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TWA’s concerns about Ken Betwa Project on EAC’s agenda for Environment Clearance for meeting on June 2-3, 2016

Written By Gopal Krishna on Saturday, June 04, 2016 | 1:20 AM

Note: Following the submission of this letter, Joanna and Raghu sent a message stating that the decision to grant environmental clearance to the project in question has again been deferred. The message also communicated, "May I just point out one thing. In your comments about the amount of reserve that will be submerged. In fact the under-reporting is even worse since the 4141hectares and 5803 hectares refer only to the core area of the Tiger Reserve. As you know since Tiger Reserves were given a legal entity int he 2006 Amendment, the Reserve actually consists of core and buffer.  With this in mind you will find that all of the submergence area falls within the Panna Tiger Reserve; all but a tiny bit of non included revenue land midst the buffer.  Park officials have opined that around 200 sq ams will be lost to the reservoir and other works. What is certain is that the submergence area will not only flood some of the best vulture nesting sites but totally bifurcate the park and cut off any corridor to forests to the west leaving no viability for a tiger population to survive in the Park whatever bits they suggest adding into core from the buffer which of course depends on the agreement of those villagers living there who have no idea of such a plan."

To

Chairman & Hon’ble Members,
Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects, 
Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
Indira Paryavaran Bhavan
Jorbagh Road
New Delhi-110003

2nd June, 2016

Subject: TWA’s concerns about Ken Betwa Project on EAC’s agenda for Environment Clearance for meeting on June 2-3, 2016

Sir,

This is with reference to the meeting of the EAC which is to consider the proposal of interlinking for Ken and Betwa rivers inside the Panna Tiger Reserve.
Pursuant to our earlier communications with the ministry in this regard, we wish to make the following submissions for your considerations:- 
·         In violation of the orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC) which requires that all documents be available in public domain at least ten days in advance of the meeting. There is no new document available on the EC website. This implies that that all those who are concerned with the issue are ignorant about the reasons for the reconsideration by the EAC. It does not disclose the progress since the last meeting on February 8-9, 2016.
·         The Minutes of the 91st meeting of EAC held on February 8-9, 2016 notes, “The committee observed that the Landscape Management Plan (LMP) is being prepared by WII, Dehradun in absence of a plan, the committee cannot examine the proposal. EAC also mentioned, after completion of plan, obtaining a second opinion on the LMP from external expert the project will be reconsidered again for EC and also handed over 4 representations received from NGOs/ Environmentalists including that of former Secretary, Government of India Shri EAS Sarma to project proponent for compliance.” The LMP being prepared by WII is not available, nor has there been any independent expert evaluation of the LMP. Thus, the project cannot be considered because it would tantamount to violation of EAC’s own decision.
·         The minutes of 91st EAC recorded: “The committee was informed by the project proponent that the project has been approved by the State Wildlife Board. The committee noted that the director of the Panna tiger reserve had not recommended the project, as per the agenda of the Board meeting and the board had over-ruled him and approved the project without recording detailed reasons for such rejection.” It remains unaddressed. The clearance of the State Board of Wildlife is not legally valid.
·         The Minutes of the 91st EAC further noted: “Comments of HS Kingra Vice Chairman and member of the Committee are as follows: The matter related to the effect of the Ken-Betwa project on Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) and the breeding ground for vulture was discussed in the 91st meeting of the EAC. It was seen that submergence of 4141Hact of the PTR is a serious issue and need to be studied by some independent expert committee and the findings of such committee be placed before the MP State Wild Life Board (MPSWLB) and NBWL. The agenda related to the clearance by MPSWLB was perused and it was noted that in the agenda notes the then director PTR did not recommend in favour of submergence of huge area of PTR and loss of breeding habitat for the vultures. State Chief Wild Life Warden (SCWLW) Mr. Ravi Kumar IFS also agreed with the views of the then Director PTR and endorsed his views without any modification. How and what expertise the MPSWLB had over and above the technical advice rendered by Director PTR and SCWLW of MP is not clear from the minutes or agenda notes place before the MPSWLB. It is understood that as per convention and the extant Rules of Business of the State Government the SCWLW must be the chief technical advisor to the Government of MP on matters related to Wild Life. How the board overruled the advice of SCWLW is not properly recorded in the minutes of the Board meeting. It is therefore opined that an independent committee of three experts be constituted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change in consultation with the EAC to give specific recommendations related to submergence of PTR Core area and the habitat loss for breeding of vultures. It is then only that the project can be considered for Environment Clearance.”
o   This decision of the EAC dated February 2016 has not been implemented.
·         The 91st EAC meeting concluded: “After detailed deliberations, the EAC accepted the views expressed by the Mr. H.S.Kingra, Vice-Chairman and member of the committee and considered the compliance report submitted by the project proponent and decided that the project will be considered for Environmental Clearance (EC) only after wildlife clearance of the project is obtained from NBWL in the manner proposed by Mr. Kingra. The project proponent may submit again the proposal for EC along with the decisions of NBWL.”
·         As per the minutes of the 37th meeting of the Standing Committee (SC) of the NBWL held on 26th February, 2016 dated March 15, 2016, it was decided to set up a subcommittee that was to visit the project area and report back to NBWL-SC before taking any decision. It has now come to light that the NBWL-SC recommended wildlife clearance to the project without having the report of the sub-committee based on site visit. It is noteworthy that the minutes of the 38th meeting of NBWL SC held on 10th May, 2016 or the site visit report of the subcommittee of NBWL-SC are not there either on the MoEF’s website or on Environmental Clearance website. It is also noteworthy that the letter from MoEF giving wildlife clearance to Ken Betwa project is not in public domain. The wildlife clearance to the project by NBWL-SC is legally unsound because it violates the decision of the NBWL-WC taken in the previous meeting.
·         It has been admitted that the required study of impact of the project on vulture habitat has been done nor has the mitigation been planned which should have been part of the EIA-EMP and cannot be done post approval/ launching of construction. The minutes of EAC dated Aug 24-25, 2015 noted: “There is no threat to Vulture population because only 3% habitat of vulture will be submerged and 97% of habitat will be more than 100 m above HFL.” Contrary to this the minutes of NBWL-SC meeting of 26 February, 2016 admits that there will be “50% loss of existing unique habitat of highly endangered Vulture spp.” This creates a compelling logic for EAC to take note of the misrepresentation that NWDA and AFCL has been telling the EAC on this issue and take immediate action against them. It creates a rationale for suspension of consideration of the project till this issue is adequately addressed.
·         The minutes of the 37th NWBL-SC meeting dated 26 February, 2016 makes it clear that KBLP will submerge 5803 ha of PTR, against 4141 Ha that the EIA and NWDA submissions to EAC mention. This is massive 30% under reporting of submergence area of PTR by NWDA and AFCL. Besides this 10523 ha of Core Tiger Reserve area will be lost due to “fragmentation and loss of connectivity, displacement of 10 villages etc” says the NBWL SC minutes. The EIA does not mention this impact. The EAC should immediately suspend consideration of the KBLP.
·         It has been noted by experts that KBLP will impact the Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary as one of the barrages of KBLP is to be constructed inside the Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary, as mentioned in the latest Detailed Project Report of KBLP. The minutes the 26th February, 2016 meeting of NBWL-SC has recorded concerns of Dr R Sukumar about the KBLP’s impact on Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary and hope now such impacts will be properly assessed. The EAC, in its meeting in May 2016 recommended Environment Clearance for the Lower Orr Project in Madhya Pradesh, which is actually part of the full Ken Betwa Link Project. Lower Orr project becomes viable only if Phase I of the Ken Betwa link project is viable, since without transfer of water from Ken to Betwa, upper Betwa basin will have no water to spare for additional project. Since Phase I of the Ken Betwa project is yet to get all the clearances and also achieve implementation agreement between participating states (UP and MP), there is no guarantee of the viability of the Lower Orr Project in Upper Betwa basin. Given the fact that EAC recommended clearance to a project whose hydrological viability itself is uncertain, EAC should suspend its decision about Lower Orr Project. The EAC minutes of May 2016 meeting states that the EIA of the project did not include full command area of the Lower Orr project and that it will be considered separately. This is completely against the basic tenet of considering all impacts of the project simultaneously and not in piecemeal manner as EAC has done. A rational and scientific approach creates a compelling logic for EAC to consider the full Ken Betwa Project and its cumulative impact with all its components.
·         It is strange that so far EAC has not also examined all the existing, cleared and proposed projects in Ken and Betwa basins by undertaking cumulative impact assessment in both basins instead of considering each project separately. It is evident from EAC’s agenda for June 2-3, 2016 meeting that it includes another project in Panna district. 
·         It is evident that the KBLP is facilitating transfer of water from Ken basin (Bundelkhand) to Upper Betwa Basin (outside Bundelkhand). Therefore, claim of KBLP benefitting Bundelkhand is flawed and misleading. Such claims are misplaced.
·         The fact is that the hydrological viability of the Ken Betwa project is far from established. The hydrological figures are not in public domain, NWDA water balance studies are out dated and not peer reviewed or in public domain, and EAC should not be taking any decision about the project in such a situation, till all NWDA water balance studies and hydrological data is in public domain and an independence review of them is possible. This hydrological non viability got further reinforced during the current drought when Ken was dried up several locations and Betwa was flowing, and there was proposal to take train loads of water from Betwa to Ken Basin.
·         The MOU for DPR for interlinking of Ken Betwa rivers was signed in August 2005, but there is no progress so far after that in terms of interstate agreement. Its EIA shoddy and the public hearings involved violations.  
·         Academicians and economists like Prof. Kanchan Chopra of Institute of Economic Growth have also questioned the rationale of the Ken-Betwa link. Even Prof. Y K Alagh, former Union Minister has written how Ken Betwa project has been allowed because government is giving in to a loud lobby although it’s a terrible project to be signed. It needed examination by an independent committee. While looking at benefits the interest of both the rivers and their ecosystem also needs to be factored in. Under the circumstances, EAC should not even be considering this project.
·         The detailed dissenting note submitted by Field Director of Panna Tiger Reserve and a member of 4 member committee set up by the NTCA in 2013 to review the Ken Betwa Proposal. It would not be proper for the NBWL to consider the proposal without consideration of this detailed dissent note by these official agencies and satisfactory response. It is noteworthy that Shri H S Panwar, Padma Bhushan, former director of Project Tiger (1981-85) & former director of WII (1985-1994) has written a detailed note why this project should not be considered till there is a proper and credible Environmental Impact Assessment. He has inferred that the current EIA is not credible at all.  We submit that J Van Gruisen and R.S. Chundawat of Baavan – bagh aap aur van has written a detailed note explaining how poor, and flawed the EIA is. Their conclusion is valid for NBWL too. The current EIA has failed to adequately assess the impact of the project on the Panna Tiger Reserve or the Ken Ghariyal Wildlife Sanctuary.
·         It is quite shocking that according to the project DPR of April 2010, one of the components of the project is "A 850 m long barrage with crest level of 181 m across Ken River about 1.0 km d/s of existing Bariyarpur pick up weir". This is from the NWDA's latest available DPR.  But instead of relying on it the EIA only mentions the DPR of 2008, which did not include this proposal. This clearly establishes that the EIA is based on an outdated DPR and does not even consider full project components.  
·         This creates a logical compulsion to order fresh EIA for the project in question. Given the fact that Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) project is a cumulative project, isn’t it logically compelling to undertake cumulative environment and forest impact assessment prior to seeking clearances?  The practice of seeking “environment and forest clearances” admittedly “for individual link Project” shows deep insensitivity towards environment and forests. Thus, it is deeply flawed.
·         The project proponent fails to adopt river basin approach because it strikes a balance between the existing natural functions of the river system and societal expectations for livelihoods, industry, recreation, nature management, and agriculture. This approach maximizes the economic and social benefits derived from water resources in an equitable manner while conserving and, where necessary, restoring freshwater ecosystems. It factors in doctrine of riparian rights that emphasizes recognition of equal rights of water use by all owners of land subject to non-interference with rights of other riparian owners and the territorial integrity theory or theory of natural water flow wherein every lower riparian is entitled to natural flow of river without interference from upper riparian. It adopts the doctrine of community of interest implying that a river passed through states is deemed to be one unit and should be developed as such. The approach of seeking “environment and forest clearances” admittedly “for individual link Project” is quite parochial, dated and is caught in a time warp.
·         The project proponent cannot even attempt to defend the indefensible without the cumulative impact assessment of the ILR project. So far it has completely failed to do so. It is relevant to recall that a partial, unsuccessful and biased attempt was made to undertake cumulative impact of assessment of hydropower projects in Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Basins. For the ILR project, cumulative impacts must assess changes in sedimentation at various points within project, at various points within a day, season, year, over the years and cumulatively across the basin and impacts thereof. It should assess cumulative impact on aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna across the basin due to ILR project. It should assess cumulative impact on hydrological flows, at various points within project, at various points within a day, season, year, over the years and cumulatively across the basin and impacts thereof. This should include impacts on various hydrological elements including springs, tributaries, groundwater aquifers, etc. This assessment must provide a picture of what is the situation before undertaking the ILR project and what would be the situation.  After the implementation of the project. It should account for cumulative green house gas emissions. It should assess the cumulative impact of mining of sand, boulders, coarse and fine granules etc required for the ILR project. It should assess the cumulative impact of blasting of so many tunnels. It should assess cumulative impact of improper and proper muck dumping into rivers. It should assess cumulative impact of silt laden water into the river channel downstream from the dam, and how this gets accumulated across the non monsoon months and what are its implications. It should assess cumulative impact of release of silt free water into the river downstream from the power house and impact thereof on the geo morphology, erosion, stability of structures etc. It should assess cumulative impact of differential water flow downstream from power house in non monsoon months, with sudden release of heavy flows during peaking/ power generation hours and no releases during other times. It should assess cumulative impact of all the project components (dam, tunnels, blasting, power house, muck dumping, mining, road building, township building, deforestation, transmission lines, submergence etc) for the ILR project. This should be done for the periods during construction, operation and decommissioning phases of the projects.
·         The contention of the project proponent that “the ILR projects are green projects and these link projects under ILR Programme have been formulated by exercising all caution and considering all engineering parameters required for the project” ignores the glaring fact of South Asia’s biggest ecological crisis due to construction of embankments in Kosi basin in Bihar and Nepal. These misplaced engineering interventions have created unprecedented drainage congestion crisis even as NWDA and its sister organizations keep claiming that it was “formulated by exercising all caution and considering all engineering parameters required for the project.” Its contention ignores the lessons from the drying up of Aral Sea, the world biggest ecological catastrophe because of diversion of Siberian rivers in former USSR.
·         Some 60 years ago Aral Sea basin was a richly forested eco-system fed by two of the longest rivers in Asia. It stretched 266 miles from its northern port, Aral'sk, to the port on its southern delta, Muynak. The lake was fed in the north by the Syr-Dar'ya River, flowing from its headwaters in Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, then north through Kazakhstan into the lake. The Amu-Dar'ya River begins near Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, flowing along the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan before forming a delta at the southern end of the Aral Sea. After the collapse of USSR, Kazakhstan borders the Aral Sea in the north, while Uzbekistan lies on the south shore. After the collapse USSR, scientists discovered that the Aral Sea was missing. At present the Aral Sea has lost three-fourths of its former volume and two-thirds of its former surface area. The water level has dropped by almost seventy feet, and the salinity of the lake is triple the level of forty years ago. The former sea has split into two parts with a diminishing trickle of water between them. There are projections about its complete disappearance in near future.
·         Quite like the proposed ILR project, Soviet government had launched a massive irrigation project. In late 1930s when it was decided to drain the rivers of the Aral basin to irrigate wide expanses of desert disregarding the advice and prediction of Soviet scientists about its adverse consequences for the Aral Sea and its ecosystem if the Amu-Dar'ya and Syr-Dar'ya were exploited as planned, but their advice was ignored. As a result, water from the two rivers stopped reaching the sea much of the time, and not at all in dry years. The Amu-Dar'ya stopped reaching the sea due to drought, and water from the Syr-Dar'ya did not reach the sea during the summer when needed for irrigation, coming instead in the winter and causing floods, exacerbating the ecological situation. The sea began drying up within years after introduction of the plan, but the USSR government argued that "the disappearance of the sea would be good, because then more cotton fields could be planted on the seabed." The desertification of the Aral Sea was not a natural process; it was deliberate process akin to the proposed ILR project.
·         What Shri Mikhail Gorbachev, formerly President of the USSR said in this regard merits urgent attention. He said, “After the extent of the Aral Sea tragedy became known, we stabilized the unsustainable irrigation schemes which were cutting off the water supply to the Aral Sea, and halted a project which had been planned by engineers to divert two major Siberian rivers.” He added, “The most important lesson is that the developments in science and technology of the past century bring with them not only huge benefits, but also great responsibility, as human mistakes or mismanagement can now cause irreversible damage to the environment, immeasurable human suffering and threaten the very habitability of large parts of our precious planet.”
·         The claim of the project proponent that “The ILR projects will provide boost in every sphere of life including job creation, greenery, tourism and ultimately helps in food production and thus increase food security of the nation” is an exercise in empty posturing. It does not provide any figures for such claims. It does not disclose the quantum of agricultural land that will be submerged and how much of such land will be put to non-agricultural purposes while making unsubstantiated claims about “food production” and “food security”. Unless it provides figures for how food production will suffer and impact food security due to submergence and diversion of agricultural land such claims are manifestly misleading.
·         The proposed Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) project will kill the rivers and their basins. It will destroy groundwater recharge system. The fact is that surface water projects are not delivering, they only seem to involve scandals.
·         A book ‘Free the CBI’ by Late Shri B R Lall, former Joint Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) wherein there is a reference author’s letter to Shri K Vijaya Rama Rao, the then Director, CBI in August 1995. In this letter he mentions that he strove for complete investigation into the power sector, which is draining the country. In the book it is mentioned that kickbacks may be 3 to 10 % of the project cost, but up-valuation is anything between 40 to 100 % of the real project cost. He had sent a report on Chamera project to Director, CBI where against an estimated cost of Rs 1393 crores in 1992, the negotiations for allotment are on for Rs 3300 to 3600 crores i.e.@ Rs 12 crores per MW whereas world over rate of only around Rs 6 crores per MW is  considered reasonable for hydro electric projects. In the letter it is reasoned that even if this figure were to be Rs 2000 crores for 300 MW Chamera project, shouldn’t it be examined when Rs 1000 to 1500 crore of the nation is being squandered for kickbacks of Rs 100 crore. The Director CBI never permitted this probe.
·         There is a need for a high level probe in the hydro power and irrigation sector before pursuing the ILR project which entails such projects as well.
·         As per the Planning Commission’s Tenth Plan document, there are 383 ongoing major and medium projects awaiting completion, 111 of which are pending since pre-fifth Plan period i.e. more than 26 years. All these can be completed within five to eight years, yielding an additional potential of about 14 million hectares at a cost of Rs 77,000 crore as estimated by the plan task force, now raised to Rs 100,000 crore.
·         The second component listed in the Plan is development of minor irrigation, mostly in the eastern and northeastern regions. The total potential assessed is 24.5 million hectares with a total investment of Rs 54,000 crore, of which the government is expected to provide only Rs 13,500 crore, the balance coming from beneficiary farmers and institutional loans. The cost per hectare is only Rs 20,000 and gestation period almost nil, against a cost of Rs 100,000 and 12 years' gestation in case of major and medium projects.
·         The third equally beneficial scheme mentioned in the Plan is the groundwater recharge master plan prepared by the Central Ground Water Board needing Rs 24,500 crore to trap 36 billion cubic metres of water annually. These measures are quite clearly better than the project of networking of rivers. The concerned judges would serve the ecological interest of the subcontinent better if they could pay heed to these proposals of the Plan document. Judges at all levels have, by and large, justified the confidence reposed in them. But there is scope for improvement in several spheres and it is up to the judiciary itself to rectify the defects in its role and prove to the public that as long as there is an efficient, impartial, independent and incorruptible judiciary, democracy in India will be safe from the tyranny of the executive and also the judiciary.
·         The proposal of networking Peninsular and Himalayan rivers emerges from a lack of rigorous evaluation of the ecological impacts which would prove disastrous not only to the fishery, but also to the biodiversity and biotic processes that have evolved over the past hundreds of millions of years.
·         We must remember if water scarcity is the perennial question, there better answers like the groundwater recharge master plan available with the government. Water can be made to “Reach to All Homes, Farms and Factories” by adopting this plan as well at a minimal cost. It submitted that whenever there is conflict between financial gains  and rivers, the latter must get priority over monetary benefits because by any yard stick economic value of a free flowing river is bigger than dammed and mutilated rivers.  The capitalist, communist and colonial legacy of treating rivers as material flow that flow through pipelines must be abandoned and rivers must be treated as living beings that nourished our civilization for centuries and can nourish all the coming generations if cannibalistic tendency of diverting waters in bottles, dams and banks is stopped.
·         We submit that the project proponent is under structural compulsion to push these ecologically destructive projects envisaged in 1970s to justify their continued existence. NCAER, NWDA and their promoters remain trapped in pre-climate crisis era wherein “taming of rivers”, dams were temples and not outcome of disease of gigantism and conquest over nature was considered part of scientific temper with which rivers could be murdered with impunity.
·         We submit that in 1715 India accounted for 25 % of world industrial output. India’s share in the world’s industrial output became possible without engineering the landscape and replumbing the river valleys of the sub continent which is already demonstrably earth quake prone.
·         We submit that project proponent seems to suffer from a gross materialist and technocentric bias wherein water flow is deemed material flow alone and not the flow of life that sustains life. They must appreciate the pearls of wisdom from Mahabharata that describes the Divine Being saying, “The mountains are his bones. The earth is his fat and flesh. The oceans are his blood. Space is his stomach. The Wind is his breath. Fire is his energy. The rivers are his arteries and veins. Agni and Soma, otherwise called the Sun and the Moon, are called his eyes. The firmament above is his head. The earth is his two feet. The cardinal and subsidiary points of the horizon are his arms,” the government should reject the idea of “inter-linking of rivers based on feasibility”. This is narrated by Bhishma in conversation with Yudhishthira while referring to the reply of sage Bhrigu to sage Bharadwaja. This verse occurs in the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata. The project proponent fails to recognize that Interlinking of rivers project is an exercise in delinking because it entails mutilation of the veins and arteries of the divine nature. Rivers shape the terrain and lives of people by its waters which are always in a dynamic state. Breaking this dynamic would unleash forces of uncontrolled change and invite the ‘law of unintended consequences’.

In view of the recent earth quakes, unpredictable rainfall and changing weather pattern, there is a logical compulsion to recognize the ecosystem in question as a living entity whose integrity should not be violated for the sake of sanity, humanity and for all the living beings of present and future generations in both the basins. We are hopeful that EAC will factor in the above mentioned facts before making any decision. 

We would be happy to meet you as a delegation and share relevant documents in this regard.

Thanking you in anticipation

Yours faithfully
Dr Gopal Krishna
Director
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Mb: 09818089660, 08227816731


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