Transparency in Hydro-power projects Implementation

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 16 Feb 2009

CHIEF GUEST ADDRESS   

SYMPOSIUM  ON

HYDROELECTRIC PROJECTS IN UTTARAKHAND : OPPORTUNITIES,CHALLENGES AND  CONFLICT RESOLUTION              

 

Professor S.K. Singh, the Vice Chancellor of Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University, respected Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt ji, Shri R.S.T. Sai, Chairman and Managing Director, Tehri Hydro Development Corporation Ltd, my former colleague and friend Dr B.S. Burfal, Chairman, State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority and former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, of Uttarakhand, Prof. Ramesh C. Sharma, Head, Department of Environmental Sciences, distinguished experts, learned participants, representatives of all developers of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand, honoured Faculty members of this esteemed University, guests, friends from press and media, dear students, ladies and gentleman, first of all, may I take liberty to congratulate the University fraternity on the up gradation of Garhwal University as a Central University with effect from January 15, 2009. I earnestly hope and wish that this university will soon be known for its all round academic excellence in coming years just as it is already recognized for its excellent physical infrastructure. I extend my best-

I also place on record my appreciation of the Department of Environmental Sciences of the University for taking the initiative to invite developers, engineers, environmentalists, officials of state government, social scientists and social workers for discussing a most topical issue, which is, sustainable development of hydropower in Uttarakhand. While there is hardly any doubt that there exist ample opportunities for development of hydropower in our state; but at the same time we have a host of highly contentious issues related to its implementation in a highly fragile and seismically sensitive Himalayan zone. It is in this context that we have to appreciate the initiative which has been taken by Professor Sharma in bringing all stake-holders on a common neutral plate-form of an academic institution, to discuss the listed issues in a non-partisan and dispassionate manner. I am sanguine that all of us will benefit from the experience gained.

The Agenda for this and Future Symposiums

It was my friend and former colleague Dr Bhagat Singh Barfal, IFS, who persuaded me to accept this invitation on phone on behalf of the organizers, even before I received the formal request of Professor Sharma electronically. As the core theme was the ‘Hydroelectric Projects in Uttarakhand’ and the issues related to their implementation, the crucial importance of this event was self-evident; and I take this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on the theme of this important assembly of experts and practitioners. I seek indulgence of you all for departing slightly from the  six sub-aspects which the organizers have short-listed for collective deliberations, even though what I share may not be altogether out of context.     

To begin with I would like to share a brief account of my personal initiation and introduction to the subject of ‘Hydro-power’. Before I took over as the Chief Secretary of the state in 2003 I have had absolutely no exposure to the subject, or department as we call it in the Government, of  Electricity, except as say a District Magistrate or Commissioner. Therefore at the earliest  opportunity I decided to devote a full day, a Sunday, entirely to all the hydro-power projects on the Yamuna / Tons which we have inherited after partition, and be briefed about the sector. This is how I learned that we have an assessed hydro-power potential of more than 25,000 MW, harnessed potential of just 3,140 MW and a total allotted capacity of 11,948 MW allotted to ( i ) the State Undertakings ( UJVNL-2764 MW), ( ii ) Central Public Sector Undertakings ( CPSUs- 7,302 MW) and (iii) Private Developers ( 1882 MW). Thus out of an assessed hydro-power potential of more than 25,000 MW we have developed projects amounting to 3,140 MW and have allotted projects of a capacity of 11,948 MWs. The proposed additional capacity for the 11th Plan ( 2008-2012 ) is just 5,000 MW.

 

So that Sunday I kept listening to all engineers dealing with hydro-power projects, as we traveled down the Tons river, from one power-house and channel/tunnel to another and it was quite late in the evening that we reached the Asan barrage, literally the last one within the control of Uttarakhand. My educators too their time, shared their problems and issues, and I ended the day when they agreed that there was nothing else to visit, to show or share, or to complain about and that was that. As all that I had done was to listen to all of them the whole day, interrupting now and then asking about this thing or that, they naturally were extremely curious to know as to what was my experience ? My answer to them was simple and I had said that during the day I had met engineers whose discipline was Civil Engineering, engineers whose expertise was confined to Electrical Engineering and there were some who enlightened me about Mechanical Engineering, but I failed to meet whom I could really call a full-blooded Hydro-engineer, fully versed in what could possibly be termed as a Hydro-engineer ! Our existing Hydro-engineers are in actual terms are one of those discipline-wallahs whereas what Uttarakhand or the country need presently are whom we could call Hydro-engineers.

 

In this context, I would like to congratulate the senior officials of THDC who have decided to establish an institution of excellence dedicated to Hydro-engineering which will turn out engineers who have a balanced and well-rounded view of issues, technical issues which by definition must be quite ticklish, related to Hydro-engineering in the Himalayan regions, a geo-physical zone presenting a host of topics in earth sciences including solid earth, neo tectonics, orogenic volcanism, geomorphology, hydrology, the list seems to be endless ! Aren’t we lucky to have an institute like the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology located in our state ? Hydro-engineering is going to be the latest amongst various interdisciplinary themes which await discovery in these parts, ultimately resulting into what could be called collectively Montology or some such universally acceptable nomenclature. I would like to recommend the new Vice Chancellor of this University to take a lead in this direction, as we  now are a Central University and expected to take initiatives such as I have just mentioned. He will find that his predecessor in office had such a proposal on his table.        

Without belittling the importance of the six themes short-listed for this  Symposia I venture to suggest some relevant themes which the University may consider taking on hand in its new avatar as a Central University, and they are :

( i )  Implementation of the Uttarakhand River Valley Authorities Act, in context of the Bhagirathi Valley Authority, Implementation Issues and Developmental Prospects in Uttarakhand, 

( ii )  National Environment Policy, 2006 and Transparency issues arising out of Notification of 14th September 2006  issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI, read with the Right to Information Act , 2005 provisions related to self-disclosure by public authorities, and

( iii ) The Environment (Protection ) Act, 1986 and preparedness of ‘public authorities’, including state governments, to effectively use its provisions for protecting the environmentally fragile Himalayan regions.       

 

‘Hydro-power’ as a Developmental Catalyst

Another important aspect about which I wish to draw attention of both the representatives of the government and the Hydro-power Developers alike, is to consider examining in depth the potential ‘Hydro-power’ has in activating our languishing technical institutions in the state, namely our Industrial Technical Institutes ( ITI  s ),  Polytecnics and the Regional Engineering Colleges. It appeals to logic that all the Hydro-power developers must come forward, and must be obliged as a necessary condition, to adopt as many as possible ITI s, Polytecnics and Regional Engineering Colleges as may be possible for them within their ‘zone of implementation’, and train their students as the technical human man-power for their own use or use of the local area. “Hydro-power’ ought to be the core discipline around which the course syllabi of the various technical institutions described above should be designed, adapted to the level of skills the technical institutions are required to impart . say Certificate courses, Diploma Courses and Degree in ‘Hydro-power Engineering’. This human man-power, produced out of the ‘adopted technical institutions’ would be used firstly by the Hydro-power developers themselves, and the surplus could be employed and absorbed by the allied industries and  induced activities which are bound to be generated and created, down the years     

 

I have already complimented the officials of Tehri Hydro Development Corporation ( THDC ) for taking such an initiative in anchoring such a Hydro-power centered Institution at New Tehri and I look forward to other Hydro-powers developers of this state who would like to emulate THDC in ‘adopting’ various technical institutions and giving practical shape to this grand vision. Here they must be supported by the various Chambers and Association of Industries and Commerce of the State  and here the Government departments of Industries and Energy/Power/Technical Education/Higher Education must take a lead.

 

Transparency Issues related to Hydro-power project implementation

Before I conclude, a few words which happen to be my direct charge presently. I have in passing mentioned the Notification which has been issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests ( MoEF ) on the 14th September, 2006. With due humility but with a knowledge of ground situation may I say that in so far as the implementation of the transparency provisions of this Notification of 14th September 2006 is concerned  much is left required to be done and  here almost all stake-holders have been found wanting so far vis a vis what is expected from each and all of them. First and foremost, all ‘public authorities’ described in the Notification namely the State Government of Uttarakhand in the Energy Department, the Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Utpadan Nigam ( UJVUNL ), the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority ( SEIAA), the Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) and the State Pollution Control Board ( SPCB ), which are all ‘public authorities’ as defined in the Right to Information Act, 2005 have to immediately improve their respective transparency regimes, as required under this Notification and the RTI Act, 2005. Special attention is to be drawn towards the self-disclosure clauses of section 4 (1) (b) which each one of them have to put in place and update it in the spirit of the RTI Act. Further, when it comes to the implementing the process, which has been prescribed for Stage (3) or Public Consultation, perhaps the most crucial aspect of  project implementation, and easily the most controversial from the angle of all major stake-holders, a great deal of improvement is expected.     

Easily the most contested aspect of the entire process of ‘Public Consultation’, as it is prescribed in Appendix IV of the Notification, by the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), leaves much to be desired. It is this aspect of implementation of the hydro-projects which require to be totally transparent, if the hydro-projects wish to be really conflict-free. The ground-situation, of what I have personally observed, is not only far from transparent but even openly in violation of several mandatory provisions. Unfortunately in this state the nodal institution responsible for holding these ‘Public Hearings’ and ‘Public Consultation’, the Uttarakhand SPCB, has not been fortunate in having its full and regularly appointed quota of men at the helm of affairs and the Information Commission has been witness to disputes amongst its own senior officials ! I will be a very surprised Chief Information Commissioner if the District Magistrates are discovered who are fully conscious of their grave responsibilities  prescribed by Appendix IV of the Notification I have mentioned !

I am more than conscious of the fact that an Inaugural Speech of such a Symposium is hardly the place and time to raise such pithy and apparently ‘mundane’ issues as I have just raised and make the Inaugural Sessions far more serious than they usually are expected to be, but Transparency Issues of our Hydro-power projects believe me, are precisely the issues which give rise to all the conflicts which we are likely to discuss in a few of the themes which have been short-listed. To that extent I would like to share the blame of having fast-forwarded and introduced some Technical Sessions into the Inaugural one. As I am bound to remind some of you about these issues, in some other fora, I thought I should fully avail this opportunity of highlighting them now, as this allows me slightly more freedom as a well-wisher and advisor of the Hydro-power sector than the other one, as an arbiter and enforcer of the RTI Act  !

I sincerely thank Professor Sharma and his associates involved in organization of this Symposium, for allowing me to share some of my thoughts on the Hydro-power sector, which I rate as next only to Forestry in importance for the speedy development of this mountainous state, and I look forward to receive its recommendations for my benefit, helping me and my Commission to implement the highly intricate transparency regime as envisaged in its execution.

I wish the Symposium a highly successful and fruitful round of deliberations and this University a glorious future which it so  richly deserves.    

         

 JAI   HIND  !

 

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