Environmental Impact Assessment report on Bhadbhut suggests project is pro-industry, lacks sensitivity towards fisherfolk

Fishermen's rally against Bhadbhut barrage in Bharuch on June 14
Fishermen’s rally against Bhadbhut barrage in Bharuch on June 14

By Mahesh Pandya*

Bhadbhut barrage project is the first in a cascade of projects planned for Kalpasar, a huge sweet water lake planned by damming the Gulf of Khambhat.  The-11-km long barrage is being planned in such a way that water is diverted to the Kalapsar reservoir. To be constructed at Bhadbhut,  Bharuch district in South Gujarat, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, for the project does not provide any information regarding the Gulf of Khambhat project. Nor does the EIA report have any reference on Kalpasar’s linkage with the Bhadbhut barrage project. 

In fact, the EIA report fails to give integrated impact of both the projects on operation and ecology of the Narmada river, on whose mouth the barrage will be constructed. It is also silent on the quantity of water to be diverted to the Kalpasar reservoir. Following are the main concerns about the EIA report:

(1) If Bhadbhut barrage is a part of the Gulf of Khambhat Development Project (or Kalpasar Project), how come a project of this scale has become a category B project?

(2) Why has the Gujarat government not been taking the whole project as an integrated whole so that its effects can be studied on a larger scale?

(3) On reviewing the summary record of discussion of the 41st meeting of Environmental Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, held on September 24-25, 2010 in New Delhi regarding the Gulf of Khambhat Project (click HERE for the summary) one would find that the EAC committee considered the documentation provided for allowing scoping highly inadequate, needing to be more holistic. Hence, it thinks, it is “questionable”. Given this framework, the question is, whether this project will get the required clearances.  If the state government is not clear about the whole project, why only one part it, the barrage, is being constructed?

(4) What is the mechanism to evacuate saline water from the freshwater after construction of the barrage? What is the desalination period when the water storage at the barrage can be used for fresh water storage only?

The EIA report lacks details regarding mitigation measures. The study of fisheries in the EIA report has made no attempt to consider the magnitude of impact of the barrage on Hilsa fish and other migratory fishes. Rather, the EIA report is trying to imply that the fishermen are only partly employed in fishing activity and that only a small number of fishermen own boats and need to go out to the sea. It also makes note of the fact that the Hilsa fishing trend is on a decline.

As a mitigation measure, a fish ladder is proposed for the project, details of which (including whether the fish ladder is feasible) have not provided in the EIA report.  The fact is that Hilsa species is already facing a threat of extinction in India. Hence details regarding mitigation should have been emphasized.  Studies have shown that fish ladder may not be feasible in some river projects and are unable to mitigate the impact (click HERE to download the study which throws light on the subject).

Further, the EIA assumes that the impact on fishery will be confined to just the immediate barrage area ignoring the far wider eco-hydrological impact through diminished livelihood due to inaccessibility to sea and river – in our estimate, around 8,000 fishermen residing in 22 villages from Kevadia colony to Bhadbhut will be adversely affected. The barrage will block the contact between the river and the sea. By blocking inter-habitat movement, there will be an adverse impact on fishing marine shrimp and prawn, which contribute maximum catch in marine fish production, especially in the upstream areas due to lack of sea water.

Alternation in the river flow will also have negative impact on the habitat for fish, macro invertebrates and other organisms in the river food web.  These organisms are adapted to the differences in discharge, flow velocity, and salinity naturally occurring during different periods of the year.  These factors will ultimately affect the fish population and fisherman will face a threat on account of loss of livelihood.

The EIA report says that fresh river water stored upstream of the Bhadbhut barrage would be 500 million cubic metres (MCM). From the storage at barrage, about 60 MCM water is for domestic use, 200 MCM for industrial use, and about 10 MCM for irrigation purpose is estimated.  This means that the main objective of the barrage is to facilitate the upcoming industries in this area, especially the Petroleum, Chemical and Petro-chemical Investment Region (PCPIR) in Dahej.  The other objective of the state government is the fulfillment of the alternative shorter route from Surat/ Hazira to Dahej region, atop the barrage, which is again beneficial to the upcoming industries. The clear aim of the state government is to go in for industrialization at the cost of environment.

The EIA report explains that Dhanturia Island is about one kilometer away from Bhadbhut and has an area of approximately 8 sq km. It is prone to periodic submergence during high floods, hence the authorities concerned have shifted the entire village to a higher level location, which is about 4 km away from the river bank. The shifting took place in September 2012 during floods. The EIA report states, “The Island has no productive use except growth of vegetation in natural state, and thus since there is practically no flora and fauna on the island, its submergence due to construction will not make any significant change in biodiversity.”  Now the fact is, although Dhanturia villagers were shifted to a new place, some families have returned back on the island and are residing there. After all, they must depend on fishery, which is their main means of livelihood. This shows the significance of the island and the attachment of people for their livelihood.

Indeed, field visits by Paryavaran Mitra volunteers and other NGOs have suggested that the affected people in the project impact area were surveyed rather than consulted. In fact, local people said the state government officials did not have any direct meeting with them, nor was any public announcement made for holding such meetings. Clearly, small fishermen were ignored during consultation, and this is a massive complaint about the project.

* An edited version of the Paryavaran Mitra director’s letter to Hardik Shah, member secretary, Gujarat Pollution Control Board, Gandhinagar, sent ahead of the Environmental Public Hearing on the proposed barrage across River Narmada near Bhadbhut on July 19, 2013.

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