Tragedy of Errors : Environmental governance and the Sonthi Lift Irrigation Scheme

That small-time EIA agents and private project proponents put up sham EIAs and project justifications is not really news. People, from erstwhile Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to Prof. Madhav Gadgil, have spoken famous lines about this issue.

But what if respected government agencies and departments too join this band wagon of fraud?

In the 69th meeting of the Expert Appraisal Committee of the MoEF[i], officials of Karnataka Bhagya Jal Nigam Limited and WAPCOS (Water and Power Consultancy, under the Ministry of Water Resources) earnestly discussed the ‘proposed’ Sonthi Lift Irrigation Scheme, which ‘envisages’ a non-submersible barrage ( dam) across the Bhima River in Gulbarga, Karnataka. The barrage and project would submerge over 1400 hectares of land and affect nearly 3000 people.

As per EIA Notification 2006, the project had applied for first stage environmental clearance (Terms of reference clearance) in which the EAC is supposed to appraise the viability of the proposal holistically, assess the pre-feasibility report (PFR) and Form I submitted by the project proponent and, if all these are found satisfactory, recommend specific Terms of Reference for carrying out Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and Public Hearing of the project. On completing these, the project comes back to the EAC for Environmental clearance. Based on the EIA and public hearing, EAC decides on recommends Environmental clearance (EC). EC is issued by the MoEF and only after this can the actual project work start.

This forms the backbone of the Environmental clearance process of the country, upheld by the EIA Notification 2006 and Environment (Protection) Act 1986.

Now comes the intriguing and sad part.

The Pre-feasibility report of the project, presumably done by WAPCOS, talked about Sonthi Lift Irrigation scheme, which ‘envisages construction of Sonthi barrage, its ‘proposed’ submergence and people who ‘may be affected’. Form I by the proponent talked about “967 structures which will have to be cleared in submergence village for the project”. Note here that WAPCOS is no small time EIA Agency, it is a part of the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India.[ii]

The reality is that the Sonthi barrage with vertical gates, which the Executive Engineers and WAPCOS were ‘proposing’, already stands across the Bhima River near Sonthi village. While work on the barrage is complete, work on canals is also complete in some stretches and progressing in some. Contracts for this Lift Irrigation scheme, which was discussed for TORs in 2013, were issued by the Karnataka Government as early as 2005!

Completed Sonthi Barrage Photo: KBJNL http://www.kbjnl.com/Comp-CZ1-Sonthi-BCBAR-Bhima

Completed Sonthi Barrage Photo: KBJNL http://www.kbjnl.com/Comp-CZ1-Sonthi-BCBAR-Bhima

And the status of the Sonthi LIS is not a secret either.

In fact, the Karnataka Bhagya Jal Nigam Limited website itself sports a picture of this barrage and states that: “Sonthi Barrage, with a capacity of 4 TMC is already completed!” (http://www.kbjnl.com/Ongo-CZ1-Sonthi-LIS)

The website states:

Location:

Across River Bhima near Sonthi Village of Shahapur Taluk.
Utilisation 4.00 TMC
Components Bridge cum Barrage across River Bhima.
Head Work – 1 No.
Main Canal – 23 Km, Branch Canal – 16 Km
Yargol Minor Canal – 10 Km & Distry. Network.
Command Area 16,000 Ha.
Status of work

Sonthi Bridge cum Barrage completed.
Head work in progress

The barrage completed with all 37 gates of the barrage fixed, work on the canals of the Lift Irrigation scheme is also progressing water is stored and work on feeder canal is completed, branch canals on going fast and completed in some stretches. According to KBJNL, Civil work of barrage & Erection of all 37 vertical gates completed and water stored at Barrage. Construction of Feeder Canal work is completed. Works of Sonthi LIS Main Canal Km 0.00 to 5.00 including Aqueduct, Sonthi Branch canal Km 0.00 to 7.00, Distry. No.1 Km 0.00 to 15 & Yargol Minor Canal works are in progress.” (http://www.kbjnl.com/Progress-Report)

CAG’s report

Ironically, not only is the scheme complete, but CAG had punched holes in the contracting of this LIS back in 2011.( http://agkar.cag.gov.in/docs/ARPSU%202013-Eng.pdf ) According to CAG Report, No. 4, Commercial of 2011, Karnataka, modifications of converting a submersible bridge into a lift irrigation scheme have happened on the barrage and Sonthi barrage has already been modified into a Lift Irrigation Scheme. CAG has recorded irregularities in awarding contracts for this extended work also to the same contractor, without proper tendering process. CAG proves that contracts for converting the submersible barrage into a non-submersible barrage and Lift Irrigation Scheme were given as early as 2005, nearly a decade before the project came for first stage environmental clearance!

According to teh CAG report: After award of the work (June 2003) the Company (Karnataka Bhagya Jal nigam Limited) decided (December 2003) to construct a non-submersible bridge on a request from the Minister for Minor Irrigation (October 2003). This resulted in increase in quantity by more than 125 per cent of tendered quantities. The same contractor was entrusted (Nov 2004) with the additional works necessitated due to change over to non-submersible bridge at the cost of Rs  7.85 crore.”

“On the directions of the Government (Dec 2005) Sonthi bridge- cum-barrage was modified to include lift irrigation scheme also. Construction of steel embedment works for vertical gates and the associated additional civil works at the cost of Rs 30.15 crore were also entrusted to the same contractor.”

Media reports also support this change into a Lift Irrigation scheme way back in 2005 ““The Government has increased the scope of the Sannati barrage ( which is the same as Sonthi barrage, as the place is called Sonthi as well as Sannati) and converted it into a lift irrigation scheme to utilise 4 tmcft of water to irrigate more than 17,000 hectares. Mr. Singh laid the foundation stone for the redesigned Sannati lift irrigation project on June 16 2005”

Karnataka Bhagya Jal Nigram Limited or WAPCOS however, did not share this advanced status of the work with the MoEF and went on talking of the ‘proposed’ barrage in the EAC meeting.

69th EAC Meeting: SANDRP sent a submission to the EAC ahead of the 69th meeting in which the project was considered, exposing this state of affairs. Following this, the 69th minutes of the EAC note: “It was informed to the project proponent  that a complaint/representation against the project from SANDRP has been received. As per the complaint, construction work for the project has already been started.  In that case, this is a violation of Environmental Protection Act, 1986. The project proponent was given a copy of the complaint and was asked to give a detailed response. The EAC also advised MoEF to write to State Government on the violation and take necessary action/ settle in accordance with provisions of prevalent office memorandum on such violation.  The proposal may be placed before EAC only after this issue is resolved.”(Emphasis added)

Public Hearing of an existing Project?!

Despite these clear instructions by the EAC we are shocked to see that Karnataka State Pollution Control Board has announced on its website that Environmental Public hearing of the Sonthi Lift Irrigation Scheme will be held in Sonthi village on the 23rd March 2014! (http://kspcb.kar.nic.in/pubhear.html)

The announcement is also accompanied by Executive Summary of EIA report and a complete EIA report. This EIA will not stand legal scrutiny as this is done without TORs from the MoEF. The Kannada version of the EIA report also bears the name of WAPCOS.

Shockingly, both the Executive Summary and the EIA paint a fraudulent picture that the project has received TOR clearance in the 69th EAC meeting, when we saw above that this is categorically incorrect.

The EIA report states: “The Terms of Reference (TOR) for the EIA study were approved by MoEF. A copy of the approved Terms of Reference for the CEIA study is enclosed as Annexure-I.”

The EIA Executive Summary states: “Annexure III: TOR Clearance, 69th Meeting Minutes.”Annexure III consists of the 69th Minutes and has shockingly removed the parts of the minutes which unequivocally state that TORs have been rejected.

(It has removed: “The proposal may be placed before EAC only after this issue is resolved”)

These consciously misleading statements are completely unexpected and unacceptable from the Karnataka Bhagya Jal Nigam Limited as well as WAPCOS.

COPY PASTE EIA!

The travesty does not end here. The EIA report by WAPCOS is a confusing document. Though it is meant for Sonthi LIS, Karnataka,large parts of the report mention Kundalia major multipurpose project from Madhya Pradesh!

For a lift Irrigation Scheme, without any drinking water supply angle, the reader is told: “The proposed Kundalia Major Multipurpose project will provide 20 Mm3 Improvement in agriculture production of water every year to meet drinking water requirements. This will serve a population of 1.35 million, who will be served with low fluoride levels. Thus, Rajgarh district, which is categorized as fluoride affected, will be immensely benefitted due to the project.” (Page 10.6)

This repeats with unerring regularity at various places like 10-4, 10-6, 10-8, Table 2.2 (Cost required for Kundalia Project), 9.1 (Prediction of impacts!), many places at 9.7, etc.

The EIA further extolls the benefits of Kundalia Multipurpose Project in an EIA document of Sonthi Lift Irrigation Scheme!

In fact the EIA of Kundalia was also done by WAPCOS.

SANDRP and a number of organisations have pointed out the severe issues with WAPCOS’s EIAs, basin studies, cumulative impact assessments tudies, etc. Even Forest Advisory Committee of the MoEF has passed strictures on WAPCOS. But it seems that WAPCOS is insulated against these errors, which severely affect communities and ecosystems.

Complete reading of the EIA report highlights:

  • Wrong figures of affected population: EIA Report (10-2) states that 2861 people will lose their lands and 1760 people would lose homesteads. Same page states that 2004 people would lose lands. Topping this, section 13.3 states that in total only 942 people would be affected! (From 852 families, so this is assuming 1.1 persons per family!!). Its interesting to see that the agency could not get the numbers right even for a project which is already existing.
  • Wrong impoundment figures: Chapter 5 of Hydrology states: The Sonthi Lift Irrigation Scheme envisages construction of a barrage across Bhima River near Sonthi village in Chittapur taluka, Gulbarga district, in Karnataka to impound 4 TMC of water including a dead storage of 0.265 TMC. Chapter 2 Project Description states: Sonthi Lift Irrigation Scheme envisages construction of a Barrage across Bhima River to impound 2.89 TMC of water including a dead storage of 0.265 TMC!
  • Cost: Page2-13 gives cost at 502 crores. Page 2-14 gives it at 600 crores.
  • Gross irrigated area and Culturable command are the same at 16800 hectares. Irrigation intensity should thus be 100%, its shown as 105%!
  • Rehabilitation: Although the barrage is built and is storing water, rehabilitation of the affected population still not done.

This is only indicative list of the cut and paste instances, inconsistencies and contradictions in the EIA.

 All in all, it is clear that Public hearing for Sonthi Project should not be held on the grounds of:

1. Absence of TOR from MoEF due to violations

2. Violation of Laws

3. Cut Paste EIA Report

4. Serious issues with the quality of the EIA Report

We urge KSPCB to cancel this public hearing immediately and take action against KBJNL and WAPCOS for making wrong statements of TOR clearance given by EAC when, EAC has not given any such clearance. Not doing so will implicate KSPCB in these illegal activities.

The case of Sonthi LIS is critical as it negates nearly all aspects of the environmental governance surrounding dams in this country. It has violated EIA Notification 2006, EPA 1986, it has conducted a sham EIA study without TORs, the EIA is a copy paste document and we do not even know the status of the displaced population. The question here is not about 16000 hectares of irrigation. If the project had undergone honest and transparent environmental appraisal, it would not have affected the irrigated area. The question is how serious are we in implementing, upholding and respecting laws protecting people and environmental and our entire environmental governance system.

SANDRP has sent submissions to the EAC, MoEF as well as the KSPCB to cancel this sham of a public hearing for an existing project. Our eyes are now at the KSPCB and MoEF to see what action do they take against a project which undermines rules laid down by the MoEF and the laws of the land.

-Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

 

5 Comments on “Tragedy of Errors : Environmental governance and the Sonthi Lift Irrigation Scheme

  1. The time has come to press criminal charges against WAPCOS and all concerned.

    Like

  2. The Karnataka State Pollution COntrol Board did not conduct the PH on Sonthi on 23rd March 2014. The reason stated was: “Postponed due to the commencement of filling nomination papers for forthcoming Loka Sabha Election”.http://kspcb.kar.nic.in/pubhear.html

    However, the 73rd EAC meeting has been extremely disappointing and has actually issued TORs for this near-completed scheme! The EAC has not upheld Environment Laws under which it is supposed to function

    Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

    Like

  3. its very good work.

    As per your article, the company name mentioned is Karnataka Bhagya Jal Nigam Limited whereas in EIA report it is Krishna Bhagya Jal Nigam Limited.

    Thanks

    Sharath

    Like

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