Dams

Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin (April-May 2015)

HYDROPOWER

“Right now, hydel is almost stalled”: Piyush Goyal (18 May 2015)

Union Power Minister makes some candid comments on Hydro: “Right now, hydel is almost stalled. We have Teesta stuck for various reasons. Subansiri, Maheshwar, Lower Subansiri, all of them have different challenges. Small hydros are facing challenges of transmission, they are facing challenges of local area problems. So, by and by, the hydro sector will need a more holistic thinking. The courts have also taken up certain matters, particularly in Uttarakhand, post the tragedy (of floods in 2013). There is the mission of Ganga to ensure that there is a reasonable flow—Aviral Ganga, which we are committed to. We are working on all of these plans… For example, Subansiri had an issue where the local population had concerns. We immediately got an eight-member very, very high-level expert committee, including Central Water Commission, Central Electricity Authority, and experts from Assam. They are all working together to see the environmental impact, structural impact, riparian state impact and riverbed impact.

http://www.livemint.com/Industry/9HtQbGUG0v4rYIczIT21hJ/Time-is-now-ripe-for-a-power-fund-says-Piyush-Goyal.html Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin (April-May 2015)”

Dams

Headwater Extinctions by Emmanuel Theophilus: SOME CONCERNS

By Prof Prakash Nautiyal, (lotic.biodiversity@gmail.com) HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, Uttarakhand

I have gone through the report Headwater extinctions: Hydropower projects in the Himalayan reaches of the Ganga and the Beas: A closer look at impacts on fish and river ecosystems by Emmanuel Theophilus[1], published by SANDRP, thanks for sending the report to me in hard and soft copy. It is indeed excellent, many more pages can be written on the beautiful portrayal. I am flagging some concerns, in context of the whole issue. Continue reading “Headwater Extinctions by Emmanuel Theophilus: SOME CONCERNS”

Ganga · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas · Hydropower · Uttarakhand

New Publication: Headwater Extinctions – Impacts of hydropower projects on fish and river ecosystems in Upper Ganga and Beas basins

SANDRP has just published a new report: “Headwater Extinctions- Hydropower projects in the Himalayan reaches of the Ganga and the Beas: A closer look at impacts on fish and river ecosystems”, authored by Emmanuel Theophilus. The report[i] was released at the India Rivers Week held during Nov 24-27, 2014.

Front Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS
Front Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS

Headwater Extinctions deals with impacts of hydropower projects in Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh and Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basins in Uttarakhand on river ecosystem and its components, mainly fish. While the harrowing impacts of hydropower projects on local livelihoods and social systems are being realized gradually, we are yet unclear about the extent of impacts of these so-called green projects have on fish and aquatic biodiversity.

Environmental Impact Assessments of large hydropower projects (> 25 MW as per EIA Notification 2006[2]) are supposed to assess ecological impacts of such projects, but we are yet to come across any comprehensive effort in this direction from EIA reports that we have assessed so far.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) which is entrusted with appraising these projects and their EIAs has paid very little attention to this issue. Since over a decade, the EAC has had expert members from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI). Both these institutes are supposed to have expertise on fish and aquatic biodiversity. But sadly, their presence has not helped fill the serious lacunae in appraisal and EIAs of the hydropower projects.

SANDRP had been trying to highlight the impact of hydropower on fish and the long standing problems in the so-called mitigation measures being recommended by the EAC. We thought that it may be useful to bring out a first-hand report bring out ground realities of what is happening to our rivers. Emmanuel Theophilus, based in the Dhauliganga Valley and who is an avid mountaineer, storyteller, ecologist and our ally was commissioned by SANDRP to study the impacts of hydropower on fish and ecosystems, review the EIAs as well as mitigation measures recommended by EAC as a part of Environment Management Plans of hydropower projects. We are very glad to publish the report as a first of the hopefully many steps to be taken to understand and address this important issue.

Headwater Extinctions has been written in an eminently readable style that Theo is known for, as could be seen from the earlier blogs[3] he wrote for us! The report has a section on ‘Travelogue’ which records Theo’s travels and thoughts as he visits Bhagirathi and Alaknanda sub basins in Uttarakhand and Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh. The report also brings illuminating photos from these trips. The fact that the travels happened within months of the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 could be seen in his photos and travel reports. It further substantives the role hydropower projects played in increasing the proportions of the disaster.

Travelogue is followed by discussions in two parts: Discussions on the impact of hydropower projects on fish and aquatic habitats along the two sub-basins and the role of EIAs, EMPs, Fisheries Plan and the government approval process. The findings of this report are valid for all Himalayan states & rivers.

Back Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS
Back Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS

Headwater Extinctions ends with some striking insights. Sample this: We are in the midst of river extinctions in the Himalaya, but are surrounded by a tragic drama of double-speak and equivocation. And a horde of jostling brokers. Ranging from reputed universities, government departments, research institutions, everyday bureaucrats, and of course, politicians and contractors from within ‘the community’[4] along the developers and regulators. They not only write the script of this drama, they even play all the part”.

The inside covers of the report have detailed maps of the two basins with locations of hydropower projects, with annexures containing lists of hydropower projects in Upper Ganga and Beas basins and also list of fish found in Upper Ganga basin.

Theo has completed this report on a stringent timeline and budget, which meant that all the proposed and implemented fisheries management plans could not be assessed. We hope Headwater Extinctions provides sufficient material and compelling reasons to overhaul the way impacts of hydropower projects on fisheries and aquatic biodiversity are treated by EIAs, EMPs and government committees. We would also urge agencies like WII and CIFRI to do justice to their work inside EAC and beyond. That they are not doing that is apparent.

For EAC and MoEF&CC, we certainly would like them to ensure proper and full impact assessment of projects on aquatic biodiversity in the EIAs. The EAC also needs to stop approving completely ineffective fish hatcheries. They could initiate a credible independent study of the costs, benefits and performance of the fisheries development plans they have been approving in recent projects. It does not only smell fishy, but more like a scam! Here is a relevant quote from the report: “I can’t help see a few things here, as perhaps you do? Bluntly put, I see slush funds being dangled to a whole range of possible collaborators. The kindest term I can find for them is ‘brokers’.”

We look forward to your comments and suggestions on all aspects of Headwater Extinctions. If you would like a hard copy, please write to us.

SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] The full report is available on our web site, at: https://sandrp.in/Headwater_extinctions221114.pdf

[2] We have been saying this for long and this report helps substantiate our contention that the assumption that projects below 25 MW are benign and do not need EIA-EMP or environmental monitoring and public consultations is wrong.

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/fish-ladder-at-kurichhu-hydropower-project-bhutan-some-thoughts/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/uttarakhand-floods-of-june-2013-curtain-raiser-on-the-events-at-nhpcs-280-mw-dhauliganga-hep/.

[4] Caveat, there are honest exceptions, but this is a generalization that describes the predominant phenomenon.

Ganga · Hydropower · Uttarakhand

Why is the IIT Consortium acting like a hydropower lobby?

In a shocking development, Consortium of Indian Institute of Technology (IITC) has submitted a report that is a shot in the arm for the hydropower lobby in Ganga basin in Uttarakhand. This IITC report is being used by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to push ahead 24 Hydropower Projects in Uttarakhand which were recommended to be cancelled by two official expert reports, both commissioned on the orders of the Supreme Court of India. It seems the authors of the IITC report are jeopardizing the formidable reputation of the IITs and over a dozen other institutes which are a part of IITC, possibly for some short term gains.

Sounds ridiculous? Read on..

WII report The first expert report mentioned above is the report of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), commissioned by the MoEF & CC to assess the cumulative impact of some 70 hydropower projects in Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basin in Uttarakhand. WII submitted the report to MoEF&CC in April 2012 and among other recommendations, said that 24 of these projects should be dropped due to their irreversible & long term impact on aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. At the outset it should be mentioned that the WII (“an internationally acclaimed”, “autonomous institute of MoEF&CC”, see: http://www.wii.gov.in/) recommendation of dropping 24 projects was based on assessment of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity impacts of the series of hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basins in Uttarakhand. WII was commissioned to do this study by the MoEF&CC following an earlier SC order based on CEC (Central Empowered Committee) recommendation.

MoEF&CC, did not want to take the recommended action, so it sat on the recommendation of the WII report.

EB report following SC directions to Ministry to take stand on WII report On Aug 13, 2013, following the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013, the Supreme Court directions, among other things included, “MoEF is directed to examine, as noticed by WII in its report, as to whether the proposed 24 projects are causing significant impact on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirath River basins.” Again, MoEF&CC did not want to do any such examination on its own. Since MoEF&CC was setting up an expert body to examine the role of hydropower projects in the Uttarakhand disaster as per other directions of the same SC order of Aug 13, 2013, the ministry included such examination also in the Terms of Reference of the Expert Body (EB) under chairmanship of Dr Ravi Chopra.

The EB terms of reference were even wider than that of WII study and the expertise available with EB was also wider. With such expertise and terms of reference, the EB report (by 11 of the 13 members of EB) submitted to MoEF&CC in April 2014 came to the conclusion that 23 of the 24 projects in WII list should be dropped and even the 24th project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A should go ahead only after significant modifications. Thus, essentially, EB too endorsed the WII recommendation.

It should be noted here that the WII recommendations were peer reviewed (during the work of Expert Body in 2013-14) by renowned biodiversity expert Dr Brij Gopal. Dr Brij Gopal too endorsed WII recommendation that the 24 projects should be dropped. The peer review was sought by the Central Water Commission representative at the 2nd EB Meeting. Despite objections from some EB members, the Chairman agreed to such a review and proposed the name of Dr. Brij Gopal which was promptly seconded by the Vice-Chairman, Dr. B.P. Das – a former Chief Engineer (Irr), Govt of Odisha and former Vice Chairman of the MOEF&CC’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects. In fact Dr. Brij Gopal suggested that more projects needed to be dropped.

MoEF&CC still did not want to take action on the 24 projects. So using the dissenting report by two government agencies which were largely toeing their official position in EB, the MoEF&CC suggested to the Supreme Court of India on May 7, 2014 that it wants to set up another committee. Seeing no validity in this, the Honorable SC rejected this suggestion and asked MoEF&CC to take a stand. SC has also since then put a stay on any further work on these 24 projects.

Still not ready to take a stand, MoEF&CC, used the reason that since IITC was already working on Ganga River Basin Management Plan (GRBMP) for the ministry since 2010 went ahead and gave the task of reconciling the two EB reports to IITC. In effect this is tantamount to violating the SC directions of not appointing another committee. However, unlike the picture it tried to give to SC, this task was not part of GRBMP work, but given to IITC through a fresh TOR.

Perturbed at not receiving any serious required response from MoEF&CC after repeated orders, the apex court judges of the Supreme Court rightly said the ministry was behaving like Kumbhakarna and Rip Van Winkle.

On Oct 9, 2014, the MoEF&CC submitted an affidavit to the SC, relying entirely on a report from IITC. And lo and behold, IITC had provided a report to the MoEF&CC, certifying that with some vaguely defined criteria, all the 24 projects can go ahead and there is no need to cancel any project! Serendipitously, this is exactly what the MoEF&CC & the hydropower lobby wanted!

It needs to be stated here that IITC had no mandate to submit such a report and the report is unprofessional, inadequate, unwarranted and inconsistent.

Let us see how.

Authors of the IITC report IITC report was authored by eight persons: Dr Vinod Tare (Civil Engineering Dept, IIT Kanpur, see: http://www.iitk.ac.in/ce/CIVIL/faculty.htm), Dr I M Mishra (Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Roorkee, see: http://www.iitr.ac.in/departments/CH/pages/People+Faculty+imishfch.html#), Dr Purnendu Bose (Civil Engineering Department, IIT Kanpur, see: http://www.iitk.ac.in/ce/CIVIL/faculty.htm), Dr Ligy Philip (Civil Engineering Dept, IIT Madras, see: http://www.civil.iitm.ac.in/people/faculty/ligy/about.html), Dr B S Murty (Civil Engineering Dept, IIT Madras, see: http://www.civil.iitm.ac.in/?q=murty_edu), Dr R P Mathur (formerly Prof of Civil Engineering, University of Roorkee), Dr M Jawed (Dept of Civil Engineering, IIT Guwahati, see: http://www.iitg.ac.in/jawed/homepage/index.html) & Dr Gautam Roy (Consultant GRBMP and former student of Civil Engineering Department at IIT Kanpur). A perusal of the available information on professional background of these persons shows that none of them have expertise on the aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity of the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin, to decide on the appropriateness of the WII recommendations. Hence at the outset it seems inappropriate for IITC to sit on judgment over recommendation of an expert body, on subject matter of which IITC has no expertise.

The IITC team of 8 persons listed above, all with essentially engineering background have now also reviewed the EB report and made their own recommendations, again without having the expertise that was available at EB command. It is thus inappropriate for IITC to comment on the recommendations of the EB which had two biodiversity experts from FRI (Forest Research Institute) and WII, besides experts from Uttarakhand in various other disciplines. IITC is thus being unprofessional.

What does IITC report say The IITC report essentially says that ALL the 24 projects can go ahead if they satisfy three criteria: Aviral Dhara, Environmental flows and longitudinal connectivity. The first thing that strikes about these three terms is that they are all vaguely defined and can have flexible interpretations. They are also interconnected and not necessarily independent of each other. Most importantly, they do not take care of the issues based on which the two expert reports said that these 23 projects should be dropped and even the 24th Project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A may be dropped or modified. But first let us understand these three vaguely defined, flexible and interconnected terms.

Aviral Dhara: According to the IITC report para 2.1 (see also: “Ganga River Basin Management Plan Extended Summary” of June 2014 available at: http://gangapedia.iitk.ac.in/sites/default/files/2014-06-12_GRBMP_Extended%20Summary.pdf): “Aviral Dhara in this context means that the flow of water, sediments and other natural constituents are continuous and adequate over the entire length of the river throughout the year.” There is no definition of what is adequate here, nor it is clarified as to adequacy is from what point of view. Here it should be noted that Aviral literally means uninterrupted, but neither IITC nor MOEF&CC provide this interpretation. According to MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014 (para 8(c)), Aviral means “to flow round the clock” or “continuous flow”.

Environment Flows: For Environmental flows, the “objective” of GRBMP is (see p 9 of the GRMBP Extended Summary) “Environmental Flows shall be maintained in all rivers and tributaries of Ganga River System to fulfill their geological, ecological, socio‐economic and cultural functions.” The E-flows thus would than depend on identifying functions of the river from geology, ecology, socio-economic and cultural perspectives, which can vary. The GRMBP extended summary does not provide clarity on e-flows for any of these aspects and how to go about arriving at required environment flow. It should be mentioned here that to arrive at environment flows, there are about 200 methodologies available globally. The IITC report attached with the MOEF&CC affidavit remains even vaguer as it says maintenance of E-flow should lead “to river stability and ecological balance in the downstream areas.”

Clarity on environmental flows is crucial as the affidavit from MOEF&CC itself agrees that MOEF&CC did not address the issue of eflows adequately while granting environmental clearances in Uttarakhand. One of the basic reasons behind this was lack of clarity on the issue and the same mistake is being repeated in the IITC Report.

Longitudinal Connectivity: In MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014, it is stated (para 6(b)/ 8(b)) that longitudinal connectivity is necessary to ensure “non-disruptive biota movement and silt transportation along the river course that are essential ingredients of a river ecology and its wholesomeness. Otherwise, a fragmented river stands to lose its basic character along with its native aquatic bio-diversity and ecological integrity.”

One of the two places where the term longitudinal connectivity appears in the GRMBP Extended Summary quoted earlier, says: “For dams and barrages, a precondition is essential that they cannot violate the longitudinal connectivity in River Ganga and her major tributaries. Besides they must allow E‐Flows (Environmental Flows) all along the river. A potential method for ensuring river connectivity through dams/ barrages has been suggested.”

The only other place in the GRBMP Extended Summary where the term longitudinal connectivity appears is interesting as it connects all the three terms that IITC has used: “Thus, while longitudinal connectivity in river network is an essential first step to maintain “Aviral Dhara”, having adequate river flows depends much on basin’s overall water status.” This statement is thus also making all three terms even more flexible, subjective and vague since they are dependent on “basin’s overall water status”. This leaves the door open to later reduce the quantum of E-Flows.

It is thus clear that the IITC report annexed by the MOEF&CC with their Oct 9, 2014 affidavit says that if these three vaguely defined terms that are flexible and prone to subjective interpretations are satisfied, then all the 24 projects can go ahead.

While these three, when clearly defined and properly implemented, are necessary conditions for any hydropower project, to say that they are sufficient condition is not only misleading, but also showing lack of understanding of the environmental issues related to hydropower projects. The MOEF&CC affidavit of Oct 9, 2014 relies exclusively on this IITC report and wants to allow all 24 project based on these three vaguely defined, flexible criteria from IITC report.

However, these three criteria are not sufficient to take a decision about these 24 projects as they exclude large number of criteria that the two expert reports considered, including: terrestrial biodiversity (completely absent in IITC report), cumulative impact (completely absent in IITC report it only looks at project specific issues), projects’ location in hazardous zone, projects increasing the disaster potential of the area, among many others.

The SC’s original direction was to examine if the 24 projects would have significant impact on the biodiversity. So the examination for these 24 projects must be done from the total biodiversity aspect and not on the basis of flow alone. The IITC itself has said in the GRBMP Interim Report of Sept 2013 that if biodiversity impact is significant then the project should be disallowed. It is clear IITC has again been inconsistent.

IITC is inconsistent It should be added here that in table 4.2 of their “Interim GRBMP” of Sept 2013 (see: https://nmcg.nic.in/writereaddata/fileupload/25_GRBMPInterim_Rep.pdf), IITC provides larger set of criteria for deciding permissibility of dams and barrages in the Ganga Basin, which include criteria like threat to terrestrial biodiversity, rare, endangered and threatened (RET) species, geological hazards, loss of historical, religious and cultural sites, among others. But these are no longer considered by the IITC in their current report under discussion. The IITC is also being inconsistent, besides being unprofessional and vague.

IITC report shows lack of understanding on basic environmental issues It is also disturbing to read the IITC report saying (section 2.1, last but one para), “However, projects on streams/ rivers with negligible biota may be allowed to proceed as per the environmental and other clearances already given to such projects provided that adequate provision is made to ensure the mandated E-flows. The adverse environmental impacts of such projects on the Ganga river system as a whole are expected to be negligible. Such projects may, therefore, be kept out of Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA) for their approval.”

Firstly, this shows that IITC is out-rightly overruling the recommendation of the WII and EB on criteria of terrestrial biodiversity, geological stability and so on. IITC is doing that too without providing any reasoning or basis. Significant number of the 24 projects have been recommended for rejection by WII and EB based on these criteria. Such baseless rejection of the recommendation by IITC not only shows their poor understanding of environmental and geological issues, but also shows their pro hydro bias.

Secondly, IITC makes the contention that the adverse environment impacts of such projects on Ganga river system is expected to be negligible, without providing any basis or scientific logic or reasoning.

Thirdly, suggesting that all such projects may be kept out of the CEIA seems to show poor understanding of the basics CEIA by the authors of IITC report. Large number of even so called low impact interventions can also cumulatively have big impacts and to exclude them is against the very spirit of CEIA. It also then raises doubts about competence of IITC to prepare GRBMP, since GRBMP is supposed to also look at the cumulative impact assessment and carrying capacity of major interventions in the Ganga Basin. IITC authors do not seem to understand that even aquatic biota gets affected by geological and other factors, that fish is not the only aquatic biota and that there is upstream downstream linkages in lifecycle of the aquatic biota and that there are linkages between aquatic and terrestrial biota life cycles, affected by hydrology.

The above stated issues raise serious doubts about the appropriateness of the IITC report and MOEF&CC’s attempts to push ahead with the 24 hydropower projects in fragile and disaster prone Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin based on the inappropriate IITC report. Particularly when these projects were to be cancelled as per two expert reports, both commissioned following two separate apex court orders.

Issue of cumulative impacts cannot be taken care of through project specific actions Here it should be noted that the WII report has made its recommendation about dropping 24 HEPs based on cumulative impact assessment of all the operating, under construction and planned projects in the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda River basins. The same is true with respect to EB recommendation. The conclusions arrived at based on cumulative impact assessment by the WII and EB cannot and should not be sought to be addressed by looking at project specific steps or actions as MOEF&CC affidavit and IITC reports are doing.

Did Project Management Board allow IITC to do this report? The IITC task of GRBMP is being overseen by a Project Management Board (PMB) comprising of senior persons of all the seven IITs and some invited members. The IITC report dated July 21, 2014 mentions, “The PMB in its fifth meeting held on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at IIT Delhi agreed to examine the two reports in the broader framework developed for GRMBP.”

While this is what IITC claims in its July 21, 2014 report, this claim is not supported by the Minutes of the relevant meeting of PMB, as we see below. From the reading of the minutes, it seems that the IITC had no mandate or clearance to do this report.

In the minutes of the fifth meeting of PMB held on June 24, 2014, para 7 seems to be the only relevant para in this context, which reads as follows: “Project Coordinator sought the directions from PMB about the modus operandi for follow-up actions after submission of the final draft of GRBMP – such as responding to queries and comments on GRBMP and dealing with requests for other inputs on Ganga Basin received from government and other agencies. He mentioned that IITC is obliged to respond to such requests based on the work done in preparing GRBMP, and the help of only active contributors of IITC would be needed rather than the existing mechanism of going through PICC and PMB. Professor Manna, Director, IIT Kanpur stated that IIT Kanpur is willing to take the responsibility on behalf of IITC of such matters and Project Coordinator may take the help and advice of concerned IIT Team members as and when needed. It was opined that each IIT may compile the list of new faculty members who may have joined after GRBMP project was started and communicate the same to the Project Coordinator. Professor Khakhar suggested that Directors of the 7 IITs may discuss the matter and communicate the decision to the Project Coordinator on modus operandi for submission of first version of GRBMP, and responding to queries and comments on GRBMP and dealing with requests for other inputs on Ganga Basin received from government and other agencies.”

The first thing that strikes about this para is that the Project Coordinator (Dr Vinod Tare) raised this in the context of “follow-up actions after submission of the final draft of GRBMP”, which is not the case with respect to current issue, since the final draft of the GRBMP is yet to be submitted. There is nothing in this para to support the contention quoted above from the preface of the IITC report that PMB “agreed to examine the two reports in the broader framework developed for GRMBP.”

If this is the only para that is relevant in the context of IITC report to MOEF&CC dated July 21, 2014 and if this para is not applicable at this stage since it is applicable only after submission of final draft of GRBMP, then the question arises, if the IITC had the permission from PMB to submit such a report and if the MOEF&CC should have submitted this report as authorized IITC report? These questions can be answered by only the IITC, its PMB and MOEF&CC, but they are relevant since it is this report purportedly from IITC that is sought to be used by MOEF&CC to ensure that all the 24 projects under discussion go ahead. In fact PMB and all concerned from IITC should quickly clarify that this report cannot be called IITC report, but only from the specific 8 persons listed above. The authors should be asked to remove the claim that this is IITC report.

IITR has poor track record and conflict of interest Here it is pertinent to note that of the four IITs involved in this report of IITC, IIT Roorkee (IITR) has already proven to have a poor and biased track record and should not have been involved in any case. The IITR was in fact commissioned in July 2010 by MOEF&CC to do cumulative impact assessment of the hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin. The report submitted by IITR was so pathetic that it was not accepted and it invited adverse comments from official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects, the Inter Ministerial Group on Ganga Basin Projects and also the Supreme Court of India in Aug 2013 order. (The report was also criticized by other organisations[1].)

Thus, IITR stands discredited on the precise issue of cumulative impacts of hydropower projects in Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin. To include such an institute for another IITC report now on the same issue not only brings discredit to the whole effort, but raises the issue of conflict of interest.

While some issues are based on procedures and propriety, other issues relate to merit of IITC recommendations as they do not hold the experience or expertise to deal with serious problems related to cumulative impacts, terrestrial biodiversity and RET species, deforestation, and disaster potential of the region.

Thus, on both these counts (technical and merit based), the IITC Report is under cloud and does not hold enough ground to base further informed decisions.

Conclusion In view of the above, it is clear that IITC report is not adequate, reliable, or consistent to take a decision about 23 hydropower projects which have been recommended to be dropped and 24th project, namely the Kotli Bhel 1A project which has been recommended to be dropped/ modified by the WII and EB. IITC had neither the expertise nor the mandate to submit such a report. The MOEF&CC should not be relying on this report and rather coming out with its own position as directed by the Supreme Court of India repeatedly, keeping in mind the issues and merits of the two expert reports, both submitted following two separate apex court orders.

It is unfortunate that IITC has submitted a report that is obviously music to both hydropower developers and government. MoEF&CC has already offered more such work to IITC. We hope IITC will go beyond such short term interests and be more consistent, professional and work towards rejuvenation of the Ganga and other rivers.

This current work is discrediting their future work of GRBMP too.

-Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP (Being an IIT Mumbai alumni myself, I am writing this with a sense of sadness)

[1] For example, see: http://www.sandrp.in/hydropower/Pathetic_Cumulative_Impact_Assessment_of_Ganga_Hydro_projects.pdf

Environment Impact Assessment · Environmental Laws · Expert Appraisal Committee · Himalayas · Hydropower · Ministry of Environment and Forests

National Green Tribunal’s Fourth Foundation Day: Why such a pro hydro bias?

The National Green Tribunal, NGT marked its 4th Foundation Day on 18 October 2014, with an impressive fanfare. A full day function was organized at the Plenary hall of the capital’s iconic Vigyan Bhawan. NGT in this short span has acquired a formidable reputation as a unique, vibrant, active institute with independent & unbiased mind and forthright, quick redressal of petitions that come to it.

The function in two separate sessions, one in the forenoon and the other in the afternoon (a Seminar) was attended by large number of government officials, judicial officers, advocates, law school students, NGT petitioners and office bearers and members of the NGT Bar association.

NGT  Foundation Function on Oct 18, 2014 (Source: FB page of Information and Broadcasting Ministry)
NGT Foundation Function on Oct 18, 2014 (Source: FB page of Information and Broadcasting Ministry)

Invited dignitaries included Mr Justice Ranjan Gogoi (Judge, Supreme Court), Prakash Javadekar (Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change) and Ashok Lavasa (Secretary, MoEF&CC) in the forenoon session and Mr Justice Sudhanshu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya (Judge, Supreme Court) and Piyush Goyal (Union Minister of state for Power, Coal and new and renewable energy). Mr Justice Swatanter Kumar, the Chairperson of the NGT, Mr Justice Dr. P. Jyothimani, Judicial Member, Principal Bench, NGT, Prof. R. Nagendra, and Dr. D.K. Agarwal, Expert Members at the NGT also spoke and graced the dais.

The function included, in addition to the addresses by the invited dignitaries, the release of 2nd issue of NGT International Journal; the launch of new NGT Website (in the first session) and address by invitee experts (in the second session).

In the first session Mr Javadekar informed the gathering about his political beginnings from a water pollution struggle activist against factory pollution and Mr Lavasa categorically stated that the NGT is playing an extremely crucial role and that there is no move to dilute its powers in any manner. It was in the second session that very controversially one Mr M.K. Pandit was invited to speak as an invited expert.

The Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (I/C), Shri Prakash Javadekar lighting the lamp at the 4th Foundation Day function of the National Green Tribunal, in New Delhi on October 18, 2014. The Secretary, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Shri Ashok Lavasa and the Judge, Supreme Court of India, Mr. Justice Ranjan Gogoi are also seen (Source: FB page of I&B Ministry)
The Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (I/C), Shri Prakash Javadekar lighting the lamp at the 4th Foundation Day function of the National Green Tribunal, in New Delhi on October 18, 2014. The Secretary, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Shri Ashok Lavasa and the Judge, Supreme Court of India, Mr. Justice Ranjan Gogoi are also seen (Source: FB page of I&B Ministry)

Mr Pandit began with highlighting how recent and how fragile the Himalayas were and that a 8+ richter scale earthquake in central Himalayas was round the corner that could flatten Dehradun. Very soon in his almost 25 minute speech changed track as if on a cue to how great the hydropower dam projects in the Himalayas were for the power security of the country. The Union Power Minister had by then just joined the function to nod in full agreement with all that the Mr Pandit was narrating. The audience on the other hand was left perplexed as to what was happening?

An invited speaker was eulogizing the great merits of high dams receiving approving glances from the power minister on an NGT seminar whose topic was “Natural Disasters, Environment & Role of NGT with special reference to Uttarakhand, J&K, Assam & Himachal Pradesh”. Clearly something was amiss, somewhere?

Secondly, Mr Pandit is not a neutral expert, but an interested party. As leader of scores of pro hydro Environmental Impact Assessments that he has led as part of the CISMHE[1] team (Center for Inter-disciplinary studies of Mountain and Hill Environment) has earned them millions as they also continue to mint more money. Typical of Indian EIAs, no EIA done by CISMHE has ever raised any difficult questions for the developers. It has also never concluded that any of the projects is unviable. CISMHE EIAs are as shoddy, incomplete and inadequate as any other[2]. For example on Luhri HEP, the CISMHE EIA was so problematic that even the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects and the World Bank found it inadequate and unreliable.

Interestingly, CISMHE website says: “Ministry of Power, Government of India established CISMHE as an R&D Centre in power studies in environment in recognition of its excellent past performance”. This means that there is also conflict of interest here in CISMHE doing EIAs, since it has been set up as an R&D Centre by Ministry of Power, that is itself a promoter and developer of hydropower projects. No wonder, Mr Pandit said what the Power Minister wanted to hear and Power Minister made no efforts to hide his approval of what Mr Pandit was saying.

Very strangely, Mr Piyush Goyal claimed that Tehri dam was an example of good project in the Himalayas that saved Uttarakhand in the floods of June 2013. Mr Goyal should know that this claim had absolutely no basis and even an Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court of India has shown, after listening to THDC, CWC and others that such a claim has no scientific foundation. Mr Pandit did try to support the unfounded contention of Mr Goyal, but the minister asked him to keep quite.

It became clearer, when a pointed question asked by Shri Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan about what would have been the Tehri dam scenario if the Uttarakhand high rainfall event had occurred in the peak monsoon months of July, August or September and not on 16 June 2013 (as in fact happened in Sept 2010, when Tehri created a havoc in the downstream, damaging its own Koteshwar project[3]), when the dam was almost empty and only beginning to get filled, elicited an evasive response first by the Union Minister (we cannot have structures planned for every 365 days in a year). And later when Pandit ji tried to answer, he was asked to shut without him being able to even respond to the other two questions relating to how does he reconcile to the fact of  a high intensity earthquake visiting a region where he had been advocating the dams; why was USA (as also some other countries), the mecca of large Dams bringing many of its dams down?

In any case, Mr Maharaj Pandit was contradicting himself, because he said something totally different in his article in The Hindu soon after the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013: “Most downstream damage in otherwise flood-free areas is caused by dams and barrages, which release large volumes of water to safeguard engineering structures. Dam operators often release more water during rains than the carrying capacity of downstream areas, causing floods… Hydropower policy must consider building fewer dams and prioritise those that have the least environmental and social costs. Independent and serious monitoring of the catchment area treatment plans proposed by Forest Departments with funds from hydropower companies needs to be carried out and reported to the Green Tribunal.” In fact then in June 2013, he was on TV channels almost every night, talking about how Himalayas have the highest dam density in the world and that is such a big invitation to disaster! But he seems ready to change his stand to please the minister or the hydro project developers.

It seems as if Mr Pandit had been invited to justify the building of dams in the Himalayas in front of a large gathering of impressionable judicial officials and young student minds. It is possible that it was also intended to influence the minds of NGT members (judicial and experts) and other persons from judiciary in the face of a number of proposed dams being challenged before the various NGT benches and courts.

If a proper seminar was indeed planned on such an important matter, then there should have been several speakers on wide range of perspectives and topics and not just one speaker with conflict of interest and a clear agenda? The only other technical speaker, Dr R. Nagendran, an expert member with NGT southern bench spoke sensibly on how unscientific management of sanitary projects in hilly regions lead to parallel “Faeco-microbial disaster” which is difficult to tackle.

Mr Ritwick Dutta, secretary of NGT bar association said that the information about Mr Pandit speaking from NGT platform was not available in public domain and it is not clear how he was selected as a speaker.

Such blatant pro hydro bias in an NGT foundation day meeting is certainly unwarranted and out of place for an NGT function. An NGT platform should not have been allowed to be used for such biased presentation. We hope the bias apparent in this aberration is just that, an aberration and does not run deeper, considering that some hydropower professionals have been appointed on NGT benches.

We hope that at least in future the NGT, a statutory judicial body, otherwise doing a great job for the protection of environment, would be more careful in not letting its platform get used by the vested interests. The formidable reputation that NGT has acquired with a lot of remarkable orders should not be allowed to be affected by this one incident. NGT indeed needs to be strengthened in every way and not weakened in any manner.

It would also help if the NGT were to distance itself from this biased episode.

Pushp Jain, EIA Research and Response Centre (http://www.ercindia.org/, Pushp Jain pushp@ercindia.org) & SANDRP (based on interviews with those who were present at the NGT foundation day meeting)

END NOTES

[1] http://www.cismhe.org/

[2] For example, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/the-world-bank-drops-funding-usd-650-m-for-the-luhri-hydro-project-victory-for-the-sutlej-bachao-jan-sangharsh-samiti/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/pauk-heo-tato-i-hydropower-projects-cismes-shoddy-eias-seven-big-hydro-on-third-order-tributary-of-brahmaputra/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/manipulating-environment-forest-clearances-for-dibang-project-deja-vu-lshp-history-repeated-will-it-be-tragedy-or-comedy/

[3] For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/uttarakhand-floods-truth-about-thdc-and-central-water-commissions-claims-about-tehri/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/is-thdc-preparing-to-repeat-the-disaster-tehri-created-in-sept-2010/

[4] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/

[5] http://www.greentribunal.gov.in/

[6] http://www.greentribunal.gov.in/Writereaddata/Downloads/circular7Oct14.pdf

[7] http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/nature-avenges-its-exploitation/article4834480.ece

Delhi · Ganga · Interlinking of RIvers

Rivers and Water in Union Budget 2014-15

In the first annual budget (for the year 2014-15) presented by the new NDA government at the centre on July 10, 2014, it is generally bad news for Ganga and other rivers. Below we have given various provisions on water and river from the budget speech of the Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley. Mr Jaitley said in his speech: “In the first Budget of this NDA government that I am presenting before the august House, my aim is to lay down a broad policy indicator of the direction in which we wish to take this country.” The broad policy indicators on rivers do not seem to be any good news for the rivers of the country.

RIVERS FM said, “Rivers form the lifeline of our country. They provide water not only for producing food for the multitudes but also drinking water.” This shows the limited understanding of rivers that the government has. Rivers provides so much more than water. The FM do not seem to have any good news for this lifeline as the budget has several proposals that will harm and destroy the rivers.

River Linking The PIB wrongly claims, “The Budget also contains the first ever effort to link the rivers across the country.” A sum of Rs. 100 crore in the current Budget to expedite the preparation of Detailed Project Reports has been set aside. This is waste of public money. In addition to this, there is a huge allocation for the annual budget for NWDA, whose only mandate is studies for river linking. It is existing for 22 years, but has not produced a single document that will pass independent public scrutiny, and NWDA is afraid to put any document in public domain. Why is the government spending money on such fruitless exercise?

GANGA: Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission The Finance Minister, Shri Arun Jaitley said, “I propose to set up Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission called “Namami Gange” and set aside a sum of Rs 2,037 crores for this purpose.” Shri Jaitley said that the Mission is being launched because a substantial amount of money has been spent in the conservation and improvement of the river Ganga but the efforts have not yielded desired results because of the lack of concerted effort by all the stakeholders. This is admission of even NDA’s failure, since they were in power for at least six years and have not been able to make a dent in the state of the river. They should learn from that experience before jumping into such missions.

This raises a lot of unanswered questions: There is already an existing National Mission for Clean Ganga and if this new mission will be in addition to the old one or if the old one will be abolished? What is new in the new mission? Strangely, the FM did not use the work Ganga Rejuvenation, the charge that Ms Uma Bharti has been given. Does this indicate something is amiss here?

Riverfront Development “The Finance Minister has also set aside a sum of Rs. 100 crore for Ghat development and beautification of river front at Kedarnath, Haridwar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, Patna and Delhi in the current financial year since Riverfronts and Ghats are not only places of rich historical heritage but many of these are also sacred.”

The trouble is, this could spell disaster for the river and the cities where such development is planned, if this is going to happen on the lines of Sabarmati river front development. This is because in case of Sabarmati, the Riverfront development meant encroachment of over 200 ha of riverbed. If this is followed the river’s carrying capacity will be reduced. In changing climate, rivers need more and not less carrying capacity as the events of July 2005 in Mumbai, of August 2006 in Surat & recent years in Delhi have indicated. During Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 the buildings that we saw collapsing were all standing on the riverbeds. That should be a warning for any riverfront development that would encroach on the riverbed.

NRI Fund for Ganga To harness the enthusiasm of the NRI Community to contribute towards the conservation of the river Ganga, an NRI Fund for Ganga will be set up which will finance special projects, the Finance Minister added.

“A project on the river Ganga called ‘Jal Marg Vikas’ (National Waterways-I) will be developed between Allahabad and Haldia to cover a distance of 1620 kms, which will enable commercial navigation of at least 1500 tonne vessels. The project will be completed over a period of six years at an estimated cost of Rs 4,200 crore.”

Watershed Development To give an added impetus to watershed development in the country, a new programme called “Neeranchal” will be launched with an initial outlay of Rs 2,142 crore in the current financial year. This could be a positive move, but we have to await the details. It is also not clear if this is in addition to the ongoing watershed development or in place of it.

Rural Drinking Water For providing safe drinking water, Rs 3600 crore has been earmarked under National Rural Drinking Water Programme in approximately 20,000 habitations affected with arsenic, fluoride, heavy/toxic elements, pesticides/fertilizers through community water purification plants in next 3 years, the Finance Minister added.

Delhi Water Reforms Rs. 500 crore for water reforms to make Delhi a truly World Class City. The budget does not say a word what these reforms would mean, but going by the track record of this government in past, when they say reforms, they mean privatisation, which will be strongly opposed in Delhi.

Allocation for Renuka has no justification The FM said, “In addition, to solve the long term water supply issues to the capital region, construction of long pending Renuka Dam would be taken up on priority. I have provided an initial sum of Rs 50 crore for this.” Firstly Renuka dam does not even have statutory forest clearance and NGT has stopped work on the project. FM, but allocating money for the project in such a situation has indicated that they do not care for statutory clearance process or judicial orders.

Moreover Delhi does not need any more water from outside. It is already privileged with per capita water availability of over 250 lpcd, which is more than most European cities. Delhi does not harvest rain water, does not use flood water to recharge, does not protect its water bodies, does not treat its sewage, does not recycle and reuse the treated sewage, does not reduce its losses, does not do demand side measures and like a spoilt kid, asks more and more water from long distance sources.

Thirdly, Delhi may want exclusive share in water from Renuka, but Upper Yamuna states of Haryana, UP, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh are all asking for their share from the project and are ready to share the costs. Going ahead with the project without resolution of the interstate issues may land us in a soup similar to the Munak Canal.

Allocation for Statue of Unity The budget provides Rs 200 crore for ‘Statue of Unity’ in Gujarat. This project is come up in eco sensitive zone, and will affect large no of people and water body, but it has not seen any social or environmental impact assessment or participatory consultative process. It is supposed to come up in the middle of the water reservoir to be created by the proposed Garudeshwar Dam on Narmada river, but that dam has no impact assessment or clearances and stands challenged in NGT. Allocating money for the project under the circumstances is inappropriate.

Welcome Move: National Centre for Himalayan Studies in Uttarakhand “There is a great need to increase the capacity in the country for Himalayan Studies. I propose to set up a National Centre for Himalayan Studies in Uttarakhand with an initial outlay of Rs 100 crore.”

Irrigation The Budget provides Rs. 1,000 crore for Pradhan Mantri Krishi Seenchaayi Yojana. If this is for decentralized local systems, it would be a welcome move, but no details are available.

Welcome move: Organic farming in North East India Rs 100 crore has been provided in the budget to promote organic farming in Northeast India. This is a welcome move.

Welcome move: National Climate Change Adaptation fund for small farmers The FM said, “Climate change is a reality which all of us have to face together. Agriculture as an activity is most prone to the vagaries of climate change. To meet this challenge, I propose to establish a “National Adaptation Fund” for climate change. As an initial sum an amount of Rs 100 crore will be transferred to the Fund.” This is welcome, but we need to see who corners this money. It should go to the rainfed farmers.

Some other  welcome provisions: Finance to 5 lakh landless farmers through Nabard since landless are not able to get bank loans in absence of land as a guarantee; Rs 50 core set aside for blue revolution for inland fisheries. This is provided there is a move to conserve the riverine fisheries.

On the whole, in spite of some welcome moves, on the whole, the budget brings more bad news for the rivers & those depend on rivers and rains, than good.

SANDRP

Sources:

1. Budget speech of the FM: http://indiabudget.nic.in/ub2014-15/bs/bs.pdf

2. PIB Press Releases from Finance Ministry on July 10, 2014: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx

Additional issues from Media:

1. The Hindustan Times reported that the budget has reduced the allocation for MEF by 15% compared to previous year: http://www.hindustantimes.com/specials/coverage/unionbudget2014/budget2014/environment-gets-raw-deal-renewable-energy-a-fillip/sp-article10-1238988.aspx

2. The Indian Express has reported that the budget provides additional provisions for shutting downNGOs and Trusts: http://indianexpress.com/article/business/business-others/budget-makes-it-easier-for-govt-to-shut-down-ngos-and-trusts/

3. CSE: “Budget 2014 allocates Rs 200 crore for statue and Rs 50 crore for 50 million people who depend on the handloom sector. What does this say of priorities?”

4. BJP’s maiden budget disappointing for farmers: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/bjp-s-maiden-budget-disappointing-farmers

5. ‘Budget silent on crucial farmer suicide issue’: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/City/Chandigarh/Budget-silent-on-crucial-farmer-suicide-issue/articleshow/38163502.cms

6. Good, bad and ugly – YJA ‘green’ take on the Union Budget 2014-15: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/good-bad-and-ugly-our-green-take-on-the-union-budget-2014-15/

Free flowing rivers · Ganga · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Ministry of Water Resources · Uttarakhand

Will this Ganga manthan help the River?

Uma Bharti at GM

The one day Ganga Manthan[1] organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on July 7, 2014 was described by Union Minister[2] Sushri Uma Bharti & Union Minister[3] Shri Nitin Gadkari as “Historical”. The Union Environment Minister, who has one of the most crucial role in achieving a rejuvenated Ganga, was supposed to be there, but could not come at any stage.

I attended the full day meeting with a lingering question: Will this help the river? Even some of the ardent skeptics said that Uma ji has emotional, spiritual and religious attachment with the cause of Ganga.

At the conclave attended by close to a thousand people, the story of how Ms. Bharti came back to the BJP party about a year back to work for the cause of Ganga, and how she was promised a year back that if their party came to power, Ganga will get a separate ministry and she its charge was narrated repeatedly by both Ms Bharti and Mr Gadkari at least twice. It was also stated that the government has the commitment, the will & all the money to make the Ganga clean (Nirmal) and perennial (aviral). There were  also repeated statements by both ministers about the officials being so committed to the cause of Ganga. These, in essence, were the basic positive assets of this government to achieve Ganga Rejuvenation.

While it was good to see large gathering involving various sections of the society, including many independent non government voices, missing were some key stakeholders: Ganga basin state governments, farmers groups, Ministry of Urban Development, fisher-folk groups, boats-people representatives. Another key constituency missing was Ministry of Agriculture, since agriculture is major user of water & irrigation and responsible for water diversion and at the same time major non point source polluter through use of chemicals and fertilizers.

Rejuvenation does not mean just nirmal and aviral But if the task is Rejuvenation of River Ganga, are these assets sufficient? What exactly does Rejuvenation of River Ganga mean? There were no answers to this question at the meeting. The government did not even seem bothered about these questions. Are Nirmal and Aviral Ganga sufficient objectives to achieve Rejuvenation of Ganga? The answer is clearly no, for, even a pipleline or canal carrying perennial flow of water can claim that distinction. A rejuvenated river will need much more than that, but the government has nothing else to offer for a rejuvenated river.

Even for Aviral Ganga, the government had absolutely nothing to offer. In the information package shared with the participants, the only thing relevant to Aviral Ganga was the extended summary of draft “Ganga River Basin Management Plan” being prepared by consortium of seven IITs in collaboration with some 11 other organisations. This is led by Dr Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur. While standing with Dr Tare and Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh at the lunch, I said, the problem with Ganga is not of technology[4], but of governance. Despite being a proud IITian myself, I have no hesitation in saying that IITs do not have expertise in governance issues, so how can the IIT Consortium help in fix a governance problem? Having read the full Draft Plan of the IIT consortium, it only further strengthens the view that it was wrong decision of Jairam Ramesh to give this task to IIT Consortium.

Agenda for further destruction As a matter of fact, while this government has yet to take a step that will truly help rejuvenation of Ganga, they have declared their agenda that will possibly further destroy the river. This was clear on June 6, 2014, within ten days of new government taking over when a PIB press release[5] announced, “Shri Gadkari said it is proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters and for a three (3) meters draft (depth) to enable transport of passengers and goods between Varanasi and Hoogly on river Ganga in the first stage of its development and eleven terminals are proposed to be constructed along the banks. He said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms.” This was a shocking and arrogant announcement. There is nothing in public domain about this Rs 6000 crores plan, no details as to what exactly is planned, where the barrages are planned, why are they needed, what are their environmental impacts, what are the social impacts, what are the riverine impacts, what is the cost and benefits, who will pay the costs and who will reap the benefits, where is public consultation….there is absolutely nothing in public domain and here is a nine day old government declaring such massive plan! By July 7, 2014, the PIB Press Release declared that the depth will now by 5 meters and not three announced earlier. The PIB PR now said, “He (Mr Gadkari) said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms on the river. Shri Gadkari said his Ministry has sent a proposal in this regard to World Bank for the development of Allahabad- Haldia corridor.”

The minister possibly does not know that there is just one barrage on the Allahabad-Haldia 1500 km long stretch, namely the Farakka barrage and Bangladesh had threatened India to take the matter about building this barrage to the UN! Moreover, that barrage, everyone accepts, has not even achieved the basic objective it was supposed to achieve, namely navigability of Kolkata port, but has had many other severe impacts.

Nitin Gadkari at GM

At Ganga Manthan, Mr Gadkari dropped a bombshell[6] when he said this plan is already in advanced stage of appraisal with the World Bank! He said the government hopes to get Rs 4000 crores from the World Bank!! The World Bank has zero track record in achieving any clean river anywhere in the world, after spending billions of dollars every year. In India itself it stands guilty of destroying many rivers. A more inauspicious start to the Ganga Manthan possibly could not have been possible. At the Ganga Manthan itself, there was opposition to this plan, as The Hindu[7] has reported.But Ms Uma Bharti finds nothing amiss about this as was clear by her answers at the press conference. But what about at least some semblance of participatory democracy?

Business as usual at NMCG and NGBRA will not help In reality, this is not all. While this Manthan for Ganga Rejuvenation is happening, the NMCG and NGBRA[8] (National Ganga River Basin Authority) go on with their work in business as usual fashion. So in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam is going about its task of floating and examining the bids for five-part sewer laying and Sewage Treatment Plants with the help of JICA money. In Kanpur, the effort to divert several streams to Pandu is going on. In Allahabad, “the draft final ESAMP sewerage works for sewerage districts” A & C could be found on the NGBRA website. In Patna, the World Bank is funding the sewerage projects of Pahari in Patna & river front development and the draft social and environmental impact assessments could be found on NGBRA website. All of this (except the Varanasi packages, which are funded by Japanese aid agency) is going on under USD 1 Billion World Bank Funded NBGRA project.

So the business as usual that is going on for 40 years is now going to help rejuvenate Ganga!

The NMCG announced that the Manthan, a “National Dialogue on Ganga”, was supposed “to facilitate interaction with various stakeholders”, “to discuss the issues & solutions to the task of Ganga Rejuvenation”, “to prepare road map for preparation of a comprehensive plan”. The website said the Ganga is “holiest of Rivers”, “purifier of mortal beings” & “living godess”, but now “seriously polluted” and in “extreme environmental stress”.

Where is the dialogue? However, the way the meeting was organized, there was essentially no dialogue. After the inaugural plenary session, the participants were divided among four groups: 1. spiritual leaders, 2. environmentalists, NGOs, water conservationists, 3. scientists, academicians and technocrats, and administrators; 4. public representatives.

I went to the second group and there, when someone pointedly asked, if there is any representative of the government present, there was no response! In fact it was positively shocking that the first panel member that spoke in this group was Dr Arun Kumar of AHEC (Alternate Hydro Energy Centre) whose work on Ganga basin cumulative impact assessment is so discredited that even the official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF, the Inter-ministerial Group on Ganga, the Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court after the June 2013 flood disaster and the Supreme Court itself has criticized it or found it unreliable. NMCG has discredited itself by appointing such a person to give an overview of achievement of Ganga Action Plans.

GM stage

Ms Bharti apologized in the beginning for hurriedly-called meeting. But the least she could have ensured was a credible process that will ensure that the officials have to show application of mind to the various suggestions received and conduct of the meeting in credible and confidence inspiring way. But the meeting did not inspire confidence that there will be any credible process that will ensure that there is application of mind to the various inputs given. Many of the participants did not have any opportunity to speak.

Recommendations for the government on Ganga

1. Make an honest effort to learn from the past. Why have the efforts of last 40 years since the passage of Water Pollution Act 1974 not helped Ganga? Similarly why did the GAP I, NRCP, GAP II, NGBRA not helped make the Ganga clean (nirmal) or perennial (aviral)?

2. Understand & recognise that Ganga is a river and what are the essential characteristics of a Ganga that it needs to rejuvenate it as a river. At Ganga Manthan, in post lunch session in the room where the fourth group for public representatives was sitting, I was sitting next to an official of Ministry of Water Resources and I casually asked him does the ministry of water resources understand what is a river? He first said yes, but when I said you are only dealing with water and nowhere in your work have we seen any value for rivers, he said ok, but we can do it in collaboration with MoEF. The trouble is, even MoEF does not understand rivers. [It was also strange to see in this session Mr Madhav Chitale (former Water Resources Secretary) describing Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 as an effort to clean the river! Such misrepresentation going unchallenged was shocking.] It should be remembered that it is this ministry of water resources through which Sushri Uma Bharti has to achieve a rejuvenated Ganga!

3. Ganga is not 2525 km long river: We kept hearing this sentence that Ganga is 2525 km length of river and Mr Bhurelal in fact said we need to limit ourselves to discussing how to make this stretch clean. The trouble is, if the tributaries are not healthy rivers, how can the main stem of Ganga be rejuvenated? As Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan said, Ganga is not 2525 km, but much more than 25000 km including all the tributaries, as Yamuna is not 1400 km long but 13470 km long including all the tributaries.

4. Ganga in Mountains: Learn the lessons from Uttarakhand disaster, that affected the headwaters of the Ganga river. The Expert body constituted by the MoEF under Dr Ravi Chopra has a lot to say there. Revisit all the existing, under construction and planned projects in the whole basin.

5. Farakka barrage: It is well known that the barrage did not serve the basic purpose it was created for, namely making the Kolkata port navigable. But it has created such havoc in upstream and downstream for millions of people that some of the Bihar MPs of previous Lok Sabhas talked about decommissioning of the barrage in the debate on Ganga. But this government wants to make many more barrages! First do a post facto assessment of the Farakka barrage and its current costs, benefits and risks.

6. Formulate an Urban Water Policy: The footprint of the urban areas on the rivers is increasing in multiple ways, but we have no urban water policy. Some key elements that such a policy will include: Reducing transmission & Distribution losses, water audit from RWA upwards, Rainwater harvesting, decentralised and eco-friendly ways of sewage treatment and recycle, groundwater recharge and bottom up management, demand side management, protection of local water bodies, protection of riverbeds, floodplains and forest areas & democratisation of the Urban water utilities.  As the working report for the 12th Five Year Plan on Urban water said, no Urban areas should be allowed to have external water till they exhaust their local potential, including recycling of the treated  sewage and other demand side and supply side options. The footprint of the urban areas will increase exponentially if we do not urgently on this front.

7. Agriculture is the biggest user of water and our government encourages use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. Most of these chemicals end up in water bodies including rivers. If we do not want our rivers to be dumping grounds for these chemicals, the government should encourage organic farming. Similarly, in stead of encouraging water intensive cropping patterns and methods, government needs to encourage low water use crops and methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is applicable for many crops and can reduce water need by upto 50% and yet increase yields and incomes of farmers. But the government has shown no interest in encouraging SRI. Such methods can free up a lot of water for the river. Similarly, under the influence of powerful sugar lobby, we are producing more sugarcane and sugar than we need and than we are exporting the same at subsidized rates! So essentially we are exporting water at huge subsidized rates, that too from Ganga, but we have no water for the river!

8. Irrigation is the biggest user of water. At Bhimgoda, Bijnor and Narora barrages, we are diverting almost all the water in the river for irrigation. But we have no water for the river. If we change our water resources development and agriculture policies, it is possible to restrict these diversions to 50% and release the rest for the river. We need to review all this.

9. The IIT consortium report is seriously flawed and is not likely to help the river.

10. We need to define the path of the riverbed or right of way for the river, based on its need to carry 100 year flood and silt. In absence of such a defined space for the river, there are a lot of encroachments. There is also no river regulation law to regulate this riverways land. This is urgently required.

11. Our Pollution Control Boards and related mechanism is not known to have achieved a single clean river or nala in 40 years of their existence, anywhere in the country. This is because of the completely non transparent, unaccountable, non participatory and exclusive bodies, where people whose lives are affected by the pollution have no role. A complete revamp of this is required to make its management inclusive from block level upwards, and answerable to the local people through clearly defined management system.

12. One of the major reason for the failure of the GAP, NRCP and NGBRA is that their functioning is top down, with absolutely no clearly defined norms for transparency, accountability, participation and inclusive management. Unless we completely change this, no amount of money, no amount of technology, no amount of infrastructure or institutions is going to help the Ganga. We need management system for every STP, every freshwater plant, every city and town, every 3-5 km of the river, every tributary and so on. At least 50% members of the management committees for each of them should be from outside the government, including community members. The people whose lives and livelihoods depend on river including fisherfolk, boatspeople, river bed cultivators, local sand miners, communities depending on river for different water needs have to be represented in such management system. That will also create an ownership in river rejuvenation effort. This is also applicable to urban areas and all the tributaries.

13. This is also true for our environmental governance of dams, hydropower projects, flood control projects, water supply projects, and so on. Today there is no credible environmental management at planning, appraisal, construction, operation or decommissioning stage.

14. River of course needs water. Urgently. Chart out a road map to achieve 50% of freshwater releases from all dams and barrages in two years. Also no sewage water or effluents entering the river in two years.

In the concluding plenary, after listening to the reports from four groups (there were a lot of positive and useful suggestions there), Ms Uma Bharti and Mr Gadkari said that they won’t make any announcement today but they will ensure that the good suggestions that have come will be given to the decision-makers who will create a road map. This is very vague and unconvincing process with no credible transparency. The least the ministers could have assured is a confidence-inspiring process that would transparently ensure that the decision makers have applied their minds to the suggestions. But even that was not promised.

Despite this seemingly gloomy outcome, considering that the NMCG has invited[9] suggestions even after the meeting, I am going to send this blog link to them and wait for their response! Ganga definitely needs a lot of sewa from all of us if the river is to have any better future.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] For details, see: http://www.gangamanthan.in/

[2] Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation

[3] Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation

[4] It’s worth noting here that Mr Gadkari seems to have abiding faith in technology, he said that this is an age of technology and there are technological solutions for all problems! This possibly shows where we are heading!

[5] Title: “Development of River Ganga for Tourism, Transport and to make it Environment Friendly”

[6] PIB PR on July 7, 2014; http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/ganga-clean-up-may-cost-rs-80-000-crore-114070700889_1.html

[7] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/plan-for-navigation-in-ganga-basin-questioned/article6187510.ece

[8] http://moef.nic.in/sites/default/files/ngrba/index.html

[9] NMCG would welcome any further suggestions, ideas, write-up etc from all interested person through email: info@gangamanthan.in

[10] Also the views of NGBRA expert member B D Tripathi that also questions Dr Vinod Tare and IIT consortium report on Ganga: http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/72

http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/71: Ganga clean up more about governance than technology: Himanshu Thakkar

http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/70: Experts flay Uma Bharti’s Ganga Manthan clean up plan

Dam Induced Flood Disaster · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas · Hydropower · Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013: Lest we forget the experience and its lessons

June 16, 2014 This is a sad day, reminding us of the Uttarakhand disaster that began on this day a year ago. The disaster was triggered by unseasonal and heavy rainfall in which indicates a clear footprint of climate change. At the same time, the role played by massive infrastructure interventions, including an onslaught of hydropower projects and dams in Uttarakhand’s fragile ecosystem, in magnifying the proportions of this disaster manifold is also undeniable[1]. It is a sign of callousness of our system that till date we do not have a comprehensive report about this disaster that throws light on what all actually happened, which institutes played what role, which institutes failed or succeeded in their assigned role, what were the rehabilitation and resettlement provisions, processes, plans and policies, and what lessons we can learn from this experience.

The lessons from this experience hold significance for the entire Himalayan region.

Uttarakhand and the union government declined to even investigate the role of hydropower projects in the disaster. It was left to the Supreme Court of India, through its order of Aug 13, 2013, to ask the government to set up a committee to assess the role of existing and under construction hydropower projects in the disaster.[2] The apex court also asked governments to stop clearances to all such projects in the state in the meantime. The reluctant Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) took two more months to set up the committee which was headed by Dr Ravi Chopra.[3]The committee submitted the report in mid April, 2014, but two months later the MEF is yet to put up the report in public domain. Or make it available to the people of Uttarakhand in their language or invite their views. SANDRP had written in detail about the recommendations of the EB, the committee certainly said that the hydropower projects played a significant role in the disaster[4]. Eminent geologist Prof K S Valdiya has also written in Current Science in May 2014 (Vol. 106, p 1-13) that most projects are being built in landslide prone, seismically active area and should not be built there.

It was again left to the Supreme Court on May 7, 2014 to order stoppage of work on the 24 hydropower projects. The Expert Body recommended cancellation for 23 of these projects and change of parameters for one project. There is immense hope in further proceedings in the apex court in coming months, since the results will provide a guide for the whole Himalayan region in Uttarakhand, in other states in India and even for the Himalayan region beyond the border.

At the same time, it is unfortunate to see that the MEF, the Union government and Uttarakhand government seem to have learnt no lessons from the disaster. These bodies have been trying all sorts of manipulations to push massive projects like Lakhwar and Vyasi in Yamuna basin even without Environment Impact Assessment, Cumulative Impact Assessment or public consultations.

Now a new government has taken over at the centre. It is possible sign of things to come that India’s new Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has chosen this anniversary day to lay foundation stone for a huge hydropower project in the Himalayan region, read his own statement dated June 14, 2014[1], about his impending trip to Bhutan on June 15-16, 2014: “During the visit, we will lay the Foundation Stone of the 600 MW Kholongchu Hydropower Project[5].” This possibly indicates the thinking of new government on this issue.

Picture1

The memory and lessons of this unprecedented disaster seem to be fading already. While going through the articles on this disaster in a number of newspapers like Indian Express, Hindu, Tribune, Business Standard, among others, I could find just one article in Business Standard[2] that mentioned the role of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand disaster.

gangani1

It is very important, in this context to remember the issue. We are here presenting here some photos of the damaged hydropower projects of Uttarakhand in that context. The photos are mostly taken from official sources, namely 582 page annexures to the Ravi Chopra Committee report. Most of the photos have not been in public domain to the best of our information.

Assi Ganga I (4.5 MW in Uttarkashi district): Letter from Regional office of MoEF to Uttarakhand Forest secretary dated 30 March, 2014 says:“The project was heavily damaged in 2013 devastation.” It also says that the project is in Ganga Eco Sensitive Zone and in the zone only projects below 2 MW capacity and serving the needs for the local population are allowed. Hence it says, “…the project should not start without obtaining fresh forest clearance and permission from the Central Govt.”

Assi Ganga II (4.5 MW in Uttarkashi district): Similar letter from Regional office of MoEF says: “The project was heavily damaged in 2013 devastation.” Following photos from the monitoring report of the project speak about the damage this project suffered:

AssiGangaII

2AssiGangaKaldigarh HEP (9 MW in Uttarkashi district) The project heavily damaged in 2012 floods and it being in Eco Sensistive zone, the report says the project should not be allowed to restart without permission from central govt.

Kotli Bhel 1A HEP (195 MW on Bhagirathi river in Uttarkashi district) The project has not given the final forest clearance. The stage I forest clearance was given on 13.10.2011 and environment clearance on 09.05.2007. The Ravi Chopra Committee report has asked for changes in the project parameters and Supreme Court order of May 7, 2014 has asked for stoppage of work on 24 HEPs, this project is on that list of 24 projects. The regional office report says that work on the project has been started on non forest land, which should now come to stop.

Kaliganga II HEP (6 MW, Rudraprayag district, Mandakini Basin) The Project got forest clearance on March 6, 2007. But project is yet to provide non forest land as required under act. The project is also within 2 km of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, but has not got clearance either from state wildlife Board or National Wildlife Board. The project construction thus is clearly illegal. Project has now suffered damages in June 2013 disaster, as can be seen from the photos below.

KaligangaII

2KaliGnaga

Madhya Maheshwar HEP (10 MW, Rudra Prayag district):

MadhyaMaheshwar

Phata Byung HEP (76 MW, Mandakini river, Rudra Prayag district):

PhataBuyung

Singoli Bhatwari HEP (99 MW, Mandakini river, Rudra Prayag district):

SingoliBhatwari

Bhyunder Ganga HEP (15 MW, Alaknanda river, Chamoli Disrict):

BhuynderGanga

Lata Taopan HEP (171 MW, Chamoli district):

Lata Tapovan

Tapovan Vishnugad HEP (520 MW, Chamoli district):

TapovanVIshnugad

Kali Ganga I HEP (4 MW, Rudraprayag District):

KaliGangaI

Banala Mini HEP (15 MW, Chamoli Dist):

BanalaMiniHEP

 CONCLUSION: We hope this would possibly remind us that Himalayas cannot take the hydro onslaught that is happening now.

What happened in Uttarakhand a year ago in June 2014 was possibly a warning.

These photos are a reminder that even the hydropower projects are not safe and they will invite not only destruction for themselves, but also for the surrounding areas. Lest we forget the warning.

-Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

References:

[1] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/uttarakhand-deluge-how-human-actions-and-neglect-converted-a-natural-phenomenon-into-a-massive-disaster/

[2] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/expert-committee-following-sc-order-of-13-aug-13-on-uttarakhand-needs-full-mandate-and-trimming-down/

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/

[4] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/

[5] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Modi-woos-Thimphu-ahead-of-Bhutan-China-dialogue/articleshow/36623685.cms

End Notes:

[1] PIB statement of June  14, 2014, see: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx

[2] http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/the-mountain-s-not-a-molehill-114061400858_1.html

Himalayas · Hydropower

Himalayas cannot take this Hydro onslaught

MESSAGE ON WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY 2014:

SAVE HIMALAYAS FROM THIS HYDRO ONSLAUGHT!

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[1]. 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.

Floods in Uttarakhand Courtesy: Times of India
Floods in Uttarakhand Courtesy: Times of India

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)[2] 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[3], to exactly do such an investigation, but again MoEF played deaf and blind to such letters.

The SC mandated committee was set up through an MoEF order dated Oct 16 2013[4] and MoEF submitted the report on April 16, 2014.

5 MW Motigad Project in Pithorgarh District destroyed by the floods. Photo: Emmanuel Theophilus, Himal Prakriti
5 MW Motigad Project in Pithorgarh District destroyed by the floods. Photo: Emmanuel Theophilus, Himal Prakriti

The committee report, signed by 11 members[5], 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.

Boulders devouring the Vishnuprayag Project. 26th June 2013 Photo: Matu jan Sangathan
Boulders devouring the Vishnuprayag Project. 26th June 2013 Photo: Matu jan Sangathan

Let us turn our attention to hydropower projects in Himalayas[6]. Indian Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand[7], 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[8], 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.

Agitation Against Lower Subansiri Dam in Assam Source: SANDRP
Agitation Against Lower Subansiri Dam in Assam
Source: SANDRP

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.

Peoples protests against Large dams on Ganga. Photo: Matu Jansangathan
Peoples protests against Large dams on Ganga. Photo: Matu Jansangathan

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!

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] For SANDRP blogs on Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/?s=Uttarakhand

[2] For details of Supreme Court order, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/uttarakhand-flood-disaster-supreme-courts-directions-on-uttarakhand-hydropower-projects/

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/uttarakhand-disaster-moef-should-suspect-clearances-to-hydropower-projects-and-institute-enquiry-in-the-role-of-heps/

[4] For Details of MoEF order, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/expert-committee-following-sc-order-of-13-aug-13-on-uttarakhand-needs-full-mandate-and-trimming-down/

[5] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/

[6] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/massive-hydropower-capacity-being-developed-by-india-himalayas-cannot-take-this-onslought/

[7] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/uttarakhand-existing-under-construction-and-proposed-hydropower-projects-how-do-they-add-to-the-disaster-potential-in-uttarakhand/

[8] For details of projects cleared during April 2007 to Dec 2012, see: https://sandrp.in/env_governance/TOR_and_EC_Clearance_status_all_India_Overview_Feb2013.pdf and https://sandrp.in/env_governance/EAC_meetings_Decisions_All_India_Apr_2007_to_Dec_2012.pdf

[9] An edited version of this published in June 2014 issue of CIVIL SOCIETY: http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/pages/Details.aspx?551

Himalayas · Hydropower · Hydropower Performance

Massive Hydropower capacity being developed by India: Himalayas cannot take this onslaught

At least 49 large[1] hydropower projects are under construction in India today, with a cumulative capacity of 15006 MW[2]. As per the latest bulletin from Central Electricity Authority[3], “Status of Hydro Electric Projects under Execution for 12th Plan & beyond (Excluding projects above[4] 25 MW)” dated March 31, 2014, 35 of these projects (9934 MW) are expected to be commissioned in 12th Five Year Plan[5] and remaining 14 with installed capacity of 5072 MW would provide benefit beyond 12th Plan.

Considering that 1534 MW capacity has already been added in first two years of ongoing 12th Five Year Plan (during 2012-13 and 2013-14), CEA projections means that India hopes to add massive 11468 MW capacity during the current five year plan. This will be higher than capacity added in any other five year plan and 254% of the capacity addition during the last, 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12) when India added 4514 MW. The graph below shows how steeply our hydropower installed capacity is going up over the last 25 years.

 

Rapidly Increasing installed capacity of Large Hydropower Projects in India
Rapidly Increasing installed capacity of Large Hydropower Projects in India

The proponent of even more accelerated hydro capacity addition misleadingly talk about the need for having 40% of installed grid capacity as hydro.

In line with this, the CEA came out with plans to add 65000 MW in 13th Five Year Plan (2017-2022: 30 000 MW) and 14th Five Year Plan (2022-2027: 35 000 MW). (see http://www.energylineindia.com/ of May 6, 2014)

There is no science behind this  advocacy. It is basically a suggestion possibly based on the general assumption that peaking demand is 40% higher than base-load demand. Hence if we have 40% installed capacity from hydro in the grid, this can take care of total demand optimally. However, this is based on assumption that hydro capacity is indeed used for peaking. This assumption is completely wrong in India, with no agency monitoring or even reporting how much of the hydro generation currently provide peaking power. Without such optimum use of current hydro capacity, where is the case for 60:40 grid capacity ratio for hydro? It goes without saying that when hydro projects are used for peaking power, there are additional social and  environmental impacts in the downstream and upstream. These need to assessed and those who suffer are compensated.

On similar lines, one can answer the advocacy for claim that hydro is clean, green, renewable and cheap source of power or that  run of the river or small hydropower projects are more environmentally benign. However, this blog is not attempting to answer all such fallacies here, it needs a separate blog.

While this is happening, the Expert Appraisal Committee of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on River Valley Projects has been clearing projects at break a neck speed with almost zero rejection rate. Between April 2007 and Dec 2013, this committee recommended environment clearance to 18030.5 MW capacity, most of which has not entered the implementation stage. Moreover, this committee has recommended 1st 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.

Figure 1 TORs (First Stage EC) and EC recommended by EAC between April 2007 - December 2013
Figure 1 TORs (First Stage EC) and EC recommended by EAC between April 2007 – December 2013

 Table: Sector-wise & plan-wise number of & capacity of under construction HEPs

Sector

During 12th FYP

After 12th Plan

Total

No of Projects Installed capacity, MW No of Projects Installed capacity, MW No of Projects Installed capacity, MW
Central

11[6]

5312 3 2615 14

7927

State

12

1506 3 736 15

2242

Pvt

12

3116 8 1721 20

4837

Total

35

9934 14 5072 49

15006

Among the three sectors, the largest number of under construction projects (20) are from private sector. However, among all sectors of under construction projects, central sector projects have the highest installed capacity (7927 or 53% of under construction capacity of 15006 MW).

Figure 2 Sectorwise ownership of under-construction HEPs in Numbers
Figure 2 Sectorwise ownership of under-construction HEPs in Numbers

Vulnerable Himalayas are the target In the second table the state-wise and sector-wise break of numbers and capacity of under construction HEPs has been given. Himachal Pradesh has the highest number and highest installed capacity projects among all states. That state also has the highest installed capacity (8139 MW or over a fifth of operating HEP capacity at national level) of large operating hydropower projects. Sikkim, however, has the highest number and capacity of private sector hydropower projects under construction. In fact, half of the total national-level private sector projects which are under construction are in that tiny state. Their installed capacity is more than half the installed capacity of all the private sector hydropower projects under construction at national level. Ironically, the state also has the highest biodiversity in the country.

Figure 3 Installed Capacity of under construction HEPs, sector-wise ownership, in MW
Figure 3 Installed Capacity of under construction HEPs, sector-wise ownership, in MW

Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand also have 5 and 3 private sector HEPs under construction respectively. The 5 Himalayan states of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh between them have 38 of the 49 under construction hydropower projects with total capacity of 13550 MW or over 90% of under construction capacity. In addition, the projects of Mizoram, Meghalaya, W Bengal (Teesta L Dam IV) and Punjab (Shahpur Kandi on Ravi River) are also in Himalayan zone.

Table: State-wise & sector-wise number and capacity of under-construction HEPs

State

Central Sector

State Sector Private Sector

Total

No of projects Installed Capacity, MW No of projects Installed Capacity, MW No of projects Installed Capacity, MW No of projects Installed Capacity, MW
J&K

1

330 1 450 1 850 3

1630

Himachal P

4

2532 6 956 5 460 15

3948

Uttarakhand

4

2135 3 505 7

2640

Sikkim

10 2622 10

2622

Arunachal P

3

2710 3

2710

Mizoram

1

60 1

60

Meghalaya

1 40 1

40

W Bengal

1

160 1

160

Punjab

1 206 1

206

Madhya Pr

1 400 1

400

Maharashtra

1 80 1

80

Andhra Pr

3 410 3

410

Kerala

2 100 2

100

Total

14

7927 15 2242 20 4837 49

15006

 

Figure 4 State-wise and sector-wise number of HEPs under construction
Figure 4 State-wise and sector-wise number of HEPs under construction
Figure 5 State-wise installed capacity of under construciotn HEPs
Figure 5 State-wise installed capacity of under construciotn HEPs

Diminishing Returns This blind rush for hydropower projects (which have serious and irreversible impacts on social and ecological systems) is difficult to understand and justify considering their poor generation performance, rising costs and availability of better options. To illustrate, in the graph below we can see how power generation per unit (MW) installed capacity has been steadily reducing over the last two decades. From 1993-94 to the latest year of 2013-14, there has been a huge drop of 16.5%.

Diminishing power generation from India's Hydropower Projects over the last two decades
Diminishing power generation from India’s Hydropower Projects over the last two decades

Yawning gap between promised and actual generation of Hydro Projects Another way to look at performance of hydropower projects would be to compare the projected (as promised in Techno Economic Clearance) and actual generation (both at 90% dependability) of electricity by HEPs. This assessment shows that about 89% of India’s operating hydropower projects are generating at below the promised levels. Shockingly, half of under performing projects are generating at below 50% of promised generation levels.

How much Peaking Power are we generating? A third way to assess the hydropower generation is in terms of peaking power, a USP[7] of hydropower projects. However, no figures are available as to how much of the generation from hydropower projects are happening during peaking hours. No agency in India is even monitoring this or reporting this: including CEA, Central or State Electricity Regulatory Authority, National, Regional or State Load Dispatch Centers, Union or state Power Ministries or individual operators. In short, there is no case for justifying more hydro in the name of providing peaking power if we are neither monitoring nor optimizing hydropower generation during peaking hours. One expected CEA to do this job, but it seems they are busy lobbying for hydropower projects rather than functioning as India’s premier Technical Power sector agency.

Invitation to disaster? The consequences of such massive capacity addition are and will continue to be disastrous for the rivers, forests, biodiversity and people. The Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 has shown the vulnerability of hydropower projects in Himalayas, as well as their impacts. The disaster and independent reports[8] also show how the construction and operation of these projects have contributed to compounding the proportion of the disaster. Climate Change is accentuating this situation and will continue to do so with increasing intensity as per the IPCC reports.

Role  of HEPs in Uttarakhand disaster: CEA and CWC in denial mode This analysis of under construction hydropower projects as reported in the latest CEA bulletin shows that Himalayas is the target for overwhelming majority of hydropower projects being taken up India (& neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet). The Uttarakhand disaster showed how hydropower projects are increasing the existing vulnerabilities and disaster potential of the Himalayan region in times of natural calamities. An independent committee appointed by MoEF following Supreme Court orders of Aug 13, 2013 pointed out the role of hydropower projects in Uttarakhad disaster of June 2013.

It should be highlighted here that multiple hydropower projects should invite cumulative impact assessment. As Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 highlighted, such cumulative impact assessment need to be done in a credible way and not the way AHEC of IITR did for the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin.

Strangely, instead of accepting this reality and taking this into account in decision making processes, Central Water Commission and Central Electricity Authority are in a denial mode! They collectively submitted a completely unscientific and unfounded report to Union Environment & Forests Ministry, advocating for hydropower projects rather than assessing their role in disaster, which was the mandate given by Supreme Court of India to MoEF. The CEA is clearly jeopardizing whatever credibility it has in joining hands with CWC. It would be better for both the agencies to accept and wake up to these realities.

Else, such onslaught of hydropower projects on Himalayas is likely to be an invitation to further disasters all across the Himalayas. All our decision makers and all others concerned need to take note of this urgently.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] Defined as those projects having installed capacity above 25 MW

[2] In reality, there are many other large HEPs under construction, but his figure is based on CEA.

[3] http://cea.nic.in/reports/proj_mon/status_he_execution.pdf, CEA has been pretty irregular in putting up these bulletins, after Nov 2013, the next bulletin was available only now.

[4] In reality, this should be “below”, we have italicized the word since the error is in the original.

[5] Ending on March 31, 2017

[6] CEA projects that out of 2000 MW installed capacity of Lower Subansiri HEP in Arunachal Pradesh, 1000 MW will be commissioned in 12th Plan and the rest of 1000 MW thereafter.

[7] Unique Selling Proposition

[8] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/