Assam · brahmaputra · Embankments · Floods

Matmora (Assam) Geo-tube Embankment on Brahmaputra: State Glorifies, but No End to Peoples’ Sufferings after Three Years of Construction

The state of Assam in the northeastern India annually bears the brunt of floods and where embankment construction and repairing seems like permanent affair. Displacement of people living on the banks of rivers due to river bank erosion is another major issue here. The braiding and meandering river Brahmaputra and its tributaries continue to erode the banks rapidly. The Brahmaputra is well known for the rate in which it erodes. Among the places in the path of the river where the brunt of erosion has been felt severely include the following:

–        Rohmoria and Dibrugarh town in Dibrugarh district,
–        Matmora in Dhakukhana subdivsion of Lakhimpur district,
–        Majuli and Nimati Ghat in Jorhat district,
–        Lahorighat in Morigaon district and
–        Palashbari and Gumi in Kamrup district.

Map of areas taken up for erosion protection in Assam (Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam)
Map of areas taken up for erosion protection in Assam. Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam

SANDRP recently traveled to Matmora and Nimati ghat, two of these areas.

Bearing the Brunt of Erosion Silently Once a large village now only the name Matmora remains. Locals show us towards the middle of the river, to indicate where the village used to be. The rate of erosion is such that the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta (popularly known as Sissi-Tekeliphuta dyke/embankment) takes the shape of a bow for nearly five kilometers at this place. From 2010, Matmora became very significant in the embankment history of India since country’s first embankment using geo-textile technology was constructed here. This was constructed at the bow shaped eroded line using geotextiles tubes. These tubes were filled up using water and sand from the banks of the river. This five kilometer embankment became a part of the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta which is 13.9 km long. For the state government and Water Resources Department (WRD) of Assam, Matmora geotube embankment is a story of success of preventing floods and erosion. But what we saw in Matmora presents a different picture.

At Nimati Ghat, the river Brahmaputra is eroding its banks ferociously and people are intimidated by the river. A local person whose village used to be nearly two kilometers from the present bank line, told me, “Nothing can stop Baba Brahmaputra from claiming what he wants”. At Nimati Ghat, the Water Resources Department (WRD) is doing anti erosion work using geo-bags.

Funding for Embankments in Assam The total length of embankments in Assam is 4448 km as stated in a debate in the Legislative Assembly of Assam in 1998. Even though the present length of embankments is not known, it is very clear that the state of Assam continues to construct of newer embankments. In a recent analysis by SANDRP, it was found that the funds continue to increase for construction of embankments in the state. In five years from January 2009 to December 2013, the Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources for consideration of techno-economic viability of Irrigation, Flood Control and Multi-Purpose Project Proposals (TAC in short) had given clearance to projects worth Rs 1762.72 crores. A detailed list of these sanctioned projects can be found in Annexure 1 below.

Matmora Geo-tube embankment after its construction in 2010. Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam.
Matmora Geo-tube embankment after its construction in 2010. Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam.

Has Geo-tube been helpful for the people   Between January 2009 to December 2013, the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta, was considered twice by the TAC. The committee in its 95th meeting on 20th January 2009 accepted the project titled “Raising and Strengthening to Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta including closing of breach by retirement and anti-erosion measures (to protect Majuli and Dhakukhana areas against flood devastation by the Brahmaputra, Lakhimpur district, Assam). The estimated cost of this project was Rs 142.42 crore and its project proposal envisaged – (i) Raising and strengthening of embankment for a length of 13.9 km, (ii) Construction of retirement bund with geo-textile tubes of length 5000 m. (iii) Construction of 2700 m long pilot channel.

Geo-tube embankment in Matmora, three years after construction. Photo: SANDRP.
Geo-tube embankment in Matmora, three years after construction. Photo: SANDRP.

Protection work of the same dyke was considered in the 117th meeting held on 21st March 2013 under the proposal for “Protection of Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta at different reaches from Lotasur to Tekeliphuta from the erosion of river Brahmaputra Assam.” The estimated cost of this project was Rs 155.87 crore. According to the minutes of 117th TAC meeting, the scheme envisaged “restoration of existing embankment in a length of 15300m at upstream and downstream of existing geo-tube dyke, Sand filled mattress in a length of 15604 m at river side slope, geo-tube apron length of 7204 m and Reinforced concrete porcupines as pro-siltation device at different reaches to prevent floods and erosion in Dhakukhana Civil sub-division of Lakhimpur district and Majuli sub-division of Jorhat district.” In the same minutes,while referring to the previous project proposal of 95th meeting the minutes stated that, it “was taken up primarily for closure of breach in the existing embankment including raising of embankment around the breach area only. The proposed works in the present scheme were in the same river reach and these would be required to protect the bank from further erosion and provide flood protection.”

This clearly shows that the geo-tube embankment in Matmora cannot be called a success. Government documents which showed that major part of the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta remained vulnerable even after the construction of the geo-tube embankment. In fact submitting a proposal for the whole Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment at first and later saying that the money was spent in constructing a smaller part of the embankment also raise questions. The time gap between the two proposals also raises questions. If the whole money from first proposal was to be spent in constructing only a part of the embankment, why was it not stated clearly in the first proposal? In fact, this was not stated in the first proposal and second proposal reflects that the first project failed to achieve the objectives. If the first proposal was indeed only for part of the embankment, why the proposal to strengthen the larger part of the embankment took 5 years to appear before the committee? The latter proposal also did not mention about the breach which swept away a large part of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment from Jonmichuk to Amgiri Tapit under Sissikalghar and Jorkata village panchayat. According to the local people this breach occurred in the morning hours of 25th June 2012. The photo below shows the breach happened at the Jonmichuk end.

The breached area of 2012. This photo is taken from the new embankment and the lake formed at this spot can also be seen. Photo - SANDRP
The breached area of 2012. This photo is taken from the new embankment and the lake formed at this spot can also be seen. Photo – SANDRP

Jonminchuk area is nearly 15 km upstream of the geotube embankment in Matmora and part of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment. A new embankment of nearly four kilometer long is being constructed at this place but the remnants of the old embankment still exist. The embankment was breached for nearly 3 kms and the water which entered the fields during that time could no longer go out and a large lake has been formed at this place, see the photo. It was surprising to see people living in the patches of the old embankment.

In the downstream, right from the point where the geo-tube embankment ends, the condition of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment is pathetic. There were cracks in the embankment and water seepage has almost shattered the embankment. The embankment was in need of urgent repairs.

Condition of the Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the end point of the geo-tube embankment towards the village side. Photo - SANDRP
Condition of the Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the end point of the geo-tube embankment towards the village side. Photo – SANDRP
Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the same spot mentioned above towards the river side.  Photo - SANDRP
Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the same spot mentioned above towards the river side. Photo – SANDRP

Besides, one does not have to travel far to find erosion in the downstream of the geo-tube embankment. After travelling, less than three kilometers from the end point of the geo-tube embankment, rapid erosion was observed at the place where the Matmora and Tekeliphuta ghats join, due to low water level. This joint ghat is more than a kilometer from the toe line of Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment but seeing the rapidity of the erosion the locals opine that the river would reach the toe of the embankment within this monsoon. It was difficult to believe that the river can erode so fast, until a young man pointed towards a black line in the middle of the river and said that that area which now seemed to be char/sand bar used to be his village three years back. He with his family now live beside the embankment. In this ghat we also witnessed that spurs constructed from the embankment inside the river, mainly to divert the flow of water, have been eroded as well.

The Spur has also been eroded. Photo - SANDRP
The Spur has also been eroded. Photo – SANDRP
Erosion at Matmora-Tekeliphuta Ghat. Photo - SANDRP
Erosion at Matmora-Tekeliphuta Ghat. Photo – SANDRP

It is also important to note that protection of Majuli from floods was one of the main aims of the geo-tube embankment project, but there were reports of devastating floods affecting Majuli in 2012 & 2013.

After geo-tube comes geo bags With the construction of geo-tube embankments being hailed as a success by the state government, construction of embankments using geo-bags followed. Geo-bags are smaller than geo-tubes and come at a cheaper cost. Embankments on many rivers were constructed using geo-bags which were also used for erosion protection. But effectiveness of the geo-bags as protective measure to flood and erosion, still remains disputed. A news report titled “ADB, river engineers differ on geo-bags” published in Assam Tribune on 9th September 2010 reported about the difference of opinion among the water resource engineers of Assam and powerful lobby of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the use of geo-bags to resist Brahmaputra erosion in Palasbari-Gumi and Dibrugarh. Referring to the engineers the news report stated “They have alleged that the ADB provided 23,000 geo-bags for an experiment. They were dumped in the month of September 2009 at a 150-metre-long selected erosion-prone reach at Gumi for testing their efficacy. But, a diving observation made in the month of December 2009, suggested that the bags were not launched uniformly in a single layer as it was claimed. They were found lying in a haphazard manner in staggered heaps with gaps in between and the total distance they covered was only about 8 metres, against the claimed and required 35 metres…..The ADB then carried out another diving observation at Gumi in May last (2010) and found no bag at the site. The State WRD did not get any feedback from the ADB on this issue.”

Work of piling up the geo-bags is going on in Nimati Ghat. Photo - SANDRP
Work of piling up the geo-bags is going on in Nimati Ghat. Photo – SANDRP
Status of the geo-bags put last year. Photo - SANDRP
Status of the geo-bags put last year. Photo – SANDRP
The spot where not a single Geo-bag was seen.  Photo - SANDRP
The spot where not a single Geo-bag was seen. Photo – SANDRP

Nimati Ghat was the other place which SANDRP visited to find out the effectiveness of geo-bags. The work of piling up the geo-bags for erosion protection was going on when SANDRP visited the area in the second week of April 2014. The bags which were used previously for the same purpose were seen to be mostly lying in water in shattered condition. Locals told us that majority of the bags are now under water. In the eroded bank line, these geo-bags were lying without any order and in a way suggesting how the river has dealt or to say played with these jumbo bags. In this bank line, there was a stretch of nearly five meters where the river has eroded more than the other parts. At this stretch none of the geo-bags were to be seen.

There were also contradictions regarding when the present erosion protection work at Nimati ghat had started. Some of the shopkeepers of the ghat said that the work of putting up geo-bags started in February 2014. But according to the contractor in charge of the work, the work started in November 2013. Construction or repairing of embankment just few months before the advent of monsoons is one of the constant criticisms, leveled against the Water Resources department of the state and in Nimati too we heard the same complaint.

Is Geo-tube really a ‘permanent solution’ to floods? In the present discourse of floods in Assam this has become a very significant question. The local people have been fed with various information about geo-tube and most of which are wrong. The life of embankment constructed using geo-tube is of 100 years, we were told by the locals when we travelled to the upstream areas of Matmora geo-tube. This is absolutely not true. In fact, for Prof Chandan Mahanta of IIT Guwahati the scouring[1] done by the river Brahmaputra will be the major cause of concern for geo-tube embankments in the long run.

The geo-tube embankment has already faced threat of scouring right after its construction in the monsoons of 2011. It was on the morning of 14th July, 2011 when two of the apron tubes at the tail of the embankment, were launched due to increase force of water. The apron tubes were laid at the toe of the geo-tube embankment and with the increased force of water scoured at the bottom by the embankment toe line. WRD engineers flung into action and immediate repairing work was taken up at the site. According to WRD engineers this had happened because the trees which were  left outside the  embankment  had  obstructed  and  increased  the  force  of  water and they were immediately cut down. Concrete porcupines were also thrown into the water. Asomiya Pratidin, a regional newspaper reported this on that day but thereafter no report on this could be found. The incident was almost forgotten. When we visited the geo-tube embankment, it was observed that along the toe-line of the embankment a scour line runs for substantial length of the embankment. This clearly shows that scouring by the river has increased in this area. The news report published in Assam Tribune [2]also points out a significant problem associated with geo-bags – “The lobby is mounting pressure for use of geo-bags in the form of bank revetment. Bank revetment is generally not adopted in Brahmaputra because of many reasons. Most important of them is – it produces a permanent deep channel along the existing riverbank.”

On the issue of lobbying behind geo-tube, an interesting perspective was provided by activist-researcher Keshoba Krishna Chatradhara who coordinates ‘Peoples’ Movement for Subansiri and Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV)’. He opines that the construction of geo-tube embankment in Matmora was an experiment, done to see whether such embankments can withstand the flood and erosion of Brahmaputra. The reason for choosing Matmora first and not other severe erosion affected places like Dibrugarh or Rohmoria, was because even if the embankment fails it won’t be as significant loss for the state compared to those places. Dibrugarh is one of the most important towns of upper Assam with a glorious history whereas Rohmoria became important for the state when Oil India Limited found oil deposits in Khagorijan[3]. Infact several local people and activists also opined that the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment which is on the north bank of the river was cut several times, to save the areas in the upstream south bank, mainly the Dibrugarh town. They said that in the past, before the geo-tube embankment came, whenever there was any news of water rising in Dibrugarh, there would soon be a breach in Sissi-tekeliphuta embankment. In fact considering these breaches in the larger Sissi-tekeliphuta embankment, Mr. Chatradhara opined that even if the geo-tube embankment survives the flood, erosion and breaches in future, it might become a small island in midst of a submerged land as there will surely be breaches in the rest of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment.

ADB loan for Geo-textile Embankments in Assam After the construction of the geo-tube embankment at Matmora, the state government is leaving no stone unturned to make it sound like a glorious success. But it is surprising to know that, even before the Matmora embankment was commissioned in December 2010, the state government have filed proposal for two more embankment project where geo-textile would be used for construction and got it cleared. The two subprojects of Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project (AIFRERM) in Dibrugarh and Palashbari were cleared in the 106th meeting of TAC held on 16th September 2010. It is important to note that for the total AIFRERM project ADB is giving a loan of $56.9 million. The cost of Dibrugarh and Palashbari subprojects are Rs 61.33 crore and Rs 129.49 crore respectively. But these investments have been cleared without even doing a post-construction impact assessment of Matmora geo-textile embankment. The Palashbari subproject also included erosion protection for Gumi area through the use of geo-bags but the Assam Tribune report quoted above already mentioned about how geo-bags scheme has failed in that area.

It is important to note here that, the first geo-tube embankment has been constructed only three years back and it would be premature to give any verdict of success, on the contrary there are many signs of failure. But the state government of Assam and the Assam Water Resources department are claiming it as success without really any credible basis and than have used that self certification to go on building more embankments using geo-textile and in several occasions these plans have failed. They first should have done a detailed impact assessment of the embankment at Matmora before going on building more embankments of the same nature.

It seems the Assam government, ADB and CWC are pushing these projects to deflect attention from the failure of embankments in flood management. Such attempts won’t succeed, but it is possibly a ploy to prolong the use of embankments as a flood management technique.

Parag Jyoti Saikia (meandering1800@gmail.com)

Annexure 1

Flood and Erosion Projects approved for Assam – 2009 to 2013

TAC meeting no & date Project Appr. year River/ Basin L of Emba. (m) Original (revised) Cost-CrRs Benefitting area (Ha) Decision
95th -20.01.2009 Protection of Sialmari Area from the erosion of Brahmputra 2002 Brahmaputra NA 14.29 (25.73) NA Accepted
Protection of Bhojaikhati, Doligaon and Ulubari area from the erosion 2002 Brahmaputra NA 14.52 (27.92) NA Accepted
Raising & strengthening Brahmputra Dyke from from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta including closing of breach by retirement and anti erosion measures New Brahmaputra NA 142.42 NA Accepted
96th -16.02.2009 Flood protection of Majuli Island from Flood and Erosion Ph-II & III New Brahmaputra NA 115.03 NA Accepted
Restoration of Dibang & Lohit rivers to their original courses at Dholla Hattiguli New Brahmaputra NA 23.32 (53.11) NA Accepted partly & suggested that proposal of coffer dam, pilot channel, etc. to be put up for expert opinion
101st -30.11.2009 Raising and strengthening to Puthimari embankment New Brahmaputra NA 30.23 15000 Accepted
Anti Erosion measures to protect Brahmputra Dyke on left bank New Brahmaputra NA 27.97 5000 Accepted
Protection of Gakhirkhitee & adjoining areas from erosion New Brahmaputra NA 19.06 20,000 Accepted
102 -28.1.’10 Emergent measures for protection of Rohmoria in Dibrugarh District New Brahmaputra NA 59.91 18,000 Accepted
106th -16.09.2010 Raising and strengthening of tributary dyke along both banks of Kopili River New Kopilli/ Brahmputra NA 110.72 NA Accepted
Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project New Brahmaputra NA 61.33 NA Accepted
Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project New Brahmaputra NA 129.49 NA Accepted
110th – 20.07.2011 Protection of Majuli from Flood and Erosion Ph II & III 2011 Brahmaputra 115.03 Accepted
Restoration fo rivers Dibang & Lohit to their original courses at Dholla Hatighuli 2011 Brahmaputra 54.43 Accepted
111th – 17.08.2011 Protection of Biswanath Panpur including areas of upstream Silamari and Far downstream Bhumuraguri to Borgaon against erosion New Brahmaputra 167.09 Accepted
117 – 21.3.’13 Protecion of Sissi-Tekeliphuta dyke from erosion – Lotasur to Tekeliphuta New Brahmaputra 153000 m 155.87 153000 m Accepted
118th – 30.07.2013 Flood management of Dikrong along with river training works on both banks embankment New Dikrong/Brahmaputra 105.96 Accepted
Flood management of Ranganadi along with river training works on both bank embankments New Ranganadi/Brahmaputra 361.42 Accepted

[1] Scour can be termed as a specific form of the more general term erosion. In case of geo-tube embankments Scour is the removal of sediment from the bottom of the geo-tubes. Scour, caused by swiftly moving water, can scoop out scour holes, compromising the integrity of a structure.

[2] ADB, river engineers differ on geo-bags – http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=jun2410/at08

[3] See ‘Rohmoria’s Challenge: Natural Disasters, Popular Protests and State Apathy’ published in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLVI NO 2, Janurary 8, 2011.

Arunachal Pradesh · Assam · brahmaputra · Sikkim

Review of Water Sector in Northeast India in 2013: Increasing threats to Rivers, People and Environment

The year 2013 was an important for the water sector of northeastern states of India with several significant events. In this article I have tried to summarize some of the important events, issues and concerns of the water sector in northeast.  

Massive hydropower projects considered and cleared for northeast An analysis done by SANDRP for the year 2013 has showed that massive hydropower capacity in northeast India has been considered and cleared by Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River valley and Hydroelectric projects. The total installed capacity of considered by EAC for the year 2013 is 29458 MW and out of which 21805 MW (over 74% of 29458 MW) projects are in the northeast India. On the other hand out of the total capacity considered for northeast, 20180 MW (over 92.5% of 21805 MW) projects are in Arunachal Pradesh. The total number of projects considered from northeast for 2013 was 37, all (including the Dibang multipurpose project, which is basically a hydro project) are hydropower projects. Out of these 37 projects, 10 projects of 4917 MW installed capacity has been given TOR (Terms of Reference) clearance or the Stage 1 clearance. 4 projects with 953 MW installed capacity has been given final environment clearances. 13 projects with 9078 MW capacity had been given extension of their TOR validity which implies that in next 2-3 years all these projects would also come up for final environmental clearance.

Pare hydro-power project on Pare/Dikrong river in Arunachal Pradesh is currently under -construction.  Photo – Parag Jyoti Saikia
Pare hydro-power project on Pare/Dikrong river in Arunachal Pradesh is currently under -construction.
Photo – Parag Jyoti Saikia

India-China Water Information Sharing MoU of October 2013 One of the most important developments of the year 2013 was the signing of this Memorandum of Understanding through which it was agreed that the current hydrological data (Water Level, Discharge and Rainfall) in respect of three stations, namely, Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia located on river Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra from 1st June to 15th  October every year will now be extended to May 15th to Oct 15th with effect from 2014. Another important news through this agreement is that the Government of India recognizes the value of river since the agreement writes “rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development.” But this agreement has been misread and misreported by a large section of the media. SANDRP wrote a detailed blog “Media Hype Vs Reality: India-China Water Information Sharing MoU of Oct 2013” which clears the fog around this agreement.   The blog also lists formation and decisions of the meetings of the Expert Level Mechanisms (ELM) on Trans-border rivers and MoUs on Hydrological Data Sharing on River Brahmaputra / Yaluzangbu and Satluj / Langquin Zangbu.   

Forest Clearance Rejected for Tipaimukh and Dibang Hydropower Projects In the year 2013 the rejection of forest clearance to 1500 MW Tipaimukh hydropower project and 3000 MW Dibang multipurpose project by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of MoEF is noteworthy. Here it should be noted that the Prime Minister of India laid foundation stone for the Dibang Project in Jan 2008 when the project did not have any of the statutory clearances! However, NHPC has already started lobbying the Prime Minister headed Cabinet Committee on Investments to intervene for the forest clearance for Dibang Project and a note has already been moved for this. We hope these FAC decisions are not reversed as it happened in case of Kalu dam in Maharashtra, where the FAC decision was reversed following a letter from the Chief Minister. The stay over the construction work of Maphithel dam in Manipur by the National Green Tribunal could have been regarded as a positive sign but recent reports suggests that Union Ministry for Tribal Affairs (MOTA) had done a U-turn by going “back on its views to say that the Forest Rights Act should not apply to the acquisition of land from the Tanghkul and Kuki tribal people as a ‘rare and unique’ exception.”[1]

Two years of Anti-dam protests in Assam and Tripartite Talks The protest against large hydropower dams in Arunachal Pradesh had reached a new milestone as the stoppage of construction work of Lower Suabansiri hydropower project completed two year on 16th December 2013. This stoppage of the construction work of the Lower Subansiri project has brought the issue of downstream impacts of large dams to the forefront and also showed how a mass movement can question a top-down development project. These protests were led by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), All Assam Student Union (AASU), Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba-Chatra Parishad(AJYCP) along with several other organizations.

KMSS president Akhil Gogoi with other members take out a procession in Guwahati on 16th December, 2013.  Picture by UB Photos
KMSS president Akhil Gogoi with other members take out a procession in Guwahati on 16th December, 2013. Picture by UB Photos

On Dec 6, 2013, a tripartite discussion was held involving the central government, Government of Assam and experts protesting organizations. Though this meeting failed to come to a common resolution, it led to the expert to expert meeting on the Lower Subansiri dam issues on 22nd December 2013.

These discussions not only help in building public opinion about the issue but also provide platform to discuss the larger issues related with 168 hydropower dam proposed for Arunachal Pradesh and its cumulative impacts in the larger Brahmaputra basin.

Foreign Funding of Hydropower projects in Northeast In the year 2013 Asian Development Bank has agreed to give loan of $ 200 million to construct the Lower Kopili Hydropower project in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts Assam. This project is being constructed by Assam Power Generation Corporation Limited (APGCL) and it is 8 km downstream of Kopili hydropower project, first dam on Kopili river. It is important to note that acidic contamination of water due to unabated mining in the upstream Meghalaya is a poses a major threat for the viability of the dam and this was disclosed in a study initiated by the project proponent. This project was given TOR clearance in the 69th meeting of EAC.

Proposed Site for Lower Kopili HEP in Assam Photo - Parag Jyoti Saikia
Proposed Site for Lower Kopili HEP in Assam.
Photo – Parag Jyoti Saikia

Foreign funding of hydropower project comes with the risk of huge cost overruns. This was evident in the case of Pare HEP on Pare/Dikrong river which NEEPCO constructing taking a loan of 80 million euros from KfW, a German Bank. Incidentally, this project was schedule to be completed in September 2013 but Central Electricity Authority status report on projects under execution now states the completion time as 2015. The cost of this project has already increased by 205% from its initial estimates. The loan amount along with the interest rest is also increasing year by year and NEEPCO’s 36th Annual Report of 2011-12 states that the loan taken from KfW is “repayable in 30 equal half yearly installments w.e.f. 30.12.2013.” This implies that even before the completion of the project the company has to start paying back the loan.

SANDRP had written a detail blog titled “Lower Kopili HEP: Oustanding issues that must be resolved before EAC can consider the project” which discussed the issues related with the proposed dam including the increase in intensity of floods in downstream Nagaon.  

Assam’s Flood Devastation For Assam, the central state of northeast India, flood is an annual event. In the year 2013 Assam witnessed three waves of flood. The table below provides a glimpse of the extent of the flood disaster Assam faced in 2013. The data is sourced from National Disaster Management Institute under the Ministry of Home Affairs of Government of India. 

Data from NDMI, Government of India

Months No of affected People No. of affected districts No of affected Villages
30th June

14649

4

70

31st July

7971

4

55

31st Aug

6123

3

73

16th Sept

6123

3

73

But it was surprising to find that the numbers of affected people and villages provided by a central government organization is much less than the number provided by the disaster management department of the state government. The State Disaster Management Authority of Assam (SDMAA) provides much larger number of affected people. During the monsoon months of 2013, SDMAA published daily flood report on its website. After following the flood reports of four months, the following table with some key dates has been prepared to give an idea of the discrepancy between state government and central government data.

Data from SDMAA, Government of Assam

Months No of People affected No. of districts affected No of Villages affected
30th June

22,696

7

125

16th July

31,174

4

107

31st July

7716

4

45

10th August

53,714

4

164

15th August

33,563

5

102

24th August

6123

3

73

31st August

10,851

4

70

2nd September

2714

3

55

6th September

1,45,054

8

411

7th September

3,24,531

14

572

10th September

3,54,731

13

534

16th September

2510

2

16

This discrepancy points towards the lack of the coordination between the state and the central government departments which is clearly not good sign. Floods need serious attention and such misreporting can lead to confusions which will ultimately have bearing on the people of Assam. It is important to mention that many in Assam believe that the problem of flood in Assam has not been dealt adequately by the central government. The discrepancy detailed above reinforces that belief.

False claim about climate induced displacement in Northeast India by a global agency In connection with the flood issue, the year 2013 will also be marked by the publication of the report named “Global Estimates 2012 – People Displaced by Disasters” by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) based in Geneva, Switzerland. This report had stated that the largest climate induced displacement in the world for the year 2012 happened in two states of Northeast India, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in June 2012 due to the monsoon floods which displaced 6.9 million people, constituting about 21.2% of the population of the two states. But a detailed analysis of this report by SANDPR revealed that the though these figure are highly exaggerated. This analysis is available at “2012 Floods Displaced 6.9 Million in Northeast-IDMC: Staggering but Highly Exaggerated”.

Havoc of Erosion In Assam, along with annual floods, river bank erosion by Brahmaputra and its tributaries is a major cause of concern. The year 2013 is also no exception and severe erosion was reported in several parts of the state. A report Study of Brahmaputra River Erosion and Its Control done by IIT Roorkee, published in 2012 measured the loss of land due to erosion of Brahmaputra for nearly two decades in twelve reaches of the river. The total loss of land on both sides of the river Brahmaputra is mentioned below.

North Bank

South Bank

Total Erosion Length (km) 1990 to 2007 – 08 (in sq. km) 1997 to 2007-08 (in sq. km) Total Erosion Length (in km) 1990 to 2007 – 08 (in sq. km) 1997 to 2007-08 (in sq. km)
353.85 538.805 327.726 389.13 914.62 730.8

This report, sponsored by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), was a very descriptive report from the point of information and data about the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries. But an analysis of the report done by SANDRP, found that this report was biased towards structural interventions and hydropower projects and oversimplifies the problem of erosion by identifying ‘sediment overloading’ as the main reason for erosion. This analysis can be found at NDMA Commissioned IIT Roorkee Study on Brahmaputra River Erosion: A Biased and Structural Solution Oriented Report?”. 

protest against the state governments inactiveness to prevent erosion  Photo: Asomiya Pratidin
protest against the state governments inactiveness to prevent erosion
Photo: Asomiya Pratidin

The year 2013 also witnessed people in river-rine areas of Assam demanding relief from erosion. On May 21st 2013, the people of Bahgara Dhunaguri village panchayat in the Lakhimpur district of Assam floated the effigy of State Water Resources Minister Rajib Lochan Pegu in a traditional raft in the Subansiri River in Dhunaguri Baduli Para area. The TMPK units of Dikrong Awanori and East Dikrong joined in this protest. According to the beliefs of Mishing society when someone dies due to unnatural causes, his/her body is floated in a traditional raft in flowing river. People accused that Mr. Pegu had completely failed to perform his duty as a water resource minister and he had not been able to give any relief to the people by preventing flood and erosion. Failing to perform his duty has been regarded as the ‘unnatural death’ of the minister & that was why people floated the effigy of the minster.[2]

With respect to construction and repair of embankments, some serious issues were brought to light in the year 2013. In May 2013, All Assam Water Resources Contractors’ Association revealed that out of the total embankment length of 4473.82 km in Assam, the government had repaired only 1327 km embankment, leaving 3673 km long embankment completely vulnerable to floods.

Parag Jyoti Saikia (meandering1800@gmail.com)

with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar

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In the year 2013, SANDRP has written 13 blogs on issues related to North East India. A list of those blogs is given below. SANDRP has also made continuous submissions on dams and basin studies from Northeast to EAC and those submissions are available in our website https://sandrp.in/.

  1. NDMA Commissioned IIT Roorkee Study on Brahmaputra River Erosion: A Biased and Structural Solution Oriented Report?      
  2. 2012 Floods Displaced 6.9 Million in Northeast-IDMC: Staggering but Highly Exaggerated       
  3. Review of “Water Conflicts in Northeast India – A Compendium of Case Studies”: A Welcome Initiative
  4. CWC Flood Forecast for Assam: Issues Started Arriving before Floods   
  5. Brahmaputra – The Beautiful River or The Battleground?
  6. IWMI report on Glaciers and Snow cover in Himalayas in Changing Climate: Significant Impact on Seasonal flow of the Rivers in India   
  7. Lower Kopili HEP: Oustanding issues that must be resolved before EAC can consider the project 
  8. Subansiri Basin Study – Another Chapter of Environment Subversion in Northeast
  9. Climate Change, Migration and Conflicts in Assam-Bangladesh: Why we need better reports than this 
  10. Hydro Power Projects Violating SC order in the Greenest State of India 
  11. When EIAs Don’t Know River Lengths! Review of EIA/EMP of Simang I & II HEP on Simang River in Arunachal Pradesh        
  12. Media Hype Vs Reality: India-China Water Information Sharing MoU of Oct 2013
  13. Comments on Scoping Clearance Application of Panyor HEP on Ranganadi River in Arunachal Pradesh   


[2] Dainik Janambhumi, Guwahti, “Brahmaputra, Subanshirir Khohoniya Tras” 22nd May, 2013