Tehri, Earthquaqes and Bureauracy
If you were India´s seniormost bureaucrat on water resources, would you look kindly on a workshop meant to study "Earthquake Hazard and Large Dams in the Himalaya", one that happened to be the first of a series on Science and Public Policy aimed at "enhancing transparency and public visibility of the critical issues involved in important matters of public policy"?
Not CD.Thatte, Secretary of India´s Ministry of Water Resources. Knowing that the discussions in the Delhi meeting (15-16 January) would inevitably focus on the proposed Tehri Dam in Garhwal, Thatte sent a letter around to all Government participants advising them that all matters connected with Tehri were "sub judice" (two environmentalists had filed a petition in the Supreme Court). If Thatte´s intent was to restrict official participation, he did well.
Official displeasure notwithstanding, the meeting, organised by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the Wadia Institue of Himalayan Geology and a few other organisations, did provide a forum for over a hundred Indian and Western academics, earthquake engineers, civil servants and politicians to hear each other out and share experiences.
The workshop format was interesting: experts in relevant disciplines delivered their opinions to an eminent panel of MPs and (mostly retired) bureaucrats, which was chaired by Justice Ranganath Mishra, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This panel then weighed the evidence and made its recommendations.
In his introductory remarks Himalayan geology, >. Valdiya of Kumaon iversity raised the question ether high dams were ´isable at all in the ¦dynamically active terrain of Himalaya. Vinod Gaur, isibly India´s most tinguished seismologist, vided background on the imic gap in the Garhwal/ aiaon/West Nepal region, ! ventured that a great
ground accelerations" at Tehri) said that the essential issue was the degree of risk involved, and whether such risk is acceptable.
on Himalayan geology, K.S. Valdiya of Kumaon University raised the question whether high dams were advisable at all in the geodynamically active terrain of the Himalaya. Vinod Gaur, possibly India´s most distinguished seismologist, provided background on the seismic gap in the Garhwal/ Kumaon/West Nepal region, and ventured that a great earthquake (+8 on the Richter
scale) is likely during the life of the proposed dam at Tehri due to the accumulation of tectonic stresses.
What would happen to the dam if such a quake were to strike was a question for the formidable array of earthquake engineers present. Noting that all structures involve a degree of risk, Bruce Bolt of the University of California at Berkeley (whose work has been used by Indian engineers in calculating the likely "peak
ground accelerations" at Tehri) said that the essential issue was the Various other worthies, serving and retired, weighed in •with comments on balancing environment with development, though unfortunately not one from among the Tehri Dam´s designers thought it prudent to attend. In sum, the workshop provided additional insights into degree of risk involved, and whether such risk is acceptable.
Various other worthies, serving and retired, weighed in •with comments on balancing environment with development, though unfortunately not one from among the Tehri Dam´s designers thought it prudent to attend. In sum, the workshop provided additional insights into the many complexities and uncertainties in current scientific knowledge of the behaviour of large structures during major earthquakes. All the specialists present seemed to agree that the Himalaya is the only area on earth where dams are being built in the most precarious of seismic conditions which also have densely populated downstream areas.
Speaking obliquely in defence of dam-building at Tehri was Liam Finn, a professor of engineering from British Colombia University of Canada. Finn believed that the present design (basically a Canadian one) was quite safe but required more thorough testing than had been conducted so far. He advised that the dam model be shaken with increasing amount of acceleration till it failed, so that the design´s outer limits of stability could be known.
It is not only dam models that require shaking, however. Powerful civil servants, not only in India but all over the Himalayan rimland, must be shaken roughly so that they emerge from their bureaucratic stupor and begin to visualise the havoc of the day when a Himalayan high dam collapses and when a prior warning would be useless.
Replicating Success in Pakistan
What do you do when a development programme is perceived by all to be ´successful´? You clone it, expand it, replicate it. That is what Pakistan´s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif obviously wants to do with the much-praised Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) of Gilgit-Hunza-Baltistan fame.
In early 1991, the Prime Minister called AKRSP´s prime mover, Magsasay Awardee Shoaib Sultan Khan and asked him to set up the NRSP, the National Rural Support Programme, with a mandate to replicate the AKRSP´s success in other underdeveloped areas of Pakistan based on its formula of social action programmes and community participation. The NRSP was registered with the Government in November 1991 and two months ago, with Khan as advisor, NRSP began work from a room at the AKRSP´s Islamabad office.
There were immediately questions raised, particularly by NGOs active in the Punjabi and
Sindhi regions of "mainland Pakistan", about whether this taking of AKRSP "to scale" was possible or even advisable. The AKRSP´s community-based programmes in the Northern Areas were good, they said, but were dependent upon certain factors that would not be forthcoming elsewhere in the country, such as the unquestioning acquiescence of the Ismaili community of Gilgit has towards the development dictates of the Aga Khan. Besides, say the nay-sayers, the AKRSP is resource-rich and is able to provide intensive expertise and material support (it owns two helicopters) in a way that the government can never do country-wide.
An independent World Bank review team which studied AKRSP in mid-1987, had pointed to local features and management characteristics which made the programme unique. They were, among others,"… pent-up development potential of a formerly isolated area; lack of institutional
competitors due to the partial political and social vacuum; easy contacts and working relationships due to AKRSP´s affiliation with the Aga Khan; the unusual government support and attention due to the area´s strategic and political significance," and so on.
However, the review was positive about the overall achievements of the ARKSP. It concluded that it was the project´s effective institution-building at the village level that had led to the success achieved, and the changed attitudes towards development in the Northern Areas could be termed a "solid
Najma Siddiqi, Director of the NRSP, was well-prepared to respond to caticism about taking AKRSP to scale.
In a hurriedly arranged phone interview in Islamabad, she
said. "Certainly we cannot go to the rest of Pakistan using the same formula that was applied by the AKRSP," Siddiqi said. "You do not replicate a model, especially when there are different cultures and different geographies. But the basic principle remains the same everywhere, that you need a grassroots structure and the community must participate if there is to be development"
Three basic factors that are applicable everwhere from AKRSP´s experience, says Siddiqi, are "the need to organise, encourage savings, capital formation, and skill development."
"Obviously the NRSP is not expecting to replicate the entire package of programmes, and we are aware that things are much more complicated in the plains."
The AKRSP is already a must-see for mountain developmentologists from all over. Perhaps the success or failure of the NRSP to take off from AKRSP will provide even more knowledge on the replica¬tion of so-called successful projects elsewhere in the region. What remains is to wish NRSP well and to wait and see.
he latest on Bhutan: His Majesty King Jigme flies down to New Delhi to show solidarity with the people of India; Bhutan signs an agreement with India on the preparation of the 1825 megawatt Sankosh hydro power project; reliable updated figures put the number of Lhotshampa refugees in the Jhapa camps at 77,000 by late January. In Thimphu, basic services in hospitals, schools and offices are said to have been curtailed due to lack of manpower.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International released its long-awaited report on "Human Rights Violations against the Nepali-speaking Population of the South", based on a visit to Bhutan back in January 1992. The document describes Amnesty´s concern at reports of human rights violations occurring in Southern Bhutan since late 1990; welcomes some Bhutanese measures such as the decision to invite the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the country; and urges the Government to immediately release all prisoners of conscience, bring to trial those held on recognizable criminal offences, and take measures to prevent torture and ill-treatment. The report does not deal specifically with the question of refugees. (Incidentally, an editorial note in The Times of India which claims that the Amnesty report gives Thimphu "a virtual clean chit" should be read with a pinch of rock salt.)
The ICRC team did visit, and according to Drukpa tradi¬tion, was lavishly treated. It interviewed some Lhotshampa detainees and many officials.
The United States´ Department of State released a "Country Report on Human Rights" on Bhutan, which was prepared for presentation to Congress. Unable to go beyond secondary information in most cases (the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Thimphu), the report banks on what it considers reliable information. It goes beyond non-committal Amnesty phraseology, however, to say, for example, that corroborating information "lends credence" to claims by Lhotsampa refugees of disappearance, torture, etc.
Much of the report is descriptive and non-accusatory, but the State Department summarises its findings as follows: "In recent years assimilation has given way to Bhutanization… The (1985) citizenship law retroactively stripped citizenship from Nepalese immigrants who could not document their presence in Bhutan prior to 1958 and ethnic Nepalese bom in Bhutan who could not prove that bod) their parents satisfied the requirements for citizenship under the 1985 law. These are nearly impossible requirements in a country with widespread illiteracy, which only recently adopted administrative procedures. Tens of thousands were declared to be illegal immigrants and were forcibly evicted from the country. Still more fled the country voluntarily in the face of officially sanctioned pressure, reportedly including arbitrary arrests, beatings, rape, robbe¬ries, and other forms of intimi¬dation by police and army."
Foggy Bottom apparently prefers to believe that its estimated 100,000 refugees (in Nepali camps and those living with relatives in India) are Bhutanese and not Nepali-speakers from the Indian Northeast as Thimphu would have it. Says the report, "In a Bhutan population of less than 700,000, the departure of over 100,000 people constitutes a major demographic change."
His Majesty Overkills
The interviews King Jigme Singye Wangchuk gave some Delhi papers on 7 January were surprising and revealing. Apparently, a calculated decision had been taken back in Thimphu to make the most of the failure of Nepali diplomacy on the refugee issue, and the Indian Government´s vulnerability following Ayodhya. Following is a quick rundown of what His Majesty had to say.
Surprisingly for the Head of State of a SAARC member which stands to gain perhaps the most from a one-country-one-vote membership in the organisation, the King told Kamaljeet Rattan of The Economic Times (who sacreiigiously insists on addressing the Druk Gyalpo as "Mr. Wangchuk") that SAARC could not play a meaningful role in resolving disputes among member nations. He went a step further to state categorically that he did not see much future in regional cooperation among South Asian nations.
On Ayodhya Kanda of 6 Dec. "India is our closest friend and ally and Bhutan would never be found wanting it its friendship towards India even during the most difficult times."
On the issue of "illegal Nepali migrants who were driven out of Bhutan", His Majesty called upon the Nepali Government to clarify its position. Asserting that his Government had "no intention of allowing non-Bhutanese to settle in Bhutan", he said, however, that Nepal had not yet made known its "intentions" over the conlen-tious issue. "The issue has to be resolved on a bilateral level. We have to first know what Nepal wants." ("A return of refugees, perhaps, King?"Nepali Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala might have asked, if the SAARC Summitever were to be held for the two´s long-postponed one-on-one.)
The King is obviously peeved with Nepal for hosting refugees from his land, but some have wondered if it was necessary for a Head of State of a till-recently-friendly-neighbour to rake up the Tarai question. King Wangchuck wondered aloud whether "Nepal wants to create a Nepali state in India because it has eight million Biharis in its Terai region." Ooops.
Next was that Greater Nepal matter. On the one hand, the King was fearful that the areas "dominated by Nepalis", Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Sikkim and the Dooars, were "fast becoming a Nepali entity". Bhutan´s greater fear, however, was that it could be reduced to a "satellite state".
Fear of the red star over Druk Yul apparently runs deep. The King told the Indian media that all the refugees were joining the Communists in eastern Nepal, a known Communist stronghold, he said. "So if all the refugees are thrown back into Bhutan, we will for the first time in pur history have a pro-Communist lobby."
A transcript would be useful, to check if this reported conversation.really did take place. Thus far, there has been no denial from Thimphu.
Can Bangladesh´s Rivers be Tamed?
fresh look at the historical course of the Subcontinent´s powerful Himalayan rivers casts doubt on the appropriateness of the multi-billion dollar World Bank-backed Flood Action Plan for Bangladesh.
A major part of the Plan involves the embanking of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. But these rivers carry such enormous energy and sediment that they may rapidly shift their courses, as Jayanta Bandyopadhyay and Dipak Gyawali illustrate in a forthcoming study of Himalayan river management ( "Some Basic Issues in the Management of Himalayan Water Resources"). The two Kathmandu-based ecologists question whether embankments are feasible and recall that due to "interventions made without adequate knowledge of the natural ecological factors," flooding has actually been compounded in the past in similar cases.
Flooding, insists the study, is common throughout the flat plains around the Himalaya. It is "an important natural process which has shaped the land from the Yangtse basin in the East to the Indus basin in the West." Intense periods of high rainfall, such as when on 5 August 1969 the upper Teesta basin experienced 3000 mm of rain in 72 hours, are a meteorological inevitability just as floods in the plains are "an ecological inevitability", it states.
But there are other factors also peculiar to Himalayan rivers. They carry rriuch more than water — huge quantities of solids eroded from the geologically weak uplands. Also, floods tend to be more destructive if they reach the confluences simultaneously, as was the case in 1988, when the Ganga and Brahmaputra peak flows coincided and Bangladesh´s Flood Action Plan was bom in the hand-wringing that followed.
High energy, high sediment and high volume give Himalayan rivers extraordinary mobility, strikingly visible in the eastern Himalayan foot-hill rivers. Bandyopadhyay and Gyawali have studied old records and the maps of early British explorers which clearly show this unusual mobility. The adjoining map,, adapted from an
article (in Bengali) by Aminur Rahman ("Bangladesher Bonya — Bangladeshi Motamat"), shows shifting courses between 1736 and today of major rivers such as the Brahmaputra, Teesta and Kosi.
The Kosi has moved more than 115 km westwards, while the Teesta, "one of the most
flash-flood prone rivers of the eastern Himalaya", defected from the Ganga basin to the Brahmaputra basin during the last 250 years. Even the Brahmaputra, the largest river of the Himalaya, has shifted westwards and today joins the Ganga instead of the Meghna, into which it used to flow about 200 years ago, as shown by a
map dating from 1789.
Why wouid the Brahmaputra join up with the Ganga? The two ecologists maintain that due to several floods and as a result of the Teesta joining it, over time the Brahmaputra decided to use the river bed of an old river, the Jenai, and move over into the
Could embanking then prove worthwhile?
As early as in 1964 the Dutch hydrologist, Thijsee, had warned against embankments: "The danger would be very real that an improvement of conditions in one place (with embankments] would result in a catastrophe somewhere else".