Maharashtra State Environment Protection Agency: Pathetic performance, sits over destruction of rivers

Above: Illegal Sand Mining in Pune (Photo: Indian Express)

At State level the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) is the regulatory authority for granting environmental clearance to the projects falling under Category ‘B’ in Schedule of EIA notification, 2006, which receives projects recommended by State level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC). SEAC is constituted for the purpose of assisting the SEIAA. Both SEAC and SEIAA are constituted under the EIA notification. For Maharashtra there are three SEACs. SEAC-I looks after appraisal of all the projects related to Industries, Mining, Irrigation and others, excluding building projects. SEAC-II looks appraises all the building projects falling under Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and SEAC-III appraises the building projects falling under Non-MMR region.

SANDRP looked at the decisions of SEAC-I (hereafter referred to as SEAC) for 17 meetings (of year 2015-16) specifically for projects which involve rivers, water bodies and also which have large water footprint e.g. sugarcane. The projects related to rivers and water bodies mainly consisted of sand mining projects, medium irrigation projects, dredging of rivers for proposed waterways, newly proposed or capacity enhancement of sugar factories and few other specific projects such as solid waste dumping site proposed by Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation (KDMC) which is close to the river etc.

At the outset it has to be said that the minutes for all the meetings are highly generic with little or no project specific elaboration especially of the environmental impacts. For most of the projects especially sand mining the remarks and conditions are standard. If one is trying to understand the rationale behind sanctioning some projects it finds no mention. Many of the projects like sand mining, river dredging or solid waste management sites near flood lines have been approved despite of evident grave risk. ‘No project’ does not seem to be an option at all.

Minutes of the meetings reflect how the project proponents (PP) have taken rivers for granted. Despite repeated violations SEAC has bestowed tremendous faith in PP that the conditions it stipulates will be complied with.

Remarks made by the committee give an impression of inadequate impact assessment of the projects. There is enough room to question if any serious impact assessment happened at all.

All in all after studying the minutes it becomes apparent how government bodies have failed to curb violations and damage to the rivers.

But before we get into the details of river specific projects, it is worth taking a look at problems concerning SEAC constitution and functioning.

The present SEAC-I was constituted by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) on January 30, 2014.[i] The term has ended on 27th October, 2016. Constitution of the latest SEAC-I is was follows-

Sr.No. Name of Member
1 Shri T.C. Benjamin, IAS (Retired)- Chairman

602, PECAN, Marigold,Behind Gold Adlabs, Kalyani Nagar, Pune 411 014.

2 Prof. (Dr.) Bhaskar N. Thorat, – Member

Professor in Chemical Engineering, Institute of Chemical Technology, Matunga, Mumbai 400 019.

3 Shri Balbir Singh H.S. Sehgal, (Retired)- Member

Civil Structural Engineer (MHADA)1/1, Satyavati Sadan,Pestom Sagar Road No.3,Chembur, Mumbai 400 089.

4 Shri Chandrakant Iranna Sambutwad- Member

Sambutwad CI,”Krishna:, Plot No.8,Venkatesh Cooperative Hsg. Society,Jawahar Colony, Aurangabad.

5 Shri D.A. Hiremath – Member

“Sankalp”, Plot No.12, Yalakki Shettar Colony, Behind Shankarmath,Dharwad 580 004.

6 Prof.(Dr.) Ramesh D. Dod, – Member

Flat No. 502, Building “E”,Vatsalya Nagari, Near Guru Ganesh Nagar, Kothrud, Pune 411 038

7 Shri Madan M. Kulkarni, – Member

101, Plot 547, Gayatri Apat., Kher Section, Ambernath(E),District Thane 421501.

8 Deputy Secretary – Member Secretary

Department of Environment Govt. of Maharashtra

Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) serves as a secretariat for SEAC and SEIAA. Fees and allowances for the committee members are paid by MPCB. Wider impression about constitution of SEAC is that the appointment of members is rather undemocratic. And wages paid by the MPCB are so poor that hardly any retired experts are interested to join.[ii]

Surprisingly, though MPCB is supposed to be the secretariat, the SEAC meetings are held at Mantralaya, Mumbai.

The minutes do not mention timing or for how many hours were the meetings held. This is hardly acceptable.

For this study, minutes from 114th meeting held on 19, 20 & 21 Nov 2015 to 134st meeting held on 07, 08, 09 September 2016 were assessed. Minutes of 127th, 128th,129th and 133rd meetings were not available. The minutes were sourced from following websites-

Environmental Clearance website for Maharashtra has uploaded the minutes only till 125th meeting held on 12-13 April 2016 when a number of meetings have taken place after that. (See here: https://ec.maharashtra.gov.in/index.php) Minutes of 126th, 130th and 131st Meeting are available in the latest updates on ENVIS website. (See here: http://mahenvis.nic.in/Default.aspx ) Minutes of 132nd and 134th meetings can be traced from Environmental Clearance website of Central Government through google search. (See for example: http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Form-1A/Minutes/8112612531216LARFVM2R132ndSEAC-IfinalMOM.PDF)

None of the project documents required for SEAC proceedings like prefeasibility report, proposed terms of reference (TOR), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports, Environment Management Plans (EMPs), EC letters, compliance reports etc. are available on the official website.

SANDRP has written to SEAC regarding updating the Maharashtra Environmental Clearance website for all the latest SEAC minutes and other project specific documents.

Sand Mining Projects dominated the SEAC agenda

Issue of illegal sand mining has been making headlines throughout the year in Maharashtra. Sand mining proposals have also dominated the SEAC agenda till before the separate District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) and District Expert Appraisal Committee (DEAC) for proposals falling under Category B2 of minor minerals in the EIA schedule was created by MoEFCC on January 15, 2016. In the 120th meeting of SEAC it was clarified by the MoEFCC that the cases already listed with the Committee could be taken up for appraisal by the Committee.

From 114th meeting to 122nd meeting the agenda is clearly ruled by the sand mining proposals. On an average 70 to 90 proposals were considered in each meeting. Highest number was 366 proposals considered in 116th meeting. The assessment of the minutes shows that most of the proposals are recommended. Of those not recommended most are ‘deferred’ to be considered for future meetings. Hardly any proposals are ‘rejected’. Even if they face rejection the reason is that the proposed depth is ‘too less to excavate’. For example in the 119th meeting out of the 366 proposals before the SEAC, 311 were recommended for EC and 55 were ‘deferred’.  Out of the 366 projects 296 were cases of ‘compliance’ i.e. they have been considered and deferred in previous meeting(s). In 119th meeting, out of the 70 proposals submitted for SEAC consideration, 65 were recommended for EC while 5 ‘deferred’.

Reasons for deferring are mainly absence of gram sabha resolutions supporting the projects, misinformation about the mining sites (measurements, maps boundaries etc.), ambiguities relating to the depths recommended by GSDA, possible changes in depth for under water mining sites etc. Percentage of compliance cases and deferred cases indicate the casual manner in which proposals are submitted in the first place. And how deferred cases keep showing up meetings after meetings also shows how rigorously these projects are pursued.

Clusters of sand mining blocks not assessed for cumulative impacts

In SEAC meetings the sand mining proposals are considered district wise. In almost all cases there are more than one blocks proposed along the same river in the same tehsil, at times even same village. Though the area of individual cluster ranges from say 5 ha to 15 ha, their combined area at times could easily add up to 25-30 ha, at times even more. For example in the 116th meeting there were 24 mining block proposals submitted for Pune District on Mula-Mutha, Bhima, Nira and Kukdi Rivers. The total area of these proposals was whopping 100 ha! 45 ha of mining blocks were proposed in Daund Tehsil on Mula-Mutha River alone and another 45 ha were proposed on Bhima River in Daund.    

Though these projects are approved in a bunch they are not assessed for the cumulative impacts. Each block is considered separately for approval. One can imagine impact of mining 45 ha along the river in single tehsil. It is bound to affect the sediment flow of the river, overall geomorphology and also the aquatic life. However, the projects are approved with extremely generic remarks about their impacts. For example:

“Excavation would not affect the water table and ground water levels in areas up to a radius of 500 m from the proposed mines. There are no riverine structures within 200 m of sand-gats. The Committee considered all aspects of Environmental Impact and decided to recommend the proposals”

For one thing it remains unclear as to how it was concluded that the excavation will not affect the ground water levels. Secondly there does not seem to be any reference to the assessment of impacts on riverine ecology. Consequently, while assessing the impacts of sand mining there seems to be no distinction between the rivers like Bhima, Mula-Mutha which are highly polluted with little or no aquatic life in the river and a river like Pranahita which flows through ecologically rich landscape of West Vidarbha and supports large array of aquatic as well as terrestrial diversity.

Also while recommending the projects for EC there are no site specific conditions stipulated like depth of sand to be left according to the condition of riverine ecology. Instead some blanket recommendations like “Excavation shall be carried out in such way that 2 m of sand is left on the river bed after mining.” are found in the minutes. For example, Bhima riverbed which is now scrapped of fine sand after years of excessive mining will need different recommendations, precautions than other Krishna and Godavari tributaries. But such detailing seems completely missing.

There does not seem any effort to discourage sand mining in the areas which have been mined for a significant period -to avoid further scrapping of river bed or in the areas which are ecologically rich and which are recently being exploited for sand.   None of the proposals are rejected for these purposes. The sole reason for rejecting the proposals is that the proposed depth is “too less” to be mined. There seems to be no acknowledgment of the vital role that fine sand plays in maintaining the geomorphology of the river.

Very few cases are deferred due to site specific conditions. But even those are mainly concerned with the feasibility sand mining activity and not with ecology. For example, at certain places SEAC has considered the possibility of change in shape of sand gats due to monsoon flows and has asked the project proponent to carry out the measurements afresh.

action-against-2743-illegal-sand-mines-in-pune-dist-in-march-2016

Pune Authorities take action against 2743 illegal sand mines in 2015-16 (Photo: IE)

The sand mining proposals considered in 116th meeting is worth elaborating here.

Out of the 24 cases from Pune District, 11 cases belonged to the submergence area of Ujani Dam. Out of these 11 cases, 9 were deferred in the 109th & 111th meeting, since the High Court has given a stay on extraction of sand in submergence of Ujani Dam. These cases were again submitted for EC. The Committee refused to change its stand in these 9 cases. Confusion prevailed regarding the remaining 2 cases which were misleadingly presented to be outside Ujani dam. The certified list of sand-blocks which come in submergence of Ujani Dam from the Executive Engineer, Ujani Irrigation Division, Solapur was still missing. The Committee decided to wait for the High Court’s decision regarding these 2 cases also. Thus 11 cases were deferred.

Disappointingly enough the other 13 cases were promptly approved by the committee with the same set of generic remarks and conditions despite having expressed its concern about the incessant unauthorised excavation of sand in Pune District. The Committee explicitly stated that the actions taken for arresting the illegal sand mining are not sufficient and that “More stringent actions and vide publicity regarding such actions have to be taken up to save the dying rivers of Pune District.”

One cannot help but wonder if the committee is so concerned about the sand excavation why did it not consider discouraging the sand mining in the area by rejecting the proposals at least till the credible status of situation and the credible action to stop illegal mining were in place?

pune-sand-mafiya-granades

Action taken against Sand Mafia in Pune (Photo: youtube)

Inconsistencies in the river dredging proposals

Dredging proposals submitted for EC are one more example of casually submitted proposals. In 118th meeting proposals for ‘Proposed maintenance dredging works to clear Navigational waterways and the channels of the creeks and rivers…’ from collectors of three districts viz. Raigad, Thane and Ratnagiri were considered for EC. In case of Raigad and Thane the Committee observed that there were significant inconsistencies in the dimensions prescribed for dredging. The Committee opined that these lacunae would result in irrational quantum of dredged materials and ordered for rectification “by proper application of mind.” PP (Project Proponent) is asked to provide corrected figures “so that proper analysis can be made.” The proposals thus were deferred.

For Ratnagiri however the proposal was free of such inconsistencies and was thus promptly recommended for EC. Here again details of what kind of deliberations about the possible impacts happened by the committee are completely missing. Also missing is the rationale for approval. Since the ‘inconsistencies in the dimensions’ was the only hurdle for approval for the Raigad and Thane proposals, they were duly approved in the next meeting as the PP had provided ‘rational dimensions’. No details of proposals like the total number of rivers to be dredged, total length, depth, baseline data about the riverine ecology have been mentioned at all.

While recommending these proposals for EC committee has stipulated certain common conditions like –

  1. The dredging activity should not create any disturbance to aquatic system, as even short term turbidity can affect metabolism of marine species and interfere with their breeding patterns.
  2. It is presumed that Maharashtra Maritime Board [MMB] had already studied the possible changes in hydrodynamic regime and geomorphology of the Coastal Zone. The Committee still feels that dredging activity shall be closely monitored by MMB for possible unforeseen changes in the geomorphology due to natural calamities or wrong methods of dredging.
  3. The storage and transportation of dredged material shall not affect the eco-system on the banks of river/ creeks. Special care shall be taken to preserve the mangroves and other aspects of marine eco-system.

One can clearly see that these are indeed serious probable impacts of dredging. If the conditions are not complied with, the damage could be far reaching and irreversible. Merely stipulating these conditions will not ensure that they will be complied with. No precautionary measures seem to be taken in case of noncompliance especially when the non-compliance can have serious implications. It is worth pointing again that these conditions are the same for all the districts and not nuanced for specific rivers.

Sugar factory expansions sanctioned despite of severe drought

As we can see in the table below expansion for two sugar factories was given a green signal and TOR for another four factories was approved by the SEAC during Nov 2015 and August 2016. There are several other sugar factories which have been delisted from SEAC agenda as they fall in category A of the schedule of EIA Notification. These were the months when Maharashtra State witnessed one of the worst droughts. Year 2015 had seen a monsoon deficit of nearly 50% in many parts of the state. Sugarcane was one of the biggest claimants of the remaining reservoir waters even when the water levels were dipping at alarming pace. And while on the one hand the state had failed to arrest the sugar crushing despite the evident poor monsoon, on the other hand nodal agencies like SEAC were busy sanctioning expansion of sugar factories through the dry spell. In this severe drought EC was granted for two factories with total expansion of 5500 TCD (Tonnes of Cane per Day) and TOR was granted for expansion of capacity worth 8000 TCD!!! There are also cursory references of existing sugar factories crushing more sugarcane than the consented capacity.

Sugar Factory at Solapur (Photo: Scroll)

Sugar Factory at Solapur (Photo: Scroll)

The question is, does the EIA concern itself with water availability and drought situation at all? Should the SEAC not be concerned about hydrological viability issue, since the hydrological viability and cumulative impacts also have such huge impact on environment too? Being the nodal agency for recommending projects for EC the SEAC has shockingly failed to arrest the growing unviable sugar footprint of the state. Word drought does not feature at all the in SEAC minutes where these sugar factories were given a go. It is ironic how this principle agency of Government of Maharashtra chose to disconnect itself from the burning realities of the state.

Meeting Date Details of Sugar Factory Expansion SEAC Decision
114 19-20-21 Nov 2015 M/s. Gangakhed Sugar & Energy Ltd.

Modernization & Expansion of Sugar Unit from 6000 TCD to 8500 TCD at Vijaynagar Makhanikodri road, Gangakhed Dist Parbhani

2500 TOR Approved
115 3-4-5 Dec 2015 M/s. Bhima Sahakari Sakhar 1Carkhana Ltd. Expansion cum Modernization of Sugar plant from 2500 to 5000 TCD along with Co-gen of 25 MW at vill Takali Sikander, Tal Mohol, Solapur 2500 Recommended for EC
117 29 30 Dec 2015 M/s. Shri. Dnyaneshwar Sahakari Sakhar Karichana Ltd. (ToR) For proposed expansion of sugar capacity from 5000 TCD 7000 TCD and Co-gen 31.5 MW at Village Bhende B. k., Taluka Newasa, Ahmednagar 2000 TOR Approved
122 24-25-26 Feb 2016 M/s. Shree Datta Shetkari Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana Ltd.(ToR) Expansion

/modernization of sugar unit from 7500 TCD 9000 TCD

Tal- Shirol, Kolhapur

1500 TOR Approved
130 1-2 July 2016 M/s. Shri Chhatrapati Co-operative Sugar Factory Ltd. Expansion & Modernization of Sugar Unit of capacity 3500 TCD to 6500 TCD along with Cogen 18 MW at Bhavaninagar Tal Indapur Pune 3000 Recommended for EC
132 4-5 August 2016 M/s. KUKADI SAHAKARI SAKHAR KARKHANA LTD. (ToR) Sugar 5500 TCD & 27 MW Cogeneration unit at Gut No. 91 & 92, Pimpalgaon Pisa, Tal. Shrigonda, Dist. Ahmednagar

Enhancement of sugar unit from 3500 TCD to 5500 TCD and co-generation unit from 12 MW to 27 MW.

2000 TOR Approved

Violations by VIDC

Violating the environmental laws is not new to VIDC (Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation). Cases of ongoing projects without securing environmental and forest clearances have been amply highlighted by government agencies like CAG. According to a CAG report of 2011 as many as 37 major irrigation projects in Vidarbha region have been going on unhindered without obtaining forest clearance. SEAC minutes show that the violations are as common for medium and small scale projects as well.

Between 114th to 130th meetings six medium irrigation projects were presented to SEAC for EC. All the six were cases of violations. SEAC pointing to these violations referred these cases to environment department. It indeed took a praiseworthy stand that “The proposals will be appraised only after appropriate action is taken by the Environment Department.” Environment department on its part however either condoned some violations while failed to take action on some. A Table giving details in this regard is annexed at the end.

How VIDC has been taking the environmental laws for granted becomes apparent in 130th meeting held on 1st and 2nd July 2016.

SEAC during 2014-16 had referred 65 projects of VIDC to Environment Dept. to verify the issue of violation of EIA Notification 2006. An amendment to EIA notification made on 25.6.2014 prescribes that ‘B’ category projects (less than 2000 ha Cultural Command Area) are not required to obtain prior EC from the SEIAA, subject to the provision that General Conditions shall apply.

Principal Secretary Environment Deptt., GoM had issued proposed directions to PPs of these projects and obtained their reply. On the basis of these replies the Principal Secretary, Environment Deptt. GoM verified in each of 65 cases and concluded that there were no cases of violations as prescribed in the EIA Notification 2006 (amended in 2014).

The real concern here is not that the CCA is less than 2000 ha which has resulted in the exemption from EIA. It is about going ahead with the construction without any regards for the environmental norms. These 65 cases just happened to be exempted. But even projects requiring EC are the cases of violations. Moreover, it also raises  question if the projects with CCA below 2000 ha are necessarily environmentally benign and do not need any impact assessment, management plans or scrutiny.

KDMC takes Ulhas River for Granted

Two solid waste management proposals submitted by Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC) were considered by the SEAC in its 124th meeting held on 30-31st March 2016. KDMC intends to discontinue open dumping of garbage at Adharwadi and establish 3 scientifically developed dumping facilities at Barave, Umbarde and Banda. All sites are reserved as Solid Waste Management in the DP reservation of 2005. Solid waste treatment plant at Barave will be designed to process 200 TPD waste and will be developed on an area admeasuring 22,300 sq. m which lies 200 m from the Ulhas River. The solid waste management facility at Umbarde will handle 350 MT/day of solid waste. There is a DP reservation for 10.2 ha area which is situated 500 m from Ulhas River. The proximity to river is such that in absence of necessary precautions river will be heavily contaminated by leaching of waste.

The Committee considered the proposal under category 7(i) – B1 of schedule of the EIA Notification 2006 and decided to consider the ToR after conducting a site visit. Accordingly, the visit was conducted on 11 April 2016. The site visit report annexed in the minutes of 125th meeting held on 12,13 April 2016 the committee has remarked “The sub-committee strongly felt in both cases that unless effective and robust flood control structures are constructed along the river bank, the dumping grounds will be a threat to the environmental sanctity of the river.”

TOR was nonetheless approved for the sites in the 126th meeting held on 29, 30 April 2016. What terms were drafted for the EIA has not been included in the minutes.

Seriousness of the precarious situation of the Ulhas River can be gauged from the fact that since 2013 Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has been facing a petition for failing to shut all the industries discharging untreated effluents into Ulhas river. In May 2016 The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests to take action against the MPCB for failing to prevent untreated industrial waste from being released into Ulhas River.

Polluted River Ulhas (Photo: Clean India Journal)

Polluted River Ulhas (Photo: Clean India Journal)

Summing up

SEAC is one of the most important nodal agencies responsible for protection of state environment. SEAC has performed dismally on that front. In the meetings issue of noncompliance has been iterated by the committee several times. Thus while recommending the projects for EC the SEAC cannot shrug its responsibility by merely stipulating certain conditions. The adequacy of EIA & EMP, the need for ensuring mechanism for compliance, need to assess cumulative impacts in the context of carrying capacity and the need to involve the local communities in the governance has to be duly factored in the approval process as well.

SANDRP spoke with Dr. Vishwambhar Choudhari, Director of Oasis Environmental Foundation which is a NABET accredited agency for conducting EIA. Dr. Choudhari said that all the consultants are involved only at the stage of preparation of EIA and EMP. Whether the EMP is being complied with is not the EIA consultant’s responsibility. He also said that compliance is certainly an issue since government agencies like MPCB have failed to take strict action to enforce laws.

This underlines the need to scrutinize the functioning of the SEACs and the SEIAA consistently and make them accountable for the decisions they are taking and challenge them publicly and legally where necessary. We hope the communities, the civil society groups, the media and the judiciary will ensure this happens.

Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP, amrutapradhan@gmail.com

Annexure: Details of violations in VIDC projects and response of SEAC
Meeting Date Details of Project & Violation SEAC decision
114 Construction of Earthen Darn Across the Bordi Nalla near village Borgaon (Mohana) in Taluka-Chandur Bazar of Amravati District, Maharashtra

Construction of dam and diversion weirs was undertaken

Terming this as violation the proposal referred to the Env Dept for further action
116 M/s. Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation Amravati, Executive Engineer Amravati Irrigation Division, Wasni (Bk) Medium Project, Amravati District In the 82nd meeting SEAC had referred the project to Env Dept

Though Env Dept sent a show cause notice the violation was not condoned

SEAC refused to consider the project

116 M/s. Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation Amravati, Executive Engineer Amravati Irrigation Division, Garga Medium Project, Tehshil-Dharni, District-Amravati.

The PP accepted that the project activity had been initiated without obtaining prior Environmental clearance.

The proposals will be appraised only after appropriate action is taken by the Environment Department.
116 Superintending Engineer, Irrigation Department, Akola Medium Irrigation projects, Uma Barrage Project, village- Rohana, Taluka- Murtizapur, District -Akola

The PP has accepted that project activity was initiated without obtaining prior Environmental Clearance

The proposals will be appraised only after appropriate action is taken by the Environment Department

END NOTES

[i] https://ec.maharashtra.gov.in/files/Reconstitution_Notification_SEACI_.pdf

[ii] As told by Dr. Vishwanbhar Choudhari, Director of Oasis Environmental Foundation, a NABET accredited agency for conducting EIA

2 Comments on “Maharashtra State Environment Protection Agency: Pathetic performance, sits over destruction of rivers

  1. The environmental clearance system is all hypocricy.To really express in a rough manner it is all bull shit.Who cares?Nothing matters!No one bothers about the rape of the Indian rivers by sand mining.Man wants sand for construction of houses and roads.Then how can anyone control the sand theft if that raw material is a must for the basic social need of housing?The govt and the environmentalists must think on these lines.

    Like

  2. In short as described in Sanskrit “Vinash Kale Viparit Buddhi”. We are progressing fast towards total destruction. Nature would give it back in full vehemence in calamities…

    Like

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