DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 230123: Welcome decision of FAC to deny clearance to Etalin HEP

(Feature Image:- Upper Dibang Valley District, Arunachal Pradesh, India (Source: Wikipedia Commons/IWP)

It’s rather rare that we get a hydropower project related decision from official decision makers that can be welcomed. It has happened this week when the MoEF’s (Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change) Forest Advisory Committee declined to give forest clearance to the controversial 3097 MW Etalin Hydropower Project in Dibang sub basin of Brahmaputra basin in Arunachal Pradesh and North East India. The project was under consideration for this clearance since 2014 and finally in the meeting on Dec 27, 2022, FAC conveyed that the current proposal cannot be considered for the clearance and revised proposal may be submitted. It is not a blanket rejection of the project, but considering the history of consideration of this project in FAC, it is closest we can come to that.

It is also welcome to know that the FAC has also looked at the poor track record of compliance of conditions of earlier forest clearances for the hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh among the many reasons why the project is rejected in current form. Arunachal Pradesh may do well to improve its track record before applying for forest clearance to any new projects in the state.

This decision is also a lesson for the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects and also for MoEF itself for not even looking at the track record of compliance of the conditions of environment clearances that the EAC and MoEF give to the river valley and hydropower projects. They also never look at the implementation of the Environment Management Plans. Same is the case with the MoEF’s National Board of Wildlife.

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Sand Mining

2022: Riverine People’s Protest against Destructive Sand Mining Activities

The rampant riverbed mining in India have reached the alarming stage where the adverse impacts on river’s eco-system, river based environmental services including fishing, groundwater recharge, potable and irrigational water supply schemes have started affecting the riverine communities in multiple ways. Given the poor track records of responsible agencies in addressing their plight, the dependent, affected and concerned people have been left with no option but to resist. Like in past years, there have been several incidents of riverine people strongly opposing the destructive mining practices in many states in 2022. This overview compiles some such incidents which we could track. The first part of the overview highlighting the adverse impacts of riverbed mining on river eco-system and freshwater species can be seen here.      

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 160123: Top Court appeals for EIAs for Urban Development: Welcome, but…

The Supreme Court of India, while disposing of a petition related Chandigarh, in its order on January 10, 2023 has said: “Before we part with this judgement, we observe that it is high time that the legislature, executive, and the policymakers at the centre and state levels take note of the damages to the environment on account of haphazard development and take a call to take necessary measures to ensure that the development does not damage the environment… We therefore appeal to the Legislature, the Executive and the Policy Makers at the Centre as well as at the State levels to make necessary provisions for carrying out Environmental Impact Assessment studies before permitting urban development.”

This is most welcome. And urgently required. That India’s urban development is happening at the cost of life sustaining environment resources including rivers, water bodies, forests, wetlands among others is well known. That the government sees all requirements of environmental scrutiny as road blocks is also well known. The consequences of this are clear for all concerned, not only in case of Bangalore as cited by the Supreme Court Bench, but also in case of Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Chennai, Delhi, Ernakulam, Faridabad, Gurugram, Hyderabad, Indore, Joshimath, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai and so on. So is there a good chance that the apex court suggestion will be followed either in letter or in spirit? Unlikely. So what is clearly required is that the apex court emphatically directs the centre and states in this regard and follows it up with ensuring its implementation.

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 020123: Looking Back to Look forward to 2023

(Feature Image:-River Ken inside Panna National Park from River Stories, Walking Across India-I by Siddharth Agarwal)

This is the first DRP bulletin of 2023 and we would like to begin on a positive note. But to remain grounded in reality we also need to look back at the events in 2022. We see a number of positives in 2022 and we hope that trend continues. The number of new dams and hydropower projects being started has remained on a declining trend. People and civil society has continued its protests against destructive projects and for more decentralised projects and governance.

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 191222: Question marks over viability of pump hydro projects

(Feature Image: 1772 Mw PSHPs Spain. Photo courtesy of Iberdrola/ ENR)

The question marks over viability of huge number of pump storage hydro projects (PSHP) being pushed forward in India currently were flowing in the rivers for long. This week, Moody’s investors Service (MIS) seems to have strengthened this after it downgraded Greenko Energy Holdings’ corporate family rating. It may be noted that Greenko is the biggest investor in PSHPs in India from private sector and a major part of Greenko’s new investments are in PSHP.

This makes the implications of MIS’s downgrade all the more interesting. MIS has noted that PHSPs are capital intensive and each PHSP will generate cash flow only after at least 2-3 years of construction (in reality it can be much longer than 2-3 years, the operative phrase here is at least). It also noted that the additional debt to be raised from Greenko’s capital spending, coupled with a rising interest environment will put further pressure on “GEH’s already weak financial metrics” and that Greenko’s high financial leverage due to its substantial capital spending program will keep its financial metrics below its downgrade trigger “for an extended period of time”.

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 071122: Increasing focus on Urban Rivers; they continue to face destruction

(Feature Image Source: Question of cities)

It is good to see that focus on Urban Rivers is increasing not only in media, but also by the government. The focus of the latest edition of “Question of Cities” is on Urban Rivers, carrying articles on, beside the lead article by SANDRP coordinator, Article “Rivers & Cities”, Sabarmati (Ahmedabad), Mula-Mutha (Pune), on River Centric Urban Planning Guidelines from Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning. In addition, this SANDRP DRP update also carries articles on Dravyawati River of Jaipur, Godavari river in Nasik and a report on Mandakini river in Badrinath.

All this increased focus is welcome, but will be worthwhile only when we see an effective impact of this on rejuvenated Urban rivers. We have yet to see that. In fact, if at all, the movement is hugely in opposite direction, with increasing destruction of Urban Rivers.

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 17×22: SSP Fails To Provide Promised Water, Rehabilitation: Former Gujarat CM from BJP 

(Feature Image: An aerial view of Narmada river downstream Sardar Sarovar Project in Oct. 2018. Source: CMO Gujarat twitter handle)

With Gujarat state assembly election round the corner, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) the party ruling the state and Centre has been evoking the Sardar Sarovar Project as a big achievement in the face of contrasting ground realities as suggested by no less than former Gujarat Chief Minister of BJP Shri Suresh Mehta. The project has failed to provide promised irrigation water to farmers of Kutch and Saurashtra in whose name the dam was pushed as the canal system remains not fully built. The people of Kutch, in whose name Gujarat got 9 Million Acre Feet of water, disproportionate to its catchment area at SSP, were incidentally last to get the water and not first as it should have been. Kutch canals remains largely unfinished and command area largely unirrigated. Who stopped this area to get the water over a decade after the water started flowing from the dam is a question, Gujarat rulers refuse to answer.

Similarly, thousands of project affected people continue to struggle for rehabilitation and compensation despite court orders. The Gujarat rulers have gone silent over unending and unfolding ecological and hydrological impacts of the dam on Narmada river system downstream from the dam including delta area. Thousands of villagers living in miserable conditions submerged in backwater of the dam but have not been officially recognized as project affected people. At this moment, the timely, just rehabilitation and compensation of these villages and project affected families should be top priority of concerned governments including the Central government.

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 10×22: All Pervasiveness of Climate Change and Anthropocene Impacts

(Feature Image:- Odisha: 10 stranded in flash flood after sudden release of water from Gohira dam. Source: TNIE )

A large number of reports in this week’s news bulletin from SANDRP are tied by a common threat. The report in NYT about how the South Asian Monsoon is becoming more intense. How the droughts like the one in western US are becoming more likely.

In Bengal people killed in October rains while they were doing visarjan of Durga idols and in Odisha people stuck by sudden release of water from a dam. In these cases of W Bengal and Odisha, strangely, there was no warning and no one is even asking why. In both cases it is the destruction of the river in the that led to create the crisis, but again no questions are being asked.

The report of death by avalanches, the more frequent landslides in monsoons are also in the same league. The SW Monsoon is officially over as per India Meteorological Department, but even as we write, the extreme floods in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are breaching the Highest Flood Levels in several rivers.

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 260922: Need for new credible Polavaram backwater study

(Feature Image:- The construction of the Polavaram dam across the Godavari river has posed a big threat to the Pulasa fish, as its movement to the upstream of the river could be curtailed. HT PHOTO).

Telangana state has demanded fresh backwater study for the Polavaram dam based on a number of grounds including the higher spillway capacity and outdated river cross sections of 1990s used in the old study. The changing rainfall pattern and resultant changing river flow pattern, both due to changed rainfall and changed state of catchment area also should be a reason for such a fresh study. However, more importantly, the study needs to be done in a credible way involving independent experts, not just state or central govt officials or academics from govt run institutions. Moreover, the study and all the information related to it has to be completely and promptly in public domain as these studies are required for the affected people and affected area. Normally Central Water Commission does such studies and refuses to make it public. What is the use or reason for backwater study to be secret? Possibly CWC is not confident of the quality of the study and that is why it is very important to have experts in the study team who are known to take independent stand. It is useful not only for the states of Telangana, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, but also for the people of Andhra Pradesh too. And earlier this is done, better it will be for all concerned.

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Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 120922: Decisive judicial action dire necessity for wetlands

( Feature Image:- Satish Acharya’s illustration on Bengaluru floods: Whose land is it anyway? 07 Sept. 2022)

The wetlands reports tell us a lot, but the key point is that decisive judicial action is necessary if our wetlands are to have any future. The directions of the Tamil Nadu High Court to geo reference all wetlands of Tamil Nadu, including small (Less than 2.25 ha area) is good beginning, but the court will need to ensure continuous monitoring and ensure implementation. Because the past shows that the government and other stakeholders have collectively failed to take any decisive action to save our wetlands. The disastrous results are evident at so many places, this week it is most clear from the flooding of Bangalore, mainly due to encroachment of lakes, wetlands, water channels and their catchments.

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