Cumulative Impact Assessment · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Uttarakhand Deluge: How human actions and neglect converted a natural phenomenon into a massive disaster

Analysing a natural disaster is a complex task. Many a times, a natural disaster and its human impacts are a result of multiple things occurring together. At the same time, disasters like the one being faced by Uttarakhand currently highlight the stark anthropogenic reasons which contribute towards causing the disaster as well as increasing its impacts manyfold.

SANDRP has been trying to analyse the situation, and looking at number of causes which precipitated in the current tragedy. These include the absence of early warning system, absence of responsible and active disaster management of monitoring system. While the calamity is natural in the sense that the region did receive extreme heavy rainfall and cloud burst, the root causes which increased the human tragedy include unchecked and unplanned infrastructure development along the rivers and development of  hundreds of hydel projects in the fragile zone without proper checks and balances, transparent studies and decision-making processes.

A brief update on SANDRPs work on this issue as well a compilation of the numerous ways in which hydel projects in Uttarakhand are flouting norms of sustainability, transparency, participation or safety and what has been the response to this from the highest quarters: Prime Minister, Minster and Ministry of Environment and Forests as well as the state administration.

The first thing that strikes you when you analyse this disaster is that there was no specific and timely warning of impending disaster from the IMD or any other body (their claim to the contrary not withstanding). In fact we do not have a system in place to forecast cloud burst events, when technology is available to achieve that at approximate cost of Rs 15 crores, as informed to me by formed Director General of IMD, Dr S K Srivastava.

Secondly, even after the event of rainfall started and occurred, till date, six days after the event started on 15th, there is no account of how much rainfall occurred at what specific locations, and what was done to alert the populations that were at risk. This is again a failure of IMD and local administration. In fact it transpired that Kedarnath, one of the most affected area, has no raingauge, says Indian Express.

This shows how agencies like IMD, CWC, NDMA and SDMA have failed to put in place basic systems of warning, forecasting, monitoring and information dissemination that can greatly reduce disaster potential of any area.

In April 2013, a CAG report said that Uttarakhand state disaster management authority, which was formed in Oct 2007, has never met till date. Nor has it mandatory “rules, regulations, polices or guidelines”, first step for the authority to have functional existence. (for elaborate excellent information on this CAG report, see:, for CAG report, see:



From all accounts it is clear that areas around all four Pilgrimage centres (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) and the fifth one of Hemkunt Sahib have faced some serious floods this season. In addition, areas of Pithoragarh (Goriganga basin) and Himachal Pradesh (Kinnaur district, mainly Kashang area, a tributary of Sutlej) basin also faced floods during the same period. The rainfall event that lead to these floods started on June 15 and went on till June 16-17.  It seems strange to see such vast area facing simultaneous high intensity rainfall. IMD officials tried to explain this ( as collision of western disturbance with the upcoming monsoon clouds. It is also true, as Anupam Mishra ji explained to me that the catchments of all these basins in their uppermost ranges are not too far from each other. Incidentally, Tibetan area is also not very far from these region, it would be interesting to know if that area also faced cloud burst events in this period.

In an interview with Rediff Editor Sheela Bhatt, NDMA Vice Chair M Shashidhar Reddy accepted that there are no rain-gauges at Kedarnath and Badri nath and hence we may never know how much rainfall feel at those sites and we will never have full scientific explanation of what happened on June 16-17.

The best we have is weekly district wise rainfall in Uttarakhand districts for the week June 13-19, from India Meteorological Department:


13.06.2013 TO 19.06.2013




    % DEP



































































Events of June 16-17 at Kedar Nath Based on Media information, it seems Kedarnath shrine saw two massive flood events, one starting around 8.15 pm on June 16 and second at 6.55 am on June 17. The flood witnessed at the shrine (located at 3584 m above msl) originated from catchment that includes two mountain peaks: Kedarnath and Kedarnath Dome (6831 m elevation). Following torrential rains possibly triggered by cloude burst, huge boulders broke away from Kedar Dome and ruptured the downstream charbari lake reservoir, about 6 km upstream from the temple along the Mandakini river. This description seems to suggest that this was also an event of GLOF (Glacial Lake Outburst Flood), though no one seems to have used that term so far.

Another instance of GLOF in this Uttarakhand flood disaster could have happened at Hemkunt Sahib pilgrim centre (elevation 4632 m), where report suggest, the level of water in the lake surrounding the shrine suddenly “increased as glacier from the uphill came down.”

However, from all accounts, the massive rainfall and cloud burst events were happening at multiple places, including in Bhagirathi basin, Assiganga basin, Mandakini Basin, Badrinath region, other places in Alaknanda region, among others. The high rainfall started sometime on June 15 and went on till at least June 18. When I talked with Prof Bharat Jhunjhunwala staying at Devprayag along the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda, he said that the peak of the floods happened on the morning of June 17 (The Hindu reported this happened at 3 am on 17th), though massive flood event there in Alaknanda started the previous evening. He also mentioned that the massive amount of muck deposited on the Alaknanda riverbed by the under construction 330 MW GVK Srinagar Alaknanda Hydropower Prooject (the project has had no credible environmental impact assessment) accentuated the flood disaster in the downstream area. The Hindu reported ( that sudden release of water from the dam along with the illegally dumped muck in the river bed lead to disaster in downstream Srinagar town.

A Sphere India report said that in Rudraprayag (this is likely to be one of the Mandakini hydropower projects, either Phata Byuang or Singoli Bhatwari), “The local are saying the muck of the dam was deposited along the river which has diverted the course of water.” (

It is interesting to note that if these accounts are correct, the peak of flood event at Devprayag and Kedarnath (separated by about 150 km) happened on the morning of June 17, which possibly indicates that there were multiple could burst or very high intensity rainfall events in Alaknanda valley alone.

However, I had already received a detailed report from Uttarkashi Apda Prabanthan Jan Manch with photos of unfolding disaster on the evening of June 16, 2013, so the high rainfall event and beginning of flood  disaster at Uttarkashi began much earlier. The news channels were already showing live footage of the event unfolding in downstream Rishikesh and Haridwar on June 17, again indicating that the flood event in the upstream mountains must have started at least two days earlier.

Unfortunately we still do not have an accurate account of this whole episode from any of the official agency. When Vice Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority M Shashidhar Reddy was asked about this by me on NDTV INDIA badi khabar programme on June 21 evening (see:, he accepted we still do not have that account six days after the event. This shows the poor monitoring situation from all concerned.

UTTARAKHAND AND GLOFS The mention of GLOFs in the context of current Uttarakhand floods above should trigger other thoughts. In fact not many observers are mentioning GLOFs in current context. However, Climate scientists including ICIMOD has been mentioning increasing risks of GLOFs all across Himalayas.

This blog ( provides satellite images from Indian Space Research Organisation to explain the occurrence of GLOF in the current disaster at disaster and its consequences in the downstream Rambara area. Its Author Dave Petley, dean of research and global engagement, Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk at DurhamUniversity in the United Kingdom, tries to explain the events around Kedarnath in an interview to Rediff editor Sheela Bhatt:

Similar images are also available on Down to Earth article ( and NRSC website (

Anupam Mishra ji in fact mentioned in NDTV INDIA discussion ( mentioned is 1977 article (see in Hindi: where he describes the 1970 floods and also the 1893 glacial dam burst, flood due to bursting of which was monitored and local people alerted by the then British government in collaboration with local people.

Chorbari Glacier The Chorabari glacier that played a role in current floods in Kedarnath lies between latitudes 30°44′50″N and 30°45′30″N, and longitudes 79°1′16″E and 79°5′20″E, from an altitude of approximately 6,000 m (20,000 ft) at the slopes of Kedarnath peak, to 3,800 m (12,500 ft). The glacier is around 7 km in length, while the basin area of the glacier is approximately 38 sq km and the glacier ice cover is 5.9 sq km. The glacier slope is around 11 degrees and faces south. The glacier has two snouts. It is hypothesized by R. K. Chaujar that an original single glacier covered the area, which while receding, split into two snouts. One of the snouts is the source of the Mandakini River at 3,865 m (12,680 ft). The other snout, at 3,835 m (12,582 ft), drains into the Chorabari Tal. (

DAMAGED HYDRO PROJECTS A large number of hydropower projects are likely to have suffered damage due to the flood disaster in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Some of the projects that have suffered damage include:

  • According to the update from on June 27, 2013, the 520 MW under construction Tapovan Vishnugad HEP has suffered damaged by rains on June 16, 2013: “While construction of diversion tunnel was completed in April this year, the same was washed away due to heavy rains on June 16. Diversion dyke has washed away and damages have been observed in chormi adit approach road. In August last year, the flash floods had caused serious damages in the coffer dam of the project.”
  • 400 MW Vishnuprayag HEP of JP Associates has suffered serious, but as yet unassessed damage (–as-plant-shuts-down-in-uttarakhand/1133083/). As per MATU PR (, the project has also been cause of damage in Lambagad village, which was also flahsed on front page of TOI on June 25, 2013, though without mentioning the project.
  • 76 MW Phata Byung HEP of Lanco in Mandakini Valley in Uttarakhand
  • 99 MW Singoli Bhatwari HEP of L&T in Mandakini Valley in Uttarakhand NDTV India reported that the water level of the river has gone up due to the silt dumped by dams. This is likely to be due to the Phata Byung and Singholi Bhatwari HEPs.
  • Kali Ganga I, Kali Ganga II and Madhyamaheshwar HEP, all in Mandakini Valley, all of UJVNL, all hit by mudslides (
  • Assiganga I-IV projects on Assiganga river in Bhagirathi basin in Uttarakhand
  • Small HEP in Goriganga basin in Pithoragarh (name not known)
  • 65 MW Kashang HEP in Sutlej basin in Himachal Pradesh
  • 280 Dhauliganga Project of NHPC in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand (reports said the power house was submerged, but is now working, part of the township was submerged.)

It has been now reported in Business Standard ( that the 330 MW Srinagar project, a cause for downstream destruction, has itself suffered massive damages on June 17, 2013, with breach of its protective embankment. The report also mentions the damage to the L&T’s Singoli Bhatwari HEP on Mandakini river.

Down to Earth ( has given some details of damage to some of the hydropower projects, quoting UJVNL sources. It says: 19 small hydropower projects have been completely destroyed, while others have been damaged by the raging waters (see BOX)

Estimated losses from damage to hydropower projects on the Ganga
Project Location Capacity Estimated Loss
Dhauli Ganga Pithoragarh  280 MW Rs 30 crore (project completely submerged)
Kaliganga I Rudraprayag 4 MW Rs 18-19 crore (power house and 4 houses washed away)
Kaliganga II Rudraprayag 6 MW Rs 16 crore (power house and 4 houses washed away)
Sobla Pithoragarh 8 MW Rs 14 crore (completely washed away)
Kanchauti Pithoragarh 2 MW Rs 12 crore (totally washed away)
Chirkila Pithoragarh 1.5 MW Rs 20 crore (part of the project washed away)
Maneri Bhali I&II Uttarkashi 304+90 MW Rs 2 crore + Rs 5 crore (walls collapsed, silt in barrages)

In addition, a large  number of projects had to stop generation temporarily due to high silt content, including Maneri Bhali I and II, Tehri, Tanakpur, Nathpa Jakhri, Karcham Wangtoo, among others.

NO LESSONS LEARNT FROM PAST DISASTERS In fact in August 2012, Uttarkashi district saw similar tragedy that left 29 dead, many more missing and collapse of houses like card board boxes. The Uttarakhand State Diaster Mitigation and Management Centre report of this disaster in Oct 2012 concluded, “It is therefore highly important to strictly regulate developmental initiatives in close vicinity of streams and rivers. Appropriate legislative interventions would be required for formulating a policy in this regard and firm executive action in accordance with letter and spirit of this policy would be required to ensure compliance of the same.”


Similarly in Sept 2012, Okhimath in Rudraprayag  district (one of the epicentres of current tragedy) saw monsoon induced landslides killing 69 people among other damages. That state DMMC report of this tragedy in Oct 2012 made made recommendations to reduce the risks of landslides in landslide prone state, one of them read, “Use of explosives in the fragile Himalayan terrain for infrastructure developmental works introduces instability in the rocks and therefore use of explosives should necessarily be banned.” And “This provision would automatically ban habitation in the close proximity of seasonal streams and rivers. In case people are already residing in such areas provision has to be made for their timely relocation.”


In fact Rudraprayag has faced monsoon related major disasters SEVEN times in last 34 years, including in 1979, 1986, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2012, each involving death and destruction.

If implemented, these recommendations could have saved many lives. Each of the hydropower project in the state involves MASSIVE blasting of MASSIVE scale, but there is no regulation in place about this even after clear warning from state DMMC.

Uttarakhand Floods and Climate Change That the vulnerability of already disaster prone Uttarakhand to such events is increasing is well known.  Secretary of Government of India Ministry of Earth Sciences Shailesh Nayak has now said that  the cloudburst that triggered flash floods in Uttarakhand read like a weather phenomenon brought about by warming. He also narrated how the high intensity rainfall is increasing while low and medium intensity events are decreasing. (See:

In this context, all developmental activities in such areas will need to factor in this increased vulnerability and how any intervention is going to affect the disaster vulnerability of the region. We have been writing to the Union Environment Ministry and its expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects that the Environmental Impact Assessments of the hydropower and other projects need to include an assessment as to how the projects would affect the adaptation capacity of the local people in changing climate and how climate change would affect performance of such projects. There has been no change in the working of the ministry on this so far, but we hope this disaster will provide a wake up call to change that urgently.

Recommendation of National Himalayan Mission ignored National Mission of Sustainable Himalayas, one of the nine missions under National Action Plan on Climate Change, had made a recommendation for protection of areas around the four pilgrimage sites of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath by creation of spiritual and ecological buffer zones around pilgrim places in the ecologically-sensitive region. The mission noted that construction of roads should be prohibited beyond at least 10 kms from protected pilgrim sites, which could have reduced the number of casualties. These areas, like national parks and sanctuaries, were to be maintained as special areas, where there would be minimal human interference. These measures could have lessened the extent of damage in these area suffered during current floods. However, the recommendations have been completely ignored and rampant construction were carried out at char dham, as tourist inflow boomed over the years. From 2.15 lakh in 2000, the number of Kedarnath pilgrims increased to 5.75 lakh last year. (

Geological fault lines ignored Prof KS Valdiya, an honorary professor at Bangalore’s Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, said the heavy loss of life and property in the deluge was a result of “criminal oversight” over the decades of the state’s geological features and water channels by various authorities. These features are well-mapped and documented. But engineers and builders choose to overlook them, said Valdiya. The geologist identified four major ways in which constructions flouted scientific norms. First, he said, the seismic fault-lines of this earthquake-prone state were not kept in mind while building roads (and other infrastructure). “These tectonic fault-lines, which are active and see back-and-forth movements, have been cut in many places by roads. More dangerously, roads are built along the fault-lines at many places. As a result, tiny seismic movements in the fault-lines weaken the rocks at the base of the roads, making these stretches susceptible to cave-ins and slides,” Valdiya said.

The second area of rampant neglect, he pointed out, was drainage. “I have never seen road engineers provisioning for draining out all rainwater that can possibly enter the stretch. Where one to two metre bridges are required, they build small culverts. At places where drains have been provided for, these are usually filled with debris.” Buildings have been constructed over old drains and streams, blocking the natural pathways of rainwater, he said. “One of the reasons for the devastation at Kedarnath was that people had constructed houses on the west stream of the Mandakini river that had been dry for decades. When the river returned to its old course following the deluge, these constructions were washed away,” he added.

Valdiya said another type of transgression, similar to the previous one, was construction taking place on river flood ways. A flood way is the area covered by the river at the time of its biggest flooding in the past 100 years. “In places along Alakananda/ Ganga such as Karnaprayag and Rishikesh, constructions have taken place on the lower terraces which are part of the flood way. Sooner or later, water would get to these places,” the expert said.

Lastly, Valdiya said roads have been built over the debris of previous landslides because it’s costlier to build paths higher up on the hills where the rock is firmer. “Sadly, the department geologists are often no more than rubber stamps, okaying everything the engineers say. Independent geologists are never consulted,” he said. “Scientific engineering has very low priority in the state,” he lamented. Unfortunately, the state pays with human lives and huge property losses because authorities do not pay attention to basic scientific principles. (

SANDRP’s On-ongoing analysis of the Hydel Power Development in Uttarakhand

Flash Flood of Hydel Projects in Uttarakhand: Uttarakhand is witnessing unprecedented development of Hydel Projects along its rivers: mainly Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and their tributaries as well as Ganga, Gori Ganga, Kali Ganga etc. Though exact estimates are not available, activists like Ravi Chopra have said that there are close to 680 dams in various stages of commissioning, construction, planning in the hill state.

Some maps on the Uttarakhand river basins that contain location and details of the hydropower projects (as in 2011, the maps do not have all the projects, but only those for which we could find details when they were made):

Throughout their lifecycle, from construction, deforestation, blasting, mining, obtaining materials from river bed for construction, muck disposal, debris dumping, damming, altering hydrological cycle to allied activities like colonies, roads, infrastructure deevlopment, Hydel power plants have a profound impact on geology and hydrology of the region.

Dams in various stages in Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins in Upper Ganga, also affecting prtected areas. Map by SANDRP

In response to this unprecedented development ( most of these are private hydel projects), Central Empowered Committee (appointed by the Supreme Court) referred the Kotlibhel IA, 1B &  II projects back to the Forest Advisory Committee for reconsideration of Forest clearances issued under the Forest Conservation Act (1980). A sub-committee of FAC after visiting the area, recommended that a “thorough study of the carrying capacity of Ganga tributaries has to be undertaken.” MoEF hired The Alternate Hydro Energy Center of IIT Roorkee (AHEC IITR), without undertaking any bidding process.

MOEF commissioned two studies: Assessment of Cumulative Impact of Hydropower Projects in Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins which was given to AHEC, IITR &Assessment of Cumulative Impacts of Hydroelectric Projects on aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity in Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins, Uttarakhand, which was given to Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun.

The supposed ‘Cumulative Impact Assessment Report’ conducted by IIT Roorkee is so pro dam, biased and unscientific that even the Expert Appraisal Committee of the MoEF (not known for any high standards) found plenty of faults in it.

SANDRPs analysis of the IIT R Report:

At that time too, organisations like SANDRP, Himal Prakriti and others had raised the issue that this study is not looking at cumulative impacts due to muck disposal, bad management practises, seismicity, etc.

Parallelly Wildlife Institute of India submitted its report in 2012 which clearly suggested that 24 projects from the 70 projects in Upper Ganga should be shelved due to their high impact on ecology. The report said that these projects are, together, affecting nearly 10,000 hectares of land in this small state, with more than 3,600 hectares of forests going under submergence. There were some limitations to this report too, but it was a huge improvement on the IIT R Report.

SANDRPs analysis of the WII Report:

It may be added here that the World Bank and Asian Development Banks are guilty of funding hydropower projects in Uttarakhand without adequate impact assessment in place.

Interministerial Group’s Report on Upper Ganga Projects: Continuing its modus operandi of appointing  a committee when one committee’s decisions are unpalatable, MoEF appointed the Interministerial Group on Upper Ganga Projects, to study reports of IIT R and WII under the chairpersonship of B. K. Chaturvedi. The Committee was overshadowed with bureaucrats with three non governmental members: Rajendra Singh, Dr.  Veerbhadra Mishra (who passed away) and Sunita Narain.

The report is largely biased towards hydro projects in Uttarakhand and does not say a word about WIIs recommendation of dropping 24 projects, without giving any explanations. The IMG report does not go at all into the issues of environmental destruction that such projects would cause and how they will increase the disaster vulnerability of the region, already prone to multiple disasters. IMG report did not even mention that the state is vulnerable to disaster in so many ways and how the projects would influence that.

IMG report also did not mention the increased vulnerability of the region to climate change and how the projects would affect the adaptation capacity and increase the disaster potential. CSE Director General Sunita Narian, member of the IMG, filed what she called “An alternate view” but closer scrutiny reveals that it is not much of an alternate view. It says adoption of three principles would make hydropower development in Ganga basin sound, but does not bother to apply two of the principles to the projects under review. She also does not mention the numerous environmental destruction this projects would cause, how it will impact the disaster potential, nor the increased vulnerability of the region to climate change. She is the member of the Prime Minister’s advisory committee on climate change and in that context, this is most glaring. She was also a member of the High Level Working Group Chaired by Dr Kasturirangan on Western Ghats and she signed on a report that certified all hydro projects as green and renewable. Something that most other countries wont do.


SANDRPs critique of the IMG Report:

Is MoEF truly assessing Hydel Projects in the Upper Ganga?

Despite all these reports, several represenattions from affected population, PILs in National Green Tribunal, submissions from various organisations, the Expert Appraisal Committee of the MoEF did not deny granting Environmental Clearance to ANY projects in the Upper Ganga. This was depsite the fact that for projects like 300 MW Alaknanda HEP by GMR, the Forest Advisory Committee had actually rejected Forest Clearance TWICE and WII had also written strongly against the project. Not only did the project get Environmental Clearance, the EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee) haggled with the private proponent (GMR) about eflows release in the river. It did not keep to its mandate or the powers it has been given to deny EC in case the impacts of the projects are severe. SANDRP and partner organisations had also raised this point with the EAC, to no avail.

More on this issue:

When it comes to granting TORs and Environmental Clearance to Hydropower and Irrigation Projects, EACs track record is so exceedingly poor that since its conception six years ago, it has not rejected a SINGLE project for Environmental Clearance. From an Expert Appraisal Committee, its seems to be an Expert APPROVAL Committee.

Report on EACs performance:

Consistent advocacy about impacts of dams on hydrology, communities: Numerous organisations, notably the Matu Jan Sangathan, Ganga Avhan, individuals like Bharat Jhunjhunwala, and even CAG has been raising questions about the impact of unbridled hydel power development in Uttarakhand. Their concerns have gone largely unaddressed till now. In 2009, CAG performed an audit of Hydel Projects in Uttarakhand and concluded that:

  • “Audit scrutiny of project records revealed that no specific measures had been planned/ designed in any project to cope with the risk of flash floods The adverse consequences of such floods are acute as they can not only damage the project structures but can cause loss of live in low-lying down stream areas. Civil construction in projects is required to factor in this natural threat. Also the bigger the project, the greater should be the efficacy of the preventive measures.”
  • “Given the current policy of the State Government of pursuing hydro-power projects indiscriminately, the potential cumulative effect of multiple run-of-river power projects can turn out to be environmentally damaging.[Paragraph 5.3.2]”
  • “Negligence of environmental concerns was obvious as the muck generated from excavation and construction activities was being openly dumped into the rivers contributing to increase in the turbidity of water. The projects seemed oblivious of the gross negligence of environmental concerns”
  • “The plantation activity was highly deficient, as 38 per cent of projects reported hardly any plantation; posing severe hazards both for natural ecology and stabilization of hill slopes”
  • “Audit analysis revealed that, negligence in applying appropriate construction norms and structuring the project without appropriate technical counter measures may expose projects to enhanced seismic vulnerability”

“In conclusion, the above also shows inadequate construction practices being followed by project developers who failed to cater for such eventualities which are common place in the region. Additionally, it also highlights the ineffective monitoring by the GoU and the nodal agency as a result of which the slapdash approach of the project authorities towards project execution has gone on unchecked”

CAG report on Uttarakhand Hydro power projects in 2011 again repeats many of these warnings, but none of them were heeded.

Some recent comments:

Himanshu Thakkar on Karan Thapar’s Last Word:

Himanshu Thakkar on The Last Word

“In a state like Uttarakhand, which is prone to disasters like cloud bursts, flash floods, land slides, the indiscriminate building of hundreds of hydropower projects in this state, each project entailing dam, tunnels that need to be blasted through, the roads, townships and deforestation, the disaster and damage potential goes up multi fold, particularly when there are no credible environment of social impact assessments at project or basin leve, nor any carrying capacity study, nor any credible compliance mechanisms. Even the wrong operation of projects can add to the disaster potential.”

“The South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) says too many hydropower projects, underground tunnels, roads, encroachments of riverbeds by buildings coupled with deforestation could have worsened the impact of the flash floods.

“We do not have credible environmental-impact assessment of infrastructure projects on these highly ecologically sensitive areas,” says Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP. “Neither is there any credible mechanism to assure compliance with environmental regulations. These are places where there is a heavy tourist influx. The collapse of buildings like a set of playing cards shows these were encroachments on the riverbed and floodplains.”

Thakkar says there have been seven similar flood-related disasters in Rudraprayag in the last 34 years. “The administration should have learnt,” he says. “This is not the first time such a disaster has hit us. Both Uttarkashi and the Chamoli-Rudraprayag-Kedarnath area faced monsoon disasters last year, killing several people. There are a few hundred hydropower projects, for instance, in the various tributaries of the Ganga here. These may all be legal projects approved by the environment and forests ministry but have a serious bearing on the flow of the river.”

In conclusion:

Managing disasters after they occur is at a huge human, ecological and economic cost. Predicting and controlling disasters transparently and swiftly is a crucial factor.It is clear that numerous organisations, groups, individuals, even government institutions had raised the issue of impacts of cascade hydel dams on Upper Ganga on Hydrology, Ecology and Communities in this fragile region. Most of the suggestions have been ignored.

Even gazette notification of 135 kms of Bhagirathi as an Eco sensitive Zone came in pretty late from the MoEF and is being opposed by the Uttarakhand Government.

The responsibility of the current calamity does not rest alone with Uttarakhand Government or Disaster Management unit. It lies squarely also with the MoWR, Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Prime Minister, who is the chairperson of the National Ganga River Basin Authority. Incidentally, the MoEF has been sitting on Draft River Regulation Zone Notification for more than 3 years now. The RRZ Notification could have helped in controlling infrastructure development like hotels and homes along the river.

At the cost of hundreds of lives, the current disaster is a bitter lesson for us. It is not a time to engage in a blame game of whether or not this is a man made disaster. The contributing reasons like Dams, tunnelling, blasting, mining are well known; History of projects on Assiganga and Dhauliganga is well know and so is the topographical, seismological, geological fargility of the region. It is now a time to act and actually implement recommendations given by so many committees and organisations since past many years.

Climate Change is no longer a distant, obscure event, it is in front of us now.

In keeping with all these factors, there is an urgent need to immediately stop the ongoing hydel projects in Uttarakhand, address pending issues raised by communities and groups, undertake transparent and true carrying capacity study of the region, scrap 24 projects mentioned by WII and more, considering geological impacts, monitor commissioned projects closely for compliance, decommission commissioned projects whihc flout environmental norms or have a severe downstream impact, manage 135 kms Ecosenstive zone on bhagirathi, have a similar one for Alaknanda and near all river origins in Uttarakhand.

When faced with a human toll that is feared to be close to a thousand, hydel power does not seem so bright or clean, green and sustainable like it is touted. It is not something for which India can risk the lives and well-being of its population or environment.

Himanshu Thakkar, Parineeta Dandekar

Useful Links:

1. For an account of Floods in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, see:; images of the Goriganga floods:; Before and after images of 5 Motighat hydropower project:

2. For a photo feature on damage to Vishnuprayag HEP, see:

3. For an excellent account of how Uttarakhand is a model of disaster, see:

4. Uttarakhand Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre:

5. National Disaster Management Authority:

6. National Institute of Disaster Management:

7. India Meteorological Department:

8. Flood forecasting site of Central Water Commission:

9. Sphere India website, coordinating disaster management from non govt agencies:

10. People Science Institute:…html

11. Action Aid:

Hydropower · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Ministry of Water Resources

LAKHWAR DAM PROJECT: Why the project should not go ahead


We the signatories to this statement would like to bring some key issues to the attention of all concerned on the proposed Lakhwar Dam Project on the Yamuna River in Upper Yamuna River Basin in Dehradun district of Uttarakhand state.

The proposed dam involves a massive 204 m high dam with storage capacity of 580 Million Cubic meters, submergence area of 1385.2 ha, including 868.08 ha forest land, at least 50 villages to be affected by submergence of land in the upstream, many more in the downstream area. This site is just about 120 km downstream of the river’s origins from the holy shrine of Yamunotri.  The composite project involves, in addition to the Lakhwar dam with 300 MW underground power house, another 86 m high Vyasi dam with 2.7 km long tunnel and 120 MW underground power house and a barrage at Katapathar.

As can be seen from the details below:

a)      The project has not undergone basic, credible environment or social appraisal in any participatory manner.

b)      It does not have legally valid environment or forest clearance.

c)      There has not been any cumulative impact assessment of various existing, under construction and planned dams and hydro-projects in the Yamuna system.

d)      There has not been any credible assessment about options for the project.

e)      The project is to come up in an area that is seismically active, prone to flash floods and also prone to erosion and land slides.

f)       The spillway capacity of the project has been awfully underestimated resulting in significant risks of dam damage / breakage with concomitant risks of unprecedented downstream flooding and destruction. It may be mentioned here that Delhi is a major city standing in the path of the river in the downstream area.

g)      The religious and spiritual importance of the Yamuna River is at risk since whatever remains of the river will be completely destroyed both in the upstream and downstream of the project.

h)      No agreement exists among the Upper Yamuna basin states about sharing of costs and benefits of the project, which should be a pre-condition for taking up any such project.

i)        It is well known that Yamuna River is already one of the most threatened rivers in the country and the project shall further adversely affect the river system.

Recently as well as earlier last year thousands of people from Allahabad/ Vrindavan marched to Delhi, seeking a revival of their river Yamuna. The focus of the authorities should be on ways and means to restore the river Yamuna system rather than take such massive project without even basic appraisal.

We thus urge the official agencies at both the state and at the centre level to not go ahead with this project. We urge them to rather take steps to protect and preserve than destroy one of the biggest and culturally important river, without even basic appraisal at project or basin level or any options assessment carried out in a due participatory manner.

We hope that the government will not go ahead with this project until all the issues mentioned have been satisfactorily resolved.

Endorsed by:

Ramaswamy Iyer, Former Union Water Resources Secretary, Delhi,

E.A.S. Sarma, Former Union Power Secretary, Vishakhapattanam,

Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Badwani,

Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh, Pune,

Rajendra Singh, Tarun Bharat Sangh, Rajasthan,

Prof. MK Prasad, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, Cochin,

Bittu Sahgal,  Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Mumbai

Prashant Bhushan, Senior Supreme Court Lawyer, Delhi,

Vandana Shiva, Navdanya, Delhi,

10. Amit Bhaduri, Prof. Emeritus, JNU, Delhi,

Ravi Agarwal, Toxics Link, New Delhi,

Madhu Bhaduri, Former Indian Ambassador & member Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi,

Prof S. Janakarajan, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai,

Dr Dinesh Mishra, Barh Mukti Abhiyan, Bihar,

Sharad Lele, Centre for Environment and Development, Bangalore,

S. Faizi CBD Alliance, Kerala,

Rohit Prajapati, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat,

Bharat Jhunjhunwala, Former Professor-IIM Bengaluru, Uttarakhand,

Vimalbhai, Matu Jansangthan, Uttarakhand,

20. E Theophilus, Malika Virdi, Himal Prakriti, Uttarakhand,

Ramnarayan K,  Save the Rivers Campaign Uttarakhand,

Kalyani Menon-Sen, Feminist Learning Partnerships, Gurgaon,

Dr RK Ranjan, Citizens Concern for Dams and Development, Manipur
Jiten Yumnam, Committee on Natural Resources Protection in Manipur,

Renuka Huidrom, Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur,

Shweta Narayan, The Other Media, Chennai,

Wilfred Dcosta, Indian Social Action Forum – INSAF, New Delhi

Nidhi Agarwal, Activist, Community rights on environment, Delhi,

Rahul Banerjee, Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, Indore,
30. Subhadra Khaperde, Kansari Nu Vadavno, Khargone,
Shankar Tadwal, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, Alirajpur,

Michael Mazgaonkar, Gujarat,

Ranjan Panda, Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha,

M Gopakumar, Bangalore,

Janak Daftari, Jal Biradari, Mithi Nadi Sansad, Mumbai,

Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Ahdyayan Kendra, Pune,

Prof Rohan D’Souza, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi,

Dr Brij Gopal, Jaipur,

Alok Agarwal, Narmada Bachao Andolan & Jan Sangharsh Morch, Madhya Pradesh,

40. Debi Goenka, Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai,

Shardul Bajikar, Editor – Natural History, Saveus Wildlife India, Mumbai

Sankar Ray, Kolkata,

Samir Mehta, International Rivers, Mumbai,

V Rukmini Rao, Gramya Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad,

Dr. Latha Anantha, River Research Centre, Kerala,

Mrs Anjali Damania, Aam Admi Party, Mumbai,

Manshi Asher, Him Dhara, Himachal Pradesh,

Commodore (rtd) Lokesh Batra, Social and RTI activist, NOIDA,

Arun Tiwari, Water activist, Delhi,

50. Ananda Banerjee, Writer and member, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi,

Sudha Mohan, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi,

Dr Sitaram Taigor, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Madhya Pradesh,

Bhim S Rawat, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi,

Prasad Chacko, Social activist, Ahmedabad,

Swathi Seshadri, EQUATIONS, Bangalore,

Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, Pune,,

Manoj Mishra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi (09910153601,

58. Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, 86-D, AD block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi (09968242798,



1. No Options Assessment There has been no assessment to show that this project is the best option available for the services that it is supposed to provide, including water supply to Delhi, irrigation in Uttarakhand, hydropower generation and water storage. It was not done during the process preceding the now out-dated environmental clearance given in 1986, nor has it been done subsequently.

It is well known that Delhi has much cheaper, environment friendly and local options that has not been explored with any sense of seriousness. These include reduction in transmission & distribution losses (which stand at 35%), rainwater harvesting (as National Green Tribunal order in April 2013 exposed, even the Delhi Metro is not doing this) including groundwater recharge, demand side management, stopping non essential water use, protection of local water bodies, protection of flood plains, streams and the ridge, recycle and reuse of treated sewage, among others.

As far as irrigation in Uttarakhand is concerned, in this relatively high rainfall area, and considering the local agro-geo-climatic situation and suitable cropping patterns, better options exist. Similarly about other claimed services.

It may be added here that the EIA manual of Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, the National Water Policy and best practices around the world including the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams, require such an options assessment study, including no project scenario, before embarking on such costly and risky projects.

2. No Basin wide cumulative impact assessment or basin study: Yamuna River is already in very bad situation in many senses, including being very polluted for lack of surface water flow. The river basin also has large number of projects existing and under construction, See:, for details. Particularly, see the concentration of projects in narrow upper Yamuna Basin. However, there has been no basin wide cumulative impact assessment of projects and water use in the basin in the context of its carrying capacity on various aspects. Without such an assessment, adding more projects may not only be unsustainable, it may actually be worse than zero sum game, since the new projects will have large number of adverse impacts. That we may have already crossed the basin carrying capacity upstream of Delhi seems evident from the worsening state of Yamuna over the past decades in spite of investment of thousands of crores rupees. Adding this project with its massive impacts without such an assessment may actually be an invitation to disaster.

We learn that a Yamuna basin study has been assigned to the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education (Dehradun). However, it should be noted that in the first place, ICFRE has had poor track record. Its EIA study for the Renuka dam in the same Yamuna basin was so poor that it was based on the poor quality of the study that the National Green Tribunal stayed the work on the project for over a year now.

3. No valid environment clearance, no valid EIA-EMP or Public consultation process

The Composite Lakhwar Vyasi project got environment clearance 27 years back in 1986 without any comprehensive environment impact assessment (EIA) or preparation of environment management plan (EMP) or any participatory process. Some preliminary work started, continued only till 1992 and stopped thereafter for lack of funds.

a) In Sept 2007, the 120 MW Vyasi HEP, part of the original composite project, sought and got environment clearance although the minutes of the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF notes a number of unresolved issues. In Nov 2010 EAC meeting, the EAC considered the Lakhwar Dam for Env clearance, and raised a number of questions, none of them were ever resolved. The EAC did not consider the project in any meeting after Nov 2010.

This sequence of events makes it clear that Lakhwar Dam does not have valid environment clearance. The MoEF and project proponent assumption that the Environment Clearance (EC) of 1986 is valid is not correct, since if that EC was not valid for the Vyasi HEP which has sought and received fresh EC in Sept 2007, then how  could Lakhwar HEP Dam of which Vyasi HEP is a part, continue to possess a valid EC.

Thus to give investment clearance to Lakhwar dam without valid EC will be imprudent, and might invite long drawn legal challenge to the project, resulting in more delays and in turn unnecessary cost escalations.

b) The project also does not have valid EIA-EMP. What ever assessments were done before the 1986 EC cannot be considered adequate or valid today. The environment standards and also environment situation has hugely changed in the intervening 27 years.

The project did not have any public consultation process in 1986 or anytime there after. Fresh EC will require that and the project must go through that process.

4. Issues raised by EAC remain unresolved: When the 43rd meeting of EAC considered the project for EC on Nov 12-13, 2010, the minutes of the meeting raised a large number of questions, all of them remain unresolved. These issues are fundamental in nature. Without resolving these issues, the project should not go ahead.

Just to illustrate, EAC raised questions about the need and usefulness of various project components. It is clear from the EAC minutes that the project also involves construction of Katapathar barrage downstream from Vyasi Power House at Hatiari. However, just about 10 km downstream from this barrage there is an existing barrage at Dak Pathar.  It is not clear why this Katapathar barrage is required, the EAC asked. None of these issues have been resolved.

5. Project does not have valid forest clearance: The composite Lakhwar Vyasi project requires a very large area of forest land, at 868.08 ha, the diversion was originally permitted for the UP irrigation Dept, which was then transferred to Uttaranchal Irrigation Dept upon creation of the separate Uttaranchal State. However, the project has now been transferred to Uttaranchal Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited. The Vyasi Project was earlier transferred to NHPC and now stands transferred to UJVNL.

In Aug 2012 FAC (Forest Advisory Committee is a statutory body under the Forest Conservation Act 1980) meeting, there was a proposal put forward to transfer the clearance for 99.93 ha (out of total forest land of Rs 868.08 ha for composite project) forest land required only for the Vyasi Project to UJVNL from Uttaranchal Irrigation Dept. While discussing this proposal, FAC noted that the Vyasi project was earlier transferred NHPC, without getting the forest clearance transferred in favour of NHPC. In fact FAC has recommended, “State Govt shall examine the reasons for not obtaining prior approval of the Central Govt under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for change of user agency from irrigation dept to NHPC and fix responsibility”. Secondly what is apparent from the minutes of the Aug 2012 FAC meeting is that even the Catchment Area Treatment Plan for the Vyasi project has not yet been prepared. This shocking state of lack of preparation of basic management plan is the consequence of allowing the project based on outdated clearances. The FAC has now asked the user agency to fulfil all such requirements, before which the project will not be given stage II forest clearance. So the Vyasi Project also so far does not have stage II forest clearance.

Most importantly, the transfer of forest clearance for the remaining 768.15 ha of forest land required for the Lakhwar project from Uttarakhnd irrigation dept to the current project agency UJVNL has not been even sought. So the Lakhwar project does not have valid forest clearance even for first stage, and surely no stage II forest clearance. Under the circumstances, the project does not have legal sanction.

6. Inadeaquate spillway capacity The project spillway capacity is proposed to be of 8000 cumecs, as per official website, see: However, as per the latest estimates, the location is likely to experience probable Maximum Flood of 18000 cumecs. This is as per a paper titled “The probable maximum flood at the Ukai and Lakhwar dam sites in India” by P R Rakhecha and C Clark, presented in the year 2000 at an international Symposium. Dr Rakhecha later joined Govt of India’s Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune. The paper concludes: “For the Lakhwar dam site there would be significant flow over the dam crest after 12 h from the start of the storm hydrograph and this would be maintained for over 18 h. The maximum depth of flow over the crest would be 4 m which is large enough to cause major if not catastrophic damage to the dam structure.”

Thus the spillway capacity of the project needs to be reviewed and it would not be prudent to go ahead without the same as the new PMF could cause major damage to the dam, the paper says. Any damage to this massive structure will have far reaching consequences all along the downstream area, right upto Delhi and downstream.

In fact even for the Vyasi HEP, while discussing the project in the EAC meeting of Aug 16, 2007, the minutes notes that the clarification sought by EAC on Dam Break Analysis for the project is incomplete, inadequate and far from satisfactory and the EAC desired further concurrence of Central Water Commission. In fact, EAC should not have recommended EC to the Vyasi Project with a flawed study. For the bigger Lakhwar project, there has not even been any such appraisal.

7. No agreement among Upper Yamuna basin states, Unresolved disputes The Lakhwar storage project is part of the Upper Yamuna basin. An interstate agreement was arrived at in 1994 for sharing of water in the Upper Yamuna basin among the basin states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh (now also Uttarakhand), Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan. Each project under the agreement required separate agreements. However, there has been no agreement on sharing the costs and benefits of the individual projects under the agreement.

On Renuka project also in the same Upper Yamuna basin, there was an agreement that was arrived at in 1994, but the Ministry of Law has said that the agreement is no longer valid. For several years now the Upper Yamuna River Basin Board has been holding meetings, but has failed to arrive at any agreement for sharing the costs and benefits of Renuka dam. For Lakhwar dam there has been not been any serious attempt in that direction. The current project proposal envisages to provide 50% of water (about 165 MCM) to Delhi and 50% to Uttarakhand for irrigation (see: dated June 22, 2012 includes statement from project proponent UJVNL (Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd) Chairman). However, this proposal completely ignores the claims of share from the project by Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. To go ahead with the project without an inter state agreement on sharing costs and benefits would surely not be prudent.

8. Inadequate cost estimates As per estimate as on March 1996 the cost of the project is Rs 1446 crore out of which Rs 227 crore have been spent (see: official website Note that this cost was for the composite project, including Vyasi HEP. As per UJVNL official webstie, the cost of Lakhwar Project alone is Rs 4620.48 crore on Feb 2010. The same site gives the cost of Vyasi HEP at Rs 1010.89 crores, so the cost of combined project at Feb 2010 PL is Rs 5631.37 crores. The cost has thus seen 300% escalation in 14 years between 1996 and 2010. This is a very costly project and the cost is likely to be even higher at current prices. In any case, the estimate should be for current price level and the cost benefit calculations should also be for the latest date.

9. Seismically active area, erosion prone landscape: The project area is seismically active, flash flood, land slides, cloud bursts and erosion prone. In the context of changing climate, all these factors are likely to be further accentuated. When the project was first proposed in mid 1980s, none of these issues as also the issues of biodiversity conservation, need to conserve forests for local adaptation, forest rights compliance, environment flows etc were seen as relevant or important. However, all of these issues are important today. The project clearly needs to be reappraised keeping all these issues in mind.