What exactly is ‘Scoping’ mentioned above with respect to the 520 MW Teesta IV project? Under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006, development projects and activities which require environmental clearance are categorized as Category A and B. Category A projects are evaluated for environmental clearance by the MoEF in New Delhi and Category B projects by a State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) constituted by the Central Government at the state level. As far as hydroelectric projects are concerned, projects greater than or equal to 50 MW are Category A projects. Projects which are greater than or equal to 25 MW and less than 50 MW are Category B projects. Category A projects (such as Teesta IV and Rangit II) need to go through a 3 stage process for environmental clearance – Scoping, Public Consultation and Appraisal. ‘Scoping’ stage is the first stage evaluation of the project wherein the EAC may give detailed Terms of Reference (ToR) for conduct of EIA studies for the project and a clearance for pre-construction activities such as conduct of various investigations and studies. However, if the site is felt to be inappropriate on environmental and social grounds, the MoEF based on recommendations of the EAC can reject the project at this stage itself. The EAC may choose to conduct a site visit in order to give its recommendations, which is what the EAC on River Valley & Hydroelectric projects has done for the 520 MW Teesta IV project on April 20th. They will now meet today to discuss the future of the Teesta IV project.
The ongoing marathon protests of the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) have highlighted the many socio-cultural and environmental concerns associated with the development of a juggernaut of mega dams in the state in general and Dzongu in particular. With Sikkim’s ambitious plans to harness the hydroelectric potential of the Teesta river basin through a mega plumbing exercise involving a maze of dams and tunnels criss-crossing the entire state’s landscape (see map), the question which comes to ones mind is: Will the Teesta be allowed to flow free in any stretch of the river at all? For a while let’s keep aside the many tributaries and focus on the main stem of the Teesta river, formed after the Lachung Chu and Lachen Chu join near Chungthang. At least four consecutive mega hydroelectric projects are planned on the main Teesta in Sikkim in the stretch from Chungthang to where the river enters North Bengal. These are the 1200 MW Teesta III, 520 MW Teesta IV, 510 MW Teesta V and 500 MW Teesta VI. All these so called 'run-of-the-river' hydroelectric projects involve the construction of large dams which divert the river waters through long tunnels, before the water is dropped back into the river at a downstream location after passing through a powerhouse. The long tunnels ensure that long stretches of the river are bypassed for each project, for example 23 km. of the river is bypassed for the already commissioned Teesta V project. In the winter months 85-90% of the river flow will be diverted through the tunnels. Throughout the year the river will be in full flow only in very brief stretches between two consecutive hydropower projects. The MoEF based on the recommendations of the EAC has already granted environmental clearance to three out of the four projects referred to above in the past – 1200 MW Teesta III, 510 MW Teesta V and 500 MW Teesta VI. Teesta III & VI are under construction while Teesta V is already commissioned.
The three under construction or commissioned projects (Teesta III, Teesta V, and Teesta VI) will directly impact at least 71 km. of the main Teesta river. This includes 63 km. due to bypassed stretches of the river in which the flow will be minimal and at least 7.6 km being the cumulative length of the reservoirs in the main Teesta river (not including the reservoir length along some of the tributaries). If the Teesta IV project is allowed to come up, an additional 12.12 km (7.75 km bypassed stretch of the river and 4.37 km being length of the reservoir), the last free stretch of the main Teesta river in the upper reaches, will be destroyed. Totally around 83 km of the river will be directly (and seriously) impacted in Sikkim. The only stretch of the river which will be able to flow free is downstream of the Teesta VI project, a major portion of which flows along the Sikkim – West Bengal border. It is absolutely important that the last remaining stretch of the main Teesta river in its upper reaches in Sikkim (between the Teesta III and Teesta V projects) is allowed to flow unfettered to respect both the ecological and cultural heritage of a river which is closely associated with the identity of Sikkim. The only way this can happen is if the Teesta IV project is scrapped. Counter arguments are being made that a little over 20% of the lean season flow will be there in the bypassed stretch of the Teesta IV project (between dam and powerhouse) due to releases from the dam and incremental additions by other tributaries. But when the ecological integrity of the main Teesta river has already been compromised to such a large extent in Sikkim by the three existing mega projects, we need to allow full (100%) flow at least in this stretch of the river between Teesta III and Teesta V.
It is to be seen if the EAC will allow the last remaining stretch of the main Teesta river in Sikkim between the Teesta III and Teesta V project to flow free. It does not require the conduct of further impact assessment studies to realise that the coming of the Teesta IV project will be the final nail in the coffin of the main Teesta river in Sikkim, since the other three mega projects mentioned above are already commissioned or under development. The Teesta IV project should therefore be scrapped at the ‘Scoping’ stage itself because of the above mentioned reasons. It is certainly not unreasonable for citizens of the state and rest of the country to expect that at least some stretches of the main Teesta river in Sikkim are allowed to flow free.
There are many diverse issues associated with the pending decision on Teesta IV, but for the sake of this piece, I have focused on one of the key issues: Can the Teesta be allowed to flow free in at least the stretch of the river between Teesta III & V? ACT has led a remarkable struggle to raise these issues until now. But its time for other citizens of the state to answer a question about a river so closely associated with the identity of Sikkim: Are we going to simply watch as the last nail is hammered into the river’s coffin?
source: Sikkim Express