Delhiites in early-mid April 2020 were pleasantly surprised to find a much healthy river Yamuna in their city. Social media was full of pictures and videos. Many had resigned not to find a living Yamuna in the city in their lifetime. But the pleasant fact was that the river in the city had indeed as if by magic come alive and presented a picture that was hard to believe. There was a river side which did not stink and looked cleaner than usual.
24.75 MW Mouneswar + 24.75 MW Basavanna ‘Small’ Hydel Projects = One large HEP
According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), hydel projects between 2-25 MW are classified as Small Hydel Projects (SHPs). These projects are exempt from Environmental Clearance, impact assessment, public consultation or any monitoring from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), receive subsidies from the MNRE and apply for Carbon Credits from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Though the concept of encouraging small hydel projects as sources of decentralized energy, also supplying off grid power seem welcome, the happenings on ground are vastly different. As these projects are excluded from environmental governance, there are several examples of fraudulent Small Hydro projects, which exploit the lax governance mechanism to hoodwink all concerned.[i]
One more case has now come to light, this one from Gulberga district in north Karnataka when I visited the project area recently. Although called by two different names, 24.75 MW Mouneswar Small Hydel Project and 24.75 MW Basavanna Hydro Project are operating from a single dam/diversion weir across the KrishnaRiver, just downstream Narayanpur Dam. As such, the project should be considered as a single 49.50 MW hydel project and should undergo immediate environmental, social and legal scrutiny and further assessment. We tried to conatct the officials of the company several times for questions related to the projects, but we got no response.
24.75 MW Mouneswar and 24.75 MW Basavanna SHEPs are built across river Krishna in Benchagaddi village of Shorpur taluk of Gulberga district in Karnataka.
The projects have also applied for Carbon credits under the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Basavanna Hydro Project has been registered as a Clean Development Mechanasim (CDM) project with the UNFCCC on 28th December 2012 and its crediting period has been fixed as 1st March 2013 to 28th February 2023[ii]. 24.75 MW Mouneswar SHP has applied for registration[iii]. SANDRP has sent comments against registration of this project.[iv]
Shockingly, both projects have requested separate registrations, hiding the fact that both will be using the same dam, the same intake/power canal and the same tail race canal.
Project design documents (PDDs) submitted to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Board (UNFCCC – EB) mention the same coordinates as the project location:
Latitude- 16°19’52 “N
Longitude- 76°33’48” E
PDDs of both the projects do not even mention the other project, clearly misleading the UNFCCC. Not only do the PDDs show same coordinates, the lengths of the intake canals are exactly the same at 2771 meters, so are the RCC conduits and penstocks, because we are talking of the same project!
Carbon Credits are supposed to be provided to projects only when they prove beyond doubt that they will be economically unfeasible without such support. However, in this case the expenses of dam, power canal, and tail race tunnel is shared and hence the costs will be lowered, the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of the projects will be higher than what is quoted in the PDDs and they will be profitable even without additional ‘pocketable’ finance from the UNFCCC in the name of Clean Development! (IRR claimed in the PDD is 9.14% for Mouneswar SHP and 11.38% for Basvanna SHP.)
Same Proponent, different names
Interestingly, project proponents of both the projects are shown to be different in respective PDDs. For Mouneswar Small Hydel Project it is Lakshmi Jalavidyut Limited and that for Basavanna Hydro Project it is Krishna Hydro Energy Limited. However, the registered office of both these firms is the same! This address also belongs to Penna Cements, Hyderabad, which is a player in Mini hydel projects in Karantaka. Penna Cements and its subsidiary Pioneer Genco already operate two SHPs, each of 24.75 MW capacity across Cauvery in Karnataka.
From the ground
When SANDRP visited the project sites, the officials were hostile to any entry in the premises or even near the site.
The dam/ diversion weir built by the projects is inside the KrishnaRiver bed and diverts the water through a power canal which runs approximately 3 kms downstream. The power canal takes most of the water from the river rendering the river dry in lean season.
Farmers told power canal as irrigation canal:
When I talked with the farmers in the downstream, they told me that they were under the impression that this canal is meant for irrigation, like Narayanpur Dam canals in the upstream (about 26 km). However, Benchagaddi village which is situated next to the tail race canal of the project not allowed to take even its drinking water from the canal.
There have been strong protests from the villages to this project as the diversion has dried the river bed and more than 300 irrigation pumps of villages like Bechagaddi, Hosur and Yedalabhavi used for irrigating paddy are now useless. Karanataka Bhagya Jal Nigam had also taken serious exception to the projects and had ordered a stop work notice.[v] (It subsequently issued an NOC, without providing any resolution to the issues raised by it earlier.)
The Benchagaddi village which is right next to the power canal experiences power cuts lasting 18-20 hours daily. Around 40 farmers from this village lost their lands for the canal. Rates of compensation given were Rs 25-85 thousand per acre.
Shockingly fraudulent Local Stakeholder Consultations!
The projects have claimed to have organised ‘Local Stakeholder Consultations’ about the CDM mechanism, which is mandatory when applying for CDM credits. PDD claims that Mouneswar project organised stakeholder consultations on 21st December 2011 and Basavanna project organized it on 26th September 2011.
Now see this, both PDDs mentions exactly the same people asking exactly the same questions with exactly the same answers being given!! It is absolutely clear that these meetings and these reports are fake. Amazingly, UNFCCC could not see through this clear fraud.
Local Development through Small Hydels?
As per the villagers, affected families were promised a job in the power plant although none of them received any jobs there. Even the JCB and truck operators are from other states. Security guards too aren’t from the same village.
Unaddressed impacts of Submergence:
In Geddamari village near the diversion weir, around 15-20 families lost their lands for construction of the dam. Bill collector (Talathi) of the village told SANDRP that around 50 acres of land was SUBMERGED due to dam (diversion weir) construction. He further added that farmers whose lands were submerged, have not received the compensation as yet. They have been talking with the company and have been verbally promised some compensation, though nothing on paper. Problems in this village too are like Benchagaddi village. Limited drinking water, disturbed power supply etc.
Applicable for Environmental Clearance:
As the projects use a single dam and are a single project of 49.50 MW and they qualify for a full environmental clearance process, including an EIA, public hearing, and Environmental appraisal by the state or central EAC and an Environmental Management Plan. However, the projects have illegally escaped all this.
Executive Engineer of Krishna Bhagya Jal Nigam (KBJN) – controlling state authority in case of Krishna River- confirmed, “Both the projects are operating using the same weir .The power houses of two projects are housed behind the same diversion weir. There are three 8.25 MW turbines for each of the projects situated downstream of the same diversion weir.”
According to the Executive Engineer, KBJN has granted NOCs to both the projects and that both of them being fully operational for last 6-8 months. When SANDRP visited the project site, the HEPs were found to be fully operational.
24.75 MW Mouneswara and 24.75 Basvanna Projects are operating from the same diversion weir, use the same intake canal and same tail race. They are in fact one single project which has fraudulently shown itself as two separate projects. The proponent and the consultants have hidden this fact from the UNFCCC, the MoEF, the MNRE, KREDL, State Pollution Control Board and State Environmental Department. The Local Stakeholder Reports of the projects are a sham. Submergence impacts are still unaddressed.
These issues need to be addressed urgently by all concerned including the MoEF, the Karnataka Government, UNFCCC, MNRE and KREDL. Such frauds are giving a bad name to the all these institutes.
-Damodar Pujari (firstname.lastname@example.org) with inputs from Parineeta Dandekar