Environmental and Forest violations in the Parbati Hydro project in Himachal

image.JPGCOMPLIANCE AND MONITORING OF ENVIRONMENT CLEARANCE CONDITIONS OF PARBATI STAGE II HYDRO ELECTRIC PROJECT IN HIMACHAL PRADESH

A CASE STUDY

Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group New Delhi

Lok Vigyan Kendra/ Navrachna Himachal Pradesh

 

In order to harness Himachal Pradesh’s projected hydro-electric potential of 20,000 MW, it is envisaged to have 450 big and small hydro-electric projects in the three major river basins of Beas, Ravi and Sutlej.

This pursuit for power has accelerated the construction of hydro-electric projects in the remotest of valleys each with its own set of roads, tunnels, power houses and transmission lines. In such a scenario, monitoring of environmental parameters for these projects is a crucial mechanism for ensuring the health of the local ecology and sustainability of local life support systems. This study tries to examine the diligence with which environmental and forest clearance conditions are being monitored during the construction of the 800 MW Parbati Hydro-electric Project II, one of the large projects in the state.

1. WHAT IS THE PROJECT?
The National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) Ltd is presently in the process constructing the Parbati Hydro Electric Project (PHEP) Stage II (4 x 200) MW in Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh. The project involves the construction of a 91 meter high concrete diversion dam on the Parbati River at Pulga, about 49 kilometers upstream of its confluence with Beas River. A 31.23 Km long concrete headrace tunnel on the left bank of the Parbati River conveys the water to a surface power house located on the right bank of Sainj River which is also a tributary of the Beas River.

This project has gone through the process of seeking environment clearance (EC) as per the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 1994. It has simultaneously been granted forest clearance for diversion of forest land for non-forest use as per the procedures laid down under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

The EC for the project was granted on 4th June 2001 specifying a detailed set of Special and General Conditions. It was stated while providing EC that no population will be displaced due to this project. The EC letter states that the forest clearance for diversion of 87.795 ha forest land was issued on 11th August 1999.

According to the NHPC website, for the purpose of the PHEP, the flow of river Parbati has further been augmented by utilising the water of Jigrai Nala2, Hurla Nala and Jiwa Nala by constructing trench weirs, de-silting works, interconnecting feeder tunnels and drop shafts (see figure 1 below). This water is adequate for running the power house at its full installed capacity for four hours even during the lean periods (http://www.nhpcindia.com/english/parbati2.htm).

The website also adds the project will generate 3108.66 Million Units in a 90% dependable year and the power generated shall be fed into the Northern Grid. The Project is proposed to be operated as a peaking station. The project has been approved by the Government for an estimated cost of Rs. 3919.59 crores at December 2001 price level. The Project is under active construction stage and is scheduled to be commissioned by September, 2009 (ibid). When clearance was granted, the project was proposed to be completed by September 2007.

fig1.JPG

Map Source: http://www.nhpcindia.com/english/parbati2.htm

2. THE EC PROCESS AND MONITORING
As of 1994, all river valley and hydro electric projects3 needed to seek mandatory environment clearance as per the procedures laid out under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification issued under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. While granting EC, the nodal impact assessment agency i.e. the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) puts down a set of conditions based on which clearance is granted. In the case of river valley and hydro electric projects like PHEP, these conditions include parameters around muck/debris disposal, road construction, catchment area treatment, fuel supply to labourers, conservation efforts etc. These conditions are to be mandatorily adhered to by the project authority; in this case is NHPC, and its sub contractors.

Therefore NHPC needed to submit six monthly compliance reports to the MoEF. The Northern Region Office (NRO) of MoEF, situated at Chandigarh, needed to regularly monitor the compliance/adherence of these conditions by NHPC, along with independent field verification. Notices can be issued, and cases filed against the project authority by NRO in case the conditions are not complied with.

In case an area involves the diversion of forest land for non-forest use, as in the case of PHEP II, the project authority also needs to seek forest clearance (FC) from the MoEF. The FC is granted with another set of conditions, the compliance of which is monitored by the State Forest Department. Both the FC and EC are provided by different divisions within the MoEF.

In addition to this the State Pollution Control Board independently monitors the conditions and requirements laid out while granting consent under the Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act 1974, Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act 1981.
[Note: The purpose of this case study is to primarily look at the compliance and monitoring of the EC conditions. However the monitoring carried out by the other agencies like the Forest Department and State Pollution Control Board provide substance to the arguments and observations around non compliance of the EC conditions.]

NRO Monitoring: Lack of Capacity, Procedures and No Surprise Checks

In response to a Right to Information application filed by Rahul Saxena, the response received on September 17th 2007 states, “The thumb rule applicable to all Regional Offices of MoEF is that all projects accorded Environmental Clearance should be visited ONCE A YEAR. However highly polluting industries as identified by CPCB are to be monitored twice a year. This office has/had only TWO field officers for inspection of projects to monitor environmental compliance conditions in our jurisdiction against sanctioned posts of FOUR. Hence project visits are done barely once a year.”

t further adds, “the authorities, NRO, MoEF do not make surprise visits for monitoring the projects, however this office participates with the concerned Zonal office of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for joint surprise visits based on units shortlisted by MoEF HQ and CPCB HQ.” The list provided by the NRO of such shortlisted units consists only of chemical and pharmaceutical units.

he documents for PHEP II indicate that no such surprise checks have happened.
The same letter indicates towards a complete lack of procedures prescribed by MoEF for its inspecting officers.

3. PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS

image.JPG image2.JPG

Pic1: Aerial view of Power House Construction,

Sainj Pic 2: Dumping of muck near Sheelagarh

  • Discrepancy in information about the height of the dam: According to the NHPC website, the project consists of an 85 m high concrete gravity dam across river Parbati. This stands in contradiction to the EC letter issued by MoEF which says that the height of the dam is 91m.
  • Discrepancy in date of forest clearance: The EC letter states that the forest clearance was granted on 11th August 1999 for 87.795 Ha of forest land. However on 26th July, 2001 the NRO wrote to NHPC, seeking information on action taken towards final forest clearance. The subsequent correspondence between NRO and NHPC indicated the date of the forest clearance to be 4th September, 2001. The amount of land mentioned for both these dates is the same. The EC letter did not mention the 1999 clearance as being a Stage I clearance. If that was the case then EC would have clearly stated that construction should begin only after final forest clearance.
  • Preliminary work before grant of forest clearance: In a letter dated 5th August, 2003 NHPC wrote to NRO that the infrastructure works for the project started on 20th July 2001. If one is to go by the admission that the forest clearance was granted on 4th September, 2001, then such construction becomes illegal since no construction can begin on a project before the forest clearance is obtained. It also links to next point on the revision of forest clearance to include much more land, which was not in the initial estimation and project design.
  • Revision of forest clearance, changing the scope of the project: In the letter dated 5th August 2003, from NHPC to NRO it was indicated that NHPC had submitted an application for revised forest clearance for additional 126.1249 Ha forest land on 8th April, 2003. A revised forest clearance was granted by MoEF for 145.6207 Ha on 17th March, 2004, which included the 87.795 Ha forest land diverted earlier. The NRO in its monitoring reports dated 8th September, 2003 and 23rd July 2004 observed that such a large increase in forest area had led to the change in scope of the project. The revised proposal for clear felling after this new forest clearance meant that 8124 trees were to be felled, up from 3677 trees earlier. The NRO requested MoEF, Delhi to please consider this fact and impose stricter conditions on the project authority. Despite this plea of the NRO, MoEF provided the revised forest clearance to the project without imposing any additional/stricter environmental conditions on it.
  • Insufficient emphasis on the ecologically fragile area denotified from the Great Himalayan National Park during EC: While listing the specific conditions regarding the precautions to be undertaken during the construction of the project in the diverted forest areas, there was little emphasis on the Jiwa Nal area vis-à-vis the Sheelagarh, Pancha Nal and Manihar Nal area. This diverted Jiwa Nal area is the one that involved the controversial denotification of a portion of the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) adjoining the villages of Kundhar-Majhan.4 This denotified area was an extremely fragile ecosystem with rich forests, rare, endemic and endangered fauna and was a key habitat for the breeding of Western Tragopan Pheasant, for the conservation of which the National Park was created in the first place5. This clearance also meant that the Jiwa Nala, a primary source of water for the wild fauna of the area, would run dry below the site of its diversion into the project’s tunnel. Despite these factors, no additional safeguards or conditions were added while providing EC in order to ensure that minimum damage occurred to the ecosystem in this area.
  • Issue of displacement: The EC letter states that the project will not lead to any displacement. However, the first compliance report by the NHPC dated 1st October, 2003 indicated that an R&R plan for affected families is being worked upon and a final R&R plan of Rs. 2.374 Crores was prepared to benefit 386 families effected by the project. Why was this critical data not disclosed at the time of clearance? The subsequent compliance and monitoring reports gave a differing break up of affected people.
  • Irregular reporting on compliance: For a period of 13 months from 20th February, 2002 to 13th March, 2003, there was no correspondence between NHPC and NRO. In fact there was no substantive response from NHPC after 26th July, 2001 till NRO wrote to NHPC seeking details in 2003. It clearly appears that no monitoring took place during this phase by NRO. The submission of compliance reports has also been irregular and often only in response to monitoring reports submitted by NRO.
  • No monitoring for first two years: The date of the first monitoring of the project by the NRO is 8th September, 2003 which was after two years of the project being granted clearance. The infrastructure works of the project are reported to have started from 20th July, 2001 onwards.
  • Work carried on, no action despite strong observations of non-compliance by NRO: Despite very strong observations by the inspecting officer of the NRO in his report of 2nd April, 2007 on issues of improper muck disposal, unregulated discharge of effluents in the natural water sources, non provision of free fuel to labourers etc., no action was taken by MoEF, Delhi or NRO. NHPC repeatedly denied allegations of non-compliance and monitoring NRO officials continued to report the complete non-compliance of some very critical conditions. It may be borne in mind that PHEP-II is being constructed in a highly fragile area, adjoining the Great Himalayan National Park.
  • Despite violations recorded by Pollution Control Board and Forest Department, NHPC continues work on project: The disposal of muck and water pollution were critical violations that have been repeatedly recorded by the HPSEPPCB. Letters and show cause notices have been issued from August 2003 onwards, repeatedly pointing out instances of muck disposal and damage to retention walls etc., in different locations. This has been in gross violation of Air and Water Acts. Three divisions of the State Forest Department (Parbati, Seraj and GHNP) have, since August 2003, have been issuing damage bills against irreparable damage to trees due to dumping of muck and debris both from tunneling and road construction. A letter as late as 18th October, 2007 pointed to dumping in the river/nala and damage to retaining walls where muck was being dumped. Violations to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 have repeatedly been observed and regular fines imposed. While NHPC has paid fines in crores of Rupees (approximately Rs. 3, 43, 50,036 from three forest divisions), illegal activity has continued and not once have the violators been taken to a court of law.
  • NRO relying on the data provided by the project authority rather than field evidence: In most of the monitoring reports by the NRO, only data provided by the project authority has been reported as a proof that an EC condition has been complied with. The NRO stated in its monitoring report of 28th November, 2005,” The PA (project authorities) have informed they have made it mandatory in the arrangement with all he contractors that free fuel shall be provided. ….Expenditure (on free fuel) incurred for the period October 2004 to March 2005 by M/s Patel Engineers was reported as Rs. 34,33,540 (includes operating DG sets)……….” This claim by the PA is disproved by the observations of NRO of 2nd April, 2007 and those of the officers of HPFD from time to time. Incidentally, the DG sets are being operated at the project sites for operating lighting and machinery used during the construction of tunnels and roads and not for own use by labourers.
  • Lack of coordination by the NRO officers with the agencies of the state government which are monitoring the same project: Independent monitoring of the project is being carried out by the NRO, HPSEPPCB, HPFD and Department of Science and Technology. In the case of the PHEP II strong observations were made by each one of the agencies but strict enough action was not taken to deter the violators from repeating the violations. The NRO, which is the farthest monitoring agency from the project site, needed to take cognizance of the monitoring/investigation reports of the other agencies. This would have only strengthened the monitoring process but, unfortunately, this did not happen in the Parbati II case. Though the unscientific and illegal dumping of muck was observed by the NRO as well, it was only the Department of Science and Technology which ordered the stoppage of work by the project on one occasion on the basis of unscientific disposal of muck/debris.
  • NRO lacks adequate staff for monitoring of projects: The NRO has admitted the lack of personnel to carry out regular monitoring in a response to a Right to Information Application, on 17th September, 2007. This letter informs that there are only two officers at the NRO against the sanctioned posts of four people and hence “the project visits are done barely once a year.”
  • No protocol for monitoring prescribed by MoEF: The same letter informs that “……there are no norms and protocols recommended by the MoEF for inspection of projects to monitor EC conditions.” As a result, “….the authorities of NRO do not make surprise visits for monitoring of the projects.” On the contrary, in the case of Parbati II, they have been requesting NHPC for favours like vehicle for transportation and arrangement for stay during the inspection visits.
  • No reporting on some conditions: Neither the monitoring nor the compliance reports have any substantial reporting on conditions like, no noise and construction during night or the socio-eco plan of Kalga-Pulga or the conglomerates at Pulga etc. Sites like Pulga are very remote and difficult to reach

4. COMPLIANCE OF ENVIRONMENT CLEARANCE CONDITIONS AND RELATED IMPACTS
[Note: This section does not look at all the conditions (specific and general) as laid out in the EC letter but provides details of non-compliance on a few critical ones and violation of relevant Acts. This non-compliance has lead to irreversible ecological damage in the project area but ironically the project continues to be constructed with violations and non-compliance rampant. These violations have been observed in the MoEF’s own monitoring records and those of GoHP’s agencies including HPSEPPCB and HPFD. This has also been verified by researchers through field visits and interviews.]

  1. Excavation and Disposal of Muck/Debris

Key points

  • Continued dumping in rivers and down the hill slopes observed in monitoring reports and site visits (observations in reports from September 2003 onwards till April 2007). Denied by NHPC
  • NRO monitoring report of April 2007 observed massive violations, including impact on GHNP buffer zone Reserve Forests near Adit 4 and 5. Clearly stated that muck disposal sites were not properly selected. Left dumping site is in the river itself. Monitoring Report questions how this can be allowed
  • Repeated and unabated muck disposal violations recorded by NRO, HPSEPPCB and HPFD
  • Alternate dump site proposed in 2004 following a notice from the Department of Science and Technology, Government of Himachal Pradesh. Was to be completed by February 2006
  • NRO monitoring reports from July 2006 to January 2007 are sketchy reports and don’t give details of the situation on the site, but only about functional and filled up sites etc.
  • No strict action taken/revocation of clearance/stay on construction despite repeated violations
  • Violations denied by NHPC throughout compliance reports
  • Continuous observation of serious, widespread, illegal dumping in the forest land in HPFD’s documents – little action taken except raising damage bills that amount to Rs. 3.43crores, paid by NHPCô€‚ƒ Local people complain about dumping; observed during field visit of researchers in July 2007
  • Overall recommendation made by NRO, “Ministry may like to impose restriction on allowing dumping sites very near the river bed.”

When it comes to a run of the river project like PHEP-II, there is extensive generation muck and debris, both through 31.23 Kms of tunnelling and 88 Kms of road construction, which are the two major components in the construction of the project. The disposal of this muck and debris needs to be done at designated dumping sites identified in the EIA and EMP. These dumping sites need to have proper breast and crate walls (which need to be maintained regularly) in order to check the spillage of the muck down the slope and into the rivers. The muck has to be dumped at these sites in a way that 23-30 cm thick layer is formed and the dumping sites have to be levelled and restored once filled to capacity. While the EIA and EMP of the project identified an initial set of dumping sites and the quantum of the muck that would be generated (27.68 lakh cubic metres as per the EMP), NHPC and monitoring agency letters indicate the complete inadequacy of these dumping sites. Over the last 7 years, there have been instances where it has been reported that dumping sites have been filled to full capacity, and additional sites have to be allotted/procured. In practical terms this implies acquisition of more land (often agricultural and forest land) by NHPC. Many instances of illegal and unscientific dumping have also been recorded. Improper muck dumping assumes enormous significance since the dams of two power projects are situated in close downstream vicinity of the PHEP. The retention capacity of their reservoirs is bound to diminish due to the flushing of muck/debris from the activities at PHEP.

Further, the EC conditions for PHEP clearly state, that restoration of construction area including dumping sites of excavated materials at dam site should be ensured by levelling, filling up burrow pits, landscaping etc. It needs to be “properly afforested” with suitable plantations.

Complete detailed study is attached. parbati-ii-case-study-final-revised-2112008.pdf

FOR FURTHER DETAILS CONTACT:

RAHUL SAXENA, LOK VIGYAN KENDRA/NAVRACHNA, PHONE: 09816025246 EMAIL: [email protected]

KANCHI KOHLI, KALPAVRIKSH, PHONE: 011 22753714, EMAIL: [email protected]

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2 Comments

  1. says: vishwendra singh

    I want to know that if some firm want to establish small hydro plant .What are the concern department the firm need to establish the plant .Please reply as early as possible .I will be highly obliged

  2. says: rahul saxena

    I would first like to know what is the size of the plant that you would like to establish. If it is a small plant (below 25 MW) then you shall have to get in touch with Himurja. And if it is bigger then you may have to get in touch with the HPSEB or the ministry of power, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh. All these organisations have websites and links to important people and procedures that they follow can be found on them.

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