(Feature Image: Massive landslide at Lower Subansiri hydro project dam site. Source North East Now 28 Oct. 2022)
Over the course of past two years, series of disasters and accidents have taken place at construction site of the controversial 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydro Power Project resulting in damages to project structure and death of construction workers thus raising questions over its safety and sustainability. Since 2005-06, the largest ever under-construction hydropower project is being developed by NHPLC Ltd (formerly known as the National Hydro Power Corporation Limited), a central government company in geologically fragile, seismically vulnerable and biodiversity rich area in the face of pending judicial case[i] and very strong opposition from people across the Assam.
The latest disaster in form of a massive landslide affected the project site on October 12, 2022 further delaying the repair works which were being carried to recover damages caused by the flash floods, landslips at dam site in last week of September 2022.
(Feature Image: Group photo during No Means No campaign in April 2022 against destructive hydro power projects in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh. Source: The Pahari Zone, You Tube)
A number of developments this week once again show how unviable large hydropower projects are facing rejection in a number of states. In Kinnaur (Himachal Pradesh) the local youth are demanding that the candidates in the state assembly elections to be held in November 2022 promise to work against the hydropower projects in the district.
In Arunachal Pradesh, the state government has told that High Court that they have cancelled all the 44 large hydropower projects proposed in Siang basin when locals alleged in the petition “the projects have been initiated in a reckless manner without any regard to the consequences of the same and without following any scientific research”.
In Assam with new accidents, the commissioning of the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri HEP has been pushed back further, making the over Rs 20000 crore project even more unviable. In J&K, the landslides killing 4 people at the under construction Ratel Hydropower project in Kishtwar district on Chenab River has again rung a warning as to what is in store for future if proper appraisal studies are not done. In Uttarakhand, the bid to take over the Lanco Hydropower project on Mandakini river, now undergoing bankruptcy case in the court have been rejected and same is likely to be the fate for the revised bid.
On Sept 27, 2022, the Madhya Pradesh Government cancelled all contracts related to the Maheshwar Dam Project on Narmada. This massive dam on Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh upstream of Sardar Sarovar Project and downstream of the Omkareshwar Project was to be a multi-purpose project with a 400 MW hydropower component and water supply component among others. It was opposed by the people’s movement lead by Narmada Bachao Andolan for over two decades now. The project being implemented by the private textile company S Kumars showed no will or intention of taking care of the social or environment impacts of the project. Madhya Pradesh government so far was trying to push ahead with the project by hook or by crook, but finally had the sense to realise that this is going to be a massively costly affair at estimated Rs 42000 crores and the state and the people of state are only going to suffer costs and adverse impacts. The cancellation of all the contracts for the project signals a major victory of the people’s movement.
While congratulating the state government for cancelling the contracts, we would also suggest that the government needs to quickly decide about decommissioning of the dam, so that it does not pose safety risk to the people upstream and downstream and also perpetuates unnecessary adverse social and environment impacts. Earlier the dam is decommissioned, quicker will be the relief from these impacts. Moreover, the MP government should also not let the private company go scot free and all attempts should be made to recover the money spent and also penalise them for breach of the contracts. The private company should also be made to pay for the decommissioning costs.
March 14 marks 25th anniversary of International Day of Actions for Rivers, a unique campaign dedicated to indigenous communities striving to protect and preserve their rivers from a whole range of destructive anthropogenic activities. The Hydro Electric Projects (HEPs) are among key threats affecting rivers eco-system and riverine communities greatly, in multiple ways.
The resistance against destructive, unviable HEPs growing stronger in India. Over the past one year there has been several protests against hydro projects across the country particularly in Himalayan states. On the occasion of International Day of Actions for rivers celebrating people’s resistance, SANDRP has compiled top ten stories of such community led opposition during the year, along with relevant additional stories. .
Even as the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects (RVP) appointed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in December 2016 completes three years with the end of 2019, it has kept up its record of green signaling everything that came its way in 2019.
There was just one exception: EAC in its meeting on January 28, 2019 rejected the proposal for EC (Env Clearance) extension for the Brutang Major Irrigation Project in Nayagarh District of Odisha, but it was essentially on procedural issue and the EAC “recommended for taking of the proposal afresh”, so it was not a full stop, but only a comma. The EAC failed to creditably appraise the EIA, the TORs, the public consultation process and decide on merit if the project was fit for approval. It approved everything that came its way, at the most occasionally asking for additional information. Never looking into the adequacy of the impact assessment or public consultation process or optimality of the project. Continue reading “Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects Green signals all in 2019”→
With work on NHPC Ltd’s 2,000-MW Lower Subansiri hydro power project restarting after a wait of almost eight years, anti-dam organisations led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) vowed to launch an intense resistance movement to stop further construction of the project. AASU, in a statement, alleged that work on the Lower Subansiri project at Gerukamukh along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border has been started ‘treacherously’, risking the lives and property of people living in the downstream area. AASU said a scientific study on the possible impact of the dam in its downstream areas besides a cumulative impact study must be completed before expediting work at the dam site.
Every possible violation of norms, procedures, law and democratic governance is being committed in pushing clearances for the India’s largest capacity hydropower project, which involves India’s highest dam proposed so far & North East India’s Largest capacity reservoir: the 3000 MW Dibang Multi Purpose Project in Arunachal Pradesh. The players involved in these violations include the Union government of NDA led by BJP (UPA earlier), including its cabinet and Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MEFCC), Ministry of Power, State government, the project developer company NHPC Ltd, the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).
The project will need more than 4700 hectares of biodiversity rich Forest area with several Schedule I species in Arunachal Pradesh. It will also have significant downstream impacts on the people & environment of Arunachal and Assam and Dibru Saikhowa National Park. Most of its impacts have not been either properly assessed or considered by the developer, EIA agency or the EAC & MEFCC.
Déjà vu: We did the same for Lower Subansiri HEP! It seems the government is indulging in the same blunders that the previous NDA government indulged in over a decade ago while clearing the then-largest capacity hydropower project: the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project (LSHP), also in Arunachal Pradesh. Environment clearance for LSHP came on July 16, 2003 and stage I forest clearance came on June 10, 2003. Exactly the same set of players were involved in manipulating LSHP clearances over a decade ago. The developer is also the same: NHPC. The government at centre is again led by NDA.
Aaranyak environmental group of Assam, in a letter dated May 16, 2002 to the then-Chief Justice of India had highlighted the violations involved at various stages in the decision making of LSHP including during public hearings, in conducting EIA, in giving environment, forests and wildlife clearances. Almost all the issues that Aranayak letter raised then are applicable in case of Dibang with even greater force. But it seems in the twelve years since 2002 when that letter was written, our environmental governance has only degenerated.
The fate of the LSHP is a lesson in itself. After spending over Rs 5000 crores (Rs 50 Billion), the work on the project came to a standstill in December 2011. It has remained stalled for 34 months since then, following India’s biggest Anti dam People’s movement so far. This is unprecedented in India’s hydropower history. NHPC Ltd has been trying every possible trick to resume the construction work on LSHP, without genuinely trying to address the issues people’s movement has been raising.
Dr Mite Linggi, Representative of Kere A Initiative for Cultural and Ecological Security said exactly that at the public hearing of Dibang Project on March 13, 2013: “It is evident that the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project is stalled since Dec 2011 because the technical, environmental and social concerns of the people of Assam were not considered earlier… Ignoring downstream concerns will only ensure that this project to will meet the same fate as Subansiri Lower Project (2000 MW and get stalled by people of Assam.”
It seems none of the players have learnt any lessons from the blunders committed in LSHP’s decision making. If this is how Dibang Project is being pushed down the throat of the people of Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh and the North East India, they will have no option but to oppose the project and the Dibang Project may have the same fate as that of LSHP. Those who have been involved in the decision making now will then be held accountable for the wrong decisions and manipulations.
THE DIBANG PROJECT
The foundation stone of 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project on Dibang River was laid on 31st January 2008, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when the project had no clearances, showing utter disregard the former PM had for statutory clearances or environment or affected people. The project affects Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and significantly, several districts in downstream Assam.
Considering the fact that Dibang has the largest installed capacity for a project in India, involving highest dam in India and biggest reservoir in North East India so far, one expected the EAC to be much more diligent while considering the project and even more so considering the experience of the LSHP. But that, it seems, was expecting too much.
The first thing that would strike any one who goes through the EAC and FAC documents is that the basic parameters of the project are yet unclear even as the EAC and FAC have recommended clearances, within the span of a week, under pressure from their political masters. Unbelievably, these two committees functioning under the same Ministry have recommended clearance for differing capacities, differing heights, differing submergence areas and so on!
This is because the NHPC knowingly misled the EAC in its meetings by presenting the 288 m height (above the deepest foundation level) dam with 545 m elevation at Full Reservoir Level (FRL) and 3.75 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) of storage capacity at FRL. The same NHPC, in FAC meeting on Sept 22, 2014 provided sensitive analysis with dam height reduced upto 40 m, but this was not even mentioned before the EAC!
Let us review the how the EAC and FAC dealt with the project.
A. ENVIRONMENTAL CLEARNACE FOR THE DIBANG PROJECT:
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MoEF, which holds the distinction of having a zero rejection rate for the projects it appraises, recommended Environment Clearance to 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project in its 77th meeting on 16th Sept, 2014.
The Project was given TOR (Terms of Refence) clearance on 17.8.2009. Public hearings in Lower Dibang and Dibang Valley districts were held on 11.3.2013 and 13.3.2013 respectively, with huge protests from affected people. The EAC earlier considered the project in 68th meeting in Sept 2013, in 73rd meeting in March 2014, in 74th meeting in May 2014 and now in 77th meeting in Sept 2014.
Some key questions that arise as to how the EAC arrived at the positive recommendation:
1. Was there any Public Hearing in downstream Assam? Was there proper public hearing in Aruunachal Pradesh?
Although Dibang Multipurpose project will have impacts in the downstream Assam, as accepted by NHPC Ltd, WAPCOS and recorded in EAC minutes, no public hearing has been conducted in Assam, in complete violation of the EIA notification which clearly states that in all affected districts public hearings must be held. The submissions from Assam were not discussed during EAC minutes. The people of Assam have been completely ignored in the decision-making about a project that will affect them. Several people who spoke at the Dibang Public Hearing in Arunachal Pradesh in March 2013 raised this issue, but MEFCC and EAC failed to do anything about this even after SANDRP submissions to EAC also raised this issue.
Even in Arunachal, the public hearing process has seen several violations, leading people to oppose the project and the public hearings, see the quotes from the public hearings given below. Consequently, the public hearings were disrupted by the local people and had to be cancelled several times. The MEFCC, unfortunately, has no concern for the quality of the whole consultation process and sees it as only a box to be tick marked. The EAC does not even look at issues related to public hearings.
2. Were the issues raised at public hearing in March 2013 addressed?
No. As is clear from the report of the public hearing for the project held at Roing and New Anaya on March 11 and 13, 2014 respectively, the affected people raised a lot of critical issues about the project, EIA, EMP and Public hearing.
In the Minutes of the 68th meeting of EAC held in Sept 2013 and the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014, there is one paragraph (same para in both minutes) on public hearings: “Concerns Raised During Public Hearings It was explained that in general, the people were satisfied with the EIA and EMP reports and proposed R&R plan and community and social development plan. R&R plan has been formulated in line with the State R&R Policy, 2008. They took keen interest in knowing the R&R package and community and social development (CSD) plan. However, during public consultation prior to public hearing and during public hearings of Dibang Multipurpose Project, in addition to community and social development plan more infrastructural development in both Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley Districts were sought viz., up gradation of District Hospitals in both districts, financial assistance for schools, colleges and polytechnic, and construction of cultural museum at Roing and ITI at Anini etc. Besides this for downstream people, the main concern was protection of downstream area in case of dam break / high flood. Keeping this in view, a lump sum provision of Rs. 17100 lakhs has been proposed for consideration of MoEF for mitigative measures at downstream and other infrastructural facilities as raised during public hearings in addition to R&R and CSD plan.”
The claim that “in general, the people were satisfied with the EIA and EMP reports and proposed R&R plan and community and social development plan” is a complete lie, as we see from the quotes from the official public hearing minutes below.
It seems the EAC members have not bothered to read the public hearing report, and they have willingly or unwillingly been misled by the NHPC and EIA agencies. To illustrate the critical issues raised at the public hearings, we are giving below some quotes from the official public hearing report. Most of these reports remain unaddressed in the EIA-EMP submitted to the MEFCC, but MEFCC and EAC has not bothered to check this.
Shri Lokha Elapra, President, All Idu Mshmi Students Union: “Poor planning of mitigation from impacts during construction phase. Mitigation measures fail to address issues of demographic impacts, socio-cultural concerns and preservation of traditional land and livelihood… EMP does not have any provision to address this. EIA and EMP does not have any mitigation measures to preserve nor compeansation for permanent loss of mithun grazing areas, fishing grounds and medicinal plants thus endangering the loss of Mishmi Takin (rare Animal), Mishmi Monal (rare Bird) and Mishmi Teeta (rare medicinal plant)… Flood control of Eze (Deopani River to protect Roing Township… A cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be undertaken.”
Shri Raju Mimi, Member, Mishmi Scholar’s Association: “NHPC had undermined the seismic design parameters as recommended by the experts of IIT Guwahati, Guwahati University and Dibrugarh University in respect of the Subansiri Dam. In this regard can the community members of the affected areas be certain that such careless disregard for dam safety be not repeated by NHPC in this case? All the documents related to dam design and safety be made public. Also, the documents should be peer reviewed by independent group of scientists. Ecological concerns like extraction of boulders from ecologically sensitive Important Bird Area (IBA). No impact assessment made regarding this in the EIA report… Hence a cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be commissioned. Socio-economic concerns like the catchment area treatment (CAT) plan will restrict land use resulting in loss of land and livelihood. NHPC must ascertain such losses and compensate the people affected by CAT… There is possibility of loss of land by destabilization of soil due to the huge reservoir. What mechanisms will be implemented to address these losses? ”
Shri Kelo Pulu, President IMCLS: “Environment Monitoring Cell to assess and review the various mitigation measures as mentioned in the EMP is not convincing. Therefore, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh should immediately notify the formation of an independent Committee consisting of less than 5 members of local Idu Mishmi people.”
Shri Moba Riba: “Conduct Public hearing at Dambuk Sub division.”
Shri Jibi Pulu: “Additional EIA-EMP must be undertaken to ensure the minimum impacts to the ecology of Dibang area. The Community people will lose an area of 10390 ha that will be required for CAT plan. This area being grazing area of Mithun will be lost. The EIA does not have any data or estimate/ valuation of this resource. Without any compensation the livelihood rights cannot be taken away from the community. EIA studies about wildlife conservation is inadequate. EIA studies carried out regarding assessment of economic and medicinal plants is not project specific nor community focused. It does not have any reference, assessment and compensation of economically valuable plants like Piper mellusa and Paris polyphylla. The impact of 1950 earthquake of 8.7 magnitude.. Is the dam axis and reservoir standing along the seismic fault line? The impoundment of the drainage system by building dam will have major effect.. Hence, EIA studies on downstream impact particularly study of Deopani drainage and its siltation status is absolutely necessary.”
Dr Mite Linggi: “As recommended by the Planning Commission Committee we demand for a Dam safety design panel for an independent assessment of safety of Dibang Dam. There are lacunae in EIA-EMP reports. This must be rectified.”
Shri MartinLego: “Resistance capacity of the mountains which fall in the reservoir is not studied. Dam should be able to withstand flashflood. Construction of flood protection works with RCC wall supported by vegetative cover on both banks of Dibang River… Our demands must be fulfilled then only we will support.”
Shri Mibom Pertin, President Adi Bane Kebang (ABK):“Till date no initiative has been taken by the State Government, the district administration or the NHPC to educate the people… the EIA EMP must be modified/ rectified wherein safety measures and actions to be taken in case of dam break… Until and unless the above points are fulfilled the holding of this public hearing is strongly opposed by ABK.”
Shri Jowar Moyang: “Demand to establish a family dossier of the entire downstream people… Downstream not reflected in the EIA/EMP and DRP therefore, a separate guideline be made to include the downstream within the defined local area. The demands placed above must be addressed to within three months of this hearing or else will protest against the construction of the project.”
Shri Nun Pertin, President, Dibang Adi Students’ Union (DASU): “Downstream people are unaware of the project benefits, impacts and other issues which are mandatory to be known before the commencement of the project. Therefore, public hearing in this regard must be conducted within blocks and subdivision of Lower Dibang Valley. This must be furnished in written assurance form within one week’s time. ”
Shri Anjite Menjo, Zilla Parishad Member, Iduli Anchal Block and Shri Chiliko Meto, ZillaParishad Chairperson: “Environment Monitoring Cell to assess and review the various mitigation measures as mentioned in the EMP is not convincing. Therefore, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh should immediately notify the formation of an independent Committee consisting of less than 5 members of local Idu Mishmi people… Hence a cumulative impact study in the Dibang river basin must be commissioned.”
Dr Mite Linggi, Representative of Kere A Initiative for Cultural and Ecological Security (KICES): “It is evident that the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project is stalled since Dec 2011 because the technical, environmental and social concerns of the people of Assam were not considered earlier. Report of the Planning Commission appointed Committee of Dr C D Thatte and M S Reddy has raised several serious concerns about the downstream impacts of the 2000 MW Subansiri Lower Project. Therefore, keeping this in mind, it is absolutely important that public consultation in Assam is carried out before the Dibang project gets environment clearance. Public consultation in Assam is not only necessary to address the concern of the people, but it is a pre-requisite for the people of Dibang Valley in the upstream… Ignoring downstream concerns will only ensure that this project to will meet the same fate as Subansiri Lower Project (2000 MW and get stalled by people of Assam. Rights of the people to use Catchment Area will be denied. Will compensation be included for them? Is it possible for NHPC Ltd to formulate new criteria for all those villages perched atop to include within affected families?”
Shri Lokha Elapra, President, All Idu Mishmi Students’ Union (AIMSU): Raises most of the critical issues raised above including need for Cumulative Impact Asessment, inadequate EIA-EMP, Impacts of demographic changes, lack of assessment of loss of grazing land, fishing right. “We do not want to be refugees in our land.. We the Idu Mishmi have a way of living where we live independently. Past history is proof of it. We had never been ruled and can never be ruled under any circumstance or vice versa. The plot which the NHPC Ltd claim giving free of cost is by virtue forcefully asking us to live in that piece of land where the PAFs are not satisfied.”
Shri Athupi Melo, Ex-ZPM, Anelih-Arju Block and Representing New Endoli village: “Public hearing on Dibang Multipurpose Project (3000 MW) was postponed 10-14 times earlier as the consent of the public was not taken before preparing EIA and EMP reports. The NHPC Ltd had cheated the entire affected people by concealing information and letting the awareness remain within the high reach people only. The NHPC Ltd as per their survey has shown 5 villages, 72 families, 243 persons, 938.8 ha of agriculture land as to be affected by the project. Do they know that the storage reservoir will submerge the land mass which belongs to another 34 villages of the valley?”
Shri Kupu Miku-ASM Arzoo and Representative of Apako village: “Had been resisting NHPC Ltd for the last ten years. Nothing was made known as to how much land would go and how much compensation would be provided.”
Shri Rezina Mihu, General Secretary, All Idu Mishmi Students Union (AIMSU): “It has been six yeas of resistance till this morning. The former President of AIMSU sacrificed his life fighting against the Dibang Project… the EIA-EMP is still not upto the mark.”
This selection of quotes from the Public hearing and reading of NHPC response, EIA-EMP and EAC minutes show that not only NHPC has failed to satisfactorily respond to most of these issues, the EAC and MEFCC has not even bothered to check the veracity of the claims of NHPC and uncritically accepted the NHPC claims. Inadequate response to the issues raised at the public hearing means that environmental clearance given to the project is legally untenable.
3. Has there been proper Environmental Impact Assessment of the project? Kalpavriksh, SANDRP, affected groups from Assam and Arunachal have made several independent submissions to EAC on the inadequacies of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). SANDRP itself sent four different submissions (dated Sept 20, 2013, April 2014, May 2014 and Sept 12, 2014) highlighting various inadequacies of the EIA including:
Lack of compliance with the Terms of Reference of the EIA
Lack of basin wide cumulative impact assessment
Impact of mining of materials for the project not assessed
Lack of downstream impact assessment (more details below)
Lack of assessment of how climate change will affect the project and how the project will worsen the climate change impacts.
Lack of options assessment
Severe Impacts of Migration of Outsider on Local Tribal Community not assessed
Impact of the project on disaster potential in the project area as well in the downstream including Assam not assessed
Impact of changing silt flows downstream not assessed
As noted above, large number of speakers at the public hearing also pointed out the inadequacies of the EIA-EMP.
4. Are downstream impacts on Assam & Arunachal Pradesh Studied?
No credible study of the impact of the dam, dam break and peaking on Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the downstream has been done.
Several speakers at the public hearing raised this issue of inadequate downstream impact assessment, as can be seen from the quotes from the public hearing listed above.
It may be mentioned here that the biggest issue plaguing the LSHP is lack of downstream impact assessment, and the EAC, MEFCC, NHPC or the EIA agencies (WAPCOS, which by now is notorious for doing substandard studies and National Productivity Council). Even Assam and Arunachal Pradesh state governments also seem least bothered. Also, it seems no lessons have been learnt after Larji mishap when 25 students were washed away due to demand-driven water releases by upstream hydropower project.
5. Has the impact of Peaking on Downstream Assam & Arunachal Pradesh studied?
This is despite the fact that submissions were sent to the EAC from several organizations and individual also from Assam, drawing their attention to impact of peaking in downstream Assam, especially in lean season (winter) when flow fluctuations will range from 111 cumecs (Cubic meters per second) to about 13 time rise in volume at 1441 cumecs in a single day. Fluctuations can happen twice or thrice in a single day.
6. Has the impact on Dibru Saikhowa National Park in the downstream Assam studied?
The EAC has shown zero application of mid in this respect. There are several hydropower projects being constructed on the three main tributaries of Brahmaputra upstream of Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Assam. All these hydropower projects will undertake peaking operations. EAC has considered these projects separately, as a part of basin studies and as a part of downstream impact studies on Dibru Saikhowa National Park.
In all these studies, the level fluctuation at the National Park when the three major projects in the upstream undertake peaking operations is different, as per the convenience of the project proponent! EAC has considered all these studies without raising any questions about this convenient difference in figures even when the contradictions were brought to EAC’s attention by SANDRP.
The EAC has recommended Clearance to Dibang Multipurpose Project accepting the contention of the NHPC that “water level fluctuation in Dibru Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) will be less than one meter.”
However, the same EAC has considered EIA of Lower Siang HEP (by WAPCOS) where the fluctuation at Dibru Saikhowa when all projects are peaking is said to be 8 feet (2.38 meters)
The Report on “Effect of Peaking power generation by Siang Lower HEP, Demwe Lower HEP and Dibang Multipurpose HEP on Dibru Saikhowa National Park” also by WAPCOS states that level difference when all three projects are peaking is estimated to be 34 mts i.e. 7.67 feet. (Page 26)
EAC did not question these glaring differences in these models even when a submission highlighting these points was sent to the EAC on 13.09.14, before the 77th EAC meeting. The submission is not mentioned in the minutes, neither discussed, also violating Hon. Delhi High Court Orders (Utkarsh Mandal Case).
7. EAC decision violates its mandate; MEFCC & NHPC guilty of misleading EAC.
During the entire appraisal process, the EAC has failed to pose any difficult questions to NHPC, has not taken a stand supporting Assam, has not even initiated discussion in that direction, has turned blind eye towards submissions it received raising critical concerns, has overlooked contradictions, has overlooked precautionary principle and welfare of people in the downstream Assam and has refused to learn any lessons from the LSHP experience or the Larji Mishap.
While discussion about height reduction of Dibang upto 40 meters were initiated in MEFCC/ NHPC since Feb 2014, the MEFCC or the NHPC has not brought this proposal to the attention of the EAC and the EAC has taken absolutely no notice of this and has not even asked for this 40 m height reduction. The only reference we can find to the height reduction proposal is in the minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting, where too there is reference to only 10 m ht reduction. And yet, there is no mention of this in the minutes of the 77th EAC meeting where the EAC recommended clearance to the project.
This alone is sufficient to make the EAC decision legally untenable and make both MEFCC and NHPC guilty of not informing the EAC about these developments more than six months after they were initiated.
The EAC on its part has not shown the will to ask for a realignment of the project to minimize its downstream impacts, peaking impacts and submergence impacts. Such biased conduct and the decisions of the EAC, sidelining genuine concerns are in complete violation of the mandate given to EAC and extremely damaging to environmental governance of the country and are a reason for increasing conflicts, delays, protests and strife underlining its callousness towards environmental impacts and local resistance.
The issues that FAC raised while rejecting the Forest clearance are the very issues that EAC should be concerned about since they are under their mandate. But not only EAC did not raise them on their own, but even after they were brought to the EAC’s attention by SANDRP, the EAC failed to even discuss those issues.
8. Issues on Dibang raised in earlier EAC meeting remains unanswered
The decision making paragraph of the minutes of the EAC meeting of Sept 16-17, 2014 on Dibang Project reads: “After critically examining the proposal and considering the response to various issues raised in the earlier EAC meetings, the project was recommended by EAC for accord of Environmental Clearance to Dibang Multipurpose Project. However, EAC suggested that 20 cumec flow may be released towards e-flow in the 1.2 km diverted stretch as 15 cumec gives just sufficient quantity. EAC noted that beyond this 1.2 km, adequate flow will be available from TRT which will be minimum in the order of 85 cumec at 80% rated discharge of one turbine.”
It is clear that this paragraph does not reflect any application of mind by EAC if the response provided by NHPC to the various issues raised by EAC and others’ submissions to EAC are adequate. Even in this paragraph, it is not clear what is the basis of EAC decision to recommend 20 cumecs flow downstream of the dam and not the norm that EAC is following for other projects (30% in monsoon, 20% in lean season and 20-25% in non monsoon non lean season). Nor is it clear what is the basis and impact of operation of one of the (there are 12 turbines, each of 250 MW installed capacity in this project) turbine at minimum 80% capacity round the clock. This non application of mind on the part of the EAC is the norm of EAC and not an isolated incident.
In fact, reading through the minutes of all the EAC meetings since Sept 2013 where Dibang EC (Environment Clearance) was discussed, it is clear that while EAC has raised a large no of questions and reported some of the information submitted by NHPC, no where can we find application of mind of the EAC where it is stated that the information/ responses provided by NHPC is adequate or not. The uncritical acceptance by the EAC about the information/ responses provided by the developer is another noteworthy feature of EAC decision.
Let us illustrate this. The minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014 says: “A detailed fisheries (also flora and fauna) survey was conducted by Centre for Inter-Disciplinary Studies for Mountain and Hill Environment (CISMHE), Delhi University in the month of December 2013.” Immediate question than arises is, why were the fisheries and other surveys done only in one month and not across the year as is the normal practice? What were the outcomes of the study? You will find neither critical questions, nor any answers in the EAC proceedings.
Here is another example. The minutes of the 74th EAC meeting held in May 2014 says: “It was informed that fluctuation in the water level at upstream of Dibang-Lohit confluence due to peaking operation will be about 17 cm which is almost negligible considering the size of the river.” Shockingly, the EAC does not even ask: A. If this estimate is sound and if it is consistent with conclusions of other studies; B. What will be the level fluctuation at different points along 60 km stretch of the river upstream from this point to the project site and what will be the impact there of. EAC’s such uncritical acceptance of apparently contradictory and inadequate responses from the developer is the norm and not an isolated incident. Considering that EAC was considering the largest installed capacity project of India, highest dam of India and biggest reservoir in North East India so far, one expected the EAC to be more diligent. This was even more so considering the experience of the LSHP.
To further illustrate, the minutes of the 74th EAC held in May 2014 says: “The point-wise reply to the two representations submitted by Kalpavriksh was submitted to MoEF and EAC members and the same was also presented before EAC during the meeting.” Similarly, the minutes of the 73rd EAC meeting held in March 2014 says: “point-wise replies to the issues raised by Shri Chow Rajib Gogoi, Secretary, All Tai Ahom Student Union, Jorhat and Shri Pushp Jain, Director, EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), New Delhi were also given”. But in both cases, there is not even a word as to whether EAC discussed the NHPC response and if they did what was their conclusion about adequacy or acceptability of the NHPC responses.
As far as four separate submissions sent by SANDRP to EAC on Dibang Project are concerned, EAC neither mentioned them, nor did it seek NHPC’s response on them.
Considering all this, the decision of the EAC to recommend EC to the Dibang Project is clearly wrong, based on inadequate appraisal, in the absence of application of mind and legally untenable.
B. FAC DECISIONS ON DIBANG PROECT
It has been reported that the Forest Advisory Committee of the MoEF has recommended clearance to 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose project in its meeting on Sept 22, 2014, though the minutes of the FAC meeting are as yet unavailable. This decision is reversal of FAC’s clear rejection to the project twice in past 2 years in addition to MEFCC’s rejection letter to the project as late as on the 28th August 2014.
MEFCC was pressurized by the Cabinet Committee on Investment, Ministry of Power and even unrelated Ministries like Ministry of Mine, Ministry of Steel and Ministry of Coal into clearing the Dibang project. FAC itself was under pressure of the MEFCC minister and its highest officials to clear Dibang at any cost.
Relevant papers regarding height reduction proposal by NHPC were not uploaded on FAC Website in advance of the Sept 22, 2014 Meeting.
It is unclear if even the FAC Members had these documents, which form the basis of project consideration.
The height reduction proposal was not available to the EAC members a week earlier before EAC recommended clearance to the project.
FAC’s recommendation on Dibang project is clearly an undemocratic and illegal decision in the absence of prior information in public domain for all concerned, and when all the original objections raised by FAC while rejecting the project twice remain unaddressed.
Let us look at the timeline of FAC decision making on Dibang Project:
12.06.13: FAC rejects Dibang FC (Forest Clearance) Proposal. Reasons: “huge forest area with very good forest cover, irreparable and adverse impact on general eco-system of the area by felling of more than 3.5 lakhs of trees, several other HEP have been proposed in the same river valley apart from Dibang HEP, unavailability of study on cumulative impact of all the HEP, etc. The Committee is also of the opinion that ecological, environmental and social costs of diversion of such a vast track of forest land, which is a major source of livelihood of the tribal population of the State, will far outweigh the benefits likely to accrue from the project.”
13.08.2013: Meeting of Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Secretary, Ministry of Power held and it was decided that proposal will be considered again after exploring the possibility to reduce the requirement of forest land for the project.
9.12.2013: Project discussed by the Cabinet Committee of Investment which nearly ordered fast clearance for Dibang Project. It stated: “Ministry of Environment and Forests may grant the requisite clearance for diversion of forest land expeditiously.” Such direction from CCI was clearly in violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which clearly defines the process for forest clearance and where CCI has no role.
10.02.14: NHPC revises proposal and submits two alternatives, reducing height by 5 m and 10 meters respectively. Marginal decrease in submerge of forest land due to 10 meters reduction. NHPC Officials say any further reduction will not be possible.
Revised Diversion proposal with reduction of 10 mts height and 445 hectares forest area submitted to MoEF with new proposal for total diversion of 4577.84 hectares.
29th-30th April 2014: Revised proposal discussed in FAC with 10 meters reduction. The revised proposal was incomplete in many basic respects like absence of maps, CAT Pan, FRA compliance, identified land for Compensatory afforestation, etc. In addition, the FAC noted that the region is home to Schedule I species, the reduction in forest loss due to decrease in height in minimal and will not have substantial ameliorative impact, It said “Such a marginal reduction in requirement of the forest land for the project may not be able to reduce the adverse impact of project on such a biodiversity rich mature forest ecosystem to the extent which could make the project environmentally as well as socio-economically viable in forest dependent tribal society of Arunachal Pradesh”. FAC also noted that impact of reduction of dam height on its economic feasibility was not put before the committee.
16.06.2014: Secretary Power writes to Secretary, MEFCC on 16.06.2014 to review the decision of FAC and accord the Stage-I forest clearance. Such direction from letter was clearly in violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which clearly defines the process for forest clearance and where Power Ministry secretary has no role.
19.06.2014: Joint meeting held between Ministry of Mine, Ministry of Steel, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change and Ministry of Coal, attended by the Ministers and Secretaries of the respective Ministries, as well as Secy, Ministry of Power wherein it was decided that a report on sensitivity analysis of dam height reduction by 40 meters shall be submitted to MoEF and action will be taken only after that.
24.06.2014: Secy, Ministry of Power writes to MEFCC & submitted a report on the sensitivity analysis on the dam height reduction upto 20 meters. However, MEFCC maintained that that as decided in the meeting the sensitivity analysis report was not submitted by the project proponent.
28.08.14: MEFCC sends letter rejecting Forest Diversion Proposal of Dibang Multipurpose Project on the basis of 10 meters height reduction, rich forest, social impacts and also downstream impacts on Assam, including Dibru Saikhowa.
5.09.2014: MEFCC writes to (NHPC/ Min of Power) to submit sensitivity analysis of reduction by 40 meters.
08.09.14 (This letter of 08.09.14 was uploaded on MEFCC FAC website on the day of the FAC meeting, 22.09.14): NHPC submits letter to MEFCC about sensitivity analysis for height reduction from 5m-40 meters. While it highlights the loss in installed capacity (780 MW) and loss in revenue due to 40 m reduction, it downplays the fact that 40 mts reduction will bring down forest land requirement by 26%. It concludes, without substantiation that “Decrease in dam height and consequent sacrifice in power generation beyond 10 mts reduction is not commensurate with saving forest land” and further recommends only 10 mts height reduction, which proposal the MEFCC had rejected in its Apr 29-30, 2014 meeting.
21.09.14: No sensitivity Analysis uploaded on MoEF FAC Website. SANDRP sends a submission urging FAC not to consider the project in the absence of this analysis in public domain as it violates CIC orders. People affected by the project have no idea of this analysis which is the basis of decision making in the next day’s meeting.
22.09.14: Day of the Meeting: Suddenly Additional Information document accessed (and downloaded) on 21.09.14 changes, with two additional pages and letter from NHPC about sensitivity analysis is uploaded ON THE DAY OF THE MEETING.
23.09.14: News that FAC has recommended clearance to Dibang was already public.
CONCLUSION As noted earlier, the Dibang Project is the largest capacity hydropower project, the highest proposed dam and largest proposed reservoir of North East India. One expected all concerned to be diligent in taking decisions on such a project. However, it is clear from this narrative that the process of environment and forest clearance for the Dibang Project is fundamentally flawed, inadequate and in violation of all norms of democratic and informed governance. Significantly, it is also illegal and untenable. Such manipulative decision-making has led to flawed decisions of environmental and forest clearances in case of LSHP in 2003, with the project stalled by people’s agitation since 34 months now. If the Dibang Project, which is bigger than LSHP in every respect and with much greater impacts, is pushed in such a manner, it is likely to face the same fate as that of the LSHP. We hope that the final decisions related to Dibang Project will be more informed, diligent, democratic, unbiased and objective. Admittedly, such hope seems rather farfetched at this moment.
 This is not to state that the UPA government that ruled India during the 2004-2014 decade was in anyway more sensitive to environment or democratic concerns. In fact part of the EC and FC time line and some of the manipulations happened before May 2014 when the current government took over. However, it is apparent that the current government has indulged in much more violations and manipulations and pressurized the statutory bodies (including FAC & NBWL reconstitution).
The Study The study has been done by IRG Systems South Asia Private Limited (http://www.irgssa.com/, a subsidiary of US based IRG Systems) and http://www.eqmsindia.com/[i]. It is supposed to be a Cumulative Impact Assessment of 19 HEPs planned in the basin, out of which PFRs of 7 are available, DPR of two, and one of which, the 2000 MW Subansiri Lower HEP is under construction.
Subversion of Environment Governance in the Subansiri basin While looking at this basin study, the subversion of environment governance in Subansiri basin this very millennia should be kept in mind. A glimpse of it is provided in Annexure 1. In fact, one of the key conditions of environmental clearance to the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri HEP was that no more projects will be taken up in the basin upstream of the Lower Subansiri HEP, which essentially would mean no more projects in the basin, since LSHEP is close to the confluence of the Subansiri River with Brahmaputra River. That condition was also part of the Supreme Court order in 2004. The need for a carrying capacity study was also stressed in the National Board of Wild Life discussions. We still do not have one. In a sense, the Subansiri basin is seeing the consequences of that subversion.
Information in public domain not known to consultants The report does not even state that Middle Subansiri dam have also been recommended TOR in 41st EAC meeting in Sept 2010. This project will require 3180 ha of land, including 1333 Ha forest land, and 2867 ha area under submergence. Even about Upper Subansiri, the consultants do not know the area of forest land required (2170 ha). So the consultants have not used even the information available in public domain in EAC meetings.
Study based on flawed and incomplete Lohit Basin Study The Study claims that it is based on Lohit Basin Study done by WAPCOS. Lohit Basin Study is an extremely flawed attempt and does not assess cumulative impacts of the cascade projects. Civil society has written about this to the EAC and the EAC itself has considered the study twice (53rd and 65th EAC Meetings), and has not accepted the study, but has raised several doubts. Any study based on a flawed model like Lohit Basin Study should not be acceptable.
No mention of Social impacts Major limitation of the study has been absolutely no discussion on the severe social impacts due to cumulative forest felling, flux of population, submergence, livelihoods like riparian farming and fishing, etc. Though this has been pointed out by the TAC in its meeting and field visit, the report does not reflect this.
Some key Impacts Some of the impacts highlighted by the study based on incomplete information about HEPs are:
Þ The length of the river Subansiri is 375 km up to its outfall in the Brahamaputra River. Approximately 212.51 km total length of Subansiri will be affected due to only 8 of the proposed 19 HEPs in Subansiri River basin.
Þ Total area brought under submergence for dam and other project requirements is approx. 10, 032 ha of eight proposed HEPs. The extent of loss of forest in rest of the 9 projects is not available.
Þ 62 species belonging to Mammals (out of 105 reported species), 50 Aves (out of 175 reported species) and 2 amphibians (out of 6 reported species) in Subansiri Basin are listed in Schedules of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (as amended till date).
Þ 99 species belonging to Mammals (out of 105 reported species), 57 species belonging to Aves (out of 175 reported species), 1 Reptilian (out of 19 reported species), 2 Amphibians (out of 6 reported species), 28 fishes (out of 32 reported species), 25 species belonging to Odonata of Insecta fauna group (out of 28 reported species) are reported to be assessed as per IUCN’s threatened categories.
Even this incomplete and partial list of impacts should give an idea of the massive impacts that are in store for the basin.
Cumulative impacts NOT ASSESSED Specifically, some of the cumulative impacts that the report has not assessed at all or not adequately include:
1. Cumulative impact of blasting of so many tunnels on various aspects as also blasting for other project components.
2. Cumulative impact of mining of various materials required for the projects (sand, boulders, coarse and fine granules, etc.)
3. Cumulative impact of muck dumping into rivers (the normal practice of project developers) and also of also muck dumping done properly, if at all.
4. Changes in sedimentation at various points within project, at various points within a day, season, year, over the years and cumulatively across the basin and impacts thereof.
5. Cumulative impact on aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna across the basin due to all the proposed projects.
6. Cumulative impact of the projects on disaster potential in the river basin, due to construction and also operation at various stages, say on landslides, flash floods, etc.
7. Cumulative dam safety issue due to cascade of projects.
8. Cumulative change in flood characteristics of the river due to so many projects.
9. Cumulative impacts due to peaking power generation due to so many projects.
10. Cumulative sociological impact of so many projects on local communities and society.
11. Cumulative impact on hydrological flows, at various points within project, at various points within a day, season, year, over the years and cumulatively across the basin and impacts thereof. This will include impacts on various hydrological elements including springs, tributaries, groundwater aquifers, etc. This will include accessing documents to see what the situation BEFORE project and would be after. The report has failed to do ALL THIS.
12. Impact of silt laden water into the river channel downstream from the dam, and how this gets accumulated across the non-monsoon months and what happens to it. This again needs to be assessed singly and cumulatively for all projects.
13. Impact of release of silt free water into the river downstream from the power house and impact thereof on the geo morphology, erosion, stability of structures etc, singly and cumulatively.
14. Impact on Green House Gas emissions, project wise and cumulatively. No attempt is made for this.
15. Impact of differential water flow downstream from power house in non-monsoon months, with sudden release of heavy flows during peaking/ power generation hours and no releases during other times.
16. Cumulative impact of all the project components (dam, tunnels, blasting, power house, muck dumping, mining, road building, township building, deforestation, transmission lines, etc.,) for a project and then adding for various projects. Same should also be done for the periods during construction, operation and decommissioning phases of the projects.
17. Cumulative impact of deforestation due to various projects.
18. Cumulative impact of non compliance of the environment norms, laws, Environment clearance and forest clearance conditions and environment management plans. Such an assessment should also have analysed the quality of EIA report done for the Subansiri Lower hydropower project.
Wrong, misleading statements in Report There are a very large number of wrong and misleading statements in the report. Below we have given some, along with comment on each of them, this list is only for illustrative purposes.
Statement in CIA
“During the monsoon period there will be significant discharge in Brahmaputra River. The peaking discharge of these hydroelectric projects which are quite less in comparison to Brahmaputra discharge will hardly have any impact on Brahmaputra.”
This is a misleading statement. It also needs to be assessed what will be the impact on specific stretches of Subansiri river. Secondly, the projects are not likely to operate in peaking mode in monsoon.
“However, some impact in form of flow regulation can be expected during the non-monsoon peaking from these projects.”
This is not correct statement as the impact of non-monsoon peaking is likely to be of many different kinds, besides “flow regulation” as the document describes.
“Further, during the non-monsoon period the peaking discharge release of the projects in upper reaches of Subansiri basin will be utilized by the project at lower reaches of the basin and net peaking discharge from the lower most project of the basin in general will be the governing one for any impact study.”
This is again wrong. What about the impact of such peaking on rivers between the projects?
“The construction of the proposed cascade development of HEPs in Subansiri basin will reduce water flow, especially during dry months, in the intervening stretch between the Head Race Tunnel (HRT) site and the discharge point of Tail Race Tunnel (TRT).”
This statement seems to indicate that the consultants have poor knowledge or understanding of the functioning of the hydropower projects. HRT is not one location, it is a length. So it does not make sense to say “between HRT and the discharge point of TRT”.
“For mature fish, upstream migration would not be feasible. This is going to be the major adverse impact of the project. Therefore, provision of fish ladder can be made in the proposed dams.”
This is simplistic statement without considering the height of the various dams (124 m high Nalo HEP dam, 237 m high Upper Subansiri HEP dam, 222 m high Middle Subansiri HEP dam), feasibility of fish ladders what can be optimum design, for which fish species, etc.
“…water release in lean season for fishes may be kept between 10-15% for migration and sustaining ecological functions except Hiya and Nyepin HEP. Therefore, it is suggested that the minimum 20% water flow in lean season may be maintained at Hiya and Nyepin HEP for fish migration.”
This conclusion seems unfounded, the water release suggested is even lower than the minimum norms that EAC of MoEF follows.
Viability not assessed The report concludes: “The next steps include overall assessment of the impacts on account of hydropower development in the basin, which will be described in draft final report.”
One of the key objective of the Cumulative Impact assessment is to assess how many of the planned projects are viable considering the impacts, hydrology, geology, forests, biodiversity, carrying capacity and society. The consultants have not even applied their mind to key objective in this study. They seem to assume that all the proposed projects can and should come up and are all viable. It seems the consultant has not understood the basic objectives of CIA. The least the consultant could have said is that further projects should not be taken up for consideration till all the information is available and full and proper Cumulative impact assessment is done.
The consultants have also not looked at the need for free flowing stretches of rivers between the projects.
Section on Environmental Flows (Chapter 4 and 9): The section on Environmental flows is one of the weakest and most problematic sections of the report, despite the fact that the Executive summary talks about it as being one of the most crucial aspects.
The study does not use any globally accepted methodology for calculating eflows, but uses HEC RAS model, without any justification. The study has not been able to do even a literature review of methodologies of eflows used in India and concludes that “No information/criteria are available for India regarding requirement of minimum flow from various angles such as ecology, environment, human needs such as washing and bathing, fisheries etc.”
This is unacceptable as EAC itself has been recommending Building Block Methodology for calculating eflows which has been used (very faultily, but nonetheless) by basin studies even like Lohit, on which this study is supposedly based. EAC has also been following certain norms about E flow stipulations. CWC itself has said that minimum 20% flow is required in all seasons in all rivers. BK Chaturvedi committee has recently stipulated 50% e-flows in lean season and 30% in monsoon on daily changing basis.
The assumption of the study in its chapter on Environmental Flows that ‘most critical reach is till the time first tributary meets the river” is completely wrong. The study should concentrate at releasing optimum eflows from the barrage, without considering tributary contribution as an excuse.
First step of any robust eflows exercise is to set objectives. But the study does not even refer to this and generates huge tables for water depths, flow velocity, etc., for releases ranging from 10% lean season flow to 100% lean season flow.
After this extensive analysis without any objective setting, the study, without any justification (the justification for snow trout used is extremely flawed. Trouts migrate twice in a year and when they migrate in post monsoon months, the depth and velocity needed is much higher than the recommended 10% lean season flow) recommends “In view of the above-said modeling results, water release in lean season for fishes maybe kept between 10-15% for migration and sustaining ecological functions except Hiya and Nyepin HEP. Therefore, it is suggested that the minimum 20-25% water flow in lean season may be maintained at all HEP for fish migration and ecological balance.”
The study does not recommend any monsoon flows. Neither does it study impact of hydro peaking on downstream ecosystems.
Shockingly, the study does not even stick with this 20-25% lean season flow recommendation (20-25% of what? Average lean season flow? Three consecutive leanest months? The study does not explain this). In fact in Chapter 9 on Environmental Flows, the final recommendation is: “Therefore, it is suggested that the minimum 20-25% water flow in lean season may be maintained at Hiya and Nyepin HEP or all other locations for fish migration.” (emphasis added)
So it is unclear if the study recommends 20-25% lean season flows or 10-15% lean season flows. This is a very flawed approach to a critical topic like eflows.
The study keeps mentioning ‘minimum flows’ nomenclature, which shows the flawed understanding of the consultants about e-flows.
The entire eflows section has to be reworked, objectives have to be set, methodology like Building Block Methodology has to be used with wide participation, including from Assam. Such exercises have been performed in the past and members of the current EAC like Dr. K.D. Joshi from CIFRI have been a part of this. In this case, EAC cannot accept flawed eflows studies like this. (DR. K D. Joshi has been a part of a study done by WWF to arrive at eflows through BBM methodology for Ganga in Allahabad during Kumbh: Environmental Flows for Kumbh 2013 at Triveni Sangam, Allahabad and has been a co author of this report)
Mockery of rich Subansiri Fisheries Subansiri has some of the richest riverine fisheries in India. The river has over 171 fish species, including some species new to science, and forms an important component of livelihood and nutritional security in the downstream stretches in Assam.
But the study makes a mockery of this saying that the livelihoods dependence on fisheries is negligible. The entire Chapter on Fisheries needs to be reworked to include impacts on fisheries in the downstream upto Majuli Islands in Assam at least.
No mention of National Aquatic Animal! Subansiri is one of the only tributaries of Brahmaputra with a resident population of the endangered Gangetic Dolphin, which is also the National aquatic animal of India (Baruah et al, 2012, Grave Danger for the Ganges Dolphin (Platanista ganegtica) in the Subansiri River due to large Hydroelectric Project. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10669-011-9375-0#).
Shockingly, the Basin Study does not even mention Gangetic Dolphin once in the entire study, let alone making recommendations to protect this specie!
Gangetic Dolphin is important not only from the ecological perspective, but also socio cultural perspective. Many fisher folk in Assam co-fish with the Gangetic River Dolphin. These intricate socio ecological links do not find any mention in the Basin study, which is unacceptable.
Lessons from Lower Subansiri Project not learnt A massive agitation is ongoing in Assam against the under construction 2000 MW Subansiri Lower HEP. The people had to resort to this agitation since the Lower Subansiri HEP was going ahead without studying or resolving basic downstream, flood and safety issues. The work on the project has been stopped since December 2011, for 22 months now. In the meantime several committee have been set up, several changes in the project has been accepted. However, looking at this shoddy CIA, it seems no lessons have been learnt from this ongoing episode. This study does not even acknowledge the reality of this agitation and the issues that the agitation has thrown up. There is no reflection of the issues here in this study that is agitating the people who are stood up against the Lower Subansiri HEP. The same people will also face adverse impacts of the large number of additional projects planned in the Subansiri basin. If the issues raised by these agitating people are not resolved in credible way, the events now unfolding in Assam will continue to plague the other planned projects too.
Conclusion From the above it is clear that this is far from satisfactory report. The report has not done proper cumulative assessment on most aspects. It has not even used information available in public domain on a number of projects. It does not seem to the aware of the history of the environmental mis-governance in the SubansiriBasin as narrated in brief in Annexure 1. For most projects basic information is lacking. Considering the track record of Central Water Commission functioning as lobby FOR big dams, such a study should have never been given to CWC. One of the reasons the study was assigned by the EAC to the Central Water Commission was that the CWC is supposed to have expertise in hydrological issues, and also can take care of the interstate issues. However, the study has NOT been done by CWC, but by consultants hired by CWC, so CWC seems to have no role in this except hiring consultant. So the basic purpose of giving the study to CWC by EAC has not been served. Secondly the choice of consultants done by the CWC seems to be improper. Hence we have a shoddy piece of work. This study cannot be useful as CIA and it may be better for EAC to ask MoEF for a more appropriate body to do such a study. In any case, the current study is not of acceptable quality.
Set Conditions to be waived Later – The MoEF way of Environmental Governance
In 2002, the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri hydroelectric project on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border came for approval to the Standing Committee of the Indian Board for Wildlife (now called the National Board for Wildlife) as a part of the Tale Valley Sanctuary in AP was getting submerged in the project. The total area to be impacted was 3,739.9 ha which also included notified reserved forests in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The Standing Committee observed that important wildlife habitats and species well beyond the Tale Valley Sanctuary, both in the upstream and downstream areas, would be affected (e.g. a crucial elephant corridor, Gangetic river dolphins) and that the Environmental Impact Assessment studies were of a very poor quality. However, despite serious objections raised by non-official members including Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary, Valmik Thapar, M.K. Ranjitsinh and the BNHS, the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) bulldozed the clearance through in a May 2003 meeting of the IBWL Standing Committee. Thus a project, which did not deserve to receive clearance, was pushed through with certain stringent conditions imposed (Neeraj Vagholikar, Sanctuary Asia, April 2009).
The EC given to the project was challenged in Supreme Court (SC) by Dr L.M Nath, a former member of the Indian Board for Wildlife. Nath pleaded, these pristine rich and dense forests classified as tropical moist evergreen forest, are among the finest in the country. Further the surveys conducted by the Botanical Survey of India and the Zoological Survey of India were found to be extremely poor quality. The Application mentions that the Additional DG of Forests (Wildlife) was of the view that the survey reports of the BSI and ZSI reports were not acceptable to him because these organisations had merely spent five days in the field and produced a report of no significance.
The SC gave its final verdict on 19-4-2004, in which the Court upheld the EC given by MoEF to NHPC but with direction to fulfill some important conditions. Out these conditions there were two conditions which were very significant – “The Reserve Forest area that forms part of the catchment of the Lower Subansri including the reservoir should be declared as a National Park/ Sanctuary. NHPC will provide funds for the survey and demarcation of the same.”, and “There would be no construction of dam upstream of the Subansri River in future.” These conditions were also mentioned in the original EC given to the project in 2003.
In May 2005, two years after the EC was given the Arunachal Pradesh govt and NHPC approached the SC to waive or modify the above two conditions. The state government calimed that following these conditions would imply loss of opportunity to develop 16 mega dams in the upstream of Lower Subansiri (this including 1,600 MW Middle Subansiri and 2,000 MW Upper Subansiri to be developed by NHPC). The SC sent it back to National Board for Wildlife to review the conditions.
The petition was done strategically. “The strategy of the dam proponents is simple. They raised no objection to the terms until the construction of the Lower Subansiri project had proceeded beyond a point when it could have been cancelled. Armed with this fait accompli, they asked for a review of the clauses on the very basis on which the original clearance – laid down by members who were subsequently dropped from the wildlife board – was granted.”[ii]
Then nonofficial members of NBWL expressed their dissent to the proposal. In a May 2008 communication to the Chairman of the NBWL Standing Committee, member Dr. Bibhab Talukdar observed: “If the Standing Committee agrees to waive the conditions, we would be setting a dangerous precedent and sending a wrong signal regarding the credibility of decision-making by us. This would mean that projects impacting rich wildlife habitats can receive clearances based on stringent conditions, only to be up for review later. Such an approach is undesirable both from a perspective of good governance as well as the long-term interest of wildlife in the country.”
Dr. Asad Rahmani of the BNHS, who was part of a sub-committee of the NBWL Standing Committee conducting a site visit to the project area, stated in his report: “Under no circumstances should new projects be allowed in the Subansiri river basin until an advance cumulative assessment of proposed projects and a carrying capacity study of the Subansiri river basin are completed.”
In the December 12 2008 meeting of NBWL Standing Committee, even after these dissenting opinions from nonofficial members MoEF managed to do a dilution of the above two conditions. Assam that time was witnessing a major protest concerning the downstream impacts of Lower Subansiri HEP but it was not even consulted. Shockingly the “no dam upstream” condition was removed and it was decided that “any proposal in the upstream of the SubansiriRiver would be considered independently on its merit by the Standing Committee as and when submitted by the proponents”.
Now the Arunachal Pradesh government needs to declare a smaller area of 168 sq. km. as a sanctuary and “make serious efforts” to bring an additional 332 sq. km. reserved forest under the category of Conservation Reserve (CR) in consultation with the MoEF. The latter part of the condition (declaration of CR) is non-enforceable because of the choice of words. Even the demand to at least conduct an advanced cumulative impact assessment of proposed projects and a carrying capacity study of the Subansiri river basin has been ignored[iii].
As Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia says, “The Lower Subansiri is one such, where the PMO has placed a very dubious role in forcing clearances, agreeing to clearance conditions and then starting the project, only to loosen the environmental conditions. In this whole scam the Zoological Survey of India and the Botanical Survey of India have been co-conspirators that have suppressed the ecological value of the forests to facilitate the building of the dam, which will drown pristine elephant, tiger and clouded leopard forests and cause havoc downstream as well.”
The above sequence of events are very pertinent to remember as we see the Subansiri basin study.
[i] Website says: “More than 200 successful environmental Impact Assessment Clearance from Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India for Industry, Infrastructure & Construction projects” Sounds strange from an EIA consultant.