Fish Sanctuaries · Maharashtra · Western Ghats

White Elephant, Black Fish

How a 15 MW project with 55 mts high dam threatens 5 villages and a fish sanctuary

After an analysis of a particularly nasty dam, I felt like going back to flowing rivers. It is monsoon after all. The plan was to visit Kal River in Western Ghats of Raigad District in Maharashtra to understand how a community in a small village called Walen Kondh is protecting the river and Mahseer fish. Mahseer (Deccan Mahseer, Tor tor) is classified as endangered as per IUCN classification and most wild Deccan Mahseer populations have been wiped out in India. And hence a small, out of the way place, protecting these fish as well as the river voluntarily was like a breeze of fresh air. Continue reading “White Elephant, Black Fish”

Disasters · Western Ghats

Malin Landslide Tragedy underlines the vulnerability of Western Ghats

In the tragedy at a tiny village of Malin in Ambegaon, Maharashtra, as per reports till now, around 40 houses are under huge debris created by a landslide that occurred early in the morning on the 30th July 2014. The death toll till now is reported to be 44 with 150-300 missing as per different estimates. Unfortunately, the chances of survival of the missing are dim as per the Chief of Rescue operations.

Destruction at Malin Photo by Atul Kumar Kale Local activist
Destruction at Malin Photo by Atul Kumar Kale Local activist
Photo by Atul Kumar Kale
Photo by Atul Kumar Kale

Let us look at some key factors at play here:

VERY HEAVY RAINFALL: This region is nestled in the Northern Western Ghats which receives heavy rainfall in the monsoons. The region was receiving particularly very heavy rainfall in the week between 25th to 31st July. SANDRP had posted an alert on this on SANDRP Facebook page ( on the night of 29th July.

Cumulative rainfall in the week as recorded by NASA’s (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration of US) TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, see: was more than 600 mm, most of it between 29th-30th July. In fact on the 29th July, the region including Malin was shown purple in 24 hr rainfall map, which signifies the highest range of rainfall, exceeding 175 mm.

The region is still experiencing heavy to very heavy rainfall as we write this on Aug 1, 2014.



Malin receives very heavy rainfall on the 29th July, 9 pm by NASA TRMM
Malin receives very heavy rainfall on the 29th July, 9 pm by NASA TRMM
Malin receiving high rainfall on the 30th July 2014, 9 pm IST NASA TRMM
Malin receiving high rainfall on the 30th July 2014, 9 pm IST NASA TRMM

It was surprising to read report from Down to Earth about “mere 4 mm rainfall in 24 hours” before the landslide, which is clearly not the case.

With changing climate, frequency of such high intensity rainfall events is predicted to increase, making these areas even more vulnerable to disasters like landslides.

Landslide Warning

Following the very heavy rainfall in the regions around Northern Western Ghats, extending till Gujarat, NASA’s TRMM had also highlighted this region to be strongly landslide prone on the 30thof July.

See NASA TRMM Landslide Prone Area Map on the 30th July 2014 below which highlights Bhimashankar and Malin region:

NASA Landslide potential Map, 6 pm IST on July 30, 2014
NASA Landslide potential Map, 6 pm IST on July 30, 2014

The dam connection:

The Malin village is approximately 1.5 kms from backwaters of the Dimbhe Dam, which is an irrigation project involving a big dam completed in 2000. On the 31st July, the dam held 44% of its live storage, that is about 156 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) of water. The link between water level fluctuations in dams and landslides in the rim of the reservoir and backwaters is well documented. Some geologists have also recorded increased landslides activity in areas surrounding Dimbhe Dam in the past. ( Even if the dam was not overflowing when the tragedy occurred, it is well known that the dams can induce such landslides around the rim in view of standing water with fluctuating levels, change in drainage pattern and underground water flow pattern.

Google map showing Dimbhe Dam and location of Malin village close to the backwaters
Google map showing Dimbhe Dam and location of Malin village close to the backwaters

Key salient features of Dimbhe dam: Ht: 67.21 m; Lengh: 852 m;  Live Storage Capacity: 354 MCM (; Reservoir Area: 1754.7 ha.

The role played by the dam and its operations on the geology of the region and its possible connection with the landslide needs to be investigated in depth.

Landslides are not entirely new for the region

The region has seen some landslides in the past (e.g. in 2006-7) according to Saili Palande Datar, an ecologist and historian with Kalpavriksh. According to Anand Kapoor of NGO Shashwat active for decades in the region, a landslide had occurred earlier than that, where some cattle were buried and people had to be rescued. In a massive landslide on July 23, 1989, in village Bhaja in Mawal about 60 km from Pune, 39 people were killed.

In the Western Ghats of Pune as well as Maharashtra, a number of landslide-related tragedies have happened. According to a resident of village Tikona Peth in the catchment of Pavana Dam in Mawal tehsil of Pune, a landslide took place in in her village July, 1994 after heavy rains. There were no casualties, four houses were demolished by huge rocks. In August 2004, one person died due to landslide in Male, near Pune, in 2004 again, a worker died due to landslide in work related to a tunnel for a lift irrigation scheme, in June 2005, 4 workers died due to landslide at a tunnel of Ghatghar hydroelectric project.

Role of large scale land modifications in the region

Indeed according to a landslide map developed by Dr. David Petley, International Expert on Hazards and Risks in the Department of Geography at Durham University, the entire region of Western ghats has experienced landslides.

Dr. Petley has also written about the Malin Landslide here:

Dr. Petley told SANDRP, “Large scale land use modification and deforestation is the issue here”. He further said: “I would hypothesise here that the very heavy rainfall was the trigger, thick weathered soil, the shape of the slope and poor management of development and of water. A proper investigation should be able to ascertain whether this is right, but such large-scale modification of the landscape should be resisted.”

11_08 2011 map
From Dr. David Petley: Landslide events where fatalities have occurred. We can see that Northern Western Ghats also features regularly in the map.

Landscape modifications around Bhimashankar

Bhimashankar region, the origin of river Bhima which is an important tributary of Krishna, is a high rainfall region with spectacular biodiversity. It is also home to Maharashtra’s state animal Malabar Giant Squirrel. The region is home to a vibrant tribal community which has seen several assaults on its way of life through the formation of the sanctuary, displacement caused by Dimbhe & other Dams, recent windmill projects, etc.,

In the recent years, some of the major landscape changes occurring in this region are through mechanised terracing of slopes for cultivation as well as developments related to windmill projects on mountain tops, which entail deforestation as well as road cutting on steep slopes. Although there are no windmill farms in Malin, such farms exist in the neighbouring Khed tehsil. Plans for such farms in Ambegaon are in the pipeline.

It needs to be understood that terracing for cultivation has been a traditional occupation of the tribals in this region, as in most of the Western Ghats. Not only is it an important livelihood support factor, but it has been limited by its scale, location and implementation due to its inherent manual nature. According to Anand Kapoor of Shashwat, tribals themselves do not prefer terraces made by JCBs and other machines as these are not entirely suitable for cultivation.

However, it is also a fact that now some government departments are using heavy machinery like JCBs in their bid to push terracing program. Unscientific mechanized terracing, which comes together with muck dumping, slope instability, affected drainage etc., can play a huge role in magnifying the impacts on a naturally vulnerable, high rainfall region.

In fact, a preliminary report by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has singled out land flattening and terracing by heavy machinery as one of the primary causes for the tragedy. As per the preliminary report, a team of GSI experts noticed cracks where heavy soil erosion had occurred. The Deputy Director General of GSI has said that these cracks are a result of improper drainage system of rainwater. The flattening of land would have affected the water drainage resulting in the cracks. He says: “The slope of the hill was flattened almost halfway for agricultural purpose to such an extent that the hilltop had become unstable. The experts have also reported excessive deforestation disrupting the ecology of the hill. Added to this was the damage caused by use of heavy machinery over two years.” The Director General and Deputy Director General will be visiting the site on the 2nd and 3rd August for further analysis.

An independent credible review of the way the land levelling activities are going on under government policies and programs should be immediately instituted and till its report is available, use of heavy machines like JCB may be minimised.

Management of the region according to Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) Report and High Level Working Group Report (HLWG)

Both reports place Malin in Ecologically Sensitive Zone I and Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) respectively.

An ESZ I tag by the WGEEP report regulates a number of activities in the region, with participation of local communities. The report has specifically mentioned threat of landslides in this region.

While noting the impacts of windmills in the region surrounding Malin, WGEEP notes: “Apart from substantial forest destruction (including Forest Department estimates of about 28,000 trees being cut) via wide roads cutting huge swathes through Reserve Forest, the wind mill project has triggered large scale erosion and landslides through poor construction of roads with steep gradients, and all this rubble is ending up on fertile farmland and in reservoirs of tributaries of the Krishna.

The Forest Department is colluding with wind mill project operators in also illegally denying citizens access to these hills. Boards and check-posts have been put up by the company, falsely claiming to be authorized by the Forest Department. There are many traditional forest dwellers on these hills. Not only are their rights under the Forest Rights Act not being recognized, they are being illegally restrained in their movements on hills they have inhabited for centuries.”

If the WGEEP was accepted by the MoEF and state governments, this would have led to a more people-centred and ecologically-sound management of the Western Ghats region, but Maharashtra has been vehemently opposing WGEEP on the most unjustified grounds and the MoEF too has been busy downplaying the WGEEP.

While HLWG did include Malin village in its list of Ecologically sensitive Areas, however, this ESA tag did not mean much for the region it only regulates mining and red category industries. Most of the development activities that might threaten the region are not regulated by the HLWG. More importantly, HLWG has no role for the local communities in democratic decision making. There is also no mention of this region being landslide-prone in the HLWG, whereas the WGEEP specifically highlights this issue.

It is clear that HLWG is not much help for the region in avoiding tragedies like the Malin tragedy, but WGEEP report certainly would have helped.

Way forward

Northern Western Ghats which are characterized by heavy rainfall, rich biodiversity and predominant tribal population need more sensitive management approach than what it is subjected to right now. Although WGEEP had paved way for a more democratic, equitable and people-centred management of the region, the report was hidden, downplayed and finally rejected by the state as well as the central government. Episodes like Malin highlight the vulnerability and complex inter-linkages that affect the region which require a long term planning vision, integrating a number of components.

Despite this, several ill-conceived projects like townships, windmill farms, large dams and river linking projects like Damanganga-Pinjal and Paar Tapi Narmada are proposed in the region. Close to Bhimashankar region, Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) as well as the Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation are pushing more than 12 large dams. Some of these dams entail huge tunnels under the mountain ranges of Western Ghats. Despite the several risks and impacts, many of these massive dams may also escape scientific Impact Assessments or public hearings. These projects needs to be opposed and urgently dropped as there is little justification of the projects in view of huge number of options available in the cities for which these dams are proposed.

Similarly, Maharashtra Government has plans to build three huge hydropower dams in the Velhe and Mulshi region, which also falls in the Pune District. Velhe region has already seen slope instability and also falls in Seismic zone IV, making any such development highly risky there.

Let us hope that the heart-breaking tragedy at Malin is a wake-up call for all of us, paving way towards more sensitive,responsive, democratic and sustainable management of the Western Ghats. As a first step, the state and central government need to accept and implement the recommendations of the WGEEP immediately in Malin and for the entire Western Ghats.

-Parineeta Dandekar (

Western Ghats again highlisgted in Nasa Landslide potential Map for 9 pm ist 310714
Western Ghats again highlighted in Nasa Landslide potential Map for 9 pm IST 310714

End Notes and Further Reading on Developmental Pressures on Western Ghats, specifically related to water:

1. “Damning the Western Ghats”, presentation by SANDRP:

2. Interbasin Transfers in Western Ghats of Maharashtra:

3. How much does the Kasturirangan Committee report understand about water issues in Western Ghats?

4. Living Rivers and Dying Rivers of Western Ghats, by SANDRP

5. Video on Living Rivers and Dying Rivers of Western Ghats, SANDRP

6. SANDRP’s report on Dams in Western Ghats for Mumbai:

7. Water Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate, SANDRP:

Dams · Kerala

Public Pressure Leads to Changes in Kerala Dam Operation

Kerala Govt Agrees to Change Operation of Chalakudy River Hydropower Project:

Public Pressure Leads to Changes in Dam Operation

The decision to increase off-peak generation at Poringalkuthu Left Bank Hydro Electric Project (PLB HEP) in Chalakudy River, taken at a meeting convened by the Hon Chief Minister of Kerala in the fourth week of April (PRD – Thrissur, 25-04-13) was a partial success to the sustained campaign for dams re-operation at Chalakudy river. The meeting was attended by the Ministers for water resource and power, River Basin MLAs and officials of state electricity board and irrigation department. The decision however falls short of the demand for reverting the operation of PLB HEP into base load.

Chalakudy River Basin Physical Map
Chalakudy River Basin Physical Map

Normaly the summer water availability in the river below Poringalkuthu HEP should be between 1.3 – 1.5 MCM / day. The failure of both monsoons in 2012 and violation of Kerala-Tamil Nadu interstate Parambikulam – Aliyar agreement (1970) condition that the Kerala Sholayar reservoir shall be kept at full reservoir level by Tamil Nadu on the 1st of February every year (Sch. II.3 – PAP Capture 1Agreement), reduced the water availability in 2013 summer to less than 1 MCM per day resulting in severe water stress in the river basin. On top of the water shortage, intra-day as well as inter-day flow fluctuations in tail-race discharge from PLB HEP had worsened the situation. Anticipating water shortage the river basin MLAs as well as Local Self Government (LSG) heads had been demanding action from the State Government since December 2012.

Background: The river – dams and flow regime Chalakudypuzha (ChalakudyRiver), the fifth largest river in Kerala with a length of 144 kms and catchment area of 1704 Sq.kms is one of the heavily utilised rivers in the state. Major tributaries of this west flowing river originate from the Anamalai hills, Parambikulam Plateau and Nelliyampathy hills of Southern Western Ghats. The river/ its tributaries have been dammed at six places. The dams and diversions have completely altered the natural hydrological regime in the river. The river is the life line of about 30 Local Self Governments (LSGs) and about ten lakh people. Apart from the dams and diversion structures, numerous drinking water schemes and lift irrigation schemes are also dependent on the river. The table below provides details of existing major projects on the river.

Existing dams/ diversions in Chalakudypuzha

Sl. No. Project Commissioning Year Purpose Storage MCM Developer
1 Poringalkuthu LB HEP 1957 Hydro Power 32 Kerala SEB
2 Thunakadavu (PAP)* 1965 Diversion 15.77 Tamilnadu
3 Kerala Sholayar (PAP) 1966 Hydro Power 153.49 Kerala SEB
4 Parambikulam (PAP) 1967 Diversion 504.66 Tamilnadu
5 Peruarippallam (PAP) 1971 Diversion 17.56 Tamilnadu
6 TN Sholayar (PAP) 1971 Hydropower + diversion 152.7 Tamilnadu
7 ChalakudyRiver Diversion Scheme 1959 ** Irrigation 0,218 Kerala-Irri Dept
8 Idamalayar Augmentation Scheme 1990s Diversion NA Kerala SEB

*PAP- Parambikulam Aliyar Project    **Partially operational since 1952

Almost 75 percent of the catchments of the ChalakudyRiver were forested at the turn of 20th century. Hence the river had a fairly Capture 2healthy flow even during summer months. However, at present, the natural summer flow in the river has reduced drastically due to forest degradation and dams and diversions. Consequently, the present river flow in non-monsoon months is almost entirely dependent on the storage at Kerala Sholayar and Poringalkuthu reservoirs. The downstream major irrigation project, the Chalakudy River Diversion Scheme (CRDS) does not have storage of its own. It is completely dependent on the tailrace discharge from the PLB – HEP. Over the last two decades, the daily flow fluctuation due to the semi-peaking operation of the PLB-HEP is affecting the functioning of CRDS. Incidentally, the campaign against the proposed Athirappilly hydroelectric project (AHEP) had first brought this issue into focus. One of the major issues with regards to AHEP, a peaking power station, was the downstream impacts of drastic intra-day flow fluctuation (to the tune of 1:17).

Incidentally, Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel had recommended not to give clearance to the project after conducting field visits and detailed and transparent consultations. However, the High Level Working Group formed to look into the WGEEP report acted in a non-transparent manner. They conducted a field visit with the project proponent (The Kerala State Electricity Board – KSEB), without informing the public, press or the Grama Panchayath and not providing opportunity for the organisations opposing the project to present their case before the committee. The HLWG recommended that the project proponent can approach the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) for fresh clearance, if it so desired, after some studies despite identifying the project location as ecologically sensitive area.

Analysis of hydrological data for AHEP as well as debates on the issue revealed the existing flow fluctuations due to changed operation pattern of PLB HEP since early 1990s. As the capacity of the PLB HEP was enhanced from 32 MW (8 MW X 4) to 48 MW with the commissioning of a 16 MW generator in 1999, the peak generation and the resultant flow fluctuation increased. The field assessment in the CRDS command area had confirmed the impacts due to the flow fluctuations.

As part of an action research done by the Kerala State Centre of Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, an attempt was made to find possible solutions to the conflict of interest between power generation and downstream needs. The conflict between CRDS and other downstream uses due to total diversion of water at its head works at Thumboormuzhi was also taken up. An alternate reservoir operations management (ROM) strategy that aims at sustainable and equitable sharing of available water resources was prepared as part of the study. Capture 3

ROM strategy for Chalakudy River The ROM strategy tried to synchronise the operations of Kerala Sholayar and PLB HEPs with the downstream requirements. Secondary data regarding the river flow, rainfall etc. was collected from concerned agencies like KSEB, Water Resources Department etc. Issues with respect to the present flow regime were assessed through field surveys and stakeholder consultations.  After analysing the available data and assessing downstream irrigation needs through people’s perception and based on the suggestions/ comments by the experts, the draft reservoir operations strategy was prepared. ROM strategy is attempted for water available to the basin after diversions to Tamil Nadu and Idamalayar with focus for non-monsoon months.

In the proposed ROM strategy, the summer water availability for the downstream needs is suggested to be increased through modifications in the operation pattern of Kerala Sholayar and Poringalkuthu HEPs. At Kerala Sholayar, the total utilisable quantity of water is fixed as per the PAP agreement. The monsoon discharge is proposed to be reduced by about 15 % of the average flow (data period – 1979 to 2006) so that the non-monsoon water availability can be enhanced. At Poringalkuthu, the ROM strategy proposes that the water level in the reservoir shall be kept at close to the full reservoir level up to the end of January. The change in the operation of the two HEPs is expected to ensure water availability of not less than 1.5 MCM/ day for the downstream uses. The ROM strategy proposes to operate the Poringalkuthu HEP, the lower dam, that discharges water into the main river as a base load station (as it was operated before 1990s) in non-monsoon months. This can ensure a steady discharge of over 17 m3/sec.

Peringal Dam Photo: CPSS
Peringal Dam
Photo: CPSS

At present the entire flow reaching Thumboormuzhi weir, the head works of CRDS is being diverted to the canals, except for some overflow during peak hours. This is affecting the downstream areas including the ecological functions of the river. The ROM strategy proposes a minimum flow of not less than 2 m3/sec to be released from Thumboormuzhi weir in to the river. This may be increased later after improvement in natural summer river flow through eco-regeneration of the upper catchments and by reducing the irrigation demand through adoption of ‘more crop per drop’ approach in the CRDS command.

The revised operation pattern is not expected to have significant impact on the power front. The non-monsoon power generation from the river basin is expected to slightly increase, whereas, the peak power generation will be reduced by 8 MW to 16 MW, which is about 0.25-0.5 % of the present summer peak demand of Kerala of about 3400 MW.

Building public awareness and public pressure The ROM strategy was widely discussed with the LSGs and other stakeholders. As the LSGs, farmers and Irrigation and Agriculture departments were active partners in the action research (2008 – 2012) they Capture 4readily accepted the proposed ROM strategy. Many LSGs demanded the state government to implement this, through resolutions. With the shortage in rainfall during 2012 monsoons, severe water stress was anticipated and a series of steps were taken to put pressure on the state government for dams re-operation so that the summer water shortage for downstream areas can be reduced.

  • A meeting of the LSG representatives organised by Chalakudy Puzha Samrakshana Samithi (CPSS) before the start of irrigation season discussed the anticipated scenario for the 2012-13 season and decided to step up campaign for changing the operation pattern at PLB HEP.
  • The project advisory committee meeting of CRDS, in December 2012 also took a similar decision.
  • In December 2012, five MLAs of the ChalakudyRiver basin, cutting across party lines, jointly demanded the Chief Minister to convene a meeting of the concerned ministers, MLAs, LSG heads and officials to discuss the issues with regards to the summer water availability in the river basin. This was the result of a series of interactions with these MLAs by the CPSS team.
  • In the second week of January 2013, 25 LSG heads gave a submission to the CM demanding action by the government to ensure water availability at Kerala Sholayar as per the PAP agreement and changing the Poringalkuthu HEP to base load station.
  • Even as no action was taken by the state government and the situation was becoming grim, the project advisory committee meeting of CRDS decided that a delegation must go to Thiruvananthapuram and meet the CM and other concerned ministers. A meeting of LSG heads organised jointly by CPSS and Chalakudy basin Block Panchayaths also decided to take necessary actions.
  • On March 19th 2013,   four MLAs and 10 LSG heads from ChalakudyRiver basin met the Chief Minister and Minister for Water Resources. Rajaneesh from CPSS was also part of the team. The people’s representatives wanted the Govt to take necessary steps to ensure better water availability for Chalakudy basin. The main points raised were regarding violation of Parambikulam – Aliyar Agreement condition and ensuring steady flow from Poringalkuthu HEP for the downstream needs. The CM agreed to convene a meeting of all concerned immediately. However, the meeting was delayed by more than one month and when the meeting finally took place, the LSG representatives were not invited for the same.
  • Meanwhile a detailed discussion was held with the KSEB Chairman in the first week of April 2013. The Chairman promised to look into the issue.
  • All along the campaign, the print as well as visual media reported these developments and published / telecast stories on the issue.

Partial re-operation The daily average generation at Poringalkuthu in January 2013 was 0.4481 MU (Million Units, as per Kerala State Load Despatch Centre website) and the corresponding discharge was about 1.2 MCM per day. Due to the non-compliance of PAP agreement condition, the combined storage at Kerala Sholayar and Poringalkuthu reservoirs on the 1st February was only around 115 MCM against an anticipated volume of 160 -170 MCM. Consequently, the generation was less in the following months. The average generation and discharge in February, March and April were 0.3457 MU / 0.93 MCM, 0.3237MU / 0.87 MCM and 0.3343 MU / 0.9 MCM respectively. The semi-peaking operation at PLB HEP continued resulting in intra-day fluctuations. The off-peak generation was mostly limited to 8 MW with a corresponding discharge of around 6.5 m3/sec, which is highly insufficient to meet the irrigation demand of the CRDS command. There were also instances of practically no generation during off-peak hours, especially during night times.

Upper Sholayar Dam Photo: CPSS
Upper Sholayar Dam
Photo: CPSS

Apart from the intra-day fluctuation the inter-day flow fluctuations was also a major cause of worry. The situation was particularly bad in the second half of March and first half of April. On 4 days between March 21st and April 10th, the generation was between 0.158 MU and 0.182 MU. The corresponding discharge was less than 0.5 MCM. On a few other days, the generation was between 0.2 -0.3 MU.

Since the decision of the meeting convened by the CM, the situation has slightly improved. The inter-day fluctuation was less since 25th of April with the discharge of 0.9 -1 MCM on most days. More importantly, the off-peak generation was at least 16 MW (except on a couple of days). The average discharge since the last week of April has also slightly increased in comparison to the previous months.

The change in operation pattern does not seem to have had any negative impact on power front. Initially the KSEB had increased off-peak generation without reducing peak generation. The generation figures as per the SLDC website shows the generation at PLB HEP on 25th, 26th and 27th April (after the decision at Ministry level meeting) as 0.425 MU, 0.402 MU and 0.412 MU respectively, corresponding to discharge of around 1.1 MCM. Later only one machine was available and the peak as well as total generation reduced.  The average generation during this period was around 0.35 MU corresponding to a discharge of about 0.95 MCM. The generation figure shows that the station was running continuously as a base load station (by default?) for two weeks. Even though the rate of discharge was less than the actual requirement, we have requested the irrigation officials to assess the effect of steady inflow at CRDS.

The decision for increasing off-peak generation is significant since it is acknowledgement by the government that the downstream requirement should be given priority over power generation. However, the long delay in taking such a decision even after the river basin MLAs and LSG heads unanimously demanded for the same cannot be justified. Also, the steps taken so far are not sufficient. The storage position as on 27-04-2013 at Kerala Sholayar and Poringalkuthu reservoirs (33.78 MCM and 9.23 MCM respectively) could have supported a daily discharge of upto 1.3 MCM till May 31st, especially since the catchments traditionally get good pre-monsoon rains and an inflow of 100 cusecs from Tamil Nadu Sholayar was anticipated, on the basis of inter-ministerial discussion on PAP agreement.

The campaign / advocacy for further changes in operation will have to be continued as the present decision is of a temporary nature. Until and unless the non-monsoon discharge from Poringalkuthu HEP is enhanced to around 17 m3/ sec, sufficient river discharge from CRDS head works is not likely to materialise. (The suggested discharge rate from Poringalkuthu HEP as per the ROM strategy, based on anticipated water availability, is 17.25 m3/ sec and the corresponding generation will be 24 MW.) The fact that the Chalakudy MLA protested against closing down all generators of old powerhouse together since May 7th shows that the people’s representatives are now more vigilant on the issue and this should help in stepping up the campaign. Moreover, a collective of Local Self Government heads is emerging for the cause of the river and this collective, if it becomes active, can really help take forward the efforts for the revival of ChalakudyRiver.

S P Ravi (

Cumulative Impact Assessment · Dams · Environment Impact Assessment · Hydropower · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Western Ghats

Comments on HLWG Report submitted to Ministry of Environment and Forests

This post is based on a submission made by SANDRP and our colleagues on the HLWG Report on Western Ghats. 20th May 2013 is the last date to submit comments on this. Comments need to be sent to: We request groups and individuals to make as many submissions as possible.

Comments on HLWG Report with a focus on Water issues

Date: May 20, 2013



Mrs. Jayanthi Natarajan

Union Minister of State (IC)

Ministry of Environment and Forests

Government of India



Dr. V Rajagopalan


Ministry of Environment and Forests

Government of India



Dr. Amit Love,

Deputy Director,

Ministry of Environment and Forests



Dear Mrs. Jayanthi Natarajan and Dr. Rajagopalan,


SUB: Comments on the High Level Working Group Report with respect to water sector

This is in response to announcement posted on MoEF website about submitting comments on the HLWG report under the Chairpersonship of Dr. Kasturirangan. These comments mainly deal with water in Western Ghats: One of the most critical issues for Western Ghats States.

A lady collecting drinking water from a sacred grove in Western Ghats Photo: SANDRP
A lady collecting drinking water from a sacred grove in Western Ghats Photo: SANDRP

Unfortunately, we have to note that recommendations of the HLWG Committee in response to WGEEP Report as well as some of HLWGs omissions and commissions are detrimental to the well-being of rivers, wetlands and dependent communities in the Western Ghats and hence, for related sectors like ecology, water supply, irrigation, hydropower, etc. This is elucidated in the following points:

  1. HLWG does not comment on any other issue related to water except hydropower:

While the Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamilnadu are facing multiple issues with respect to rivers, drinking water, irrigation, loss of biodiversity and livelihoods, dam-induced displacement, etc., the only issue HLWG report has commented upon is Hydropower. The WGEEP report has dealt with a number of issues related to the water sector from democratic community driven bottom up governance, watershed development, opposition to large dams in ESZ I and II, drinking water, fisheries, etc. However, the HLWG does not comment on any of these recommendations of the WGEEP, nor does it offer its own position on these. This is a serious lacuna in the HLWG Report.

In the absence of such recommendations, we request that MoEF adheres to WGEEP recommendations.

Fishing in Vashishthi Estuary, Western Ghats. Photo: SANDRP
Fishing in Vashishthi Estuary, Western Ghats. Photo: SANDRP
  1. HLWGs recommendations about Hydropower are ad hoc, unscientific and misleading
  1. HLWG claims that all Hydropower is “renewable and clean.”

This is a completely incorrect statement and it’s surprising to see that it comes from HLWG. The world over, the myth of Hydropower as clean source of energy has been busted.[1],[2] Hydropower projects have huge impacts on environment, ecology, forests, rivers, biodiversity and livelihood security of the people. Studies have proved that methane emissions from reservoirs formed by hydropower dams in tropical countries can have significant global warming potential, methane being about 21 times more potent global warming gas than CO2. Dams emit methane at every draw down.[3] With tropical forests in the Western Ghats (WG) under submergence and otherwise destruction by such projects, this threat is even more serious. Already WG has some of the biggest hydropower plants in the country including the Koyna, Bhandardara, Ghatghat HEPs and three Tata HEPs in Maharashtra, Linganmakki, Gerisouppa, Bhadra, Tungabhadra, Upper Tunga, Talakalale, Kabini, Harangi, Chakra, Supa, Varahi, HEPs in Karnataka, Idukki, ldamalayar, Lower Periyar, Poringalkuttu, Sholayar HEPs in Kerala and Bhavani HEPs in Tamil Nadu. All these projects have not only contributed to greenhouse gas emissions, but have also adversely affected communities, forests, rivers and ecosystems in Western Ghats. There are numerous pending cases of rehabilitation from these dams (for example Koyna in Maharashtra) till date involving tens of thousands of people and communities in many areas are still suffering from erratic water releases from these projects (downstream communities near Jog Falls d/s Linganmakki).

Hydropower dams in WG are in many cases transferring water across the basin for power generation, making it unavailable of the original basin and its inhabitants (For example:  Interbasin transfers from Koyna and Tata Hydropower dams in Maharashtra). Every hydropower project has finite life. Thus, for the basin dwellers and everyone else, Hydropower not much renewable either.

 HLWG is not justified in giving a ‘clean and renewable’ certificate to hydropower.

Jog Falls on Sharavathy: Dried and diverted by the Linganmakki HEP in Karnataka Western Ghats. Photo: SANDRP
Jog Falls on Sharavathy: Dried and diverted by the Linganmakki HEP in Karnataka Western Ghats. Photo: SANDRP


  1. HLWG allows Hydropower projects in ESAs while not looking at performance of existing projects

While the WGEEP did not allow large dams and hydropower projects in ESZ I and II, HLWG has allowed hydropower projects in its demarcated ESAs. This is unacceptable. Western Ghats are already ravaged by dams and at least the areas of high biodiversity value should now be protected from the same onslaught. But the HLWG has rejected WGEEP recommendations about this. While doing so, they have not looked at the performance of the existing HEPs in WG. SANDRP has been studying performance of HEPS in India for some time now based on generation data from Central Electricity Authority. The performance of existing hydropower plants in WG is dismal as can be seen below:

  • In Koyna Basin, the per MW generation in 2010-11 has dropped by a huge 56.79% from the highest per MW generation achieved in the year 1994-95.[4]
  • In Kali Nadi projects, the per MW generation has dropped by 46.65% from the highest per MW generation achieved in 1994-95[5]
  • In Sharavathi Basin projects, per MW generation in 2010-11 has dropped by 37.60% from the highest per MW generation achieved in the year 1994-95[6]
  • Same situation is true for most other hydropower projects.
  • Most of these projects are performing far below the level at which the projects were given techno-economic clearances.
  • There is no assessment as to how much of the generation from such hydropower projects is during peaking hours. Nor is there any attempt at optimising the peaking power from these projects.

It is clear that there is huge scope to make the existing projects more efficient, rather than destroying ESAs in WG with more projects.

We request that in line with WGEEP report, large dams should not be permitted in ESAs of Western Ghats.

  1. Recommendation about mitigating impacts of Hydropower are extremely weak
  • The HLWG has recommended 30 % of lean season flow as the minimum flow throughout the year as a conditionality for allowing hydro power projects in the ESA. This is contradictory to the recommendation for ecological flows by the HLWG.  Ecological flows means trying to mimic the natural flow regime in the river as far as possible and that would include arriving at different seasonal flows based on studies and consultation with the river communities and other stakeholders, using the Building Block Methodology which even the Inter Ministerial Group on Ganga Basin has said is the most appropriate for India. Moreover, the IMG has recommended 50% releases in lean season flows, applicable for all existing projects. MoEF should accept these norms immediately for all existing projects.

The MoEF should be recommending ecological flows / environmental flows as in the WGEEP report and not minimum environmental flows and this should be determined through holistic methodologies like Building Block Methodology and local participation.

  • The HLWG recommendation of 3 km minimum distance between dams is totally ad hoc, arbitrary and hence unacceptable. Firstly, the HLWG should have mentioned min 3 km of flowing river between projects. The minimum distance is river specific and would depend upon a basin level study of the river including the altitudinal profile of the river, the riparian forest status, the aquatic habitats and biodiversity, the present dependability and many such criteria. More significantly, the cascade hydropower dam menace which is destroying rives in Himalayas need not be replicated in western ghats. We would like to reiterate that no large dams should be allowed in the ESA of WG.

The MoEF should recommend for arriving at river specific studies while accepting 5 km of free flowing river between projects as minimum distance of free flowing river between projects. The best case is not to allow any further large dams in Western Ghats.


No flows in Sharavathy downstream Linganmakki  Dam and Jog Falls. Photo: SANDRP
No flows in Sharavathy downstream Linganmakki Dam and Jog Falls. Photo: SANDRP


  1. The HLWG does not stress the need for Environmental Clearance for Mini hydel Projects

Hydro projects less than 25 MW are currently exempt from Environmental Clearance due to a dangerous omission in the EIA Notification 2006. WG is currently facing a severe threat due to a flood of these unplanned cascades of Mini Hydel Projects. Ecosystems and communities in rivers like Netravathi, Kumaradhara, Krishna and Cauvery are facing impacts of these projects, many of which are fraudulent.[7] Netravathi has more than 44 mini hydel projects planned and under operation. Kerala has plans to set up  around 100 mini Hydel projects on its rivers. The threat of these projects on river systems in Western Ghats is so high that in March 2013, the Karnataka High Court, has banned any new mini hydel projects in Karnataka Western Ghats[8].

WGEEP had recommended no mini hydel projects in ESZ I and II. HLWG has not done this. While the HLWG makes a rather vague statementThere is a need to redesign and reevaluate small hydropower projects – below 25 mw as these often have limited impact on energy generation and can lead to huge impacts on ecology’, it has not recommended that these projects should need an EIA and EC process, like it has said for Wind Energy. This is a very serious omission. SANDRP and many organizations have written about this to the MoEF several times.

The MoEF should amend the EIA Notification 2006 and include all hydel projects above 1 MW in its purview.


Pristine Forests set for submergence under the 24 MW Kukke Mini hydel Plant in Dakshin Kannada, Karnataka. Photo: SANDRP
Pristine Forests set for submergence under the 24 MW Kukke Mini hydel Plant in Dakshin Kannada, Karnataka. Photo: SANDRP
  1. The HLWG does not stress the need of Environmental Clearance (EC) for Drinking Water and Industrial supply dams

HLWG has not looked at water as a sector, but has only confined itself to hydropower. This has resulted in several loopholes. Many dams are being constructed in Western Ghats for Drinking Water and Industrial water supply. These are also exempt from EC process as per the EIA Notification 2006. Dams like Kalu, Shai, Balganga, Khargihill, Pinjal, Gargai are set to submerge more than 6000 hectares of forest in ESAs and Protected Areas in Northern Western Ghats in Maharashtra.

WGEEP Report had recommended no large dams in ESZ I and II, but the HLWG does not talk about these dams at all. Their impacts on WG forests and communities are entirely ignored. This is another serious lapse of the HLWG report.

The MOEF should amend the EIA Notification 2006 to include all large dams, irrespective of the purpose, including drinking and industrial water supply dams in its purview. No large dams should be planned in ESA of Western Ghats.


Ravines of Vaitarna already submerged by the Middle Vaitarna Dam near Mumbai Photo: SANDRP
Ravines of Vaitarna already submerged by the Middle Vaitarna Dam near Mumbai Photo: SANDRP
  1. HLWG does not recommend eflows from existing projects

Several hundreds of Irrigation, water supply, hydropower dams have transformed the nature of rivers and dependent communities in Western Ghats. While the WGEEP Report mentioned maintaining eflows from existing projects, the HLWG does not make any recommendation for eflows from existing projects.

Hydropower projects in Karnataka like Kali, Linganmakki have affected communities and ecosystems in the region, have driven some species to extinction. There is an urgent need to restore eflows in all WG rivers.

The MoEF should recommend that eflows should be assessed with holistic and participatory methodology like BBM and recommend e-flows for all dammed rivers in Western Ghats with time limit of one year.

  1. HLWG does not apply its mind to dam decommissioning

The HLWG has chosen to ignore the recommendations on dam decommissioning. While the states have rejected the recommendation the MoP (Ministry of Power) and Central Electricity Authority has noted that dam decommissioning in a phased manner is worth considering.

There are several irrigation and hydropower dams in the Western Ghats which are severely underperforming or incomplete after two decades, or more than 100 years old, and/or unsafe. For example, several experts have opined than large irrigation projects in Konkan region of Maharashtra are severely underutilized. Tillari Interstate Project between Maharshatra and Goa which has come up affecting a wildlife corridor and which has still not rehabilitated its affected population, has a created irrigation potential of 7,295 hectares in Maharashtra of which farmers are utilizing just 162 hectares, according to the Govt Of Maharashtra’s 2012 White Paper on Irrigation Projects in Maharashtra. This underlines the redundancy of large irrigation projects in the WG.

The HLWG had an opportunity to relook at such projects, which it has not done. The HLWG could have noted that the state governments and the MoEF and MoP should start the process of evolving parameters / criteria towards the process of dam decommissioning.

The MoEF may please recommend the same.

Leaking Khadkhad dam Mahrashtra Western Ghats Photo: Pune Mirror
Leaking Khadkhad dam Mahrashtra Western Ghats Photo: Pune Mirror


  1. HLWG does not recommend free flowing rivers for WG

Rivers in Western Ghats are repositories of biological, ecological and cultural diversity. Rivers in WG harbor high endemism and diversity in freshwater fish. They also house several Sacred groves at river origins, river fish sanctuaries, etc., protecting rivers and fish. The freshwater biodiversity remains the most fragmented among all biodiversity and HLWG has taken no note of this state and further risks that freshwater biodiversity faces. The WGEEP had wisely followed a graded approach in tune with the ecological connectivity of river ecosystems. ln the HLWG approach, stretches of rivers would flow out of the natural landscape into the cultural landscape which is open to indiscriminate development and the chance for their restoration or protection would be completely lost out. A river cannot be protected in pieces like this.

Looking at the pressures from dams and water abstractions, there in an urgent need to conserve ecologically, culturally and socially important rivers in their free-flowing condition. This approach is well accepted globally and several countries have created specific legislations for protecting free flowing rivers[9]. It seems that the IMG Committee on Upper Ganga, in which Ms. Sunita Narain (Member of Kasturirangan Committee), was also a member has recommended that some six tributaries of Upper Ganga basin should be kept in pristine state. While rejecting WGEEPs recommendation about dam decommissioning or dam free rivers in the ESZs, HLWG has not recommended keeping even a single river in Western Ghats in its free flowing condition.

MoEF should identify ecologically, culturally and socially important rivers, based on community and ecological knowledge and conserve Heritage Rivers of Western Ghats in their free flowing condition for the current and future generations.


Seetha Nadi, free flowing river in Karnataka Western Ghats. Photo: SANDRP
Seetha Nadi, free flowing river in Karnataka Western Ghats. Photo: SANDRP
  1. HLWG allows Inter basin transfers in Western Ghats, without any justification or studies

The HLWG has agreed to inter basin transfers toeing the claims of some of the states. There are ample instances of failed interstate – inter basin transfers in the Western Ghats rivers which have turned into permanent scenes of conflicts like the famous Mullaperiyar,  Parambikulam Aliyar, Siruvani interstate inter basin transfers between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The HLWG while acknowledging the need for ‘ecological flows assessment’ in rivers has failed to note that in all these inter basin transfers, the river / tributary has been completely diverted and has lost its ‘ecological flows’. The HLWG could have recommended a cumulative impact assessment of the existing inter basin transfers which would reveal the ground reality.

HLWG seems to have accepted the contention of states like Maharashtra: “This (stopping IBT) would be a problem, they explained, as many regions of the Western Ghats lie in the rain shadow area and need water to be diverted for irrigation and drinking.”

Reality is that, ALL the interbasin transfers happening in Maharashtra currently (through Koyna and Tata Hydro power projects, an amount more than 4 Billion Cubic Meters Annually) are transferring water FROM the rain shadow area of Krishna and Bhima basins TO water surplus regions in Konkan. If HLWG was concerned about water supply for rain shadow regions, it would have at least recommended that this transfer from deficit area to high rainfall area be immediately reviewed and reversed in a time bound manner. It has chosen not to, showing its complete ignorance of ground reality or its completely pro government and pro vested interests bias.

The MoEF should retain the recommendation for no more inter basin transfers as in the WGEEP report and ask for immediate review of transfer of water from deficit basins to high rainfall areas. 


  1. HLWG allows hydro projects in first and second order streams

The HLWG has not said no to hydro power projects in first and second order streams in ESA. Meanwhile the MoP, CEA and WAPCOS all agree that hydro power projects should not be permitted in these highly ecologically sensitive areas which are the ‘origin’ of Western Ghats Rivers.

The MoEF should retain the recommendation for no run of the river schemes in first and second order streams as in the WGEEP report.

  1. HLWG offers no comments of on several water sector recommendations of WGEEP which have been supported by State Governments

Kerala and Maharashtra have accepted many of the recommendations of the WGEEP in water sector (page 14 section 2.3 – point 9) like catchment area treatment plan, protection of high altitude valley swamps, water conservation measures, rehabilitation of mined areas, improved river flows etc. It is surprising to note that the HLWG is silent on these very important measures and has not even endorsed these acceptable recommendations which can significantly contribute towards improving water availability in the Western Ghats.

The MoEF should follow these recommendations of the WGEEP.

  1. HLWG takes an extremely biased stand about Athirappilly and Gundia Hydropower projects, rejected by the WGEEP

The WGEEP had categorically stated that the Athirappilly and Gundia Hydropower project should not come up in Western Ghats, looking at their huge impacts on biodiversity, several studies by local organisations and local opposition. However, ignoring all these, the HLWG has taken a very pro project stand on these projects, stating that they can be considered with some vaguely due process, which the state government would be happy to show they have followed it on paper. This is entirely unacceptable.

The MoEF should not allow Athirappilly and Gundia HEPs looking their impact on ecology and communities and in face of the strong local opposition that they are facing.

Athirappilly Waterfalls on the Chalakudy River Photo; SANDRP

The WGEEP process and report initiated a robust discussion about the paradigm of development and conservation in Western Ghats. Water and Rivers is a cross cutting issue connecting ecosystems and communities, rural areas and urban centers, providing goods and services and supporting freshwater biodiversity, which is most threatened currently.

A proactive position on conserving rivers in Western Ghats will go a long way in protecting and conserving myriad livelihoods and ecosystems that thus depend of them.

We hope the MoEF considers the recommendations made above about the WGEEP and HLWG Reports and helps conserving rivers of the Western Ghats for people and ecosystems urgently. The HLWG Report cannot be accepted the way it stands presently. As a step in this direction, we also suggest that WGEEP should get a formal chance to respond to the points raised about it in the HLWG.

Thanking You,


Yours Sincerely,

Himanshu Thakkar, Parineeta Dandekar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, New Delhi and Pune ( ,

Dr. Latha Anantha, River Research Centre, Thrissur, Kerala (

Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune, Maharashtra (

Dr. T.V. Ramchandra, Energy & Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc, Bangalore (

Janak Daftari, jalbirdari, Mumbai, Maharashtra (

Sujit Patwardhan, Parisar, Pune, Maharashtra (

Dr. Nilesh Heda, Samvardhan, Vidarbha, Maharashtra (

Nisarg Prakash, Nature Conservation Foundation and Nityata Foundation, Bangalore, Karnataka (

Mrinalinee Vanarase, Iora Consultants, Pune, Maharashtra (

Shankar Pujari, President, Nivara Bandhkam Kamgar Sangh, Sangli, Maharashtra (

Damodar Pujari, SANDRP, Pune, Maharashtra (

Saili Palande-Datar, Kalpavriksha, Pune, Maharashtra

Following Members from Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Centre for ecological Science, Indian Institute of Sciences: 

  • Dr. M.D. Subash Chandran
  • Dr. Prakash Mesta
  • Dr. Uttam Kumar
  • G R Rao
  • Mahima Bhat
  • Vishnu Mukri
  • Sreekanth Naik
  • Balachandran C
  • Boominathan M
  • Bharath H Aithal
  • Bharath Settur
  • Vinay S
  • Ganesh Hegde
  • Anindita Dasgupta
  • Arun D T
  • Vishnu Bajpai
  • Gouri Kulkarni
  • Sudarshan Bhat
  • Durga Madhab Mahapatra
  • Ashwath Naik
  • Sowmya Rao
  • Shwetmala



Dams · Western Ghats

Prof. Madhav Gadgil writes to Dr. Kasturirangan

Open Letter sent by Prof. Madhav Gadgil to Dr. Kasturirangan on the High Level Working Group Report on WGEEP and Western Ghats. 


17 May 2013
Dear Dr. Kasturirangan,

JBS Haldane, the celebrated 19h century scientist and humanist who quit England protesting its imperialistic invasion of Suez to become an Indian citizen has said: Reality is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we CAN suppose! I could never have imagined that you would be party to a report such as that of the High Level Working Group on Western Ghats, but, then, reality is indeed stranger than we can suppose!

In our report to the Ministry of Environment & Forests, based on our extensive discussions and field visits, we had advocated agraded approach with a major role for grass-roots level inputs for safeguarding the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats. You have rejected this framework and in its place, you advocate a partitioning amongst roughly one-third of what you term natural landscapes, to be safeguarded by guns and guards, and two-third of so-called cultural landscapes, to be thrown open to development, such as what has spawned the 35,000 crore rupees illegal mining scam of Goa. This amounts to attempts to maintain oases of diversity in a desert of ecological devastation. Ecology teaches us that such fragmentation would lead, sooner, rather than later, to the desert overwhelming the oases. It is vital to think of maintenance of habitat continuity, and of an ecologically and socially friendly matrix to ensure long term conservation of biodiversity rich areas, and this is what we had proposed.

Moreover, freshwater biodiversity is far more threatened than forest biodiversity and lies largely in what you term cultural landscapes.  Freshwater biodiversity is also vital to livelihoods and nutrition of large sections of our people. That is why we had provided a detailed case study of Lote Chemical Industry complex in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, where pollution exceeding all legal limits has devastated fisheries so that 20,000 people have been rendered jobless, while only 11,000 have obtained industrial employment. Yet the Government wants to set up further polluting industries in the same area, and has therefore deliberately suppressed its own Zonal Atlas for Siting of Industries.

Your report shockingly dismisses our constitutionally guaranteed democratic devolution of decision making powers, remarking that local communities can have no role in economic decisions. Not surprisingly, your report completely glosses over the fact reported by us that while the Government takes absolutely no action against illegal pollution of Lote, it had invoked police powers to suppress perfectly legitimate and peaceful protests against pollution on as many as 180 out of 600 days in 2007-09.

India’s cultural landscape harbours many valuable elements of biodiversity. Fully 75% of the population of Lion-tailed Macaque, a monkey species confined to the Western Ghats, thrives in the cultural landscape of tea gardens. I live in the city of Pune and scattered in my locality are a large number of Banyan, Peepal and Gular trees; trees that belong to genus Ficus, celebrated in modern ecology as a keystone resource that sustains a wide variety of other species. Through the night I hear peacocks calling, and when I get up and go to the terrace I see them dancing. It is our people, rooted in India’s strong cultural traditions of respect for nature, who have venerated and protected the sacred groves, the Ficus trees, the monkeys and the peafowl.

Apparently all this is to be snuffed out. It reminds me of Francis Buchanan, an avowed agent of British imperialism, who wrote in 1801 that India’s sacred groves were merely a contrivance to prevent the East India Company from claiming its rightful property.

It would appear that we are now more British than the British and are asserting that a nature friendly approach in the cultural landscape is merely a contrivance to prevent the rich and powerful of the country and of the globalized world from taking over all lands and waters to exploit and pollute as they wish while pursuing lawless, jobless economic growth. It is astonishing that your report strongly endorses such an approach. Reality is indeed stranger than we can suppose!

With warm personal regards,

I remain,

Yours sincerely,


Forest Advisory Committee · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Western Ghats

How much does the Kasturirangan Committee understand about Water Issues in Western Ghats?

The Ministry of Environment and Forests constituted the Western Ghats Experts Ecology Panel (WGEEP) in March 2010 under the Chairmanship of Prof. Madhav Gadgil. The Panel submitted its report on 31st August 2011. Here on, the report was kept under wraps by the MoEF and only after strict orders from the CIC and High Court was it released to the public in May 2012.

On Aug 17, 2012, MoEF set up the High Level Working Group (HLWG) under the Chairmanship of Dr. K. Kasturirangan to study recommendations of this Report. Members of this Committee include Sunita Narain, Prof. C.R. Babu, J.M. Mauskar, Prof. Kanchan Chopra, Shri Darshan Shankar etc. The HLWG was to look into the recommendations of the WGEEP report and the comments from the various stakeholders. The very constitution of the HLWG raised suspicions that this has been formed to dilute the recommendations of the WGEEP. The functioning of the HLWG left a lot to be desired, it refused to give time to listen to the affected people at many places. On April 17, 2013, after a number of extensions, the HLWG submitted its report. 

It seems the HLWG Report (HLWGR) has worked hard to hugely dilute the WGEEP reccomendations. In many cases, HLWG report has made the recommendations of the WGEEP report ineffective. No wonder, Prof. Madhav Gadgil himself has said: “ The initial impression (about HLWG Report) is that there are differences of approach in protecting the ecology of the region. The WGEEP report talks about the facts and we have pointed out that misgovernance is a major issue affecting the ecology of the Western Ghats. This was totally neglected in the new report, which calls for more role for bureaucracy. Providing more power and money to bureaucracy is like giving it to ‘Dusshasana’, and it is a wrong approach” . (


Dilution of WGEEPs strong recommendations is highlighted in the case of 200 MW Gundia Hydel Project in Karnataka and 163 MW Athirappilly Hydel Project in Kerala. While WGEEP Report has categorically rejected these projects based on their severe impacts on ecology and communities, the HLWG has refrained from doing so. The HLWG Report has gone ahead to recommend a few largely irrelevant, measures, while actually giving OK to these projects. Whatever suggestions of review HLWGR has given, the governments would be happy to do the necessary paper work and show that they have done that. The authors of the HLWG report seemed happy to toe the lines that government wants, rather than do justice to the mandate given to them. This was unexpected as both the projects not only have severe impact on ecology, but are also facing stiff and sustained local opposition. The HLWG Report does not seem to give any value or try to understand the reasons behind these local protests.

HLWGR has certified that Athirappilly Project is required for Kerala for peaking power. This is very strange certificate. Do we have an assessment of how much of the power generation from Kerala Hydro projects (incidentally Kerala has one of the highest proportion of installed power capacity under hydro projects, compared to any other state) today is providing peaking power? None. Do we have any credible attempt at ensuring more optimum peaking power generation from existing hydro projects in Kerala? None. Do we have any credible attempt at demand side management in Kerala to manage the peak load requirements? None. Have the KSEB and Kerala government implemented the orders of the Kerala High Court while HC rejected the environmental clearance to the Athirappilly project? No. Then on what basis has the HLWGR certified that “the project’s importance for meeting the peaking power requirements of the State cannot be disputed”?

The other recommendations of the HLWGR about hydropower development in Western Ghats are also problematic. It recommends environmental flows as 30% of lean season flow for hydropower dams, rather than asking for assessment of environment and social requirements of flow in the rivers. These studies cannot be done at a later stage as indicated by the HLWG. It makes no recommendations for flows in other seasons, including monsoon. The HLWG recommends that distance between 2 hydel projects should be minimum 3 kms, again without any basis. It should have asked for site specific studies rather than making such one-size-fits-all kind of recommendation, indicating lack of understanding of environmental issues. It should have at least mentioned ‘distance of free flowing river between two projects should be three kilometre”. Even in case of ROR projects, the submergence itself stretches for kilometres. Cascade hydel dam development which is devastating the Himalayas has not started in Western Ghats. Giving a recommendation like this is in fact inviting more cascades in Western Ghats, that too in the ESA.

The HLWGR has allowed what is it calls Green Growth in the Western Ghats area. But there is no credible process suggested as to who will decide this and how? How will such a process be achieved? Where is the road map to achieve it? The government itself calls all hydropower projects as green growth projects. It is shocking to read that HLWGR also describes all hydropower projects as clean and renewable, exposing their lack of understanding of the hydropower projects and their impacts. The HLWGR seems not bothered by the adverse impacts of such projects on the Western Ghats environment, this is clear in its recommendation agreeing to green growth projects without any credible process.

The HLWG has also not rejected Inter basin transfers from Western Ghats. In doing so, they have quoted justification that “Maharashtra that Rain Shadow Regions” need drinking water. Ironically, all the inter basin transfers happening in Maharashtra (Koyana and six Tata Dams) actually involve transfers FROM the rain shadow region TO water-rich Konkan region for power generation. But the HLWG Report says nothing about this Ulti Ganga. They should have actually recommended stoppage of these diversions if they had the interest of drought prone areas of Maharashtra in mind.

The HLWG Report is also entirely silent on the need to amend the EIA Notification 2006 to include Drinking Water and Industrial Water Supply Dams and Mini Hydel Projects below 25 MW and irrigation projects with command less than 10000 ha under the purview of this Notification. This has been one of the most serious challenges faced by Rivers in Western Ghats right now and the HLWG does not comment on this. It has not commented on dams like Kalu, Shai, Balganga, Lendhi, Gargai, Pinjal, Khargihill which will have a huge impact on Western Ghats ecology and communities. The extent of this damage is evident in the fact that in a recent Forest Clearance granted to Kalu Dam, the Forest Advisory Committee has asked the proponent to follow the recommendations of the Kasturirangan Committee Report. If only the report had made strong and proactive recommendations there was a chance of saving 1000 hectares of forests of Western Ghats

The HLWGR has not commented on fisheries at all.

While a more detailed critical look at the HLWGR will take time, this compilation puts before the readers exact passages from HLWG (see Section A below) and WGEEP (see Section B that comes after Section A) Reports for ready reference. It shows how much understanding of water issues the members of HLWG have or do not have.



A. High Level Working Group (HLWG) Report on Western Ghats (Kasturirangan Committee Report)

(HLWG Report Volume I, pp. XII-XXIII)

Out of the estimated 164,280 km2 of the Western-Ghats area, the natural landscape constitutes only 41 per cent. The area identified as ecologically sensitive is about 37 per cent i.e., about 90 % of the natural landscape.

1. Hydropower

Hydropower projects may be allowed in the ESA but subject to following conditions:

(a) Uninterrupted ecological flow at least 30 per cent level of the rivers flow in lean season till a comprehensive study establishes individual baselines.

(b) After a cumulative study which assesses the impact of each project on the flow pattern of the rivers and forest and biodiversity loss.

(c) Ensuring that the minimum distance between projects is maintained at 3 km and that not more than 50 per cent of the river basin is affected at any time.

The villages falling under ESA will be involved in decision making on the future projects. All projects will require prior-informed consent and no objection from the Gram Sabha of the village. The provision for prior informed consent under the Forest Rights Act will also be strictly enforced.

The strategy evolved for the continuation of the Western Ghats Development Programme, in the 12th Plan centres around, besides watershed based development, fragility of the habitat, and development needs of the people i.e. a Watershed + approach – an approach which emphasizes conservation, minimal ecological disturbance, involvement of locals along with sustainable model of economic development and livelihood generation with enhanced allocation.

2. Power/Energy, including hydropower and wind-

(HLWG Report, Volume I, pp. 106-108)

Hydroelectric projects, proposed and planned in the forested regions of the Western Ghats have often come in for opposition. It is clear that as much as the country needs hydroelectric power, which is renewable and clean, but it also needs to balance this requirement with the loss of biodiversity in forests and the need for ecological flow in rivers. Both are essential components and policy must determine that these elements are safeguarded. It is also clear that rivers in India play more than just basic ecological functions. These are lifelines for local livelihood, nutrition and water security. The desire to use the river for generating electricity cannot be at the cost of the value of the river. It is this balance that needs to be maintained. In fact, the potential of hydroelectric power has remained the sole driver for management of the river, particularly in its upper reaches. In the lower reaches, the use of the river for large-scale water diversion projects for irrigation and industrial uses becomes the criterion for development. But these single focus objectives must be enlarged so that the competing – and often the primary needs – can be taken into account at the time of planning and management.

It is also clear that rivers do not know boundaries. Therefore, the conditions for hydropower will be stipulated for the entire Western Ghats and not just for ESA. HLWG recommends that future hydroelectric projects in the ESA and the entire Western Ghats must only be considered on the basis of the following policies:

a. Hydropower development must be based on the acceptance of uninterrupted ecological flow at 30 per cent level of the rivers flow in lean seasons till a comprehensive study establishes individual baselines. The 30 per cent ecological flow is mandated in Western Ghats keeping in mind the shorter length of rivers in this region. The compliance with this condition will require rigorous and seasonal data collection in upper reaches of rivers to prepare a hydrological mapping of the basin. It is also clear that this hydrological assessment is critical given the changes in rainfall patterns because of climate change.

b. Hydropower projects must be considered only after a cumulative impact assessment on the flow pattern of the rivers and forest and biodiversity loss. Currently, individual projects are planned and executed without consideration of these impacts. The Environment Assessment Committees will only consider proposals for individual projects after cumulative impacts have been studied.

c. Current and future hydropower development in the Western Ghats must be based on clear rules that stipulate distance between projects and that do not allow for over-exploitation of the basin. The minimum distance between projects must be maintained at 3 km in most cases (shorter distance requirement because of the short length of the rivers in Western Ghats as compared to other regions) and not more than 50 per cent of the river basin should be affected at any time. This will require reworking the current projects to provide for optimized energy generation but it is necessary given the need to balance development with ecology.

d. Better and more balanced planning for hydropower will lead correct tariff of energy, taking into account the cost of raw material of water. Energy costs, world over, take into account the cost of raw material. It is imperative that the current subsidies and distortions in raw material supply for energy are minimized. It is in this context that water, as the raw material for generation of hydropower, must be factored in the project design. The ecological, social and cultural health of the river is a price that cannot be discounted at the time of planning for the feasibility of power.

e. There is a need to redesign and reevaluate small hydropower projects – below 25 mw as these often have limited impact on energy generation and can lead to huge impacts on ecology. The rationale for small projects must be considered within a policy framework, which provides for mini-grids and local energy distribution.

HLWG about Inter-basin transfers-

(HLWG Volume-I. pp- 100-103)

WGEEP recommendations for sector level planning and their implications

The WGEEP has recommended guidelines for sector-wise activities, which would be permitted in categorized ecologically sensitive area of the region. In this way, regions with the highest ecological sensitivity would have restricted developmental activities – from a total ban on mining to large hydroelectric projects or inter-basin transfer of water and even plantations. The listing is comprehensive and provides an important direction to what will constitute environmentally sound development in this ecologically rich region. The question is how such a development plan will be implemented. Furthermore, it is also important that environmentally sound development should be incentivized and not only practiced through fiat. It is also clear that this recommendation of the WGEEP has evoked the strongest criticism from many quarters. There is apprehension that this ‘blanket prescription’ could be detrimental to economy and livelihoods.

It is also a fact that permit-based regulations are often open for misinterpretation and misuse. A similar issue was raised with the High Level Group on its visit to Maharashtra, when officials explained that there was concern that the WGEEP, if implemented could lead to complete halt of all economic activity. “It would condemn people to live in stone-age”. According to them, the guidelines would not allow for any infrastructure development, from renewable energy to inter-basin transfer of water. This would be a problem, they explained, as many regions of the Western Ghats lie in the rain shadow area and need water to be diverted for irrigation and drinking. Clearly, their concern was the impact of the sweeping nature of the recommendations on the region’s economy. It is not possible to design an effective framework for sustainable development based on such an approach. It is clear that large -scale water diversion projects, which have impacts on the environment and forests, should not be allowed. However, this recommendation should not imply that all water diversion would be stopped even without any study or scrutiny about the individual project or cumulative impact of the projects.

HLWG recommendations for two hydel projects that were categorically rejected by the WGEEP Report

  • 163 MW Athirappilly HEP, Kerala:

HLWG is of the view that while the importance of the proposed Athirappilly hydropower project for meeting the peaking power requirements of the State cannot be disputed, there is still uncertainty about ecological flow available in the riverine stretch, which has a dam at a short distance upstream of the proposed project.

It recommends that given the increased variability due to unpredictable monsoon, the project must be revaluated in terms of the generation of energy and whether the plant load factor expected in the project makes it viable against the loss of local populations of some species. Based on this revaluation and collection of data on ecological flow, the Government of Kerala, could take forward the proposal, if it so desires with the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The HLWG along with the officials of Kerala State Electricity Board and Kerala Forest Department visited the Athirappilly Hydropower Project, after hearing the presentations made by Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and also a local NGO (River Research Centre, Trissur). The team visited the dam site, the settlement of Kadar tribes impacted by the dam, rapids and waterfalls and irrigation dam site. During presentation, the KSEB explained the upstream run of the river hydropower projects – the Sholayar project on the Sholayar river which is tributary of Chalakudy river, the tail water of which is discharged into downstream that flows into Poringalkuthu project which is on the main river itself, the tail water of which is discharged into downstream of Chalakudy river and is used for the proposed Athirappilly project which is about 40 km away from the backwaters of Cochin. All these projects are run of the river projects and there are no dry stretches of the rivers. If these streams/rivers are not dammed, the excess monsoon run off cannot be stored and enters into sea within 48 hours. The average annual inflow, based on 32 years data at Athirappilly, is 1169.Mm3. This is confirmed from the flow data of Chalakudy river at Arangals collected by Central Water Commission. The tail water from Athirappilly will be released into Chalakudy via its tributary at Kannankuzhithodu.

The fluctuations in the water flow in different months and the plant load factor were also explained. The issues relating to Kadar tribal families living close to the submergible portion of the dam were explained to HLWG and it was informed that a package has been worked out for their welfare without rehabilitation as the areas inhabited by them does not come under submergible zone. The NGOs, who met with HLWG, brought to its attention that project would have irreversible impact on the rich biodiversity value of the forest; particularly, along stretch of 7.89 km between dam site and the point where the tail race water joins Chalakudy river. They said that the habitat of the Kadar tribal population would be adversely hit and that people had not yet given their consent. In addition, they said that this project, being built in an area of biodiversity value, would have minimal benefits. The technical feasibility of the project was doubtful with meager amount of power obtained at high cost. In addition, plantation owners and farmer representatives located below the proposed project said it would have adverse impacts on downstream irrigation and drinking water.

The HLWG examined the status of forests, including the riparian forests and submergible slope forest, a small swampy area and the plantations. It is clear that as in all hydropower projects, there is a need to balance the need for energy, particularly peaking power, water supply and irrigation with the loss of biodiversity, forest habitat, displacement of tribal communities and the need for ecological flow in the river.

HLGW, after detailed deliberations on each of the critical issues, is of the view that while the project’s importance for meeting the peaking power requirements of the State cannot be disputed, there is still uncertainty about ecological flow available in the riverine stretch, which has a dam at a short distance upstream of the proposed project. Given the increased variability, in flow from catchments due to unpredictable monsoon rains, the project may be revaluated in terms of the generation of energy and if the plant load factor expected in the project makes it viable against the loss of local populations of some species. Based on this revaluation and collection of data on ecological flow, the Government of Kerala, could take forward the proposal if it so desires with the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

  • 200 MW Gundia HEP, Karnataka:

As the proposed Gundya hydropower project is located in the ESA, it must be proceeded upon with extreme caution. HLWG recommends that the Government of Karnataka should reassess the ecological flow in the downstream areas, based on a thorough evaluation of hydrological regimes in the area. The project should not be given the go-ahead, till such a review and reassessment is made. The Government’s review must also assess local damage to all forests, which will emanate from the construction work and if at all, this can be mitigated. The HWLG has not proposed a complete ban on the construction of hydropower projects in the ESA, but its recommended conditions that balance the needs of energy with environment, must be followed.

Background: The Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) has proposed a hydroelectric project in the Gundya River basin in the Hassan and Dakshina Kannada district in two phases: Phase I of 1x 200 MW and Phase II of 1x 200 MW. The project is on Gundya river – a tributary of west flowing river of Netravathi; phase I involves pooling of waters by linking Yettinahole, Kerihole, Hongadhalla and Bettakumari and water from these streams will be intercepted by small weirs and will be drawn through a tunnel running from Yettinahole leading to Bettakumari reservoir. From the foreshore of this reservoir, 7.8 km long head trace tunnel takes water to a surge tank and from there to an underground powerhouse. The Phase II will have two tunnels – one tunnel will take water from Kadumanehalla and surrounding areas by 13 km long unlined tunnel and discharge into tunnel that takes water from Yettinahole weir, and another tunnel of 15 km long will take water from Lingath hole and Kumaradhara to Bettakumari reservoir. The submergible area will be 184.64 ha. An additional 560 ha will be needed for infrastructure. KPCL is not going ahead with the Hongadhalla dam because of the extensive submergible area of 523.80 ha. The project has got necessary clearances from different regulatory agencies; EAC of MoEF has asked KPCL to conduct also public hearing in Dakshna Kannada District, as project area falls in both the districts. The public hearing was conducted at Siribagiln village of Puttur taluka on 25.03.2009. Meanwhile the Malenadu Janapara Horata Samithi made a representation before the subcommittee of EAC during its visit to the site on 5.12.2009. The EAC has recommended clearance but the MoEF has not issued the environmental clearance.

The land required for the project includes forest area of 113 ha, revenue land of 263.63 ha, which also includes forests (though mostly degraded); and 71.5 ha of private land making it a total of 448.13 ha. The site has unique forest types with high biodiversity values (endemic, rare, threatened and new species) and also the cardamom and coffee plantations with scattered forest patches, which will be impacted adversely by land use changes and changes in hydrological regimes in the river basin due to project.

The major impacts of the project would be: (i) submergence of patches of riparian forest, (ii) land degradation/fragmentation of forest patches for tunneling and road construction; (iii) the drying up of down streams of three Yellinahole (with 60.50 km2 catchment area), Kerihole (27.00 km2 catchment area), Hongadahalla (8.50 km2 catchment area) and Bettakumari (35.00 km2 catchment area) before they join Gundya river, although each of them has small catchments, and a stretch of 34 km of Gundya river; and (iv) the apprehension of shortage of water at Subramanya Swami temple.

HWLG notes that the Gundya hydel project is run of the river project, which must ensure ecological flow in the affected stretch of the river. Furthermore, while the area of the submergible portion of forest is small, the construction of the project and tunneling in the region will have adverse impacts on both government forests and green areas on private land. As the Gundya hydropower projects is located in the ESA, HLWG recommends that it must be proceeded upon with extreme caution. It would recommend that the Government of Karnataka should reassess the ecological flow in the downstream areas, based on a thorough evaluation of hydrological regimes in the area. The project should not be given the go-ahead, till such a review and reassessment is made. The Government’s review must also assess damage to all forests, which will emanate from the construction work and if at all, this can be mitigated. The HWLG has not proposed a complete ban on the construction of hydropower in the ESA, but its recommended conditions that balance the needs of energy with environment must be followed.


Athirappilly and Gundia Hydel projects

WGEEP Categorically rejects both the projects for their impact on communities and ecosystems.

Sectoral Recommendations relating to Water

Recommendations for ESZ I, II, III-

Decentralized water resources management plans at Local Self Government level Protect high altitude valley swamps and water bodies. Catchment area treatment plans of hydroelectric and major irrigation projects should be taken up to improve their life span. Improve river flows and water quality by scientific riparian management programmes involving community participation Water conservation measures should be adopted through suitable technology up gradation and public awareness programmes inter-basin diversions of rivers in the Western Ghats should not be allowed

Hydropower projects

For ESZ I-

  • Allow run of the river schemes with maximum height of 3 m permissible which would serve local energy needs of tribal/ local communities / plantation colonies subject to consent of gram sabha and all clearances from WGEA, SEA and DECs.
  • No forest clearance or stream diversion for new projects
  • Run of the river schemes not allowed in first order or second order streams
  • Promote small scale, micro and pico hydropower systems, that are people owned & managed and are off grid
  • New small hydropower projects (10 MW and below) are permissible


  • Small bandharas permissible for local and tribal community use / local self- government use
  • No new dams above 15 m or new thermal plants permissible
  • New hydro projects between 10- 25 MW (up to 10 m ht) permissible
  • All project categories subject to very strict clearance and compliance conditions through SEA and DECs of WGEA
  • Have run off the river hydropower projects but after cumulative impact study of the river basin is done


  • Large Power plants are allowed subject to strict environmental regulations including 1. Cumulative impact assessment studies 2. Carrying capacity studies 3. Minimum forest clearance (norms to be set by WGEA) 4. Based on assessment of flows required for downstream needs including the ecological needs of the river.
  • For already existing dams reservoir operations to be rescheduled for allowing more water downstream

Common recommendations for all the three zones-

  • No diversion of streams/ rivers allowed for any power projects and if already existing, to be stopped immediately.
  • Catchment area treatment in a phased manner following watershed principles;
  • Continuous non-compliance of clearance conditions for three years would entail decommissioning of existing projects
  • Dams and thermal projects that have crossed their viable life span (for dams the threshold is 30–50 years) to be decommissioned in phased manner
  • All project categories to be jointly operated by LSGs and Power Boards with strict monitoring for compliance under DECs


Recommendations for ESZ I, II, III-

  • Strictly control use of dynamite and other explosives to kill fish; provide fish ladders at all reservoirs Introduce incentive payments as ‚conservation service charges‛ for maintenance of indigenous fish species in tanks under control of Biodiversity Management Committees or Fishermen’s co-operatives; monitor and control trade in aquarium fishes with the help of Biodiversity Management Committees

Water use-

(WGEEP Report Volume II, pp. 32-37)

Water resources management in the Western Ghats region is inextricably linked to improving the flows in the rivers and the health of the catchments. Western Ghats is the origin of many of the important Peninsular Rivers like Cauvery, Krishna and Godavari that drain the Deccan Plateau and flow eastwards. The hundreds of shorter perennial monsoon fed west flowing rivers like Sharavati, Netravathi, Periyar, and the Bharathapuzha travel through steeper and more undulating topography before emptying into the Arabian Sea. A rough estimate reveals that 245 million people in the five Western Ghats states directly depend on these rivers for their diverse water needs. Geographically, the Western Ghats is the catchment for river systems that drain almost 40 % of the land area in India. The basin area of west flowing shorter rivers is mostly located on the steep western slopes. Except for a few coastal streams 1/3 rd of the basin area of most of the river basins is located within the Western Ghats. This too makes them fragile and calls for their proper care and management. Once these streams leave the Western Ghats proper, they are drained and enriched by the once fertile steep river valleys, midlands and flood plains. The coastal and backwater fisheries is sustained by the rich nutrients and sediments brought down by the flowing rivers. The musings by fisher folk in coastal Kerala: ‘The Sea begins in the mountains and ‘fertility of the coast and the plains depends on the wealth from the rivers’ holds significance in this context. Open dug wells and springs are the other important water resources being extensively used for irrigation and drinking water purposes in the Western Ghats region. In several places, water–‐ harvesting structures dependent on rainwater are also used. In the Sigur plateau, numerous drinking water schemes dependent on the Moyar River are being operated for the tribal and dalit populations. Bore wells have made their entry in the recent past due to intensive irrigation patterns and lowering of water tables. As for Kerala, the groundwater potential is low when compared to other states and shallow dug wells are the most common source of freshwater. However, over the years the groundwater table is lowering at an alarming rate indicative of poor recharging capacity. On the other hand, water needs for drinking water, energy, irrigation and industrial purposes are growing in the Western Ghats States. More and more water is being diverted even from irrigation dams to meet the thirst of the expanding urban spaces and for industries. We have examples of Siruvani, Kabini, Peechi and Malampuzha reservoirs across the Western Ghats where irrigation water is being diverted for drinking and for the industrial needs of cities in the midlands like Coimbatore, Bangalore and Mysore, Thrissur and Palakkad respectively. New dams are being planned and some of them are in different phases of construction in the Maharashtra Western Ghats to meet the expanding needs of Mumbai and its suburbs. Pinjal, Shai, Gargai, Kalu and Vaitarani dams are recent cases. Water abstraction through check dams across hill streams is being practiced for decades by tea and coffee plantations in upstream catchments of rivers to meet their drinking and irrigation needs. This has resulted in cutting off the stream flows at their origin itself. Indiscriminate and unplanned tourism is another reason for increasing water abstraction and diversion. The tourism industry in Ooty depends on the reservoirs constructed across the tributaries of the Cauvery in the high mountains since the times of the British. Studies reveal that east–‐ flowing Rivers like Krishna, Cauvery are struggling to reach the seas due to over abstraction of both surface and groundwater. Basins are closing and its impact is felt even on delta fishing, farming livelihoods and ecology. During the 2001-2004 drought years, the discharge from the Krishna to the ocean was almost nil! As for the west-flowing rivers, saline ingress is advancing even into the midlands due to reduced downstream flows. Crop losses and saline water intrusion into drinking water has been reported in Kerala during severe summer owing to salinity intrusion. In Goa, mining has affected groundwater and surface flows and drainage patterns of rivers impacting downstream needs and water quality. Tailings from mines are polluting streams and rivers. The Kudremukh mining issue is a classic case of mining- related pollution. This mountain range has a long history of human interventions and each of these have directly or indirectly impacted upon the water resources availability and recharge in the region. Some of the important interventions and issues that have had lasting impacts on water resources and its management in the Western Ghats are briefly discussed below.

Issues of Concern

Forest destruction in the river catchments

Western Ghats has a long history of deforestation. Deforestation of upper catchments of rivers for timber, river valley projects and plantations has drastically reduced the capacity of the hill streams that feed into the rivers to hold and recharge water. Drying up of streams immediately after the monsoons and desiccation related to deforestation is clearly evident. This in turn has contributed to reduced summer flows.

River management in the Western Ghats

Most of the rivers in the Western Ghats are either dammed or diverted, some of them at several sites for power generation in the upper reaches and irrigation in the lower reaches. For instance, the east–‐‑flowing tributaries of Cauvery (Bhavani, Moyar, Kabani) and Krishna (Bhima, Tunga, Bhadra) are already dammed. The west–‐‑flowing shorter rivers (Sharavathi, Periyar) have been dammed at several places. We also have complete diversion of river flows at Mullaperiyar and Parambikulam dams involving Kerala and Tamil Nadu. West-flowing rivers have been virtually made into east–‐‑flowing Rivers by violating all natural laws. Dams are without dispute the most direct modifiers of river flows. They can heavily modify the magnitude (amount) of water flowing downstream, change the timing, frequency and duration of high and low flows and alter the natural rates at which rivers rise and fall during runoff events. Severe daily flow fluctuation between peak and off peak times below dams is commonplace in west–‐‑flowing dammed rivers. This has impacted drinking water schemes, major and minor irrigation projects operating in downstream areas apart from cutting off flood plains and impacting aquatic ecology and riparian systems. However very few studies are available that correlate the reservoir operations with the different types of downstream impacts and put measures in place for mitigation. In the case of inter-basin water, no water flows or even

The Mullaperiyar dam is a classic case where the main tributary of Periyar has been completed diverted to the Vaigai basin in the east. Idukki dam does not even have a spillway for allowing monsoon spills into the river. In Maharashtra, the tail race discharges of Koyna Powerhouse I, II and III are released into the west–‐‑flowing Vashishthi River and lead to heavy floods in Chiplun. Continuous stretches of rivers have dried up irreparably below diversions affecting river ecology, surface flows and even ground water seepage. Many of the reservoirs especially in the steep valleys are silting up prematurely due to the massive encroachment and deforestation of catchments consequent to dam construction. Idukki dam is a classic case wherein the entire catchment was encroached along with dam construction. The operations of hydroelectric stations (reservoir operations) are in tune with the power needs rather than the downstream water needs. Hence daily flow fluctuations created by peak and off peak operations of reservoirs in dammed rivers have led to upstream- downstream conflicts in many river basins. Similarly diversion of flows into another river basin after power generation is creating problems of daily flood in the recipient basin and drought in diverted basins. These are turning into management issues which need to be addressed at a basin level. However, there is a lack of systematic river basin level data on ecological changes due to hydrological alterations created by dams.

Incorrect land use patterns

Mining for mineral ores, granite and lateritic mining has affected water availability and recharge especially in the lower altitude regions and midlands. In Goa alone, the government itself has acknowledged that over half of the 300 odd mining leases are located close to water bodies. Data tabled in the Goa Assembly revealed that several of the 182 mining leases exist within one kilometer of a major irrigation project, the Selaulim dam, which provides drinking water to six lakh people in south Goa, virtually half the population of Goa (Ref: Deccan Herald Article).

In South Karnataka and North Kerala, surangams, a traditional irrigation system in lateritic hills is losing out to lateritic mining. Many of the rivers in this region originate from these lateritic hills and many of the Western Ghats Rivers like Chandragiri, Valapattanam, and Netravathi benefit from the water recharged by lateritic hills in their flow downstream.

Agricultural practices including cropping patterns have a role to play in water resource management in the Western Ghats. Planting steep slopes with soil–‐‑eroding monocu;ture crops like rubber and banana, and heavy tillage, has led to increased surface runoff along with loss of precious top soil. This has contributed to low seepage and infiltration into deeper soil depths. The deforestation for tea, coffee and cardamom plantations located at higher altitudes has contributed to drying up of hill streams.

 Reclamation of high altitude valley swamps is contributing to water scarcity in the upper catchments. Many of the rivers originate from these swamps and are source of perennial flow. In the Nilgiris, most of the fertile water rich swamps have been converted for intensive pesticide-based farming, greenhouse farms, housing, etc.

Sand mining

Most of the rivers in Western Ghats are facing the consequences of indiscriminate sand mining. The lowering of water tables and deterioration of water quality are the immediate impacts. River beds in some stretches are lower than the sea level accelerating saline ingress. Drinking water scarcity is on the rise in river bank panchayats in spite of being close to the river. Plan funds are spent for providing drinking water even to panchayats on river banks. Sand mining has also impacted breeding and feeding grounds of fish and other aquatic species

Measures for Mitigation/Improvement

Time for river basin-­level planning and decentralised management of water resources in the Western Ghats As cited above, the impacts of incorrect land use and interventions are already evident. Reduced summer flows, flow fluctuations, lowering of water tables and degrading water quality are all direct impacts of the presently followed project–‐‑oriented, demand-supply based and ad hoc approach to water resource planning and management. The time is ripe for a paradigm shift in approach to river basin–‐‑level management of water resources where water is considered an integral part of the ecosystem. Some important measures that can be adopted in this regard are briefly detailed.

1. Local self–‑ government level decentralized water management plans to be developed at least for the next 20 years: Water resource management plans with suitable watershed measures, afforestation, eco–‐‑restoration of catchments, rainwater recharging and harvesting, storm water drainage, water auditing, recycling and reuse etc. should be built into the plans. These water management plans should integrate into basin level management plans. The objective is to reduce the dependence on rivers and external sources and to improve recharge.

2. Reschedule reservoir operations in dammed rivers and regulate flows in rivers to improve downstream flows and also to act as a conflict resolution strategy. These should be implemented with an effective public monitoring system in place.

3. Revive traditional water harvesting systems like recharge wells, surangams, etc.

4. Protect high altitude valley swamps that are the origins of rivers from further reclamation and real estate or agricultural development and declare them as ‘hotspots for community conservation’

5. Participatory sand auditing and strict regulations to be put in place.

6. Declare “sand holidays’ based on assessments and sand audits for mined river stretches. Items 5 and 6 would work to improve the water retention capacity in the river.

7. Rehabilitation of mined areas to be taken up by the companies / agencies with special focus on reviving the water resources like rivers, wells, tanks, etc. that have been destroyed by the mines.

8. Planters, local self–‐‑governments and Forest Departments in high altitude areas should come together for eco–‑restoration of the forest fragments between the tea and coffee estates and revive hill streams.

9. Take up catchment area treatment plans of hydro and major irrigation projects to improve their life span.

10. Riparian management can be taken up with community participation and involvement to improve river flows and water quality.

11. Water conservation measures should be adopted through suitable technology upgradation and public awareness programs.

12. Reconnect children and youth to rivers and water resources through basin level education programs.

Actionable points for the WGEA-

The (proposed) Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA) can take a strong recommendatory and advisory role in this regard. Some of the important recommendations for WGEA are:

1. Declare origins of rivers as Ecologically Sensitive Localities (ESLs) (the catchment area)

2. Many projects in the Western Ghats are on–‐‑going or completed with violations in environmental clearance and forest clearance or even no clearances at all, as in the case of the Kalu and Shai dams in Maharashtra. The WGEA should act as an additional layer for screening projects approved by the Expert Appraisal Committees (EACs), subject them to additional scrutiny in terms of the geographical context, ecological sensitivity, status of river basin and need for environmental flows taking into consideration all season flows instead of ad hoc allocations.

3. Till the WGEA comes into operation, issue a moratorium on all on–‐‑going projects like dams and mines that can impact upon water resources in a substantial way. The WGEA should subject the projects to scrutiny for mandatory clearances and compliances, and augment the level of public consultation before deciding on whether to allow them to progress or not.

4. No more inter–‐‑basin diversions of rivers shall be allowed in the Western Ghats.

5. Take up sample river basins in each state and recommend to the State Governments to carry out:

  • Environment flow assessments involving social movements for river protection, research institutions, NGOs along with communities to put in place indicators for environmental flow assessment
  • Assessment of downstream impacts of dams on river ecology, flood plains, fishing habitats, livelihoods, etc.
  • Salinity intrusion mapping so as to suggest improved flows in future
  • Improve reservoir operations management in dammed rivers to improve meeting of water needs of downstream populations. Put proper monitoring of reservoir operations in place involving downstream local self–‐‑governments and departments.
  • Update and upgrade hydrological databases in rivers and consolidate the ecological database and information at river basin level
  • Based on the consolidation of databases, declare high conservation value stretches of rivers as ESAs and keep them free them from further development.

6. Recommend to State Governments to take up decentralized bottom􀈮up river basin planning with restoration built into the plans.

7. River Basin Planning should be supported by suitable legal institutions that are capable of integrating different departments which are presently dealing with or impacting on the rivers in a compartmentalized manner. Put in place river basin organizations adapted to state administrative context.

8. All new projects in the Western Ghats (dams, mines, tourism, housing, etc. that impact upon water resources) should be subject to cumulative impact assessment and should not exceed the carrying capacity.

9. Stronger and stricter laws for regulation of sand mining to be developed

10. Recommend the decommissioning of dams that have outlived their utility, are underperforming, and have silted up beyond acceptable standards, etc.


 (WGEEP, Volume II, pp. 48-49)

Depletion of the fishery resources is a serious issue in the Western Ghats region. Compared to marine fish resources / biodiversity, the freshwater fish diversity is on the decline due to various reasons. Traditionally the conservation and management of fishery resources were vested with local communities, but this has now been altered. Several innovative measures are required to revive this highly valued resource and to use it in a sustainable manner on account of its relevance in livelihood improvement and food security. There is a need to readdress these issues with the fisheries department and other impacting sectors to reorient conservation measures in a participatory mode. Furthermore, local fish consumption has been a traditional source of protein for local people from time immemorial.

Issues of Concern

  • Habitat loss, including loss of mangroves
  • Pollution due to pesticides, industrial effluents/other sources
  • Waste dumping in rivers
  • Improper river maintenance and management
  • Unscientific methods of collection (use of poisons, electro–‐‑fishing, dynamiting etc.)
  • Impoundments in rivers, check dams
  • Introduction of exotic fishes
  • Destruction/loss of breeding grounds
  • Fish diseases
  • Overexploitation
  • Unauthorised ornamental fish trade
  • Sand mining
  • Excessive tourism activities in freshwater lakes
  • Decline of indigenous species due to introduction of exotic and alien fishes species

Measures for Mitigation/Improvement-

  • Regular monitoring of fish wealth to assess the health/ diversity of the fish population.
  • Banning the use of plastics which settle at the bottom of water bodies and lakes and affect breeding of some species.
  • Management measures aimed at conserving freshwater fish biodiversity to be incorporated into the fishery policy.
  • The database on population size and geographical distribution of endangered and endemic species should be strengthened by undertaking extensive micro–‐‑geographical surveys. Information on area of distribution and micro–‐‑geographical characteristics of the habitats of these ecologically sensitive fishes will be inputs for establishment of aquatic reserves for the conservation of these species.
  • Information regarding migration, breeding behavior and spawning grounds of threatened fishes should be generated through extensive surveys and analysis. Such a database is essential for both ex situ and in situ conservation of the species.
  • Techniques should be developed for the captive breeding and brood stock development of fishes of potential economic importance.
  • Brood stock maintenance centers and hatcheries should be established exclusively for indigenous, endangered and critically endangered fishes for their in situ conservation and aqua ranching as a substitute for their natural recruitment.
  • Investigation on the invasive nature of exotic species in the natural habitats should be carried out. The functioning of the committee constituted under the Government of India to quarantine and control introduction of exotic species should be made more effective and foolproof.
  • Strict vigilance and monitoring, including enforcement of laws, to be ensured to reduce the loss of the natural breeding grounds of the fishes arising from reclamation of paddy and wetlands.
  • Strengthen awareness programs to ensure the sustainability and survival of fish resources.
  • Regulation on fishing, during breeding seasons in freshwater environs to restore natural/ wild stock
  • Establishment of fish sanctuaries
  • Sand mining and other activities which destroy the habitat of many endemic fishes to be restricted.
  • Live–‐‑fencing using native plant species instead of stone walls to be encouraged for protecting river banks.
  • River Management Funds to be utilised for activities related to river health programs and not for construction or other developmental activities.
  • Regulation of ornamental fish collection from the wild.

Compiled by Damodar Pujari, SANDRP (