Public Representatives Reject Environmental Impact Assessment of Thar Water Project

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GR Junejo

Mithi: The representatives of civil society of Tharparkar district on Tuesday at a public hearing rejected the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of Rs.20 billion mega project of Sindh government meant for providing the water resources for the development of Thar Coal utterly neglecting the water worries of the Thari people.

Sindh Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing at Darbar Hall of Deputy Commissioner Tharparkar in Mithi as part of the obligatory processing of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for a project of M/s Enertech Water Limited. Mr. Imran, Deputy Director of Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and Enertech Consultant Mahwish Rehman gave a detailed briefing.

“Holding the public hearing in the midst of the COVID crisis speaks the extraordinary importance the project has to Thar Coal’s development ignoring of peoples’ rights and voices – and most particularly of the indigenous people of Thar,” the representatives said.

The Enertech project aims to draw water from Chotiari reservoir of Sanghar district via the Makih-Farish link canal into two reservoirs – first at Nabisar and then via a pipeline to a second in Vajihar village ready for use in Thar Coal. Over 45 cusecs (40 million cubic meters per year) are expected to be drawn which amounts to almost 5% of the capacity of Chotiari reservoir.

One of the most overlooked aspects of coal power production is the huge requirements of water. Thar Coal projects – both mining and power production in Block 2 requires 28 billion liters per annum.

The representatives said that the project fails to explain how an already water scarce Sindh can provide such significant diversions from other water uses. “No explanation has been given to the many farmers whose share of water will have dried up. It is estimated that 23,000 acres of land will be affected by this withdrawal from the irrigation system. No accounting to these water users has been made,” they said.

They referred to a recent independent report on Air Pollution in Thar by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) which has highlighted the failures and inadequacies in EIA’s associated with Thar. “This failure and inadequacy have been repeated in Enertech’s EIA,” they said.

According to them while planning to build a reservoir in the middle of the desert, the obvious concern of evaporation has not been considered, as one estimate is that just short of half the water in Vajihar reservoir will suffer from evaporation losses every year. With this evaporation comes the ever increasing pile of salt that will reduce the capacity of the reservoir. Supplementary technical concerns are also omitted in the EIA indicating the flawed nature of EIA’s as used in Pakistan. The EIA also ignores a range of customary rights in land designated for acquisition.

It was further pointed out by representations at the public hearing that the work on the project has already begun despite the EIA still being at the review stage.

“It remains to be seen how seriously the Sindh Government responds to these failures, glaring and deliberate omissions. But more importantly in how it provides for such a massive drain on its own water resources in pursuance of producing power from a polluting and expensive source of energy – making Thar a dead zone of pollution for decades to come,” they remarked.

Adv Leela Ram in his comments said that EIA report is completely silent on allocation of water for public utilization and power plants- it seems public utilization is used to justify illegal taking over of irrigation water for coal power plants.

“EIA is also completely silent on impact on irrigation of the area of diversion of water for power plants. Moreover, bifurcation of a single project to different components results in concealment of actual adverse social and environmental effect of the project. SEPA before taking any decision on EIA of this project must direct irrigation department to study cumulative impact of diversion of the water in huge quantity on irrigation in the area,” he suggested.

He further said that the EIA report is silent on use of water for power plants. Will it be used for cooling purposes? If yes, then it will be great injustice with people of area to deprive them from fresh water and provide fresh water to private corporations. What is justification of spending billions of rupees of public exchequer on a project beneficial for private companies? These companies installed water pole plants instead of air pole plants to save their money and now shifting this financial burden on public exchequer.

Activist Ali Akbar Rahimoon said that SEPA called public hearing for Thar coal block -II at Islamkot on Nov 12, 2012 on the occasion of Dewali and that was intentional effort to deprive the local people. The advertisement was in English which appeared in some newspapers. Another public hearing on Water Supply Scheme for Thar coal from Silore Mori-Nabisar Thar to Vejhiar on 28.10.2014 was held at Mirpurkhas in local hotel and for that no complete EIA document was provided. For EIA of Farash – Nabisar -Vejhiar water supply project EIA notice appeared on May 20, 2020 (during Eid holidays) in an English newspaper! These actions show negligence or might be intentional effort to exclude the local people.

He said in this report the Project Details are not clear. Mostly this EIA mentions only Nabisar reservoir, pipeline from Nabisar to Vejhiar and a reservoir at Nabisar but it is also mentioned about lined channel from Farsh to Nabisar but EIA process/details are not reflecting on that from where the water share will come, water quality, RoW for channel, land acquisition etc. are totally missing and that is why no EMP is given!

“Enertech Holding Company signed MoU on July 22, 2019 for this project and this project is of Rs.20 billion – that means previous work done at Nabisar, canal linked with LBOD and line laid upto Vejhiar and already constructed reservoir at Vejhiar is not part of this new initiative?” he questioned.

The study also does not provide a detailed map or locations of the project right of way, site boundary, location of permanent project sites such as the filtration plant, powerhouse, permanent residential area and temporary sites such as construction camps, temporary access routes etc.

The public representatives also raised objections regarding failure of EIA in addressing the displacement threats the villages and the fauna and flora of the area. There are several populous villages falling on the route of the project. Moreover, incorrect data has been provided and that too in English, which the local people cannot understand. Rejecting the EIA report, the public representatives viewed that the Consultants of the company seem to be inefficient, unaware of the demographic situation, geography and such other things of this area.