March 14 is International Day of Action for Rivers, against destructive projects. The main objective is to ensure that the river people have their say in the decision-making processes which affect their rivers and related livelihoods sources and that the decisions are informed decisions.
Here we are bringing forth the struggles of riverine communities in India in past one year to make decision makers aware of their hardships and impacts of destructive hydro and dam projects on the riverine eco-system.
‘MoU Virus’ was the term used by former environment minister Jairam Ramesh in May 2008 to describe the speed at which the Memorandum of Understanding or MoUs for hydropower projects were signed by Arunachal Pradesh government. Five years after that virus attack, the ill-effects are clearly visible. The construction of Lower Subansiri hydropower project has been stopped for 26 months now. Environment and Forest clearances are yet to be accorded to 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose dam, even though the foundation stone for this dam was laid by none other than the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on 31st January 2008. Lower Siang hydropower project public hearing was vehemently opposed by people. But learning no lesson from these, the government of Arunachal Pradesh and the center is going ahead with its gigantic plan to make Arunachal Pradesh the ‘future powerhouse’ of the country. In doing so scientific studies and ground realities have been blatantly neglected.
Oju hydropower project in the Subansiri river basin with a proposed installed capacity of 1850 MW is the latest example of the hydromania, which has gripped the government of Arunachal Pradesh and the center. Oju HEP is the upper most project proposed on the Subansiri river in the Upper Subansiri district with a catchment area of 9827 sq. km. up to the dam site. The project was considered for Terms of Reference (TOR) or first stage of environmental clearance by the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydroelectric projects (EAC) in its 72nd meeting held on 20th and 21st February this year. But there is little information available about the actual situation of the project area. Before going any further, consider the following situations –
* Any scientific study is yet to be done at the dam site. Water flow data which is a prerequisite for construction of a hydropower dam is not available for the proposed dam site. No gauge and discharge measurement site at the project site or anywhere in the catchment of the dam.
* The project area is totally under forest cover. It holds rich biodiversity which is yet to be explored.
* There is no road to reach the project area. The distance between the dam site of Oju hydropower project and Limeking town, the last point of motarable road is 60 km. From Daporijo, the headquarters of Upper Subansiri district, the dam site is 210 km away.
* A small hydropower project is proposed to be constructed in a nearby stream in order to fulfill the electricity requirement during the construction of the project.
* SNC-Lavalin, the consultants hired for preparation of detailed project report, is known to be one of most corrupt engineering firms in the world.
All the situations mentioned above are drawn from the project documents submitted to MoEF. It was shocking to find that without any environmental baseline assessment, the Pre Feasibility Report and Form I made all kinds of sweeping assertions. This hydromania is leading to nothing but ignorant, unscientific and corrupt decision making.
SANDRP after reviewing the project documents, made a detailed submission to EAC on February 13th pointing out the critical issues related with Oju HEP. We asked the EAC not to consider the project for TOR clearance. We also demanded that the project proponent should be asked to get at least five years’ daily water flow, gauge, rainfall and sediment data at the project site before applying for TOR clearance. The critical issues mentioned in SANDRP’s submission on Oju HEP to EAC are listed below.
Critical Issues of Oju HEP
No More Projects Should be Cleared in Subansiri basin before Completion of Basin Study From 20007 to 2013, four projects in Subansiri basin has been considered by EAC along with one sub-basin study. All the four projects have been given TOR clearance. Subansiri Upper HEP has been given TOR extension on 6th June 2013. The total installed capacity of these projects are 4960 MW. It is also important to note that 2000 MW Lower Subansiri project is in under construction phase. This implies that nearly 6960 MW of capacity has already been given clearance by EAC without any cumulative impacts assessment study of Subansiri basin being completed through a participatory process. This capacity is in addition to the small hydropower projects in the basin.
The Subansiri sub-basin study was discussed for the first time in 68th EAC meeting in 2013. In that meeting the EAC had stated that “optimal number and locations of HEPs and similar projects to be planned in the basin conforming strictly to ecological and environmental sustainability is to be clearly delineated.” This can only be known once the basin study is completed.
In this situation, no more projects in Subansiri basin should be given any clearance till the cumulative study is being completed. Besides, the EAC must take into account the fact that cumulative impact assessment study of the basin is major demand of the organizations whose agitation has stopped the construction work of Lower Subansiri with the support of the people of Assam. Therefore it is very essential that a through and detailed cumulative impact assessment study is done for Subansiri in participation with all the people of the basin. Without this, clearances given to projects would face the same fate as the Lower Subansiri project is now facing: Work stopped for 26 months till now.
A list of projects cleared by EAC in Subansiri basin is given below.
Total Area Req. ha
Forest Land, ha
EC on 16-07-03
TOR Ext Granted
Premature application Reading the PFR and Form I on the EAC website shows that project has come rather prematurely for TOR clearance. There is no gauge and discharge measurement site at the project site or anywhere in the catchment, the nearest site is at Upper Subansiri dam site with catchment area about 50% higher than that of Oju HEP. Even for this site, the flow measurement observations are available only for 6 years. How can optimum parameters of a massive project with 1850 MW capacity be formulated without any flow measurements, which is the most important parameter for hydropower project. Even now the flow measurements do not seem to have begun. There are no roads to the project area. It should be remembered that this is a virgin site, and there have been no environmental baseline assessments and yet the PFR and Form I are making all kind of sweeping assertions. The PP should be asked to get back with such an application only after they have at least five years of observation data of water flow and other parameters. That the application is premature is also apparent from the drastic changes the project capacity has gone through so far, as described in PFR.
This premature-ness of the proposal is further confirmed when we see contradictory figures in the submitted documents about basic project parameters. For example dam height is given as 110 m (sec 8) at one place and 115 m at another place. Live Storage capacity is given as 2.065 MCM at some place, 3.3 MCM elsewhere (e.g. sec 4.4 of PFR). Power intake design discharge is given as 327.4 cumecs at some places and 333.39 cumecs elsewhere (e.g. sec 2.2 of Form 1).
Proposal in contradiction with Cumulative Impact Assessment This proposal before EAC for a 1850 MW Oju project is in contradiction with what is given in the Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) commissioned by the CWC and which was discussed in the 68th meeting of EAC. The CIA says (see para 3 of Ex Summary) that there are two Oju projects: “Oju – I (1925 MW), Oju – II (2580 MW)”. However, the proposal now before the EAC is one project with capacity lower than any single project! However, Table on page 15 of CIA says Oju I has 700 MW and Oju II has 1000 MW capacity! The CIA says the submergence area of Oju I is 72.3 ha, though the proposal now before EAC for the same dam says the dam has submergence area of 42.3 ha! CIA says design flood is 10500 cumecs for Oju I (same dam as Oju now before EAC), but the proposal before EAC says PMF is much lower at 5983. This shocking series of numbers show that both the reports of Oju project before EAC and the CIA are misleading and do not seem to know what they are talking about. This is not an exhaustive list of contradictions, there are many more, this is only for illustration.
Proposal different than allotment The PP was allotted two separate projects Oju I and II by Arunachal Pradesh government, but they have decided to club the two, but there is no agreement between Arunachal Pradesh and PP for the new parameters in the project proposed before EAC. Without such an agreement, EAC consideration of the project would be vacuous.
Huge Land Requirement The Form I of Oju project states that the area which will come under submergence due to the formation of the reservoir excluding the river bed is 34.3 ha. Including the river bed the total submergence is 43.2 ha. But the total land requirement is 760 ha implying that the required for dam, water conductor system, power house and other project appurtenances is about 727 ha. It is not clear why 760 ha of land is required for the project when reservoir submergence is 43.2 ha.
Contradictory figures about Land Requirement The Form I in the table providing basin information about the project states that “The total land to be acquired for the project is 760 ha.” But the PFR in section 12.2 in page 15 states “It is estimated that about 790 Ha of land would be required for development of the Project.”This shows that the project proponent is not clear about the land requirement for the project.
Threat to Huge Forest area The construction of Oju HEP will be a threat to a huge forest area. Page 17 the Form I states “…760 ha of land with forest cover is to be acquired for the project. Forest cover is also observed within the project as well as area within 15 km from the project site.” But the PFR does not specify how much forest area will be actually diverted.
Installed Capacity is more than 1850 MW The installed capacity of Oju project is more than 1850 MW since a dam toe power house of 28 MW is also planned. This makes the total installed capacity in 1878 MW. The documents in most of the places mentioned installed capacity of the project as 1850 MW. The EAC therefore should ask the project proponent to apply for fresh TOR clearance with renewed installed capacity.
Oju Project Proponent aims to Construct Three Projects in the Name of One: Small Hydro project to Power the Construction Work The EAC should take a note that project proponent of Oju, is aiming to construct three hydro power projects in the name of one. We have already mentioned about the first two. Now in section 10.7 of page 10-7, the PFR documents states “The power requirement for construction activities is estimated to about 25.0 MVA taking into consideration the capacity of electric driven equipments which are to work during the construction period and lighting. The possibility of constructing small hydro power plants on streams in the vicinity of the project would also be explored at DPR stage.”
The Form I also mentioned about small HEP in page 10 -“The estimated peak requirement of power is about 25MW required for construction activity of major works such as tunnels, adits, barrage area and power house complex. Construction power requirement is proposed to be met by DG Sets/Small HEP.” Full details including impact assessment of this small HEP should be included in the TOR.
Stretch of Free Flowing River between Two Projects on Subansiri It is not clear how much flowing river stretch is available between Oju and downstream Nare HEP. According to the minimalist norms followed by EAC the free flowing stretch between two projects should be minimum one kilometer. But the PFR of Oju HEP have not clearly mentioned this distance anywhere. The Cascade development figure given in the PFR says that the elevation difference between TWL of Oju (1300 m) and FRL of Nare (1280 m) is just 20 m. If we look at the average slop at the site, this translates to about half a km. The PP should be asked to change the parameters to increase this to more than a km at least.
It is also important to specify this distance between two projects because of the cumulative impacts of the project. The Siang basin study in its recent version, which will be discussed in the same 72nd EAC meeting has asked to change the FRL and TWL of some of the projects because they have not kept minimum distance of one kilometer between projects. The basin study report in section 12.1.3 stated “…..it is recommended that FRL of three projects viz. Tato II, Naying and Siyom Middle should be slightly reduced so that free flowing river stretches of 1 Km can be maintained between FRL and TWL of these four projects in cascade.”
Therefore Oju HEP PFR should clearly mention the distance between its TWL and FRL of the downstream project. EAC also should make this compulsory for all the projects in other river basins.
Form I and PFR contradictory about the Generating Units The Form I of Oju HEP in page 20 states that the installed capacity of 1850 MW will be generated through eight units of 231.25 MW each. But PFR on the other hand, in section 9 of page 8 states “The underground powerhouse, housing eight units of 225 MW each, is proposed on the right bank of the river Subansiri.” It is surprising to find such contradictions in the Form I and PFR of Oju project.
The PFR in page 13 again states “As mentioned earlier, project’s installed capacity has been fixed at 1850 MW and correspondingly, eight generating units of 231.25 MW, each, are proposed in the powerhouse.”
Huge Diversion of the River The Oju HEP will divert a huge length of the river. Page 1 of the PFR states, “The dam site is located at about 60 km upstream of Limeking and powerhouse site is located at about 40 km upstream of Limeking on the right bank of Subansiri river.” This implies that the river has been diverted for 20 km between the dam site and the power house (The head race length is 14.82 km). . This is a huge diversion of the river Subansiri which will have disastrous impacts on the health and ecosystem of the river. But neither the Form I nor the PFR provide what is the length of the river to be diverted for the project.
Subansiri carries significant amount of sediment The PFR report of Oju project in section 7.5.2 states “Since Subansiri River is expected to carry some amount of sediment during monsoons, effective management of sediment removal from the reservoir should be ensured.” Stating that the river carries some sediment is not correct since this river system is known for high sedimentation due to its location in the young Himalayan mountain range.
Reference to this can be found in the January-March, 2003 issue Ecologist Asia (page 12) which was focused on dams in northeast “The catchments of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries show significantly high rates of basin denudation especially after the great earthquake of 1950. The catchments of the Subansiri, Jia Bharali and the Manas along with the Dihang (Siang) are estimated to have experienced an average denudation of 73-157 cm./1000 years over just 24 years (1955-79). The increasing amounts of sediment and water yields downstream indicate an increase in sediment yield by a whopping 240% accompanied by an equally significant rise of nearly 120% in water yield during the period 1971-1979 between Tsela D’Zong (China) and Ranaghat (India).”
Therefore first the sediment flow should be properly assessed.
Detailed and Thorough Options Assessment A detailed and through options assessment should be done for Oju project. There can be several other cost effective options for power generation in this area and options assessment should look into all such options. The options assessment should also look at whether the local people or the state needs such a huge capacity hydropower project.
It is important here to note that successful sub-megawatt capacity hydropower projects (Less than 1 MW) are currently under operation in Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh. (see – Anjaw shines in hydro power sector).
The TOR for the project does not include the following key aspects:
1. Issues related to cumulative impact assessment due to various components of the project and various projects in the basin.
2. The disaster vulnerability of the area on various aspects like landslides, earthquakes, floods, etc and how these will change with changing climate and how the project will change the disaster vulnerability of the area. There should be a separate chapter in EIA on this.
3. The project should do actual environment flow assessment and not just take the EAC norms as given. There should be separate chapter in EIA on this. The statement in Form 1 section 1.24 “Environmental Flows as per MOEF norms shall be released” is thus clearly premature and unwarranted. Eflows should be on daily changing basis and not seasonal averages.
4. Full Downstream social and environmental Impact Assessment
5. Impacts Peaking Power Operations
6. Assessment of impact of reservoir operation and mechanism to achieve transparent, accountable reservoir operation.
7. Impacts of Silt Management operations at various points of time and space.
8. Impacts of Tunneling and Blasting
9. Impacts of Mining of materials for the project.
10. Impacts of Backwater Effects of the reservoir in flood season
11. Impacts of Climate Change on dam
12. Impacts of the project on the adaptation capacity of the people in view of changing climate
13. Impact of peaking operation of the project on downstream areas and communities
No de-sanding chambers proposed in Silt Laden River The PFR in section 7.5.2 in page 7-5 states that “In this regard, it may be noted that no de-sanding chambers are proposed in the project in view of a relatively high dam with reservoir extending to almost 3.13 km.” Keeping no provision of de-sanding or de-silting chamber in the dam could have serious impacts on reservoir operations.
Form 1 undertaking not signed Page 2 of Form 1 is supposed to be an undertaking about the accuracy of information in Form 1, but there is no name, place or date for the signatory, all places are blank.
Poor reputation of consultants The PP has hired SNC Lavalin as consultant for DPR. However, SNC Lavalin has poor reputation in their country of origin (Canada), globally and even in Indian state of Kerala. How dependable would the work of such an agency be is a big question mark.
Parag Jyoti Saikia (with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar)
The year 2013 was an important for the water sector of northeastern states of India with several significant events. In this article I have tried to summarize some of the important events, issues and concerns of the water sector in northeast.
Massive hydropower projects considered and cleared for northeast An analysis done by SANDRP for the year 2013 has showed that massive hydropower capacity in northeast India has been considered and cleared by Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River valley and Hydroelectric projects. The total installed capacity of considered by EAC for the year 2013 is 29458 MW and out of which 21805 MW (over 74% of 29458 MW) projects are in the northeast India. On the other hand out of the total capacity considered for northeast, 20180 MW (over 92.5% of 21805 MW) projects are in Arunachal Pradesh. The total number of projects considered from northeast for 2013 was 37, all (including the Dibang multipurpose project, which is basically a hydro project) are hydropower projects. Out of these 37 projects, 10 projects of 4917 MW installed capacity has been given TOR (Terms of Reference) clearance or the Stage 1 clearance. 4 projects with 953 MW installed capacity has been given final environment clearances. 13 projects with 9078 MW capacity had been given extension of their TOR validity which implies that in next 2-3 years all these projects would also come up for final environmental clearance.
India-China Water Information Sharing MoU of October 2013 One of the most important developments of the year 2013 was the signing of this Memorandum of Understanding through which it was agreed that the current hydrological data (Water Level, Discharge and Rainfall) in respect of three stations, namely, Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia located on river Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra from 1st June to 15th October every year will now be extended to May 15th to Oct 15th with effect from 2014. Another important news through this agreement is that the Government of India recognizes the value of river since the agreement writes “rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development.” But this agreement has been misread and misreported by a large section of the media. SANDRP wrote a detailed blog “Media Hype Vs Reality: India-China Water Information Sharing MoU of Oct 2013” which clears the fog around this agreement. The blog also lists formation and decisions of the meetings of the Expert Level Mechanisms (ELM) on Trans-border rivers and MoUs on Hydrological Data Sharing on River Brahmaputra / Yaluzangbu and Satluj / Langquin Zangbu.
Forest Clearance Rejected for Tipaimukh and Dibang Hydropower Projects In the year 2013 the rejection of forest clearance to 1500 MW Tipaimukh hydropower project and 3000 MW Dibang multipurpose project by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of MoEF is noteworthy. Here it should be noted that the Prime Minister of India laid foundation stone for the Dibang Project in Jan 2008 when the project did not have any of the statutory clearances! However, NHPC has already started lobbying the Prime Minister headed Cabinet Committee on Investments to intervene for the forest clearance for Dibang Project and a note has already been moved for this. We hope these FAC decisions are not reversed as it happened in case of Kalu dam in Maharashtra, where the FAC decision was reversed following a letter from the Chief Minister. The stay over the construction work of Maphithel dam in Manipur by the National Green Tribunal could have been regarded as a positive sign but recent reports suggests that Union Ministry for Tribal Affairs (MOTA) had done a U-turn by going “back on its views to say that the Forest Rights Act should not apply to the acquisition of land from the Tanghkul and Kuki tribal people as a ‘rare and unique’ exception.”
Two years of Anti-dam protests in Assam and Tripartite Talks The protest against large hydropower dams in Arunachal Pradesh had reached a new milestone as the stoppage of construction work of Lower Suabansiri hydropower project completed two year on 16th December 2013. This stoppage of the construction work of the Lower Subansiri project has brought the issue of downstream impacts of large dams to the forefront and also showed how a mass movement can question a top-down development project. These protests were led by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), All Assam Student Union (AASU), Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba-Chatra Parishad(AJYCP) along with several other organizations.
On Dec 6, 2013, a tripartite discussion was held involving the central government, Government of Assam and experts protesting organizations. Though this meeting failed to come to a common resolution, it led to the expert to expert meeting on the Lower Subansiri dam issues on 22nd December 2013.
These discussions not only help in building public opinion about the issue but also provide platform to discuss the larger issues related with 168 hydropower dam proposed for Arunachal Pradesh and its cumulative impacts in the larger Brahmaputra basin.
Foreign Funding of Hydropower projects in Northeast In the year 2013 Asian Development Bank has agreed to give loan of $ 200 million to construct the Lower Kopili Hydropower project in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts Assam. This project is being constructed by Assam Power Generation Corporation Limited (APGCL) and it is 8 km downstream of Kopili hydropower project, first dam on Kopili river. It is important to note that acidic contamination of water due to unabated mining in the upstream Meghalaya is a poses a major threat for the viability of the dam and this was disclosed in a study initiated by the project proponent. This project was given TOR clearance in the 69th meeting of EAC.
Foreign funding of hydropower project comes with the risk of huge cost overruns. This was evident in the case of Pare HEP on Pare/Dikrong river which NEEPCO constructing taking a loan of 80 million euros from KfW, a German Bank. Incidentally, this project was schedule to be completed in September 2013 but Central Electricity Authority status report on projects under execution now states the completion time as 2015. The cost of this project has already increased by 205% from its initial estimates. The loan amount along with the interest rest is also increasing year by year and NEEPCO’s 36th Annual Report of 2011-12 states that the loan taken from KfW is “repayable in 30 equal half yearly installments w.e.f. 30.12.2013.” This implies that even before the completion of the project the company has to start paying back the loan.
Assam’s Flood Devastation For Assam, the central state of northeast India, flood is an annual event. In the year 2013 Assam witnessed three waves of flood. The table below provides a glimpse of the extent of the flood disaster Assam faced in 2013. The data is sourced from National Disaster Management Institute under the Ministry of Home Affairs of Government of India.
Data from NDMI, Government of India
No of affected People
No. of affected districts
No of affected Villages
But it was surprising to find that the numbers of affected people and villages provided by a central government organization is much less than the number provided by the disaster management department of the state government. The State Disaster Management Authority of Assam (SDMAA) provides much larger number of affected people. During the monsoon months of 2013, SDMAA published daily flood report on its website. After following the flood reports of four months, the following table with some key dates has been prepared to give an idea of the discrepancy between state government and central government data.
Data from SDMAA, Government of Assam
No of People affected
No. of districts affected
No of Villages affected
This discrepancy points towards the lack of the coordination between the state and the central government departments which is clearly not good sign. Floods need serious attention and such misreporting can lead to confusions which will ultimately have bearing on the people of Assam. It is important to mention that many in Assam believe that the problem of flood in Assam has not been dealt adequately by the central government. The discrepancy detailed above reinforces that belief.
False claim about climate induced displacement in Northeast India by a global agency In connection with the flood issue, the year 2013 will also be marked by the publication of the report named “Global Estimates 2012 – People Displaced by Disasters” by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) based in Geneva, Switzerland. This report had stated that the largest climate induced displacement in the world for the year 2012 happened in two states of Northeast India, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in June 2012 due to the monsoon floods which displaced 6.9 million people, constituting about 21.2% of the population of the two states. But a detailed analysis of this report by SANDPR revealed that the though these figure are highly exaggerated. This analysis is available at “2012 Floods Displaced 6.9 Million in Northeast-IDMC: Staggering but Highly Exaggerated”.
Havoc of Erosion In Assam, along with annual floods, river bank erosion by Brahmaputra and its tributaries is a major cause of concern. The year 2013 is also no exception and severe erosion was reported in several parts of the state. A report Study of Brahmaputra River Erosion and Its Controldone by IIT Roorkee, published in 2012 measured the loss of land due to erosion of Brahmaputra for nearly two decades in twelve reaches of the river. The total loss of land on both sides of the river Brahmaputra is mentioned below.
Total Erosion Length (km)
1990 to 2007 – 08 (in sq. km)
1997 to 2007-08 (in sq. km)
Total Erosion Length (in km)
1990 to 2007 – 08 (in sq. km)
1997 to 2007-08 (in sq. km)
This report, sponsored by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), was a very descriptive report from the point of information and data about the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries. But an analysis of the report done by SANDRP, found that this report was biased towards structural interventions and hydropower projects and oversimplifies the problem of erosion by identifying ‘sediment overloading’ as the main reason for erosion. This analysis can be found at “NDMA Commissioned IIT Roorkee Study on Brahmaputra River Erosion: A Biased and Structural Solution Oriented Report?”.
The year 2013 also witnessed people in river-rine areas of Assam demanding relief from erosion. On May 21st 2013, the people of Bahgara Dhunaguri village panchayat in the Lakhimpur district of Assam floated the effigy of State Water Resources Minister Rajib Lochan Pegu in a traditional raft in the Subansiri River in Dhunaguri Baduli Para area. The TMPK units of Dikrong Awanori and East Dikrong joined in this protest. According to the beliefs of Mishing society when someone dies due to unnatural causes, his/her body is floated in a traditional raft in flowing river. People accused that Mr. Pegu had completely failed to perform his duty as a water resource minister and he had not been able to give any relief to the people by preventing flood and erosion. Failing to perform his duty has been regarded as the ‘unnatural death’ of the minister & that was why people floated the effigy of the minster.
With respect to construction and repair of embankments, some serious issues were brought to light in the year 2013. In May 2013, All Assam Water Resources Contractors’ Association revealed that out of the total embankment length of 4473.82 km in Assam, the government had repaired only 1327 km embankment, leaving 3673 km long embankment completely vulnerable to floods.
Parag Jyoti Saikia (email@example.com)
with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar
In the year 2013, SANDRP has written 13 blogs on issues related to North East India. A list of those blogs is given below. SANDRP has also made continuous submissions on dams and basin studies from Northeast to EAC and those submissions are available in our website https://sandrp.in/.