Minutes of Meeting with World Bank on Representation on Ganga Waterway

Reg. Environment, Social and Cultural Impacts of Proposed Construction of Barrages for Ganga Waterway

Date: 8th October, 2014

Venue: World Bank Office, 70, Lodi Estate, New Delhi-110003

Duration: 10.00 Hours till 12.00 Hours

List of Participants at the end of the minutes

 

Background: On 30th August, 2014 Dr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala along with other environment experts and groups made a joint representation and requested a meeting to World Bank on the proposed rejuvenation of Ganga Waterway project which involved construction of cascade of barrages to enable navigation. The possible environment, social and cultural impacts that could be imposed by the said project were outlined in the representation. World Bank acknowledged the representation and invited the signatories to discuss their concerns and hence the meeting.

Minutes:

Representatives of World Bank briefed their position in the Ganga Waterway project as follows:

  •  In June World Bank received a request from Government of India for reviving the National Waterway 1 of about 1660 Km of Ganges from Allahabad to Haldia.
  •   The request came as a series of loan, first one for technical assistance in preparation of engineering, environmental and market development studies for the entire NW-1.
  •   Investment of first phase is for waterway up to Barh, a place downstream of Patna. Second phase from Barh up to Varanasi and the third from Varanasi to Allahabad.
  •   In third week of July, World Bank acknowledged Govt. Of India that they will provide the technical assistance for the initial study, outcome of which will decide on the future investments.
  •   Scoping is finished in September in consultation with GoI and decided upon three studies which need to be done- 1) Detailed Feasibility Study 2) Cumulative Impact Study 3) Market Developmental Study
  •  Expression of interest for all the three studies is advertised and shortly Consultants will be shortlisted and issued RFP (Request for Proposal) by November, 2014. Final selection of Consultants will be done by January next year.

The proposal of Govt. Of India is based on a study by Danish Hydrological Institute. They did two reports: for Allahabad to Varanasi and for Varanasi to Buxar. The study was done over 4 month’s period which is primarily based on desk review. It proposed following two things to revive the NW-1:

  • To provide a depth of 3 meters in Ganga to make it fully navigable from Haldia to Allahabad for barges carrying 1500-2000 tons of load.
  • Construction of 4 barrages- 3 barrages between Allahabad-Varanasi and 1 in Ghazipur.

In absence of a thorough study and environment assessment, World Bank agreed to provide assistance in technical assessment of the project so that it could take decision on funding the project in future.

The World Bank team clarified the representatives that:

  • They are not aware of plan of 16 barrages till now.
  • There is no disbursement of funds till now, as reported in media.

 

After the briefing session, the Representatives made the following submissions summarized as below:

Cultural impacts

1.  Cultural impact should be effectively dealt with which is directly related to water quality and water flow to large extent. Attention was drawn to the fact that the issue of non-use values of free flow of the Ganga was raised before the World bank in the Vishnugad-Pipalkoti Hydropower project. At that time this issue could not be taken on board because robust estimates for the non-use values were not available. The waterway project is in infancy hence this study can be made an integral part of the DPR-EIA. A study is available which is commissioned by Ministry of Environment and Forests and done by Institute of Economic Growth (N.N. Murty) which has estimated the non-use value of the river at Rs. 500 per household per year for pollution free Ganga.  It was suggested to do a study on monetary value which should include aesthetics and cultural values of Ganga also.

Environmental impacts

2. Migration of fishes, movements of other aquatic animals like Gangetic Dolphins who has the first right of movement in the river will be greatly affected by the barrages which could lead to their extinction as we have seen in case of Hilsa which is now not found in Allahabad due to Farakka. The Dolphin sanctuary at Bhagalpur and Turtle sanctuary at Varanasi will get destroyed.

3. The impact on aquatic flora will be severe because hyacinth will grown in slow moving waters and destroy other flora that are food for the aquatic life and must be given the importance to keep alive the river ecosystem. This has happened in the Mississippi system.

4. Cumulative Impact Assessment should be done of not only the few barrages (probably 3 numbers) in the Allahabad Ghazipur stretch but all the barrages exiting (Bijnor, Narora, Farakka) and proposed in subsequent phases (Varanasi to Buxar, for example). Environment impact assessment of such projects existing and proposed in future should be done for the entire river basin and not just a particular location.

5. Inorganic contamination from mining areas in the Ganga basin generally does not find importance when we talk of river pollution, but it is one of the major pollution sources in areas where mining is prevalent.

6. The impact on salt water intrusion and high rate of erosion in Sunderbans due to less water reaching the delta will escalate with more barrages on Ganga as these will lead to more ground water recharge and to reduced flow downstream.

7. It is said that the groundwater recharge increases due to barrages. There should be an assessment of whether the river has surplus water to enable to flow after the recharging of water tables and the proposed abstraction of water during non-lean seasons? Government of UP is increasing the capacity of the Narora canal.

8. By constructing several barrages and impeding the river flow it is natural that the river velocity will be significantly reduced. As in the case of the Mississippi, the flora reduced dramatically. Even upstream of the Farakka barrage there is significant spread of water hyacinth. Water Hyacinth is an invasive alien species which does not allow other plants to grow and in absence of its natural predator, it keeps on growing until it chokes our river system. Fishes find difficult to survive in water hyacinth invaded stretches of river which directly affects the livelihood of fishing communities. One need to study the case of Water Hyacinth invasion in upstream of Farakka barrage and what are their impacts to draw a future impact assessment on Ganga from such biological invasions?

9. The reduced velocity of water will lead to increased incidences of disease. Quoting a Swiss study which was done spanning 30 dams across the world which says there is a 7% increase in malarial diseases around the dams. Hence, once we convert a free flowing river into barrages, we are increasing the incidents of diseases in those areas. This aspect should be included in the study.

10. The ability of the river to self-purify will diminish with reduced flow and velocity. We are reversing the natural ability to self-purify. By creating barrages and obstructions even if we install purifying structures like STPs, the ability of self-purifying capacity of river will be reduced nevertheless.

11. There are “wide-spectrum” coliphages in Ganga water which eats the harmful coliforms in the Ganga River. These coliphages lie dormant for years sticking to the silts until they find coliforms. The NEERI study on these found that numbers of coliphages were still present downstream of Tehri hence the Tehri Dam would not affect the self-purifying capacity of the Ganga. But this assessment is made of a single project. The impact gets multiplied if a cascade of dams and barrages are made. The cascade will prevent absorption of metals like Copper by the waters of the river. The downstream flow of sediments on which the coliphages are adsorbed will also be reduced. It was suggested that a cumulative study of the impact of multiple barrages on coliphages must be undertaken.

12. The Carbon emissions from the waterway due to movement of ships and subsequent deterioration of water quality need to be assessed. Also, the barrage projects are cumulatively integrated to thermal power plants. Hence, the impact of thermal power plants on river ecology and health of people should be part of the Cumulative Impact Assessment.

Sediment management

13. Whatever silt the river brings from its catchment areas, it has to go to the sea-there is no other option. In case of barrages, it is said that gates are opened and silt is allowed to flush through which prevents siltation. But this is not a practical answer as observed at Farakka barrage, which is heavily silted in upstream and is causing erosion problems.

14. Further, even if the gates are opened, the pillars of the barrage exerts pressure. The bridge at Bhagalpur is reported to cause erosion downstream by changing the flow pattern.

15. If we create more barrages, there will be more siltation which will require more dredging. The dredging cost will be very huge. Further, landfills will be required to dispose the silt.

16. The deprivation of silt to the coastal areas will take place. There already is huge erosion at Sunderbans and Ganga Sagar. This is partly due to rise in sea level but that does not negate the multiplier effect that the barrages will impose.

17. It is contended by engineers that the high flood level of the river has not increased. Conclusion is drawn that there is no siltation. This is contra the people’s observation. A ground survey of level and impact of siltation upstream and downstream Farakka is required to be done as an input to the present project.

18. HFL and Flood frequency are often used to measure long term flood assessments. One critical question is what is the true HFL? It is possible that the HFL is not increased, but the frequency of reaching of water level close to HFL is more now. To prevent incidents of frequent flood levels, we have to enhance the river capacity to convey floods. The barrages work exactly the opposite direction. Even the pillars can act affect the flow dynamics of a river and affect the conveyance capacity of a river.

19. IPCC models predict that there will be more rains in August September and more extreme events. Correspondingly the required capacity of the Ganga to convey floods will be more.

20. It was suggested to not rely on the data provided by government. A cross-check of HFL data should be done from the river bank communities.

21. If we are constructing a barrage we have to also build embankments on banks, which may extend till the next barrage on the river in some cases. Tributaries will also have to be embanked.  When we build an embankment, we are preventing the monsoon flow from spreading in the flood plains. Hence, the actual recharge of groundwater from monsoon will be reduced. There should be a detailed study on this aspect.

22. Number of thermal power plants based on imported coal are planned on the Ganga. The waterway project has to be assessed together with the thermal plants.

Social Impacts

23. Impact of river bank communities who are dependent entirely on the river by the means of fishing, sand mining etc needs to be considered. The displacement of people due to erosion at Farakka has not yet been mitigated. A study of the Farakka experience may be made integral to the present study.

24. Cost benefit analysis needs to be done by stakeholders. The primary benefit of coal transport may be going to the city dwellers but the environmental impacts will be faced by the people living on the river banks. There should be a thorough study on who is to gain from this project and who are going to pay the environment, social and cultural cost? As primary objective of World Bank is ‘Poverty Alleviation’ and ‘Equitable Development’, there should be a stakeholder wise study of cost benefit analysis which should include the following categories- a) Fishermen b) Poor people on banks of river, and c) Poor generally.

Strategic Impact Assessment

25.  Topography of Ganga basin and the impacts from all future river linking projects proposed should be kept as one of the dimensions of the study.

26. The present allocation of water to thermal power plants is not accounted and there is no environment impact assessment of withdrawal of water. It was informed that even premier institute like Central Water Commission, which gives permission to withdraw water to thermal power plants and other such proposals, does not do any impact assessment on the ecology of the river and withdrawal permissions are merely based on inter-state allocations. There should be a cumulative impact assessment of all industrial withdrawal of water.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

19. Quoting a study from Mississippi system, it was informed that the Mississippi waterway is not economically viable if the transportation is taxed at the same level as road and rail transport. Hence, there should be an assessment whether the taxation of waterway will be taxed at same rates as road/rail and whether it will be viable after the taxation? It should not be a subsidized mode of transport to make it viable.

20. In Mississippi waterway, the main use of the waterway is for transporting agricultural products for export to Gulf of Mexico. In case of U.P. and Bihar there is no such bulk export of products. Viability as well as the percolation of benefits to the communities has to be assessed in this backdrop.

21. It is predicted that by next decade solar power is going to be cheaper and will be at par with thermal. For a long term scenario, say 50 or 100 years, the development of imported coal based thermal power production in our country may become unviable. A sensitivity analysis of the future energy scenario and the viability of thermal power-cum-waterway should be made.

27. It is widely been publicized by Minister of Shipping that road transport costs Rs. 1.5, rail costs Re. 1 and waterway cost at Re. 0.50. This is a false comparison. Real comparison is paving by using large barges versus small ships. Whether a particular depth of water is really required and whether we can still navigate in existing depth should be analyzed.  

Alternatives

28. The alternative of transporting coal by small ships vs. large ships and making technical improvements to ply low draft barges should be examined.

29. The alternative of doing nominal dredging increasing the water depth to allow medium capacity barges to move without constructing barrages should be done. In case, dredging is done the capacity of the river to flush the sediments is enhanced by increasing the channel flow while making a barrage it will act opposite. Hence, instead of reducing the flow, we should think of enhancing the flow of the waterway.

30. Since coal transportation is major part of the bulk transportation via the waterway, then there should be also an alternative study of establishing the thermal power plants nearer to the ports. This will significantly benefit the sector by reducing the pressure from consumptive use of water and also save the cost of transportation. 

Conclusion

31. Lastly it was said that, ‘We are not against waterway and navigation of ships, but we should do it without obstructing the free flow of Ganga.

The World Bank team told that the TOR is under process of finalizing and the submissions made by the members will be considered for inclusion in the same.

 

Participants

World Bank team:

1. Mr. Arnab Bandyopadhyay, Sr. Transport Engineer

2. Ms. Sona Thakur, External Affairs

3. Dr. Genevieve Connors, Program Leader, Water and Sustainability, India

4. Mr. Pyush Dogra, Senior Environment Specialist

5. Ms. Rashi Grover Kashyap, Consultant

Team of Representatives:

1. Dr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala, Former Professor, IIM

2. Er. L.V. Kumar, Former Director, WAPCOS

3. Mr. Debadityo Sinha, Vindhya Bachao Abhiyan

4. Mr. Bharat Lal Seth, International Rivers

5. Mr. Govind Sharma, Ganga Mahasabha

6. Mr. Vinay, Ganga Mahasabha

 

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