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”

Did Prime Minister Modi mislead the Parliament and the nation?

In his reply to the debate on President of India’s address to the joint session of Parliament, Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India told the Parliament on Feb 7, 2019[i]:

Screen shot from official Parliament Debate where PM spoke on Feb 7, 2019, p 530

Continue reading “Did Prime Minister Modi mislead the Parliament and the nation?”

Dams · Maharashtra

Tracing the Maharashtra Irrigation Scam: From 2012 to 2016

Above: Retaining wall of Gosikhurd RBC slid down from its location  Photo: Jan Manch

Aftermath of the irrigation scam exposed in 2012 in Maharashtra still continues. Roots of the scam were pointed out time and again by Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) and also by several other committees set up by the Government. The scam was finally unveiled in May 2012 with a combined effort of several whistle blowers from inside & outside the government as civil society groups including SANDRP. Unjustified cost overruns, forged tenders, tweaking the norms of tendering process, incomplete projects laden with inferior quality work were brought to light and the unholy nexus of corrupt leaders, government officials and contractors became visible like never before.
Continue reading “Tracing the Maharashtra Irrigation Scam: From 2012 to 2016”

Dams · Expert Appraisal Committee · Ministry of Environment and Forests

NGT Quashes MoEF’s Office Memoranda on violating projects: Large number of irrigation projects of Maharashtra & Karnataka affected

Press Release                                                 08.07.2015

In a landmark judgement, the Hon. National Green Tribunal has quashed the Office Memoranda issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF for short) on the 12.12.2012 & 27.06.2013 for “Consideration of proposals for  TORs/Environment Clearance/ CRZ Clearance involving violation of the Environment (Protection) Act, 19861 Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 / Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011”. Continue reading “NGT Quashes MoEF’s Office Memoranda on violating projects: Large number of irrigation projects of Maharashtra & Karnataka affected”

Dams · Dams, Rivers & People

Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin, July 06, 2015


NORTH-EAST: ARUNACHAL PRADESH: 4 hydroelectric projects including 2000 MW Subansiri denied environmental clearance (02 July 2015) ” The committee also noted that public hearings for the projects had not been conducted and asked the power developers to submit response to the various issues raised by the New Delhi-based NGO South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.” Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin, July 06, 2015”

Maharashtra · Telangana

Pranahita Chevella Project: What it means for the affected people in Maharashtra

Above: A farmer family crosses the Pranahita river close to the Pranahita-Chevella project barrage site. Photo: Harpal Singh, The Hindu

Shivni is a small village of about 700-800 population in Gondpimpri Tehsil of Chandrapur District situated right at the confluence of Wardha and Weinganga rivers. These two rivers meet at juncture of three districts of two states (viz. Gadchiroli & Chandrapur of Maharashtra and Adilabad of Telangana) to form River Pranahita which is one of the biggest tributaries of Godavari. Pranahita travels a length of 113 km and meets Godavari at Sironcha tehsil of Gadachiroli Dist. Continue reading “Pranahita Chevella Project: What it means for the affected people in Maharashtra”

CAG Report · Karnataka

What ails Irrigation in Karnataka – Recent CAG reports

Guest Blog by Himanshu Upadhyaya (

What ails irrigation in India is probably a frequently asked question. It was asked in an illustrative article in Economic and Political Weekly in mid 1960s. We are told many times that two aspects often make the planned benefits of irrigation go haywire, namely time over runs and (hence) costs escalation. However, their repeated use to explain missed irrigation targets could be misplaced. The correct diagnosis of what ails India’s irrigation might be found in questioning the norms and decision making process of such projects, if these projects are indeed the best options and who pays when they do not deliver. Continue reading “What ails Irrigation in Karnataka – Recent CAG reports”

Free flowing rivers · Ganga · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Ministry of Water Resources · Uttarakhand

Will this Ganga manthan help the River?

Uma Bharti at GM

The one day Ganga Manthan[1] organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on July 7, 2014 was described by Union Minister[2] Sushri Uma Bharti & Union Minister[3] Shri Nitin Gadkari as “Historical”. The Union Environment Minister, who has one of the most crucial role in achieving a rejuvenated Ganga, was supposed to be there, but could not come at any stage.

I attended the full day meeting with a lingering question: Will this help the river? Even some of the ardent skeptics said that Uma ji has emotional, spiritual and religious attachment with the cause of Ganga.

At the conclave attended by close to a thousand people, the story of how Ms. Bharti came back to the BJP party about a year back to work for the cause of Ganga, and how she was promised a year back that if their party came to power, Ganga will get a separate ministry and she its charge was narrated repeatedly by both Ms Bharti and Mr Gadkari at least twice. It was also stated that the government has the commitment, the will & all the money to make the Ganga clean (Nirmal) and perennial (aviral). There were  also repeated statements by both ministers about the officials being so committed to the cause of Ganga. These, in essence, were the basic positive assets of this government to achieve Ganga Rejuvenation.

While it was good to see large gathering involving various sections of the society, including many independent non government voices, missing were some key stakeholders: Ganga basin state governments, farmers groups, Ministry of Urban Development, fisher-folk groups, boats-people representatives. Another key constituency missing was Ministry of Agriculture, since agriculture is major user of water & irrigation and responsible for water diversion and at the same time major non point source polluter through use of chemicals and fertilizers.

Rejuvenation does not mean just nirmal and aviral But if the task is Rejuvenation of River Ganga, are these assets sufficient? What exactly does Rejuvenation of River Ganga mean? There were no answers to this question at the meeting. The government did not even seem bothered about these questions. Are Nirmal and Aviral Ganga sufficient objectives to achieve Rejuvenation of Ganga? The answer is clearly no, for, even a pipleline or canal carrying perennial flow of water can claim that distinction. A rejuvenated river will need much more than that, but the government has nothing else to offer for a rejuvenated river.

Even for Aviral Ganga, the government had absolutely nothing to offer. In the information package shared with the participants, the only thing relevant to Aviral Ganga was the extended summary of draft “Ganga River Basin Management Plan” being prepared by consortium of seven IITs in collaboration with some 11 other organisations. This is led by Dr Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur. While standing with Dr Tare and Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh at the lunch, I said, the problem with Ganga is not of technology[4], but of governance. Despite being a proud IITian myself, I have no hesitation in saying that IITs do not have expertise in governance issues, so how can the IIT Consortium help in fix a governance problem? Having read the full Draft Plan of the IIT consortium, it only further strengthens the view that it was wrong decision of Jairam Ramesh to give this task to IIT Consortium.

Agenda for further destruction As a matter of fact, while this government has yet to take a step that will truly help rejuvenation of Ganga, they have declared their agenda that will possibly further destroy the river. This was clear on June 6, 2014, within ten days of new government taking over when a PIB press release[5] announced, “Shri Gadkari said it is proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters and for a three (3) meters draft (depth) to enable transport of passengers and goods between Varanasi and Hoogly on river Ganga in the first stage of its development and eleven terminals are proposed to be constructed along the banks. He said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms.” This was a shocking and arrogant announcement. There is nothing in public domain about this Rs 6000 crores plan, no details as to what exactly is planned, where the barrages are planned, why are they needed, what are their environmental impacts, what are the social impacts, what are the riverine impacts, what is the cost and benefits, who will pay the costs and who will reap the benefits, where is public consultation….there is absolutely nothing in public domain and here is a nine day old government declaring such massive plan! By July 7, 2014, the PIB Press Release declared that the depth will now by 5 meters and not three announced earlier. The PIB PR now said, “He (Mr Gadkari) said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms on the river. Shri Gadkari said his Ministry has sent a proposal in this regard to World Bank for the development of Allahabad- Haldia corridor.”

The minister possibly does not know that there is just one barrage on the Allahabad-Haldia 1500 km long stretch, namely the Farakka barrage and Bangladesh had threatened India to take the matter about building this barrage to the UN! Moreover, that barrage, everyone accepts, has not even achieved the basic objective it was supposed to achieve, namely navigability of Kolkata port, but has had many other severe impacts.

Nitin Gadkari at GM

At Ganga Manthan, Mr Gadkari dropped a bombshell[6] when he said this plan is already in advanced stage of appraisal with the World Bank! He said the government hopes to get Rs 4000 crores from the World Bank!! The World Bank has zero track record in achieving any clean river anywhere in the world, after spending billions of dollars every year. In India itself it stands guilty of destroying many rivers. A more inauspicious start to the Ganga Manthan possibly could not have been possible. At the Ganga Manthan itself, there was opposition to this plan, as The Hindu[7] has reported.But Ms Uma Bharti finds nothing amiss about this as was clear by her answers at the press conference. But what about at least some semblance of participatory democracy?

Business as usual at NMCG and NGBRA will not help In reality, this is not all. While this Manthan for Ganga Rejuvenation is happening, the NMCG and NGBRA[8] (National Ganga River Basin Authority) go on with their work in business as usual fashion. So in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam is going about its task of floating and examining the bids for five-part sewer laying and Sewage Treatment Plants with the help of JICA money. In Kanpur, the effort to divert several streams to Pandu is going on. In Allahabad, “the draft final ESAMP sewerage works for sewerage districts” A & C could be found on the NGBRA website. In Patna, the World Bank is funding the sewerage projects of Pahari in Patna & river front development and the draft social and environmental impact assessments could be found on NGBRA website. All of this (except the Varanasi packages, which are funded by Japanese aid agency) is going on under USD 1 Billion World Bank Funded NBGRA project.

So the business as usual that is going on for 40 years is now going to help rejuvenate Ganga!

The NMCG announced that the Manthan, a “National Dialogue on Ganga”, was supposed “to facilitate interaction with various stakeholders”, “to discuss the issues & solutions to the task of Ganga Rejuvenation”, “to prepare road map for preparation of a comprehensive plan”. The website said the Ganga is “holiest of Rivers”, “purifier of mortal beings” & “living godess”, but now “seriously polluted” and in “extreme environmental stress”.

Where is the dialogue? However, the way the meeting was organized, there was essentially no dialogue. After the inaugural plenary session, the participants were divided among four groups: 1. spiritual leaders, 2. environmentalists, NGOs, water conservationists, 3. scientists, academicians and technocrats, and administrators; 4. public representatives.

I went to the second group and there, when someone pointedly asked, if there is any representative of the government present, there was no response! In fact it was positively shocking that the first panel member that spoke in this group was Dr Arun Kumar of AHEC (Alternate Hydro Energy Centre) whose work on Ganga basin cumulative impact assessment is so discredited that even the official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF, the Inter-ministerial Group on Ganga, the Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court after the June 2013 flood disaster and the Supreme Court itself has criticized it or found it unreliable. NMCG has discredited itself by appointing such a person to give an overview of achievement of Ganga Action Plans.

GM stage

Ms Bharti apologized in the beginning for hurriedly-called meeting. But the least she could have ensured was a credible process that will ensure that the officials have to show application of mind to the various suggestions received and conduct of the meeting in credible and confidence inspiring way. But the meeting did not inspire confidence that there will be any credible process that will ensure that there is application of mind to the various inputs given. Many of the participants did not have any opportunity to speak.

Recommendations for the government on Ganga

1. Make an honest effort to learn from the past. Why have the efforts of last 40 years since the passage of Water Pollution Act 1974 not helped Ganga? Similarly why did the GAP I, NRCP, GAP II, NGBRA not helped make the Ganga clean (nirmal) or perennial (aviral)?

2. Understand & recognise that Ganga is a river and what are the essential characteristics of a Ganga that it needs to rejuvenate it as a river. At Ganga Manthan, in post lunch session in the room where the fourth group for public representatives was sitting, I was sitting next to an official of Ministry of Water Resources and I casually asked him does the ministry of water resources understand what is a river? He first said yes, but when I said you are only dealing with water and nowhere in your work have we seen any value for rivers, he said ok, but we can do it in collaboration with MoEF. The trouble is, even MoEF does not understand rivers. [It was also strange to see in this session Mr Madhav Chitale (former Water Resources Secretary) describing Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 as an effort to clean the river! Such misrepresentation going unchallenged was shocking.] It should be remembered that it is this ministry of water resources through which Sushri Uma Bharti has to achieve a rejuvenated Ganga!

3. Ganga is not 2525 km long river: We kept hearing this sentence that Ganga is 2525 km length of river and Mr Bhurelal in fact said we need to limit ourselves to discussing how to make this stretch clean. The trouble is, if the tributaries are not healthy rivers, how can the main stem of Ganga be rejuvenated? As Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan said, Ganga is not 2525 km, but much more than 25000 km including all the tributaries, as Yamuna is not 1400 km long but 13470 km long including all the tributaries.

4. Ganga in Mountains: Learn the lessons from Uttarakhand disaster, that affected the headwaters of the Ganga river. The Expert body constituted by the MoEF under Dr Ravi Chopra has a lot to say there. Revisit all the existing, under construction and planned projects in the whole basin.

5. Farakka barrage: It is well known that the barrage did not serve the basic purpose it was created for, namely making the Kolkata port navigable. But it has created such havoc in upstream and downstream for millions of people that some of the Bihar MPs of previous Lok Sabhas talked about decommissioning of the barrage in the debate on Ganga. But this government wants to make many more barrages! First do a post facto assessment of the Farakka barrage and its current costs, benefits and risks.

6. Formulate an Urban Water Policy: The footprint of the urban areas on the rivers is increasing in multiple ways, but we have no urban water policy. Some key elements that such a policy will include: Reducing transmission & Distribution losses, water audit from RWA upwards, Rainwater harvesting, decentralised and eco-friendly ways of sewage treatment and recycle, groundwater recharge and bottom up management, demand side management, protection of local water bodies, protection of riverbeds, floodplains and forest areas & democratisation of the Urban water utilities.  As the working report for the 12th Five Year Plan on Urban water said, no Urban areas should be allowed to have external water till they exhaust their local potential, including recycling of the treated  sewage and other demand side and supply side options. The footprint of the urban areas will increase exponentially if we do not urgently on this front.

7. Agriculture is the biggest user of water and our government encourages use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. Most of these chemicals end up in water bodies including rivers. If we do not want our rivers to be dumping grounds for these chemicals, the government should encourage organic farming. Similarly, in stead of encouraging water intensive cropping patterns and methods, government needs to encourage low water use crops and methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is applicable for many crops and can reduce water need by upto 50% and yet increase yields and incomes of farmers. But the government has shown no interest in encouraging SRI. Such methods can free up a lot of water for the river. Similarly, under the influence of powerful sugar lobby, we are producing more sugarcane and sugar than we need and than we are exporting the same at subsidized rates! So essentially we are exporting water at huge subsidized rates, that too from Ganga, but we have no water for the river!

8. Irrigation is the biggest user of water. At Bhimgoda, Bijnor and Narora barrages, we are diverting almost all the water in the river for irrigation. But we have no water for the river. If we change our water resources development and agriculture policies, it is possible to restrict these diversions to 50% and release the rest for the river. We need to review all this.

9. The IIT consortium report is seriously flawed and is not likely to help the river.

10. We need to define the path of the riverbed or right of way for the river, based on its need to carry 100 year flood and silt. In absence of such a defined space for the river, there are a lot of encroachments. There is also no river regulation law to regulate this riverways land. This is urgently required.

11. Our Pollution Control Boards and related mechanism is not known to have achieved a single clean river or nala in 40 years of their existence, anywhere in the country. This is because of the completely non transparent, unaccountable, non participatory and exclusive bodies, where people whose lives are affected by the pollution have no role. A complete revamp of this is required to make its management inclusive from block level upwards, and answerable to the local people through clearly defined management system.

12. One of the major reason for the failure of the GAP, NRCP and NGBRA is that their functioning is top down, with absolutely no clearly defined norms for transparency, accountability, participation and inclusive management. Unless we completely change this, no amount of money, no amount of technology, no amount of infrastructure or institutions is going to help the Ganga. We need management system for every STP, every freshwater plant, every city and town, every 3-5 km of the river, every tributary and so on. At least 50% members of the management committees for each of them should be from outside the government, including community members. The people whose lives and livelihoods depend on river including fisherfolk, boatspeople, river bed cultivators, local sand miners, communities depending on river for different water needs have to be represented in such management system. That will also create an ownership in river rejuvenation effort. This is also applicable to urban areas and all the tributaries.

13. This is also true for our environmental governance of dams, hydropower projects, flood control projects, water supply projects, and so on. Today there is no credible environmental management at planning, appraisal, construction, operation or decommissioning stage.

14. River of course needs water. Urgently. Chart out a road map to achieve 50% of freshwater releases from all dams and barrages in two years. Also no sewage water or effluents entering the river in two years.

In the concluding plenary, after listening to the reports from four groups (there were a lot of positive and useful suggestions there), Ms Uma Bharti and Mr Gadkari said that they won’t make any announcement today but they will ensure that the good suggestions that have come will be given to the decision-makers who will create a road map. This is very vague and unconvincing process with no credible transparency. The least the ministers could have assured is a confidence-inspiring process that would transparently ensure that the decision makers have applied their minds to the suggestions. But even that was not promised.

Despite this seemingly gloomy outcome, considering that the NMCG has invited[9] suggestions even after the meeting, I am going to send this blog link to them and wait for their response! Ganga definitely needs a lot of sewa from all of us if the river is to have any better future.

Himanshu Thakkar (


[1] For details, see:

[2] Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation

[3] Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation

[4] It’s worth noting here that Mr Gadkari seems to have abiding faith in technology, he said that this is an age of technology and there are technological solutions for all problems! This possibly shows where we are heading!

[5] Title: “Development of River Ganga for Tourism, Transport and to make it Environment Friendly”

[6] PIB PR on July 7, 2014;



[9] NMCG would welcome any further suggestions, ideas, write-up etc from all interested person through email:

[10] Also the views of NGBRA expert member B D Tripathi that also questions Dr Vinod Tare and IIT consortium report on Ganga: Ganga clean up more about governance than technology: Himanshu Thakkar Experts flay Uma Bharti’s Ganga Manthan clean up plan

CAG Report · Maharashtra

Clean chit by the Chitale SIT Report on Maha Irrigation Scam?

 Ye jo Public hai, Ye sab Jaanti hai!

The much debated SIT Committee Report headed by Dr. Madhavrao Chitale was finally tabled in the State Assembly on the last day of the Assembly in the evening on the 11th June 2014, reading it one gets a feeling of déjà vu. Following the uproar due to unprecedented dam scam in 2012, GOM constituted Special Investigation Team (SIT) on the last day of the promise, on 31 December 2012. Members of the Special Investigation Team (SIT), chaired by Dr. Madhavrao Chitale include AKD Jadhav, retd. IRS official and also the past Chairperson of MWRRA, Dr. Krishna Lavekar, Retd. Agriculture Commissioner, GOM and Dr. V. M Ranade, Retd. Secy, Command Area Development, WRD, GOM.

The committee report was submitted in March 2014, after some extensions and was kept under wraps for past three months by the government possibly keeping the Loksabha elections in mind. Not that it mattered as Congress and NCP fared terribly in Maharashtra, winning just 6 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, and the irrigation scam seems to have had a massive role in this. Now the government, especially NCP’s former and current water resources ministers Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare are claiming that they have got a clean chit from the report, keeping the State Assembly elections in mind.

These claims will not help the political parties. On the other hand, they are likely to harm their political prospects.

But first let us look at some basic aspects of the report. Does it really give a clean chit to the political parties? Is it above shortcomings? Will it play an important role in overhauling dam-centric water management in Maharashtra?

TORs of SIT The TORs of the SIT, laid down by the Water Resources Department of the GOM were as follows:

  1. Investigate irrigation potential created, actual irrigated area (pratyaksha sinchit kshetra) and water use for non-irrigation use. In the actual irrigated area, find the irrigated area by wells, farm ponds, water conservation department and water resource department
  2. To ascertain if the revised administrative approvals given to projects by Irrigation Development Corporations (IDCs) are according to the existing rules and regulations.
  3. Investigate the reasons for delay in completing projects
  4. Investigate reasons behind change in scope from original administrative approval and increase in cost due to change in scope
  5. Suggests measures to increase the usefulness of Lift Irrigation Schemes (LIS)
  6. Suggest ways for quality enhancement in WRD
  7. Suggest ways so that project is completed in said time span and costs
  8. Suggest measures to increase irrigated area
  9. If irregularity found in the inquiry, investigate it, fix responsibility and suggest suitable action

Are TORs inadequate? The Chairperson Dr. Chitale has reiterated over and over again, in face of requests and submissions from media, civil society, petitions filed in court (there are at this moment about 23 PILs (Public Interest Litigation) filed in Bombay High Court about irrigation projects between 2009-2013), that it was not a part of their mandate to look at the modus operandi of the corruption involved in the scam, in the process of calling tenders and accepting contracts. As per section 9.8 of  SIT report, issues it has NOT looked at include: Misuse of clause 38 in tenders for addition of component in the main tender without re tendering, Sanctioning mobilization advances without appropriate justification, Manipulating estimates for accepting tenders, inclusion of unjustified and unrelated additional expenses and Dam Designs made by contractors. The Committee says that these irregularities are outside their TORs but there is ‘scope for doubt’ and the “government would need to investigate into this separately within the legal boundaries.” This is not true and the SIT should have gone into these issues, particularly when it has found ‘scope for doubt’ in these issues because per se the TORs are broad enough to include these.

The committee also says that going into these would have been difficult due to absence of man power, resources and time at the committee’s disposal. However, looking at the centrality of these issues in the Dam Scam, due to which the committee was set up in the first place, and the respect Dr. Chitale garners in the WRD (Water Resources Dept) and political circles, it would not have been impossible to get the TORs modified if at all necessary and very easy to get additional resources. But there is no evidence of the committee asking anything in this regard, indicating that this was not even attempted by the committee.

Apart from that, the committee could have addressed many of these issues being in their TORs as corruption, political-influence and contractor-led processes have affected nearly all the aspects covered in the TORs. Not looking at these issues has resulted in a situation where Dr. Chitale says one of the main reasons for cost escalation of projects has been rise in market prices. Now consider this: costs of Kondane dam increased from Rs 57 crores to Rs 614 cores in just six months, and market prices had nothing to do with this. There are several such examples, where cost escalations, time increase, technical problems had nothing to do with the issues looked at by the committee. The  exclusion of political and corruption issues have affected the quality of conclusions and recommendations of the report.

The committee notes that it relaxed the TORs in accepting submissions from organizations and NGOs, keeping the bigger picture in mind. Strange to see that committee did not think of doing so in issues related to corruption and political links.


Some of the good conclusions:

  • Environmental and Forest Violations: The report says that there are 2 projects without EC (Environment Clearance) and 31 projects without FC (Forest Clearance) and which did not get FC for more than 5 years. Without clearance, work on some projects stopped midway or dragged on, resulting in a dead investment. If work was started only after permissions, these expenses could have been avoided and money instead could have been spent only on those projects with permissions. The SIT has recommended strict action against officials who floated tenders and issued work orders without these clearances, which is welcome.
  • It has also recommended action to be taken against officials responsible for starting working without acquisition of land for the project as well as canals. (9.3.2)
  • Initiating work without detailed design: Recommends action should be taken against the officials. (9.3.3)
  • Initiating work in the absence of finance: Committee recommends Strict action against IDC, Chief Auditor and Executive Director of the IDC (9.3.4.) which started work without requisite finances.
  • River plugging without creation of irrigation potential: There are around 23 projects where the river plugging (ghal bharni) was done but there was no irrigation potential created then or even two years later. Committee recommends strict action against officials.
  • Projects with serious faults, suspicious transactions: Committee recommends that projects with multiple flawed parameters should be checked by an independent committee and recommends action against Executive Director for the respective IDC. Such projects include: Ujani, Krishna Koyna LIS, Seena Medium Project, Bembla Project, Lower Painganga, Jigaon, Kurka Wadoda Project (TIDC), Sulawade, Bodhawad Praisar, Lower Tapi, Mukatinagar LIS, Manjra, Vishnupuri (Godavari Barrages), Brahmangaon LIS, Upper Godavari Project, Krishna Marathawada project
  • The committee also notes serious irregularities in the following projects: Dhamani (Kolhapur) Kukadi (Seena Tunnel), Jigaon (Buldana, Kondane (Thane) and Chanera (Thane) and recommends special attention and investigation into these projects.

But many conclusions are flawed, unacceptable and some are even illegal:

  • Irrigated area in the State: The report relies only on data collected by WRD. It also states that WRD collects seasonal field data. However, this is not true. The WRD currently has no system in place for admeasuring irrigated area. Irrigation Status Reports and Benchmarking reports are also not available for the past three years. Chitale Committees’ conclusions based on data from WRD are not reliable.
  • TOR 9: Investigation and fixing responsibility The committee holds the entire state machinery including the Planning and Finance Department for not providing enough checks and balances on the work of WRD and classifies most blunders as “systemic errors” (9.04). While fixing clear responsibilities of these sectors could have helped, sweeping generalizations and repeated conclusion of “systemic errors” ensure escape route to all offenders.
  • The punishments are classified into mild and strict punishments, but even strict punishment is limited to departmental inquiries. The committee has also taken the circuitous route of not naming the offenders, but alluding to their posts and duration. Even this is extremely vague. So while the committee refuses to look at most contentious issues, it also refuses to name offenders and also does not name political hand behind the decisions. It does not seem to be an investigation team in any way. Also, when fixing responsibility is a part of the TOR, the committee cannot shirk from the responsibility and state that it will not name offenders. This is a public issue and committee does not have the privilege of overriding the TORs for its idea of leniency.
  • The committee says that investigation into irregularities indicates that major driving force has been stress to reduce backlog, pressure from ‘local’ political leadership, centralized decision making in the IDCs and conscious ignorance of rules and social responsibility. This lenient generalization washes any responsibility from the political leadership of the state and the contractor-engineer nexus.
  • Section 10.9 of the report states that the blunders committed by decision makers were not intentional and were mostly ‘errors of judgment’.
  • MWRRA: Committee reports that 12 Projects are without MWRRA permission. Mild action is recommended against responsible Executive Director. (9.4) While the committee recommends action even against Finance and revenue departments, it does not mention any strict action against MWRRA, which, as pointed out by the CAG Report 13-14 cleared 189 projects during 2007-2013 though the State Water Resource Plan, based on which the projects were required to be cleared, was not prepared, violating the MWRRA Act (2005). Significantly, CAG mentions that: “Authority also failed to perform its role as a regulator as envisaged in the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority Act, 2005.”
  • On functioning of IDCs The report states that in 2004, at a meeting of the governing council and IDC members, it was decided that the rights of giving Revised Administrative Approval (RAA) will be given to the Chairperson (WRD Minister). Only a few members of the governing council were present for this meeting. The SIT notes that while the IDCs should have been going towards decentralization, this was a regressive step towards centralization and concentration of power and authority, however, the committee does not suggest ANY action against the Chairman!
  • As per a 2003 GR (Government Resolution) regarding Krishna, Godavari and Vidarbha IDC, all rights to provide RAA were given to the Chairperson and Executive Director by the Governing Council of the IDCs, thus concentrating power (and also scope of corruption related to RAA hikes).
  • CAG Report (2013-14) says regular monthly meetings of the Governing Council of IDCs were not held, in violation of Maharashtra Irrigation Development Corporation Acts. The Chairman (WRD Minister) is directly responsible for this. But the SIT Report does not mention this!

Action Suggested with respect to Specific Projects:

GoseKhurd: There should be action against respective officials who did not visit the canal works due to which concretization was to be done again. The SIT does not suggest any departmental inquiry or anything new other than the recommendations of the Mendhegiri committee report.

Barrages on Godavari: Several question marks have been raised about these projects, their utility and safety. Kulkarni Committee appointed to look into irregularities has come up with strong measures against defaulting officials. But rather than upholding Kulkarni Committee’s recommendations, the SIT asks for constituting one more committee to look into the irregularities!

Illegal suggestion of SIT Shockingly the committee says: (Page 210) for Human Project Forest and Forest Clearance was incorporated in project tender and recommends “it would have been good if a separate tender was issued for this” This is very disturbing. The entire process of Forest Clearance happens through the State Government Forest Department and there is NO role for any other agent here. Any such role indicates violation of the Forest Conservation Act, and SIT recommends precisely such a violation!

Similarly, Environmental Appraisal is supposed to be an unbiased process looking at the social and environmental impact of projects. There is again no scope for tendering here. The SIT’s recommendations in this regard are illegal.


After pursuing the 600 pager main report and its 32 pager Executive summary made by WRD[1], and keeping in mind all the other available information, one is left with little doubt that Chitale Committee has not only refused to unravel the truth, but has tried to protect political parties.

The unprecedented Dam scam in Maharashtra highlighted massive corruption in tendering process, a collusion of politicians contractors, engineers and bureaucrats, shockingly poor quality of work endangering lives of people in the downstream, a huge number of incomplete projects, nonexistent increase in irrigated area, etc. Some of the main whistle blowers of this scam included Anjali Damaniya of erstwhile IAC, organisations like Shramik Mukti Sangathana and SANDRP and most notable, Vijay Pandhare,  who was then the serving Chief Engieer of META, WRD. Mr. Pandhare’s letters to Chief Minister, WRD Officials, his engagement with the media etc., was remarkable and helped people of Maharashtra in understanding the scope and impact of the scam. In the past too, reports from forthright officials like Kulkarni, Vadnere and Upase had exposes parts of the scam and raised public awareness. This is apart from the systemic problems of dam-based water management in Maharashtra on which many individuals and organisations like Lokabhimukh Pani Dhoran Manch, NAPM, etc have been working for many years.

Considering this, people of Maharashtra are not going to look kindly upon any vague report that gives escape route to corrupt politicians, engineers and bureaucrats, without seizing the opportunity available to it. Unfortunately Chitale Committee Report (referred to as Chitale report) does just that. 

In fact, in the minds of people of Maharashtra who have followed this scam and listened to people in power insulting the plight of the common man in the absence of water (like Ajit Pawar’s remark about urinating in the dry dams or cutting water supply of villages that do not vote for NCP),  the report has seriously discredited Dr.  Madhavrao Chitale and the team of past bureaucrats themselves for:

  • not being clear and forthright about the main causes of the problems,
  • basing their data on the same WRD which has proved to be incorrect,
  • not seizing the historic opportunity available which could have altered the course of the Maharashtra irrigation through exemplary recommended actions,
  • not questioning the merits of mega irrigation projects which have been eating into Maharashtra’s public expenditure, concentrating water and power, impacting communities and ecosystems without benefits,
  •  being shockingly protective of the political class that was at the driving seat of this scam at public expense, by ignoring proofs against political leaders and parties even when it was available to the committee,
  • by maintaining escape routes in the report through which political leaders can escape
  • mollycoddling most of the issues as ‘systemic failures’ when it was their responsibility to fix precise responsibility and there were specific known culprits and institutions,
  • making some suggestions which are in fact illegal.

The committee shows how protective it is of the status quo in irrigation department when it talks of possible negative impact of exemplary punishments (and even departmental inquiries!) on the morale of WRD officials and says that irregularities other than financial ones are due to systemic failures and a large scale investigation into these will affect the morale of the officials. What will really affect the morale of good officials in WRD is NOT fixing responsibility on the guilty, thus maintaining a poor public image of the entire department, while putting the burden of political decisions exclusively on WRD officials. This will foster the feeling that no one can touch the political class and hence, officials better toe the line. This is sending a completely wrong signal.

All Political Parties in it together: While members of BJP are saying that the SIT Report indicts some leaders like Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatakare, these parties too are not stating upfront that there are serious flaws in the report & the projects, processes and systems the report was supposed to investigate and that neither the report, nor the flawed projects can be accepted. Neither do they raise the basic questions of the merits or lack of merits of having hundreds of irrigation projects without benefits at such huge expenses, and mostly unassessed social and environmental costs.

Nor do they talk about the real changes needed with the Water Resource Department, MWRRA (Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority), IDCs (Irrigation Development Corporations like the Konkan, Tapi, Kirshna Valley & Godavari basin) and related government machinery, to make them accountable, transparent and participatory.

The reasons for this are clear. The opposition parties are not untouched in this scam. Right now, they want to score political brownie points through the chaos while not aiming for any lasting changes or suggesting measures in the interest of people of Maharashtra. It should also be remembered that many of the current 600+ on-going irrigation projects under investigation were initiated at the time of Shiv Sena- BJP rule in the state.

The report protects political parties: While it has been shown by several reports, individuals and organisations that many decisions affecting projects were driven by financial and political interests, the report does not utter a word about political influence on WRD officials.

It should also be remembered Dr. Chitale, through his various roles as Chairman of Maharashtra Irrigation Commission, Secretary Water Resources for Government of Maharashtra & India, Secretary General of International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, Chairperson of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of River Valley and Hydropower Projects MoEF[2] has been entirely pro dam in his approach. He has never questioned the basic need and merits of large dams, despite their poor performance, multiple safety issues, environmental and social impacts, hazy and unattained benefits, etc. His pro-dam attitude is very convenient for and coincides with government of Maharashtra’s push for large dam agenda: pushing dams at each and every possible location, without a thought about their performance and impacts. As a result, as pointed out by CAG report 2013, in June 2013, WRD has as many as 601 projects under execution with estimated balance cost of Rs 82,609.64 crore which is nine times the capital grant of the Water Resources Department for the year 2012-13.But the Chitale Committee Report does not say a word about  this.

The report protects the Central Government In sanctioning, monitoring and financing irrigation projects in Maharashtra, there is a huge role for several arms of the Central Government, including Union Ministry of Water Resources, Central Water Commission, Planning Commission and Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. Thousands of crores of money comes from the Center to this state each year. The scam could go on unhindered also due to the failure of these agencies. For example, large irrigation projects are funded through Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme that is supposed to be monitored by CWC and Planning Commission. The Planning Commission is supposed to release first installment only after projects have all the clearances and every next installment only after previous installment has been used as per required norms and necessary results achieved. The SIT should have looked into the role of these agencies and their failures, but by not doing so, SIT has again favoured status quo and protected these bodies.

Dr Chitale, Ignorance of law is not a valid legal defense In the most crucial section of the report, dealing with fixing responsibility in grating Revised Administrative Approvals (RAAs), the report says that the Irrigation Development Corporation (IDC) does not have the right to sanction RAA and the Managing Director and CAFO (Audit and Finance Officer) of the IDC did not bring this to the notice of the IDC and hence the responsibility lies with them. In addition it says that: “Permission of Finance Department is needed for issuing RAA and it seems improbable that the GOM does not know this. This clearly implies that although the committee knows that Chairperson of the IDC knows this, being a part of the GOM, it is not ready to say so, shifting the responsibility on the officials.

In the very next point on action suggested, however, the report says: “In cases where expense made exceed approval, the Executive Director of IDC did not have power to grant RAA. CAFO and Executive Director of IDC are responsible for not bringing this fact to the attention of the Governing Council. If they had brought this to the notice of the governing council of the IDCthen responsibility comes to members and Chairperson. GOM should take appropriate decision in this regard.”

This is the only place where the SIT mentions the Chairperson of the IDC (Water Resources Minister) in the entire report!

This is possibly the most dishonest part of the report. The committee implies that WRD Minister of the State not knowing the norms of WRD is fine, and the responsibility for minister’s ignorance should lie with the officials. But, ignorance of laws and orders is not an excuse for violating laws. It is clear that SIT should have firmly indicted the WRD Ministers and recommended strong action against them. The SIT has done nothing of this sort and has transferred the responsibility on the WRD officials, also keeping a clever escape route for the politicians. Sunil Tatkare is already exploiting this escape route. (Interview)

This is shocking, blatant and unacceptable.

RECOMMENDATIONS OF SIT The Chitale Committee has made following recommendations, translated by SANDRP from original Marathi:

1. Through Remote Sensing (RS) find the actual siltation of major, medium and some minor projects

2. Cities and industries should treat their sewage and effluents to 100% level to reduce non-irrigation water demand

3. Water charges should be levied on wells in command which have not been handed over to WUAs

4. Performance evaluation of minor irrigation projects and recommendations for betterment

5. In cases where perennial crops like sugarcane are taken on major projects and canals their area should ascertained by RS and water charges levied accordingly.

6. Revenue and Agriculture Department is causing extreme delay in collating irrigated area. This needs to be looked into urgently.

7. In depth assessment of why water use is less in Konkan, Amravati and Marathwada and undertake works accordingly

8. Study through MERI: why has carrying capacity of canals decreased?

9. Do not declare irrigation potential created unless distribution systems are in place and ascertained

10. Proper account of irrigated area should be kept with the Agriculture Commissioner

11. Any fraudulent use of non-irrigation water should be checked and detailed audit published every year

12. Methods of collecting data for Economic Survey Report should be improved.

13. Data in benchmarking report should be collated at project level and not Division level as it is done now.

14. The actual cost of projects (original cost + escalation) should be considered as Administrative Approval cost and if cost of the project exceeds 12% of this only then it should be considered for Revised Administrative Approval (RAA) according to CWC guidelines

15. In RAA while finding the benefit ratio, the expenses should be modified as per the escalation

16. WRD needs to have its own code of conduct and rulebook

17. LIS Projects should have a separate rate list, separate from the contractor

18. The WRD should publish escalation rates based on rates every year

19. Construction work should be audited at various stages.

20. After the project construction has been completed, the project should be handed to the management division, WUAs, distributaries work should be done asap (As soon as possible)

21. Some period before and after the project should be designated as project related time

22. Before clearing any further LIS, it should be checked whether it has complete financial support and its electricity expenses should also be considered

23. Separate maintenance fund for pumps, rising mains and other LIS equipment should be considered

24. Rather than giving water to PA’s through LIS, smaller WUAs should be formed and water should be given through smaller LIS

25. Manual for LIS needs to be developed which includes all aspects of LIS management, implementation and command area development

26. Quality control parameters for WRD Department are now out of date and new ones should be developed

27. Damaged and dysfunctional equipment on states dams should be immediately made functional and it should be seen if any changes in these are needed

28. A committee should be formed under MERI to implement and manage the recommendation of the Dam Safety Organization

29. Special training session on Colgrout masonry should be organized by META and only the certified employees should be used for overlooking related works.

30. Proper management of projects as per methods like PERT or CPM should be undertaken at Project formulation stage. Activity time considered should be from the start of initial work to the initiation of irrigation from the project

31. Limits of the five year plan should also be laid on project

32. Work on large projects needs to be broken down in smaller pieces and projects with irrigation potential higher than 1 lakh ha should be termed as Mega projects.

33. Investment made for non-irrigation use should be clearly indicated as such

34. Irrigation potential of the project should be adjusted as per the water used for non-irrigation uses.  Requisite area should be reduced from irrigation potential of the project. Not doing so bloats the irrigation potential created.

35. A separate cell should be set up for coordinating mandatory clearances in IDCs (Irrigation Development Corporations)

36. Help should be taken from Social scientists, NGOS etc in rehabilitation, water distribution and WUA formation

37. Completion report of the project should be prepared in which the responsible officer writes the history of the project and looks at future. A separate cell for this need to be created

38. Separate set up for Project related survey and this should have responsibility of awareness creation in beneficiaries.

39. All IDCS should have separate rules as they have separate regional needs.

40. To achieve the scope and participation of IDCS, noted non-government representatives heading financial institutions/ orgnaistiaons, MLAs and MPs etc should be deputed. There should be a quorum for IDC decision making meetings.

41. Steps should be taken to make IDCs self-sufficient through things like fisheries sale, water charges for HEPs, the water charges should be deposited with the IDCs. This will encourage the IDCs

42. High tech and region specific irrigation methods should be used like drip, sprinkles, piped supply, cropping pattern and volumetric water supply norms.

Suggestions Offered: Can they improve the current situation? While some suggestions of the SIT are indeed good, they still continue with the same status quo,  doing tinkering here and there.  When there was a need for substantive increase in transparency, accountability, independent oversight and participation in WRD, the suggestions largely remain at the superficial level. They follow the same system that was so easily manipulated by the officials as well as politicians, while blacking out the affected communities as well as local stakeholders from the decision making processes.

As it was pointed out by several groups (Example: Manch, NAPM, SANDRP, experts like Pradeep Purandare) at the time of appointing the committee, there were several fundamental flaws in the appointment of the members, the TORs of the Committees, the powers it had to take any meaningful action against the guilty. It was clear from the outset, and also vindicated by the report that the SIT committee Report under Dr. Chitale mainly protects the political masters.

However, after witnessing and sometimes even bearing the burden of the irrigation scam and political interference in water management,the people of Maharashtra know how deep the roots of this scam go. They also understand that any report which the political parties use as an escape route is not credible. To that effect, the SIT Committee Report under the chairpersonship of Dr. Chitale will not help the political parties. Ye jo Public hai, ye sab jaanti hai…

Parineeta Dandekar (


[1] Exe Summary by WRD and not the SIT committee. Strangely committee report does not have an executive summary

[2] The EAC under the chairpersonship of Dr. Chitale gave environmental clearance to 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project in Arunachal in 2002, which has been stalled for more than 2 years now for the want of comprehensive studies. When the EAC sanctioned the project, it was designed to release 6 cumec water for nearly 20 hours and suddenly 2000 cumeces for 2-4 hours to generate electricity, which would have disastrous impacts on downstream Assam. The environmental clearance and approval to this project caused a huge uproar and protests in downstream Assam and these are still continuing.

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.