For past many years, incidents of illegal river sand mining across the country are on the rise. Given its resultant and adverse impact on river system and dependent communities, various state and central governments continue to go through the motions of devising a mechanism for judicious excavation of this minor mineral. But there seems no will to achieve compliance. At the same the time, people and concerned groups affected by illegitimate riverbed mining practices are approaching judiciary seeking legal intervention to curb the unsustainable mining of the natural resource.
In this backdrop, continuing tracking of this issue (like in 2015) SANDRP is providing an overview of various aspects related abstraction of the finite grit material from the rivers through a three part blog series. The first part of the series presents description of the most of the illegal riverbed sand mining incidents that have taken place in different Indian States through the year 2016. The second part of the blog gives account of the measures taken by governments at States and Central level to check the pilferage of this natural resource. The third part will highlight on the legal interventions by respective courts including Honorable Supreme Court (SC) and National Green Tribunal (NGT) to regulate unscientific quarrying of riverbeds.
On the 25th June 2013, when unprecedented floods were ravaging Uttarakhand, Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stone of 850 MW Ratle Hydroelectric Project, being developed by a private company GVK, on the Chenab River in Jammu and Kashmir. The PM hailed this project as a harbinger of prosperity to J and K and did not forget to state that the project has acquired all the requisite clearances.(http://inbministry.blogspot.in/2013/06/pms-address-at-laying-of-foundation.html). While he mentioned the upcoming elections, he did not mention a single word about the Uttarakhand tragedy.
He forgot to mention that while there are over 60 projects under planning, construction and commissioning in Chenab Basin of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, no Cumulative Impact Assessment that has been carried out to study the cumulative impacts of these bumper to bumper projects on the ecology, geology, disaster impacts, climate change impacts and communities of the Chenab. No carrying capacity study has been done in the basin to ascertain if the area can take all these projects in a sustainable and safe way. CHENAB BASIN LIKELY TO HAVE THE HIGHEST CONCENTRATION OF HYDROPOWER PROJECTS AMONG ALL BASINS IN INDIA.
In addition, the MoEF website till date (1st July 2013, after PM laid the foundation stone of Ratle Project) does not show the Form I, Form I A or the Environmental Impact Assessment Report of Ratle Project on its website, clearly violating Central Information Commission (CIC) orders. This issue has been pointed out by civil society including SANDRP multiple times and it is shocking that MoEF is not following CIC orders even for a project which is high profile enough for the PM to lay its foundation stone.
The PM, incidentally laid foundation stone for the 3000 MW Dibang project in Arunachal Pradesh on January 31, 2008, the project still has not got even statutory clearances over five years later. Let us see if Ratle makes better progress than that.
Considering these issues and also the devastation in the wake of Uttarakhand Floods, one would expect that the upcoming hydro projects in the fragile Himalayas will have a thorough assessment of their risks due to climate change, flash floods, landslides. However, the TOR of 850 MW Ratle Project given by MoEF does even mention the term Climate change! Going for the project without such an assessment may be invitation for a disaster.
These and other such issues have been raised by civil society organizations including SANDRP when MoEF was busy clearing hydropower projects on the Chenab Basin.
SANDRPs submissions to the EAC on Ratle: SANDRP had raised many issues after Ratle was granted Environmental Clearance by the Expert Appraisal Committee of the MoEF in its 59th meeting in July 2012.
Submission sent by SANDRP before the 60th EAC meeting in September 2012:
“RATLE HEP: the EAC has recommended EC to this 850 MW project, the largest such projects so far in J&K and in Chenab basin. However, Chenab basin is home to a very large number of large hydropower projects, including Salal, Baglihar-1, Dul Hasti (all operating) and also Baglihar 2 (under construction), Sawalkote, Bursar (plannned) among many others. However, there has been no cumulative impact assessment including basin wide and carrying capacity aspects. Taking up further projects without such a study is not prudent.
More importantly, in the context of this project, there seems to be some major discrepancies and EAC do not seem to have applied its mind. For example, the minutes say (page 14) that FRL of Ratle is 1029 m and TWL of upstream Dulhasti is at 1031.5, just 2.5 m above the FRL of Ratle. And yet the minutes claim that this project is 14 km downstream of Dul Hasti power house! How is this possible that the elevation of the TWL of the upstream project is just 2.5 m above and yet the distance is 14 km? This seems unlikely considering the topography of the region. The minutes do not say what is the length of the river where the tail race water of upsteram project enters the river and the tip of the FRL of downstream project.
VIOLATION OF CIC ORDERS The EIA and other related documents of the Ratle (or any other projects discussed in EAC) are not available on the MEF website, as required under the CIC orders, and till the implementation of the CIC order is achieved, consideration of projects will be violating the basic transparency norms.
We find that for Ratle, the minutes says that min env flow of 33.43 cumecs will be achieved through the operation of a 30 MW unit, it is not clear what norms will be followed for other seasons, including monsoon. The EAC do not seem to have applied its mind on this.
In view of all these reasons, we request the EAC to review its decision regarding the Ratle project.
We did not receive any response on this from the EAC members or other officers of MoEF. The EAC did not even acknowledge the letter, nor did they bother to explain the serious discrepancies pointed out in the letter.
Bumper to Bumper Dams in Chenab: As Chenab descends from Himachal and enters Jammu and Kashmir, it is dammed by several large hydro projects either operational, under construction or planned. Table below lists hydropower projects close to 9,000 MW in the Chenab basin in Jammu and Kashmir. This is not the full list. According to the Central Electricity Authority, projects totaling 4,200 MW are planned in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, while additional projects for 2,075 MW have been identified.
Partial list of large hydropower projects on the Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir:
Dul Hasti (operating)
Baglihar I (operating)
Chainani I, II, III
Some projects are under consideration for forest and environmental clearance, like the 1,200 MW Bursar project in Kishtwar district which requires 1,665 hectares of land, including 1,077 hectares of forest. It will affect more than 500 families in over 14 villages (option 2 requires 4,593 hectares of land!). And the 1,200 MW Sawalkote dam which will require 1,099 hectares of land, including 600 hectares of forest. Some of these dams will submerge parts of the Kishtwar High Altitude National Park. Here again, like it is being done in Chenab Basin in Himachal Pradesh, projects are being planned bumper-to-bumper; no environmental mitigation measures like fish passes or ladders are included and the social impacts appear huge, adding to the overall cumulative impact.
Despite all of this, no cumulative impact assessment study is being recommended or undertaken for the Chenab basin in Jammu and Kashmir.
Overdeveloped Chenab Basin in Himachal Pradesh: As many as 49 Hydroelectricity projects are planned or under construction in Chenab in Himachal Pradesh (HP). According to CM of HP Premkumar Dhumal, more than 28 of these projects are at an advanced stage of obtaining clearances (http://thehimachalnews.com/himachal-asks-for-environment-waivers-on-chenab-river-projects/ ). HP government is actually suggesting that the condition of cumulative impact assessments for projects on the Chenab put forward by the MoEF should be lifted as “it is unilateral and contrary to the state’s interests”! It would appear as though the chief minister believed that the interests of the state lay only in the execution of hydropower projects, nothing else. Services obtained from a river such as water availability, groundwater recharge, fishing, irrigation through smaller streams, climate regulation, tourism and protection of lands, forests, mountains and biodiversity are not in the interests of the state and are worthless!
Partial list of large hydro projects planned/under implementation in the Chenab basin, Himachal Pradesh:
Cap in MW
Length of HRT
Distance from U/s project
Distance from D/s project
Lahaul and Spiti
Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited
Lahaul and Spiti
Lahaul and Spiti
Lahaul and Spiti
Lahaul and Spiti
Lahaul and Spiti
Lahaul and Spiti
Lahaul and Spiti
Lahaul and Spiti
Lahaul and Spiti
Tata Power S N Group, Norway
Lahaul and Spiti
Lahaul and Spiti
Cumulative impact Assessment of Chenab Basin Projects in Himachal: The MoEF sanctioned TORs for cumulative impact assessments of the Chenab in February 2012. Surprisingly, this critical task has been entrusted to the Directorate of Energy, Government of Himachal Pradesh. Can there be any agency with greater conflict of interest than the Directorate of Energy for this study? Can we expect this department to conduct the study in an unbiased manner? Even as the directorate put out a request for proposals for contractors to carry out the study, it did not mention that the consultant had to be an independent agency with a credible track record, as specifically instructed by the EAC.
The MoEF seems to have meekly accepted the Himachal Pradesh chief minister’s demand for delinking environmental clearances from cumulative impact assessment studies, without any questions asked. Delinking EC from Cumulative impact Assessment defeats the entire purpose of having a CIA done. J and K Government is not even considering a Cumulative Impact Assessment as the MoEF has not asked for it so far.
It is time India took the issue of the impacts of cascading mega projects seriously. These rivers are not merely power-producing channels, they have been providing and continue to provide services to millions of local communities and our ecology. Governments and their agencies cannot simply push ahead with their big dam agenda at the cost of the environment and communities, in the absence of unbiased scientific studies and democratic decision making process. Doing that would be invitation to disaster.
Moreover, we need a cumulative impact assessment for the whole Chenab basin, including Himachal Pradesh and J&K, which is not even being considered by anyone, including the Prime Minister, MoEF, or state governments.
Poor track record of GVK group Here it should be added that Ratle project is being developed by GVK group, who has poor track record in development of hydropower projects. The only hydropower project of the group that has gone to advanced stage is the 330 MW Srinagar hydropower project on Alaknanda river in Uttarakhand and that project has been mired in serious controversies. A case has been going on in the Supreme Court, Union Ministry of Environment and forests has given stay work order, the project has no environmental impact assessment, and now during the current flood, the project is found to be responsible for the destruction of the downstream Srinagar town, and project itself has suffered extensive damage. People of J&K need to be aware of this track record so that they know what to expect from them. It is indeed shocking that the Prime Minister chose to lay foundation stone for this GVK project in the face of the role that the project of this company has played in Uttarakhand.
Neglect by PM’s Advisory Council on Climate Change It may be added here that Prime Minister is the head of the India’s climate change related work along with his advisory council on climate change. One of the highlights of the Uttarakhand disaster is that the PM and his advisory council have neglected the issues related to climate change in Uttarakhand. Now they are again repeating that blunder in J&K.
It is indeed unfortunate to see that the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone of the huge Ratle Project even as all the above mentioned issues are unresolved and are being swept under the carpet. What makes it more poignant is that he should do it when floods are still ravaging Uttarakhand and when many experts and organisations are linking these floods with the cumulative impacts of damming, blasting, tunneling, mining, muck dumping, deforestation, no attention to climate change impacts, disaster impacts , environmental compliance and sheer playing with the rivers associated with hydel projects in Uttarakhand.
This act has the potential of sending a very wrong signal to communities of Himalayas: That Indian Government will go ahead with its hydel development plan at any cost: even without assessing impacts of these projects on communities and ecology, without fulfilling norms of transparent governance. At a time when the nation is trying to cope with the Uttarakhand disaster, this is indeed a very wrong signal to send.
We have recently sent a letter to the PM, Ms. Snia Gandahi, Planning COmmission Members, etc.
July 4, 2013
1. The Prime Minister of India,
Government of India,
2. Union Minister of State of Environment and Forests (IC),
3. Mihir Shah,
Planning Commission, Government of India,
and member NAC,
National Advisory Council,
Respected Sirs and Madams,
The Prime Minister of India and UPA Chair-person graced the occasion of laying the foundation stone for the 850 MW Ratle Hydropower project in Jammu and Kashmir on June 25, 2013. We were very happy to see that Mrs Sonia Gandhi raised the issues of environmental impacts and sustainability on this occasion.
In this context we would like to bring to your attention that a very large number of hydropower projects are at various stages of planning, clearance, construction and operation in the Chenab basin. These include at least 13 hydropower projects of J&K alone, with total capacity of over 8600 MW. A very large number of smaller hydropower projects (each of them also have adverse impacts on local environment and communities) are additional. In addition, in the upstream Chenab basin in Himachal Pradesh, at least 17 large hydropower projects of total capacity of 3200 MW are in advance stage, whereas the state has plans for 49 projects in Chenab basin. Here again there are other smaller projects. It means even now there are over 30 large hydropower projects (for a full list of such projects, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/pm-kick-starts-850-mw-ratle-project-in-jk-without-full-impact-assessment-invitation-to-another-disaster-in-chenab-basin/) with total capacity 11 800 MW (this is not the full list or total capacity) and much larger number of smaller hydropower projects are planned to come up in this basin. It seems Chenab basin is going to be home to one of the largest number of hydropower projects in the country if all these projects are to come up.
However, there is no cumulative impact assessment of all these projects and other developmental interventions that are going on in the basin. Nor is there any carrying capacity study. As you know credibility of our environmental and social impact assessments is also very poor. Such indiscriminate planning and construction of so many projects without such basic assessments in place is clearly an invitation to disaster. This is particularly so in the context of Climate Change, which is having one of the greatest impacts in the Himalayan Region. Scientists have been warning us that Chenab basin has seen a very high rate of melting of glaciers and threat of Glacier Lake Outburst floods.
The absolute minimum we can do is to do the cumulative impact assessment and carrying capacity by a credible agency (not by Directorate of Energy, Govt of Himachal Pradesh, since this agency is more interested in pushing more and more hydro projects, or such other agencies involving conflict of Interest) and stopping clearance and work on all new projects (including Ratle) till such an assessment is available. It is not prudent to delink the new projects from such an assessment as the MoEF is currently doing. This is the most important lesson we can learn from the Uttarakhand disaster and the lessons from that disaster are relevant for all Himalayan areas including the entire Chenab basin. The MoEF should also not be considering cumulative impact assessment and carrying capacity study in Himachal Pradesh and J&K separately, but consider for Chenab basin as a whole.
Here we would also like to highlight that the GVK Hydro, which is the developer of Ratle project, has been held guilty of a lot of serious problems in implementation of the 330 MW Srinagar hydropower project in Uttarakhand (the only large hydro that this company has ever developed. Over a hundred houses have been damaged in Srinagar town, many of them submerged in over 10 ft of muck illegally dumped by the project in the river and sudden release of water in early hours of June 17 by the project. In fact your government should investigate such project induced damages in Uttarakhand disaster and fix responsibility on those guilty and make them pay for such damages. Your gracing the foundation stone laying ceremonies for projects of such companies do not send right signal.
We request you to kindly take the steps suggested above on urgent basis. We will look forward to your early response on this.