South Asian Conference on Dams and Hydropower in the Himalayas

Rishikesh | 16-18 March, 2018

South Asian Conference on Dams and Hydropower was organized by PAIRVI in collaboration with NAPM and CFA at Rishikesh, Uttarakhand from 16th March to 18th March 2018. The participants came from North-Eastern and northern Himalayan states of India and also from Nepal.

Soumya Dutta started the introductory session by highlighting the cultural and geographical aspects which India share with Nepal and other South-Asian countries. He remarked that Paris climate agreement and SDG-7 are pushing for renewable energy sources and thus many countries are focusing on carbon-free energy. Hydropower is being pushed because of the commitments made under Paris climate agreement that dependence on carbon-intensive energy will be reduced. Hydropower projects have well established technology (run-of-river and reservoir) which makes it more attractive. Financing agencies (International Financial Institutes) earlier stepped away from hydropower but they are making their way back to fund hydropower projects. Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in its policy for energy projects, has projected hydropower as clean energy. Green Climate Fund also projects Hydropower as clean energy to increase energy access. Himalayan rivers are best suited for such projects because of the desired height for utilization of maximum potential.

Objectives of the conference were to see the impacts on Himalayan rivers which are under hydropower attack, major issues rising in the Himalayas, how do we understand Himalayan rivers and the projects being set up on these rivers, to form a collaborative strategy to carry out collective actions to direct our struggle to resist hydropower attack on the Himalayan rivers.

Medha Patkar (NAPM) emphasized that rivers, people and ecosystem should be considered together rather than looking at dams alone. Energy intensive activities are surrounding us. Governance is not an issue but planning is. Both thermal and hydropower are not acceptable and we must talk about alternatives. Alternatives which include decision making and democratic process must be talked about. Hydropower is attacking every river of the country. Different aspects of ecology, financial loot, displacement etc associated with dam or hydropower should be taken together. In downstream part of Narmada in Gujarat which was expected to be less affected, 100 km stretch of the river has dried up.

Nepal-India-Bhutan has to unite to force the policy-makers to make pro-people policies. Strategy should include how mass based movements can challenge new dams on transboundary rivers. Strategy should be uniformly divided in organizing mass actions and legal actions separately. She also talked about the need to expose the benefits of such projects to large corporate and focus on how different cultures with different economic and political cultures are fighting among themselves over the same issue. Action needs use of technology and other media to unite people for such causes.

Vimal Bhai (Matu Jansanghthan) highlighted how mass support needs to be strengthened. Unlike large dams and associated struggle with them, people are less aware of the struggles in case of small dams. Mass gathering for movements and public hearing are experiencing less public support. Main challenges that should be addressed include convincing locals and others for mass action and questioning the government the intention behind dams and employment generation from such dams. He remarked how people with little resources often support dam building on the perception of dams generating employment. There should be a way to present our struggle and challenges in front of international financial institutes when they fund such projects. Other problem faced during struggle against dams is that authorities convince the affected communities and they in turn stand against those activists who fight for their rights.

Jayant Bandyopadhyay, IIT Calcutta, informed the participants about geography of the Himalayas and how it gets disturbed by large projects. Every project is pushed in the name of development which is not even defined properly. There exist different perceptions on the Himalayas. Some consider it a source of food and water while others see it as source of energy with great hydropower potential. The Himalayas are water tower of Asia. An important question should be raised whether Himalayan hydropower projects are earthquake safe or not. Engineers of dams and hydropower consider only hydro potential of the rivers not its ecology and sediments. Dam builders do not have any technology to maintain the sediment load of the rivers. If the sediments won’t reach the delta forming stage then the communities dependent on them will be highly affected. Road accessibility of the Himalayas is also increasing in order to tap its rivers hydro potential. Hydropower is cleaner than coal but not completely clean. Disturbed water flow of rivers greatly affects the biodiversity. He commented that EIA is just a formality in our country and it does not assess the impacts on surrounding downstream the dam. EIA also overlooks the assessment of hydrological changes and impact of CO2 that would be emitted over 50 years of dam life.

Manshi Asher from Himdhara Collective talked about inception of hydropower in Himachal. Focus on clean energy, inception of run of the river technology and LPG are the three main factors which pushed hyrdo in india.  The main factor which pushed run-of-the-river hydro projects in the Himalayas was the natural gradient required for this technology to pass the rivers from tunnels. 1,50,000 MW hydropower has been planned in the Himalayas and 27000 MW was planned for Himachal in 1990s. Private sector was not that effective but NHPCs and HPPCL and other state stakeholders were more active in pushing hydro in Himachal. Himachal has the highest installed capacity of hydro among all the Himalayan states. Affected communities and others were convinced on the pretext of revenue generation. Employment generation was also promised. Major impacts faced were loss of livelihood due to agricultural and forest land submergence, flow of river affected, geological impacts due to tunneling and other social and ecological impacts. In 2012, it became evident that these projects are not financially feasible because hydropower installed capacity kept on increasing but revenue due to this kept on decreasing as coal became the cheaper source of energy. Post 2013 disaster, demands were raised in Himachal for cumulative EIAs for all the rivers projects. She also mentioned that Geological surprise is the term used by the government for dam related disasters to justify the increased cost of projects. Many projects in Himachal are being delayed and public sector undertakings are taking up infeasible projects which were rejected by private sector. Authorities often use local protests and geological surprises as excuses for increasing cost and gestation period of projects.

Samir Mehta from International Rivers highlighted the issues with trans-boundary river treaties. Main issue with transboundary treaties is that they never involve affected communities but authorities only. Timeline of such treaties do not mention the basis for such long time periods like Mahakali treaty is for 75 years, Kosi treaty for 199 years and Bhutan-India treaty is for 60. These treaties mostly focus on infrastructure of the projects and neglect livelihood and ecology. Downstream impact is not considered in such treaties because such treaties do not involve river basin planning. Lack of effective mechanism is also a problem. Water discharge data is not made public on the pretext of security. Dispute resolution mechanisms are only at state level (government level) not at community level. Alternate dispute resolution mechanism is not recognized where communities across the borders come to discuss common issues.

Themson Jajo from CRA Manipur talked about their struggle against Mapithel Dam. Its construction started in 1980 without the consent of affected communities. In 1993 an agreement was signed between affected people and the state government but it was soon violated. In 2003 Public movement started and in 2008 government agreed to review the dam. Government picked up some affected people with vested interest and with their consent started again on dam building. No detailed EIA was done and no R&R facilities for dam affected families were there. No forest clearance was taken for this dam and land was directly acquired in the tribal areas. NGT court issued an order in December 2017 in favor of affected people. The order time expired before any action could be taken. Their struggle is still going on.

Jayanta remarked that flexible approach should be employed by our policy makers while signing trans-boundary treaties and inter-sectoral division of water is also important to be considered in the international treaties for trans-boundary rivers. There should be a demand for relooking into these treaties.

Puran Singh Rana of Matu Jan Sangathan told that no person from Tehri dam affected families has got employment.

Bishnu Awasthi, Nepal, shared the Nepal side struggle against Pancheshwar dam. Around 104 families and 6 basti would be displaced and 1024 Km2 land would be submerged due to this dam. He told us that Article 7 of Pancheswar Pariyojna violates human rights as upstream people are not allowed to use more than 5% of water in upstream.

Sumit Mahar from Himdhara Collective highlighted the social and environmental impacts of Run of River (R.O.R) projects. R.O.R projects are pushed on the pretext of having fewer impacts. Large quantity of debris is generated while drilling tunnels and aquifers are silted while tunnel construction. Water sources get dried up. From 1980 to 2015 around 12000 hectare forest land was diverted for hydro power and transmission. Tunneling also increases the intensity of landslides.

K.K Chatradhara, Assam, spoke about absence of study of downstream impacts of large hydropower projects. There are different impacts seen in downstream during different seasons. It dries up in spring while during summer/monsoon water is released and floods again devastate the area. People have demanded impact study in Subanasiri projects downstream areas.

Finance plays an imperative role in the inception of such projects. Rajesh from CFA and Himanshu Damle from PFPAC highlighted various sources of finance of hydropower in India.

Rajesh informed how IFIs mainly focus on financing hydro-power in Nepal and Bhutan. During 2005-2012, 43% of World Bank’s total lending went to hydro-power. World Bank continued its financing even after violation of human rights in Narmada and Bargi case. AIIB also plays a major role in financing hydro-power as its 50% lending goes to such projects in South-Asia.

Himanshu Damle told that India has 7th largest hydro-power installed capacity in the world. World Bank and ADB play main role in deciding/formulating policies for finance in hydro-power. In 1991, Hydropower was opened first time for the private players and that too according to WB policies. Earlier private players did not find hydro sector competitive so to encourage them a few steps like delicensing, removal of surcharge and open licensing were taken. Special Purpose Vehicles are also an incentive for private players as losses of companies are not mentioned because financing through SPV is not mentioned on balance sheets. Also, NHPC is a public sector undertaking and it does not require financial mediatory (which acts as source between capital and capital users). NHPC gets financing directly through government or debts. NPAs are less in hydro sector than thermal power sector.

In the discussions that followed financing of hydropower in Nepal sector was presented by Ratan Bhandari and Manshi Asher presented the financing in context of Himachal Pradesh.

Mayalmit, Gyatso Lepcha and Arnab Bhattachraya highlighted their struggle against Teetsa valley projects.

Session on strategies:

Vimal Bhai: Networking (informal group) to share information including finance of hydropower sector.

Manshi: Coordinated Campaign, legal, scientific and intellectual support to public hearings

Gytaso: Support to local movements

Ravindranath: Find common ground for India and Nepal, common issues like Transboundary treaties to expose loopholes and study on livelihood rupture in downstream.

Ratan: Compilation and publish of information on treaties and translation in local languages

Keshab Chatradhara: awareness raising to gather more support, fund raising to sustain movement, capacity building

Smair: Transboundary issues on IFIs funded projects, to start movement for free flowing rivers to give our protest a positive outlook rather than anti-development look.

Kinchan: Alternative narrative building to reach out to those who are not directly affected by such projects.

Relooking into treaties

Strategies were discussed to reach to consensus to form a Google Group named Himalayan Rivers Sangam. All agreed for coordinated campaigns to start a pro river campaign for free flowing rivers and provide and gather legal, scientific and intellectual support to public hearings. The Google group will provide a platform for information sharing on treaties and other legal issues and movements. Information will be shared in different languages for use by different groups.

iNTERVENTIONS

The ultimate aim of Pairvi is to improve the human rights conditions through capacity building of grassroots organizations on advocacy, rights based approach and human rights issues and monitoring of human rights conditions.
The intervention seeks to enhance basic human rights and strengthening an organization's capacity to be partner in development.
The intervention serves slightly different constituency of grassroots organizations and is based on the premise that capacity building of organizations would really translate into improved accessibility, availability and affordability for the under privileged constituency they represent. However, going beyond this structural edifice, the intervention also interacts and involves people and communities in its various efforts.