The Central Government has issued a Notification (Photo 1) specifying the amount of water that is to be released by the hydropower and irrigation projects on the Ganga. “E-flow” (“E-flow” for short) refers to the amount of water that is released in the main stem of the river for the purpose of maintaining her living character. This step of the Government is welcome. The Notification is also laudable for saying that river Ganga is the most secret deeply revered by the people of this country; that Ganga is unique and her water has special properties, that the Central Government is committed to maintain the wholesomeness of the river; and to ensure that uninterrupted flow of water is maintained throughout its length all times.
Despite this laudable statements the fine print of the Notification is gives an entirely different message. Now let us look at the fine print.
Government of India| Ganga| Environmental Flows| E-flows| Water
The Notification says that Hydropower Projects on the Upper Ganga, that is, in Himalayan stretch, will have to release 20 to 30 percent of water for E-flows. However, the report of IIT Consortium of Seven IITs had recommended that 49 to 52 percent water should be released as E-flows maintaining for wholesomeness of the water. The release of 20 to 30 percent is grossly inadequate for maintaining the wholesomeness of the Ganga River. Further it has come to our knowledge that the Government constituted a committee to review the recommendation of the IIT Consortium mentioned above. Professor A K Gosain of IIT Delhi was member of this Review Committee. He was also member of the IIT Consortium, therefore, the recommendations of the Consortium had his consent and approval. Yet Professor A K Gosain sat on a review committee to review his own recommendations. This Review Committee has diluted the recommendation of 49 to 52 percent of E-flow and reduced it to 20 to 30 percent, which has now been notified.
E-Flows| Hydropower Projects| National Green Tribunal
Moreover, the E-flow of 20 to 30 percent has already implemented by the Ministry of Environment for new hydropower projects all rivers in the country. In a case filed by Pushp Saini in the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Kerala Government has replied that the Ministry of Environment is recommending release of 20 to 30 percent of water as E-flows. This means that this Notification merely repeats the already accepted practice applicable to all the rivers of the country and does not give any special significance to the Ganga which has been mentioned in the preamble of the Notification.
Further, the figure of 20 to 30 percent E-flows were first suggested by B K Chaturvedi Committee which was established by the previous United Progressive Alliance Government. The NDA Government has attacked the UPA as being Anti-Hindu and Anti-Ganga yet it has not provided even 1% additional water for the maintenance of wholesomeness of Ganga.
The Notification says that existing projects will comply with this E-flow within three years (Para 3(2)). This means that Ganga will remain dry below the existing projects for the next three years as shown in the picture 2 of Vishnu Prayag Project below. The assumption is that it is not possible for existing projects to release this water immediately. That is not the case. Every hydropower project has flushing gates at the bottom of the dam which are opened to flush out the sediment which have deposited behind the dam as shown in picture of the Srinagar Dam below). The flushing gates can be used to release the water for the E-flows immediately. There was no reason to give a period of three years for the existing projects to release the E-flows. The real objective is to enable the existing projects to make more money for the next 3 years by not releasing E-flows in this period.
The Preamble to the Notification says that the flow of the Ganga will be maintained in an interrupted manner. However, the existing projects have already constructed a dam and interrupted the flow. Therefore if they release E-flows even through the flushing gates as shown in photo 3 above, it will not create uninterrupted flow. The importance of the uninterrupted flows lies in the fact that fishes can migrate in upstream and the sediment can flow downstream regularly.
E-Flows| CWPRS| Irrigation Projects| IITs
The Notification (Para 3(3)) says that projects which are under construction will make provisions to make stipulated E-flow before commissioning of the project. While this appears welcome but this hides the fact that there is no stipulation here that this flow will be released in uninterrupted manner. Therefore as per the Notification, there is no need for the under-construction projects to redesign the dam so as to release the E-flows without interruption. We may mention here that the Central Water and Power Research Station, Pune had made report saying that it is indeed possible to release E-flows leaving and opening the dams. (see report here).
More serious is the recommendation of release of E-flows for the irrigation projects. The suggested figures in the Notification are 47 cubic meters per second (Cumecs) at Bhimgoda in Haridwar. The total flow at Haridwar is 23900 Cumecs as shown in the picture 4 below.The e-flows specified in the present notification are only 6 percent of the flow at Haridwar. Similarly in the Notification the suggested release is 24 cumecs at Narora. This is only 3 percent of the flow at Narora.
The present Notification is a white wash. It has not required release of E-flows from existing projects immediately. It has not required the under construction projects to redesign them to make interrupted release of E-flows. It has left open the construction of more projects by mentioning that the E-flows will be applicable also to future projects (Para 3(1)). It has specified E-flows for irrigation projects much below which are a pittance compared to the requirement.