Recently Analysis (via the founder and editor-in-chief of Analysis, Rishabh Shrivastava) filed an RTI with National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC), a government of India undertaking which works towards harnessing and developing the hydro-power network all over India. The RTI was filed by the Analysis on August 18, 2016 and the reply came on September 8, 2016. The information was received under section 5(5) of the RTI Act, 2005.
The Analysis has been studying the water sector for last four months now. Recently, Analysis has collaborated with SEDT in Maharashtra for carrying on work in the area of water policy development. Apart from that, Analysis has also been conducting research work in the area of hydro-power development in India and understanding the struggle around it.
Northeast India has been the hub for launching the protests against the large hydro-power projects which are continuously being proposed in this ecologically sensitive area. The government has not at all taken care of the biodiversity getting damaged in this area.
Keeping this background in view, Analysis filed an RTI with NHPC with the objective of getting information with respect to different hydro-power projects that were proposed by NHPC (only) in the five states of India (J&K, Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh) from 2012 to 2016. The reply stated that during the period of 2012-2016 no new projects were proposed by NHPC in the states of J&K, Himachal Pradesh, and Meghalaya. However, the details regarding the projects in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand were provided by the NHPC.
In Arunachal Pradesh, three projects were proposed by NHPC namely; Tawng-I Hydro Electric Project, Tawang-II Hydro Electric Project and Dibang Multipurpose Project. In Uttarakhand five projects have been proposed by NHPC so far namely, Kotlibhel- 1A hydro-electric project, Kotlibhel- 1B hydro-electric project, Kaotlibhel-II hydro-electric project, Dhauliganga Intermediate hydro-electric project and Goriganga-III A hydro-electric project.
Arunachal Pradesh has been in the news for quite long time now. The state has witnessed some fierce public opposition against these hydro-electric projects (HEP). On May 2 police firing erupted in the region of Tawang in which two protestors were killed and at least 21 people were injured. Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF) is the spearhead organization for launching anti-dam protests in the entire region.
SMRF started to make public aware of the effects on ecology due to these HEPs. The organization has succeeded in obtaining the order from National Green Tribunal recently against the 780 MW hydro-power project (Nyamjang Chhu HEP). The order suspended environment clearance granted by the MoEF&CC to the project on the ground that the project was threatening the habitat of winter migratory birds, black-necked Cranes.
The government has till now ignored the protests carried on by SMRF and people against these HEPs. Instead, the government is focusing on development of strategy for expeditiously clearing the hydro power projects. GoAP is planning on expediting hydro projects in the state. The meeting of CMs of northeast states with planning commission in the year 2014 only focused on effective resolution of issues of environment and forest clearances.
A study was done by the KPMG clearly identified the overuse and commercialization of eco-sensitive zones as the biggest threat to the entire northeast region which will result in depletion of natural resources. The study also considered all the northeastern states as environmentally fragile due to regular occurrence of floods and landslides. The study also recommended the formulation of uniform environment policy across the northeast and sustainable water usage plan on hydro-power.
Dibang Multipurpose Project (2880 MW), which is located in lower Dibang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh proposes to construct 278m of high concrete gravity dam and underground power house, in past have seen stiff local opposition and multiple rejections on the grounds that it will adversely affect the forests, wildlife and livelihood. However, the NGT admitted the plea on the project in July 2015. With respect to current status, as revealed by the RTI, a fresh detailed project report (DPR) with reduction in dam height by 10m is under preparation by the NHPC.
Tawang-I HEP (600 MW) is located in the Tawang District of Arunachal Pradesh. The project proposes to construct 26m high barrage and underground power house. All the statutory clearances have been received by the project except forest clearance (stage-I and stage-II), Public Investment Board (PIB) recommendation and Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) sanction, revealed the RTI.
The reply also stated that Tawang-II HEP (800 MW) situated in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh proposes to construct 28m high barrage and underground power house, has also received all the statutory clearances except forest clearance (stage-II), PIB recommendation and CCEA sanction.
While considering the issuance of forest clearance to both the Tawang HEPs, Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the MoEF asked the GoAP to conduct a study on Tawang river basin. The study was finally conducted and submitted by the North East Hill University to the government. The report recommended following measures to be adopted by the project proponents:
- Maintaining the e-flow of the river basin.
- Adopting strict management and regulation options for pollution.
- No usage of high-tech equipments to minimize the noise levels.
- Proper construction of muck disposal system.
- Strict regulation of vehicular movement.
- Afforestation programme to be undertaken by the project proponent.
Various protestors and environment groups like SMRF are contending that the district is already envisaged with small and medium badly maintained hydro-power projects. Also, these projects are ecologically dangerous for the entire region.
“These mini and small hydropower projects were meant to meet Tawang’s electricity needs. But these are not maintained properly for which we are facing power crisis. The government is planning large projects that are a detriment to our ecology and culture, though the small and mini projects are not functioning properly,” SMRF general secretary and lama Lobsang Gyatso said.
NGT in last few months has also taken a strict stance against such HEPs which are ecologically unstable. NGT in the case of Ajay Kumar Negi & Anr. V. UoI (April 4, 2016) issued directions to ministry in order to ensure protection of the environment, particularly restoration and restitution. In another case of SMRF & Ors. v. MoEF & Ors. (May 7, 2016), NGT suspended the EC with respect to the Nyam Jang Chhu HEP in Tawang district due to faulty scoping, vague terms of references (ToR), no public consultation of the project and the development carried out by the project proponent was not sustainable in nature.
“The growing resistance to dam projects led by Buddhist priest Lobsang Gyatso and others of the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh shows India’s failure to understand the nature of governance, security and development challenges in north-east region. Reckless adherence to a dam building spree by politicians ignoring the impact it may have on ecology, people’s lives and national security has raised tension in a region where India is having a long-standing border dispute with China” wrote Kadyam Subramanian
In 2013 the SC passed a landmark verdict in the case of Srinagar Hydro Electric Project (SHEP). The court directed the MoEF and GoUK to not to grant approval to any projects in Uttarakhand until further orders. The judgment came in the wake of 2013 disaster floods. As a result, most of the projects are lying in the middle, incomplete. The stalled structures also resulted in flash floods and increased landslides this year.
Earlier, there have been reports of inter-ministerial conflicts. The MoEF was in the favor of resumption of five HEPs whereas the ministry of water resources and Ganga rejuvenation opposed any kind of resumption. But, recently, both the ministry now stands united before the SC in order to push the resumption of power projects in the state of Uttarakhand.
Recently, NGT in the case of Srinagar Bandh Aapda Sangharsh Samiti v. Alaknanda Hydro Power Co. Ltd and Ors. (August 19, 2016) ordered the respondent (a unit of GVK power) to pay a compensation of Rs. 9.26 crore to the residents of Srinagar, Uttarakhand. The tribunal stated that damages and injuries were caused due to project’s muck erosion. The tribunal rejected the respondent’s argument of “Act of God”. The judgment was landmark because first time the judiciary imposed liability on the hydro power projects for damage caused during the 2013 Uttarakhand floods.
Kotlibhel-1A HEP (195 MW), Kotlibhel-1B HEP (320 MW), Kotlibhel-II HEP (530 MW), Dhauliganga Intermediate (225 MW) and Goriganga-III A HEP (120 MW) are the five HEPs that are proposed by the NHPC in the state of Uttarakhand during 2012-2016, revealed the RTI. Out these five projects, all the Kotlibhel projects are based in the Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. Kotlibhel-1A proposes to construct 82.5m high concrete gravity dam and underground power house. Kotlibhel-1B project proposes of constructing a 90m high concrete gravity dam and surface power house. Kotlibhel-II project suggests on constructing 82m of high concrete gravity dam and underground power house. Dhauliganga Intermediate, based in Pithorgarh District of Uttarakhand, proposes of constructing 106m of high concrete gravity dam and underground power house. Last project, Goriganga-III A which is also based in Pithoragarh District of Uttarakhand proposes a 27.6m of high concrete gravity dam and surface power house.
With respect to their current status, PIB recommended the implementation of the Kotlibhel-1A HEP. But due to the order of SC, it came to halt and as a result it is still under process. Kotlibhel-1B HEP was given techno-economic clearance by the CEA but, the forest clearance was declined on July 7, 2011. Also, the EC was quashed on September 15, 2010. Due to the order of SC, the project is still under process. The case is also under process for Kotlibhel-II HEP whose forest clearance was declined on July 7, 2011.
The implementation agreement has been executed and terms of reference from MoEF for starting Survey and Investigation (S&I) activities has been received for the Dhauliganga Intermediate and Goriganga-III A HEPs.
Kotlibhel-II project has threatened the survival of Golden Mahaseer Fish. According to the study conducted by the scientists, Mahaseer comes to Nayar river here for spawning from plain areas, the barrage will block the route of this migratory species for spawning which will put their survival at risk.
J.A. Johnson, Wildlife Institute of India scientist said, “Mahaseer come via Rishikesh to Nayar which is upstream to Devprayag. However, if the Kotlibhel-2 is built up then the Devprayag confluence will also get submerged and, the reservoir built will block the flow of the river and, the migration of the Mahaseer for spawning. This would result in massive obstruction of habitat and sudden decline of this endangered state fish.”
DN Bhatt, deputy general manager of THDC said, “It is due to Tehri reservoir path for this Mahaseer fish got blocked. We also got a study in this regard from Zoological Survey of India. The mitigation methods suggested by them such as fish ladder, bypass and fish lift to clear passage for them could not work in the huge reservoir of Tehri.”
Tehri Hydro Power Corporation (THDC) was supposed to implement the action plan for Mahaseer breeding once the dam was built but nothing much has been done so far.
The RTI also revealed about the joint venture projects that were proposed by the NHPC in the above mentioned states during 2012-2016. As per the information, joint venture projects were proposed only in the state of J&K which are; Paka Dul, Kiru and Kwar HEPs. They were identified for implementation through M/s Chenab Valley Power Projects (Private) Limited (CVPPPL), a joint venture company amongst NHPC Ltd., J&K State Power Development Corporation (JKSPDC) and PTC India Ltd. (PTC). Paka Dul HEP is in award stage by M/s CVPPPL, while Kiru and Kwar HEPs are under different stage of statutory and mandatory clearances.
On being asked, that is there any specific policy governing the regulation of HEPs in the Northeast India? The reply was negative. The projects are still being governed under Hydro Power Policy of 2008, which does not talk about harnessing of hydro-power in the Northeast states of India in specific.
The reason why these Northeast states are given immense importance when it comes to the HEPs is, due, to their ecological setup. The way government has recklessly proposed the projects has clearly compromised the environment, biodiversity and livelihood associated with these areas. The damages of the projects will be long term and irreversible. Despite several statutes and legal procedures being already in place, the regulation has been weak.
Organizations like SMRF are trying hard to protect the wildlife, flora and fauna. State authorities, in turn, are acting arbitrarily by opening fire and carrying out detentions of these protestors. The different judicial pronouncements by NGT have proved that these giant governmental and private companies are jeopardizing the process of environmental clearances.
After the tragic floods of 2013 in the state of Uttarakhand SC decided of not allowing any further development of power projects in the state, which was obviously a temporary prohibition. But, now the time has come where the apex court will have to take a firm approach with respect to the development of power projects in the environmentally fragile areas like the Northeast. The difference in geographical, social, economic, natural conditions of these hilly areas as compared to the rest of the nation creates the need to develop these areas with utmost care. The holistic approach shall be undertaken by the government with respect to development of HEPs.
NOTE: The Analysis has requested for comments from various organizations and individuals. As soon as we receive those comments we will update them in this story.
Author: Rishabh Shrivastava and Jinendra Parakh (special thanks to Abhishek Anand, field Volunteer with Analysis, for helping with the RTI related work.)
You can reach authors at: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rishabh Shrivastava), email@example.com (Jinendra Parakh)