Biggest and highest hydropower project of India proposed without disaster impact assessment

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Pancheshwar dam site

Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) wrote to the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s (MoEF’s) Expert Advisory Committee (EAC), arguing as to why Pancheshwar Project should not be considered for Environment Clearance (EC). Excerpt:

The agenda of the EAC for River Valley Projects (RVP) held on Oct 24, 2017, put up on the EC website only on Oct 18, 2017, just six days before the EAC meeting, includes the 5040 MW Pancheshwar Multipurpose project (PMP), India’s largest proposed hydropower project. The agenda should be available at least ten days before the meeting, and this should also be a reason for not considering the Pancheshwar project by EAC for its meeting on Oct 24. Moreover agenda mentions 5600 MW Pancheshwar project, where as the capacity as per EIA is 5040 MW. Is MoEF just callous in mentioning wrong installed capacity or has the capacity gone up? In either case, the 5040 MW Pancheshwar project should not be on EAC agenda.

We have large number of concerns about the project, some of them are listed below. More details are available from what we have already written and published on this project, the links are given below:

Public hearing not conducted in all affected districts:

EIA says in very first chapter (p 8, section 1.5): “The project structures, including the reservoir area, lie in Champawat, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar and Almora districts of Uttaranchal state in India and in Baitadi and Dharchula districts of Far Western Development Region in Nepal.” However, no public hearing was conducted in the Bageshwar district. Moreover the project will also have downstream impacts, but no public hearings have been conducted in any of the downstream affected districts. The EAC should is supposed to appraise the adequacy of public hearings as per the EIA notification, and hence EAC should ask for public hearings to be conducted in ALL AFFECTED DISTRICTS as required, including downstream affected districts before considering the project.

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Pancheshwar Dam submergence map. Source: Pancheshwar Development Authority website

Unscientific, wrong, inadequate EIA:

There are many instances that show that the EIA is unscientific, wrong, inadequate and callous. Here are some glaring instances, this is only illustrative list, not an exhaustive list.

  • In section 1.6 (p 9) the EIA says about the catchment area of the Mahakali river basin upto Pancheshwar dam site, “The Mahakali (Sarada) basin up to the Pancheshwar dam site has a total catchment area of 12,276 km2… Out of the total catchment, an area of 9,720 km2 of the river catchment lies in India, and 4,456 km2 in Nepal.” Now if we add the catchment area in India and Nepal, i.e. 9720+4456, we get 14,176 km2 and not 12, 276 as mentioned in the same para.
  • In the next para, about catchment of the Mahakali river basin upto Purnagiri, located several kilometers downstream from Pancheshwar site, it says: “The total drainage area up to Purnagiri temple has been worked out to be around 14,922 sq km, out of which 10,884 sq km area lies in India and 4,038 sq km area in Nepal.” And now note that the Nepal catchment area in Mahakali basin has DECREASED as we go down! The Nepal catchment area upto Pancheshwar dam site is 4456 sq km as given in previous para, now, at Purnagiri temple, DECREASES to 4038 sq km.
  • Impact climate change on project is not assessed.
  • How the project will lead to acceleration of the climate change impact and reduce the adaptation capacity of the river basin, and people is not assessed.
  • The impact of mining of materials for the project not assessed.
  • The impact of construction, operation and decommissioning of coffer dams not assessed.

Full TOR not available on MoEF website:

The MoEF website does not provide the full TOR given to the project, including the specific point wise issues to be covered. The TOR letter is also not available on MoEF website.

A number of significant parameters of the project has undergone substantial change at EC stage, compared to the same at TOR stage, some of these are listed below. This means this is a different project and hence must reapply for TOR clearance.

  • The Installed capacity of the project, when the proposal was sent for TOR stage, as mentioned in the EAC minutes of 23 April 2015, 2 May 2016 and 31 May 2017, was 5600 MW for Pancheshwar Dam and 240 MW for Rupaligad Dam. However, the installed capacity of the project now before the EAC has been reduced to 4800 MW.
  • Power house configuration has changed from 350 MW units X 8 on each side of river, to now 400 MW units X 6 on each side of the river, which in turn would have different implications and impacts.
  • Even catchment area at Pancheshwar Dam site has gone up from 12100 Sq km (9720 in India and 2380 in Nepal) to 12276 sq km now (9861 sq km in India and 2415 sq km in Nepal).
  • Rainfall in Pancheshwar catchment was reported as 1620 mm at TOR stage, now it is 1996.5 mm.
  • The Height of the Rupaligad dam has changed from 70 m (from deepest foundation) at TOR stage to 95 m now as per EIA (section 2.2).
  • The location and other parameters of the Rupaligad dam has also undergone change from TOR TO EC stage.

EAC’s wrong decision about partial EIA:

In EAC meeting on May 31, 2017, the EAC decided, following letter from project developer, “As far as Joint Mechanism Set up is concerned, the EAC is of the view that as of now and considering the progress of preparation of EIA reports, setting up of the Joint Mechanism would rather delay the process of this important international project. Hence, let the Public Hearing be conducted based on the EIA report for Indian portion and the PP may approach the Ministry for final appraisal for environmental clearance.”

This was clearly wrong decision of the EAC. The EIA for a River, both down stream and upstream cannot be separated for two countries when river itself forms the boundary. How is the biodiversity impact to be assessed if it is not done for the whole project. More over, this is also in violation of the decision of the International Court of Justice, which has clearly stated in a recent order that for a trans-boundary project, the the EIA must be a joint exercise. The EAC should thus review its decision.

The EIA is lacking in basic aspects:

  • There is no executive summary. (The EIA consultant cannot claim that Chapter 1 is executive summary, the executive summary is statutory parts of the EIA and Chapter 1 is NOT an executive summary).
  • The EIA does not include the full TOR for the EIA as awarded by MoEF.
  • EIA is supposed to include a chapter that shows how the EIA has dealt with each of the TOR, but this section is missing in the EIA.

EIA is only of power component:

The whole EIA of the project is ONLY for power component, but this is a multipurpose project with irrigation benefit of 13000 ha in Nepal and 2.4 lakh ha in India. The cost of Rs 6622.5 m is also apportioned to irrigation component. But the land requirement and all the impacts of the irrigation component are not assessed in the EIA. This EIA cannot be acceptable for the whole Pancheshwar project.

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Pancheshwar dam public hearing at Dhaula Devi, Almora, August 17: Policemen inside the hall and in the venue

The preamble of the Ganga Basin Notification of Oct 7, 2016,  issued by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, states: “Whereas it is necessary to constitute authorities at Central, State and District levels to take measures for prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution in River Ganga and to ensure continuous adequate flow of water so as to rejuvenate the River Ganga to its natural and pristine condition and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

Section 42 of the notification reads: “Every person, the State Ganga Committees, District Ganga Protection Committees, local authorities and other authorities shall obtain prior approval of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, on the following matters, relating to River Ganga and any area abutting River Ganga or its tributaries, if required to implement the decisions of the National Ganga Council, namely:

“(a) engineered diversion and storage of water in River Ganga without affecting the flow of water downstream of the River Ganga…”

The Notification has defined the term “engineered diversion” at Section 3 (k) as: “engineered diversion” means a structure or device constructed or installed to transfer the water of River Ganga or its tributaries into canals or other engineering structures”. Thus, it is clear that the Pancheshwar project would be squarely covered under the said definition, and would, therefore, require prior approval of the District Ganga Protection Committees of all the affected districts, State Ganga Committee of Uttarakhand and UP and the National Ganga Council. This has not been taken and the Project proponent should be directed to obtain the same.

Public Hearing violations:

The public hearings held for the project in Almora, Pithoragarh and Champawat district have seen HUGE number of violations, including not providing the necessary documents in time and manner required, holding the public hearing far away from affected area, holding public hearing during monsoon when it was difficult for most of the people to come, filling up the public hearing space with armed police to such an extent that affected people had to stand outside, allowing non designated persons to sit on the dais, not allowing to steak all those present and desirous of speaking, among many others, see the links given above.

Disaster Impact Assessment not done:

The biggest hydropower project, the highest dam and the largest reservoir of India is proposed in an area that is prone to seismic activity (the assumption in project that project can have earthquake of max 7.4 on Richter scale is clearly wrong and unfounded) with accumulated seismic energy not released for decades now, flash floods (the area also experienced the floods in June 2013, damaging the NHPC’s 280 MW Dhauli Ganga project that could not be re-commissioned for a year), climate change, landslides, erosion, among many others. But the project has neither taken these adequately into account, nor included how the disaster vulnerability of the area would impact the project and how project would impact the disaster potential in the area. The Project must be asked to redo the EIA keeping all this in mind and the fresh EIA must be commissioned from a more credible, independent agency.

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The above map has been taken from official website of Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, hosted by Pancheshwar Development Authority (http://www.pmp.gov.np/maps.php). However, as an alert reader pointed out, this is a wrong map. He wrote to us: The map “…incorrectly indicates the course of the Saryu River. The Saryu River flows SE from Bageshwar and marks the border between Almora District and Pithoragarh District.  However, the map indicates it as flowing SW from Bageshwar and running through Almora District, before running east along the border of Almora and Nainital Districts, which is totally incorrect” This shows how callous the official agency is, that it cannot get even its map correct

WAPCOS suffers from conflict of interest:

Union Ministry of Water Resources is the project development agency and WAPCOS is an agency under MoWR. WAPCOS has been doing studies to establish feasibility of the project since 1970s. Such an agency cannot be expected to do an independent EIA, when EIA is supposed to assess environmental viability of the project. Hence WAPCOS EIA suffers from serious conflict of interest on two counts, and hence should be rejected. Moreover, WAPCOS has very poor track record in doing EIAs. Under these circumstances, a fresh EIA must be commissioned for the project by an independent, credible agency.

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