Public Hearing on Teesta Low Dam Project-Stage IV: Gross Procedural Violations - A Memorandum Submitted to the Ministry of Environment, New Delhi

11th September 2004

The Secretary
Ministry of Environment and Forests
Government of India
New Delhi

Sub: Public Hearing on Teesta Low Dam Project-Stage IV
This refers to the Public Hearing on Teesta Low Dam Project-Stage IV, held on 8th September 2004, and the EIA exercise leading to that.
WE, the undersigned organizations of North Bengal object to the EIA for TLDP-IV on the grounds that it contains gross procedural violations, lacks transparency and based on self-contradictory, inaccurate and incomplete data.
First, we would like to draw your attention to the attempts at suppressing/withholding crucial information in the EIA. Some specific instances are:
The EIA and EMP documents for TLDP-IV leave too many important aspects unaddressed. Vital data have been omitted, and their interpretations as well as consequent action plans have not been spelt out. In some cases partial data are presented, without their proper context. The project as framed is an invitation to disaster. The whole project is based on re- engineering the dynamic surface geology of a segment of the Teesta, but the geological impacts have not been mentioned. The river and the catchment are a-biotic, inanimate, but not inert, and the reactions to intervention will have the same forces that have shaped this mighty valley.
The most important missing factors are:
1. Sediment load of trunk and tributary streams

2. Discharge variation including high-intensity rain effect

3. Downstream changes of stream power and channel stability

4. Neo-tectonic movements
A fatal flaw in the reports is the absence of site-specific geological controls—the geological report pertains to a different site altogether.
The EIA admits that the site-specific seismic design parameters are being ‘studied’ through IIT, Roorkee and not yet available. Because the Project area falls within the seismic zone IV, any major construction work in this zone need to have suitable seismic co-efficient incorporated in its design. Surprisingly enough the EMP for TLDP-IV says that seismic design parameters are now available, but does not incorporate any information on that. In the Hearing on 08/09/04 NHPC admitted that they had the Seismic designs only after the EIA had been prepared.
We also refer to the letter sent to you by NESPON, one of the undersigned organizations, in which it had been pointed out that ... ‘Scrutiny of the EIA report compels us to believe that important information has been suppressed while preparing the document. In particular, we want to draw attention to the ‘Report on the geological and geotechnical investigations’ carried out by the Geological Survey of India, Kolkata, as part of the EIA for both TLDP-III and IV in 2001-2002. Apparently, the TLDP IV EIA report now under scrutiny uses geological data from the same GSI report, though the Proposed Dam Site for TLDP-IV has since changed to a new location more than three Kilometres upstream of the previous site the GSI report addressed (Page1-2, TLDP-IV EIA)’(Nespon’s Letter to MOEF, 18/08/04).
We also annex a copy of Shree Devashis Chatterjee (formerly Director, GSI, Kolkata)’s submission to the Panel (Annexure 1).
These issues have not been adequately dealt with in the EIA, making the EIA an incomplete document.

Impacts on Sanctuary 350 m away not included: The actual impact of the dam on the wildlife movement in the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary to be located just 350 m from the dam site (in the buffer zone of the WLS) is not studied. The EIA guidelines point out that buffer zones of National Parks and Wild Life habitats have to be seriously considered while preparing the baseline environmental conditions for the project (section 3.1.1). The EIA agency does not seem to have taken this issue seriously at all.
Impacts on Wildlife Migratory route not included: There is a wildlife migratory route starting 10 km downstream (depicted incorrectly as 13 km in the EIA) of the proposed dam site that is frequented by elephants and other wildlife due to the easiness of the terrain and the less torrential flow of the river in this area. There are incidents of elephant accidents at the outskirts of the Mahananda WLS while crossing the railway line in search of food in the neighboring fields and forests. The disturbance and destruction of existing forests upstream will lead to more man-wildlife conflicts. Moreover, during the summer months the project is proposed to support the peak load fluctuations. From December to May the average monthly flow will be between 350-450 Mm3 and this will be discharged from the powerhouse only for 5 to 6 hours per day. This will cause flash floods in the river during power production and create obstruction to the migration when the elephants least expect it.
Impact of Transmission line through Sanctuary not included: The Project would also entail creation of new transmission lines through the Mahananda Forests Downstream, and consequently, further loss of forest cover as well as large-scale biotic disturbances to the already threatened habitat.
The EIA agency has noted that equal area of 338.05 ha lost to the project (that itself is highly underestimated) has to be afforested. The EIA agency is not aware that the EIA guidelines stipulate that double the area lost should be subject to compensatory afforestation. By reducing the area required for compensation, the EIA is conveniently downsizing the project cost!
Fish biodiversity not studied: As per the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources, the North Eastern states of India are collectively identified as a ‘hotspot’ of biodiversity, including fresh water fishes. Sensing the drastic decline of the fish resources in the region, the NBFGR had launched ‘a collaborative work of fish germplasm resources evaluation in North Eastern States for conservation of threatened species’. Eight states of North East region including Sikkim are the collaborative partners of this project. About 21 endemic species of fishes have been reported from this region and a mass awareness programme was launched with pamphlets on ‘save threatened fishes’ (NBFGR Annual Report 1997-98). The Teesta River originating in Sikkim also comes under the purview of this programme, that envisages to protect and conserve the biodiversity and habitat and also to develop in-situ conservation strategies. The present EIA report however does not mention even a single endemic or endangered species of fish in this river.
Impact studies not done across a year: The EIA report pertains to only studies conducted over a period of 8 months. This duration is inadequate to give a true picture of the biotic community round the year. The exact months of study are not reported. It is not known whether the study was conducted during the pre-monsoon, monsoon or post monsoon period. The inferences based on this partial information are most likely to be incomplete and distorted.
Page 5-5 of the EIA reports that there is considerable fish biodiversity in the river and that are overexploited. However instead of stressing the need to conserve the region as an undisturbed area, for the regeneration of the overexploited highly biodiverse fish fauna, that is specially suited to the rugged region of the river and also contributing to the local fishery, the report suggests a totally destructive measure that would lead to the wiping of the present species at a rapid rate. This proposal is quite contradictory to the stand of the Govt. of India, regarding conservation of biodiversity. It must be specially pointed out that while greater efforts are being made all over the country to conserve and propagate Tor tor (Mahaseer), in the present naturally available population, only their impending doom is in sight.
Page 5-11 of EIA rightly points to the abundance of dissolved oxygen in this lotic environment and also to the narrow tolerance level of the species to any reduction in this oxygen level. The change from the present lotic system to the lentic system, on the construction of the dam, will bring about considerable reduction in the dissolved oxygen level of the medium (Langford, 1984), thus threatening the existence of many of the species that have narrow oxygen tolerance limits. The report also says ‘ the contribution of allochthonous sources (organic material from the adjacent terrestrial ecosystems) may be as high as 60 to 70 percent’ – under such situation if the ecosystem is not rich in oxygen, there will be drastic levels of putrification, leading to organic pollution. This will have a severe negative impact on all the fauna and flora of the river especially fish.
The rapids and pools present in the river, contribute to the primary productivity of the system that supports the biodiversity of the region. Construction of the dam would result in the silting of the rapids and pools that could completely destroy the benthic organisms that form the major food source of majority of the fishes. This would lead to a total destruction of the endemic and endangered varieties of fishes that are unable to migrate to other regions.
The proposed construction of fish ladder has not been found to be beneficial in regions where they have been constructed already. The case of the Pak Mun dam in Thailand in the Moon River, tributary of Mekong is self-evident wherein the fish migrations were completely disrupted even in the presence of fish ladder, leading to decline in species diversity and consequently affected the fishing communities. Fish ladders for breeding migrations have so far been found to be practically useful only in the case of exotic fish such as rainbow trout and eel.

Some major PROCEDURAL violations of the EIA notifications:
Biased EIA: Moreover the EIA is clearly written with a pro project bias and uncritically accepts the statements of the project proponents. No measures have been suggested to ensure that the EMP will actually be implemented. This is particularly important when NHPC is known to have NOT implemented EMPs in the past. Thus the EIA says at the outset, on page 1-2 that “the construction of the project is not expected go have any adverse impact in this region that could alter the ecological balance of the area” and that “project construction will generate employment, development of infrastructure”. These kinds of statements show the pro project and pro promoter bias of the EIA agency and make the EIA a meaningless exercise and EIA agency incapable of doing an objective EIA.

Methodological problems: The EIA does not mention when the various surveys where done, who all did it, and what all they did. This makes the EIA suspect from methodology point of view. For example, in the methodology section on page 4-1 for the Biological Resources: Flora, it is not mentioned which season of the year the surveys were done. It is one of the fundamental EIA requirements that the surveys are done across the year, which clearly does not seem to have been done.

a. Options Assessment

According to the EIA manual by MoEF (Chapter 1, 1.2.5) “For every project, possible alternatives should be identified and environmental attributes compared. Alternatives should cover both project location and process technologies. Alternatives should consider ‘no project’ option also. Alternatives should then be ranked for selection of the best environmental option for optimum economic benefits to the community at large. The EIA report should provide clear information to the decision maker on the different scenarios without the project, with the project and with project alternatives. Uncertainties should be clearly reflected in the EIA report”.
The EIA team has not conducted any such options assessment.
b. The EIA agency for the Teesta has adhered to the principle of creating an EIA to justify the need for the project. Naturally, the EIA agency has resorted to compromises, which has made it incomplete, inadequate and incorrect in many respects.

In arbitrarily limiting the study area to a Radius of 7 Kms, the EIA has grossly violated the EIA notification, which stipulates a 10 Km Radius from which Data has to be acquired.

"An EIA report should provide clear information to the decision maker on the different environmental scenarios without the project, with the project and with project alternatives. Uncertainties should be clearly reflected in the EIA Report." Thus read the EIA Manuel guidelines (Section 1.2.5). Reading this EIA report does not provide an objective assessment in the above terms of reference.
Third, and most importantly, we strongly object to the Public Hearing on the grounds that the Hearing was held on the basis of a flawed EIA report, and the local residents did not have adequate information about either the project or the project impacts. Several Speakers during the Public Hearing spoke about the necessity of the EIA and EMP being available in the local language, Nepali.
The Hearing itself grossly violated all norms and procedures:

a. Any document that is not in public domain can not be quoted to support the arguments by the project authorities. At last, one of the NHPC engineers tried to impress on the gatherings by quoting a report prepared by IIT, Roorkee that was not in public domain preceding the public hearing.

b. The panel for public hearing shall be selected from neutral and unbiased persons, however, the hearing saw even the Chairperson Mr. A. Basu, the Chief Engineer of WBPCB, taking a biased position and defending the EIA and the project in his concluding speech. Another Panel Member, the local Panchayat representative, physically assaulted the representative of Siliguri Welfare Organization, while the later was making his submission before the Hearing.

c. The project authorities shall not make any presentation at public hearing; however, the chief engineer was given an unjustifiably large slot of time at the opening of the hearing, thereby denying some of the local people the only chance to air their opinions on the project.

d. The Public Hearing is meant to Record Public Opinion on the Project. But it turned out to be an utterly farcical exercise, where NHPC, WBPCB, and Members of District administration and local self-Governments blatantly supported the project and called upon the people to support it. It is inconceivable how the WBPCB, the nodal agency for the PH can support the project during the hearing.

e. At the end of the PH, NHPC personnel present in the audience were seen shouting slogans in support of the dam.
If necessary, we would produce video footage of the Hearing to support the above statements.
The way the EIA and the PH for TLDP-IV have been conducted affirm our fears that NHPC and WBPCB do not have any regard for the law and public opinion, and deliberately undermine/ignore the adverse impacts of the Project.
We protest the EIA and the PH on the grounds that the process grossly violates the EIA Notification Rules of MOEF, GOI, and all internationally acclaimed conventions for these exercises. We demand that the MOEF immediately declare this EIA and PH for TLDP-IV illegal and do not consider the project for environmental clearance. Before a fresh public hearing is called, it is necessary that a proper EIA is available as per EIA notifications that would properly inform the people about the impacts of the project and management plans.

With Regards

Siliguri Welfare Organization,

HNAF, Siliguri ,

NESPON, Siliguri,

GEPS, Siliguri

North Bengal Explorers Club, Siliguri

CREATE, Darjeeling

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