Why the Decisions and minutes of the 86th meeting of EAC on River Valley Projects need to be reviewed

September 22, 2015

To

Chairman and Members,

Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects,

Ministry of Environment and Forests,

New Delhi

Respected Chairman and Members,

We have just seen the minutes of the 86th meeting (uploaded on Sept 14, 2015, but clearance letters in some cases have already been issued even before the EAC minutes are made public or the minutes are finalised at the next EAC meeting) of the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Committee, held on Aug 24-25, 2015.

The minutes make a disturbing reading. The EAC seems to be bending every ecological norm, facts and even legal stipulations to push ahead with every project that the government wants them to clear. There seems to be no application of mind from the EAC on the proposals. The minutes are not even internally consistent. It is putting forward facts in misleading fashion to give a wrong picture.

Some of the subjects discussed and recommended by the EAC are not even on the agenda put out in public domain. These include projects of far reaching implications. This kind of decision making is completely imprudent, improper, unacceptable and legally untenable. It seems as if the EAC does not want to learn any lessons from past blunders like in case of Lower Subansiri HEP.

EAC is supposed to have representatives from well-known institutions like WII (Wildlife Institute of India), National Biodiversity Authority, Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, CIFRI (Central Indian Fisheries Research Institute), Indian Institute of Technology-Rourkee & Central Water Commission. These institutes are clearly putting their reputation at serious risk by being a part of such decision making.

Subansiri River in the Upper Reaches Source: Lovely Arunachal

Subansiri River in the Upper Reaches (Source: Lovely Arunachal)

In fact some of the institutes like Central Water Commission and IIT-R should not have been a part of the EAC considering their conflict of interest, lacking necessary expertise and past track record. The chairman, Alok Perti himself has no environmental credentials to be even a member of EAC, leave aside chairing the EAC. S K Mishra, listed as member of EAC from IIT-R even now on the official website[1], has not attended any of the 16 EAC meetings since January 2014. In fact, even WII and CIFRI members are absent in majority (9 out of these 16) meetings. The minutes of the meetings list the EAC members present in each meeting, but this list has a lot of persons who are not listed as EAC members on the official website[2]. Dr. P. V. Subba Rao (MoEF) keeps getting listed as EAC member present, but he is not listed as EAC member. There are a number of other persons who keep getting listed present in EAC meetings, when the official EAC member list does not include them.

Cumulative Impact and Carrying Capacity Study of Subansiri sub-basin including downstream impacts The decision of EAC to clear this study is most shocking. Firstly this study was not on the agenda of the EAC meeting. There is no plausible reason why the EAC decided to even consider this study when it was not on the agenda. Secondly, as we have written to you in the past, the study is fundamentally flawed[3]. Thirdly, the study has not done downstream social impact assessment. Fourthly, there have been no public consultations in the downstream area. Fifthly, the modified study as mentioned in first para of the minutes related to this project is not even in public domain and it is still not available on the EAC website.

Map of Subansiri RIver Basin Source: http://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Subansiri_River_Basin.pdf

Map of Subansiri RIver Basin (Source: http://sandrp.in/basin_maps/Subansiri_River_Basin.pdf)

To consider a cumulative impact assessment study with all these fundamental flaws, when it is well known that the Lower Subansiri project is stuck for these very reasons, is disturbing decision that shows that the EAC members and MoEF are impervious to similar such mistakes committed in the past. But as the EAC should know, preconceived decisions of this kind can have no public acceptance. We urge EAC to reconsider this decision at the earliest.

Reduced Time frame for Cumulative Impact Assessment studies This discussion too not part of the agenda of the EAC meeting but the EAC decided to consider it without any publicly known reason. What was the urgency for considering this? Secondly, it is well known that the CIA studies done so far are so shoddy that the EAC or MoEF have not dared to have public consultations for them (in case in Sutlej basin where there was public consultation and peer review, it was exposed how inadequate the study was), nor have they been able to respond to the issues raised about the studies. In such a situation, considering a proposal to reduce time required for such studies is entirely unwarranted and misplaced.

The EAC decision in this regard was: “Further, EAC recommended that one season data should be collected by consultants as per the terms of reference issued earlier for these studies and since monsoon is critical season for such studies, the field data can be collected in the month of September itself. This would reduce the time frame of the study.

The beautiful Nyamjangchu River, Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, now threatened by the 780 MW Nyamjangchu Hydel Project and very low eflows recommendation Photo courtesy: Tenzing Rab Monpa

The beautiful Nyamjangchu River, Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, now threatened by the 780 MW Nyamjangchu Hydel Project and very low eflows recommendation Photo courtesy: Tenzing Rab Monpa

from 21 months to 12 months without compromising on the quality of the study.” This decision is clearly without any merit and possibly shows the ecological ignorance of the EAC members. The site specific baseline study is required for all the seasons, preferably it should be for two years so that seasonal incongruity is taken care of. But instead, the EAC has decided that only monsoon season baseline study is ok. EAC must immediately review and change this decision.

The EAC further decided: “For hydrological data, which is critical for basin study for the purpose of environment flow assessment, downstream impact study, etc.; long term discharge series is used and same is available from CWC only and same shall be used for the study.” The EAC thus equates hydrological data with environment flow assessment, downstream study etc. This is clearly wrong, Environment flow assessment and downstream impacts involve so much more than hydrological studies, they also involve social impacts. The EAC does not even mention any social parameters, as usual. This again shows that EAC just does not understand the ecological parameters that are supposed to be the main concern of EAC. This also is wrong decision of the EAC and EAC must review and change this decision.

The EAC contends that the data gathered under project specific EIAs should be useful in CIA, but the problem is that we have yet to see a credible EIA that has done honest three season baseline study. The EAC knows this is the situation, but chooses to ignore the reality.

EAC and MoEF’s notion of Conflict of Interest is lacking The EAC’s decision in this regard reads: “EAC discussed the matter in detail and observed that these are objective studies and recommendations are based on technical findings. All the recommendations have to be justified with substantial data back-up and scientific analysis. Technical committee will evaluate the report in detail and do not see any possibility of Consultants giving any undue favour to any Developers. In fact earlier experience of working in the basin will be helpful to make objective analysis due to Consultants familiarity with the region. EAC also observed that the ToR of the studies do not offer discretionary and arbitrary authority to the Consultants that can be used to extend favour or punishment to any proponents… The matter of conflict of interest is settled, keeping in view the objective assessment required for the study and evaluation of the report by experts.”

This is incorrect on several counts. Firstly, by this token any technical study will never have any conflict of interest, since all studies are supposed to justify their conclusions and are supposed to be scrutinized. This shows that the EAC does not appreciate conflict of interest issues at all. By this token, it was ok for someone like Mr. P. Abraham to be the EAC chair, while simultaneously being on the board of hydro projects, since EAC has to justify all its decisions based on technical reasons. This also shows that CWC itself does not appreciate the issue of conflict of interest and hence they did not include this in the pre-bid conditions. Now that exclusion from pre-bid conditions is paraded as the justification that there is no conflict of interest. The decision to include DU and NEHU in the CIA discussions does not help remove the conflict of interest, in any case DU itself is plagued by conflict of interest issues because of its involvement in EIA and CIA studies. Lastly, it is well known how poor these studies are and how inadequate is the EAC and CWC scrutiny of these studies. How can this be used to brush away the conflict of interest issue, which is well defined and addressed internationally?

Ken Betwa Link: How many EAC members suffer from conflict of interest? The EAC minutes notes: “Since many of the members of the EAC are from expert organizations which are responsible for the preparation of the LSMP there could be some conflict of interest. In fact one of the members had sought opinion on this and he was advised to recluse himself when this project is discussed.” The minutes do not say which member was advised to recluse. The minutes say, “Dr. S. Sathyakumar and Dr. A. Lingaraju, Members could not attend the meeting.”

A fabulous view of Ken river. Nesting sites of Long-billed vultures are to the right. All will go under water if Ken-Betwa linkup is carried out,AJT Johnsingh

A fabulous view of Ken river. Nesting sites of Long-billed vultures are to the right. All will go under water if Ken-Betwa linkup is carried out (Photo by AJT Johnsingh)

From the minutes it is clear that CIFRI has conducted downstream impact study and a WII member was part of the NTCA team and WII conducted the Landscape Management Plan for the project. So both CIFRI and WII members suffer from conflict of interest. In addition, CWC member also has conflict of interest as CWC was involved in selecting the EIA consultant, who has proved to be most incompetent from the quality of EIA. See below extract from the minutes of the 4th meeting of the MoWR’s Expert Committee on ILR which provides details in this regard.

Minutes of the 4th meeting (dated 8.1.2008) of the Expert Committee on Interlinking of Rivers constituted by Ministry of Water Resources said: “As far as, the award of consultancy work for EIA studies of Ken-Betwa link is concerned, due procedure has been followed by NWDA.  The Chief Engineer (HQ) explained that initially, NWDA invited the Expression of Interests from various firms through advertisements in leading national newspapers.  The same were evaluated by a committee constituted for this purpose under the Chairmanship of Chief Engineer (EMO), CWC.  Based on experience, firms were short listed for sending the Request for Proposal Document (Tender Document).  In response to this, technical and financial bids submitted by the short listed firms were evaluated by the Committee.  Finally, on the basis of the recommendation made by the Committee and approval of the competent authority, the work was awarded to M/s Agricultural Finance Corporation Ltd., Hyderabad.”

Question arises, with so many members having conflict of interest, how one can expect prudent decisions by the EAC?

There are many other issues related to Ken Betwa Link EIA, and we will write about them separately. Here we will only highlight two more issues. The 4 member NTCA committee that the EAC minutes mentions also included dissent notes from some of the members. EAC must look at the dissent notes in addition to the full report and these should be put in public domain. Secondly, large number of pages of the EIA of Ken Betwa on the EC website are not readable, these include: p 114-118, p 155-57, p 387, 405, 538-549, p B-5, B-9, B-11, B-13, B-17, p 596-683, p 911-14. With so many unreadable pages, it is not possible to appraise the EIA properly.

Luhri TOR Clearance recommended without following basic norms The EAC recommended the TOR clearance without ensuring at least one km of free flowing rivers with respect to the upstream project, and also allowing the environment flows through the dam toe power house, violating the basic environmental flow norms. This was in spite of SANDRP submission pointing out these issues. This again is a perturbing recommendation. The EAC had earlier noted that lack of 1 km of free flowing river from the upstream project is in violation of minimalist EAC norms, but it refrained from asking for this, claiming that this was not considered at the TORC of the earlier Luhri Proposal. Now when the EAC is considering the TORC for the new Luhri proposal, it is refusing to consider its minimalist norms. The EAC must review this proposal and also discuss the possibility of leaving this portion of the Sutlej as free flowing: As the last flowing portion available for Sutlej.

Sutlej River Basin Map from SANDRP

Sutlej River Basin Map from SANDRP

Mago Chu (96 MW) HEP, Nyukcharong Chu HEP (96 MW), New Melling HEP (90 MW): EAC does not fulfill its own requirements As the EAC minutes notes, the EAC had, while considering these projects in 84th meeting in June 2015, had required, among other things: “The project proponent must submit response to the various issues raised by SANDRP in their representation submitted to this Ministry.” However, the proponents of these projects have neither submitted such responses, nor EAC has discussed their merits and demerits. Secondly, these projects were to be considered only after the Basin study has been approved by MoEF after due process of consultations among the basin areas, but EAC has considered them without such approval and due process. The EAC has also rejected its own recommendation for public hearing in the compensatory afforestation areas. The contention of the EAC that there is no such provision in EIA notification is wrong, since EIA notification requires public hearings in all affected areas, and hence compensatory afforestation also falls in the area requiring public hearing since it is also affected.

Jeera Irrigation Project The minutes of the 86th EAC says about this project: “While considering the project, the EAC had noted that the validity of the TOR for the project has expired and public hearing was held one day after expiry of the validity of TOR.” This means that the public hearing for the project was held in violation of the EIA notification, on a date when the project did not have valid TOR clearance, a prerequisite for holding the public hearing. The EIA notification does not give EAC any powers to condone the public hearing to be held when the project does not have valid TOR Clearance. Moreover, EAC had decided and MoEF had mandated that the TOR extension can only be given if the extension if applied for within the validity period of the TOR clearance. The EAC should not be giving post facto extensions that are applied after the expiry of the validity period of the clearance. Its wrong that EAC not only extended the TOR clearance post facto, but immediately also started discussion the project for environment clearance, even through the public hearing was also held without TOR clearance. As is apparent from the minutes of 86th EAC meeting, the EIA has not been conducted by accredited agency, and EAC has decided to pardon even that violation, completely without any powers to do so. Under the circumstances, the EAC decision is untenable on both counts and EAC should review it.

Tawang Basin study: EAC accepts studies have not been done and yet approves the study While it is welcome that the EAC has considered the recommendation of the Tawang Basin study (Sept 2014 version) for the Nyamjang Chu HEP, there is nothing in the EAC minutes as to why the rest of the recommendations of the Sept 2014 should not be followed, since Sept 2014 version contains the original recommendations, the June 2015 version has much diluted version, under pressure from Arunachal Pradesh government. The justification given for the June 2015 report is clearly unacceptable. Incidentally, the eflows recommended by NEHU September study are much higher than eflows recommended by EAC, which several organizations, including SANDRP had opposed.

The explanation given for no public hearing, namely, “extensive consultation at village level covering both influenced and impacted villages did take place during the period of report preparation” is clearly not acceptable, since the final study was not there during such consultations and in any case, proper structured consultation process involving legally empowered independent panel is very different than informal consultations. Moreover, no such consultations has happened in the downstream area.

The explanation given by the EAC for no downstream impact assessment is puzzling: “It was explained by the Consultant that since the downstream of Tawang river falls beyond the international boundary in Bhutan territory, it is not feasible to conduct the downstream impact study within a short span of time. In view of this, the committee did not find the downstream impact assessment study essential for Tawang river basin.” Firstly, this is an admission that no downstream impact assessment has been done, which is the most important issue in North East India today, and to approve the Tawang basin projects & basin study without such an assessment is clearly going to make the projects and the study without any public acceptance. It should be added that Bhutan is the immediate downstream nation (a friendly country) and Assam is the next downstream area. There is already strong resentment and opposition due to the impacts of the Bhutan projects in Assam and similar will be the situation with respect to Tawang basin projects in Assam. The peaking power operation of the Tawang basin projects will also have downstream impact assessment, which has not been studied.

The EAC comment about “Non-inclusion of 2 hydel projects viz., 7.5 MW Khanteng Nallah and 3 MW Shayro Nalla HEP” is unacceptable: “However, the committee opined that it would take up the issue relating to these two projects when the cases are presented to the committee in future.” The EAC should know that projects below 50 MW do not come to EAC and those below 25 MW do not require Environmental clearance, erroneously though. This shows how callous is the EAC.

The EAC agrees that the study also should have added aspects like “change in silt regime and greenhouse gas emissions”.

Tagurshit HEP: EAC recommends EC even as it asks response to SANDRP submission The EAC has recommended Environment clearance to the project even as it says: “Resubmit the reply to the issues raised by SANDRP.” How can such a decision be accepted? SANDRP had raised many fundamental issues about the project and its EIA, and without seeing the response to them, how can the project be recommended EC?

We hope the EAC will review its decisions in light of above and also make changes in its way of functioning. Such decision making is not only ecologically imprudent, is in violation of the basic norms, it is also not going to help projects as such shoddy decision will never have public acceptance as they involve big projects with such far reaching impacts, that too in changing climate.

We will look forward to EAC’s detailed response on this. We would be happy to meet EAC in this regard.

Thanking you, Yours Sincerely,

Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP, Delhi, ht.sandrp@gmail.com

Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, Pune, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

Prof Brij Gopal, Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia, Jaipur, brij44@gmail.com

KK Chatradhara, People’s Movement for Subansiri & Bramhmaputra Valley, Assam, kkchatradhara@gmail.com

Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune, manthan.shripad@gmail.com

Latha Anantha, River Research Centre, Thrisur, Kerala, latha.anantha9@gmail.com

Manoj Misra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi, yamunajiye@gmail.com

Pushp Jain, ERC Resource and Response Centre, Delhi, pushp@ercindia.org

Ravindranath, River Basin Friends, Dhemaji, Assam, riverbasinfriends@yahoo.co.in

Vimal Bhai, Matu Jan Sangathan, Delhi, bhaivimal@gmail.com

Bharat Jhunjhunwala, (Former Prof of IIM Bangalore), Uttarakhand, bharatjj@gmail.com

Malika Virdi, Maati Sangathan , Munsiari, Uttarakhand, malika.virdi@gmail.com

E Theophilus Himal Prakriti, Munsiari, Uttarakhand, etheophilus@gmail.com

K Ramnarayan , Himal Prakriti, Munsiari, Uttarakhand, ramnarayan.k@gmail.com

END NOTES:

[1] http://environmentclearance.nic.in/report/compositions.aspx?RIV

[2] An email sent to member secretary of EAC with a list of eight questions in this regard remains unanswered.

[3] For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/subansiri-basin-study-another-chapter-of-environment-subversion-in-northeast/

One Comment on “Why the Decisions and minutes of the 86th meeting of EAC on River Valley Projects need to be reviewed

  1. Pingback: Expert Appraisal Committee is bending ecological norms to push every project government wants it to clear | C O U N T E R V I E W . O R G

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