Dams

Maharashtra Rivers Review 2017: Multi-colored Rivers!

About Rivers Pollution and Pollution Control Board

Highest number of polluted rivers Maharashtra state has 49 polluted river stretches, highest in the country, which including Mithi, Ulhas, Vaitarna, Godavari, Bhima, Krishna, Tapi, Kundalika, Panchganga, Mula-Mutha, Pelhar and Penganga. 3,000 MLD of untreated sewage and industrial effluents are discharged into the state’s water bodies daily. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/pollution-in-three-maharashtra-rivers-is-nine-times-permissible-limit/story-RCuTrl8zi8tmFoOvgKR2zI.html(Hindustan Times, 16 Nov. 2017) 

According to a report by Union Environment Ministry, Maharashtra generates about 8,143 Million Liter per Day (MLD) which is almost 13 per cent of the country’s sewage, butclaims to treats 5,160.36 MLD.In this way Maharashtra is releasing at least 3000 MLD untreated sewage in rivers, creeks and wetlands areas. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/834-factories-across-maharashtra-shut-down-in-2-years-for-causing-pollution-mpcb/story-MrmmXa9XH9Vdkzu2wKSdcL.html (Hindustan Times, 22 Dec 2017)

Continue reading “Maharashtra Rivers Review 2017: Multi-colored Rivers!”

Dams · Himachal Pradesh

Lahaul people write to Environment Committee not to clear Reoli Dugli Hydro project

To

The Environment Appraisal Committee

River Valley Projects

Ministry of Environment and Forests

New Delhi

Subject: Submission related to Chenab River and Lahaul Valley  in context of EC for 430 MW Reoli Dugli project

Dear Chairperson,

We have read reports that the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydel projects of the Ministry of Environment has decided “not to take any cognizance of representations” received by its members since such representations are ‘anti-development’. The article appearing in Indian Express on January 14, 2017 stated, “In its December 30 meeting, the committee concluded that once a project proposal reaches the EAC for appraisal, it has crossed the stage of public consultation and “the EAC should not go back in time, and should not reopen it, by entertaining unsubstantiated representations received from the people”. Continue reading “Lahaul people write to Environment Committee not to clear Reoli Dugli Hydro project”

Dams · Sand Mining

River Sand Mining in India in 2016-II- Governments Show no Will to Regulate

 

In the second part of three-part blog series SANDRP presents an overview of steps taken by Central and State Governments on this issue of river sand mining practices in the year 2016.

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT

The year 2016 started with a welcoming development when none other than the Prime Minister of India, Sri Narendra Modi himself, while delivering inaugural address[1] at 103rd session of Indian Science Congress, in Mysuru on January 06, 2016 cited the importance of rivers in human history.  Emphasizing the value of rivers, he stressed on the use of science and technology to understand the impact of urbanization, farming, industrialization and ground water use and contamination on the river eco-system. Revering the Rivers as soul of nature, the PM emphasized to make renewal of Rivers an element of a larger effort to sustain Nature.

Contrary to this, on January 06, 2016, the Union Transport Minister revealed Government plans considering use of river sand for national highways construction[2]. The minister particularly mentioned sand of river Yamuna to be used in construction of national highways and agreements would be signed with states to seek approval for using sand from their rivers. The report ironically mentioned it as innovative moves to boost infrastructure development. Interestingly the Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines 2016[3] from Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) condemned the use of sand in concretization including its burial under highways despite very high value of minerals found in the sand. 

In the same month the MoEF&CC came out with a draft notification[4] for a new sustainable sand and minor mineral mining policy[5] applicable form January 1, 2016. Proposing to decentralize the process of granting environmental clearance the draft notification prescribed creation of District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) for screening mining proposals followed after district level survey report. As per the draft policy District, State and Central level authorities were eligible to approve environment clearances (EC) for mining up to five ha, 5-50 ha, over 50 ha respectively. 

Continue reading “River Sand Mining in India in 2016-II- Governments Show no Will to Regulate”

Expert Appraisal Committee · Interlinking of RIvers

Ken Betwa Link: Letter to Water Resources Minister and EAC in Dec 2016

December 27, 2016

To
Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation,
Govt of India,
New Delhi
 
Copy to Ministers of State (MoWR), Secretary (MOWR), OSD (MoWR), PS to MoWR
 
Respected Uma Bharati ji, 
 
We have seen reports in today’s news papers (e.g. http://www.uniindia.com/last-hurdle-for-ken-betwa-link-over-uma-bharti/india/news/730656.htmlhttp://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ken-betwa-river-linking-project-gets-wildlife-board-clearance/articleshow/56186886.cms andhttp://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/developmental-issues/ken-betwa-river-linking-project-gets-wildlife-board-clearance/articleshow/56186901.cms) which were basically giving an old news, several times published already, that Ken Betwa link has been recommended NBWL clearance. When enquired, we were told that this was based on MOWR’s official press release, published through PIB y’day evening, that is at 18.29 hours on Dec 26, 2016, see: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=155857

Continue reading “Ken Betwa Link: Letter to Water Resources Minister and EAC in Dec 2016”

Dams · Environmental Laws

Handbook on EIA Notification, 2006: An effort in making EIA accessible to all

Review of new book titled ‘Environment Impact Assessment – Law, Practice & Procedure in India 2016’, edited by Dr R.K Singh and Ritwick Dutta, LIFE, New Delhi, Oct 2016, p 374 + xvi

About the Book This book is a comprehensive compilation of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification (EIA), 2006, along with the amendments. It also has all Office Memorandums and Circulars issued by MoEF&CC for implementation of the EIA Notification, 2006 up to March, 2016. Environment Resource Center (ERC) plans to publish the book annually with incorporation of new updates, amendments, Circulars and OMs. It provides subject wise classification various Office Memorandums (OMs) and Circulars. The book also contains the text of all the official orders and amendments, classified according to subjects like: Prior/ Scoping clearances, public hearings, appraisal, violations, etc.

This is a much needed document and ERC team has done a commendable job by compiling all the relevant amendments and notifications in a single book in useful format and organized way.  The document will be of great value for all including Legal Experts, Academicians, Researchers, EIA professionals, Government Officers, Journalists, concerned NGOs, Civil Society activists, local community as well.

Continue reading “Handbook on EIA Notification, 2006: An effort in making EIA accessible to all”

Ministry of Environment and Forests

HLC Report on Review of Environment Laws: Utmost Good Faith towards the Industry, Utmost suspicion towards the affected

In its initial pages, TSR Subramanian Committee Report (High Level Committee Report) comes across as a well-written, even eloquent document. That the environmental laws and governance needed streamlining and a strong, unbiased review was beyond doubt. Such a step was welcome and not an issue for environmentalists or rights groups to take umbrage to,in principle. In reality, overlooking the socio-political realm that infuses political and executive discourse is hardly possible or advisable. As pointed in this critique published in EPW, the report came at a time when environmental issues were abused and made to stand in judgment like no other.

The report has been lauded by the Env Minister who has taken pains to reiterate that his ministry will not be a roadblock to development anymore”. The report also comes at heels of PM’s affirmation at the overflowing Madison Square Gardens about dismantling old laws. Even the most unbiased observer cannot miss context in which the report is laid out.

Even so, looking at the implications of the report it deserves an unbiased analysis and this is our attempt at it [1]. (We have not dwelt too much on the structure or details of the report as these have been laid out clearly in other critiques.) The High Level Committee constituting of 4 members and 2 Secretaries[2] under the Chairpersonship of Shri T.S.R. Subramanian, Former Cabinet Secretary, was formed on 29th August 2014 vide OM No. 22-15/2014-IA.III. Terms of Reference of this committee were:

 (i)  To assess the status of implementation of each of the aforesaid Acts* vis-à-vis the objectives;

(ii)  To examine and take into account various court orders and judicial pronouncements relating to these Acts;

(iii)  To recommend specific amendments needed in each of these Acts so as to bring them in line with current requirements to meet objectives; and

(iv)To draft proposed amendments in each of the aforesaid Acts to give effect to the proposed recommendations.

The third objective of bringing “laws in line with current requirements to meet objectives” is unclear in the absence of stating what the current requirement pertain to: What requirement? Whose requirements? Environmental, Social or Economic requirements? What Objectives? Whose objectives? The committee did not even attempt to clear air about these issues, though questions were raised. The composition of the committee also raised serious issues. (See SANDRP blog and Ritwick Dutta’s guest blog.)

So we had a committee of 4 members and 2 secretaries with questionable credentials, with an unclear TOR and put together by a government which had taken a biased stand on environmental issues sitting in judgment on all 6 environmental laws of the country[3], related orders, institutions and mechanisms which would affect myriad communities, forests and ecosystems, in a period of initially 2 months, extended by a month. Unbelievably, in these three months the committee not only suggested radical changes in all of the above, but also recommended a brand new Law (strangely) called Environmental Laws (Management) Act or ELMA, which, they suggest, would prevail over all contrary judgments issued in past decades or provisions of any environment law promulgated till date!

The committee states in the preamble of the ELMA that conclusions were reached “after interacting with diverse groups of people in different parts of the country”. This may give an impression that the Law or the recommendations are based on wide consensus. This is not the case at all and the output has to be looked clearly as a 6-member committee’s recommendations.

Going through the report As pointed out by Shripad Dharmadhikary in his critique, the report does make a relatively sound diagnosis of the problems of environmental governance of the country. Anyone, either  from civil society or industry, who has experienced Forest Clearance or Environmental Clearance procedures, cannot but help be amazed at the entrenched bureaucracy, pathological reluctance to be transparent, colossal lack of accountability while taking decisions affecting ecology-social systems-industries, laziness to change any of the problematic entrenched systems and lack of respect for the people who are affected by decisions. Anyone who has made rounds to Pollution Control Board offices cannot miss the apathetic atmosphere, the couldn’t-care-less attitude of the officials.

So the diagnosis did detect the aching nerve when it states: “The legal instruments have really served only the purpose of a venal administration, to meet rent-seeking propensity at all levels. This impression has been further strengthened by waves of large scale ‘clearances’, coupled with major delays in approvals in individual cases” or “The state – arbitrary, opaque, suspiciously tardy or in-express-mode at different times, along with insensitivity – has failed to perform. The administrative machineries in the Government in the domain of Environment & Forests at all the levels, authorized to administer by Parliament’s statutory mandate, appear to have abdicated their responsibilities.”

“Environmental management is currently seen as an anti-thesis to development; development is seen as inimical to the habitat, natural assets, and in certain circumstances undermining peoples’ livelihood.” “Legislations are weak, monitoring is weaker and implementation is weakest.” And: “Our businessmen and entrepreneurs are not all imbued in the principles of rectitude – most are not reluctant, indeed actively seek short-cuts, and are happy to collaboratively pay a ‘price’ to get their projects going.”

Finally when the report evokes not only current challenges, but even inter-generational equity, it sounds too good to be true! “That environment is sacrosanct; that the purity of air, water and land has been inherited by a generation in mortgage for children of tomorrow; that it is implicitly imperative for each generation to leave the environment to the next generation in a better state than they found it.”

Where are the people? But as you continue reading through the lucid prose, you get that strange feeling of missing the elephant in the room. Where are the people? Where are the millions of people who live in forests or mountains or river valleys and islands or far flung villages, who are most affected by shoddy environmental governance? Why is the report not even mentioning the hardships faced by thousands of such fishermen who lost their livelihoods due to pollution of Vashishthi creek while the MPCB sleeps, or the cracks on the homes of people in Uttarakhand due to hydel projects which received clearances from MoEF CC, or the remote hilly settlements in Himachal who lost their sources of water due to tunneling and blasting for hydropower, or millions of fisherfolk who lost their rights to their rivers, or millions of tribals and others who are still awaiting rehabilitation after being driven out of their homes and their livelihoods?

Why are they not a part of this discourse on environmental management? The report spouts Upanishads and Vedas but does not seem to acknowledge that coexistence with nature has been a part of our eco-region for millennia.

Tribal women protesting against Lower Suktel Dam Photo: Down to Earth
Tribal women protesting against Lower Suktel Dam Photo: Down to Earth

Suddenly, one stumbles on sentences like “India’s growing prosperity is increasing demand for environmental quality”. This reduces environment to a consumable product, aspired by the upper middle class and negates the battles ongoing in the hinterlands of India, where environment equates with livelihood and survival.

As one reads on, the bias against communities and community protests gets clearer, starker and more disturbing. Along with communities, there is hardly any mention of impacts of destructive projects on forests, communities and wildlife. The lines are clearly drawn at compensatory afforestation, raised NPV, monitised afforestation, web-based monitoring, priced data bases, etc. But we are not to question the rationale behind several large scale destructive projects. To illustrate, in the case of Wild Life Protection Act, the report does not talk about habitat destruction due to development projects as one of the major threats to wildlife, but limits itself to hunting, poaching, man-animal conflicts and loss of corridors. Just to put things in perspective, in Arunachal Pradesh, Dibang Basin projects and Siang Basin projects can together submerge more than 23,000 hectares of prime wildlife habitat and affect several Schedule I species.

Some other issues too start getting too big to ignore. In the 113 page report, the word “speed” in context of speedy clearances gets repeated thirteen times. As we move from initial sagacious pages, the emphasis swiftly shifts from concern for environment to “time consuming clearance processes”. After notable recommendations in Forest Conservation Act, (succinctly critiqued here), the report seems to get down the business: Environmental and Forests Clearances. It is here that the superstructures NEMA (National Environment Management Authority) and SEMA (State Environment Management Authority) are introduced. Briefly, NEMA is proposed to be a full time board which will deal with a whole gamut of issues from Project clearances, monitoring, database creation, creation of standards  etc,. CPCB will be subsumed under NEMA and it will function under the central government. SEMA at the state level will appraise Category B and C projects, monitoring and compliance, etc,. SPCBs will be subsumed under SEMA which will be under the State Govt.

Public Hearings (PH) According to the report:

  1. Only environmental, rehabilitation and resettlement issues can be raised at the Public Hearing.
  2. Only “genuine local participation” is permitted. Mechanism to be put in place to ensure this.
  3. Public hearing can be entirely dispensed with if local conditions are “not conducive”.
  4. There is no necessity for holding a PH if project site is away from settlements, if the projects are in industrial zones or complexes, for power, mining and line projects, if the projects are of national or strategic importance.
  5. Appeal against NEMA SEMA approval has to be filed first with the Board formed under ELMA (which is without any subject experts), which can summarily reject the appeal and levy heavy costs against appellants for pursuing frivolous matters.
  6. Gram Sabha Consent for Linear Projects not required, Settlement of Forest Rights not a necessity for Stage I Forest Clearance, no site inspection required for stage I forest clearance!
Protest in Assam against Lower Subansiri Project in Arunachal Pradesh Photo: KMSS
Protest in Assam against Lower Subansiri Project in Arunachal Pradesh Photo: KMSS

Let us see how these provisions, if accepted, will play out in real life, for example in case of Assam, which faces downstream impacts of Hydropower projects in upstream Arunachal:

  1. Assam will not be a part of Public Hearing for dams like Lower Siang, despite the fact that impacts of Siang basin projects will deeply impact Assam. This is because PH is restricted to distance from Project Site, and is delinked from the impact of the project! Diurnal fluctuations from the Siang project will result in change in water levels by 22 feet near D’Erring Sanctuary, very close to Dhemaji District of Assam, every day in lean season, but affected people will not be able to participate in public consultations.
  2. Even population from downstream Arunachal or interested Ecologists, NGOs who have important points to make about the EIA will not be allowed as PH is limited to “Genuine Local Participation” (this violates NGT judgment about who is aggrieved by a project).
  3. The population of Arunachal, which finally does get to attend, will not be able to talk about social impacts, downstream impacts, impacts of having too many projects in a cascade, safety issues, impacts on their homes and drinking water sources etc., as the scope of their inputs is limited to “environment and rehabilitation and resettlement issues.”
  4. Requirement of Public hearing itself can be done away with, if the “Local conditions are not conducive”. So in places like Tawang where Monpas are leading nonviolent struggle against destructive dams, the public hearing can simply be cancelled and the project proceed!
  5. In fact there may be no public hearing for hydropower projects or for any power projects or river link projects!
  6. In case affected groups want to appeal against NEMA decision, they will have to file a complete case within 15-30 days of MoEFCC’s order, which is extremely difficult for rural communities
  7. If surmounting all obstacles, a case is filed, the petitioners better be wary as the board has powers to reject their appeal summarily and levy heavy fine on them.
Monks protesting against dams in Tawang Region in Arunachal Pradesh Photo: Urmi Bhattacharjee
Monks protesting against dams in Tawang Region in Arunachal Pradesh Photo: Urmi Bhattacharjee

Does this look like a conducive, encouraging environment to bring out accountability, transparency and inclusive environmental governance? On the ground, this may mess up issues further, fuel conflicts and delay projects, rather than fast tracking them!

Process of Project “Approval”: All in Three months: The Report has also recommended how the clearance process should be. This is possibly one of the most problematic areas of the report where all the focus is centered on getting the file move in full throttle. The report recommends Model TORs (Terms of Reference) for sections, which already exist. It also assigns just 10 days for the NEMA to work on a site specific TOR failing which the proponent will use the Model TOR. Laying down TORs for an Environment Impact Assessment Study is one of the crucial parts of the clearance process. Many stalemates we witness today have their roots in inadequate TORs. In fact in some developing countries, there is a Public Hearing at the TOR stage also so that affected communities and interested stakeholders can raise points to be included in the study. NEMA is supposed to recommend approval or rejection (with reasons) within two months of receiving the application. The basis of 2 months is not clear as the EIA study itself has to be at least a single season (one year) study!

Fast track clearances: On this Clearance express, there are some compartments which belong to the bullet train. Because nearly three months is too long a time to wait for projects which have the potential to change an entire eco region evolved over thousands of years, linear projects, projects of strategic importance and power and mining projects which are “engines of the nation’s growth” are put on a separate fast track. It is not clear how soon they will be appraised, or, approved, but imagination runs wild here..

Villagers affacted by Gosikhurd Dam in Vidarbha. The construction has faced huge corruption charges, cost escalation, lack of proper clearances, no rehabilitation of affected communities, and extremely poor quality work Photo: Aparna Pallavi
Villagers affacted by Gosikhurd Dam in Vidarbha. The construction has faced huge corruption charges, cost escalation, lack of proper clearances, no rehabilitation of affected communities, and extremely poor quality work Photo: Aparna Pallavi

So what constitutes projects of national importance? As pointed by Shripad, much debated Polavaram Dam which can submerge nearly 300 villages in three states or the GosiKhurd dam which can submerge 100 villages, hundreds of hectares of forest land and is mired in deep corruption charges, can be fast tracked for being of National Importance as they already have the tag of being “National Projects”.

As for Monitoring, the committee stresses an ironically-named tool “Mandatory provision of voluntary disclosure”! Monitoring will be web-based, technologically assisted and with minimal need for site visits. This leaves absolutely no chance for any local affected community to be a part of monitoring, or be able to voice its concerns which may not show up on the hightech monitoring devises. The only place where committee mentions accountability is with reference to speed of clearance, failing which the Chairperson of NEMA will be held accountable. There is no accountability demanded either about failing to address impacts on ecology or on people.

Overreach of the Committee: ELMA: Hugely overstepping their mandate, the committee then proposes a new law for streamlining clearance and approval for projects at state and center by proposing Environment Laws (Management) Act, ELMA. As stated at the outset, this is no product of interactive discussions with civil society or general public, but is a part of a report by 4 individuals assisted by 2 secretaries in a period of 3 months.

Uberrima fides? It’s the environment we are talking about! According to the committee, ELMA is based on the principle of Utmost Good Faith or Uberrima Fides, used in Insurance Laws, as against Caveat Emptor, or Buyer Beware principle, where the NEMA, SEMA and the Ministry will put absolute faith in whatever studies, impact assessment reports, compliance reports that the proponent submits. According to the committee, “The law of insurance (Utmost Good Faith) supposes that the insurer knows everything about himself or about his activity to be insured; and the insurance company cannot be expected to know anything about the insured nor will it be able to verify all that is stated, speed being the essence. If the statements made by the insured turn out to be incorrect or if material facts were suppressed or concealed, the insurance company could avoid its liability.” (Emphasis added)

This stress in Insurance Law is entirely misplaced and non-applicable in the realm of environment!

Firstly, the Insurer owns his body, and there is a solid footing to believe him. In case of projects, say for example a dam about to submerge 5000 hectares of prime forest or displace lakhs of people, the proponent is making a claims about something he does not own, but which is public property on which many others depend and which will be irreversibly impacted by the proponent. While in case of Insurance laws the Insurer does not have any concern for the Insured, in case of environment, it is exactly the opposite. The MoEFCC’s prime duty is to safeguard the environment. If the project affects environment in a bid for quick clearances, it is the MoEF which would be (should be) deeply impacted. It cannot just “avoid its liability” like the insurance company as the Report suggests!

Vehicle drowned in muck, much of it dumped by Srinagar Dam in Garhwal, Uttarakhand Floods, 2013. Photo: Kavita Upadhyay, The Hindu
Vehicle drowned in muck, much of it dumped by Srinagar Hydropower Dam in Garhwal, Uttarakhand Floods, 2013. Photo: Kavita Upadhyay, The Hindu

There is absolutely no justification for using principle of Utmost Good Faith in the environmental realm, because most EIAs are fraudulent and compliances do not exist. Even currently, any false information provided at the time of appraisal process is a violation of Environment Protection Act and invites punishment. But there are examples by the dozen about how the MoEFCC refuses to take action even when clear evidence is presented to them about false information presented by proponent. This was violation of EPA 1986, how is this violation different than violation of ELMA?

We know that monitoring is the weakest link in environment governance and there no reason to believe that it will improve in any way by making it web-based. In the absence of this, taking proponent at his word about the information he provides at the time of clearance or monitoring is not workable, justifiable or acceptable.

Appeals against decisions of NEMA or SEMA: The primary space to file an appeal against decision of NEMA or SEMA is now taken by a board Chaired by a retired High Court Judge and two senior officials of the government and the National Green Tribunal is restricted to only judicial review. Merit-Based review and subject experts is one of the strongest assets of NGT, differentiating it from other courts and it is clear that this very role is being clipped by ELMA.

The ELMA will have an overriding effect on any judgments, orders of courts or tribunals under acts dealt with by ELMA.

ELMA also envisages Special Environmental Courts at district level which will take “Cognizance of the serious offences only on a complaint by the officers authorized by the NEMA or SEMA.” As an afterthought, these courts may also hear public only if they are satisfied that responsible authority failed to take action about their complaint in three working days. Taking action is a very vague term.

While the ELMA has provisions for “protecting officials acting in good faith”, it has a penal provision to scare litigation by a provision which says “Punishment for false or frivolous complaints”. So while the proponent will be treated in “Utmost Good Faith” aggrieved citizens will be treated with utmost skepticism and will have to: File appeal within 30 days, prove their bona fides, be wary and careful about filing as it may be deemed “frivolous” and they may be fined!

~~~~

The undercurrent of the HLC report is indeed that the environmental governance will have utmost good faith towards the industry and utmost suspicion towards the affected, the concerned or the civil society. There is no evidence till date to prove that this good faith in the industry is warranted without stringent checks and balances. Even in current compliance system the developers are supposed to voluntarily submit six monthly compliance report, but nothing happens if they do not and no one reads them if they do.This undercurrent overshadows some useful recommendations of the committee.

The HLC report cannot be accepted in this form. Any review of environmental laws needs a consultative and consensus-based process and not a rushed work of two months by a biased panel with unclear and open-ended TORs. The characteristic of ELMA, NEMA and SEMA of excluding participation and not attempting to address issues related to inclusive governance has the potential to polarize environment discourse rather than making it swift and accountable.

The remedy, unfortunately, seems more problematic than the illness. Reminds one of Sahir’s words, जो दवा के नाम पे जहर दे, उसी चारागर की तलाश है…

-Parineeta Dandekar, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

END NOTES:

[1] The report has already been critiqued excellently by various authors.

  • HLC – TSR Subramanian report: Climate blind or a climate disaster? Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/hlc-tsr-subramanian-report-climate-blind-or-a-climate-disaster/
  • T.S.R. Subramanian Committee’ is interested in “Management of Environment” and not in “Protection of Environment”.-Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant (http://counterview.org/2014/12/16/tsr-subramanian-committee-is-interested-in-management-of-environment-and-not-in-protection-of-environment/)
  • Recipe for Dilution of Environmental Protection Regime: Report of MoEF’s Committee to Review Environmental Laws- Shripad Dharmadhikary (http://shripadmanthan.blogspot.in/2014/11/recipe-for-dilution-of-environmental.html)
  • Full Report of MoEF’s Committee to Review Environmental Laws Confirms Initial Apprehensions: Recipe for Dilution of Environmental Protection Regime– Shripad Dharmadhikary: http://shripadmanthan.blogspot.in/2014/12/full-report-of-moefs-committee-to.html
  • Executive’s Environmental Dilemmas: Unpacking a Committee’s Report: Manju Menon and Kanchi Kohli: http://www.epw.in/commentary/executives-environmental-dilemmas.html

[2] Members include: Shri Vishwanath Anand, Former Secretary, Justice (Retd.) Shri A.K. Srivastava Former Judge of Delhi High Court, Shri K.N. Bhat, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India. Secretaries: Shri Bishwanath Sinha Joint Secretary, MoEF&CC, , Shri Hardik Shah, Member Secretary, Gujarat Pollution Control Board

[3] [1] The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, [2] The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; [3] The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; [4] The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; [5] The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; [6] The Indian Forest Act, 1927.

As pointed out by Rohit Prajapati in his excellent critique, the HLC has also suggested changes to [1] The Forest Right Act, 2006 and [2] The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, though these were not part of HLC’s TOR.

Ganga · Hydropower · Uttarakhand

Why is the IIT Consortium acting like a hydropower lobby?

In a shocking development, Consortium of Indian Institute of Technology (IITC) has submitted a report that is a shot in the arm for the hydropower lobby in Ganga basin in Uttarakhand. This IITC report is being used by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to push ahead 24 Hydropower Projects in Uttarakhand which were recommended to be cancelled by two official expert reports, both commissioned on the orders of the Supreme Court of India. It seems the authors of the IITC report are jeopardizing the formidable reputation of the IITs and over a dozen other institutes which are a part of IITC, possibly for some short term gains.

Sounds ridiculous? Read on..

WII report The first expert report mentioned above is the report of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), commissioned by the MoEF & CC to assess the cumulative impact of some 70 hydropower projects in Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basin in Uttarakhand. WII submitted the report to MoEF&CC in April 2012 and among other recommendations, said that 24 of these projects should be dropped due to their irreversible & long term impact on aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. At the outset it should be mentioned that the WII (“an internationally acclaimed”, “autonomous institute of MoEF&CC”, see: http://www.wii.gov.in/) recommendation of dropping 24 projects was based on assessment of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity impacts of the series of hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basins in Uttarakhand. WII was commissioned to do this study by the MoEF&CC following an earlier SC order based on CEC (Central Empowered Committee) recommendation.

MoEF&CC, did not want to take the recommended action, so it sat on the recommendation of the WII report.

EB report following SC directions to Ministry to take stand on WII report On Aug 13, 2013, following the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013, the Supreme Court directions, among other things included, “MoEF is directed to examine, as noticed by WII in its report, as to whether the proposed 24 projects are causing significant impact on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirath River basins.” Again, MoEF&CC did not want to do any such examination on its own. Since MoEF&CC was setting up an expert body to examine the role of hydropower projects in the Uttarakhand disaster as per other directions of the same SC order of Aug 13, 2013, the ministry included such examination also in the Terms of Reference of the Expert Body (EB) under chairmanship of Dr Ravi Chopra.

The EB terms of reference were even wider than that of WII study and the expertise available with EB was also wider. With such expertise and terms of reference, the EB report (by 11 of the 13 members of EB) submitted to MoEF&CC in April 2014 came to the conclusion that 23 of the 24 projects in WII list should be dropped and even the 24th project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A should go ahead only after significant modifications. Thus, essentially, EB too endorsed the WII recommendation.

It should be noted here that the WII recommendations were peer reviewed (during the work of Expert Body in 2013-14) by renowned biodiversity expert Dr Brij Gopal. Dr Brij Gopal too endorsed WII recommendation that the 24 projects should be dropped. The peer review was sought by the Central Water Commission representative at the 2nd EB Meeting. Despite objections from some EB members, the Chairman agreed to such a review and proposed the name of Dr. Brij Gopal which was promptly seconded by the Vice-Chairman, Dr. B.P. Das – a former Chief Engineer (Irr), Govt of Odisha and former Vice Chairman of the MOEF&CC’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects. In fact Dr. Brij Gopal suggested that more projects needed to be dropped.

MoEF&CC still did not want to take action on the 24 projects. So using the dissenting report by two government agencies which were largely toeing their official position in EB, the MoEF&CC suggested to the Supreme Court of India on May 7, 2014 that it wants to set up another committee. Seeing no validity in this, the Honorable SC rejected this suggestion and asked MoEF&CC to take a stand. SC has also since then put a stay on any further work on these 24 projects.

Still not ready to take a stand, MoEF&CC, used the reason that since IITC was already working on Ganga River Basin Management Plan (GRBMP) for the ministry since 2010 went ahead and gave the task of reconciling the two EB reports to IITC. In effect this is tantamount to violating the SC directions of not appointing another committee. However, unlike the picture it tried to give to SC, this task was not part of GRBMP work, but given to IITC through a fresh TOR.

Perturbed at not receiving any serious required response from MoEF&CC after repeated orders, the apex court judges of the Supreme Court rightly said the ministry was behaving like Kumbhakarna and Rip Van Winkle.

On Oct 9, 2014, the MoEF&CC submitted an affidavit to the SC, relying entirely on a report from IITC. And lo and behold, IITC had provided a report to the MoEF&CC, certifying that with some vaguely defined criteria, all the 24 projects can go ahead and there is no need to cancel any project! Serendipitously, this is exactly what the MoEF&CC & the hydropower lobby wanted!

It needs to be stated here that IITC had no mandate to submit such a report and the report is unprofessional, inadequate, unwarranted and inconsistent.

Let us see how.

Authors of the IITC report IITC report was authored by eight persons: Dr Vinod Tare (Civil Engineering Dept, IIT Kanpur, see: http://www.iitk.ac.in/ce/CIVIL/faculty.htm), Dr I M Mishra (Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Roorkee, see: http://www.iitr.ac.in/departments/CH/pages/People+Faculty+imishfch.html#), Dr Purnendu Bose (Civil Engineering Department, IIT Kanpur, see: http://www.iitk.ac.in/ce/CIVIL/faculty.htm), Dr Ligy Philip (Civil Engineering Dept, IIT Madras, see: http://www.civil.iitm.ac.in/people/faculty/ligy/about.html), Dr B S Murty (Civil Engineering Dept, IIT Madras, see: http://www.civil.iitm.ac.in/?q=murty_edu), Dr R P Mathur (formerly Prof of Civil Engineering, University of Roorkee), Dr M Jawed (Dept of Civil Engineering, IIT Guwahati, see: http://www.iitg.ac.in/jawed/homepage/index.html) & Dr Gautam Roy (Consultant GRBMP and former student of Civil Engineering Department at IIT Kanpur). A perusal of the available information on professional background of these persons shows that none of them have expertise on the aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity of the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin, to decide on the appropriateness of the WII recommendations. Hence at the outset it seems inappropriate for IITC to sit on judgment over recommendation of an expert body, on subject matter of which IITC has no expertise.

The IITC team of 8 persons listed above, all with essentially engineering background have now also reviewed the EB report and made their own recommendations, again without having the expertise that was available at EB command. It is thus inappropriate for IITC to comment on the recommendations of the EB which had two biodiversity experts from FRI (Forest Research Institute) and WII, besides experts from Uttarakhand in various other disciplines. IITC is thus being unprofessional.

What does IITC report say The IITC report essentially says that ALL the 24 projects can go ahead if they satisfy three criteria: Aviral Dhara, Environmental flows and longitudinal connectivity. The first thing that strikes about these three terms is that they are all vaguely defined and can have flexible interpretations. They are also interconnected and not necessarily independent of each other. Most importantly, they do not take care of the issues based on which the two expert reports said that these 23 projects should be dropped and even the 24th Project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A may be dropped or modified. But first let us understand these three vaguely defined, flexible and interconnected terms.

Aviral Dhara: According to the IITC report para 2.1 (see also: “Ganga River Basin Management Plan Extended Summary” of June 2014 available at: http://gangapedia.iitk.ac.in/sites/default/files/2014-06-12_GRBMP_Extended%20Summary.pdf): “Aviral Dhara in this context means that the flow of water, sediments and other natural constituents are continuous and adequate over the entire length of the river throughout the year.” There is no definition of what is adequate here, nor it is clarified as to adequacy is from what point of view. Here it should be noted that Aviral literally means uninterrupted, but neither IITC nor MOEF&CC provide this interpretation. According to MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014 (para 8(c)), Aviral means “to flow round the clock” or “continuous flow”.

Environment Flows: For Environmental flows, the “objective” of GRBMP is (see p 9 of the GRMBP Extended Summary) “Environmental Flows shall be maintained in all rivers and tributaries of Ganga River System to fulfill their geological, ecological, socio‐economic and cultural functions.” The E-flows thus would than depend on identifying functions of the river from geology, ecology, socio-economic and cultural perspectives, which can vary. The GRMBP extended summary does not provide clarity on e-flows for any of these aspects and how to go about arriving at required environment flow. It should be mentioned here that to arrive at environment flows, there are about 200 methodologies available globally. The IITC report attached with the MOEF&CC affidavit remains even vaguer as it says maintenance of E-flow should lead “to river stability and ecological balance in the downstream areas.”

Clarity on environmental flows is crucial as the affidavit from MOEF&CC itself agrees that MOEF&CC did not address the issue of eflows adequately while granting environmental clearances in Uttarakhand. One of the basic reasons behind this was lack of clarity on the issue and the same mistake is being repeated in the IITC Report.

Longitudinal Connectivity: In MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014, it is stated (para 6(b)/ 8(b)) that longitudinal connectivity is necessary to ensure “non-disruptive biota movement and silt transportation along the river course that are essential ingredients of a river ecology and its wholesomeness. Otherwise, a fragmented river stands to lose its basic character along with its native aquatic bio-diversity and ecological integrity.”

One of the two places where the term longitudinal connectivity appears in the GRMBP Extended Summary quoted earlier, says: “For dams and barrages, a precondition is essential that they cannot violate the longitudinal connectivity in River Ganga and her major tributaries. Besides they must allow E‐Flows (Environmental Flows) all along the river. A potential method for ensuring river connectivity through dams/ barrages has been suggested.”

The only other place in the GRBMP Extended Summary where the term longitudinal connectivity appears is interesting as it connects all the three terms that IITC has used: “Thus, while longitudinal connectivity in river network is an essential first step to maintain “Aviral Dhara”, having adequate river flows depends much on basin’s overall water status.” This statement is thus also making all three terms even more flexible, subjective and vague since they are dependent on “basin’s overall water status”. This leaves the door open to later reduce the quantum of E-Flows.

It is thus clear that the IITC report annexed by the MOEF&CC with their Oct 9, 2014 affidavit says that if these three vaguely defined terms that are flexible and prone to subjective interpretations are satisfied, then all the 24 projects can go ahead.

While these three, when clearly defined and properly implemented, are necessary conditions for any hydropower project, to say that they are sufficient condition is not only misleading, but also showing lack of understanding of the environmental issues related to hydropower projects. The MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014 relies exclusively on this IITC report and wants to allow all 24 project based on these three vaguely defined, flexible criteria from IITC report.

However, these three criteria are not sufficient to take a decision about these 24 projects as they exclude large number of criteria that the two expert reports considered, including: terrestrial biodiversity (completely absent in IITC report), cumulative impact (completely absent in IITC report it only looks at project specific issues), projects’ location in hazardous zone, projects increasing the disaster potential of the area, among many others.

The SC’s original direction was to examine if the 24 projects would have significant impact on the biodiversity. So the examination for these 24 projects must be done from the total biodiversity aspect and not on the basis of flow alone. The IITC itself has said in the GRBMP Interim Report of Sept 2013 that if biodiversity impact is significant then the project should be disallowed. It is clear IITC has again been inconsistent.

IITC is inconsistent It should be added here that in table 4.2 of their “Interim GRBMP” of Sept 2013 (see: https://nmcg.nic.in/writereaddata/fileupload/25_GRBMPInterim_Rep.pdf), IITC provides larger set of criteria for deciding permissibility of dams and barrages in the Ganga Basin, which include criteria like threat to terrestrial biodiversity, rare, endangered and threatened (RET) species, geological hazards, loss of historical, religious and cultural sites, among others. But these are no longer considered by the IITC in their current report under discussion. The IITC is also being inconsistent, besides being unprofessional and vague.

IITC report shows lack of understanding on basic environmental issues It is also disturbing to read the IITC report saying (section 2.1, last but one para), “However, projects on streams/ rivers with negligible biota may be allowed to proceed as per the environmental and other clearances already given to such projects provided that adequate provision is made to ensure the mandated E-flows. The adverse environmental impacts of such projects on the Ganga river system as a whole are expected to be negligible. Such projects may, therefore, be kept out of Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA) for their approval.”

Firstly, this shows that IITC is out-rightly overruling the recommendation of the WII and EB on criteria of terrestrial biodiversity, geological stability and so on. IITC is doing that too without providing any reasoning or basis. Significant number of the 24 projects have been recommended for rejection by WII and EB based on these criteria. Such baseless rejection of the recommendation by IITC not only shows their poor understanding of environmental and geological issues, but also shows their pro hydro bias.

Secondly, IITC makes the contention that the adverse environment impacts of such projects on Ganga river system is expected to be negligible, without providing any basis or scientific logic or reasoning.

Thirdly, suggesting that all such projects may be kept out of the CEIA seems to show poor understanding of the basics CEIA by the authors of IITC report. Large number of even so called low impact interventions can also cumulatively have big impacts and to exclude them is against the very spirit of CEIA. It also then raises doubts about competence of IITC to prepare GRBMP, since GRBMP is supposed to also look at the cumulative impact assessment and carrying capacity of major interventions in the Ganga Basin. IITC authors do not seem to understand that even aquatic biota gets affected by geological and other factors, that fish is not the only aquatic biota and that there is upstream downstream linkages in lifecycle of the aquatic biota and that there are linkages between aquatic and terrestrial biota life cycles, affected by hydrology.

The above stated issues raise serious doubts about the appropriateness of the IITC report and MOEF&CC’s attempts to push ahead with the 24 hydropower projects in fragile and disaster prone Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin based on the inappropriate IITC report. Particularly when these projects were to be cancelled as per two expert reports, both commissioned following two separate apex court orders.

Issue of cumulative impacts cannot be taken care of through project specific actions Here it should be noted that the WII report has made its recommendation about dropping 24 HEPs based on cumulative impact assessment of all the operating, under construction and planned projects in the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda River basins. The same is true with respect to EB recommendation. The conclusions arrived at based on cumulative impact assessment by the WII and EB cannot and should not be sought to be addressed by looking at project specific steps or actions as MOEF&CC affidavit and IITC reports are doing.

Did Project Management Board allow IITC to do this report? The IITC task of GRBMP is being overseen by a Project Management Board (PMB) comprising of senior persons of all the seven IITs and some invited members. The IITC report dated July 21, 2014 mentions, “The PMB in its fifth meeting held on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at IIT Delhi agreed to examine the two reports in the broader framework developed for GRMBP.”

While this is what IITC claims in its July 21, 2014 report, this claim is not supported by the Minutes of the relevant meeting of PMB, as we see below. From the reading of the minutes, it seems that the IITC had no mandate or clearance to do this report.

In the minutes of the fifth meeting of PMB held on June 24, 2014, para 7 seems to be the only relevant para in this context, which reads as follows: “Project Coordinator sought the directions from PMB about the modus operandi for follow-up actions after submission of the final draft of GRBMP – such as responding to queries and comments on GRBMP and dealing with requests for other inputs on Ganga Basin received from government and other agencies. He mentioned that IITC is obliged to respond to such requests based on the work done in preparing GRBMP, and the help of only active contributors of IITC would be needed rather than the existing mechanism of going through PICC and PMB. Professor Manna, Director, IIT Kanpur stated that IIT Kanpur is willing to take the responsibility on behalf of IITC of such matters and Project Coordinator may take the help and advice of concerned IIT Team members as and when needed. It was opined that each IIT may compile the list of new faculty members who may have joined after GRBMP project was started and communicate the same to the Project Coordinator. Professor Khakhar suggested that Directors of the 7 IITs may discuss the matter and communicate the decision to the Project Coordinator on modus operandi for submission of first version of GRBMP, and responding to queries and comments on GRBMP and dealing with requests for other inputs on Ganga Basin received from government and other agencies.”

The first thing that strikes about this para is that the Project Coordinator (Dr Vinod Tare) raised this in the context of “follow-up actions after submission of the final draft of GRBMP”, which is not the case with respect to current issue, since the final draft of the GRBMP is yet to be submitted. There is nothing in this para to support the contention quoted above from the preface of the IITC report that PMB “agreed to examine the two reports in the broader framework developed for GRMBP.”

If this is the only para that is relevant in the context of IITC report to MOEF&CC dated July 21, 2014 and if this para is not applicable at this stage since it is applicable only after submission of final draft of GRBMP, then the question arises, if the IITC had the permission from PMB to submit such a report and if the MOEF&CC should have submitted this report as authorized IITC report? These questions can be answered by only the IITC, its PMB and MOEF&CC, but they are relevant since it is this report purportedly from IITC that is sought to be used by MOEF&CC to ensure that all the 24 projects under discussion go ahead. In fact PMB and all concerned from IITC should quickly clarify that this report cannot be called IITC report, but only from the specific 8 persons listed above. The authors should be asked to remove the claim that this is IITC report.

IITR has poor track record and conflict of interest Here it is pertinent to note that of the four IITs involved in this report of IITC, IIT Roorkee (IITR) has already proven to have a poor and biased track record and should not have been involved in any case. The IITR was in fact commissioned in July 2010 by MOEF&CC to do cumulative impact assessment of the hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin. The report submitted by IITR was so pathetic that it was not accepted and it invited adverse comments from official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects, the Inter Ministerial Group on Ganga Basin Projects and also the Supreme Court of India in Aug 2013 order. (The report was also criticized by other organisations[1].)

Thus, IITR stands discredited on the precise issue of cumulative impacts of hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin. To include such an institute for another IITC report now on the same issue not only brings discredit to the whole effort, but raises the issue of conflict of interest.

While some issues are based on procedures and propriety, other issues relate to merit of IITC recommendations as they do not hold the experience or expertise to deal with serious problems related to cumulative impacts, terrestrial biodiversity and RET species, deforestation, and disaster potential of the region.

Thus, on both these counts (technical and merit based), the IITC Report is under cloud and does not hold enough ground to base further informed decisions.

Conclusion In view of the above, it is clear that IITC report is not adequate, reliable, or consistent to take a decision about 23 hydropower projects which have been recommended to be dropped and 24th project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A project which has been recommended to be dropped/ modified by the WII and EB. IITC had neither the expertise nor the mandate to submit such a report. The MOEF&CC should not be relying on this report and rather coming out with its own position as directed by the Supreme Court of India repeatedly, keeping in mind the issues and merits of the two expert reports, both submitted following two separate apex court orders.

It is unfortunate that IITC has submitted a report that is obviously music to both hydropower developers and government. MoEF&CC has already offered more such work to IITC. We hope IITC will go beyond such short term interests and be more consistent, professional and work towards rejuvenation of the Ganga and other rivers.

This current work is discrediting their future work of GRBMP too.

-Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP (Being an IIT Mumbai alumni myself, I am writing this with a sense of sadness)

[1] For example, see: http://www.sandrp.in/hydropower/Pathetic_Cumulative_Impact_Assessment_of_Ganga_Hydro_projects.pdf