Climate Change

SANDRP critique of India’s NAPCC: There is little hope here

For Full report, see: https://sandrp.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/there-is-little-hope-here-sandrp-critique-of-napcc-feb-2009.pdf

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The purpose of this study is to provide an Indian civil society view on the contents of the Indian government’s national action plan to confront the threat posed by climate change. The study aims to highlight the equity issues, the options assessment for energy production and the needs for sustainable adaptation practices. The study also aims to give an overview of the available information resources about the impact of climate change on India and tries to map out various actors & their roles. However this is vast issue and this brief study cannot include all the aspects in this regard. The focus is more on water, agriculture and energy related issues, since these are the focus areas of the work of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP). Continue reading “SANDRP critique of India’s NAPCC: There is little hope here”

Climate Change

Water Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate – Executive Summary of SANDRP publication in March 2012

For Full Report, see: https://sandrp.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/water-sector-options-india-in-changing-climate-sandrp-march-2012.pdf

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This report tries to capture the relevant issues for Indian Water Sector in the context of changing climate. The report briefly reviews international situation in the context of the four pillars of climate change response that are used in international climate change framework: Adaptation, Mitigation, Technology and Economic/financial issues. It takes a look at the official programmes and projects of governments in water sector. It includes some local options and success stories in water and agriculture in India in the context of changing climate. Continue reading “Water Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate – Executive Summary of SANDRP publication in March 2012”

DRP News Bulletin

Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin, August 24, 2015

MAHARASHTRA DROUGHT

Stop westward diversion of water from Bhima-Krishna basin:SANDRP (21 Aug. 2015) The Report is based on interview of Parineeta Dandekar of SANDRP and provides the steps that the Maharashtra govt can take to reduce drought and water scarcity in Maharashtra, starting with stoppage of westward diversion from Bhima-Krishna basin. This is based on Open Letter to Mahrashtra written by Parineeta Dandekar in the context of Marathawada drought and analysis of Marathawada drought by Parineeta Dandekar.

SANDRP has also written an Open letter to Tata Sustainability Group to stop westward diversion of Bhima basin water by Tata Hydro projects. SANDRP’s response to Tata Power on this issue was earlier published on August 17, 2015 Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin, August 24, 2015”

Dams

Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin (April-May 2015)

HYDROPOWER

“Right now, hydel is almost stalled”: Piyush Goyal (18 May 2015)

Union Power Minister makes some candid comments on Hydro: “Right now, hydel is almost stalled. We have Teesta stuck for various reasons. Subansiri, Maheshwar, Lower Subansiri, all of them have different challenges. Small hydros are facing challenges of transmission, they are facing challenges of local area problems. So, by and by, the hydro sector will need a more holistic thinking. The courts have also taken up certain matters, particularly in Uttarakhand, post the tragedy (of floods in 2013). There is the mission of Ganga to ensure that there is a reasonable flow—Aviral Ganga, which we are committed to. We are working on all of these plans… For example, Subansiri had an issue where the local population had concerns. We immediately got an eight-member very, very high-level expert committee, including Central Water Commission, Central Electricity Authority, and experts from Assam. They are all working together to see the environmental impact, structural impact, riparian state impact and riverbed impact.

http://www.livemint.com/Industry/9HtQbGUG0v4rYIczIT21hJ/Time-is-now-ripe-for-a-power-fund-says-Piyush-Goyal.html Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin (April-May 2015)”

Bhutan · Hydropower

Changing profile of India’s Hydro Power Import from Bhutan

Punatsanghchu River in Bhutan, All Photos by SANDRP
Punatsanghchu River in Bhutan, All Photos by SANDRP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been saying to Nepal and others that Bhutan is a good example to show how a country can prosper from hydropower generation and export. During his trip to Bhutan in June 2014, soon after taking over as Prime Minister of India, he said, “Our Hydropower cooperation with Bhutan is a classic example of win-win cooperation and a model for the entire region.”

However, this hydropower import by India from Bhutan is not a new development. Central Electricity Authority under Union Ministry of Power provides[1], in its monthly reports, power import from Bhutan, these figures are available since 2005-06. Continue reading “Changing profile of India’s Hydro Power Import from Bhutan”

Himalayas · Hydropower

Himalayas cannot take this Hydro onslaught

MESSAGE ON WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY 2014:

SAVE HIMALAYAS FROM 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 (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] For SANDRP blogs on Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/?s=Uttarakhand

[2] For details of Supreme Court order, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/uttarakhand-flood-disaster-supreme-courts-directions-on-uttarakhand-hydropower-projects/

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/uttarakhand-disaster-moef-should-suspect-clearances-to-hydropower-projects-and-institute-enquiry-in-the-role-of-heps/

[4] For Details of MoEF order, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/expert-committee-following-sc-order-of-13-aug-13-on-uttarakhand-needs-full-mandate-and-trimming-down/

[5] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/

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

[7] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/uttarakhand-existing-under-construction-and-proposed-hydropower-projects-how-do-they-add-to-the-disaster-potential-in-uttarakhand/

[8] For details of projects cleared during April 2007 to Dec 2012, see: https://sandrp.in/env_governance/TOR_and_EC_Clearance_status_all_India_Overview_Feb2013.pdf and https://sandrp.in/env_governance/EAC_meetings_Decisions_All_India_Apr_2007_to_Dec_2012.pdf

[9] An edited version of this published in June 2014 issue of CIVIL SOCIETY: http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/pages/Details.aspx?551

Dams, Rivers & People

Dams, Rivers & People – December 2013-January 2014, Vol 11, Issue 11-12

The December 2013 – January 2014 edition of SANDRP’s magazine ‘Dams, River and People’ is now available online. This is the 11-12th issue of magazine in its 11th volume.  The contents magazine are mentioned in the list below. Packed with information on water, rivers, dams and environment, this issue covers matters at home in India as well in Bhutan, Nepal, Spain, Vietnam, United States of America and water dispute between India and Pakistan. The  magazine in pdf format is available here — https://sandrp.in/DRP_Dec_2013_Jan_2014.pdf. Several of the articles are also available in SANDRP’s blog and they can be viewed just by clicking on the name in the list. Enjoy reading.

DRP_issue_11_12_cover0001

Contents

Page No
Is Environment just a political football for the NDA and UPA?   1
Muck dumping by damaged Vishnuprayag HEP in River 3
Possible explanation for Seti River flood of Nepal in May 2012 4
Visit to Fish ladder at Kurichu HEP in Bhutan 9
Court Order on India-Pak Kishanganga dispute on E-flows 14
Water Sector Review for India for 2013 18
Water Sector Review for North East India for 2013 20
Water Sector Review for Maharashtra for 2013 23
Notice to GVK project over damage to Uttarakhand town 28
Illegal Public Hearing of Lower Siang HEP Called Off 29
US Congress Opposes Financial Support for Large Dams 30
Dam Removal & Cancellations in Vietnam, Spain and US 31
Short film on Uttarakhand disaster: Flood Ravage and the Dams 32
Dams

A review of the water sector in India in 2013: Increasing signs of crisis

Year-end provides a wonderful opportunity for us to take stock of siatuations. If we look at India’s water sector, the above-average rainfall in 2013 monsoon would mean good agricultural production.

But the water sector as a whole is showing increasing signs of trouble.

Let us take few examples. The most striking crisis of 2013 was the unprecedented flood disaster in Uttarakhand in June where thousands perished. Experts and media called it a man-made disaster with a significant role played by existing and under construction hydropower projects and other unsustainable infrastructure. (SANDRPs Report) The Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to set up a committee to look into the role played by existing and under construction hydropower projects in the disaster and also directed that no further clearance to any hydropower projects be given till further orders. This order was possibly the only hopeful sign since Uttarakhand government, other Himalayan states or the central agencies including NDMA and MoEF, seem to have learnt no lessons from the disaster.

Destroyed Vishnuprayag HEP on Alaknanda . Courtesy: Matu Jan Sangathan
Destroyed Vishnuprayag HEP on Alaknanda . Courtesy: Matu Jan Sangathan

Earlier in 2012-13 we saw triple crisis in Maharashtra in the form of worst drought in 40 years, worst irrigation scam in independent India and agitation against diversion of huge quantity of water from agriculture to non agriculture sector without any participatory process. In Andhra Pradesh too, a massive irrigation scam was exposed by the CAG report. In fact inequity in the distribution of costs and benefits related to water sector project lies at the heart of the bifurcation of the troubled state.

 Dry Seena River in Madha in March 2013. Madha has a dense concentration of Sugar Factories. Photo: SANDRP
Dry Seena River in Madha in March 2013. Madha has a dense concentration of Sugar Factories. Photo: SANDRP

In Chhattisgarh and downstream Orissa, thermal power plans of massive capacities are going to impact the water situation so fundamentally that big trouble is likely to erupt there, which may impact several other sectors. Madhya Pradesh government is on a big dam building spree in all its river basins, including Narmada, Chambal and also the water scarce Bundelkhand. All of these projects are for canal irrigation when canal irrigation has failed to add any area to the total net irrigation at national level for over two decades now. We could see a new massive irrigation scam in MP in coming years, in addition to agitations and interstate disputes. Gujarat too saw a very bad drought in 2012-13, and there is increasing perception that Gujarat government is by design not building the distribution network to take the Narmada Dam waters to Kutch and Saurashtra, for whom the project was justified and built.

In North East India it is now two years since massive agitation has led to stoppage of work at ongoing 2000 MW Lower Subansiri hydropower project. This is India’s largest under construction hydropower project on which over Rs 5000 crores have been spent without putting in place basic studies or participatory decision making process. Similar fate awaits if the government goes ahead with other hydropower development projects in the region without learning lessons from this episode. During the year, Forest Advisory Committee’s rejection to grant forest clearance to 3000 MW Dibang and 1500 MW Tipaimukh projects in the region was a good sign, so is the stoppage of work at Maphithel dam in Manipur by the National Green Tribunal.

Breathtaking floodplains of the Lohit River, an important tributary of the Brahmaputra, threatened by the 1750 MW Lower Demwe Dam.  Photo: Neeraj Vagholikar
Breathtaking floodplains of the Lohit River, an important tributary of the Brahmaputra, threatened by the 1750 MW Lower Demwe Dam.
Photo: Neeraj Vagholikar

But we have seen no sign of improvement in environment governance. The year saw the questionable appointment of former Coal Secretary as chairman of the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Committee, by Union Ministry of Environment and Forest. In fact, several of the new appointees in the committee do not have any background in environmental issues. The year also began on the wrong note with the environment clearance to the 620 MW Luhri hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh, designed to destroy the last flowing stretch of SutlejRiver in the state. In April 2013, the Forest Advisory Committee took the most shocking decision of approving the completely unjustifiable Kalu dam for Mumbai Metropolitan Region, without any assessments. The same FAC had rejected the proposal one year back and the reasons for that rejections stand even today.

In Western Ghats, the decision of the Union government of dumping the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel Report (Gadgil Report) and instead in principle accepting the-much criticized Kasturirangan committee Report has already led to full blown crisis in Kerala and is threatening to engulf more areas. This crisis was completely avoidable if the MoEF, in stead had used last two years to encourage public education on the need for implementing the Gadgil panel recommendations.

While relatively poorer states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa has shown big jump in agriculture growth rates in recent years, these have come at the cost of huge depletion in groundwater levels. As Vijayshankar of Samaj Pragati Sahyog said at a conference in Delhi recently, in Rajasthan, the level of groundwater development (ratio of annual groundwater draft to annual utilizable recharge) increased alarmingly from 59% in 1995 to 135% in 2009, indicating that Rajasthan is now in the overexploited category. Of the 236 blocks in Rajasthan, massive 164 (69%) were in over exploited category in 2009. In Madhya Pradesh, while the state groundwater use has moved from 48 to 56%, about 89 blocks out of total 313 (28%) are using unsafe levels of groundwater.

This fresh news of groundwater depletion in new areas is bad sign in medium and long range. “Over the last four decades, around 84 per cent of the total addition to the net irrigated area has come from groundwater. India is by far the largest and fastest growing consumer of groundwater in the world. But groundwater is being exploited beyond sustainable levels and with an estimated 30 million groundwater structures in play, India may be hurtling towards a serious crisis of groundwater over-extraction and quality deterioration”, said Planning Commission member Mihir Shah at a recent meeting in Delhi. 12th Five Year Plan has started the new scheme of mapping groundwater aquifers of India, which is a useful step, but we have yet to crack the puzzle of how to regulate groundwater use to ensure its equitable and sustainable use for priority sectors.

The state of our rivers as also the reservoirs and other water infrastructure is deteriorating but our water resources establishment has shown little concern for that. The IIT consortium report on the Ganga River Basin Management Plan is due soon, but if the pathetic interim report is any sign, there is little hope there.

Ganga, completely dry downstream Bhimgouda Barrage, Haridwar Photo: Parineeta, SANDRP
Ganga, completely dry downstream Bhimgouda Barrage, Haridwar Photo: Parineeta, SANDRP

The year 2012 ended with the National Water Resources Council approving the National Water Policy 2012. At the end of 2013 we have yet to see a credible plan in place for implementing the policy provisions. The year saw proposal from Union Ministry of Water Resources for a new Draft National Water Framework Law, Draft River Basin Management Bill and draft National Policy Guidelines for water sharing/ distribution amongst states. None of them have reached finality and all of them are likely to be opposed by states as an encroachment on their constitutional domain. In fact the interstate Mahadayi River conflict has reached a flashpoint with upstream Karnataka and Maharashtra starting dams in the basin without even statutory clearances from the centre or consent from downstream state of Goa.

While all this looks rather bleak, increasing agitations and informed protests all over India on water issues is certainly hopeful sign. More community groups are challenging inadequately done environmental impact assessments, cumulative impact assessments, basin studies, downstream impact assessments, concepts like eflows etc, raising very informed and pertinent questions. Most of these studies have been the monopoly of select, fraudulent EIA agencies. Critical questions indicate that these studies cannot be done excluding local communities, their knowledge and their concerns. Among other hopeful signs include some of the decisions of the National Green Tribunal on Yamuna and other rivers.

The underlying theme of these events is the increasing trend of state in India working for the interest of the corporate interests to the exclusion of people, environment and democracy. It is a challenge for us all to see how to reverse this trend.

The year 2013 also marks the end of the current term of the Union government. While there is little to hope from the two main political parties ruling the centre and the states mentioned above, perhaps the emerging political alternative in Delhi will grow and move in right direction. Let us hope for the best.

 Himanshu Thakkar (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/, https://sandrp.in/)

(An edited version of this was published in January 2014 issue of Civil Society, see: http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/pages/Details.aspx?455)

brahmaputra · Dams · Sutlej

Media Hype Vs Reality: India-China Water Information Sharing MoU of Oct 2013

It was pretty surprising to see the front page headline in The Times of India on Oct 24, 2013[i], claiming that an India China “MoU on Dams Among Nine Deals Signed”. The Hindu headline[ii] (p 12) claimed, “China will be more transparent on trans-border river projects”. Indian Express story[iii] (on page 1-2) claimed, “The recognition of lower riparian rights is a unique gesture, because China has refused to put this down on paper with any other neighbouring country”. It should be added that the news stories on this subject in the Economic Times and the Hindustan Times took the MoU in more matter of fact way.

Proposed Chinese Dams on Yarlung Zangbo Source: SANDRP
Proposed Chinese Dams on Yarlung Zangbo
Source: SANDRP

Additional information for second half of May However, the actual language of the Memorandum of Understanding on “strengthening cooperation on trans-border rivers” available on website of Press Information Bureau[v] and Ministry of External affairs[vi] gives a very different picture. There is no mention of dams, river projects or lower riparian or rights there. One additional feature of the agreement is that the current hydrological data (Water Level, Discharge and Rainfall) in respect of three stations, namely, Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia located on river Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra from 1st June to 15th October every year[vii] will now be extended to May 15th to Oct 15th with effect from 2014. While this is certainly a step forward since the monsoon in North East India sets in May and also in view of the accelerated melting of glaciers in changing climate, it should not lead to the kind of hype some of the newspapers created around the river information MoU. Moreover, it should be remembered that India pays for the information that it gets from China and what Indian government does with that information is not even known since it is not even available in public domain. How this information is thus used is a big state secret!

Three stations on Yarlung Zangbo - Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia (the green spots in the map represent these station)[iv]
Three stations on Yarlung Zangbo – Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia
(the green spots in the map represent these station)[iv]

Over-Optimistic reading of the MoU? The specific feature of the new MoU about which media seemed excited read as follows: “The two sides agreed to further strengthen cooperation on trans-border rivers, cooperate through the existing Expert Level Mechanism (for detailed chronology of ELM formation, meetings and earlier MoUs on Sutlej and Brahmaputra, see annexure below) on provision of flood-season hydrological data and emergency management, and exchange views on other issues of mutual interest.” The key words of this fifth the last clause of the MoU were seen as “exchange views on other issues of mutual interest”, providing India an opportunity to raise concerns about the Chinese hydropower projects and dams on shared rivers. However, the clause only talks about exchange of views and there is no compulsion for China to share its views, leave aside share information about the Chinese projects in advance or otherwise. On the face of it, the hype from this clause misplaced.

Tsada station on river Satluj (Shown as A in the Google Map)
Tsada station on river Satluj (Shown as A in the Google Map)

This was read with first clause: “The two sides recognized that trans-border rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development of all riparian countries.” Here “riparian countries” clearly includes lower riparian. But to suggest that this clause on its own or read with clause 5 mentioned above provides hope that China will include the concerns of the lower riparian in Chinese projects on shared rivers seems slightly stretched. The clause only recognises the asset value of rivers and related natural resources and environment for all basin countries and it is doubtful if it can be used to interpret that Chinese will or should take care of the concerns of lower riparian.

Thus the rather optimistic interpretation does not seem to emanate from the actual wording of the MoU, but the rather over optimistic interpretation by the Indian interlocutors, possibly including the Indian ambassador to China, who has been quoted on this aspect.

Real Achievement: GOI recognises value of Rivers! What is most interesting though is that Indian government has actually signed a Memorandum that recognises that “rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development”. This is absolutely amazing and joyful development for rivers. Since there is nothing in the laws, policies, programs, projects and practices of Indian government that says that rivers are of any value. Now that Indian government has actually signed an MoU agreeing to such a value, there is sudden hope for rivers, it seems. Only lurking doubt, though is the word “trans-border” before rivers! We hope the Government of India applies this clause to all rivers, not just trans-border rivers, though we know from past that this hope is one a rather thin ice!!

SANDRP

Annexure:

1. Formation and Meetings of Expert Level Mechanism (ELM) on Trans-border Rivers

20-23 Nov, 2006 During the visit of the President of People’s Republic of China to India in November 20-23, 2006, it was agreed to set up an Expert-Level Mechanism to discuss interaction and cooperation on provision of flood season hydrological data, emergency management and other issues of trans-border rivers between the two countries. Accordingly, the two sides set up the Joint Expert Level Mechanism(ELM) on Trans-border Rivers. The Expert Group from Indian side is led by Joint Secretary level officers.  Seven meetings of ELM have been held so far.
19-21 Sept, 2007 In the 1st meeting of ELM the issues related to bilateral cooperation for exchange of hydrological information were discussed.
10-12 April, 2008 In the 2nd meeting of ELM work regulations of the ELM were agreed upon and signed. It was agreed that the ELM shall meet once every year, alternatively in India and China.
21–25 April, 2009 The 3rd meeting was focused on helping in understanding of each other’s position for smooth transmission of flood season hydrological data.
26-29 April, 2010 In the 4th meeting the implementation plan on provision of hydrological information on Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra River in flood season was signed.
19-22 April, 2011 In the 5th meeting the Implementation Plan in respect to the MoU on Sutlej was signed.
17-20 July, 2012 The 6th meeting of ELM was held at New Delhi where both the countries reached at several important understandings and a significant one of those understandings is – “The two sides recognized that trans-border rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development of all riparian countries.”
14-18 May, 2013 In the 7th meeting held at Beijing, China where in the draft MoU and Implementation Plan on Brahmaputra river was finalized.

 2. MoUs on Hydrological Data Sharing on River Brahmaputra / Yaluzangbu

2002 Government of India and China signed a MoU for provision of hydrological information on Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra River in flood season by China to India. In accordance with the provisions contained in the MoU, the Chinese side provided hydrological information (Water Level, Discharge and Rainfall) in respect of three stations, namely, Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia located on river Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra (see the map above) from 1st June to 15th October every year, which was utilized in the formulation of flood forecasts by the Central Water Commission. This MoU expired in 2007.
2008 On 5th June, India signed a new MoU with China on provision of hydrological information of the Brahmaputra /Yaluzangbu river in flood season by China to India with a validity of five years. This was done during the visit of the External Affairs Minister of India to Beijing from June 4-7. Under this China had provided the hydrological data of the three stations for the monsoon season from 2010 onward.
2013 During the visit of Chinese Premier Li Kegiang to India the MoU of 2008 has been extended till 5th June 2018.

 3. MoUs on Hydrological Data Sharing on River Satluj / Langquin Zangbu

2005 A MoU was signed during the visit of the Chinese Premier to India in April for supply of hydrological information in respect of River Satluj (Langquin Zangbu) in flood season. Chinese side provided hydrological information in respect of their Tsada station on river Satluj (Langquin Zangbu in Chinese, see the map above).
Aug 2010 In order to supply flood season hydrological information on River Sutlej a new MoU was agreed in August 2010
Dec 2010 On 16 Dec 2010, during the visit of Prime Minister of China to India a new MoU was signed to provide hydrological information of Sutlej/Langquin Zangbo River in flood season by China to India with a validity of five years.
April 2011 During the 5th  ELM meeting held in April, 2011 an MoU on Sutlej containing the Implementation Plan with technical details of provision of hydrological information, data transmission method and cost settlement etc. was signed in Beijing. The hydrological information during the flood season has been received in terms of the signed implementation plan.

Annexure compiled by Parag Jyoti Saikia

Post Script: Further reading: http://www.thethirdpole.net/2015/11/06/tibet-dams-hold-back-silt-not-water

END NOTES:

Climate Change · South Asia

Climate Change, Migration and Conflicts in Assam-Bangladesh: Why we need better reports than this

A new report named “Climate Change, Migration andClimateMigrationSubContinent_COVER Conflicts in South Asia: Rising tension and Policy options across the sub-continent” was published in December 2012 by Center for American Progress and Heinrich Böll Foundation. This report, authored by Arpita Bhattacharyya and Michael Werz has analyzed how migration and security concerns are overlapping in the era of climate change in South Asia. Even though the title of the report mentions South Asia, it is mainly focused on India and Bangladesh. The central argument of the report is that an inevitable threat of climate change will intensify migration from Bangladesh to Northeast India, in general and Assam in particular.

In this report the authors have examined the role of climate change, migration, and security broadly at the national level in India and Bangladesh. Discussing the focus and relevance of the report the authors write “In this paper we examine the role of climate change, migration, and security broadly at the national level in India and Bangladesh—and then zero in more closely on northeast India and Bangladesh to demonstrate the interlocking problems faced by the people there and writ larger across all of South Asia.” But the report falls short of indentifying a causal relationship between climate change, migration, and conflict. This report emphasizes on understanding climate change, migration and security as three distinct layers of tension and assesses scenarios in which the three layers will overlap. The report takes Assam, the central state of northeastern border of India as a case study where the three factors converge. But the elements related to this convergence are rather inadequate that required further probing.

The report discusses the Assam movement of 1983 and the    clashes which  occurred in the summers of 2012 between ‘members of the Bodo tribe and  and  Muslim community’. Bringing climate change into the framework the report states “In assessing the security challenges of climate change, Assam provides an example of several factors coming together in a complex way. Climate change will stress existing migration patterns both locally and internationally in Bangladesh. Even more importantly, the perception that there has been an increase in immigrants has the potential to stoke tensions over immigration in Assam.” It seems to be generalization of a very complex process. We have found towering claims like this have very less linkages with the situation on ground(please see our blog – 2012 Floods Displaced 6.9 Million in Northeast-IDMC: Staggering but Highly Exaggerated). The report also mentioned that “Floods in September 2012 displaced 1.5 million people in the northeastern state of Assam” this again is not beyond doubts. The data available from National Disaster Management shows that, highest number of people affected in the floods in September 2012 is 383421.

Climate Change Scenario in India: For India the report draws from the “Climate Change and India: A 4×4 Assesment” (2010) which was prepared by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests for examining climate change impacts and projections through 2030 across four regions of India (the Himalayan Region, Western Ghats, Northeastern Region, and the Coastal Region) and four key policy sectors: agriculture, forests, human health, and water.

Bangladesh Discussing the situation in Bangladesh the reports deals with rising temperatures which are likely to have severe effects on agricultural production in Bangladesh due to higher rates of evaporation and changing rainfall patterns. According to the authors “Bangladesh could see up to an 8 percent reduction in rice production and a 32 percent reduction in wheat production by 2050…. With 63 percent of the population dependent on agriculture for basic livelihoods, the rise in temperatures could be crippling.”

The report warns about increases both in extent and frequency of floods in the country. Talking about rise in sea level the report states, “The Bangladeshi government projects that the sea level will rise by 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) by 2030, 12.6 inches (32 centimeters) by 2050, and 34.7 inches (88 centimeters) by 2100. Predictions about the displacement of people resulting from a 1-meter (roughly 40 inches) rise in sea-level range from 13 million to 40 million in Bangladesh alone.” The report also discusses cyclone and storm surges, river and coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion. Bringing migration into the picture, the report first discusses rural urban migration within Bangladesh and describes a situation of migrants in the capital city Dhaka “When describing why they came, migrants tell stories of flood and famine in quiet rural towns where options dwindle by the day … these villagers pour into Dhaka at a rate of about 400,000 to 500,000 each year.”

Talking about international migration from Bangladesh, the report states “More informal—but still substantial—migration takes place from Bangladesh to India, especially to the far eastern Indian states of West Bengal and Assam….. It is estimated that approximately 12 million to 17 million Bangladeshi immigrants have come to India since the 1950s, with most residing in the northeast states of West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura.” In this situation presenting the interplay of migration and climate change the report says, “How climate change will effect migration to Bangladesh’s urban centers is not exactly determined. Even more uncertain is how climate change and Bangladesh’s urban growth will interact to shape international migration, particularly to India. But given the trajectory of available climate change projections and historical precedent, India may continue to be a popular destination for many Bangladeshi migrants.” However this seems to be an opaque statement without any substantiation. Instead of pitching their argument in the ahistorical categorization between an underdeveloped Bangladesh and an emerging India, the author should consider the present human development indicators of Bangladesh vis-à-vis India  (please see “Social indicators of Bangladesh are better than India”).

As a part of the solution, it suggests building of sustainable urban areas where governments manage to guarantee food security, deliver required energy resources, and develop infrastructure to more effectively protect livelihoods in rural areas. However, its suggestion that “economic growth must be maintained to accommodate growing populations and allow society to better prepare itself to deal with the impacts of climate change” seems to suggest that the authors have not understood basics of both economic growth and re-distribution as well as  climate change.

The American Perspective The paper does not provide any adaptation and mitigation measures for climate change. The paper argues for changing the pathways of growth towards greater sustainability. Talking about modern sustainable urban centers the paper focuses on the areas where U.S.-Indian cooperation can happen. The report is written in order to assess how United States can play a pivotal role in the threats and consequences of climate change arena in South Asia and that is why ‘the American perspective’ on the climate change in South Asia can be all pervasively found in the report. The report propose three policy collaborations that the United States can take up with South Asian partners as complex crisis scenarios unfold in the wake of climate change – 1. High-level climate-vulnerable cities workshop, 2. A dialogue on migration and 3. Ecological infrastructure development.

Pressing Critical issues

There are a lot of critical issues with this report which needs to be addressed.

How much migration is actually happening now: The report establishes its firm belief in the fact that large scale migration from Bangladesh to northeastern parts of India is still continuing. The report should have first questioned how much migration is actually happening rather than claiming that there will be increase in migration in the near future. There were several analysis available specially drawn from Government of India’s Census data which shows a complete different picture.  In an article named “Riots & the Bogey of Bangladeshis”, published in Hindu on 8th August 2012,  Delhi base researcher and activist Bonojit Hussain did an analysis of census data and reported that “Even though the religion-wise census figures for 2011 are not yet available, provisional results from the 2011 census show that the decadal growth rate of population between 2001-2011 for Kokrajhar district is 5.19 per cent, interestingly, marking a decline of 9 per cent as compared to the decadal growth rate of 14.49 per cent between 1991 to 2001. (The decadal growth rate for Assam between 1991 to 2001 was 18.92 per cent and 16.93 per cent between 2001-2011)……. The other possibility, which seems more plausible, is that there has been a considerable out-migration from Kokrajhar, especially after the formation of the BTAD in 2003. Since the Bodos (who constitute 20 per cent of the population in the BTAD area) hold a monopoly over political power in the area, it is unlikely that there has been any significant out-migration of the Bodo population from Kokrajhar district. The Koch Rajbangsis, who constitute roughly 17 per cent of the total population of the BTAD, have been campaigning for and demanding a separate homeland — Kamtapur — which territorially overlaps the BTAD, thus making it unlikely that they would out-migrate, abdicating their political claim over the territory. In all probability, the out-migration involves other non-Bodo communities, including Muslims.” The report seems to ignore this reality. It is also important to note that the report has very little to substantiate its assumptions.

Social indicators of Bangladesh are better than India: The report seems to ignore the substantial improvements in social indicators in Bangladesh. A recent review of Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen’s new book ‘An Uncertain Glory,’ states the improved social conditions of Bangladesh in the following way “even Bangladesh has better social indicators than India. It has higher life expectancy (69 vs India’s 65), better sanitation (half of all homes in India have no toilets compared to 10 per cent in Bangladesh), lower infant mortality (37 versus India’s 47) and lower fertility rate (2.2 against 2.6 for India). For those arguing that Bangladesh is a much smaller country, the answer is that its GDP per capita is roughly half that of India’s.”[1]

Is urbanization the only option: The report is biased towards urbanization. The report shows no interest to discuss how rural areas can be prepared to face climate change better. Projecting sustainable urbanization as the solution for migration is presenting only one side of the story. The report also seems like an attempt to push forward American agenda in South Asia. The report laments the facts that the urbanization programmes like JNNURM is facing shortage of funds.  But there are already several examples JNNURM programmes in India which are increasing the debt burden on the people and undermined the traditional sustainable systems.

Are thermal and large hydro-power projects climate friendly: The report on climate change shockingly, reemphasizes on coal based power generation. A study on climate change prescribing for coal based power generation is really very strange.

In another surprise the report, shows bias for (large) hydro power generation, even though hydro-power dams have very severe impacts on river ecology, bio-diversity and climate change. While discussing about water politics between China, India and Bangladesh the report mentioned about the fear of water diversion by China through hydro power dams and its severe impacts on flow of the Brahmaputra. But it makes no mention of more than 150 hydro power projects, which are being planned in Arunachal Pradesh and other north eastern states within the Indian territory and the downstream impacts of these. These projects will dam every major tributary of the Brahmaputra River. These tributaries collectively contribute at least four times more to the flow of the Brahmaputra than Yarlung Tsangpo or Siang, the part of Brahmaputra which flows from China. The report has no reference to any of this.

Internal migration within Assam and India: The report talks about migration from Bangladesh to Assam but it makes no mention of people migrating from rural areas of Assam to other cities due to severe flood and erosion. The report also does not take into account the case of char-dwellers (people living in sand bars) in Bangladesh and Assam. According to the Socio Economic Survey of 2003-04 in 14 districts of Assam, there were 2251 char villages with a population of 24, 90,397.[2] People who live on chars in Assam and in Bangladesh will be directly affected by any change in flow pattern in the rivers.

Spreading propaganda? Though this report is on migration from Bangladesh to Assam, the report presents very little data to back up its claims. Besides, on the issue of increasing Maoist activity in India, the report does a shoddy job. The map showing maoist activities in India is questionable. Since this report accepts the current development path of coal based and large hydro-based power generation unquestionably, the discussion on Maoist activity in India resonate with Assam’s Chief Minister Tarun Goigoi’s unfounded attempts at colouring of anti-dam struggle of the people in Assam as Maoist activity. Such uncritical acceptance of Indian government’s unfounded assertions discredits the report.

Parag Jyoti Saikia


[1] http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/the-inequalities-of-democracy/article4941693.ece

[2] Chakraborty G.,”Distortion  of Natural Watersheds and Land Erosion: The Char Areas Of Assam”, SIBCOLTEJO, Vol. 05 (2010): 18-30