Sinking and Shrinking deltas: Major Role of Dams in abetting delta subsidence and Effective Sea Level Rise

“We enjoy Pushing Rivers Around” –An early Hydraulic engineer in California (from Patrick McCully’s Silenced Rivers, 1996)

 “We can tame the mighty rivers. We are an example of human will and endeavor”

-Sutlej Jal Viduyt Nigam Limited, damming the entire Satluj Basin in India.

 “A river flowing to the sea is a waste”- a view held by several water resource developers in India

Welcome to Anthropocene [1], says James Syvitski, a leading oceanographer, geologist and hydrologist from Colorado University who has been studying subsidence of deltas.

Some scientists are now placing Anthropocene, an era marked with human interference with natural systems, at par with geological epochs like Pleistocene and Holocene. It is manifested in many ways. Rivers and associated systems like deltas and floodplains possibly have had to face the maximum brunt of the Anthropocene.

Cutting edge scientists like Prof. Syvitski who study the changes in our deltaic systems seem to reach to a common conclusion: Delta subsidence is now the main driving force for effective sea level rise for many coastal environments. This subsidence is more influential than sea level rise related to global warming and any deltas are sinking much faster than the sea level is rising.

But why are deltas sinking? What is the main reason behind this subsidence which is eating away land and making millions of people more vulnerable?

It has been established that the main reason behind delta subsidence is drastically reducing sediments reaching the delta.Studies estimate that during the past century, there has been a 94% reduction in Krishna’s sediment reaching the delta, 95% reduction from historic load in Narmada, 80% reduction in Indus, 80% reduction in Cauvery, 96% reduction in Sabarmati, 74% reduction in Mahanadi, 74% reduction in Godavari, 50% reduction Brahmani, etc.[2],[3]

But why are sediments not reaching the delta?

Almost unanimous agreement between scientists indicates that the reason behind this drastic decline in sediments is sediment retention by dams and reservoirs in the upstream[4].(Walling and Fang (2003), Vörösmarty et al., 2003; Syvitski et al.,(2005), Erisson et al, (2005), Walling (2008), K Rao et al (2010), H Gupta et al (2012) ). This has been reiterated in IPCC WG II Report, April 2014.[5]

Bhola Island in Bangladesg, eroded by Meghana RIver. PhotoSrestha Banerjee, Green Clearance Watch

Bhola Island in Bangladesh, eroded by Meghana River. PhotoSrestha Banerjee, Green Clearance Watch

Prof. Syvitski wrote a few words on the issue for SANDRP. He says, “A delta can form only where the sediment volume supplied from a river can overwhelm the local ocean energy (waves, tides, currents). Ocean energy is ceaseless. Engineering of our river systems, largely through the construction of upstream dams and barrages, has reduced this sediment supply. Consequently ocean energy has begun to reduce the size of our deltas, and coastal retreat is presently widespread. Deltas, once the cradle of modern civilizations, are now under threat — some deltas are in peril of lasting only the next 100 years. Sea level is rising due to ocean warming and glacier melting. Incessant mining of groundwater from below a delta’s surface, along with oil and gas extraction, further contribute to our disappearing deltas. At risk are the residences of more than 500 million people, the loss of biodiversity hotspots, major infrastructure (e.g. megacities, ports), and the rice and protein bowls of the world. Every year thousands of people drown due to storm surges and other coastal flooding. Sinking deltas are evidence of the magnitude of the human footprint on our planetary environment. We must learn to do better.” Professor J P Syvitski (U Colorado, Boulder, USA), Chair — International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (ICSU), Executive Director, the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System

Large reservoirs trap as much as 80% of the upstream silt. As a result, most rivers are carrying much less sediment, and some rivers (like Krishna, Indus, Nile, and Colorado) transport virtually no sediment! In the last 50 years, the combined annual sediment flux of the large Chinese rivers has been reduced from 1800 million tons (Mt) to about 370 Mt[6]mainly due to frenzied dam building. The impact of dams and reservoirs on sediment retention has been so significant that the resultant reduced sediment load represents a volume of about 730 km3, equivalent to an area of 7300 km2 assuming a 10 m thick bed[7]. Waling (2008) states that about 25 Gt/year of sediment are trapped by large dams each year. IPCC Report (Assessment Report 5, 2014) refers that 34 rivers with drainage basins of 19 million km2 in total show a 75% reduction in sediment discharge over the past 50 years due to reservoir trapping.

Delta Subsidence and Effective Sea Level Rise (ESLR)

While this delta subsidence and sediment retention has several impacts on dense delta population and coastal ecosystems which offer important services, one of the most serious impacts is its direct role in Effective Sea Level Rise. Ericsson and Vorosmarty et al, 2012[8], concluded that decreased accretion of fluvial sediment resulting from sediment retention and consumptive losses of runoff from irrigation (also due to dams) are the primary determinants of ESLR in nearly 70% of studied deltas.

More and more scientists are concluding that climate related sea level rise has a ‘relatively minor influence on delta conditions’, as compared to anthropogenic reasons. As seen above, there is an almost unanimous agreement that dams are the most important factor influencing contemporary land-ocean sediment fluxes.[9] Globally, greater than 50% of basin-scale sediment flux in regulated basins is potentially trapped in artificial impoundments of approximately 45,000 reservoirs (with dams 15 m high) (Vörösmarty et al., 2003; Syvitski etal., 2005) and sediment delivery to deltas has been reduced or eliminated at all scales.[10]Other reasons for delta subsidence include flow diversion by dams, sediment compaction due to groundwater abstraction, oil and gas exploration and mining, etc,.[11]

Deltas, formed by centuries of accretion of rich sediment, are one of the most fertile and densest populated regions across the world. It is estimated that close to half a billion people live on or near deltas, often in megacities.[12] Although constituting a mere 5% of the total landmass, coastal regions sustain almost three-quarters of the world’s population and yield more than half of global gross domestic product (Vorosmarty et al.,2009).

The direct impacts of ESLR and delta subsidence include inundation of coastal areas, saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers, increased rates of coastal erosion, an increased exposure to storm surges, etc. These threats have implications for hundreds of millions of people who inhabit the deltaic as well as the ecologically sensitive and important coastal wetland and mangrove forests.

Already, some studies are ringing alarm bells. It is estimated that if no mitigation measures are undertaken and sediment retention continues, then by 2050, more than 8.7 million people and 28,000 km2 of deltaic area in 33 deltas studied including Ganga-Brahmaputra, Indus, Krishna and Godavari could suffer from enhanced inundation and increased coastal erosion. In addition, a larger population and area will be affected due to increased flood risk due to storm surges[13]. Conservative estimates state that delta area vulnerable to flooding could increase by 50% under the current projected values for sea-level rise in the 21st century and this could increase if the capture of sediment upstream persists and continues to prevent the growth of the deltas.[14]

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that sea level will rise by another 21 to 71 cm by 2070, with a best estimate of 44 cm averaged globally. This will further compound impacts of delta subsidence and sediment trapping.

It has been estimated that even in the case of debilitating floods, sediment has not reached rivers in the deltas.[15]In 2007–08 alone Ganges, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Chao Phraya, Brahmani, Mahanadi, Krishna and Godavari flooded with more than 100,000 lives lost and more than a million habitants displaced. Most of the deltas that suffered from floods did not receive a significant input of sediment, and this lack of sediment can be attributed to upstream damming.[16] Some studies demonstrate that storage of sediment-laden water of major flood events leads to huge sediment trapping behind mega dams.[17]


Above: Global distribution of ESLR under baseline for each of the 40 deltas studied by Ericsson et al, 2006.From Ericsson et al, 2006

Fluvial Sediments and Deltas in India

Rivers are not only conduits of water. They are a complex, moving systems carrying sediment, nutrients, organisms, ecosystems, energy, material and cultures in their wake.

There are three kinds of sediments: suspended, bed load and wash load. Here we are referring to mainly the suspended sediments in the rivers. Sediments play a significant role in the river geomorphology, defining the river channel, its shape and structure. Sediment deposits form alluvial floodplains, deltas, levees, beaches, ox bow lakes and lagoons and creeks. The sediment load and composition changes according to the river, the geological landscape it flows in, its length, flow, structure, etc. While much of the sediment is deposited by the river on its banks, the delta of the river is primarily formed of rich sediments. Through this deposition, the river may form distributaries at its mouth, like in case of Ganga, Brahmaputra or Mahanadi systems. Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta, shared by India and Bangladesh is one of the largest delta systems in the world, spanning more than 100,000 km2[18]carrying more than one billion tonnes of sediments annually.[19]

Deltaic populations in shared rivers of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan: Population of Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghana Delta is more than 147 million people with a population density of more than 200 people per km2 (520 people per square mile), making it one of the most densely populated regions in the world . The Krishna Godavari twin deltas supports 9·26 million people inhabiting the 12,700 km2 area at 729 persons per km2, which is more than double the country’s average.[20] Cauvery delta supports 4.4 million people[21] while the Mahanadi Delta too supports millions. Only two districts of Cuttack and Jagatsinghpur have a population more than 3.7 million. (Census 2011) in addition, the contribution of deltas to economics, food production, transport, ecosystem services etc., is immense, making it a very valuable ecosystem which deserves protection. Indus Delta in Pakistan supports more than 900,000 people.

Deltas in Peril: Impact of damming on deltas in India

1. Krishna-Godavari Delta: In 2010, a team led by K Nageswar Rao of Dept of Geo Engineering, Andhra University, carried out an assessment of the impacts of impoundments on delta shoreline recession in Krishna and Godavari Delta.[22] The study revealed a net erosion of 76 km2 of area along the entire 336-km-long twin delta coast during the 43 years between 1965–2008 with a progressively increasing rate from 1·39 km2 per year 1965 and 1990, to 2·32 km2 per year during 1990–2000 and more or less sustained at 2·25 km2 per year during 2000–2008.

For Krishna, flows as well as suspended sediments in the delta have nearly reached zero. Suspended sediment loads decreased from 9 million tons during 1966–1969 to negligible 0·4 million tons by 2000–2005. Syvitski et al in their 2009 assessment place Krishna in the category of “Deltas in Greater Peril: Virtually no aggradation and/or very high accelerated compaction.”

In the case of the Godavari delta, there has been almost a three-fold reduction in suspended sediment loads from 150·2 million tons during 1970–1979 to 57·2 million tons by 2000–2006. Syvistki et al classify Godavari delta as “Deltas in greater risk: reduction in aggradation where rates no longer exceed relative sea-level rise”. H Gupta et al (2012) suggest that decline in historic sediments of Godavari post damming has been as high as 74%.


Above: Graph indicating decadal sediment and water flow trends at Prakassam Barrage, across Krishna. Dam building also marked. From Rao et al, 2010

According to Dr. Rao, a comparison of data on annual sediment loads recorded along the Krishna and Godavari Rivers shows consistently lower sediment quantities at the locations downstream of dams than at their upstream counterparts, holding dams responsible for sediment retention. Reports based on bathymetric surveys reveal considerable reduction in the storage capacities of reservoirs behind such dams. Authors say: “Sediment retention at the dams is the main reason for the pronounced coastal erosion along the Krishna and Godavari deltas during the past four decades, which is coeval[23] to the hectic dam construction activity in these river basins.”

Impacts of this can be seen in destroyed villages like Uppada in Godavari delta, destruction of Mangrove forests and shoreline. Similarly Krishna delta is losing land at the rate of 82·5 ha per year, leading to destruction of mangrove forests and loss of land.

The study concludes: “If the situation continues, these deltaic regions, which presently sustain large populations might turn out to be even uninhabitable in future, considering conditions elsewhere, such as in southern Iraq, where the farmers downstream of dams across Tigris River in Iraq, Syria and Turkey are being forced to migrate to urban centres as the reduced river flows become overwhelmed by seawater.”

I talked with Dr. Rao and asked him, if his disturbing study had any impacts. He said, no one from the administration has contacted him ever about this issue.



Above: Sediments measured at Sir. Arthur Cotton Barrage across Godavari near the Delta from Rao et al, 2010

A similar study by IWMI[24] concludes: “Coastal erosion in the Krishna Delta progressed over the last 25 years (is) at the average rate of 77.6 ha/ yr, dominating the entire delta coastline and exceeding the deposition rate threefold. The retreat of the Krishna Delta may be explained primarily by the reduced river inflow to the delta (which is three times less at present than 50 years ago) and the associated reduction of sediment load. Both are invariably related to upstream reservoir storage development.”

Krishna Basin Water Disputes Tribunal Award, though mentions dam siltation (it mentions that in 5 decades, Tungabhadra Dam has silted up to 22% of its capacity), does not say anything about flow for flushing sediments or its importance to the delta in Andhra Pradesh, or if the “minimum instream flow” recommended by the Tribunal will address this issue. This is a major limitation of the tribunal, when advanced studies have been conducted on the Krishna River delta condition and its relation to upstream dams has been established beyond doubt. Only at one place does it mention that to reduce siltation of the Almatti Dam, sluice gates should be opened when water is flowing above the crest.

However, the Award states that issues like minimum in stream flows are not decided once for all and it is an evolving process. Let us hope that there is some space to address the issue of shrinking deltas through this.


Above:Decreasing Sediments of Krishna down the years from K Rao et al, 2010

In the upstream Maharashtra, more and more dams are under construction in the Krishna Godavari Basin. One of the proposed dams called Kikvi, at the headwaters of Godavari in Trimbakeshwar was cleared by the Forest Advisory Committee recently. Ironically, the proponent (Water Resources Department, Maharashtra and Nashik Municipal Corporation) justified this dam which will submerge more than 1000 hectares of land, by stating that one more large dam close to Kikvi: Gangapur Dam is heavily silted up. [25]Rather than desilting Gangapur Dam, the administration wants to build one more dam.


Above: Trends in Sediments in Godavari and dam building activity. From K Rao et al

Many dams in Krishna Godavari Basin in Maharashtra have been criticised for not contributing to increasing irrigation.[26]These dams are not only obstructing river flow, but are also acting as sediment traps. Unfortunately, the MoEF is not even considering impacts of sediments while appraising dams. In Karnataka, major projects are being undertaken by fraud, without environmental appraisal, violating Environment laws, [27]similarly in Andhra Pradesh, many projects are being pushed illegally without environmental appraisal and which involve huge corruption[28].

2. Cauvery Delta: Although detailed studies have not been carried out, there is a clear indication of salt water intrusion and delta erosion in this over developed basin, due to upstream dams. The saline-freshwater boundary map indicates a steady migration inland.

A study by Gupta et al, 2012, indicates that historical sediment flux of Cauvery was 1.59 million tonnes, which is now 0.32 million tonnes (average of 10 years) and hence, there is a whopping 80% reduction in sediment flux of the river.

Unfortunately, the Cauvery Water Disputes Award Tribunal between Karnataka and Tamilnadu does not even mention the word ‘sediment’ in its award. There has been no justification for 10 TMC feet (Thousand Million Cubic feet) water recommended by the Tribunal for Environmental purposes and its possible impact on sediment carrying (or even environment for that matter).

Pennar showed 77% reduction and Mahanadi showed 67% reduction in amount of silt reaching the delta in recent years. (Gupta et al, 2012)

3. Narmada Delta: The west flowing rivers like Narmada and Tapi do not form extensive deltas like the east flowing rivers. Nonetheless, sediments from a huge river like Narmada play an important part in the stability of Narmada delta and villages and ecosystems around it.


 Above: From: H. Gupta et al, 2007 and 2012

Gupta et al (2012 and 2007) assessed daily water discharge and suspended sediment load data measured by CWC at two gauging stations, one upstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam (Rajghat), and another downstream of the dam (Garudeshwar).

Historical sediment discharge of Narmada was found to be 61 million tonnes and the current sediment discharge (average of last ten years of the study) was found to be 3.23 million tonnes, indicating a reduction of 95% sediment discharge.[29] The presence of dam reduces 70–90% of coarse and approximately 50% of medium-sized particles on their way downstream, allowing them to settle in the reservoir Comparative studies of average suspended sediment load at various locations on the Narmada River for more than two decades, show overall reduction in suspended sediment load in the river.

The study indicated 96% reduction in suspended silt flux in Sabarmati, 41% reduction in Tapi and 68% in Mahi.

4. Ganga- Brahmaputra Delta: Different studies put different values for individual and combined sediment load of the Ganga Brahmaputra system, which carries one of the highest sediment loads in the world. According to Islam (1999)[30] Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in Bangladesh transport 316 and 721 million tonnes of sediment annually. Of the total suspended sediment load (i.e. 1037 million tonnes) transported by these rivers, only 525 million tonnes (c. 51% of the total load) is delivered to the coastal area of Bangladesh and the remaining 512 million tonnes are deposited within the lower basin, offsetting the subsidence. Of the deposited load, about 289 million tonnes (about 28% of the total load) is deposited on the floodplains of these rivers. The remaining 223 million tonnes (about 21% of the total load) is deposited within the river channels, resulting in aggradation of the channel bed at an average rate of about 3.9 cm/yr sediment.

Across the 20th Century, Syvitski et al suggest about 30% reduction of silt load in the river system. Gupta et al [31] suggest that the observed decrease in sediment load could be due to construction of several mega dams in the Ganga basin, closure of Farakka barrage (1974) and diversion of sediments laden water into the Hooghly distributary. They also caution that dams in Ganga and Brahmaputra can worsen the situation.

5. Indus Delta: Inam et al (2007) assessed annual sediment loads of the Indus river at Kotri Barrage (270 km upstream from river mouth) during the last 73 years. The study indicates that annual sediment load of the Indus river has reduced drastically from 193 Mt (between 1931 and 1954) to 13 Mt (between 1993 and 2003). According to them, construction of three large dams on the Indus river, namely Kotri Barrage, Mangla and Terbela led to this situation causing annual water discharge to reduce from 110 km3 to 37 km3, with disastrous impacts on the delta ecosystem and population.


Above: Variation of water and sediment discharge below Kotri Barrage in Indus basin: Inam et al

Dying mangroves in Indus Delta Photo: The Nation

Dying mangroves in Indus Delta Photo: The Nation

Inam states : “Currently the Indus river hardly contributes any sediment to the delta or Arabian Sea.The active delta is reduced from 6200 km2 before construction of dams to 1200 km2. The sea water has travelled upstream upto 75 kms, combined loss of freshwater and sediment has resulted in loss of large areas of prime delta agricultural land and submergence of several villages in the coast. This has caused desertification and displacement of several hundred of thousands of local residents. Study of records and bathymetric maps from 1950 indicate widespread coastal retreat…The life on the delta is dependent on availability of freshwater and sediment. Severe reduction of both as a result of dams and barrages and associated structures in the upstream has resulted in pronounced erosion in parts of the delta and reduction in mangroves. Environmental studies to be extended to the entire Indus ecosystem from the mountains to the Arabian sea.”


  • It is clear that deltas and dependent populations and ecosystems have suffered due to near total ignorance about the impact of dams on sediment and deltas and if immediate action is not taken then, this will impact a huge population and a large eco-region in Indian subcontinent, as elsewhere.
  • The impacts of nutrient rich sediment retention and flow reduction is not limited to teh delta, but has also affected marine fish production[32]
  • The issue of impact of a dam on the sediment regime of the river is not being studied or considered at all while conducting Environmental Impact Assessments of projects, appraising the project for options assessment, environmental clearance, cost benefit analysis or through post clearance monitoring and compliance.
  • Sediment release and sediment transport through rivers is not being raised in trans-boundary river negotiations.
  • Looking at the severity of the issue and its far reaching impacts on millions of people in India and across the world, there is a need for adopting urgent and strong mitigation measures against sediment trapping in dams.
  • It has to be remembered that for older dams, older hydropower projects and most irrigation projects, there is no mechanism available to flush the accumulated silt.
  • Sediment retention also reduces the life of the dam, while starving the river and delta in the downstream of sediment. As per a study by SANDRP in 2006, India may be losing 1.95 Billion Cubic Meters of Storage capacity of its reservoirs annually.[33] This implies that the rivers are losing at least that quantity of sediment annually.

The frantic dam activity in Indian Himalayas at this moment will have a serious impact on Ganga Brahmaputra Delta in India and Bangladesh and Indus Delta in Pakistan. There is an urgent need to, firstly, acknowledge these links, assess the impacts, include them in cost benefit and options assessment, address the issues and implement mitigation measures, where relevant, abandon the projects where impacts are unacceptable projects unviable.

In case of the Ganga Brahmaputra delta, recent studies have indicated that the main source of sediment in the river is the Himalayas[34]. Of the entire sediment load of Ganga catchment (This study assumed it to be 794 million tonnes/year), 80+/-10 % comes from High Himalayas and 20+/-10 % comes from Lesser Himalayas.

Bumper to bumper dam/ hydropower project building is occurring in almost all of the Himalayan states in India, which is poised to make Indian Himalayas most densely dammed region in the world. All of these dams are located in the downstream of the Greater and straddling Lesser Himalayas and can together have a tremendous impact on Ganga’s sediment load. Uttarakhand is planning and building nearly 336 Hydroelectric projects,[35]while Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh too are building hundreds of hydro projects. Arunachal Pradesh intends to dam most of its rives to produce hydropower.

No studies on impact of these projects on sediment regime of the rivers are being carried out for; neither does the MoEF insist that projects will not be cleared unless such studies are carried out. Even Cumulative impact assessments are not assessing this aspect.

Some stark examples:

The Cumulative Impact Assessment Report of the Upper Ganga Basin in Uttarakhand [36](where more than one hundred dams are planned and under construction back to back) was doen by IIT Roorkee. This cumulative impact assessment did not study any cumulative impacts due to reduced silt load of the river following major dam push.

The Lohit Basin Study done by WAPCOS[37]which involves more than 12 dams across the Lohit River, one of the three main segments that form Brahmaputra, does not mention anything about impacts of dams on sediments. The only thing it states is very worrying : “Due to substantial storage capacity, the Demwe Upper reservoir will have high sediment retention capacity and a large proportion of sediments carried by the Lohit River will get settled in the reservoir.”

Siang Basin Study [38](by RS Envirolinks Pvt Limited), which involves three mega dams across the main stem Siang, completely obliterating free flowing stretches in the river,in addition to 42 hydropower dams, does not mention anything about sediment regime, although being specifically asked to address this issue by the Expert Appraisal Committee, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF).

1500 MW Tipaimukh Mega Dam near Bangladesh Border, which has received Environmental Clearance from MoEF does not study the impacts of sediment retention on downstream Bangladesh, and this concern has been raised by the groups in that country. The Environment Management Plan of this project which can submerge 25000 hectares of forests does not even mention the word “sediment”.

The bumper to bumper dam building activity in Himachal Pradesh in Satluj, Beas, Chenab and Ravi [39]rivers will have a major impact on silt load reaching the Indus river Basin and the Indus Delta in Pakistan. However, none of the EIAs or EMPs mention any impact of the dams on the sediment regime of the river.

In conclusion, although the risks of delta subsidence, effective sea level rise and its impact on a huge population and ecosystems has been established, these risks are being entirely ignored in the current governance surrounding rivers and deltas.

National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management It is unfortunate to see that MoEF’s National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, supported by MoEF and World Bank does not allude to this issue or raise it through any publications.[40] In conversation with SANDRP, Director R. Ramesh said that the center may look at these issues in the future. However, its publications on National Assessment of Shoreline Changes on Tamilnadu and Odisha[41] do not mention upstream dams, although robust evidence exist that Cauvery delta and Mahanadi, Brahmani and Baitarni deltas are eroding due to sediment retention. Let us hope this institute will try to highlight the impact of dams on deltas with the seriousness it deserves.


1. Urgently study impacts of sediment retention by dams on delta population and ecosystems: MoEF, Ministry of Rural Development and Urban Development should conduct an in-depth study to understand the scale of the problems and the extent of affected people and ecosystems due to sediment impoundment by upstream dams.

2.Urgently study the optimal level of sediments (and water regime) needed for stabilising deltas and reducing subsidence.

3. Urgently institute a study to assess the extent of sediment and flows needed to be released from upstream dams and feasibility of such releases on regular basis, mimicking the river’s hydrograph. Where dams have sluice gates, these should be opened in monsoons where feasible, to allow sediment flushing. Even in dry and stressed river basins like Colorado in the United States, such high releases for redistributing sediments have been conducted in the 1990s and again in 2013 with proper planning and impact assessment.[42]

4. In Krishna and such other basins, where delta subsidence, coastal erosion and related impacts like salinity intrusion and storm surges has reached serious proportions, specifically problematic dams should be considered for decommissioning.

 Environmental Appraisal Process

  • Study of impact on sedimentation and siltation should be a part of the environmental impact assessment, environmental appraisal and clearance process.
  • There should be a separate section in EIA for e-flows and sedimentation studies. Similarly such studies should be mandatory part of cumulative impacts, carrying capacity and basin studies.
  • More dams in basins which support large deltaic populations and those having significant impacts of sediment retention by reservoirs should not be cleared.Let us hope that this chronically neglected issue receives the attention it deserves. Delta subsidence and ESLR due to upstream damming again highlights the complex and interconnected nature of the riverine ecosystem. The environmental governance in India ( as also South Asia) surrounding rivers has been treating rivers with an extremely piecemeal approach. It is clear that with the herculean challeneges we face now, such an approach is no longer affordable.


…especially in the part called Delta, it seems to me that if the Nile no longer floods it, then, for all time to come, the Egyptians will suffer – Herodotus, History, c 442 BC (stated in Patrick McCully’s Silenced Rivers)


-Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

For PDF file of this blog, see:



Above: Sediment laden waters of River Elwha reaching the coastal waters after Elwha Dam Removal. From:


Patrick McCully, Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams, Zed Books, 1996

Islam et al, The Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in Bangladesh: basin denudation and sedimentation, Hydrological processes, 1999

R.J. Wasson, A sediment budget for the Ganga–Brahmaputra catchment, Current Science, 2003

B Hema Mali et al, Coastal erosion and habitat loss along the Godavari Delta Front: a fallout of dam construction (?), Current Science, 2004

Syvitski et al, Impact of Humans on the Flux of Terrestrial Sediment to the Global Coastal Ocean, 2004

Jason P. Ericsson, Charles J. Vörösmarty S. Lawrence Dingmanb,2Larry G. Ward Effective sea-level rise and deltas: Causes of change and human dimension implications, 2006

Michel Meybeckve et al Sea-level rise and deltas: Causes of change and human dimension implications

Inam et al The Geographic, Geological and Oceanographic Setting of the Indus River, Wiley and Sons, 2007

Walling et al, The Changing sediment loads of world’s rivers, Annals of Warsaw University of Life Sciences, 2008

Syvitski et al, Sinking deltas due to human activities, Nature Geoscience, 2009

Gamage et al. Do river deltas in east India retreat? A case of the Krishna Delta, Geomorphology, Volume 103, Issue 4, 15 February 2009

K Nageswar Rao et al Impacts of sediment retention by dams on delta shoreline recession: evidences from the Krishna and Godavari deltas, India, Earth surface processes and landforms, 2010

James Syvitski et al, Sediment flux and the Anthropocene published 31 , doi: 10.1098/rsta.2010.0329 369 2011 Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A, January 2011

H Gupta et al , The role of mega dams in reducing sediment fluxes: A case study of large Asian rivers, Journal of Hydrology, 2012


Chapter 5: Coastal Systems and Low Lying Areas

Chapter 18: Detection and attribution of Impacts

Chapter 24: Asia



[2] Syvitski et al 2009

[3] H Gupta et al , The role of mega dams in reducing sediment fluxes: A case study of large Asian rivers, Journal of Hydrology, 2012

[4]Walling and Fang (2003), Vörösmarty et al., 2003; Syvitski et al.,(2005), Erisson et al, (2005), Walling (2008)


[6]   The role of mega dams in reducing sediment fluxes: A case study of largeAsian riversHarish Guptaa,⇑, Shuh-Ji Kaoa,b, Minhan Daia

[7] Sediment flux and the Anthropocene James P. M. Syvitski and Albert Kettner January 2011, published 31 , doi: 10.1098/rsta.2010.0329 369 2011 Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A

[8] Effective sea-level rise and deltas: Causes of change and human dimension implications

Jason P. Ericsona, Charles J. Vörösmartya,b,1, S. Lawrence Dingmanb,2Larry G. Ward

b, Michel Meybeckve Sea-level rise and deltas: Causes of change and human dimension implications Jason P. Ericson a,⁎, Charles J. Vörösmartya,b,1, S. Lawrence Dingmanb,2Larry G. Ward b, Michel Meybeck

[9] Walling and Fang (2003), Vörösmarty et al., 2003; Syvitski et al.,(2005), Erisson et al, (2005), Walling (2008)

[10] Syvitski et all 2009

[11] Sinking deltas due to human activities, Syvitski et al, 2009, Nature Geoscience

[12] Sinking deltas due to human activities, Syvitski et al, 2009, Nature Geoscience

[13] Ericsson et all, 2006, Effective sea-level rise and deltas: Causes of change and human dimension implications

[14] Sinking deltas due to human activities, Syvitski et al, 2009, Nature Geoscience

[15]Syvitski et al 2009

[16]Syvitski et all 2009

[17] Harish Guptaa, et al The role of mega dams in reducing sediment fluxes: A case study of large Asian rivers



[20] K Nageshwar Rao et al, 2010, Impacts of sediment retention by dams on delta shoreline recession: evidences from the Krishna and Godavari deltas, India Earth surface processes and landforms


[22] K Nageshwar Rao et al, 2010, Impacts of sediment retention by dams on delta shoreline recession: evidences from the Krishna and Godavari deltas, India Earth surface processes and landforms

[23] Time period or age

[24] Do river deltas in east India retreat? A case of the Krishna Delta Nilantha Gamage Geomorphology, Volume 103, Issue 4, 15 February 2009, Pages 533–540





[29] Gupta et al, 2012, The role of mega dams in reducing sediment fluxes: A case study of large Asian rivers, Journal of Hydrology

[30] Islam et al, The Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in Bangladesh: basin denudation and sedimentation, 1999, Hydrological processes

[31] Harish Gupta et al, The role of mega dams in reducing sediment fluxes: A case study of large Asian rivers, Journal of hydrology, 2012

[32] Drinkwater et al 1994


[34] R.J. Wasson, A sediment budget for the Ganga–Brahmaputra catchment, Current Science, 2003









Matmora (Assam) Geo-tube Embankment on Brahmaputra: State Glorifies, but No End to Peoples’ Sufferings after Three Years of Construction

The state of Assam in the northeastern India annually bears the brunt of floods and where embankment construction and repairing seems like permanent affair. Displacement of people living on the banks of rivers due to river bank erosion is another major issue here. The braiding and meandering river Brahmaputra and its tributaries continue to erode the banks rapidly. The Brahmaputra is well known for the rate in which it erodes. Among the places in the path of the river where the brunt of erosion has been felt severely include the following:

–        Rohmoria and Dibrugarh town in Dibrugarh district,
–        Matmora in Dhakukhana subdivsion of Lakhimpur district,
–        Majuli and Nimati Ghat in Jorhat district,
–        Lahorighat in Morigaon district and
–        Palashbari and Gumi in Kamrup district.

Map of areas taken up for erosion protection in Assam (Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam)

Map of areas taken up for erosion protection in Assam. Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam

SANDRP recently traveled to Matmora and Nimati ghat, two of these areas.

Bearing the Brunt of Erosion Silently Once a large village now only the name Matmora remains. Locals show us towards the middle of the river, to indicate where the village used to be. The rate of erosion is such that the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta (popularly known as Sissi-Tekeliphuta dyke/embankment) takes the shape of a bow for nearly five kilometers at this place. From 2010, Matmora became very significant in the embankment history of India since country’s first embankment using geo-textile technology was constructed here. This was constructed at the bow shaped eroded line using geotextiles tubes. These tubes were filled up using water and sand from the banks of the river. This five kilometer embankment became a part of the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta which is 13.9 km long. For the state government and Water Resources Department (WRD) of Assam, Matmora geotube embankment is a story of success of preventing floods and erosion. But what we saw in Matmora presents a different picture.

At Nimati Ghat, the river Brahmaputra is eroding its banks ferociously and people are intimidated by the river. A local person whose village used to be nearly two kilometers from the present bank line, told me, “Nothing can stop Baba Brahmaputra from claiming what he wants”. At Nimati Ghat, the Water Resources Department (WRD) is doing anti erosion work using geo-bags.

Funding for Embankments in Assam The total length of embankments in Assam is 4448 km as stated in a debate in the Legislative Assembly of Assam in 1998. Even though the present length of embankments is not known, it is very clear that the state of Assam continues to construct of newer embankments. In a recent analysis by SANDRP, it was found that the funds continue to increase for construction of embankments in the state. In five years from January 2009 to December 2013, the Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources for consideration of techno-economic viability of Irrigation, Flood Control and Multi-Purpose Project Proposals (TAC in short) had given clearance to projects worth Rs 1762.72 crores. A detailed list of these sanctioned projects can be found in Annexure 1 below.

Matmora Geo-tube embankment after its construction in 2010. Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam.

Matmora Geo-tube embankment after its construction in 2010. Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam.

Has Geo-tube been helpful for the people   Between January 2009 to December 2013, the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta, was considered twice by the TAC. The committee in its 95th meeting on 20th January 2009 accepted the project titled “Raising and Strengthening to Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta including closing of breach by retirement and anti-erosion measures (to protect Majuli and Dhakukhana areas against flood devastation by the Brahmaputra, Lakhimpur district, Assam). The estimated cost of this project was Rs 142.42 crore and its project proposal envisaged – (i) Raising and strengthening of embankment for a length of 13.9 km, (ii) Construction of retirement bund with geo-textile tubes of length 5000 m. (iii) Construction of 2700 m long pilot channel.

Geo-tube embankment in Matmora, three years after construction. Photo: SANDRP.

Geo-tube embankment in Matmora, three years after construction. Photo: SANDRP.

Protection work of the same dyke was considered in the 117th meeting held on 21st March 2013 under the proposal for “Protection of Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta at different reaches from Lotasur to Tekeliphuta from the erosion of river Brahmaputra Assam.” The estimated cost of this project was Rs 155.87 crore. According to the minutes of 117th TAC meeting, the scheme envisaged “restoration of existing embankment in a length of 15300m at upstream and downstream of existing geo-tube dyke, Sand filled mattress in a length of 15604 m at river side slope, geo-tube apron length of 7204 m and Reinforced concrete porcupines as pro-siltation device at different reaches to prevent floods and erosion in Dhakukhana Civil sub-division of Lakhimpur district and Majuli sub-division of Jorhat district.” In the same minutes,while referring to the previous project proposal of 95th meeting the minutes stated that, it “was taken up primarily for closure of breach in the existing embankment including raising of embankment around the breach area only. The proposed works in the present scheme were in the same river reach and these would be required to protect the bank from further erosion and provide flood protection.”

This clearly shows that the geo-tube embankment in Matmora cannot be called a success. Government documents which showed that major part of the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta remained vulnerable even after the construction of the geo-tube embankment. In fact submitting a proposal for the whole Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment at first and later saying that the money was spent in constructing a smaller part of the embankment also raise questions. The time gap between the two proposals also raises questions. If the whole money from first proposal was to be spent in constructing only a part of the embankment, why was it not stated clearly in the first proposal? In fact, this was not stated in the first proposal and second proposal reflects that the first project failed to achieve the objectives. If the first proposal was indeed only for part of the embankment, why the proposal to strengthen the larger part of the embankment took 5 years to appear before the committee? The latter proposal also did not mention about the breach which swept away a large part of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment from Jonmichuk to Amgiri Tapit under Sissikalghar and Jorkata village panchayat. According to the local people this breach occurred in the morning hours of 25th June 2012. The photo below shows the breach happened at the Jonmichuk end.

The breached area of 2012. This photo is taken from the new embankment and the lake formed at this spot can also be seen. Photo - SANDRP

The breached area of 2012. This photo is taken from the new embankment and the lake formed at this spot can also be seen. Photo – SANDRP

Jonminchuk area is nearly 15 km upstream of the geotube embankment in Matmora and part of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment. A new embankment of nearly four kilometer long is being constructed at this place but the remnants of the old embankment still exist. The embankment was breached for nearly 3 kms and the water which entered the fields during that time could no longer go out and a large lake has been formed at this place, see the photo. It was surprising to see people living in the patches of the old embankment.

In the downstream, right from the point where the geo-tube embankment ends, the condition of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment is pathetic. There were cracks in the embankment and water seepage has almost shattered the embankment. The embankment was in need of urgent repairs.

Condition of the Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the end point of the geo-tube embankment towards the village side. Photo - SANDRP

Condition of the Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the end point of the geo-tube embankment towards the village side. Photo – SANDRP

Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the same spot mentioned above towards the river side.  Photo - SANDRP

Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the same spot mentioned above towards the river side. Photo – SANDRP

Besides, one does not have to travel far to find erosion in the downstream of the geo-tube embankment. After travelling, less than three kilometers from the end point of the geo-tube embankment, rapid erosion was observed at the place where the Matmora and Tekeliphuta ghats join, due to low water level. This joint ghat is more than a kilometer from the toe line of Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment but seeing the rapidity of the erosion the locals opine that the river would reach the toe of the embankment within this monsoon. It was difficult to believe that the river can erode so fast, until a young man pointed towards a black line in the middle of the river and said that that area which now seemed to be char/sand bar used to be his village three years back. He with his family now live beside the embankment. In this ghat we also witnessed that spurs constructed from the embankment inside the river, mainly to divert the flow of water, have been eroded as well.

The Spur has also been eroded. Photo - SANDRP

The Spur has also been eroded. Photo – SANDRP

Erosion at Matmora-Tekeliphuta Ghat. Photo - SANDRP

Erosion at Matmora-Tekeliphuta Ghat. Photo – SANDRP

It is also important to note that protection of Majuli from floods was one of the main aims of the geo-tube embankment project, but there were reports of devastating floods affecting Majuli in 2012 & 2013.

After geo-tube comes geo bags With the construction of geo-tube embankments being hailed as a success by the state government, construction of embankments using geo-bags followed. Geo-bags are smaller than geo-tubes and come at a cheaper cost. Embankments on many rivers were constructed using geo-bags which were also used for erosion protection. But effectiveness of the geo-bags as protective measure to flood and erosion, still remains disputed. A news report titled “ADB, river engineers differ on geo-bags” published in Assam Tribune on 9th September 2010 reported about the difference of opinion among the water resource engineers of Assam and powerful lobby of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the use of geo-bags to resist Brahmaputra erosion in Palasbari-Gumi and Dibrugarh. Referring to the engineers the news report stated “They have alleged that the ADB provided 23,000 geo-bags for an experiment. They were dumped in the month of September 2009 at a 150-metre-long selected erosion-prone reach at Gumi for testing their efficacy. But, a diving observation made in the month of December 2009, suggested that the bags were not launched uniformly in a single layer as it was claimed. They were found lying in a haphazard manner in staggered heaps with gaps in between and the total distance they covered was only about 8 metres, against the claimed and required 35 metres…..The ADB then carried out another diving observation at Gumi in May last (2010) and found no bag at the site. The State WRD did not get any feedback from the ADB on this issue.”

Work of piling up the geo-bags is going on in Nimati Ghat. Photo - SANDRP

Work of piling up the geo-bags is going on in Nimati Ghat. Photo – SANDRP

Status of the geo-bags put last year. Photo - SANDRP

Status of the geo-bags put last year. Photo – SANDRP

The spot where not a single Geo-bag was seen.  Photo - SANDRP

The spot where not a single Geo-bag was seen. Photo – SANDRP

Nimati Ghat was the other place which SANDRP visited to find out the effectiveness of geo-bags. The work of piling up the geo-bags for erosion protection was going on when SANDRP visited the area in the second week of April 2014. The bags which were used previously for the same purpose were seen to be mostly lying in water in shattered condition. Locals told us that majority of the bags are now under water. In the eroded bank line, these geo-bags were lying without any order and in a way suggesting how the river has dealt or to say played with these jumbo bags. In this bank line, there was a stretch of nearly five meters where the river has eroded more than the other parts. At this stretch none of the geo-bags were to be seen.

There were also contradictions regarding when the present erosion protection work at Nimati ghat had started. Some of the shopkeepers of the ghat said that the work of putting up geo-bags started in February 2014. But according to the contractor in charge of the work, the work started in November 2013. Construction or repairing of embankment just few months before the advent of monsoons is one of the constant criticisms, leveled against the Water Resources department of the state and in Nimati too we heard the same complaint.

Is Geo-tube really a ‘permanent solution’ to floods? In the present discourse of floods in Assam this has become a very significant question. The local people have been fed with various information about geo-tube and most of which are wrong. The life of embankment constructed using geo-tube is of 100 years, we were told by the locals when we travelled to the upstream areas of Matmora geo-tube. This is absolutely not true. In fact, for Prof Chandan Mahanta of IIT Guwahati the scouring[1] done by the river Brahmaputra will be the major cause of concern for geo-tube embankments in the long run.

The geo-tube embankment has already faced threat of scouring right after its construction in the monsoons of 2011. It was on the morning of 14th July, 2011 when two of the apron tubes at the tail of the embankment, were launched due to increase force of water. The apron tubes were laid at the toe of the geo-tube embankment and with the increased force of water scoured at the bottom by the embankment toe line. WRD engineers flung into action and immediate repairing work was taken up at the site. According to WRD engineers this had happened because the trees which were  left outside the  embankment  had  obstructed  and  increased  the  force  of  water and they were immediately cut down. Concrete porcupines were also thrown into the water. Asomiya Pratidin, a regional newspaper reported this on that day but thereafter no report on this could be found. The incident was almost forgotten. When we visited the geo-tube embankment, it was observed that along the toe-line of the embankment a scour line runs for substantial length of the embankment. This clearly shows that scouring by the river has increased in this area. The news report published in Assam Tribune [2]also points out a significant problem associated with geo-bags – “The lobby is mounting pressure for use of geo-bags in the form of bank revetment. Bank revetment is generally not adopted in Brahmaputra because of many reasons. Most important of them is – it produces a permanent deep channel along the existing riverbank.”

On the issue of lobbying behind geo-tube, an interesting perspective was provided by activist-researcher Keshoba Krishna Chatradhara who coordinates ‘Peoples’ Movement for Subansiri and Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV)’. He opines that the construction of geo-tube embankment in Matmora was an experiment, done to see whether such embankments can withstand the flood and erosion of Brahmaputra. The reason for choosing Matmora first and not other severe erosion affected places like Dibrugarh or Rohmoria, was because even if the embankment fails it won’t be as significant loss for the state compared to those places. Dibrugarh is one of the most important towns of upper Assam with a glorious history whereas Rohmoria became important for the state when Oil India Limited found oil deposits in Khagorijan[3]. Infact several local people and activists also opined that the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment which is on the north bank of the river was cut several times, to save the areas in the upstream south bank, mainly the Dibrugarh town. They said that in the past, before the geo-tube embankment came, whenever there was any news of water rising in Dibrugarh, there would soon be a breach in Sissi-tekeliphuta embankment. In fact considering these breaches in the larger Sissi-tekeliphuta embankment, Mr. Chatradhara opined that even if the geo-tube embankment survives the flood, erosion and breaches in future, it might become a small island in midst of a submerged land as there will surely be breaches in the rest of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment.

ADB loan for Geo-textile Embankments in Assam After the construction of the geo-tube embankment at Matmora, the state government is leaving no stone unturned to make it sound like a glorious success. But it is surprising to know that, even before the Matmora embankment was commissioned in December 2010, the state government have filed proposal for two more embankment project where geo-textile would be used for construction and got it cleared. The two subprojects of Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project (AIFRERM) in Dibrugarh and Palashbari were cleared in the 106th meeting of TAC held on 16th September 2010. It is important to note that for the total AIFRERM project ADB is giving a loan of $56.9 million. The cost of Dibrugarh and Palashbari subprojects are Rs 61.33 crore and Rs 129.49 crore respectively. But these investments have been cleared without even doing a post-construction impact assessment of Matmora geo-textile embankment. The Palashbari subproject also included erosion protection for Gumi area through the use of geo-bags but the Assam Tribune report quoted above already mentioned about how geo-bags scheme has failed in that area.

It is important to note here that, the first geo-tube embankment has been constructed only three years back and it would be premature to give any verdict of success, on the contrary there are many signs of failure. But the state government of Assam and the Assam Water Resources department are claiming it as success without really any credible basis and than have used that self certification to go on building more embankments using geo-textile and in several occasions these plans have failed. They first should have done a detailed impact assessment of the embankment at Matmora before going on building more embankments of the same nature.

It seems the Assam government, ADB and CWC are pushing these projects to deflect attention from the failure of embankments in flood management. Such attempts won’t succeed, but it is possibly a ploy to prolong the use of embankments as a flood management technique.

Parag Jyoti Saikia (

Annexure 1

Flood and Erosion Projects approved for Assam – 2009 to 2013

TAC meeting no & date Project Appr. year River/ Basin L of Emba. (m) Original (revised) Cost-CrRs Benefitting area (Ha) Decision
95th -20.01.2009 Protection of Sialmari Area from the erosion of Brahmputra 2002 Brahmaputra NA 14.29 (25.73) NA Accepted
Protection of Bhojaikhati, Doligaon and Ulubari area from the erosion 2002 Brahmaputra NA 14.52 (27.92) NA Accepted
Raising & strengthening Brahmputra Dyke from from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta including closing of breach by retirement and anti erosion measures New Brahmaputra NA 142.42 NA Accepted
96th -16.02.2009 Flood protection of Majuli Island from Flood and Erosion Ph-II & III New Brahmaputra NA 115.03 NA Accepted
Restoration of Dibang & Lohit rivers to their original courses at Dholla Hattiguli New Brahmaputra NA 23.32 (53.11) NA Accepted partly & suggested that proposal of coffer dam, pilot channel, etc. to be put up for expert opinion
101st -30.11.2009 Raising and strengthening to Puthimari embankment New Brahmaputra NA 30.23 15000 Accepted
Anti Erosion measures to protect Brahmputra Dyke on left bank New Brahmaputra NA 27.97 5000 Accepted
Protection of Gakhirkhitee & adjoining areas from erosion New Brahmaputra NA 19.06 20,000 Accepted
102 -28.1.’10 Emergent measures for protection of Rohmoria in Dibrugarh District New Brahmaputra NA 59.91 18,000 Accepted
106th -16.09.2010 Raising and strengthening of tributary dyke along both banks of Kopili River New Kopilli/ Brahmputra NA 110.72 NA Accepted
Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project New Brahmaputra NA 61.33 NA Accepted
Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project New Brahmaputra NA 129.49 NA Accepted
110th – 20.07.2011 Protection of Majuli from Flood and Erosion Ph II & III 2011 Brahmaputra 115.03 Accepted
Restoration fo rivers Dibang & Lohit to their original courses at Dholla Hatighuli 2011 Brahmaputra 54.43 Accepted
111th – 17.08.2011 Protection of Biswanath Panpur including areas of upstream Silamari and Far downstream Bhumuraguri to Borgaon against erosion New Brahmaputra 167.09 Accepted
117 – 21.3.’13 Protecion of Sissi-Tekeliphuta dyke from erosion – Lotasur to Tekeliphuta New Brahmaputra 153000 m 155.87 153000 m Accepted
118th – 30.07.2013 Flood management of Dikrong along with river training works on both banks embankment New Dikrong/Brahmaputra 105.96 Accepted
Flood management of Ranganadi along with river training works on both bank embankments New Ranganadi/Brahmaputra 361.42 Accepted

[1] Scour can be termed as a specific form of the more general term erosion. In case of geo-tube embankments Scour is the removal of sediment from the bottom of the geo-tubes. Scour, caused by swiftly moving water, can scoop out scour holes, compromising the integrity of a structure.

[2] ADB, river engineers differ on geo-bags –

[3] See ‘Rohmoria’s Challenge: Natural Disasters, Popular Protests and State Apathy’ published in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLVI NO 2, Janurary 8, 2011.

Massive Hydropower capacity being developed by India: Himalayas cannot take this onslaught

At least 49 large[1] hydropower projects are under construction in India today, with a cumulative capacity of 15006 MW[2]. As per the latest bulletin from Central Electricity Authority[3], “Status of Hydro Electric Projects under Execution for 12th Plan & beyond (Excluding projects above[4] 25 MW)” dated March 31, 2014, 35 of these projects (9934 MW) are expected to be commissioned in 12th Five Year Plan[5] and remaining 14 with installed capacity of 5072 MW would provide benefit beyond 12th Plan.

Considering that 1534 MW capacity has already been added in first two years of ongoing 12th Five Year Plan (during 2012-13 and 2013-14), CEA projections means that India hopes to add massive 11468 MW capacity during the current five year plan. This will be higher than capacity added in any other five year plan and 254% of the capacity addition during the last, 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12) when India added 4514 MW. The graph below shows how steeply our hydropower installed capacity is going up over the last 25 years.


Rapidly Increasing installed capacity of Large Hydropower Projects in India

Rapidly Increasing installed capacity of Large Hydropower Projects in India

The proponent of even more accelerated hydro capacity addition misleadingly talk about the need for having 40% of installed grid capacity as hydro.

In line with this, the CEA came out with plans to add 65000 MW in 13th Five Year Plan (2017-2022: 30 000 MW) and 14th Five Year Plan (2022-2027: 35 000 MW). (see of May 6, 2014)

There is no science behind this  advocacy. It is basically a suggestion possibly based on the general assumption that peaking demand is 40% higher than base-load demand. Hence if we have 40% installed capacity from hydro in the grid, this can take care of total demand optimally. However, this is based on assumption that hydro capacity is indeed used for peaking. This assumption is completely wrong in India, with no agency monitoring or even reporting how much of the hydro generation currently provide peaking power. Without such optimum use of current hydro capacity, where is the case for 60:40 grid capacity ratio for hydro? It goes without saying that when hydro projects are used for peaking power, there are additional social and  environmental impacts in the downstream and upstream. These need to assessed and those who suffer are compensated.

On similar lines, one can answer the advocacy for claim that hydro is clean, green, renewable and cheap source of power or that  run of the river or small hydropower projects are more environmentally benign. However, this blog is not attempting to answer all such fallacies here, it needs a separate blog.

While this is happening, the Expert Appraisal Committee of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on River Valley Projects has been clearing projects at break a neck speed with almost zero rejection rate. Between April 2007 and Dec 2013, this committee recommended environment clearance to 18030.5 MW capacity, most of which has not entered the implementation stage. Moreover, this committee has recommended 1st Environment clearance (what is technically called Terms of Reference Clearance) for a capacity of unimaginable 57702 MW in the same period. This is indicative of the onslaught of hydropower projects which we are likely to see in the coming years.

Figure 1 TORs (First Stage EC) and EC recommended by EAC between April 2007 - December 2013

Figure 1 TORs (First Stage EC) and EC recommended by EAC between April 2007 – December 2013

 Table: Sector-wise & plan-wise number of & capacity of under construction HEPs


During 12th FYP

After 12th Plan


No of Projects Installed capacity, MW No of Projects Installed capacity, MW No of Projects Installed capacity, MW


5312 3 2615 14




1506 3 736 15




3116 8 1721 20




9934 14 5072 49


Among the three sectors, the largest number of under construction projects (20) are from private sector. However, among all sectors of under construction projects, central sector projects have the highest installed capacity (7927 or 53% of under construction capacity of 15006 MW).

Figure 2 Sectorwise ownership of under-construction HEPs in Numbers

Figure 2 Sectorwise ownership of under-construction HEPs in Numbers

Vulnerable Himalayas are the target In the second table the state-wise and sector-wise break of numbers and capacity of under construction HEPs has been given. Himachal Pradesh has the highest number and highest installed capacity projects among all states. That state also has the highest installed capacity (8139 MW or over a fifth of operating HEP capacity at national level) of large operating hydropower projects. Sikkim, however, has the highest number and capacity of private sector hydropower projects under construction. In fact, half of the total national-level private sector projects which are under construction are in that tiny state. Their installed capacity is more than half the installed capacity of all the private sector hydropower projects under construction at national level. Ironically, the state also has the highest biodiversity in the country.

Figure 3 Installed Capacity of under construction HEPs, sector-wise ownership, in MW

Figure 3 Installed Capacity of under construction HEPs, sector-wise ownership, in MW

Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand also have 5 and 3 private sector HEPs under construction respectively. The 5 Himalayan states of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh between them have 38 of the 49 under construction hydropower projects with total capacity of 13550 MW or over 90% of under construction capacity. In addition, the projects of Mizoram, Meghalaya, W Bengal (Teesta L Dam IV) and Punjab (Shahpur Kandi on Ravi River) are also in Himalayan zone.

Table: State-wise & sector-wise number and capacity of under-construction HEPs


Central Sector

State Sector Private Sector


No of projects Installed Capacity, MW No of projects Installed Capacity, MW No of projects Installed Capacity, MW No of projects Installed Capacity, MW


330 1 450 1 850 3


Himachal P


2532 6 956 5 460 15




2135 3 505 7



10 2622 10


Arunachal P


2710 3




60 1



1 40 1


W Bengal


160 1



1 206 1


Madhya Pr

1 400 1



1 80 1


Andhra Pr

3 410 3



2 100 2




7927 15 2242 20 4837 49



Figure 4 State-wise and sector-wise number of HEPs under construction

Figure 4 State-wise and sector-wise number of HEPs under construction

Figure 5 State-wise installed capacity of under construciotn HEPs

Figure 5 State-wise installed capacity of under construciotn HEPs

Diminishing Returns This blind rush for hydropower projects (which have serious and irreversible impacts on social and ecological systems) is difficult to understand and justify considering their poor generation performance, rising costs and availability of better options. To illustrate, in the graph below we can see how power generation per unit (MW) installed capacity has been steadily reducing over the last two decades. From 1993-94 to the latest year of 2013-14, there has been a huge drop of 16.5%.

Diminishing power generation from India's Hydropower Projects over the last two decades

Diminishing power generation from India’s Hydropower Projects over the last two decades

Yawning gap between promised and actual generation of Hydro Projects Another way to look at performance of hydropower projects would be to compare the projected (as promised in Techno Economic Clearance) and actual generation (both at 90% dependability) of electricity by HEPs. This assessment shows that about 89% of India’s operating hydropower projects are generating at below the promised levels. Shockingly, half of under performing projects are generating at below 50% of promised generation levels.

How much Peaking Power are we generating? A third way to assess the hydropower generation is in terms of peaking power, a USP[7] of hydropower projects. However, no figures are available as to how much of the generation from hydropower projects are happening during peaking hours. No agency in India is even monitoring this or reporting this: including CEA, Central or State Electricity Regulatory Authority, National, Regional or State Load Dispatch Centers, Union or state Power Ministries or individual operators. In short, there is no case for justifying more hydro in the name of providing peaking power if we are neither monitoring nor optimizing hydropower generation during peaking hours. One expected CEA to do this job, but it seems they are busy lobbying for hydropower projects rather than functioning as India’s premier Technical Power sector agency.

Invitation to disaster? The consequences of such massive capacity addition are and will continue to be disastrous for the rivers, forests, biodiversity and people. The Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 has shown the vulnerability of hydropower projects in Himalayas, as well as their impacts. The disaster and independent reports[8] also show how the construction and operation of these projects have contributed to compounding the proportion of the disaster. Climate Change is accentuating this situation and will continue to do so with increasing intensity as per the IPCC reports.

Role  of HEPs in Uttarakhand disaster: CEA and CWC in denial mode This analysis of under construction hydropower projects as reported in the latest CEA bulletin shows that Himalayas is the target for overwhelming majority of hydropower projects being taken up India (& neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet). The Uttarakhand disaster showed how hydropower projects are increasing the existing vulnerabilities and disaster potential of the Himalayan region in times of natural calamities. An independent committee appointed by MoEF following Supreme Court orders of Aug 13, 2013 pointed out the role of hydropower projects in Uttarakhad disaster of June 2013.

It should be highlighted here that multiple hydropower projects should invite cumulative impact assessment. As Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 highlighted, such cumulative impact assessment need to be done in a credible way and not the way AHEC of IITR did for the Bhagirathi-Alaknanda basin.

Strangely, instead of accepting this reality and taking this into account in decision making processes, Central Water Commission and Central Electricity Authority are in a denial mode! They collectively submitted a completely unscientific and unfounded report to Union Environment & Forests Ministry, advocating for hydropower projects rather than assessing their role in disaster, which was the mandate given by Supreme Court of India to MoEF. The CEA is clearly jeopardizing whatever credibility it has in joining hands with CWC. It would be better for both the agencies to accept and wake up to these realities.

Else, such onslaught of hydropower projects on Himalayas is likely to be an invitation to further disasters all across the Himalayas. All our decision makers and all others concerned need to take note of this urgently.

Himanshu Thakkar (


[1] Defined as those projects having installed capacity above 25 MW

[2] In reality, there are many other large HEPs under construction, but his figure is based on CEA.

[3], CEA has been pretty irregular in putting up these bulletins, after Nov 2013, the next bulletin was available only now.

[4] In reality, this should be “below”, we have italicized the word since the error is in the original.

[5] Ending on March 31, 2017

[6] CEA projects that out of 2000 MW installed capacity of Lower Subansiri HEP in Arunachal Pradesh, 1000 MW will be commissioned in 12th Plan and the rest of 1000 MW thereafter.

[7] Unique Selling Proposition


Do large dams deliver deception and delusion? Oxford University Research says: they do!

The protagonists like to equate large dams with development. Those who suffer the adverse consequences equate them with displacement, deforestation, deprivation & debt. While the protagonists see dams as drought proofing measure, critics have for long associated dams with drying up of rivers, destruction of biodiversity and depletion of groundwater in downstream areas. The debate has been going on for long, but we have seen little change in the way decisions about dams are taken. There is little democracy there. The dissent almost invariably is dealt with repression.

So there are a lot of d-words associated with dams. Two new words have now have joined that long list: Deception and Delusion. The negative conclusions about dams have come in recent weeks from two reputed international forums: Oxford University research and Report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Oxford University’s Atif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg, Alexander Budzier & Daniel Lunn have published in 2014 a research paper titled “Should we build more large dams? The actual costs of hydropower mega-project development. Energy Policy”. The paper is based on evidence based research and “outside view, applied to large dams for the first time here”. After analyzing data from 246 large dams commissioned between 1934 and 2007 from all over the world, looking at all kinds of dams and objectives of the dams, they have concluded that there is inherent systematic psychological delusion and political deception on the part of officials in deciding to take up large dams. This results in underestimating the costs, construction periods and over estimating the benefits, putting a question mark about the selection of correct options. They suggest that “decision-makers’ forecasts, and hence ex ante judgment, are often adversely biased”, leading to mega dams typically facing adverse outcomes.

The authors suggest that there is need to “Create transparency on risk profiles of various energy alternatives, from not only the perspective of financial cost and benefit but also environmental and social impact – hard evidence is a counter – point to experts’ and promoters’ oft-biased inside view.” This is exactly in line with what we have been suggesting here in India in functioning of various decision making forums. The authors in fact conclude, “Projects with a poor cost and schedule performance are also likely to have a poor environmental and social track record. A greater magnitude of cost and schedule overruns is thus a robust indicator of project failure… This result suggests that developing countries in particular, despite seemingly the most in need of complex facilities such as large dams, ought to stay away”.

Bhama Askhed Dam in Maharshtra, canal systems not ready despite 2 decades of work. Photo:SANDRP

Bhama Askhed Dam in Maharshtra, canal systems not ready despite 2 decades of work. Photo:SANDRP

This phenomenon of delusion and deception is best illustrated in India by the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat. The project that started with cost estimates of Rs 6406 crores is far from complete when close to Rs 50 000/- crores have already been spent. The corruption involved in this project will be known only when there is a credible independent scrutiny of the expenses; the current regime is totally against even independent lokpal or use of RTI. The full social and environmental impacts of the project are still not known. The most touted benefit of the project: drought proofing Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat is now not even part of the Gujarat government agenda and mind you, there was no agitation against building canals in these regions. In stead water is being taken away for unplanned and unjustified utilization for urban and industrial use. And now the project is used to push political agenda of constructing the world’s highest statue.

There are many other instances that exemplify the delusion and deception in decisions on dams in India. The Maharashtra irrigation scam and white wash of it by the Chitale Commission is one of the recent examples. The non transparent, non participatory and unaccountable functioning of the Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources for consideration of techno-economic viability of Irrigation, Flood Control and Multi Purpose Project Proposals (TAC in short) is a perennial problem. The Khuga and Thoubal irrigation projects in Manipur, both initiated in 1980 are still ongoing and have seen cost escalations of 28 and 35 times the original costs, but the TAC has been clearing all such claims without any questions! Same is the case of Dhansiri irrigation project in Assam, started in 1975, still ongoing with cost having gone up by over 36 times the original cost!

Dhansiri Project on Dhansiri RIver, Assam. Photo: Jayanta Kumar Das, Panoramia

Dhansiri Project on Dhansiri RIver, Assam. Photo: Jayanta Kumar Das, Panoramia

In fact it is not secret even for Planning Commission that Major and Medium Irrigation Projects are not delivering any benefits for over last two decades now to the net irrigated area. In case of hydropower projects, the installed capacity has gone up exactly twice in last two decades, from 20275 MW in 1993-94 to 40524 MW in March 2014, but generation per MW installed capacity has gone down by over 16% during this period, but no questions are asked!

The second significant adverse comment on dams came from the IPCC’s second working group report of the fifth Assessment, made public on March 31, 2014. The report has a number of significant references on how large dams perform in changing climate. This lead to the conclusion that Dams and infrastructure projects contribute significantly to “non-climate impacts” which, after interacting with changing climate, exacerbate the overall impact on human societies and ecosystems. Climate change and dams together affect a greater eco-region; Sediment Trapping by reservoirs exacerbates impact of sea level rise. In case of Flood Protection, dams and embankments may do more harm than good & Ecological measures would fare better. Dams and Hydropower projects affect biodiversity, which is critical in facing climate change challenges; In the tropics, global warming potential of hydropower may exceed that of Thermal Power; Dams increase vulnerability of weaker sections to climate change & that Hydropower itself is vulnerable to Climate Change. This again is not exactly breaking news, we have been raising these issues with Ministry of Environment and Forests, its Expert Appraisal Committee and others. Now that IPCC has said this, the official agencies will take note of this.

In face of such clear evidence of role of big dams and big hydropower projects in changing climate, there is no dearth of proponents selling hydro projects as clean, green, cheap and renewable, including some environmental groups like Centre for Science and Environment.

As India goes to polls, the least one can expect that the election manifestoes and promises of the parties seeking mandate to rule would pledge to take a hard look at the performance of big dams in India and take corrective steps as required. In stead we have statements from BJP prime ministerial candidate saying North East India is heaven for hydropower development and they would take up Inter-linking of rivers in big way. The Congress has no different agenda. Even the Aam Aadmi Party, unfortunately has refrained from taking any clear stand on this issue. It seems the people have a long road of struggle ahead.

Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP


1. An edited version appeared at: in May 2014

Report of Expert Committee on Uttarakhand Flood Disaster & Role of HEPs: Welcome recommendations:

Drop 23 projects, do cumulative assessments & improve governance

In a significant development on role of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013, the Expert Body (EB) headed by Dr Ravi Chopra has recommended that at least 23 hydropower projects should be dropped, that hydropower projects played significant role in the Uttarakhand disaster and that there is urgent need to improve the environment governance of hydropower projects. The Report “Assessment of Environmental Degradation and Impact of Hydroelectric Projects During The June 2013 Disaster in Uttarakhand” dated April 2014 has been submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on April 16, 2014 and was made public following hearing in the Supreme Court on April 28, 2014. The committee was appointed by a reluctant Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in October 2013, following the Supreme Court’s suo motto order of August 13 2013.

Source: MATU Jansangathan

Damaged Vishnuprayag Dam in Uttarakhand floods of June 2013: Source: MATU Jansangathan

Uttarakhand floods of June 2013[1],[2]: The committee report endorses the stand taken in a letter[3] that was written to MoEF on July 20, 2013, endorsed by over 20 individuals and groups including from Uttarakhand on the role of existing and under  construction hydropower projects in the Uttarakhand floods  of June 2013. MoEF did not take any action on this letter, but it was Supreme Court order next month that pushed MoEF to take necessary action.

SC order of Aug 13, 2013[4]: On Aug 13, 2013, while disposing off the petition on Srinagar HEP in Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court, suo motto, made an order that asked, MoEF and Uttarakhand governments not to provide any further clearances to any more hydropower projects anywhere in Uttarakhand till further orders. Both MoEF and Uttarakhand governments have been violating this order. However, one of the fall outs of this order was formulation of Expert Body appointed by MoEF more than two months latter, through an order on Oct 15, 2013, whose report now is available in public domain.

Limited TOR[5]: The Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 pertained to whole of Uttarakhand, as was the disaster of June 2013. However, the MoEF order and subsequently CWC tried to restrict the field of work of the committee to Alaknanda and Bhagirathi sub basins rather than whole of Uttarakhand.

Problematic constitution: The constitution of the Expert body was also problematic from a number of aspects. There was clear conflict of interest with respect to some of the members like Dr BP Das, former member and Vice Chair of the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects, as explained below. The committee also included chairman of Central Water Commission and Central Electricity Authority, which unfortunately act like lobbies for hydropower projects. These persons were in the committee to bring in respective expertise, but in stead used their presence in the committee to discredit evidence which suggested clear role of hydropower projects, some members also advocated for more hydropower projects, in stead of adhering to the mandate given by the Supreme Court, thus raising the issue of contempt of court.

In what follows we have given some useful recommendations and conclusions of the EB, followed by some weak recommendations and conclusions of the EB report, based on a quick reading of the report (we got the over 200 page report only on April 29, 2014), following by some remarks on role of vice chair, CWC, CEA, MoEF and our conclusion.

Map of Mandakini Valley, epicenter of Uttarakhand floods of June 2014 (Source: EB report)

Map of Mandakini Valley, epicenter of Uttarakhand floods of June 2013 (Source: EB report)

On 24 projects recommended to be dropped by WII “After considerable discussions and analysis, the Expert Body concluded that of the 24 proposed Hydropower Projects (HEPs) that Wildlife Institute of India (WII) recommended for Review, 23 HEPs would have significant irreversible impacts on biodiversity values.”

“The EB recommends that for the 23 proposed HEPs out of the 24 identified by WII (other than the Kotli Bhel 1A project) that would have irreversible impacts on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins, the HEPs that fall in any of the following conditions should not be approved for construction.

(a)               Proposed HEPs that fall inside wildlife Protected Areas such  National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries

(b)               Proposed HEPs that fall within the Gangotri Eco-sensitive Zone

(c)               Proposed HEPs that fall above 2,500m that encompass critical wildlife habitats, high biological diversity, movement corridors, and fragile in nature due to unpredictable glacial and paraglacial activities.

(d)               Proposed HEPs that fall within 10 km from the boundary of Protected Areas and have not obtained clearance from the National Board for Wildlife.”

It would have been in fitness of things if EB had exclusively asked for stoppage of work on all these 23 projects with immediate effect.

On Kotli Bhel 1A The EB has, we believe, erroneously concluded, over ruling the conclusion of WII and expert review initiated by EB, “that the Kotli Bhel 1A project might not significantly worsen the condition of the river Bhagirathi between Koteshwar and Devprayag – already part of a highly fragmented zone”. However, EB has asked for  “due modifications to its design and operations so that an adequate stretch of the river downstream of the Koteshwar dam just above KB-IA can be maintained in a free flowing state”. This means the project work should stop and it should reapply for clearances after doing the suggested modifications in credible way.

Restoration: “The river bed profiles at Phata-Byung, Singoli-Bhatwari, Vishnuprayag and Srinagar HEPs have changed significantly. This requires a fresh analysis of the project hydrology and redesigning them if necessary.

All projects must undertake river restoration works after prior clearance from MoEF. It was noticed that project developers were engaged in projects’ restoration only. MoEF needs to conduct a formal review of the environmental damages at all the HEPs in Uttarakhand and prepare guidelines for restoration. Till then none of the projects should begin power production.”

HEPs above 2 MW need EC “All projects > 2 MW, shall require prior Environmental Clearances (EC) from MoEF”.

“A multidisciplinary expert body should be constituted with members of proven expertise and experience to review every year the progress/performance of each HEP and its compliance with the sanction conditions. This body will also review the technicalities of disaster preparedness before each monsoon season and examine the impact of monsoon storm and floods on the performance of all the project components. The environmental health of the river will be a critical area for comprehensive examination.”

No projects above winter snow line “Learning from the June 2013 event, the EB believes that the enhanced sediment availability from and in paraglacial zones could be a serious problem for the longevity of the existing, under construction and proposed HEPs in Uttarakhand. Therefore the EB recommends that the terrain above the MCT in general and above the winter snow line in particular (~2200-2500 m) should be kept free from hydropower interventions in Uttarakhand.”

SIA should be carried out for all river systems in Uttarakhand “The WII study has already identified 24 proposed HEPs in the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins as likely to cause irreversible impacts. But comprehensive research studies of other basins in Uttarakhand are lacking at this stage… Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) be carried out in other major river basins of Uttarakhand such as the Yamuna and Kali basins.”

Distance between projects in a cascade “Scientific studies by subject experts should be conducted for establishing baseline data on river parameters, diversity and populations of floral and faunal species in different rivers of Uttarakhand at different elevation zones.  Such studies should be used for deciding upon the minimum distances between two consecutive HEPs. Until such scientific studies are completed, no new HEPs (in S&I stage) should be cleared on the rivers of Uttarakhand within a distance that may later be revoked. Minimum distances for projects in the clearance stage should be significantly revised upward from the current consideration of 1 km.”

SANDRP Map of Bumper to Bumper hydropower projects in Alaknanda basin in Uttarakhand

SANDRP Map of Bumper to Bumper hydropower projects in Alaknanda basin in Uttarakhand

National Himalayan Policy “Since the Himalaya are our vital source of growth and abundance, a National Himalayan Policy needs to be urgently created and implemented.”

“Therefore, the EB strongly recommends that a detailed study of the impacts of hydropower projects in terms of deforestation/tunneling/ blasting/reservoir formation on the hydrogeology of the area should be carried out.”

A study on the role of large artificial reservoirs on local climate change and precipitation patterns with special reference to the Tehri dam reservoir.”

Sediment transportation studies “Recent studies have highlighted serious concern about the Indian deltas, which are shrinking due to changes in river courses. The Ganga-Brahmaputra delta is also noted in this category. This seems to be a major issue in near future therefore we recommend that the studies should be carried out regarding the impacts on sediment transportation due to projects existing on Himalayan rivers.”

Cultural impacts of HEPs “Therefore EB recommends that the Ministry of Culture along with the local representatives and spiritual leaders should undertake a comprehensive study of the cultural impacts of HEPs in the spiritually rich state of Uttarakhand.”

“The river bed profiles at Phata-Byung, Singoli-Bhatwari, Vishnuprayag and Srinagar HEPs have changed significantly. This requires a fresh analysis of the project hydrology and redesigning them if necessary.”

“River Regulation Zone (R.R.Z.) guidelines should be issued immediately by the Ministry of Environment & Forests and should be executed accordingly.”

Muck Management: “The existing practices of muck management are inadequate to protect the terrain and the people from an eventuality like the June 2013 flood. Therefore, a serious revisit is required towards evolving technically better and ecologically sustainable methods for muck disposal and rehabilitation in Uttarakhand.”

Environmental Flows: “Till such time as a decision is taken on the EFlows recommendations of the IITs-consortium, the EB recommends EFlows of 50% during the lean season and 30% during the remaining non-monsoon months. Sustaining the integrity of Uttarakhand’s rivers and their eco-systems is not negotiable.”

Eco-Sensitive Zones: “It is recommended that legislation be enacted to (i) protect small but significant rivers (as done in Himachal Pradesh and also recommended by the IMG for Uttarakhand) as pristine rivers and (ii) designate Eco-Sensitive Zones for all rivers of Uttarakhand.”

Community based CA and CAT “Community-based CA and CAT plan execution must be done by the State Forest Department within the construction period of the project.” This is to be monitored by a committee that includes two representatives from local communities, a renowned environmentalist, among others.

Forests and Biodiversity Conservation: “Community based CAT programmes have to be systemically implemented for ensuring sustenance of the plantations. This requires training of forest officials to work with the communities through their Van Panchayats.”

“It was brought to the notice of the EB that clearances to start work had been granted recently to the Lakhwar (300 MW) and Vyasi (120 MW) projects. This is in violation of the spirit of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order of August 13, 2013. It is also noticed that these projects were approved more than 25 years ago. Consequently they do not have any EIA/EMP/DMP studies that are mandatory today. Without conducting cumulative impact assessments and disaster management studies of the Yamuna and Kali basins no such projects should be allowed at the risk of fragile ecology, biodiversity and lives of people living in and around the project sites.”[6]


“The EB recommends that MoEF strengthens its personnel and procedures for post-sanction monitoring of environmental conditionalities. The MoEF should develop a programme for research studies by reputed organizations on the impacts of HEPs on river water quality (and flows). Pre-construction and post operation long term impacts monitoring studies are required.”

Geology & Social Issues: “Given the massive scale of construction of HEPs in Uttarakhand it may be worthwhile to set up a formal institution or mechanism for investigating and redressing complaints about damages to social infrastructure. The functioning of such an institution can be funded by a small cess imposed on the developers. It is also suggested that to minimize complaints of bias, investigations should be carried out by joint committees of subject experts and the community.”

Disaster Management: “Disaster preparedness is critical because all of Uttarakhand lies either in seismic Zone IV or V. These areas are most vulnerable to strong earthquakes. Disaster Management Plans (DMPs) are critical parts of EIA Reports. They need to be carefully reviewed and approved by local communities in the probable zone of influence.”

“It is necessary to establish an independent authority which may commission EIA Reports…”


On Role of Dams in Uttarakhand disaster:

In Chapter 3 (p 10) chairman of EB notes, “Thus THDC’s inundation analysis results could

not be substantiated by the ground survey in Haridwar city.”

“In September 2010, to retain flood inflows in the face of water levels rising beyond the permitted FRL the (Tehri) dam authorities had to seek the permission of the Supreme Court. It led to inundation of the upstream town of Chinyalisaur and later after draw down fresh landslide zones were created around the reservoir rim.”

“Geo-chemical analysis of sediment samples taken from various locations along the river stretch in Srinagar, however, indicated a significant contribution — varying from 47% near the barrage to about 23% much further downstream (Fig. 3.19, pg 101, Main Report) — from muck eroded from muck disposal sites 6 and 9 located on the concave right bank and consequently experienced an intense current of the order of 7m/sec.

This raises a question that if there was heavy to very heavy rainfall from the glacial reaches of the Alaknanda valley, leading to numerous landslides along the banks, then why was massive damage observed only downstream of the Vishnuprayag and Srinagar HEPs? A detailed investigation is warranted in order to arrive at a scientifically viable explanation.”

“Otters appear to be nearing extinction in the Ganga, Alaknanda sub-basins.”

It is good to see that the EB has effectively rejected the critique of the WII report presented by Dr. Sabyasachi Dasgupta, HNB Garhwal University and consultant to UJVNL, following an independent review of the WII report by Prof. Brij Gopal, an eminent ecological scientist who had worked extensively on river ecosystems. Prof Brij Gopal, while finding some limitations in WII methodology, concluded: “he agreed with WII’s findings that the 24 proposed hydropower projects would impact the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins significantly. Based on his own analysis, Prof Gopal recommended that several more projects be dropped.”


“A ground survey of the inundation analysis carried out by THDC on the basis of which it claimed to have saved Haridwar from drowning raised doubts about the accuracy of the computer generated inundation maps. It is therefore not clear how much of Haridwar would have been affected if the Tehri dam had not been there. The problem at Haridwar, as at other towns and habitations along river banks, is that there has been wide spread encroachment and construction inside the river’s regime. Therefore it is imperative to set up river regulation zones where encroachments are forbidden. (Unscientific sand mining on river beds adds to the problem.)”

“There is some doubt about whether the Vishnuprayag project authorities were able to properly manage the opening and closing of the gates.”

Role of Dr B P Das: Dr B P Das has for close to a decade been member or vice chair or officiating chair of the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF on River Valley project and has in the process been involved in appraising and deciding on clearances for a no of projects and their impacts in Uttarakhand. Hence he was not likely to be in a position to take an independent view on Uttarakhand hydropower projects as there was a conflict of interest involved with respect to his earlier decisions. His biased views were also known through his article in The Hindu earlier. This got reflected in the alternate view on page 27 of chapter 3 and page 16-17 of Chapter 4 of the report authored by Dr Das. In Chapter 3 box, Dr Das’s abiding faith in the project developer could be seen. In Chapter 4 box Dr Das himself mentions that EAC has yet to take a view on WII report, but the he himself is a responsible party for EAC not having taken a view on WII report.

Role of CWC, CEA chairpersons: CWC (Central Water Commission, India’s premier technical body on water resources development under Union Ministry of Water Resources) and CEA (Central Electricity Authority, India’s premier technical body on power sector are largely known to act as lobbies for hydropower projects, in stead of the independent technical and regulatory body that they are expected to work as. In view of that, inclusion of chairperson of CWC and CEA in this committee was wrong step on the part of MoEF. We learn from a letter written by two eminent members of the committee, namely Dr Shekhar Pathak and Dr Hemant Dhyani on March 27, 2014, that indeed the chairpersons of CWC and CEA did not really participate in the way they were required to, and rather functioned in violation of the Supreme Court order.

Scanned version of last part of the letter of 27.03.2014 from Dr Shekhar Pathak and Dr Hemant Dhyani, members of EB

Scanned version of last part of the letter of 27.03.2014 from Dr Shekhar Pathak and Dr Hemant Dhyani, members of EB

Role of MoEF: One had expected that the EB would take a critical view of the functioning of the MoEF around HEPs and contribution of MoEF’s failures in increasing the disaster proportions. Unfortunately we are disappointed in this. Possibly, with the committee having been appointed by MoEF and member secretary of the committee being MoEF official this was a difficult ask. However, not being able to take a critical stand on the role of MoEF (and other institutions like CWC, CEA, state environment department, state disaster management department etc) imposes a limitation on the EB report and provides a free reign to guilty party. The consequences of this became apparent when on April 28, 2014, during the Supreme Court hearing, we are told, the MoEF presented erroneous picture that there are two reports of the committee, one by 10 members(wrongly called activists) another by Vice Chair B P Das, with CWC and CEA chair persons, when at best the note from these three persons can be considered dissent note, that too in violation of SC orders. We hope the Supreme Court will take strong view of this misleading picture presented by MoEF and reprimand the responsible officials to ensure that this does not happen again.

View of the Committee working through its minutes 

Minutes of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th meeting are available on the MoEF, Lucknow regional office website. Perusal of the minutes shed light of the functioning of the committee, and the biases of some specific members. Some highlights from the minutes:

THDC, Tehri and Muck Disposal Sites: Site visit reports of various members, including Dr. Amit Gupta, Dy Director of MoEF presented that THDC is managing active and non active muck disposal sites ‘poorly’. The sites do not have proper retaining wall, slop or plantations.

THDC hid drift tunnel of Koteshwar dam: Member Hemant Dhyani exposed that THDC officials did not accept the presence of a huge drift tunnel of Koteshwar Project near Payal Gaon, which was suffering from severe subsidence. Only when the local people, including the tunnel construction workers insisted that there is a tunnel that the THDC officials accept this fact!

In the 3rd meeting, the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand told the committee that projects with EC or FC should not be closed or stopped. Note here that this suggestion is unacceptable when the SC itself has asked the committee to investigate the role of projects in the flood damages.

To top this, Additional Chief Secretary unilaterally asserted that HEP did not have any role in the mishap. He emphasised every Environmental CLearance needs an EIA. This indicates his poor knowledge about the quality of EIAs which has been accepted by most experts.

He further stressed that a umber of FC cases were peding before the MoEF. Moef official YK Singh Chauhan rebutted this claim.

In the 4th Meeting, Dr. B.P. Das, Co Chair of the committee categorized June event as a rare natural calamity and attributed the losses only to road construction ( Incidentally, many  roads are being built for hydel projects, and do not even allow access to local communities.)

Dr. Ravi Chopra, Chairperson highlighted the poor data management of THDC. He highlighted that THDC could not provide HFL data, rainfall data, inlet level from Maneri Bhali II and outlet level sought by the committee members.

Conclusion: In spite of certain weaknesses, most of the recommendations of the committee need to be immediately implemented and till they are implemented in letter and spirit, the Supreme Court should order a status quo on any further hydropower projects. The EB headed by Dr Ravi Chopra should be congratulated for this report in spite of difficult circumstances under which the committee operated.

Þ     We also hope the Supreme Court would ask MoEF to order stoppage of work on Lakhwar and Vyasi projects that has been started recently, violating the Supreme Court order in letter and spirit, and also as pointed out by the EB.

Þ     The work on 24 hydropower projects that was part of explicit TOR of the committee should be ordered to stop immediately. The EB should have made this explicit recommendation, but even if they have not done that, it is implicit in its recommendation.

Þ     The Supreme Court should ask MoEF to provide a time bound action plan on implementation of the various recommendations of the EB. The SC an also possibly appoint EB (minus Dr Das, CWC and CEA persons) to oversee the implementation of the action plan and continue to provide independent feedback on adequacy of such implementation.

Þ     The Lessons from Uttarakhand are relevant for all Himalayan states of India from Kashmir to all the North East states and we hope Supreme Court to ask the follow up committee to ensure that these lessons are taken note of and necessary steps flowing there from are implemented in these Himalayan states. These will also provide guidance to our Himalayan neighbouring countries.

Þ     The failure of environmental governance is one of the clearest stark message from this episode and we hope MoEF will put its house in order in this respect, revamping its entire environmental governance.

Himanshu Thakkar (







[6] By Dr. Hemant Dhyani, Member, EB

[7] Reuters report on this issue:

[8] The section “View of the Committee working through its minutes” has been put together by SANDRP colleague Parineeta Dandekar. I am also thankful to her for  other useful suggestions from her.

Why is Gujarat neglecting Safety of Sardar Sarovar Dam?

Sardar Sarovar Dam Stilling basin damaged: No repairs for 3 years:

No meeting of Dam Safety Panel for 30 months:



Sardar Sarovar Dam: (Photo by SANDRP)

Gujarat government, Gujarat politicians and their supporters never tire of telling the world that the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) on Narmada River is their lifeline. Shockingly, perusal of recent official documents obtained under RTI indicate that Government of Gujarat (GOG) and its Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) are least bothered about the issues of the very safety of the SSD.

The only technical body that is supposed to be in charge of safety of the dam, namely Dam Safety Panel (DSP), has remained non existent for years together while the official reports show that the structures like stilling basin that are a part of the dam have suffered such serious damage that the Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee (SSCAC) and its Permanent Standing Committee (PSC) have repeatedly asked for attention.  First they asked for urgent attention then immediate attention, then attention before monsoon to the repair, but still, there has been no response for a long time from GOG or SSNNL.

Shockingly, India’s premier technical body on water resources, Central Water Commission (CWC), was not taking interest in this issue ostensibly since they were not represented on DSP!

Who can say Sardar Sarovar Project is really Gujarat’s lifeline and that Gujarat government is bothered about the lifeline?

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS RELATED TO DAMAGE AT SSP DAM: In what follows, we have given the blow by blow chronology of events related to the damage to SSP Dam, all information taken from official documents obtained under RTI.

May 2011 The minutes of 101st meeting of PSC notes, “He (Representative of GOG) further informed that a team of nine officials from National Institute of Oceanography, Goa carried out inspection under water of stilling basin of SSP dam during 3rd May to 15th May 2011 and it was found that there is no damage except some erosion of size 3-5 cm at some places, which is not a serious problem.” Please note the description of what NIO found, as reported by GOG here and let us see how this description and implications change from “there is no damage except…” and “not a serious problem”.

It is this report of NIO that had discovered the damage to the SSP dam stilling basins and other underground parts, the damage must have happened during 2010 monsoon or earlier, and till March 2014 and as we  write this, there is no confirmation of the repairs.

SSP Stilling Basin damaged in 1995 Photo: Frontline

SSP Stilling Basin damaged in 1995 Photo: Frontline

June 8, 2011: 101st meeting of PSC notes: “The committee noted the progress of works and directed GOG to include the reports of National Institute of Oceanography, Goa in their quarterly progress report and also to take up remedial measures for the shortfalls indicated therein.” So PSC first asks for just necessary reports and remedial measures.

Feb 10, 2012: The minutes of the 102nd meeting of PSC notes: “Chairman suggested tat the observation of NIO may be taken seriously”. It calls for urgent steps for remedial actions on the recommendations of the NIO report and meeting of Dam Safety Panel at an early date in view of NIO report. If what NIO found was “no damage” and “not a serious problem”, as GOG reported to the 101st PSC meeting, why did PSC ask for URGENT meeting of DSP?

Moreover, the minutes of the meeting note: “The committee directed GOG to initiate urgent steps for remedial actions on the recommendations of NIO report.” The NIO report found, among other damages, “two big cavities noticed along with many minor ones” in Bay 5 and “RT[1] wall cavity at the bottom, where a small area which found disturbed, needs attention.” Damages were also reported from Bay 1, 2, 3 & 4 and divide wall and basin floor had cavities in all the bays, more in Bay 4 & 5.

March 16, 2012: The minutes of 79th meeting of SSCAC note: “… the NIO found minor cavities, loose pieces of concrete and broken iron rod pieces on the floor.” This description shows much more serious damage than what GOG reported to 101st meeting of PSC in June 2011. The Minutes of the 79th meeting of SSCAC go on to say: “SSCAC took on record the above fact and endorsed the decision of PSC for convening the meeting of Dam Safety Panel as early as possible and address the issue.”

So NIO finds damage in May 2011, but there is no meeting of DSP till March 2012. Then PSC (Feb 2012) and SSCAC (March 2012) recommend URGENT meeting of DSP. Note that PSC and SSCAC took nine and ten months respectively to recommend URGENT meeting of DSP. And yet, there is still no meeting of DSP for another 20 months!

Aug 23, 2012: The minutes of the 104th meeting of the PSC says: “it was decided that DSP meeting may be called up immediately and underwater inspection should be carried out after monsoon whenever high magnitude flood occurs.” Note the word “immediately”, since GOG had not responded to earlier URGENT recommendation. GOG still shows no urgency.

The GOG response, on reading of minutes of the 104th meeting of PSC appears most casual: “For conducting above mentioned DSP meeting, Shri Y K Murthy, Chairman DSP panel is being contacted to get the date convenient to him. However, meeting is getting delayed as Shri Y K Murthy is not keeping good health.” Shri Murthy, it may be noted, is close to 92 years old by now… and the meeting of DSP, immediately required since over two years, is not possible since this  90+ year old person is unable to give dates! In the meantime, as the minutes of the 104th meeting notes, two flood seasons (2011 & 2012) have passed and 2012 monsoon saw water level reach record level (till than) of 129.2 m on Sept 7, 2012 and dam overflowed for more  than 50 days.

Oct and Dec 2012: Considering the seriousness of the situation at SSP, SSCAC wrote letters to SSNNL on Oct 25, 2012 (Ltr no SSC/PB/PSC-104/2012/3112) and Dec 7, 2012 (Ltr no SSC/PB/PSC-105/2012/3553) asking for the status of the action by GOG on recommendation of the 104th meeting of PSC that DSP meeting be called immediately. The GOG does not bother to respond to the letters. Could SSCAC, a statutory body chaired by Union Water Resources Secretary & set up under NWDT award have done better than just writing letters, when safety of country’s costliest dam?

Feb 20, 2013: On the agenda of urgent repair of SSP dam stilling basin and meeting of DSP, the minutes of 105th meeting of PSC record: “Representative of Gujarat informed the Committee about the sad demise of Dr Y K Murthy, Chairman of DSP and so DSP has become defunct. To get expert advise it is proposed that BOC constituted for Canal work can also act as DSP for Dam. Accordingly, they referred the matter to BOC[2].” PSC asked GOG to send a proposal about BOC for Canals being given the task of DSP and reminded: “The remedial action needs to be completed before the monsoon of 2013.” The remedial action did not happen before the monsoon of 2013 or before the end of year 2013 either. Nor did the meeting of DSP happened till Nov 2013, after the end of Monsoon 2013.

March 25, 2013: The minutes of the 80th meeting of SSCAC notes that there is still no progress. On the GOG proposal of entrusting the DSP work to BOC for canals, SSCAC reminds GOG that “as per CWC guidelines for the safety of the project, the constitution of DSP is must.” Nothing happens till the monsoon is well underway, even the constitution of the DSP does not happen till July 2013. This means that for over 30 months after NIO discovers damaged dam, there is not even a meeting of the DSP, leave aside any remedial action.

July 6, 2013: SSNNL reconstitutes DSP under chairmanship of Shri R Jayaseelan (he is also the chairman of Board of Consultants of SSNNL), a former CWC chairman. DSP was originally constituted through GOG resolution of 20.2.1986. The DSP constituted on July 1, 2010 was supposed to be functioning till June 30, 2013 with extended term and was chaired by Dr Y K Murthy. Born in Oct 1920, Dr Murthy was already 90 when the DSP chaired by him got this extended term. Dr Murthy too was chairman of CWC during 1977-78[3].

Aug 18, 2013: The GOG remains most casual on the subject of DSP meeting, as reported in the minutes of the 106th meeting of PSC: “GOG representative informed that meeting of DSP will be convened within this month as per the availability/ convenience of the Chairman, DSP”. The dam safety has to wait, of course, till the chairman finds time for the meeting.

Aug 29, 2013: A letter from SSNNL to Gujarat Engineering Research Institute explains possible reason for damage to stilling basin: “Due to uncontrolled flow passing over the spillway, hydraulic conditions which have not been considered in the design of spillway basin have developed. This has caused damage/ erosion in the stilling basin area… in the floor of stilling basin, junction of stilling basin floor and divide wall/ right training wall.” SSNNL must know these conditions are existing since 2006 when dam reached present level of 121.92 m and should have taken necessary measures, but not only they do not take any, but even after NIO report shows the damage in May 2011, they don’t take any action on it for over 30 months before calling DSP meeting and even longer to start repair work.

Nov 25-26, 2013: The 48th meeting of Dam Safety Panel (at last) happens. Its first agenda is: “Repairing of Concrete Panels of different bays of stilling basin of Sardar Sarovar Dam.” In the meantime, letter dated Nov 20, 2013 from Chief Engr (Dam and Vadodara), SSNNL to secretary SSCAC says: “Regarding safety measures for Stilling Basin, memorandum is prepared for repairing of Stilling Basin and submitted to the DSP for heir guidance by the Superintending Engr, N P Designs (Dams & Power House) circle, Vadodara.. DSP meeting will be called as per the convenience of the DSP members.” So 30 months after NIO discovered damaged dam stilling basin, SSNNL has prepared memorandum for repair and six days before scheduled DSP meeting, they feign ignorance about the date of the meeting!

Dec 18, 2013: The minutes of the 107th meeting of PSC says: “The Committee directed GOG to give top priority for repair of stilling basin before coming monsoon and keep ready the embedded parts required for at least one working season.”

The minutes also note what GOG reported about the DSP meeting on Nov 25-26, 2013: “It has been suggested that dewatering of bay No 4 & 5 shall be carried out at first instance & then inspection of damaged portion will be done by the DSP members. After inspection by DSP members, remedial measures will be suggested… Representatives of GOG informed the Committee that the procedure for carrying out above works will be started after receiving the final report of 48th Dam Safety Panel Report.” Dam repairs are still waiting for the DSP report, dewatering and inspection by DSP members!

March 28, 2014: Agenda note of the 81st meeting of the SSCAC throw light on lack of interest by CWC in this whole affair: “… it was observed that there was no participation from CWC in DSP and on enquiry it was learnt that they did not give this priority as they are neither invitee nor member in the DSP.” The key words are that CWC “did not give” dam safety of SSP priority!

Conclusion It is clear from the above sequence of events that serious damage was found in the stilling basin[4] of Sardar Sarovar Dam by NIO in May 2011. Till March 2014 (34 months after damage was discovered) and till as we write this, there is still no news that the damage has been repaired, even as the monsoon of 2014 is about six weeks away. In fact it took Gujarat government 30 months just to organize the dam safety meeting. That too after pushing and prodding from several meetings of Permanent Standing Committee of SSCAC and also meetings and letters from statutory SSCAC itself. This for the costliest dam of India. A dam about which the Gujarat government and Gujarat politicians never tire of telling the world that it is Gujarat’s lifeline.


Sardar Sarovar Dam with milestone showing 2 km distance (Photo: SANDRP)

Why did the central government (Please note that SSCAC is a body under Union Water Resources Ministry and is chaired by Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources) not do anything beyond writing letters and changing words from necessary to urgent to immediate and yet not doing anything when none of these words were heeded to?

Why did the premier water resources agency of India, CWC, not bother to do anything about this situation and did not take interest in Dam Safety Panel? Can CWC even be entrusted with the task of dam safety?

Why did SSNNL employ a person as old as 90 years to head an important body like Dam Safety Panel? Why did it take no action even as the chairperson reported sick then passed away dead ? Why did it wait for the chairperson’s term to be over before appointing a new Panel, again headed by a former CWC chief?

Is the Dam Safety Panel of Sardar Sarovar Dam a retirement perk for CWC chiefs? If Gujarat government cannot take necessary steps for the safety of Sardar Sarovar Dam, its claimed lifeline, then is this Government capable of taking any serious responsibility? Will the officers responsible for this state of affairs both in Gujarat and the Centre be identified and held accountable?

There are too many questions like these for which there seem to be no easy answers.

Himanshu Thakkar (


[1] RT wall: Right Training wall

[2] Board of consultants (for canals)


[4] A depression just downstream of the dam, deep enough and so structured as to reduce the velocity or turbulence of the flow and also channelise the downstream flow. The stilling basin is in fact integral part of the dam and without a safe stilling basin, a safe would not exist since an eroded and damaged still basin can expose the foundation of the dam to damage.


6. Carried at:

7. Carried in full at:

Why is This Dam being constructed? Is this not an example of Big Dam Fundamentalism?

Imagine that a state government wants to build a Big Dam, with height of 31.75 m on a Big River. The River has already seen a large number of dams, agitations, controversies and legal disputes.

This dam is going to cost several hundred crores of rupees, just the initial civil works’ cost is Rs 299.43 Crores[1] out of approved construction cost (alone) of Rs 438.18 Crores[2].

But this dam will not provide any irrigation. Not supply any water to anyone. Will not do any flood control. Will not be a net generator of power. In short it can claim none of the benefits that a standard dam project claims.

And yet it will have fairly serious impacts. Hundreds of hectares of fertile, useful land will be destroyed. River itself and biodiversity of the river will be destroyed. In the downstream too there will be huge adverse impacts. Hundreds of tribal families will be adversely affected. Almost all of them have been affected by an upstream dam project. The government has refused to answer any of their concerns. The people are already agitated and have declared their opposition[3],[4] and have also legally challenged the project.

However, we do not know full social or environmental impacts of the dam, since such an impact assessment has never been done. The work on this project according to the government started in Feb 2013. Any such dam project would require impact assessment, management plan, public hearings, environmental appraisal, clearance, monitoring and compliance mechanism. But this one had none of it and does not want to do any of it! It does not have even a Rehabilitation Plan. Not even one on paper, as most such plans are.

Majority of the purported benefits of the project are supposed to legally go to another state, but that state has said it does not want the dam, nor does it want to share costs or benefits. And still the state government has started work on the dam.

We are used to telling a lot of bad dam stories. But this one seems to be a unique one.

Why does the state government want to build this dam? What are the benefits and for whom? Why is the Union Environment Ministry allowing such an illegal dam? Is this not dam fundamentalism?

Ok, enough of mystery. Let us understand what this project is about.

Garudeshwar Dam This story is about Garudeshwar dam[5] on Narmada River in Bharuch district in Gujarat. With height of 31.75 m, it is a major dam, since any dam above 15 m height is considered big dam by national and international definitions. The Garudeshwar Dam will create a huge 12 km long reservoir.

Ongoing work at Garudeshwar Dam site. Photo: SANDRP

Ongoing work at Garudeshwar Dam site. Photo: SANDRP

Sardar Sarovar Dam in the upstream of Garudeshwar dam. Photo - SANDRP

Sardar Sarovar Dam in the upstream of Garudeshwar dam. Photo – SANDRP

Map of Garudeshwar dam  affected area. It also shows the Sardar Sarovar on right side.  Photo: SANDRP

Map of Garudeshwar dam affected area. It also shows the Sardar Sarovar on right side. Photo: SANDRP

It is proposed just downstream from the most controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam Project (SSP). The SSP is being constructed under the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979. The Garudeshwar Dam is proposed as part of the power component of the SSP, to act as downstream storage when the 1200 MW River Bed Power House (RBPH) of SSP will act in a Pump Storage Supply (PSS) mode. This means that Garudeshwar Dam’s basic function is to store the water released from RBPH during peak hour power generation. This water stored in the Garudeshwar dam is then to be pumped back to the SSP reservoir during off peak hours. Pumping the water back to the reservoir typically takes about 20% more power. This is in comparison with the power generated when a unit of water was released from the upstream dam (SSP in this case) during generation mode. It means that Garudeshwar Dam will be net consumer of electricity. This kind of project could have economic viability when there is additional tariff for power available during peak hours, which is not the case today. In absence of such valuation, such projects are not even economically viable.

According to the NWDT award, Madhya Pradesh gets majority, or 57% share in the power benefits (and costs) from SSP, Maharashtra gets 27% and Gujarat 16%.

Another objective of the Garudeshwar Dam[6] is to create a reservoir surrounding Statue of Unity, being propagated as the world’s highest statue on a small island 3 km downstream of the SSP Dam.

None of the required Statutory clearances obtained The minutes of the 80th meeting of SSCAC (Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee, the statutory interstate body to coordinate construction of SSP, it is chaired by Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources and includes senior officials of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, in addition to Narmada Control Authority) held in March 2013 notes on the issue of Garudeshwar Dam, “The work to be taken up by GOG in compliance of all statutory clearances. The committee accordingly directed GOG to take further follow up actions.” It was no secret to SSCAC that GOG had taken no clearances, how could then SSCAC wash its hands off with such a statement?

As per Supreme Court Order of Oct 2000 (Narmada Bachao Andolan vs Union of India and Others), as also earlier statutory orders under NWDT, the sanction of Rehabilitation Sub Group and Environment Sub Group of Narmada Control Authority is to be obtained prior to every stage of work related to SSP. No such sanction has been obtained by these authorities. In fact, as per letter written by Shekhar Singh, a member of ESG of NCA on March 24, 2013, there has not even been impact assessment of the Garudeshwar Dam, which is necessary before ESG can consider clearing the work on Garudeshwar work:

“Garudeshwar weir, to be built 12 km downstream of the SSP dam with a live storage capacity of 32.9 Million Cubic Meters is a component of the Sardar Sarovar Project, as was envisaged by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979. However, as far as I recollect, the environmental and social impacts of construction and operation of Garudeshwar weir (GW) have never been brought before the ESG of NCA. In my estimation, the construction and operation of the GW will have significant social and environmental impacts, since it will entail a reservoir of about 12 km in length and unknown width and submergence area. The weir will have the potential of affecting the fisheries in the immediately surrounding areas and also of affecting the downstream river and its biodiversity, and other related aspects. This is especially because the weir will control the flow of water and silt downstream. However, I do not know whether there has been a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the GW and its contribution to the cumulative impact of all the projects and activities in the area. And if there has been, I do not believe that this has been put up to the ESG for its approval.”

River Narmada from Indravarna village which will be affected due to  construction of Garudeshwar dam. The map on the ground speaks volumes about locked between two dams and a river in reality.

River Narmada from Indravarna village which will be affected due to construction of Garudeshwar dam. This image speaks volumes about Narmada, the river in reality and the river locked between two dams as there in the map. Photo: SANDRP

Similarly, since it is a work under SSP, the R&R policy of SSP is suppose to apply to the people affected by the Garudeshwar Dam. This also means that a R&R Plan have to be prepared and consent of the affected people taken and R&R completed a year before the construction work, which too has not been done, nor a sanction of RSG of NCA taken.

The reservoir upstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam has been declared eco sensitive zone and protected area. The Garudeshwar Dam will create a reservoir that will be affecting the river close to the SSP Dam and thus will be within the eco sensitive zone and legally, such a work requires clearance from National Board of Wildlife, but such a clearance has not been taken.

Since Garudeshwar Dam is proposed in tribal area, consent of the gram sabhas is also legally required. No such consents have been taken.

Thus, the work that has been going on is completely illegal.

State benefiting the most, questions need for the Garudeshwar Dam Official documents obtained by SANDRP under RTI Act shows that GoMP has repeatedly shown their disagreement with the need for Garudeshwar Dam. Here are a few instances from official records. Strangely, in spite of this clear disagreement from a majority beneficiary state, the decision to go ahead with the project was taken by Gujarat and endorsed by SSCAC. The other statutory bodies like the Narmada Control Authority and its Environment Sub Group and Rehabilitation Sub Group were not even consulted.

  • June 2011 The minutes of the 101st meeting of the PSC of SSCAC held in June 2011 noted, “Summing up the discussion the Chairman observed that the extent of disagreement is now so acute that the very need of Garudeshwar Weir is being questioned.”
  • July 2011 The events thereafter moved rapidly. Following a request letter of GOG on July 21st, 2011, Secretary to Union Water Resources Ministry (also chairman of SSCAC and NCA) called a meeting of participating states on 25th July, 2011. At this meeting, Madhya Pradesh continued its disagreement with the need for the Garudeshwar weir, as recorded in the minutes of the meeting[7], providing reasons of their opposition: “The representative from Govt of MP also informed the stand of their government on the construction of the said weir mentioning that State of Madhya Pradesh will become surplus in power by the year 2014 and as such, Madhya Pradesh may not like to avail such a costly peak power. According to their calculations, the tariff for peak power may be more than Rs 6 per unit. In view of this, State of Madhya Pradesh is not in the favour of the proposal of the Garudeshwar Weir requiring the sharing of the cost of construction and the energy required for reversible operations.”
  • The response of the Secretary (MoWR) was strange[8], “GOMP to review their stand of surrendering their share of peak hour power generation by reversible operation on RBPH machines and confirm about the same for further course of action.”
  • The fact that GOG and Union Govt (even as opposite parties were ruling the state and the centre, showing amazing collusion of pro dam fundamentalism) were so much hand in glove that the secretary, brushing aside the objections of the majority beneficiary state of MP, decided to push unwanted dam down the unwilling state’s throat: “Secretary (MOWR) while concluding the meeting, stated that the construction of Garudeshwar Weir needs to be taken up urgently & completed expeditiously…”.
  • March 2012 The Government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP) pointed out in their letter dated 21.03.2012 to SSCAC[9]), “there is no mention about Garudeshwar Weir in the NWDT Award”.
  • The GoMP also made it clear in this letter that GoMP does not concur with the proposal in view of “the change in power tariff scenario”.
  • Aug 2012: The 104th meeting of PSC of SSCAC records on this agenda Item no 104-5, “The representative of GOMP conveyed that, at this stage, they don’t agree with above decision and a note of dissent in this regard will be sent soon.”

So the state that was supposed to get 57% benefits and also pay same proportion of costs, has refused to concur with the scheme.

Status of work According to the Agenda notes for the 81st meeting of SSCAC held on March 28, 2014, till Dec 2013, 6.88% of excavation was the only physical progress on the Garudeshwar weir. Financial Progress achieved was even less, at 3.19%.

Some recent Developments:

  • Oct 2013 The affected people and eminent Gujarat citizens write to MoEF and GOG[10] to immediately stop illegal work on Garudeshwar Dam. Affected people and their leaders were put under house arrest when Chief Minister and former Deputy PM L K Advani came to the Kevadia Colony to lay foundation stone for the proposed Statue of Unity.
  • Jan 3, 2014 Gujarat Government[11] is considering use of force to suppress the movement against the illegal work on Garudeshwar Dam.
  • Jan 27, 2014 Tribal women of 70 villages to be affected by the Garudeshwar dam go to the site of ongoing work and ask the contractor to stop the work as it is illegal, without necessary clearances, impact assessments and consents.

    Women leading the protest against Garudeshwar Dam. Photo:

    Women leading the protest against Garudeshwar Dam. Photo:

  • Jan 31, 2014 National Green Tribunal order (Lakhan Musafir & Anr Vs. Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd and others – Application 10/2013 WZ): “We deem it proper to grant three (3) weeks time to Respondent No.1 to file reply affidavit and make it clear that in the meanwhile if any work done, it will be subject to final outcome of the present Application, without claiming any right of equity arising out of execution of construction work and without pleadings in advance of any ‘fait Accompli’.
  • Feb 25, 2014 NGT order: “Learned Additional Advocate General, seeks time to file comprehensive reply affidavit, as regards the nature of project in question. He submits that filing of such affidavit requires co-ordination of various departments and Agencies, which will take certain time. He, therefore, seeks reasonable time to complete the exercise of preparing reply affidavit. He undertakes to maintain directions as regards keeping of equity, in the light of earlier order dated 31st January, 2014.” The application next comes up for hearing on May 9, 2014.
  • April 1, 2014 People of 70 villages affected by Garudeshwar Dam hold protest demonstration in Vadodara.
  • April 14, 2014 Blasting at Garudeshwar village for the dam leads to rock fall on people, endangering lives of children and also shaking of houses.
A milestone on the way to Sardar Sarovar, with the dam in the background. Photo: SANDRP

A milestone on the way to Sardar Sarovar, with the dam in the background. Photo: SANDRP

Conclusion It is clear that Garudeshwar Dam does not have any justification, any impact assessment study, any required statutory clearances, any consents from affected Gram Sabhas and or even from the state which is supposed to get majority of the questionable claimed benefits. This dam seems like a symbol of Gujarat Government’s dam fundamentalism.

The reason as to why the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is not taking action against this illegal work or why the Union Water Resources Ministry is supporting the work or why the political opposition in Gujarat is silent on this dam is still a mystery. However, under the current circumstances, the project must be stopped immediately. We hope NGT takes this step urgently. It is high time that political parties fighting elections in the area and Gujarat take a stand on this dam immediately.

Himanshu Thakkar (


[1] “The letter of acceptance-cum-work order for the construction of Garudeshwar Weir across river Narmada near village Garudeshwar has been issued to agency M/s Rithwik Project Pvt Ltd, Hyderabad by SSNNL, Gandhinagar vide letter No. CPC/ Garudeshwar Weir/ 2011/657-P-II dated 04.05.2012”, as per Minutes of 104th meeting of PSC of SSCAC held on Aug 23, 2012.

[2] Minutes of 104th meeting of Permanent Standing Committee of SSCAC held on Aug 23, 2012, obtained by SANDRP under RTI.

[3] That the officials knew about the opposition is clear from the Gujarat Samachar clipping of Oct 22, 2012, carrying warning from affected people that if their issues are not settled, the work on the dam will be stopped. This clipping was included in the agenda notes for the 80th meeting of SSCAC held on March 25, 2013.

[4] The minutes of the 105th meeting of the PSC of SSCAC held in Feb 2013 noted on the issue of Garudeshwar dam, “The representative of GOG informed that work is delayed due to objection of the local peoples for giving better R&R package”.

[5] Calling is weir is clearly an attempt to mislead everyone, giving an impression that is a low dam, which it is not.


[7] Annexure 79.2(C).5 with the Agenda for 79th meeting of SSCAC held in Feb 2012

[8] Agenda of the 79th meeting of SSCAC held in Feb 2012.

[9] Obtained by SANDRP under RTI Act.



El Nino and Maharashtra: Lets dig the Well before we are thirsty

2012-13 was described by the Maharashtra government as the worst drought in the state since 1972. Weather scientists are predicting that conditions are fast developing that seems like a repeat of 2012. The Reserve Bank of India has already warned the states about the possibility of El Nino and be ready for the worse. Maharashtra could take several steps to be ready for this developing situation, including using its available water storage in reservoirs around the state prudently.

Yes, it’s that time of the year again when we need to be alert to weather predictions and reservoir storages. Especially for Maharashtra. At this time last year, following poor 2012 monsoon, many of the bigger reservoirs were at 0% live storage for months (Ujani, Jayakwadi, several projects in Marathwada, etc). A satisfactory monsoon 2013 and some small contribution from the ill-fated hailstorms has resulted in better status of Maharashtra reservoirs storages at this point in time.

However, Maharashtra (like the country) needs to be extra cautious with using the available resources. Several institutes and bodies like Skymet, Buraeu of Meteorology, Australia, National Weather Service USA, etc. are predicting a strong possibility of El Nino effect this year, which generally results in poor monsoons.  Sky met is specifically saying that this year may be a repeat of 2012 poor monsoons. The report also states that Vidarbha, Marathwada and Central Maharashtra, could face monsoon deficit.[1] Bureau of Meteorology, Australia has issued notice stating a 70% or more chance of El Nino this year. They state “Although the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is currently neutral, surface and sub-surface ocean temperatures have warmed considerably in recent weeks, consistent with a state of rapid transition. International climate models surveyed by the Bureau indicate continued warming of the central Pacific Ocean in coming months. Most models predict sea surface temperatures will reach El Niño thresholds during the coming season.”[2] A similar prediction has been made by US agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Centre.[3] While some weather scientists are saying that we should not panic and wait for IMD’s (India Meteorological Department) official forecast on April 25 and the next one in June, however, it would certainly be useful to be careful from now onwards.[4]

According to the latest Central Water Commission (CWC) Reservoir bulletin of 090414 regarding water levels in 85 selected major reservoirs in India, the 12 major reservoirs of Maharashtra have a combined storage of 4.471 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) which is still good 38.73% of live storage capacity of 11.544 BCM.  This is down from 6.522 BCM (over 50%) on Feb 6, 2014. It is not clear where this huge 2 BCM water has been used up in these two months.

However, Maharashtra is indeed lucky to have this 4.471 BCM water in 12 major reservoirs[5] at this time. We need to use this prudently in view of the forecast that situation similar to what prevailed in 2012 when Maharashtra experienced bad drought could get repeated in coming monsoon. Government needs to take advance steps to ensure that storage capacity is not frittered away and there is less land under water intensive sugarcane and such other crops. Media, civil society and independent observers need to be vigilant in this regard to ensure that mistakes of 2012 are not repeated and available resources are used wisely.

In terms of wise water management and effective use of available reservoir storage, waiting for June IMD forecast will be much too late. It will be wiser if water management is cautious starting from now. At this time, already some regions are facing water scarcity.

Maharashtra farmers are already in dire states due to 2012 drought followed by hailstorms and the disastrous impacts of extreme weather events in 2014. Another drought possibility is bad news, but impacts can be reduced with wise planning and prudent advance steps. Maharashtra Water Resources Department Website[6] provides further details about storage position. Let us look at basin-wise water storage position.

Godavari Basin

Marathwada: In Marathwada, the overall live storage is 31% on 17th April 2014, including Major, Medium and Minor storages. However, this gives a misleading picture as many dams with better storages (like Vishnupuri) are placed at the end of the basin.

Dams like Manjra, Lower Terna and Seena Kolegao are already at 0 live storage, while Jayakwadi is at 15% (It was at 0%, along with six other dams of Marathwada even before this time last year).

In the upstream of Godavari Basin, Kadwa sub basin is showing severe water scarcity already. The region consists of premier onion and grape growing belt of Maharashtra, as well as wine processing centre. The chronically drought affected town of Manmad lies here and last year, it received water after 51 days in March from the upstream Palkhed Dam.[7] Surprisingly, Palkhed is currently at 5% Live Storage, when this time last year it was at 19% live storage. Water releases from Palkhed were extremely contentious last year. This year with even lesser storage, things may flare up again and wise water management, curb on non-essential uses (in dry period) like wine industry, preventing siphoning water from canals for cash crops, etc., needs to be observed to avoid stress in coming two months or more. Kadwa Dam shows a dipping live storage at 2%, while Nilwande Dam in downstream Ahmednagar shows just 3% against 7% last year.

Vidarbha shows a better picture at 58% live storage, Lowest being Bagh Kalisarar inn Bhandar at zero live storage. Now this project, though in heavy rainfall region of Bhandara has been at 0 live storage since January for the past 6 years! Either the information about the project is incorrect, or the dam has serious issues which need urgent attention.

Krishna-Bhima Basin

Ujani which was at 110% LS earlier this year after many years because of the monsoon in 2013 is now showing LS of 22% on April 17.[8] Two irrigation rotations have been released from the dam. It was reported that last rotation was used up largely by sugarcane,[9] leaving little for other crops. Ujani was at sub-zero storage (-39%) at this time last year. According to that standard, it has a good storage now, which should be used very cautiously. Solapur has added several new sugar factories this year, in addition to the 28 factories and the area under sugarcane has increased tremendously because of good rainfall.[10] Keeping the possibility of a weak monsoon in 2014, water to sugarcane must be controlled and curtailed, else we will see a repeat of 2013, only on a larger scale.

1920 MW Koyana Hydropower Project: Surprisingly in Koyana, the reservoir level this year is worse off than last year at the same time, which is not the case for any other Maharashtra reservoir in CWC bulletin. While this year it is at 30%, last year it was at 47% as on April 9.

Falling Groundwater tables: Recent GSDA report[11] has warned that groundwater levels in more than 2700 villages in Maharashtra has fallen below 1 meter than the average levels in the past 5 years. This is definitely alarming as groundwater is the water lifeline of rural Maharashtra. Out of the 2700 villages, levels in nearly 1200 villages have fallen below two or even three meters (for 497 villages).

Sugarcane: Area under sugarcane has increased in Maharashtra following good rains in 2013. This cane will demand more water in its lifecycle in farm and also for crushing. Agricultural Minister of India too did not find it appropriate to curb the wide spread plantation of sugarcane in drought prone areas even when national and global sugar prices were falling.It is estimated that current year may see more than 10,00,000 hectares of sugarcane which will demand water.The government has not even taken its own promise of enforcing drip to sugarcane.

There seem to be turbulent times ahead and it will be advisable if water management in Maharashtra tightens up to respond to upcoming challenges. The fact that there is useful water storage in some reservoirs and that warning is available in advance could be blessings if necessary steps are taken.

Parineeta Dandekar,

Himanshu Thakkar,









[5] These 12 reservoir include: Jayakwadi, Ujani, Koyna, Khadakwasla, Isapur, Mula, Yeldari, Girna, Upper Vaitarna, Upper Tapi, Pench and Upper Wardha.







Dams, Rivers & People – February – March 2014, Vol 12, Issue 1-2

The February – March 2014 edition of SANDRP’s magazine ‘Dams, River and People’ is now available online. This is the 1st-2nd issue of magazine in its 12th volume.  The contents magazine is mentioned in the list below. This edition of the magazine covers varied but very significant issues related with dams, rivers and environment in India. This issues brings together detailed reports on a river protection rally in Western Ghats, blatant violation of environmental laws for construction Yettinahole Diversion Project in Karnataka, impacts of hailstorm on Maharashtra farmers and state’s ‘Inaction’ plan on climate change, a reality check on Narmada Kshipra pipeline project in Madhya Pradesh and a detailed critique of cumulative impact assessment study of Siang river basin in Arunachal Pradesh. The magazine in pdf format is available here — Several of the articles are also available in SANDRP’s blog and they can be viewed just by clicking on the name in the list. Enjoy reading.

cover page_drp_feb_mar_2014



Page No
International Day of Action for Rivers: Shalmala River Protection Rally 1
Examplary Fraud in environmental governance! Sonthi LIS in Karnataka 4
Veerappa Moily supports foundation stone laying of Yettinahole Diversion Project 7
Maharashtra farmers face impacts of hailstorms and State’s ‘Inaction’ Plan on Climate Change 9
Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki; ab kyo bhar lau pipe-link se ye mataki…. 13
Chinki Major Irrigation Project on Narmada 21
Cumulative Impact Assessment of Siang Basin in Arunachal Pradesh 24
New Publication from SANDRP: Report on Unjustified Dams for Mumbai Metro Region 32


Why is the IPCC’s Mitigation (WG3 summary) report so disappointing?

Extracts from and comments on WG3 summary report of IPCC of April 13, 2014

The summary for policy makers[i] of the Working Group 3 (WG3) report of IPCC (Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change) Assessment Report 5 (AR5) was made public on April 13, 2014 in Berlin. As Dr Youba Sokono, a co-chair of the IPCC’s working group 3 said said science has spoken with a road-map and as IPCC chair Dr Rajendra Pachauri hoped, high-speed mitigation train was all ready to leave the station with all on board, as reported by BBC.

IPCC scenarios showed world emissions of greenhouse gases would need to tumble by 40-70 % from 2010 levels by 2050, and then to almost zero by 2100, to keep rises below 2C. “Ambitious mitigation may even require removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” the IPCC said. The trouble is, the emissions are still rising as the WG3 report summary report shows and there are no plans in sight to reverse that trend and achieve even these targets that may not be sufficient. In such a situation to talk about rather business as usual low carbon technologies do not sound convincing. 

Here are some important relevant extracts and comments thereon. As IPCC statement in Berlin while releasing this report highlighted, this report is endorsed by the governments and is supposed to provide the main scientific guide for nations working on a UN deal to be agreed in late 2015. While governments of the world have promised to limit the increase in global temperature within 2 degrees C above pre-industrial level (there are many who have questioned if this will be good enough), this report does not provide clear implications of current global warming path and credible road-map to achieve that objective in a equitable, sustainable and democratic way. Many of solutions suggested in this report  including Carbon Capture & Storage, Nuclear Energy, Redd+, CDM and plantations are in reality false solutions, as is also proved by increasing trajectory of emissions in spite of so called actions being taken since over a decade. As a Guardian report on leaked copy of the report warned, it seems this report is largely making business as usual recommendations without showing will to face the reality or learn from past experiences.

According to IPCC, the IPCC WG III assesses options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing activities that remove them from the atmosphere. The main economic sectors are taken into account, both in a near-term and in a long-term perspective. The sectors include energy, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, forestry, waste management. The WG analyses the costs and benefits of the different approaches to mitigation, considering also the available instruments and policy measures. In case of some of the issues, our comment on the IPCC statements is also included. The overall conclusion is that the report is disappointing, but let us first go through some note worthy aspects.

“Total anthropogenic GHG emissions have continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 with larger absolute decadal increases toward the end of this period (high confidence). Despite a growing number of climate change mitigation policies, annual GHG emissions grew on average by 1.0 giga tonne carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq) (2.2%) per year from 2000 to 2010 compared to 0.4 GtCO2eq (1.3%) per year from 1970 to 2000. Total anthropogenic GHG emissions were the highest in human history from 2000 to 2010 and reached 49 (±4.5) GtCO2eq/yr in 2010.” The figure below provides how the emissions across sectors have been changing over the years. Even at conservative estimates, the emission is likely to have reached 53 GtCO2eq by 2014.

GHG emissions graph WG3 report

GHG emissions graph WG3 report

“About half of cumulative anthropogenic CO2 emissions between 1750 and 2010 have occurred in the last 40 years (high confidence). In 1970, cumulative CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production and flaring since 1750 were 420±35 GtCO2; in 2010, that cumulative total had tripled to 1300 ±110 GtCO2. Cumulative CO2 emissions from Forestry and Other Land Use (FOLU) since 1750 increased from 490±180 GtCO2 in 1970 to 680±300 GtCO2 in 2010.” It is not clear why the full emission from all sectors was not counted to arrive at this comparative statement.

GHG by sector WG3 report

GHG by sector WG3 report

“Globally, economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. The contribution of population growth between 2000 and 2010 remained roughly identical to the previous three decades, while the contribution of economic growth has risen sharply (high confidence). Between 2000 and 2010, both drivers outpaced emission reductions from improvements in energy intensity (Figure SPM.3). Increased use of coal relative to other energy sources has reversed the long‐standing trend of gradual decarbonization of the world’s energy supply.” The equating of contribution from population growth and economic growth this way is a bit inappropriate and in any case, since contribution from economic growth went up, separate figures for the two should have been given.

GHG by type

GHG by type

“Without additional efforts to reduce GHG emissions beyond those in place today, emissions growth is expected to persist. Baseline scenarios, those without additional mitigation, result in global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 from 3.7 to 4.8°C compared to pre-industrial levels” (the increase could be 7.8°C when including climate uncertainty). “For comparison, the CO2eq concentration in 2011 is estimated to be 430 ppm” (uncertainty range means it be as high as 520 ppm).

The Cancún Pledges are likely to keep temperature change below 3°C relative to pre-industrial levels and not below 2°C as is required. This admission that Cancun Pledges (which still does not  a credible road map for implementation) are insufficient is welcome.

“In the baseline scenarios assessed in AR5, direct CO2 emissions from the energy supply sector are projected to almost double or even triple by 2050 compared to the level of 14.4 GtCO2/year in 2010, unless energy intensity improvements can be significantly accelerated beyond the historical development (medium evidence, medium agreement).” In the last decade, the main contributors to emission growth were a growing energy demand and an increase of the share of coal in the global fuel mix.

Regarding electricity generation, RE (Renewable Energy) accounted for just over half of the new electricity‐generating capacity added globally in 2012, led by growth in wind, hydro and solar power. However, the IPCC should not have put all hydro on same pedestal as solar and wind, it is well known that large hydro is not considered among Renewable source of energy.

Questionable certificate to Nuclear Energy and CCS This certificate of the IPCC report to Nuclear Energy is certainly going to be questioned: “Nuclear energy is a mature low‐GHG emission source of baseload power, but its share of global electricity generation has been declining (since 1993). Nuclear energy could make an increasing contribution to low‐carbon energy supply, but a variety of barriers and risks exist (robust evidence,high agreement). Those include: operational risks, and the associated concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapon proliferation concerns, and adverse public opinion (robust evidence, high agreement). New fuel cycles and reactor technologies addressing some of these issues are being investigated and progress in research and development has been made concerning safety and waste disposal.”

Similarly, the claim of IPCC report about CCS is questionable: “Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technologies could reduce the lifecycle GHG emissions of

fossil fuel power plants”. In this respect, the warning issued by the Guardian[ii] based on a leaked copy of the report seems to be correct: “The underlying assumption appears to be that business as usual economic growth must be sustained, and industry and corporate profits must be protected and maintained. But if we focus on ‘business-as-usual economics’, seeking and accepting only bargain basement options for addressing global warming – the costs will be far more severe.”

Hopeful forecast for AFOLU GHG emissions The IPCC report is hopeful about emissions from AFOLU (Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use) sector: “Most recent estimates indicate a decline in AFOLU CO2 fluxes, largely due to decreasing deforestation rates and increased afforestation… in the future, net annual baseline CO2 emissions from AFOLU are projected to decline, with net emissions potentially less than half the 2010 level by 2050 and the possibility of the AFOLU sectors becoming a net CO2 sink before the end of century”. However, this is not the situation for India where deforestation continues to be on the rise. Moreover, it is not clear if the IPCC report equates forests with plantations. Similarly it is disappointing to note the IPCC saying that REDD+ is a “cost effective policy option” in forest sector, neglecting to note the huge opposition such measures are facing from the forest dependent populations in India and elsewhere.

No mention of SRI The report concludes, “In agriculture, the most cost‐effective mitigation options are cropland management, grazing land management, and restoration of organic soils”. However, it is disappointing that there is no mention of the huge potential of emission reduction through use of cropping methods like the System of Rice Intensification for rice and various other crops. It is good to see that the report notes that suitability of the conclusion “Bioenergy can play a critical role for mitigation” is limited by concerns of food security, water resources and biodiversity conservation.

Urbanisation “As of 2011, more than 52% of the global population lives in urban areas. In 2006, urban areas accounted for 67–76% of energy use and 71–76% of energy-related CO2 emissions. By 2050, the urban population is expected to increase to 5.6–7.1 billion, or 64–69% of world population. Cities in non-Annex I countries generally have higher levels of energy use compared to the national average, whereas cities in Annex I countries generally have lower energy use per capita than national averages”. However, there is little systematic efforts at tapping the huge potential of mitigation in Urban areas. The report has no success story in this regard. On the other hand there are many examples of urban areas demanding more dams in nearby areas at the cost of forests, rivers, biodiversity and people, without doing any options assessment or exhausting local options. From India, Mumbai[iii], Nashik[iv] and Bangalore[v] provide some examples in this regard.

What are low carbon energy sources? It is disappointing to note that IPCC report brackets “renewables, nuclear and electricity generation with CCS” as “low‐carbon electricity supply”. This is certainly recommendation for business as usual situation, without much change for the USD 1200 billion per year investment sector. This is certainly very questionable.

Are energy efficiency measures working?  The report makes and interesting observation about labeling programs to achieve energy efficiency: “There is general agreement that rebound effects exist, whereby higher efficiency can lead to lower energy prices and greater consumption, but there is low agreement in the literature on the magnitude”. This is particularly relevant since such programs are more likely to benefit more for the richer sections who are polluters in the first place.

“Cap and trade” is not working? The report conclusion in this regard is noteworthy: “Since AR4, cap and trade systems for GHGs have been established in a number of countries and regions. Their short-run environmental effect has been limited as a result of loose caps or caps that have not proved to be constraining”. In India this program is underway in terms of Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) and India’s power ministry rather misguidingly wants to implement this also for large hydro. In absence of any punitive measures for distribution companies not abiding by the CERC norms, there are few takers for the RECs and the price of RECs have also been low.

No attention to abject failures of UNFCCC and CDM The IPCC report says United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has “nearly universal participation” and “Kyoto protocol offers lessons towards achieving the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC, particularly with respect to participation, implementation, flexibility mechanisms, and environmental effectiveness”. Nothing can be farther from truth particularly in the context of actual implementation of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is the main vehicle for achieving UNFCCC objectives. CDM has been a vehicle for perpetrating further environmental degradation, destruction of forests, biodiversity, rivers and livelihoods of people to basically benefit the private sector’s business as usual projects and with no benefits or participation for the local communities. The process of certifying the CDM projects as sustainable and additional in terms of emission reduction have proved to be complete failure as numerous examples from India and elsewhere show.

“Sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies and highlight the need for addressing the risks of climate change. Limiting the effects of climate change is necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication.” This sounds good, but there are no credible recommendations in the report to achieve equity or sustainable development.

“Effective mitigation will not be achieved if individual agents advance their own interests independently. Climate change has the characteristics of a collective action problem at the global scale, because most greenhouse gases (GHGs) accumulate over time and mix globally, and emissions by any agent (e.g., individual, community, company, country) affect other agents.” This is welcome indeed and should have been added that there are different classes of people who are polluters, different from those who are vulnerable to the impacts of such pollution.

“Important options for mitigation in waste management are waste reduction, followed by reuse, recycling and energy recovery (robust evidence, high agreement). Waste and wastewater accounted for 1.5 GtCO2eq in 2010. As the share of recycled or reused material is still low (e.g., globally, around 20% of municipal solid waste is recycled), waste treatment technologies and recovering energy to reduce demand for fossil fuels can result in significant direct emission reductions from waste disposal.” Indeed, but there are no credible measures to achieve progress on this front, particularly in country like India.

“Policies governing agricultural practices and forest conservation and management are more effective when involving both mitigation and adaptation. Some mitigation options in the AFOLU sector (such as soil and forest carbon stocks) may be vulnerable to climate change (medium evidence, high agreement). When implemented sustainably, activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+ is an example designed to be sustainable) are cost‐effective policy options for mitigating climate change, with potential economic, social and other environmental and adaptation co‐benefits (e.g., conservation of biodiversity and water resources, and reducing soil erosion) (limited evidence, medium agreement).” This recommendation of REDD+ is seriously problematic considering the opposition to such measures from forest dependent communities all over the world, including India. This shows how cut off from ground is the report.

Gas a bridge fuel? As BBC report [vii] noted, one of the surprising endorsements in the report is natural gas: “Emissions from energy supply can be reduced significantly by replacing current world average coal-fired power plants with modern, highly efficient natural gas combined-cycle power plants,” says the summary. However, gas is itself a fossil fuel, extraction of gas has its impacts and the extraction of shale gas, the newest and hottest source has worse kind of impacts. Without looking at all these issues, recommending gas as a bridge fuel is not likely to be convincing.

Conclusion The summary of the Working Group 3 report of the IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report is disappointing considering that it has failed provide the current status of climate change and its implications in 2020, 2030, 2050 and 2100 for the various sections of  the global society, particularly the vulnerable ones in clear terms. This conclusion seems justified even though the report does have certain welcome statements and recommendations as mentioned above. Since this is the summary for the policy makers and governments, it is a very crucial document, even as we await the full publication of the report. A number of recommendations of the report are  disappointing and unscientific, including: continued use of fossil fuels with questionable Carbon (dioxide) Capture & Storage techniques, nuclear energy, and putting  them in same footing as Renewables like solar, wind and micro hydro; equating plantation and forests, omission of SRI, omission of democratic and participatory governance, omission of identification of vulnerable sections, omission of critical view of CDM implementation and keeping them in focus and lack of sufficient emphasis on equity. The lack of recommendation that climate change polluters among the developed countries and rich sections of developing countries be made to pay for the pollution and upholding the principle of equity at global, national and local section is glaring. The report mentions nothing about need to reduce the demand. We hope the full WG3 report does not have more worrying aspects and has more hopeful recommendations.

Himanshu Thakkar,









[ix] On 24 April 2014 on email:

The edits to the summary of the IPCC’s recent report, were all about governments vying for position ahead of crucial UN climate talks in Paris next year. –‘Censored’ IPCC summary reveals jockeying for key UN climate talks by David Stern, Australian National University
One of the graphs dropped from the summary  shows that per capita emissions have grown rapidly in middle-income countries like China and India, but have declined in both the richest and the poorest countries. Despite that, it also shows that per capita emissions remain much higher in the developed world than in developing countries.

Another graphs which was dropped shows that the greenhouse gases emitted to produce goods destined for rich countries outweigh the emissions created by rich countries to make goods for export elsewhere. Naturally, the reverse is necessarily true for middle- and low-income countries