The Environment Appraisal Committee
River Valley Projects
Ministry of Environment and Forests
Subject: Submission related to Chenab River and Lahaul Valley in context of EC for 430 MW Reoli Dugli project
We have read reports that the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydel projects of the Ministry of Environment has decided “not to take any cognizance of representations” received by its members since such representations are ‘anti-development’. The article appearing in Indian Express on January 14, 2017 stated, “In its December 30 meeting, the committee concluded that once a project proposal reaches the EAC for appraisal, it has crossed the stage of public consultation and “the EAC should not go back in time, and should not reopen it, by entertaining unsubstantiated representations received from the people”.
Respected members of the EAC before making our submission please let us assure you that:
this is not an ‘anti-development’ submission. In fact it is ‘pro-environment’ and ‘pro-people’ and hence, you will agree, it is ‘pro-development’. Because after we all want ‘development’. Are we all not seeking a better life and ‘well-being’ for the whole society through this ‘development’?
this is also not going to take you back in time, but will be rather about the apprehensions and concerns with regard to the present and then the future.
this representation, though not from scientists and technical persons or experts, as your self, comes from us, who have been living in the Himalayan region for the last many years. We have closely monitored and observed the impacts of the Hydropower projects in Himachal and every point that we will present below is substantiated, to the extent that it can be with evidence. And hence, it would be unfortunate if you dismissed this representation as “unsubstantiated”. We therefore request you to peruse the entire text of this representation even though it is a bit long.
First of all we would like to tell you a few unique stories about this region called Lahaul.
I. Lahaul is a unique Spiritual Abode
There is a local legend about the origin of the Chenab or the Chandrabhaga river. This river is formed after the two streams the Chandra and the Bhaga merge with each other at a place called Tandi. There are at least three mythological stories connected with Tandi. First, Tandi is believed to mean Tan Dehi, i.e., giving up of the body. This is associated with Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas, who left her body at this place. Second,it is believed that Rishi Vashishtha, who meditated near the hot water springs of Manali, was cremated at this confluence; hence named Tandi, i.e., body consumed. According to the third, Chandra and Bhaga were the son and daughter of the Moon and the Sun gods respectively. They were in love with each other. To perform their celestial marriage they decided to climb the Baralacha-la and from there run in opposite directions encircling a vast tract of Lahaul. Thus flowing south-east and south-west both met at Tandi to enter the wedlock (Govt. of Himachal Pradesh,2011). The people of Lahaul and Spiti, sir, worship the Chandrabhaga and it is a part of their spiritual journey as they live. Buddhists and Hindus, both have their various places of worship located through the valley. Lahaul & Spiti is an entirely tribal district and majority of population follows Buddhism and yet it has a unique cultural mix of both old tribal traditions and Buddhism.
II. A diverse and fragile Ecosystem under threat from climatic changes and variations
While spiritually of course this river is extremely valuable, it is the ecosystem of the Lahaul and Spiti Valley that needs to be considered as priceless. While most parts of the Lahaul-Spiti Districts are under snow through 6 months of the year or more. There are a few rare patches of forest. There are forests of Cedar and Birch in the area which are very slow growing species. The forests are rich in medicinal flora as well as wild fauna which is found in alpine regions like Ibex, Snow leopard, Black Bear, Snow Cock, Musk Deer, Nama, Main, etc.
Unfortunately or fortunately the Chenab basin, falls largely in higher altitudes (above 2500 metres), which is characterized by difficult terrain,fragile and loose mountains, prone to avalanches. The area even falls in Seismic Zone-IV(High Damage Risk Zone). Any kind of large scale construction is this region will prove to be extremely hazardous
Glaciers and ice bodies cover 2,473 sq. km. in Himachal which was 4.44 per cent of the total area of the state and all major rivers, the Satluj, Beas, Chandrabhaga, Ravi and Yamuna, are fed by these glaciers. According to a report brought out by the World Bank in collaboration with the Government of India, most of the Himalayan glacial rivers will deplete in next seven-eight decades. It means the rivers originating from the Himalayan glaciers will dry up in the near future and the melting of these Himalayan glaciers will have a more direct long-term effect on the hundreds of millions of people who live along rivers fed by their seasonal runoff.
As the glaciers are retreating back new lakes are forming behind newly exposed moraine. Rapid accumulation of water in these lakes can lead to sudden breaching of the unstable ‘dams’ behind which they are formed. The resultant discharges of huge amounts of water and debris -known as a Glacial Lake Outburst Floods, or GLOFs -often have catastrophic effects. Most of the glacial lakes in the Himalayan region are known to have formed within the last 5 decades. In the Chenab basin total number of glacial lakes has increased from 116 in 2013 to 192 in 2015,which is almost four times than the number of lakes identified during 2001. Out of these 192 lakes, 04 lakes have area more than 10 hectare, 6 lakes between 5-10 hectare and 182 are the small ones having area less than 5 hectare.
III. A rich and thriving economy with the highest income levels in the state
Lahaul remains cut off to motorable access for 6 to 7 months due to snowbound Rohtang pass from Kullu Valley . As a result of this from some areas people migrate out to towns like Manali and Kullu for the winter. But It is interesting to see that despite this Lahauli’s seem to have retained that connection with the land. A few members of the family will live in snowbound villages continuously throughout the year.
Just like no villages are abandoned, no fields are uncultivated. In fact, agriculture is a lucrative source of cash income in the valley. Lahaul and Spiti district has the highest irrigation intensity for the area under cultivation in the State. This means that the entire area under cultivation is irrigated, without which no agriculture would be possible in such harsh dry cold desert climatic conditions. The village settlements are supported by the community owned and run kuhls (irrigation channels). Commercial farming, especially off season vegetable farming, has gained widespread popularity in the entire region over the last few years. Crop diversification has also resulted in a decrease in cultivation of erstwhile popular cash crops like potato and peas. Livelihood options have diversified in form of nonfarming activities with small businesses like shops, guest houses, hotels but agriculture undeniably remains core to the Lahauli economy.
People from the valley look forward to the tourism opportunities which are lively to increase after the Rohtang tunnel is open. But the kind of tourism that people are looking at would require that the pristine beauty and landscape remain unaltered and not tampered with.
The inflow of cash into the economy through cash crops has also resulted in a greater exchange of information and knowledge. The district of Lahaul-Spiti has the HIGHEST PER CAPITA INCOME in the State among all the districts. According to the 2005-06 data, the per capita income of Himachal Pradesh stood at Rs. 33819 whereas the corresponding figure for the district of Lahaul-Spiti was Rs. 73195. The district also has the HIGHEST COVERAGE OF SOCIAL SECURITY PENSIONS in the State.
Hydropower Sector Slump and Power Surplus India
If we see the data gathered from different sources, Himachal was generating a revenue of Rs. 1300.00 crores from sale of electricity and upfront premium in the year 2007-08. This revenue has reduced to Rs 772.67 crores (around 41% de- crease) in 2011-12. Despite 36.72 % increase in total hydro power generation. This decrease in revenue mostly due to 56.74 % decline in per unit electricity rate. According to a recent statement by the Union power minister Shri Piyush Goyal India will be a surplus in electricity production by 2016, indicating that the rates of electricity are not going to increase in near future. (http://www.businesstoday.in/magazine/features/we-can-tell-the-world-that-india-is-now-power-surplus/story/233128.html)
Falling revenues from the hydropower sector, the inability of existing projects to be completed on time, the rising cost of hydropower are some of the indicators that the government seriously needs to review its unrelenting faith in hydropower development as the driver of the economy in the state. Is hydropower pro development in the current scenario? While socially and environmentally it is doubtful, even economically, there is a question mark on hydro projects. While this is not the mandate of the EAC, but since EAC is looking at ‘development’ as its prime concern, then it must be concerned with the economics of the matter as well.
Sirs, we humbly submit before you that Lahaul is already a land on the path of spiritual, economic and ecological ‘development’ and ‘well-being’. What is required is to protect this land, its culture, its economy and its environment as it exists today. We will committing a huge crime if we put the Chenab in tunnels, if we erect walls in its course, if we drill and blast the mountains by which it is surrounded and destabilize its slopes. These are no sweeping statements. This is the reality. Please see in bracket web link of a case study document that we have submitted to the Minister of Environment and Forests on 18th August 2016 (A Case Study For Urgently Assessing The Impacts of Drilling and Blasting For Construction Of Tunnels And Roads in Himachal)
We appeal to you to see the condition of the Satluj, Ravi and Beas where a cascade of projects have threatened the free flow of these Rivers and their tributaries. We appeal to you to look at the pictures provided in the attached document which showcase how hydropower construction have altered the landscape irreversibly in Chamba and Kinnaur districts and people’s apple orchards and villages are sliding down as a result of this construction.
The Chenab river, one of the five major river basins in Himachal is largely an exception and remains the least exploited basin for Hydro Electricity generation. Close to 20 projects are planned on this river in Himachal. The first of the three projects, Miyar, Seli and Jispa Dams in the Lahaul region are already in different stages of clearances despite serious objections raised by local communities. We are unaware of the status of the cumulative impact assessment study for the Chenab basin and whether it has brought up any of the concerns that we have mentioned here.
Before considering according environmental clearance to the Reoli Dugli project, which is slated for discussion tomorrow, we appeal to you to please consider the above realities and concerns.
Additionally, we would like to place before you that we had a detailed conversation with the people of the Tindi Panchayat on 9thOctober, four days after the public hearing which took place on 5th October 2016. The people raised the following objections and issues:
– That the notice of the Public hearing was put up just five days before the Public Hearing while the date on the advert that was put up was 2nd September
-That people had no idea about the details of the project and they had not received copies of the Executive Summary a month in advance as is required
-That people had no clue of the purpose of the Public Hearing and they were mistaken that it was a hearing for an NOC for forest clearance (which was then clarified during the hearing)
-The Public Hearing instead of being held at a central public spot which all the villages could have accessed was held at Lohini village.
We were told categorically, that very few people actually could attend the hearing. People from villages whose grazing land will be diverted were not present. Further, those villages to be impacted by the tunnel could not attend and they are completely against the construction due to the reasons mentioned above and in many other representations submitted to your panel at earlier dates. Given these constraints it was difficult for all the important issues to be covered during the public consultation.
We are writing on behalf of the affected community (Tindi, Kurched, Bhajund, Salgran, Kotad, Kian, Bharur villages) only because they are unable to send out any communications from their area given the difficult conditions they live in. We are also writing because we as residents of Lahaul and other parts of Himachal consider ourselves as affected community too, for we would not be able to exist without the rivers, forests and the mountains and neither would the fertile plains of Indus basin.
Shri Prem Chand, President and Shri Rigzen Hayerappa, General Secretary, Save Lahaul Spiti
Manshi Asher and Prakash Bhandari, Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective