Thursday, January 10, 2013

World Bank report on India/Alaknanda dam kept under wraps

WB report on Alaknanda dam kept under wraps
By Soma Basu
Down to Earth, Jan 5, 2013

Findings on possible adverse impacts of Vishnugad Pipalkoti hydropower
project may not become public till Maha Kumbh gets over

The findings of a World Bank inquiry panel on the possible adverse
impacts of the proposed Vishnugad Pipalkoti hydroelectric project on the
Alaknanda river seems to have made the Centre jittery. It is learnt that
the ministry of power has requested World Bank, which is funding the
project, to keep the report under cover till the Maha Kumbh Mela at
Allahabad gets over. The request was made in order to avoid agitations
that the findings may trigger while Hindu pilgrims, sadhus and spiritual
leaders congregate at Allahabad, located on the banks of the confluence
of the Ganga and the Yamuna, from mid-January.

The Vishnugad Pipalkoti hydro electric project in Uttarakhand's Chamoli
district, with an installed capacity of 444 MW, is proposed as a run of
the river project. Such projects involve diverting the river into a
tunnel, leaving very little water in the natural stream. Religious
leaders have been protesting against such projects that reduce the flow
of the Ganga, of which Alaknanda is a major tributary. The project will
also involve diversion of forestland and may impact the Kedarnath
Wildlife Sanctuary.

The project proposes a 65 metre high diversion dam on the Alaknanda. The
reservoir will have a gross storage capacity of 3.63 million cubic metre
(mcm). The World Bank had started appraising the project in 2006 and
extended a loan of US $648 million last year for the project, expected
to start this June.

Inquiry prompted by complaint

The World Bank inquiry was prompted by a complaint by economist Bharat
Jhunjhunwala, a retired professor of Indian Institute of Management in
Bengaluru, and others, made to the investigation panel, an internal
accountability mechanism of the World Bank. The complainants said the
project will have grave social, cultural, environmental and spiritual
impact. They said the project would result in the "withering of the
Ganga". They said there was no cost-benefit analysis of the project, it
still hasn't got forest clearance and that it affects the social and
cultural fabric of the nation.

On the basis of the complaint, the World Bank formed a four member panel
to investigate the matter. The panel visited the site, spoke to the
complainants, people likely to be affected by the project and the
project developer, Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC), and
submitted its preliminary findings to the World Bank's board of
directors in November last year. The board gave a go ahead to the panel
to carry out a detailed investigation into the project.

Joe Athialy, Bank Information Centre's coordinator for South Asia, said
that the ministry of power is not very happy with the investigation
being carried out by the World Bank into the project as it claims these
matters are already under the national purview and are being
investigated by the B K Chaturvedi committee; therefore it thinks that a
parallel inquiry by the World Bank panel is inappropriate. The Bank
Information Centre is an independent monitoring agency that partners
with civil society in developing and transition countries to influence
the World Bank and other international financial institutions to promote
social and economic justice and ecological sustainability.

None of the documents related to the investigation and the complaint is
available in the public domain. Industry journals have been reporting
about the discontent among the ministry officials over the World Bank
investigation. "It is interesting to see that what the industry, the
ministry and World Bank knows, is out of the reach of public who matter
the most here," said Himanshu Thakkar of non-profit South Asia Network
on Dams, Rivers & People.

Project in jeopardy?

According to sources in the World Bank, the declaration of preliminary
reports and the detailed investigation have been delayed till March 15
on ministry of power's request as Kumbh Mela will go on till then.
Jhunjhunwala confirmed that World Bank officials told him that the
ministry of power has requested them to postpone everything till the
Kumbh is over.

The jitters that the ministry of power has been getting over the
findings on these complaints indicate that there is something that may
jeopardize the project, say activists protesting displacement caused by

That may be the reason why the officials have also being delaying the
reports of B K Chaturvedi committee to review existing and ongoing
hydroelectric projects on Ganga and its tributaries, Jhunjhunwala added.
The BK Chaturvedi committee, an inter-ministerial committee headed by
Planning Commission member B K Chaturvedi, was constituted in June 2012
by the Prime Minister's Office to recommend the flow that should be
maintained in the Ganga and its tributaries. It will also suggest how
the existing power projects should be altered to achieve the required
flow, keeping in mind the impact on tariffs. It will also review the
environmental clearance granted to existing and upcoming projects and
suggest what changes need to be made to the conditions laid down for
those who get the nod. The committee was asked to submit the reports in
September, 2012.

According to Bharat Jhunjhunwala, the World Bank investigation has
unnerved the ministry of power since the issues raised by him and others
are applicable to all hydroelectric power projects funded by all the
multilateral agencies.

If the panel in its detailed investigation finds anomaly in the project,
the World Bank could withdraw its funding from the project. "It happened
in the case of Sardar Sarovar Dam over Narmada. The World Bank was
initially funding SSD, but withdrew in 1994 after widespread agitation,"
said Joe Athialy.

While World Bank officials did not elaborate on the issue, several
senior officials of the ministry of power refused to comment on the matter.

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