January 9, 2013
First of its kind for any hydro projects funded by the World Bank (WB) in India, the recourse mechanism of the WB, the Inspection Panel will investigate the policy violations by the proposed 444 MW Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydro Electric Project built on Alaknandaganga river, a main tributary of Ganga, in Uttarakhand.
World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved the Inspection Panel’s Report and Recommendation to investigate matters of policy non-compliance and related harm last month.
This was followed by a complaint filed by the affected communities and their representatives in July last year to the Inspection Panel, raising serious social and environmental issues arising out of this project.
The complaint has raised issues of water shortages that will occur in the stretch of the river where water will be diverted into the underground tunnel. The “environmental flow” of the river has not been properly estimated and yet to finalized. It further said that the quality of the water in the Alaknanda River will be degraded when it is diverted into the underground tunnel and its free flow is blocked.
The loss of aquatic species and also degradation of the natural habitat of endangered species such as the “Cheer” pheasant, otter, and mahaseer fish is yet another major issue raised in the complaint. There are serious concerns about the loss of livelihood due to this project. People’s access to river, sand and fish will be severely impacted due to this project. There are also health issues people are afraid of. Considering the inadequate and flawed Environment Impact Assessment used for the public hearing of the project, the World Bank got a fresh EIA done, but that was neither part of legal process, nor part of public consultation.
The houses and land located in the area under which the tunnel is being dug have developed cracks already (the project is yet to get final forest clearance without which any work is illegal and blasting for making tunnel for the Powerhouse are continue) and there has been no compensation for this. They also fear these houses will collapse if there were to be an earthquake as the area is in a high risk seismic zone. Construction and planning of multiple bumper to bumper dams on the same river has led to the possibility of serious negative impacts but these have not been analyzed via a comprehensive credible cumulative impact assessment. World Bank has not conducted an analysis of the no-project scenario, nor has there been a study of the impacts of the Project on different stakeholders.
In addition to this, the complaint also says that due to the diversion of the river there is no river water available for religious and cultural rituals like bathing festival, funeral rites, river worship, etc.
“We are happy that the complaint has been accepted for a full investigation by the Inspection Panel” said Briharshraj Tadiyal, one the complainants. Another complainant Bharat Jhunjhunwala said “we hope for a fair and independent investigation and no work or funds disbursements should happen till all issues are settled to the satisfaction of all concerned”.
The recommendation for investigation was given by the Inspection Panel after their visit to the project in November last year, meeting all parties connected with the project. Among the representations before the panel it was shown that there is zero length of free flowing river between the upstream under construction Tapovan-Vishnugad HEP and Planned Vishnugad Pipalkoti Project.
Inspection Panel was set up in 1993 following the Independent Review Committee which looked into the violations by Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) Dam resulting World Bank’s withdrawal from the project.
World Bank documents on the project: http://goo.gl/sM4NW
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