“Everybody loves us Lepchas” said Tseten. He went on to explain that this affection was important to the Affected Citizens of Teesta and was a major reason that the group decided never to add violence[i] to their arsenal of techniques in their fight to save the Teesta.
The idea of non-violence being a strategic decision rather than a (purely) moral one intrigued me. I was at a meeting where several anti-dam activists from the North-Eastern states were present. As I listened to their stories, it was clear that these veterans had several lessons for those of us worried about the death of their rivers today. Each of the groups that had been compelled to fight for their rights had evolved strategies and developed tools to help them.
Sadly, the struggle against ‘development’ projects that adversely impact the lives and livelihoods of people, as well as cause irretrievable harm to the environment, continues in many places across the world. Rather than reinventing the wheel, it will be useful for young activist groups to have access to the lessons learnt by those who have preceded them. Continue reading “Fighting Destructive Dams: Lessons from the masters”→
Central Water Commission is the only agency doing flood forecasting in India. As per CWC’s Flood Forecasting website[i] the Data Flow Map has information about 226 Flood Forecast Sites in the country comprising of 166 Level Forecast Sites and 60 Inflow Forecast Sites. It also monitors 700 Flood sites, information made available through List Based Exploration and Hydrograph View, but no flood forecasting is done for these sites.
In order to better understand the CWC’s flood monitoring and forecasting work, SANDRP has published report of CWC’s Level Forecast, Inflow Forecast and level monitoring sites in 5 zones of North India[ii], North East India[iii], East India[iv], South India[v] and West India[vi]. Through this report, we have presented all the data at one place with links to separate zone wise reports with detailed description.
Central Water Commission (CWC) measures and monitors water level at 700 hundred Flood Forecasting site in the country. It publishes this information on its Flood Forecast website[I]. The website has three ways to get this information: Data Flow Map, List Based Exploration, and Hydrograph view. The Hydrograph view provides information for past 72 hours, supposed to be updated every hour. This is in addition to the list of current forecasts.
As per the website the Data Flow Map has information about 226 Flood Forecast Sites in the country comprising of 166 Level Forecast Sites and 60 Inflow Forecast Sites. It also monitors 700 Flood sites, information made available through List Based Exploration and Hydrograph View.
In order to better understanding the CWC’s flood monitoring and forecasting work, in this article we have given state wise list of CWC’s Level Forecast, Inflow Forecast and level monitoring sites in North East India. For better understanding, we have also included part of West Bengal that is in Brahmaputra basin here, in addition to the 8 North Eastern states. Similar report has been published for North India[II] and we hope to publish reports covering other regions of India too.
Above: The Teesta valley (photo: Gauri Noolkar-Oak)
Guest Blog by Gauri Noolkar-Oak
A day later, I set out on the last leg of my journey – through Sikkim, to the source. The journey from Kalimpong to Singtam and further to Mangan was breathtaking. The mountains grew taller as I climbed higher, the Teesta keeping me company all the while. It rained breezily and the clouds came down, clinging to the thick cloak of green that draped the mountains. Beauty was all around me and at one point, I just had to put my camera away and take in the splendour of nature.
Above: A local fisherman fishing upstream of the barrage (Photo: Gauri Noolkar-Oak)
Guest Blog by Gauri Noolkar-Oak
Few journeys take us through a string of experiences that nourish the senses and the soul. A thoroughbred urban, city-lover, I nevertheless knew deep down that my journey of such nourishment would be with a river. I began researching rivers by chance, but with time, I grew to first like and then worship the entity. In early 2017, I acquired a grant from the Joke Waller-Hunter Initiative to study water conflicts in the Teesta basin, and I knew: this was going to be it.
My journey was inspired by the book “Empires of the Indus” written by Alice Albania, a brave woman who travelled the Indus river from mouth to source, and explored her history and cultures. But beyond that, I hardly had a plan; I did not know how long the journey would take, whether I would be able to see the whole river, and when I would return home. When I landed in Dhaka at the end of April this year, all I knew was that I wanted to see the Teesta right from her confluence with the Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh all the way up to her source at Tso Lamo in Sikkim, on the Indo-China border. Continue reading “Retracing Her Path 1: A Journey along the Teesta River in Bangladesh”→
The River system in North East, other than the Brahmaputra, can be classified as the Barak River system and minor Rivers flowing to Bangladesh and Burma. The Barak River, Gumti River, Myntdu River etc are some of the major Rivers flowing to Bangladesh, while the Kaladan River, the Manipur River, Tizu River etc flowing in the States of Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland are main Rivers flowing to Burma.
The Barak River basin covers parts of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. In India it spreads over states of Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Tripura and Nagaland having an area of 41,723 Sq.km.
The Barak River originates from the Manipur hills, from Liyai Village in Senapati district in Manipur at an elevation of 2,331 m and flows through Assam and further down to Bangladesh, where it is known by the name of the Surma and the Kushiyara and later called the Meghna before receiving the combined flow of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. The principal tributaries of Barak joining from north bank are the Jiri, the Chiri, the Modhura, the Jatinga, the Harang, the Kalain and the Gumra whereas the Dhaleswari, the Singla, the Longai, the Sonai and the Katakhal joins from south bank. The Barak sub-basin lies in the States of Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Tripura and Nagaland.
(Above: Lower part of the Dzongu Landslide, Photo from Save the Hills)
According to a number of reports[i], at around 1230 hours on Aug 13, 2016, a massive landslide completely blocked the flow of Kanaka (Rongyoung) River near Mentam village in Dzongu region in North Sikkim. A hillock called “So Bhir” came crashing down, it is reported. The Landslide dam is about 50 m high, about 45 m wide, the landslide top point is about 900 m above the river. Darjeeling Chronicle reports, the river downstream is totally dry as the water has started collecting behind the landslide dam (that situation seems to have changed on 14th Aug morning around 830 am). Continue reading “LANDSLIDE DAM BLOCKS TEESTA TRIBUTARY IN NORTH SIKKIM: MAJOR RISK TO TEESTA RIVER BANK COMMUNITIES”→
It is close to a year after the worst ever Himalayan flood disaster that Uttarakhand or possibly the entire Indian Himalayas experienced in June 2013. While there is no doubt that the trigger for this disaster was the untimely and unseasonal rain, the way in which this rain translated into a massive disaster had a lot to do with how we have been treating the Himalayas in recent years and today. It’s a pity that we still do not have a comprehensive report of this biggest tragedy to tell us what happened during this period, who played what role and what lessons we can learn from this experience.
One of the relatively positive steps in the aftermath of the disaster came from the Supreme Court of India, when on Aug 13, 2013, a bench of the apex court directed Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to set up a committee to investigate into the role of under-construction and completed hydropower projects. One would have expected our regulatory system to automatically initiate such investigations, which alas is not the case. Knowing this, some us wrote to MoEF on July 20, 2013, to exactly do such an investigation, but again MoEF played deaf and blind to such letters.
The committee report, signed by 11 members, makes it clear that construction and operation of hydropower projects played a significant role in the disaster. The committee has made detailed recommendations, which includes recommendation to drop at least 23 hydropower projects, to change parameters of some others. The committee also recommended how the post disaster rehabilitation should happen, today we have no policy or regulation about it. While the Supreme Court of India is looking into the recommendations of the committee, the MoEF, instead of setting up a credible body to ensure timely and proper implementation of recommendations of the committee has asked the Court to appoint another committee on the flimsy ground that CWC-CEA have submitted a separate report advocating more hydropower projects! The functioning of the MoEF continues to strengthen the impression that it is working like a lobby for projects rather than an independent environmental regulator. We hope the apex court see through this.
Let us turn our attention to hydropower projects in Himalayas. Indian Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and rest of North East) already has operating large hydropower capacity of 17561 MW. This capacity has leaped by 68% in last decade, the growth rate of National Hydro capacity was much lower at 40%. If you look at Central Electricity Authority’s (CEA is Government of India’s premier technical organisation in power sector) list of under construction hydropower projects in India, you will find that 90% of projects and 95% of under construction capacity is from the Himalayan region. Already 14210 MW hydropower capacity is under construction. In fact CEA has now planned to add unbelievable 65000 MW capacity in 10 years (2017 to 2027) between 13th and 14th Five Year Plans.
Meanwhile, the Expert Appraisal Committee of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on River Valley Projects has been clearing projects at a break-neck speed with almost zero rejection rate. Between April 2007 and Dec 2013, this committee recommended final environment clearance to 18030.5 MW capacity, most of which has not entered the implementation stage. Moreover, this committee has recommended 1st stage Environment clearance (what is technically called Terms of Reference Clearance) for a capacity of unimaginable 57702 MW in the same period. This is indicative of the onslaught of hydropower projects which we are likely to see in the coming years. Here again an overwhelming majority of these cleared projects are in Himalayan region.
What does all this mean for the Himalayas, the people, the rivers, the forests, the biodiversity rich area? We have not even fully studied the biodiversity of the area. The Himalayas is also very landslide prone, flood prone, geologically fragile and seismically active area. It is also the water tower of much of India (& Asia). We could be putting that water security also at risk, increasing the flood risks for the plains. The Uttarakhand disaster and changing climate have added new unknowns to this equation.
We all know how poor are our project-specific and river basin-wise cumulative social and environmental impact assessments. We know how compromised and flawed our appraisals and regulations are. We know how non-existent is our compliance system. The increasing judicial interventions are indicators of these failures. But court orders cannot replace institutions or make our governance more democratic or accountable. The polity needs to fundamentally change, and we are still far away from that change.
The government that is likely to take over post 2014 parliamentary elections has an opportunity to start afresh, but available indicators do not provide such hope. While UPA’s failure is visible in what happened before, during and after the Uttarakhand disaster, the main political opposition that is predicted to take over has not shown any different approach. In fact NDA’s prime ministerial candidate has said that North East India is the heaven for hydropower development. He seems to have no idea about the brewing anger over such projects in Assam and other North Eastern states. That anger is manifest most clearly in the fact that India’s largest capacity under-construction hydropower project, namely the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri HEP has remained stalled for the last 29 months after spending over Rs 5000 crores. The NDA’s PM candidate also has Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) on agenda. Perhaps we have forgotten as to why the NDA lost the 2004 Parliamentary elections. The arrogant and mindless pursuit of projects like ILR and launching of 50 000 MW hydropower campaign by the then NDA government had played a role in sowing the seeds of people’s anger with that government.
In this context we also need to understand what benefits these hydropower projects are actually providing, as against what the promises and propaganda are telling us. In fact our analysis shows that the benefits are far below the claims and impacts and costs are far higher than the projections. The disaster shows that hydropower projects are also at huge risk in these regions. Due to the June 2013 flood disaster large no of hydropower projects were damaged and generation from the large hydro projects alone dropped by 3730 million units. In monetary terms this would mean just the generation loss at Rs 1119 crores assuming conservative tariff of Rs 3 per unit. The loss in subsequent year and from small hydro would be additional.
It is nobody’s case that no hydropower projects be built in Himalayas or that no roads, townships, tourism and other infrastructure be built in the Himalayan states. But we need to study the impact of these massive interventions (along with all other available options in a participatory way) in what is already a hugely vulnerable area, made worse by what we have done so far in these regions and what climate change is threatening to unleash. In such a situation, such onslaught of hydropower projects on Himalayas is likely to be an invitation to even greater disasters across the Himalayas. Himalayas cannot sustain this onslaught.
It is in this context, that the ongoing Supreme Court case on Uttarakhand provides a glimmer of hope. It is not just hydropower projects or other infrastructure projects in Uttarakhand, or for that matter in other Himalayan states that will need to take guidance from the outcome of this case, but it could provide guidance for all kinds of interventions all across Indian Himalayas. Our Himalayan neighbors can also learn from this process. Let us end on that hopeful note here!