When I talk with Manshi, a friend and co-traveler from Himdhara Collective about Bhagirathh Prayas Samman that the collective received during the India Rivers Week 2016, she is modest, even slightly hesitant. She simply says, “We love the mountains, we want to protect them and help mountain communities fight the unequal battle against unplanned hydropower. That is one motivation of our work. But the other is recognition of the fact that we are privileged… privileged to be able to speak English, to work on a computer, to understand the bureaucratic procedures that alienate a tribal or forest dweller from her land. That understanding also drives us.”
Citation of Bhagirath Prayas Samman given to Himdhara Collective states: “Himdhara’s strength is its engagement with communities, movements and organisations. It has created an effective discourse around issues of resource distribution and their ownership and the resultant impacts on ecological spaces of mountain communities, especially vulnerable groups like indigenous people, dalits and women. It is an honor to recognize and celebrate Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective’s extraordinary Bhagirath efforts in maintaining the integrity of rivers in Himachal Pradesh.”
In their own words, “Himdhara is an autnomous and informal non registered environment research and action collective, extending solidarity and support, in research and action, to people and organisations asserting their rights over their natural resources and agitating against corporatisation of these resources for destructive development in the state.”
Even as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has been sanctioning cascades of hydropower projects on here-to free flowing rivers in the Himalaya and North East India, Cumulative Assessment of the Impacts of these projects became a crucial area of concern. Over 70 dams are planned one after other for the rivers of the Upper Ganga Basin, 44 dams across the Siang Basin in Arunachal Pradesh famed for its pristine forests and biodiversity, 12 dams across the Lohit Basin, 19 for Subansiri basin. These are bumper to bumper projects, one starting where the other ends. Continue reading “Cumulative Impact Assessment documents not in public domain anymore? Letter to MoEF and CC”→
The state of Himachal Pradesh has a hydropower potential of almost 23,000 MW, which is about one-sixth of the country’s total potential. In a bid to harness it, the state authorities seem to have gone all out without really even assessing the costs and impacts it will have on the local ecology and people. It has already developed about 8432.47 MW till now and is racing towards increasing that and in its way, displacing people, destroying forests and biodiversity, drying the rivers, disrupting lives and cultures in upstream and downstream, and flooding cultivable and forest land. The target of the State government for 2013-14 is to commissioning 2000 MW capacity projects. The state and central governments are pushing for more and more projects, playing havoc with the lives of the locals and thus facing continuous agitations. This update tries to provide some glimpses in hydropower sector in Himachal Pradesh over the last one year.
The Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab, Beas & Yamuna, which form the major river basins of Himachal have been heavily dammed. These projects submerge and bypass the rivers, change the course, the flow and the silt carried by the rivers. The 27 proposed projects in the Chenab basin endanger the fragile ecosystem of the Lahaul-Spiti Valley. In the Sutlej, the nine major hydel projects of 7623 MW which are already running along the 320 km stretch include: 633 MW Khab (proposed), 960 MW Jangi Thopan & Thopan Pawari (re-bidding), 402 MW Shongtong Karcham (under execution), 1,000 MW Karcham Wangtoo (commissioned), 1,500 MW Nathpa Jhakari (commissioned), 412 MW Rampur (under execution), 588 MW Luhri (allotted). There are about 21 more proposed projects. The same is the case with the Ravi where about 30 projects are proposed to be built or are already functional.
From 1981-2012, more than 10,000 ha of forest land on which people had user rights, have been diverted for hydropower, mining, roads and other projects. This does not include the thousands of hectares of forest land diverted towards projects like the Bhakra Dam before 1980.
On the one hand, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) treats the locals like hindrances, saying that they cause damage to the environment by using the forests inefficiently, on the other hand, it approves big projects which cause hundred times more damage to the environment. There is no recognition of the ecological fragility of the landscape, and clearance from the MoEF seems like just a formality. Clearly, the MoEF and the state government are not interested in doing something for the people of the area, but in pushing project constructions to achieve targets at whatever cost it may require. This is also evident in the way the MoEF, without proper consultation, approved the state’s request for making the procurement of no-objection certificates (NOCs) from the Gram Sabhas a non requirement. MoEF itself had passed a circular in 2009, making it mandatory for project proponents to obtain NOCs of the affected Gram Sabhas and compliance to the Forest Rights Act 2006 before the diversion of forest land to non forest purposes. However, in 2012, the MoEF issued a letter which stated that there are no compliance issues with regard to FRA in Himachal Pradesh since the rights of the forest dwellers have already been settled under the Forest Settlement Process in the 1970s. This is clearly wrong and not supported by facts or ground realities.
Taking away the rights of people on land without giving them adequate compensation has been a governmental trend. It is not enough to just grant monetary compensation to them. The land which could be put to various uses by the local is no longer his. The Gaddis, a shepherding community, rely a great deal on their rights over land as they need it for grazing. With the Forest Dept. making some areas inaccessible for them, their land has anyways decreased. In addition to this, projects like the Bajoli-Holi and the proposed dam at Bada Bhangal, which is sanctuary area now, and traditionally a grazing area for the Gaddis, will further take away from the available land.
Run-of-the –river projects:
But it is not only the loss of forest and private land which is the problem here. Another major issue is that of water. With the state giving increased priority to run-of –the –river projects, more and more water from the river is being diverted for longer stretches.
In the controversial Luhri project on the river Sutlej, the diversion of water into a 38 km long tunnel would mean the absence of free flowing river in stretch of almost 50 kms. The agreed amount of water to be left flowing in the river is 25% for the lean season and 30% in monsoon. The project was initially supposed to be of 775 MW installed capacity and was to have two tunnels. This was challenged because higher environmental discharge was to be maintained in the downstream river. The capacity has been reduced to 600 MW and there will be only one tunnel.
But even this diversion would mean that villages falling within 50 km downstream of the project will not have access to its water like they used to. It will also lead to the warming up of the valley as the cool waters will be diverted into the tunnel. The environmental impact assessments (EIAs) have failed to address the effects of this. The EIA has also done no assessment of the impact of the tunnels on the land and people over ground. Locals have been agitating under the banner of Sutlej Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti, but the project is still on.
Another major drawback of the tunneling process is the danger it poses to the residing population and their groundwater sources. The Karcham Wangtoo project (1000 MW) in Kinnaur, which is the country’s largest hydropower project in the private sector (owned by the Jaiprakash Associates) was closed briefly in the December of 2012, due to leakage from the surge shaft and the water-conducting system, raising concerns about the safety of such projects and the absence of a monitoring body. Because of the massive dam, the leakage was between 5-9 cumecs (cubic meters per second) or 5000-9000 liters per second, which is large enough to trigger massive landslides in the area. The company involved in the project will always try to get away saying that such things are unforeseen and it will take time for the project to stabilize. But in the meanwhile, who should be held accountable for the losses to life, livelihoods, habitats and environment due to this?
The same project involves a 17 km long tunnel passing under 6 villages The tunnell has affected water aquifers causing natural springs to dry up. This claim by the villagers was verified by the state’s Irrigation and Public Health department in a response to an RTI application. The official data showed that 110 water sources have been affected by this project. This information has come out only due to the proactive-ness of local people, but these issues are not even part of the impact assessments.
The concerns expressed by locals in the case of the 180 MW Holi-Bajoli project are quire serious. This project on the Ravi River has been given clearances under suspicious circumstances. It is being opposed by the local communities on issues of environment, violation of rights, and impacts on local livelihoods. People have also taken offense at the apathy shown to them by the state government. The tunnel for the project was supposed to be constructed on the right bank of the river, which is relatively devoid of habitation, but the powerhouse and headrace tunnel sites were later shifted to the left bank, on which rest most of the villages of the area. This decision was seen as flawed according to a report by the state-run Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board Ltd (HPSEBL), which pointed out that it could have negative effects on the environment and the locals. The reason being cited for this is that construction on the right bank would take longer to be completed. GMR’s contention was that the right bank was weak and unsuitable, whereas the opposite has been confirmed by a Geological Survey of India report according to Rahul Saxena of the NGO Himdhara Environment Research Collective.
The protests which have been going on for four years now have been due to legitimate concerns raised by the locals of deforestation, loss of land and infrastructure and the loss of peace which would accompany the project. Earlier this year, women of four panchayats set up camp at the proposed site of the power house at Kee Nallah near Holi village to stage their protests. 31 of these women were arrested for protesting against the illegal felling of trees and the road construction of the project. They were taken to Chamba town which is almost 70 kms away from Holi and were detained for more than 24 hours despite appeals for their immediate release. Though they were released on bail the next day, they say that a lot of false charges have been filed against them. The district administration has taken no steps to resolve these issues. In a letter to the Chief Secretary, the people have demanded that all charges be dropped against these women and justice be done about their demands. Despite continuous protests by the people the MoEF has given clearance to this project which requires the diversion of 78 ha of rich forest land and the felling of 4995 treesx.
The locals also say that change in the MoEF policy of NOCs enabled the Deputy Commissioner to issue a false certificate under FRA saying that no rights have to be settled on the land diverted for the project as it has already been done under the settlement process of 1970s.
In the Chamera II and III projects on Ravi River, there has been much debate about the distance between the two being only 1.5 km without any water source in the middle. The operation of the Chamera II power station is completely dependent on the release by upstream Chamera III project. If the generation schedules of both are very different, there will be danger to the downstream areas. Last year it was observed that the schedules given by the Regional load Dispatch center were not coordinated, resulting in a dis-balance in the generation in both dams. In another instance, leakage was noted in the head race tunnel of Chamera III HEP.
In a letter to the Chief Minister last year, environmental activists sought to know why there has been no committee set up by the State government for the control and monitoring of safety and water flows as is required by the Hydropower Policy 2006 of Himachal.
In another case of delay and mismanagement among many others, the Kol Dam on Sutlej River, the foundation for which was laid by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the year 2000, was due to be completed in 2008 but is not yet functional. The Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary area falls in the submergence area for the project and clearance was required from the National Board for Wildlife as the project would endanger 50,000 trees and the habitat of the ‘cheer pheasant’. The project was finally granted approval by the Supreme Court in December 2013, given permission to drown the proposed parts of the sanctuary. The whole episode smacks of a scam when the project authorities say they forgot to get the clearance for submergence of the sanctuary and the forest & wildlife departments are ready to look away.
But due to continuous delays trigged by shoddy work and project management, the NTPC Dam project has still not been made functional. The delay is expected to be for at least another year, which would mean an additional loss of Rs. 150 crore. For about a year now the NTPC has been claiming that the filling of the reservoir would start, but they had to abandon that twice due to heavy leakages. There are also problems with the gates fitted inside the diversion tunnel and also additional repairs are needed in the tunnel.
No State responsibility for environment:
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has found that the hydro power projects are not adhering to the compensatory afforestation that was promised. Out of the projects it studied, it found that 58% of them have carried out no afforestation activities at all. According to the results of an audit, it was seen that only 12 companies had deposited compensation money out of which no work was done at all in seven of the projects. Even out of the 12, full afforestation was achieved on paper only in 2 of them.
Another major problem is that tunnelling and road construction generate huge amounts of muck and debris. These are not disposed off in the right manner. For example, in the Koldam, the net volume of muck generated is 2.27 crore cubic metres. If this was to be dumped in the Sutlej, it would lead to a raise in the level of the Sutlej by 2.20 metres along a length of 100 kms. The project authorities, including the World Bank funded projects like Rampur and Nathpa Jakhri, find it easier to dump the muck into the river rather than transport and dump it properly. The MoEF, state government and all concerned are happy to not take any action against any of the projects for such blatant violations that everyone knows about and even when evidence of such violations are presented to them.
Small Hydel Projects (SHPs):
The view of the government regarding the non requirement of clearances for small projects is clearly unfounded, unscientific and unacceptable. If the authorities think that these projects cause no or little harm to the environment and the people, they are wrong. The fact is that a lot of the hydro power potential of Himachal Pradesh is envisioned to be realized through these small projects which are being indiscriminately built on even small tributaries of the major rivers, sometimes even the ones listed as negative (from fisheries perspective) for HEPs.
In a recent case, the 4.8 MW Aleo II project located on the Aleo nallah, a tributary of the Beas River, in Kullu district, made news due to the collapse of its reservoir wall in a trial run. The Aleo II project was supposed to become functional in January 2014, but as the management started to fill the 12,000 cubic meter capacity reservoir, its wall collapsed when it was only 75% full. The water from the reservoir went straight into the Beas River, causing sudden rise in its levels till about 50 kms downstream. The management had not informed the panchayat or the public of Prini village which is situated next to the dam site before attempting to fill the reservoir, causing unforeseen danger to them and others downstream.
These small projects also seem to be working without proper lease of land. In a report earlier this year, it was found that out of the 55 projects examined below the 5 MW capacity in Himachal Pradesh, about 47 of them are operating without proper lease of the forest land that they are using. It was found after an RTI was filed regarding this that about 35.973 ha of land in the Chamba district was being used without lease by 13 HEPs. The case was similar in Kangra with about 43.5035 ha being used without lease. This just goes to show that the State regulations regarding hydro projects are not strict and definitely faulty. The land is being ruthlessly exploited by private and public sector companies which have a bullying attitude towards the local population.
Excessive electricity? Reports suggest that the state requires about 1200 MW of power, but it is producing so much more that it has no buyers. It is not surprising to see that projects like the 1000 MW Karcham Wangtoo in Kinnaur are facing lack of buyers for electricity. The JPHL has not been able to sign long term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with any power distribution company (discoms). As a result, it is selling electricity through short term agreements or at lower prices. This is the situation with a lot of other plants in the state, both private and public. Even the state is facing difficulties selling its surplus power and as a result has to sell it at lower prices. According to a 2012 report of the CAG, the revenue earned from selling surplus power in Himachal has dropped significantly over the past years. The reason given for this is mostly the increased cost of production which has made power more expensive and the discoms, which are already in debt are thus unable to buy it. Even after facing such losses, why is it that the Himachal government is pushing for more and more projects, destroying the rivers, forests, biodiversity, livelihoods and environment?
To add to the worries of the local people and environmentalists, in a recent announcement, the Chief Minister has announced that there is no NOC required from the fisheries dept, IPH, PWD and the revenue dept for small projects Also, to make things easier for the project developers, it was announced that the small projects below 2 MW installed cpacity, were now liable to give the government only 3% of free power for a period of 12 years, as opposed to the earlier 7%xvi.
In an interesting development of the first ever Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA) in the state, a study of 38 hydro electric power projects in the Sutlej basin, the recommendation has been to designate the “fish-rich khuds, mid-Sutlej, eco-sensitive Spiti, Upper Kinnaur area and 10 other protection areas as a no-go zone for hydro projects”. The CEIA is incomplete, inadequate and makes a lot of unwarranted assumptions and uscientific assertions. Even if this recommendation implemented, several projects in the Sutlej basin are still under way and the government seems to be doing nothing to stop them. There is also an Environmental Master Plan (EMP) prepared by the Department of Environment and Scientific Technology, and approved by the government which claims to have identified the vulnerable areas of the State. This EMP is being adopted by the State for its developmental planning for the next 30 years. But the impact of this is yet to be seen, assuming that it does not turn out to be one of those plans which are never implemented.
The World Bank has decided not to lend financial assistance to the massive Luhri Hydropower project on Sutlej River in Himachal Pradesh. The World Bank, which was to provide a huge USD 650 million to the $ 1150 million project, on its website now indicates[i] the status of the project as DROPPED. Environmental groups and local affected people under the banner of Sutlej Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti consider this is a major victory for the campaign to save the last remaining stretch of “free”[ii] flowing Sutlej River.
It was pretty surprising to see the front page headline in The Times of India on Oct 24, 2013[i], claiming that an India China “MoU on Dams Among Nine Deals Signed”. The Hindu headline[ii] (p 12) claimed, “China will be more transparent on trans-border river projects”. Indian Express story[iii] (on page 1-2) claimed, “The recognition of lower riparian rights is a unique gesture, because China has refused to put this down on paper with any other neighbouring country”. It should be added that the news stories on this subject in the Economic Times and the Hindustan Times took the MoU in more matter of fact way.
Additional information for second half of May However, the actual language of the Memorandum of Understanding on “strengthening cooperation on trans-border rivers” available on website of Press Information Bureau[v] and Ministry of External affairs[vi] gives a very different picture. There is no mention of dams, river projects or lower riparian or rights there. One additional feature of the agreement is 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[vii] will now be extended to May 15th to Oct 15th with effect from 2014. While this is certainly a step forward since the monsoon in North East India sets in May and also in view of the accelerated melting of glaciers in changing climate, it should not lead to the kind of hype some of the newspapers created around the river information MoU. Moreover, it should be remembered that India pays for the information that it gets from China and what Indian government does with that information is not even known since it is not even available in public domain. How this information is thus used is a big state secret!
Over-Optimistic reading of the MoU? The specific feature of the new MoU about which media seemed excited read as follows: “The two sides agreed to further strengthen cooperation on trans-border rivers, cooperate through the existing Expert Level Mechanism (for detailed chronology of ELM formation, meetings and earlier MoUs on Sutlej and Brahmaputra, see annexure below) on provision of flood-season hydrological data and emergency management, and exchange views on other issues of mutual interest.” The key words of this fifth the last clause of the MoU were seen as “exchange views on other issues of mutual interest”, providing India an opportunity to raise concerns about the Chinese hydropower projects and dams on shared rivers. However, the clause only talks about exchange of views and there is no compulsion for China to share its views, leave aside share information about the Chinese projects in advance or otherwise. On the face of it, the hype from this clause misplaced.
This was read with first clause: “The two sides recognized that trans-border rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development of all riparian countries.” Here “riparian countries” clearly includes lower riparian. But to suggest that this clause on its own or read with clause 5 mentioned above provides hope that China will include the concerns of the lower riparian in Chinese projects on shared rivers seems slightly stretched. The clause only recognises the asset value of rivers and related natural resources and environment for all basin countries and it is doubtful if it can be used to interpret that Chinese will or should take care of the concerns of lower riparian.
Thus the rather optimistic interpretation does not seem to emanate from the actual wording of the MoU, but the rather over optimistic interpretation by the Indian interlocutors, possibly including the Indian ambassador to China, who has been quoted on this aspect.
Real Achievement: GOI recognises value of Rivers! What is most interesting though is that Indian government has actually signed a Memorandum that recognises that “rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development”. This is absolutely amazing and joyful development for rivers. Since there is nothing in the laws, policies, programs, projects and practices of Indian government that says that rivers are of any value. Now that Indian government has actually signed an MoU agreeing to such a value, there is sudden hope for rivers, it seems. Only lurking doubt, though is the word “trans-border” before rivers! We hope the Government of India applies this clause to all rivers, not just trans-border rivers, though we know from past that this hope is one a rather thin ice!!
1. Formation and Meetings of Expert Level Mechanism (ELM) on Trans-border Rivers
20-23 Nov, 2006
During the visit of the President of People’s Republic of China to India in November 20-23, 2006, it was agreed to set up an Expert-Level Mechanism to discuss interaction and cooperation on provision of flood season hydrological data, emergency management and other issues of trans-border rivers between the two countries. Accordingly, the two sides set up the Joint Expert Level Mechanism(ELM) on Trans-border Rivers. The Expert Group from Indian side is led by Joint Secretary level officers. Seven meetings of ELM have been held so far.
19-21 Sept, 2007
In the 1st meeting of ELM the issues related to bilateral cooperation for exchange of hydrological information were discussed.
10-12 April, 2008
In the 2nd meeting of ELM work regulations of the ELM were agreed upon and signed. It was agreed that the ELM shall meet once every year, alternatively in India and China.
21–25 April, 2009
The 3rd meeting was focused on helping in understanding of each other’s position for smooth transmission of flood season hydrological data.
26-29 April, 2010
In the 4th meeting the implementation plan on provision of hydrological information on Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra River in flood season was signed.
19-22 April, 2011
In the 5th meeting the Implementation Plan in respect to the MoU on Sutlej was signed.
17-20 July, 2012
The 6th meeting of ELM was held at New Delhi where both the countries reached at several important understandings and a significant one of those understandings is – “The two sides recognized that trans-border rivers and related natural resources and the environment are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development of all riparian countries.”
14-18 May, 2013
In the 7th meeting held at Beijing, China where in the draft MoU and Implementation Plan on Brahmaputra river was finalized.
2. MoUs on Hydrological Data Sharing on River Brahmaputra / Yaluzangbu
Government of India and China signed a MoU for provision of hydrological information on Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra River in flood season by China to India. In accordance with the provisions contained in the MoU, the Chinese side provided hydrological information (Water Level, Discharge and Rainfall) in respect of three stations, namely, Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia located on river Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra (see the map above) from 1st June to 15th October every year, which was utilized in the formulation of flood forecasts by the Central Water Commission. This MoU expired in 2007.
On 5th June, India signed a new MoU with China on provision of hydrological information of the Brahmaputra /Yaluzangbu river in flood season by China to India with a validity of five years. This was done during the visit of the External Affairs Minister of India to Beijing from June 4-7. Under this China had provided the hydrological data of the three stations for the monsoon season from 2010 onward.
During the visit of Chinese Premier Li Kegiang to India the MoU of 2008 has been extended till 5th June 2018.
3. MoUs on Hydrological Data Sharing on River Satluj / Langquin Zangbu
A MoU was signed during the visit of the Chinese Premier to India in April for supply of hydrological information in respect of River Satluj (Langquin Zangbu) in flood season. Chinese side provided hydrological information in respect of their Tsada station on river Satluj (Langquin Zangbu in Chinese, see the map above).
In order to supply flood season hydrological information on River Sutlej a new MoU was agreed in August 2010
On 16 Dec 2010, during the visit of Prime Minister of China to India a new MoU was signed to provide hydrological information of Sutlej/Langquin Zangbo River in flood season by China to India with a validity of five years.
During the 5th ELM meeting held in April, 2011 an MoU on Sutlej containing the Implementation Plan with technical details of provision of hydrological information, data transmission method and cost settlement etc. was signed in Beijing. The hydrological information during the flood season has been received in terms of the signed implementation plan.
Annexure compiled by Parag Jyoti Saikia
Post Script: Further reading: http://www.thethirdpole.net/2015/11/06/tibet-dams-hold-back-silt-not-water
The Sutlej River Basin is the major part of Indus River Basin. It is the easternmost tributary of the Indus River. It rises near the Darma Pass near Mansarovar Lake, enters the Zarkar range and flows through Tibet before entering India. It cuts through the Great Himalayan range and the outer Himalayas and enters the plains at Roper. It receives the Beas River at Harike at Punjab and forms the boundary between India and Pakistan for nearly 120 km. It finally enters Pakistan near Sulemanki.
The project wise generation data of large hydro (above 25 MW) with installed capacity of the basin in the latest year 2012-13 is follows.
Inst Capacity (MW)
* The Generation figure of Karchham Wangtoo is available for one year only as it commissioned in the year 2011.
The above graph shows the trend line of power generation of large Hydropower projects for last 28 years in the Sutlej basin. The trend-line shows diminishing generation from existing hydro power projects of Sutlej River Basin.
It shows that the per MW generation in 2012-13 (4.19) has dropped by a huge 31.09% from the highest per MW generation (6.08) achieved in the year 1998-99.
All generation figures have been taken from official data of Central Electricity Authority (CEA).
List of other projects (up to 25 MW) under operation (for which latest generation figures not available):