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Uttarakhand: A case against hydel power? – YES

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The mountains of Uttarakhand are fragile and new. Hence, Uttarakhand is inherently vulnerable to various kinds of disasters, such as high intensity rainfall, cloud bursts, landslides, flash floods and earthquakes. Its geology is ridden with fault lines. Climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme events. Our developmental projects need to take this reality into account.

However, we have not done a credible environmental, or social, impact assessment (EIA) for a single project — a fact that even our former environment minister has accepted. We do not have a credible public consultation process; local people do not even get the EIA in their language.

The Expert Appraisal Committees that the MoEF appoints are effectively agents of project developers. They do not apply their mind to the inadequacies of the EIA or the public consultation process. We need a credible cumulative impact assessment that takes into account all kinds of interventions in river basins. The assessments are inadequate, and are done by agencies such as Water and Power Consultancy Services or IIT’s (Roorkee) Alternate Hydro Energy Centre, raising questions of conflict of interest.

A large dam diverts the whole rivers into underground tunnels that could be up to 20-30 km long, and wide enough to carry three trains side by side. These tunnels are blasted by massive use of dynamite in fragile, landslide-prone mountains. This paves the way for townships, roads, deforestation and submergence. The State has over a hundred (a very conservative estimate) such projects. Each clearance is supposedly given after several conditions and environmental management plans are adhered to, but the Environment Ministry has confessed that it cannot ensure compliance with any of these aspects. Besides, the electricity output of these projects is not up to the mark.

Hydro projects have magnified the effects of heavy rain in Uttarakhand. Mismanagement of operations of the Tehri dam has led to floods in downstream areas. The claim of Tehri Hydro Development Corporation that in the absence of Tehri dam, Rishikesh and Haridwar would have been washed away is completely unfounded. Floods on the Bhagirathi on which the Tehri dam is situated occurred on June 16, while the peak flood downstream on the Alaknanda occurred on June 17. It is true that in the absence of the Tehri dam the floods would have occurred downstream a day earlier. But that does not mean the peak level would have been higher.

Areas downstream of the Tehri dam faced an avoidable floods disaster in September 2010. If the dam is not properly managed, we may be in for a repeat later this season.

We need to stop this blind rush for projects which are increasing our vulnerability. There are other options for electricity. We need to rethink development, taking local people and conditions into account.

Courtesy: Business Line

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Green activists demand study on run-of-the-river projects

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SHIMLA: Nature’s fury in Uttarakhand andKinnaur district has left green activists fuming, who are now blaming developmental projects for the calamity. Noted green activistKulbhushanUpmanyu said that in western Himalayas, particularly, Uttarakhand and Himachal, a chaotic process of ‘development’ that goes back many years, exacerbated the effects of this extreme rain.

He said extensive deforestation of mountain tracts by the state and more recently due to ‘development’ projects, led to soil erosion and water run-of, thus destabilizing mountain slopes and contributing to more intense and frequent landslides and floods.

“Unchecked hill tourism has resulted in huge growth of vehicular traffic, spread of roads not suitable to the mountainous terrain, and construction of poorly designed and unregulated hotels and structures, many near rivers. Sand mining along river banks has intensified water flows into rivers,” he added

In Himachal Pradesh, various organizations like Himalaya Niti Abhiyan; People’s Campaign for Socio-Economic Equity in the Himalayas; Gujjar Kaliyan Sabha, Chamba; Sankalp, Chamba; Dalit Vikas Manch, Chamba; Kisan Sabha, Baijnath; Awas Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti, Mandi; Visthapit Kaliyan Samiti, Pandoh; Parvatiya Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, and Himat, Chamba are raising their voice against the projects, especially hydro power projects being set up in the state.

In the wake of the recent disaster, these organizations, under the umbrella of India Climate Justice, have demanded that the planning and construction of dams in the entire Indian Himalayas be reviewed, and all construction be halted until such a review is carried out and use of explosives in all such infrastructure development works should be completely stopped.

Kulbhushan, who is the chairman of  Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, said the tragedy in Uttarakhand and Kinnaur was triggered by extreme unseasonal rains. “Warmer air due to global warming has the capacity to hold more moisture, leading to more intense bursts of rainfall. The natural monsoon cycle in India has already been badly disrupted, and a new cycle of extreme rainfall events and prolonged droughts have been reported from all over the country in the recent past,” he added.

Guman Singh, convener of Himalayan Niti Abhiyan, said construction and planning of hundreds of small, medium and large dams across the Himalayan states from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the northern Himalayas to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the east, have destabilized an already fragile ecosystem and threatened biodiversity. “A staggering 680 dams are in various stages of planning, or construction in Uttarakhand and 650 hydropower projects in Himachal,” he said.

Upmanyu said that a river regulation zone be enforced such that no permanent structures are allowed to be constructed within 100 metres of any river.

Courtesy: THE TIMES OF INDIA

Himalayas: the agenda for development and environment

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We need to think about a pan-Himalayan development strategy which is based on the region’s natural resources, culture and traditional knowledge

The recent events in Uttarakhand have shown, more than ever, that we need a development strategy for the Himalayas that takes into account the vulnerability of the region and the need for environment protection. There is no doubt that the region needs economic growth. But this development cannot come at the cost of the environment. It will only make the already risk-prone and ecologically fragile region more vulnerable and development more “deadly”. We also know that climate change will exacerbate the vulnerability of this already fragile ecosystem.

The question is what should be the development strategy for this region? Most importantly, we need to think about a pan-Himalayan strategy so that states can evolve common policies and not follow the race to the bottom. It is also clear that these strategies will have to be based on the region’s natural resources—forests, water, biodiversity, organic and speciality foods, nature tourism—but will need to address the specific threats so that growth does not come at the cost of the environment. Let’s explore the different sectors and the questions that need to be discussed and resolved.

1. The Himalayan states must build a viable and sustainable forest-based economy. Can they use forests for development? Can they value ecosystem services of forests so that protection is valued?

The Himalayas have seen two distinct phases of its rich forest resources. The first phase was the extraction of forests for “development”, which led to widespread deforestation in the region and increased vulnerability to landslides as well as deprivation among people dependent on forests for their basic survival. These concerns led to the first directive against green felling—the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act in the 1980s and the subsequent directives of the Supreme Court to check forest-based industry in the Himalayan states, particularly the Northeast. But these actions, however important, have not considered how forests can be used to contribute to the economy of the region. State revenue from forests has declined. Local anger against forest departments has increased. Clearly, we need a different development strategy, which is based on the use of the region’s important resource for development and local livelihood security.

Instead, what we are seeing is that large tracts of forests are being diverted for hydropower and road projects, without focus on compensatory afforestation.

Tourism that is not destructive

  1. Build an inventory of key pilgrimage sites in the state, with an understanding of its ecological capacity based on location and fragility
  2. Immediately control the number of visitors to important pilgrimage sites. These restrictions on the key and most important pilgrimage sites can be done immediately and can be further revised based on the carrying capacity estimates
  3. Ban construction of roads for the movement of pilgrims and tourists to within 10 km of the high-altitude pilgrimage areas in order to create an ecological and spiritual buffer. These areas, like national parks and sanctuaries, should be maintained as special areas, which are maintained with minimal human interference to help us connect with nature
  4. Similar to sanctuaries and national parks, create a provision of buffer areas, surrounding the pilgrimage sites, where development is restricted. To build local interest in these areas, strictly enforce rules to give communities living in the area advantage of the pilgrimage activities
  5. Use the carrying capacity action plan to create facilities for tourists, particular facilities for sanitation and for garbage disposal
  6. Make it mandatory for expeditions to remove and take back all non-degradable items. This can be enabled through a security deposit and check on the items being carried for the expedition. Create local community interest in management of these sites.

Related agenda

  1. Promote homestead tourism, instead of five-star tourism, based on policy incentives. These incentives would include fiscal benefits provided to house-owners for providing tourist related facilities
  2. Regulate homestead tourism through a third-party audit and certification programme, which would promote good practices in the tourist complexes
  3. Use the certification programme to include rating of key environmental sustainability guidelines – like reuse and recycling of waste and energy efficiency and renewables. This will involve tourists also in understanding the special needs of the Himalayas and their role in protecting its beauty
  4. Increase the rate of entry tax charged by all hill towns. This tourism tax for entry into fragile ecosystems should be increased substantially and across the board in all towns of the Himalayas. The fund created from this tax should be used for a dedicated purpose of increasing facilities for tourists. (For instance, Costa Rica has a tourist surcharge, charged from every hotel based on its occupancy for eco-development).
  5. Impose high charges for parking of private vehicles in markets and fragile areas of hill towns, which will also restrict the number of vehicles being allowed into the areas and reduce pollution and congestion

The standing forests of the region are an important reservoir of biodiversity; these provide protection against soil erosion and increased flooding in the plains and are sinks for carbon. One way ahead would be to develop a strategy to “pay” for these ecosystem services of the standing forests of the region and to ensure that the proceeds are shared with local communities. The 12th and 13th Finance Commissions have included the concept of compensating states for standing forests in its report. Unfortunately, the funds provided for these services are meagre. More importantly, no money has been given to states as yet. The Himachal Pradesh government is currently working on assessing the ecosystem and carbon sequestration services of its standing forests. This issue should be discussed and a common policy evolved so that Himalayan states can “value” their forests better.

This policy must also include the voices and concerns of local communities, dependent on forests for their agriculture and basic needs. All studies in the high Himalayan villages show the role of forests—most crucially as fodder and water sources for sustaining agriculture in this region. How can forests be used to build local economies has to be the big question.

2 The strategy for water development must balance the opportunity for energy and threat to livelihood, particularly in the age of changing climate and hydrology

The region’s other key resource is the water that flows from high glaciers and mountains to the plains. This resource has to be discussed, both in terms of its opportunity and as a threat to its ecology and economy. Currently, there is a mad rush to build run-of-the-river projects and dams across the region. All Himalayan states are awarding hydroelectric projects to private companies at a breakneck speed—Uttarakhand on the Ganga basin alone has identified projects adding up to nearly 10,000 mw of power and plans for 70-odd projects.

The development of hydroelectricity is important as it provides the country with a renewable source of energy and is a revenue source for the state. It can be argued that the development of its water resources is a revenue trade-off, which will take the pressure off its forests.

We need to understand the impact of this development on the ecology and hydrology of the region. It is feared that the hydrology will be impacted because of climate change—and extreme events. This flood in Uttarakhand has seen hydropower projects badly affected. It is also clear that the impact of the flood was exacerbated because of the number and poor construction of the hydropower projects. These projects must be reviewed and many scrapped.

The policy for water-based energy in the region needs to be carefully balanced to take these concerns into account. The policy should lay down mandatory ecological flow provisions (at least 50 per cent in lean season); a distance criterion (5 km) and tough enforcement measures and penalties for ensuring that construction of the project does not harm the mountain stability or local water systems. It must be noted that while rivers cannot and must not be re-engineered, dams can be re-engineered to optimize on available water for energy generation.

3 The need for energy in remote villages must be secured first, before export to regions outside

Given the cost of reaching conventional energy to the remote households of this region, there is an opportunity to develop an alternative model for energy use in this region. Today people in the region have no alternative but to use firewood for their cooking and scarcely available kerosene for their lighting needs. Small hydropower projects (below 25 MW) were conceived initially to provide a local energy source. However, over time, in the Ganga basin as with other key basins, this concept has been changed so that all projects now feed to the national/state grid, which may or may not reach local communities. The rationale provided is that the national grid is more reliable and so more efficient to distribute energy.

But given the lack of access of energy to households in these remote regions of the country, there is a need to rethink the objectives. It is also a fact that the losses in the current transmission and distribution system practically wipe out the gains made from such small projects. The purpose of building small projects must be to provide local energy supply through interactive grids (as being done in Nepal, for instance).

4 Promote local organic agriculture and its produce as speciality, high value premium produce of a fragile ecology

Every Himalayan state has tried to use the unique products of its region as its economic strength. The states also recognise the opportunity of keeping their agriculture organic—Meghalaya was the first to declare itself an organic state; Sikkim has followed and Uttarakhad has had a major programme to promote organic green agriculture in the state. But these states are finding it difficult to use their unique strength because of different barriers, like difficulties in certification and even forest laws. For instance, Sikkim has promoted organic cardamom crop, but finds that forest laws do not allow it to take benefit of cultivation on these lands, which is done without destroying forests.

This discussion must also involve a dialogue on the future of agriculture in this region. We must realise the role of women in sustaining agriculture on the fragile slopes of the Himalayas, where the soils are deficient in nutrients. Women farmers expend huge energy to manufacture manure—from backbreaking work of collecting fodder, feeding it to cattle, and then transporting dung. They apply over 20 tonnes per hectare on these nutritionally deficient terraced lands, all to get pitiable returns. In the uplands of the Northeast, where farmers practice shifting cultivation, also as a means to invest in soil fertility, their land and labour is completely discounted and undervalued.

5 Use ecosystem-based tourism for development but with safeguards and local benefits

High mountain, adventure, biodiversity and nature tourism is the most obvious route to economic development in the Himalayas. But this tourism is greatly dependent on the ecology of the region. If the environment degrades, tourism will also be impacted. On the other hand, tourism has impacts on the environment, if not carefully managed. The Uttarakhand flood teaches us that we must learn to build sustainable models for pilgrim-based tourism in the fragile hills. There is a problem of pollution, litter and solid waste disposal in most high Himalayan tourist sites. Construction activity is unchecked; in most cases hotels and lodges come up in the most fragile areas.

The move towards eco-tourism needs to be promoted carefully so that best practices can be learnt and disseminated. Most importantly, local people must benefit from the tourism economy. In Leh, for instance, where the government has consciously promoted homestead tourism, there is greater attention to fighting pollution in the town and protecting the ecology. We need policies to promote mountain tourism for local benefits (see box).

6. Build policies for sustainable urbanisation in the mountains

The cities of the Himalayas are growing and beginning to see the same rot of the cities of the plains – from mountains of garbage and plastic, untreated sewage, chronic water shortages, unplanned urban growth and even local air pollution because of vehicles. These towns need to be planned, particularly keeping in mind the rush of summer tourists and the fact that tourists do not pay for municipal services. Many states have experimented – from banning plastics, to taxing tourists – to better respond to these issues. But they need support and new thinking on everything – on traditional architecture practices, local water management through protection of lakes and different systems of sewage and garbage management.

It is important, given the ecological fragility of the mountain areas, that we plan carefully for urban growth and its spill over into newer settlements. It would be important to devise strategies for consolidation of urban settlements, which are governed through land-use planning incorporated in the municipal master plan and are provided all facilities, before further growth is permitted. In other words, unmanaged and unchecked urban growth should not be permitted. It is also important given that buildings in these towns are based on the local ecosystem, taking into account seismic fragility and the need for aesthetics. All this will require the creation of strong regulatory institutions in the towns.

The municipal byelaws must provide for construction activity to be banned in areas, which fall in hazard zones or areas close to rivers, springs and watersheds of the towns. In many cases these provisions exist in the byelaws, but have not been strictly enforced. There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy on these matters.

These issues are not new. But what is new is the need to respond more urgently to the changes that are beginning to be seen in this climate vulnerable region. It is also clear that development will be critical for the region to cope with climate change and its variability. This is the opportunity to use new models of development, based on the region’s ecology and traditional knowledge and culture, to build an economy capable of withstanding these changes.

Courtesy: Down To Earth

Increased mining royalty in India is discordant with market realities

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A proposed hike of 5% in mining royalty has evoked shrill from the industry already on tenterhooks with escalating cost and poor finished demand.

Reportedly the hike is just a matter of time before the rate is increased. Government has worked doggedly on the premise that most of miners are making windfall profit which is barely contributing to the exchequer. However the bureaucratic grind has taken decision which is completely out of sync with the present market.

India has lost badly on export of iron ore after the unearthing of irregularities and hike in export duty to 30% thereby the revenue loss too has been lost to that extent.

Secondly with the global iron ore price on the roll recently coupled with the collapse in INR v/s USD has escalated the cost of Indian mills heavily depending on imports.

Given the weak demand for steel, mining companies such as NMDC and Sesa Goa will not be able to pass on the entire increase in iron ore mining royalty to steel manufacturers, which will lower the profitability of these companies.

This increased cost will partially take away the gain that these companies may realise from the fall in the rupee. The realisations of mining companies are linked to global iron ore prices, which are given in dollar terms while their costs are rupee-linked.

Courtesy: Strategic Research Institute

In the aftermath of coal scam, government decides to set up an independent regulator for the sector

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Aiming to plug loopholes in the coal sector, the Indian government will set up an independent regulator with the task of conserving resources besides charting methodology for fixing prices.

The decision to set up the watchdog, much on the lines of telecom, electricity and finance sectors, through an executive order is not unprecedented. The government hopes Coal Regulatory Authority Bill, 2013 would be passed in the ensuing session of the Parliament.

“Pending the passage of the Bill, we propose to set up the authority by an executive order. There are precedents for that. The PFRDA was set up by an executive order. It is still under an executive order. Securities and Exchange Board of India was the first to be set up by an executive order then it became a statutory body,” Finance Minister P Chidambaram said on Friday.

On Thursday evening, Cabinet approved setting up of the coal regulatory body.

The regulator, however, would neither have the authority to allocate blocks nor determine the prices of the dry fuel; but would chart out the principles and methodology for fixing coal prices.

The much-awaited regulatory body for the sector, in which PSU Coal India is the dominant player, would specify methods of testing for declaration of grades or quality, monitor and enforce closure of mines, specify principles and methodologies for price determination of raw coal and washed coal.

It would also be entrusted with the job of adjudicating upon disputes between parties and discharge other functions as the government may intend. Power firms have been demanding for setting up a coal regulatory body for a long time.

Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said the main function of regulator would be to bring in transparency in the sector.

“We were waiting for (authority) for a long time. I am happy that the Cabinet has accepted the proposal for setting up of the regulatory authority and hopeful that it (Bill) will be passed in Parliament as early as possible and it would be realised,” Jaiswal said.

Hailing the proposal, industry chambers said this would make the sector more investment-friendly and encourage more exploration.

Courtesy: India today.in

Delhi govt asked to respond on plea against tree felling

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The National Green Tribunal (NGT) today sought the Delhi government’s response on a plea against proposed felling of trees by the PWD as part of “landscaping work” associated with construction of an elevated corridor from Vikaspuri to Madhuban Chowk here.

A vacation bench headed by Justice V R Kirgaonkar also issued notice to the Public Works Department (PWD) and the Forest Department and sought their responses by the next date of hearing on July 12.

The bench further directed the forest department to nominate an appropriate authority “to conduct proper survey for the purpose of environment impact assessment (EIA) in the context of possible damage to the environment which may be caused on account of removal of the trees for the alleged ‘landscaping’ of the road as proposed”.

The tribunal’s order came on the plea by residents of the area who have challenged the PWD’s project saying there is no need to fell the trees, numbering around 3,000, as these are standing on road sides and not on the central verge where the elevated corridor is coming up.

“The trees are standing along the service lanes on both sides of the outer ring road and not on the central verge, where the pillars are to be erected. Thus, the trees are not an obstruction to the elevated road/flyover as they are more than 220 feet away from the central verge and do not fall in the alignment of the project,” the petitioners said.

The petitioners, including environmentalist Aditya Prasad, have sought directions stopping the forest department and the PWD from “causing damage to the trees and their illegal felling and removal from the Outer Ring Road no 26”.

They have also sought directions to the authorities “to fill up the digging made so far and restore appropriate conditions for the trees”.

Courtesy: Business Standard

Water flow into dams in Cauvery basin increases

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MYSORE: It’s raining good news for Karnataka. Floodwater continues to flow out of Kabini dam near Mysore even as the inflow is likely to go up, given the torrential rainfall in its catchment area in Waynad district (Kerala).

Water resources department is maintaining the water level at 2,280 feet, releasing 35,000 cusecs, the inflow the dam logged on Thursday. “We are not impounding the water anymore and releasing the quantity what we are getting,” sources told TOI. The water outflow is likely to go up later as the inflow is steadily increasing, they added.

The outflow was stepped up from 30,000 to 40,000 cusecs late on Wednesday night, but was cut down by 5,000 cusecs following decrease in the inflow. Sources stated that water may be released to the right bank and left bank canals from next week. The water released from the dam has reached Biligundlu located on Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border.

Following an increase outflow, the bridge connecting HD Kote to N Begur downstream of the dam has been submerged. Traffic has also been diverted.

Meanwhile, water flow into three major reservoirs in Cauvery basin has increased in the last 24 hours. It has doubled at Hemavathy dam near Hassan and the level has jumped by 5 feet since Wednesday. The dam is receiving 23,701 cusecs and the level is 2,883.50 feet (as against the maximum of 2,922 feet). It has 11.091 tmcft gross storage.

The water level at Harangi has reached 2,849.34 feet – it is 10 feet below its maximum level of 2,859 feet. The inflow has jumped from 8,670 to 13,831 cusecs. Given the inflow, the dam is likely to be filled to the brim in a week and the floodwater from upstream Harangi will help boost storage at KRS dam, which has seen its level increasing steadily following incessant rainfall in Cauvery river catchment areas in Kodagu district.

The water level in the reservoir has increased by 21 feet since June 12. The water level, which was stood at 62.92 feet on June 12, has shot up to 85.90 feet on Thursday (the dam is receiving 21,147 cusecs). “The storage will increase steadily at least for a week as it has rained torrentially in Kodagu,” a senior official of the water resources department said. This comes amidst farmers’ demand to release water to canals from KRS reservoir for agriculture activities.

Courtesy: THE TIMES OF INDIA

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