GUEST BLOG by Muhammad Ali Shah, Dr. Aly Ercelan & Roshan Bhatti
Sindh Peoples Caravan March 1-14, 2017 Protect Our Rivers and Delta
Across the world the greed of capitalism has created water crises. Asia in general and South Asia in particular is no exception. This region is marred with complex and multidimensional aspects of water crises. Not only the brute availability of water has declined, but also the health of water bodies has been badly affected. A deep probe into the issue reveals that water crisis has been created by weak and deliberate mal-governance. Both wrong incentives and lack of penalties have led to major ecological disasters. These include deforestation, destruction of wetlands, dumping of industrial waste into waterways, construction of dams, overexploitation of the major river systems, corporate control on water resources and unplanned urbanization due to increasing population pressure.
All these issues pose serious threats to life and health of people and water systems of South Asian River Systems, including Indus river system. Our analysis reveals that anti-human and anti-environment policies have been applied and imposed in South Asia with the same rapacity as colonial powers did to impose control over citizens. Post-independence, growth policies have become excuses for privatization and in favor of corporate monopolies rather than protection of the commons for public welfare. Among regions around the world, South Asia is the second number in the construction of large dams. Pursuing neo-colonial control over natural resources, the ecological consequences have become hazardous to life and livelihood.
When I talk with Manshi, a friend and co-traveler from Himdhara Collective about Bhagirathh Prayas Samman that the collective received during the India Rivers Week 2016, she is modest, even slightly hesitant. She simply says, “We love the mountains, we want to protect them and help mountain communities fight the unequal battle against unplanned hydropower. That is one motivation of our work. But the other is recognition of the fact that we are privileged… privileged to be able to speak English, to work on a computer, to understand the bureaucratic procedures that alienate a tribal or forest dweller from her land. That understanding also drives us.”
Citation of Bhagirath Prayas Samman given to Himdhara Collective states: “Himdhara’s strength is its engagement with communities, movements and organisations. It has created an effective discourse around issues of resource distribution and their ownership and the resultant impacts on ecological spaces of mountain communities, especially vulnerable groups like indigenous people, dalits and women. It is an honor to recognize and celebrate Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective’s extraordinary Bhagirath efforts in maintaining the integrity of rivers in Himachal Pradesh.”
In their own words, “Himdhara is an autnomous and informal non registered environment research and action collective, extending solidarity and support, in research and action, to people and organisations asserting their rights over their natural resources and agitating against corporatisation of these resources for destructive development in the state.”
It has been two years since the Union Minister for Shipping and Transport, Mr. Nitin Gadkari, announced the Government’s ambitious plan to revive the National Waterways-1 (Ganga Waterway) between Haldia and Allahabad, justifying it on the grounds that India’s waterway potential remains highly underutilized, although six times cheaper than road transport. In a letter dated 18th June, 2014 forwarded by Mr. Gadkari to the Finance Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley, a proposal for financial assistance to four navigational barrages was also made.
Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), formed under the MWRRA Act 2005 has been the first Regulatory Authority formed in India, on the explicit directions of the World Bank. While the focus of the World Bank was more on tradable Water Rights, Water use entitlements and generally pushing water as an economic good, the Authority found itself dealing with more substantial issues of equitable water distribution soon after it was formed. Even at the time of its constitution, several organizations had cautioned about its bureaucrat-heavy and exclusive constitution, looking at the vast challenges Maharashtra faces. In its past 10 years, the Authority has always been in the news and not always for the right reasons. Continue reading ” MWRRA Ordinance 2016: More vulnerable to WRD meddling?”→
जलवायु संकट समाधान के प्रयास हर हाल में करें बड़ी जलविद्युत परियोजना से परहेजः- सामाजिक संगठन
पेरिस में चल रही जलवायु परिवर्तन की शिखर वार्ता में आज अनेक सामाजिक संगठनों ने सरकारों से बड़ी जलविद्युत परियोजनाओं से परहेज करने के लिए एक घोषणा पत्र जारी किया।
53 देशों से आए 300 से अधिक सामाजिक संगठनों ने घोषणा पत्र का समर्थन करते हुए कहा कि सभी देशों की सरकारें एवं विश्व बैंक समेत सभी प्रमुख पूॅजी निवेशक संस्थाएॅ हर हाल में पर्यावरण के लिए खतरा बन चुकी भारी-भरकम जलविद्युत परियोजनाओं को जलवायु संकट समाधान के मसौदे से बाहर रखें।
प्रतिभागियों ने एकमत से यह भी कहा कि जलवायु परिवर्तन समाधान के नाम पर चलायी जा रही सरकारी एवं विश्वबैंक की योजनाओं जैसे हरित विकास प्रणाली, हरित विकास अनुबंध एवं हरित पूॅजीनिवेश धनराशि के तहत बड़ी जलविद्युत परियोजनाओं को कतई शामिल ना किया जाए।
A study done by the National University of Singapore (NUS) predicted that dam related activity in the Himalayas will submerge and destroy 17,000 ha of land. The Himalayas have a dam density which is 62 times greater than the current global average[i]. The trouble is that Professor Maharaj K Pandit, who led the NUS study, has deep entrenched interests in hydropower business, having led seriously problematic Environmental Impact Assessment and Cumulative Impact Assessment studies that have never said NO to any project, never raised the issues he is raising in NUS study in any of the EIA or CIA study he has led. Several of his EIAs have been found to be seriously inadequate, incomplete and supporting hydropower lobby.
In 2010, a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had stated that more than 40 hydro projects in the region was a serious threat to nature and bio-diversity of the region[ii]. The impact these dams have on the environment and people has been clearly seen in the light of the 2013 floods which wrecked havoc in the state. There are constant delays and faulty constructions due to lack of strict supervision which then endanger the lives and livelihoods of the local population. Despite this, the government pushes on for more and more projects.
American Met Society confirms role of Climate Change in Uttarakhand floods In an annual extreme-weather report of September 2014, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has[iii] listed the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 as among the 16 extreme weather events of 2013 where role of climate change is undeniable. Unfortunately, Indian government is neither clearly acknowledging this reality, nor identifying the victims and demanding justice for them. While Uttarakhand disaster was a clear warning in this regard, the Sept 2014 floods of Jammu and Kashmir is another one showing how vulnerable the Himalayas are to the climate change.
Post-flood scenario: In the 2013 floods, about 19 projects were completely washed away resulting in affecting 35 % of the state generation capacity[iv].
Estimated losses from damage to hydropower projects on the Ganga
Rs 30 crore (project completely submerged)
Rs 18-19 crore (power house and 4 houses washed away)
Rs 16 crore (power house and 4 houses washed away)
Following the orders of the Supreme Court on Aug 13, 2013[v] in the after math of the June 2013 flood disaster, an Expert Body (EB) was formed under Dr. Ravi Chopra to assess the role of dams in the flood disaster. In its report it was recommended that 23 projects be dropped altogether in the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin and studies be initiated in all other basins. The court had stayed work on 24 out of 39 projects last year after the floods[vi] and had also stayed clearance to any more projects in the state. (To know more about the recommendations of the EB read SANDRP’s blog: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/.)
Also, despite the stay on clearances, the 300 MW Lakhwar Project in the Upper Yamuna River Basin in Dehradun District has been given a green signal by the MoEF[ix].
Creation of eco-sensitive zones:
5 km stretch between Gomukh and Uttarkashi was declared as an eco-sensitive zone which has led to the shutting down of various projects in that stretch. The bigger projects which have been affected are the 600 MW Loharinag-Pala under the NTPC, which is still appealing to receive its reimbursement to the tune of Rs. 536.30 crore. Apart from this, the 480 MW Maneri project under UJVNL and the 380 MW Bhaironghati project have been scrapped[x].
The Srinagar Hydro Electric Project on the Alaknanda River has increased installed capacity from 200 to 330 MW which was already a cause for concern for the people of the area and other experts who say that the land is too unstable to hold such a big project. Previously, the project faced problems due to damage to its coffer dam. The GVK company owned project was also the centre of controversy due to the Dhari Devi temple which was ultimately relocated in undue hurry just before the Uttarakhand floods.
In July 2014, it faced another disruption due to the collapse of the 19 metre high and 100 metre long wall of its de-silting basin during a test run of the project[xi]. The heavy rainfall and raging waters in the Alaknanda led to the breaking of the walls which caused flooding and inundation of land and houses. The earlier complaints of the residents of nearby villages regarding the leakage from the power channel canal of the project were not taken seriously by the authorities[xii].
The 171 MW Lata Tapovan project was overrun by floodwaters that damaged concrete work and forced at least a year-long delay in its commissioning. The delay could grow longer because of the badly damaged highway which makes transportation unsafe.
Another affected project is the 520 MW Tapovan Vishnugad HEP in the Chamoli district. The project was already under scrutiny because of the unfavourable geographical characteristics of the area it is in. The added damage was done during the floods which led to damages in the power channel and the approach road to chormi adit. This could lead to a 12 month delay. Its diversion dyke was also washed away and in June 2014, BHEL refused to start work. Even the head race tunnel (HRT) contractors L&T and Alpine Mayreder Bau Gmbh (AM) have terminated their contract leaving NTPC searching for new contractors[xiii].
The 400 MW Vishnuprayag HEP in the Chamoli district was also affected in the floods as muck and debris filled its reservoir, causing electricity generation to stop. It was also under controversy for being responsible for causing floods downstream as it did not open one of its gates to let the water out, resulting in water finally being left under great pressure causing flooding and destruction of downstream area, people and properties.
Apart from this, the project authorities are also engaging in the disposal of muck and debris on the Alaknanda river bed and not in a safe site. The Jaypee group has been asked to to file a comprehensive affidavit on disposal of river bed material lying in the Vishnupryag HEP on Alakhnanda River, Joshimath by a bench of five judges of the National Green Tribunal. After the floods in 2013, a huge amount of muck and debris were deposited in the reservoir. To clean this and restart electricity generation, the company removed it from the reservoir but dumped it in the Alaknanda river bed, hoping that in the next monsoon it would open its gates enough to let the debris flow downstream. But this is highly dangerous for the downstream areas and population as pointed out by Vimal bhai, founder of the Matu Jansangathan, an NGO[xiv]. The NGT, however, has not taken necessary punitive measures against the company.
Contract for construction of the Koteshwar dam was awarded to PCL Intertech Lenhydro Consortium JV in 2002 for a contract value of Rs 334.52 crore. The scheduled completion was specified for May 2006, but project was delayed due to non handling of project and quarry land by the owner to the contractor. Only Rs 99 crore worth work was done upto March 2007[xv].
Another case for delay is the Tehri Pumped Storage Plant (PSP) under the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC). The contract was given to Alstom-HCC Consortium which had only completed 10% work even after 25 months had elapsed since its commencement and until October 2013[xvi]. Even till April 2014, only 16% of the work was done while only 37 months are left to complete the rest[xvii]. Various problems pointed out by the THDC were that the consortium did not employ sufficient people or deploy enough machinery on site.
The 444 MW Vishnugad-Pipalkoti project under the THDC also faced delays in obtaining the clearances from the forest department to divert 80.507 ha of forest land for the project. The delay was caused in obtaining the stage II forest clearance which was in the hands of the State Wildlife Board, which finally gave its clearance in March 2013. But the surprise is that the World Bank approved the project even before it got its clearances but claimed that work would begin only after all clearances are obtained. But like a lot of other projects, work had already begun for the power house near Harsari village, affecting the villagers. Unfortunately, the inspection panel of the World Bank that was looking into the complaints against the project have completely failed to understand or show the courage to point out the failures of the project and the Bank right from impact assessment to consultations to violations in clearance procedures. The joint statement of the Inspection panel and the World Bank Management on Oct 2, 2014 exposes both the parties. The World Bank, while funding destruction of Alaknanda River, one of the two major head sources of the Ganga, is claiming to fund river rejuvenation efforts in the downstream!
Even one year after the floods, there is no comprehensive report about the disaster that would give a blow by blow account and fix accountability. The villagers are still awaiting resettlement[xviii].
Residents of 29 villages in Tehri district who already faced danger from landslides are now in a worse situation as the landslide occurrence has increased since the 2013 floods. But the villagers say that the state has made no efforts into their relocation and they live in fear of their life. The government had claimed that these villages would be relocated for their safety but due to the laxity of the authorities, work has not started on that yet.[xix]
To know more about the situation of hydropower dams in Uttarakhand in the context of June 2013 disaster, read SANDRP’s blogs:
Countries like Bhutan, Nepal, parts of Tibet and parts of India like Sikkim have some lovely Buddhist traditions linked to the nature. On the edges of forests, overlooking valleys and atop majestic mountains flutter tiny colorful prayer flags.Inside Dzongs, fixed prayer wheels spin by the tug of a pious hand. While spinning and fluttering, the prayers are supposed to be disseminated in the universe, reaching every sentinel being.
But there is a third kind of fascinating prayer wheel. It worships not only the creator, but also flowing water. Today, as naturally flowing waters become rarer, it is strangely reassuring to see these wheels spinning away, as the stream pushes the small wooden turbines round and round. These wheels are more fascinating for their symbolic significance: In these regions where water wheels worship the flow, the same flow is being harnessed for generating money and power: Hydropower. In Bhutan, the 10,000 MW + hydropower initiative supported by India and financial institutions like ADB & other foreign players will dam almost all of the big river systems in the country.
In fact, institutions like ADB are so over-enthusiastic in pushing hydropower in Bhutan ( ADB is ‘administering‘ Hydropower grants to Bhutan from countries like Norway and Japan) that they see Bhutan’s strong environmental conservation practices as ‘hurdles’ in this development. ADB says: “Bhutan’s strong environmental conservation policies have affected the pace of implementing power projects because of the time required to complete procedures such as environmental impact assessments, public consultations, forestry clearances, and road planning.”
What follows is a short photo feature on Water Wheels in Bhutan as well as the hydropower development in the Punatsangchu Basin, through the 1200 MW Punatsangchu I HEP. Just a few kilometers downstream is the proposed intake and dam of Punatsangchu II which is also underway.
Bhutan is the only country in the world which measures its development not only in terms of GDP, but through Gross National Happiness (GNH), which is an aggregate of a number of things, including environmental conservation and preservation of culture.
Let us hope that this dense hydropower development does not affect the Bhutanese tenets of happiness…
HYDROPOWER IN BHUTAN
At the same time, huge, unprecedented hydropower developing is also challenging the tiny nation. Much of it is pushed by India.
In 2006, India and Bhutan signed an agreement to “facilitate and promote development and construction of hydropower projects and associated transmission systems as well as trade in electricity, through both public and private sector engagements”. Under this agreement, India has agreed to minimum imports of 5,000 MW of hydropower capacity by 2020. The agreement will be valid for a period of 60 years and can be extended. In addition to this agreement, a protocol between India and Bhutan was signed in 2009 through which India will develop 10,000 MWs of hydropower in Bhutan for export of surplus power to India by 2020. This has been going on through a mix of soft loans and grants. This also means services for Indian engineering and design consultants like WAPCOS and Indian developers & contractors like L and T, NHPC, Gammon India, JP Associates, BHEL, SJVN, THDC, Tatas, HCC, Jindal, etc. Indian companies like NHPC, WAPCOS are also involved in Detailed Project Reports, while other Indian companies are bagging the construction and equipment contracts.
Already, three hydro projects funded and built by India are operating in Bhutan which include 336 MW Chukha, 60 MW Kurichu and 1020 MW Tala HEP. Under-construction projects funded mainly by India include 1200 MW Punatsangchhu HE Project Stage-I, 1020 MW Punatsangchu Stage II and 720 MW Mangdechu HEP. News reports indicate that Bhutan and Indian government have together identified 10 HEPs with a total capacity of 11,576 MW by 2020 for development. In addition the country has about 16 operating HEPs.
Punatsangchu I Project, 130 mts high dam, envisages submergence of 673 acres of Reserve forest land, 78 acres of private land (involving 116 land owners) and 6 acres of Institutional Land (2 institutions) till the end of April 2013 for the project construction. Punatsangchu II project with 80 mts high dam, involves 479 acres of reserve forest land, 14 acres of private land (involving 17 land owners) and 5 acres of Institutional Land (3 institutions) till the end of April 2013 for the project construction.
In 2014, India and Bhutan also signed an agreement for 2120 MW hydropower capacity through four projects which include 600 MW Kholongchu project, 180 MW Bunakha project (with 230 MW downstream benefits from Tala, Chukha and Wangchu HEPs), 570 MW Wangchu project, and 770 MW Chamkarchu-I project.
Following are some pictures from Punatsangchu I Site.
In almost all Dzongs, as well as hotels and homes rests a picture of Six Symbols of Longevity ( see picture above), all of them are interlinked, hold symbolic significance and are supposed to be auspicious.
They include Man, Animals, Birds ( The Black Necked Cranes, incidentally threatened by an Indian Dam: 780 MW Nyamjangchu, close to Bhutanese border), Mountains, Trees and Rivers!
The World Bank has decided not to lend financial assistance to the massive Luhri Hydropower project on Sutlej River in Himachal Pradesh. The World Bank, which was to provide a huge USD 650 million to the $ 1150 million project, on its website now indicates[i] the status of the project as DROPPED. Environmental groups and local affected people under the banner of Sutlej Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti consider this is a major victory for the campaign to save the last remaining stretch of “free”[ii] flowing Sutlej River.
It is well-known that India’s environment governance is very weak. The work of the Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) in the clearance process is shoddy, unscientific and largely catering to vested interests. But with the recent recommendation of an environment clearance for the 775 MW Luhri hydropower project on the Sutlej river in Himachal Pradesh, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests’ (MoEF) EAC on River Valley and Hydropower Projects seems to have touched a new low.
First, the Sutlej was known to be an already over developed basin when the Luhri project came up for first stage clearance before the EAC in April 2007. The EAC should have refused to consider the project without an independent credible cumulative basin level study looking into its carrying capacity with respect to various aspects. The fact that the EAC did not even discuss this then, even though the issue was brought before it, showed the EAC members’ complete lack of understanding of the importance of the basin level cumulative impact assessment study.
The minutes of the EAC meeting in April 2007, where the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the EIA came up for approval for the Luhri project, say that the project is going to have a 45 m high dam affecting a maximum of 45 project affected families and 13 villages. Now from the EIA it is clear that the dam height is not 45 m but 86 m, that the project will affect not 45 but 2,337 landowners and 9,674 persons and impact not 13 but over 100 villages. Any competent body would have questioned the very serious nature of changes in basic project parameters, but competence is clearly not the correct description of the EAC. The EAC did not even ask the project promoter for an explanation, leave aside penalise them for their misrepresentations.
Even legally, the TOR clearance is supposed to be valid only for two years. When the project came up for final environmental clearance before the EAC towards the end of March 2012, it was almost five years since the TOR was cleared. The TOR clearance was no longer valid but the EAC was completely blind to the illegalities.
The legally mandatory public hearings for the project were held in May and August 2011, but the EIA, made available a month before the public hearing as required under the EIA notification, did not have basic information about the names and impacts on the 78 villages along the path of the tunnel of the projects. The local groups had written to the ministry, the Pollution Control Board that is supposed to conduct the hearings and the EAC about these and other issues. But the EAC did not even take note of such serious legal lapses. On this count of violations alone, in the public hearing process, the EAC should have refused to consider the project. But the EAC did not even discuss this issue!
In repeated representations to the EAC, the Sutlej Bachao Sangharsh Samiti and Himdhara have been bringing to the EAC’s notice that there has been no compliance with the Forest Rights Act (FRA) for the forest land required for the project and that the local administration has been indulging in manipulations and pressure tactics to get the mandatory gram sabha resolutions for the FRA compliance.
In fact, these groups have been sending representations to the EAC on all these issues since October 2011. Already, five representations have been sent, but the EAC has never even acknowledged, leave aside discussed any of these representations in its meetings.
The EAC should have invited the people who sent such representations, heard them and allowed them to be present when the project was discussed in the EAC. The EAC did none of these things clearly showing their bias for the projects and not for the environment and people which are the basic mandates of the EAC. This behaviour of the EAC is also in violation of the Delhi High Court order in the Utkarsh Mandal case where the High Court has expressly asked the EAC to show that it has applied its mind to each representation it receives and the decision it takes in that regard.
The EIA itself has such serious inadequacies that even the EAC notes in the minutes of the March 2012 meeting that “the EIA/EMP report is inadequate,” and the consultant has presented “poor quality of material.” The EAC minutes record many of the serious deficiencies of the EIA in its March 2012 meeting. The EIA was so inadequate, so full of contradictions and misrepresentations that the EAC should have rejected it and asked for a fresh EIA while recommending blacklisting of the consultant. None of these issues were resolved in the November 2012 meeting when EAC next discussed the project. By then the EAC had also received representations from affected people, and the issues raised, which too remained unresolved. And yet, the EAC decided to quietly recommend environment clearance to the project without referring to its own observations or those of the representations. The most charitable explanation is that the EAC is inconsistent, incompetent and arbitrary. Reality is rarely that charitable.
The response of the developer and consultant to the issues raised by the EAC in the March 2012 meeting was supposed to be made available at least 10 days before the next EAC meeting in November 2012 when it met to consider the project, as per the orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC) in Febuary 2012 and the CIC notice to the MoEF following SANDRP’s appeal in May 2012. Violating the CIC orders, the responses were not in the public domain.
Even more shockingly, the project violated the EAC’s own norms, but amazingly, the EAC did not even discuss it. Let us see how. The Full Reservoir Level of the Luhri dam is 862.9 m and the tail water level of the immediate upstream Rampur project is also 862.9 m, which means there is zero distance of flowing river between the two projects. This is in complete violation of the recommendations of the Avay Shukla (former additional Chief Secretary of Himachal Pradesh) Committee appointed by the Himachal Pradesh High Court and the reported recommendation of the BK Chaturvedi Committee appointed by the National Ganga River Basin Authority, headed by the Prime Minister. Both the committees’ recommendations are for a minimum of five km distance of flowing river between any two projects. Even the EAC has been following the recommendation of at least a one km distance between the two projects. But the EAC did not even discuss this issue.
Even more disturbingly, the full reservoir level of the downstream Kol dam is 642 m, whereas the invert level of the Tail Race Channel of Luhri dam is one metre below this that is 641 m, which means again there is zero length of flowing river between the two projects. The EAC again violated the recommendations of the Avay Shukla Committee and its own norms. Why did the EAC not even discuss this issue? Why did the SJVN and the EIA consultants, who were familiar with the EAC norm did not raise these issues for both the upstream and downstream situation? Why did the MoEF officials who are part of the EAC and knew the importance of these issues did not raise them either? This collective silence, indicating collective collusion, raises too many questions for anyone’s comfort.
It should be noted that the Luhri project has a head race tunnel length of 38.14 km, which is the longest in the world. As the EAC itself noted, the tunnel will bypass over 50 km length of the river, in addition to the 6.8 km long reservoir. So the project will destroy close to a length of 60 km of the mighty, already over-dammed Sutlej river. To see the callous treatment the EAC has given to such an unprecedentedly impactful project is most reprehensible.
It’s clear that the whole episode of the EAC recommending environment clearance to the Luhri HEP is shameful. As if to keep that appalling decision away from the public gaze, the publication of the November 2012 meeting of the EAC was delayed beyond the next meeting, unlike the usual practice. The only possible option left for the EAC to clear the air and its own name from this disgraceful situation is an urgent, transparent review of this decision it has taken. Let us hope the EAC will use that opportunity soon.
Himanshu Thakkar (email@example.com) http://civilsocietyonline.com/pages/Details.aspx?263