5 Schedule I species, or areas with occasional wildlife presence, or most Dry Deciduous Forests. The vast majority of wildlife corridors in Western, Central, Eastern, Southern and North Eastern India will fall in these categories.
Identification of Biodiverse areas through IIRS Data While IIRS data can be one of the useful tools, it cannot be the only one for selection of biodiverse areas. Information and knowledge about the local biodiversity through the involvement of the local communities, academics and civil society should also be used in this process. Under the National Biodiversity Authority Act, Peoples Biodiversity Registers were mandated. Hundreds of villages across India have worked on these registers and documented their biodiversity. The current report cannot just chose to neglect all these institutional and legal mechanisms in place
A relevant question in this regard is: Do we have sufficient information about for example biodiversity in various Himalayan and Western Ghat forests? New species are being discovered every month even without a concerted effort from the government. Hence, total dependence on IIRS data will be a blunder.
Wildlife value There is no mention of the aquatic biodiversity in this subject head or anywhere else in the document. Aquatic biodiversity also needs to be taken note of and needs protection. Particularly in the context of protected areas, it needs to be recognised that the aquatic biodiversity within the protected areas would be affected by interventions in the aquatic sources, upstream and downstream of the protected areas and thus would need protection in that respect. Secondly, we have very few protected areas for aquatic biodiversity and we need many more of them.
Hydrological Value In the committee report there is mention of maintenance of forest cover in the catchment of only first order perennial streams. This, though a step in right direction, is only limited step. It needs to be recognised and understood that the natural forest cover in the catchment of all streams would be of equal importance since destruction of such forest cover has implications for hydrological flow pattern in the downstream areas, aquatic biodiversity in the downstream streams, silt flow patterns in the downstream flows and all the connected water-fish-food-energy securities for the downstream areas.
This complexity is missed when the suggestion is to declare only the following areas as inviolate areas:
1. The directly draining catchment of the first order streams that are used as drinking water streams for towns and villages,
2. Areas located in direct draining catchments of the first order perennial streams feeding the irrigation and hydropower projects,
3. Areas located within 250 m of the banks of the perennial streams/ rivers, boundary of important wetlands (not clear what is the definition of important wetlands, are all wetlands with area more than 10 ha to be considered as important wetland, is river and its floodplain included in the definition of the wetland?) and storage reservoirs of water supply/ irrigation/ hydropower/ multipurpose projects (does it mean this applies to all natural and man made reservoirs of India, since all such reservoirs are used for one or the other purpose listed here?).
There is also contradiction when, while on the hand areas within 250 m of the banks of perennial streams and rivers is supposed to be inviolate (and thus get a score of 100), in section 3.6.1 it is suggested that areas within 100 m of the major seasonal streams or rivers should get a score of 70. The trouble is, we do not have ready made baseline data or clear definition as to what areas are supposed to be included when it is mentioned “banks of perennial rivers and streams”. Secondly, there is no clarity as to what would be called a seasonal or perennial river. For example, there are rivers that were perennial but has become seasonal because of human interventions. Then there are some rivers that were seasonal, but have become perennial due to the community conservation actions.
Moreover as far as hydrological value is concerned, the sustainable existence of value for any sq km grid area would actually depend on what is going on in a much wider area, almost whole of the catchment and also what is happening in the downstream. This reality does not seem to be captured by the suggested methodology. It would not make sense to give value in this sense to only the specific grid, but to protect that much larger area would need to be given implied value and any decisions would need to be keep in mind such inter-linkages.
The inter-linkages are also important for the implied change in pressures on specific grid element when decisions lead to violation of value of linked grid elements.
Community conserved areas: Across India, traditional communities have protected stretches of forest, grasslands, wetlands and river through community conservation. As India hosts the CBD this year, we cannot simply neglect Indigenous Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) even as a signatory to the CBD. All community conserved areas should be declared as inviolate zones.
Fragmentation Similarly, the parameters do not deal effectively with the critical issue of fragmentation of forests as a result coal-mining related infrastructure and ancillary activities – roads, railways, power lines etc. If some areas are recognised as inviolate and the adjoining areas are opened up for mining, there will be demands on the adjoining forests for ancillary infrastructure. Fait accompli arguments will be advanced, as is currently the practice among industry proponents. Any discussion on excluding mining from critical forest areas needs to take on board cumulative impacts of the land use change which is likely to take place. The MoEF needs to engage with this critical question through widespread debate and consultation as a first step.
Faulty Decision Rules: Decision Rule 1: They have not included already identified ecologically sensitive areas.
Decision Rule 2: A score of 70 is way too high for determining that the grid is inviolate. The rule should be that any area that gets over 70% score with respect to any one of the parameter should be inviolate area.
Decision Rule 3: Only if 90% or more grid from any coal blocks are outside inviolate zone, should there be consideration for such block for mining.
Compliance A key question in this regard is, who will monitor and ensure that the inviolate forests will remain inviolate? Considering the past track record of the bureaucracy in MoEF, there is little credibility of their ability or interest in keeping such areas inviolate. The example of areas declared earlier as no go areas for mining and how almost of them are now gone is fresh in the minds of the people. We need a credible mechanism involving the local people in ensuring compliance of the decisions.
Keeping in mind all of the above, we demand that:
a) The above mentioned criteria be opened up for more detailed scrutiny and debate with an acceptance of the multiple roles played by our forest areas. This process (some essential elements of the process are mentioned above) must be inclusive and broad-based, in contrast to the exclusionary process followed thus far.
b) That the ministry uphold the spirit of environment justice and the need to safeguard the livelihoods of forest dependent communities as also their cultural issues when making decisions on forest diversion.
c) That no further forest diversion for mining should be allowed until the conclusion of a transparent and open process as specified in point a) above. This is especially important given the growing conflict in forest areas.
d) Any further criteria setting process be inclusive and broadbased rather than the exclusive and expert dominated processes like is in the present case. This goes completely against the government’s constitutional commitment to being a sovereign, socialist republic.
We look forward to your response and the announcement of an open consultation process on the need to protect our remnant forests from coal mining and other activities in forest areas.
Himanshu Thakkar (email@example.com)
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, 86-D, AD block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi 110088 (www.sandrp.in)
Parineeta Dandekar (firstname.lastname@example.org)