No Chief Minister Sir, we are not doing social/ecological assessment of large dam projects

Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was the Chief Guest for one day symposium regarding water management in Maharashtra organised by the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune on the 2nd of July 2013.

In his address, the CM raised a number of important topics about water management in Maharashtra. Some of his thoughts were encouraging. He talked about the problems and expense of large irrigation projects, their underperformance and underlined the need for decentralised water management systems. He mentioned that the 2000 crores spent on tankers and animal shelters during 2013 drought was an avoidable expense, if we had developed decentralised water sources. He highlighted the problems of water regulatory authorities like MWRRA. He also mentioned that improper dam operation is a reason behind many disasters like the floods in Surat in 2006 due to Ukai Dam, Sangli floods due to mismanagement of Almatti Dam and stressed that Maharashtra should be concerned about this.

Significantly, he mentioned that while we are assessing the economic costs and efficiency of large dams, we are not looking at their social and ecological and that such assessments should take place. He also said that there should be an in-depth study on the ecological costs of these projects. This is a very welcome statement.

In reality, there has been a huge gap on what he said and what is happening on the ground.

The most blatant example of this is the Kalu Dam where work has stopped currently due to a stay order by the Hon. Bombay High Court. This dam is coming up in the Murbad block of Thane District and falls entirely in the tribal sub plan area and ecologically sensitive region of the Western Ghats. It is set to submerge 1000 hectares of Western Ghats forests and will affect more than 18000 primarily tribal population. The dam, being built by the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC,) has not done any Social Impact Assessment as per the National Rehabilitation Policy. Nor has it undertaken an Environmental Impact Assessment or Cumulative Impacts Assessment of its impact on the Forests. The individual and community Forest Rights have not been settled, in violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Despite all this, the construction started illegally, without a Forest Clearance and is halted only because of a petition filed in the High Court by Shramik Mukti Sangathana.

Illegal Work on Kalu Dam Site by FA Constructions Photo: SANDRP, May 2011

Illegal Work on Kalu Dam Site by FA Constructions Photo: SANDRP, May 2011

The Forest Clearance of this dam was rightfully rejected in 2012 by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). But exactly a year later the Forest Advisory Committee went back on its decision and gave Forest Clearance to this project unjustifiably.

One of the important reasons as, stated by the FAC in in its minutes is that

“(The FAC) also noted that Hon’ble Chief Minister of Maharshtra has specifically requested for a review of the decision of the Forest Advisory Committee” (FAC Minutes 3-4th April 2013)

How is it that the CM actually pushed for a Forest Clearance which would destroy over one lakh trees in Western Ghats, without any studies or options assessment?

When we asked this to the CM after this meeting, he replied that there is no law which says that EIA study for a drinking water supply dam is needed. While this is true and attributed to the erroneous omission in the EIA notification 2006, there is no law which says that such studies should not be conducted! Especially for a dam which is going to submerge 1000 hectares of forests and affect 18000 tribals! A Chief Minister with vision would in fact ask for such studies suo motto.

Dams around Mumbai which are mainly for drinking and industrial water supply can together submerge more than 6000 hectares of Forest. Even the State Forest Department under the Chief Minister himself has said that EIA of Kalu Dam is necessary. Chief Conservator of Forests, Central Circle has said that Cumulative impact Assessment of Dams coming up around Mumbai is necessary.

In this scenario, rather than urgently demanding for such a study the CM has in fact pressurised the FAC into giving a Forest Clearance to Kalu Project, WITHOUT any assessments.

Forests in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary. 750 hectares of these primer forests will be submerged for the Gargai Dam. Photo: SANDRP

Forests in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary. 750 hectares of these primer forests will be submerged for the Gargai Dam. Photo: SANDRP

During his speech, the CM said how important afforestation is. He said that he has asked all departments to undertake afforestation. “The issue is so important that even tanker water should be given for afforestation”. When afforestation is so important, why are we submerging last remaining forests of  Western Ghats without any studies?

Misrepresentation of Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) Report: The CM also said that WGEEP Report has banned all development from Gujarat to Kerala and that the on-going laterite stone mining in Sindhudurga-Ratnagiri districts  is a result of WGEEP which will hamper development in these places. It has laid a blanket ban on development.

CM seems to be entirely misinformed on this count. Firstly the laterite stone mining ban has nothing to do with WGEEP Report, but is in place due to a Supreme Court Order. This point has been reiterated several times and it is surprising to see the CM still claiming this. Secondly the WGEEP has not banned developmental activities, but has said that local communities should be in the driving seat while taking decisions affecting their regions. This is also upheld by several laws including the Forest Rights Act. So CMs statement about the WGEEP is clearly ill informed.

It was great to see the CM mention Climate Change, its impacts, need for advanced weather monitoring, etc. It was also good to hear from him about ecological importance for rivers and their flow. It will be good if environmental flows are released from dams of Maharashtra, as also upheld by the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal. This is currently not happening.

The CM seems to have progressive opinions about water and natural resource management. Hence, we are sure that the CM will demand for an Environment Impact Assessment, Social Impact Assessment and Cumulative Impact Assessment of dams coming up around Mumbai, especially Kalu Dam and will take a critical look at dams coming up across Western Ghats in Konkan being undertaken by KIDC, breaking laws like Forest Conservation Act, Forest Rights Act, Environment Protection Act, National Rehabilitation Policy with impunity. In fact he should see that KIDC and contractors which started work illegally are brought to the books.

We hope that the CM walks his talk about decentralised water management and valuing ecology.

-Parineeta Dandekar and Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP

Indavi Tulpule, Shramik Mukti Sangathana

Suhas Kolhekar, Convener, NAPM Maharashtra

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