Climate Change

27th Dharati Jatan Annual Festival Honoured Eco-warriors: A Different Conference of Parties that Actually Addresses Climate Change

It was certainly a Conference of Party (COP) of sorts. Those present included farmers, women, academics, media persons, delegates from other states (Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi), Non Government Organisations and elected representatives. It also happens to be an annual event that has been going on for 27 years. It was certainly celebrating the work that actually helped mitigation and adaptation in changing climate in both drought and flood related possibilities. It was also happening on the same dates as the COP 19 was going on far away in Warsaw, Poland.

One of the two streams of Yatra arrives at Nagar
One of the two streams of Yatra arrives at Nagar

It was an honour for me to be present at Nagar village in Malpura block in Tonk district in Rajasthan at the 27th annual Dharati Jatan conference where the Pad Yatra from two different streams that culminated. Five eco warriors were honoured at this meeting with a certificate, silver medal, shawl and other ceremonial gifts. They were being honoured for their work related to tree plantation, soil and water conservation and protection of grazing land.

As speakers at the conference on November 16, 2013 narrated, this annual festival is a remarkable achievement by the Gram Vikas Nav Yuvak Mandal at Laporiya in Dudu block in Jaipur district, led by Laxman Singh, now famous for his grazing land protection through the unique chauka system.

The Yatra prepares for the worship of the Nagar village tank
The Yatra prepares for the worship of the Nagar village tank

Experience of the marchers The leaders of two streams of marchers presented their experience. Rameshbhai Saini, leader of the first stream that marched through the 15 villages of Dudu block (Jaipur district) also mentioned the difficulties people are facing. For example, he mentioned how Phulsagar, one of the tanks  in Laporia is encroached and communities’ efforts to remove the encroachment did not succeed as the encroacher had the support of the Rajasthan minister Babulal Nagaur who is also the member of the Legislative assembly from the local area.

Ramjilalji, the leader of the second stream that walked through Malpura block villages (Tonk district) starting from Sindolia village, also said that  encroachments on tanks are  increasing under  political support and when volunteers try to remove such encroachments to save the water bodies, they are faced with court cases. He also said that the state government is laying long distance pipelines and building cement containers to bring the water from mega dam Bisalpur to the villages in the area. He very pertinently asked, will we allow our water harvesting culture to be destroyed since now we have this piped water supply? Reflecting unconvincingly on this dilemma, the letter from state government’s principle secretary Purushottam Agarwal (he was supposed to come for the function, but had to travel elsewhere due to some family emergency and hence sent a letter) suggested that the pipelines are only for drinking water and tanks that the GVNML has helped build are for irrigation and other purposes. The fact is that the state government made no effort to consult the people before coming up with the pipeline scheme. Kesarbhai, active in Mahoba district in Uttar Pradesh described the Apna Talab Abhiyaan through which already 70 talabs (tanks built with earthen bunds) have been built in less than a year.

Participants from other states Pankaj Shrivastava from Mahoba appreciated that communities in GVNML area have system of imposing fines when anyone is caught polluting the lakes (as reflected in the wall writing in the photo below at the Nagar village tank).

The wall writing at the tank in Nagar village explains the fine system
The wall writing at the tank in Nagar village explains the fine system

He also said that the communities in their area is trying to clean up Kiratsagar lake in Mahoba through a focused campaign since Oct 5, 2013. Mavjibhai from Vivekanand Research & Training Institute, Bhuj (Kutch in Gujarat) said that they plan to take up implementation of chauka system in 55 villages along the 60 km long Rukmawati river in their area.

The Awards The five awards presented on this occasion were indeed very well deserved ones. The managing committee of Akodiya village (Dist Ajmer) was recognised for the tradition of collective management of common property resources including grazing land and water harvesting systems. 

certificate 1

Rajjak Sheikh of village Tikel (Block Dudu in Jaipur district) was honoured for planting long living trees like peepal, Banyan, neem and other local varieties along the tank embankment over the last five years through his own efforts. He also got the fisheries contract given for the village tank canceled and got some of the hunters caught at his own personal risk.

certificate 2

Next, Shravanlal Jaat, a shepherd of village Kalyanpura (Dudu, Jaipur) was given the Dhudhad Ratan prize for consistently planting large number of trees in grazing land and along the village tank with his own personal effort and expenses for more than five years and also taking care of the planted trees.

certificate 3

Efforts of Umrao Godha, a relatively rich man of village  Jhirota in Ajmer district were recognised for transforming the village with institutions like school, health centre and also for planting and taking care of large number of villages. Enthused villagers elected him as village head.

certificate 4

Khivsingh Rajput, an old man of Bikhraniya Kalan village from relatively far off Nagaur district (Marwad area) was also honoured for his 20 year old campaign in the village to plant long living Banyan and other trees in very dry area. He also inspired people to donate money and collected Rs 5 lakhs to deepen, renovate and strengthen the village tank.

certificate 5

Relevance for climate change The work of GVNML in the region is remarkable in many respects. The water conservation work helps recharge the groundwater and this water is then available in years of deficit rainfall, the frequency of which is bound to increasing in warming climate. Similarly, the whole area has created such a remarkable water conservation system that even when rainfall is excessive, this area will not face any floods since the water will be stored and only slowly released. The soil here has increased carbon content which also helps hold the moisture much longer, thus helping overcome the dry spells which has also increased in recent years. Thus it is clear that the that is underway over the last over three decades under GVNML has huge implications in the climate change context. The COP 19 talks at Warsaw remains deadlocked, waiting for some façade to emerge to show progress, this different COP 27 at Nagar shows so much progress is possible when the communities are at the helm of the affairs. It is doubtful though that the lessons from COP 27 at Nagar will have any impact on COP 19 at far away Warsaw.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

 

Hydropower · Hydropower Performance · Western Ghats

Story of a free-flowing stretch of Kali River in Karnataka

River Kali, before it enters Dandeli in Karnataka is a breathtaking sight..

Its waters are emerald green, flowing steadily. Its banks are thickly forested with a continuous canopy. Endemic species like Malabar Giant Squirrel, Malabar Pied Hornbills, Malabar Gray Hornbills are a common sight here. Down the river, a monitor lizard is stretched across a branch, low over the waters. Fishing eagles and several kinds of Kingfishers look for fish. Fisher folk hover along the banks in beautiful coracles, laying hooks in the riparian vegetation.

During our visit to the Kali, my six-year-old  swam in the river and could not believe that the river back in his home-town was once as clear as this!

Emerald waters of the Kali Photo: Author
Emerald waters of the Kali Photo: Author

It’s hard to imagine that it was a touch-and-go for this stretch of Kali…

If it were not for some brave, timely advocacy and strong local action, most of this stretch would have been submerged. Rest of the river would have been diverted through a tunnel or silenced in a steady pool of a reservoir: the way many Indian rivers are silenced. There would have been no river, no riparian forests and possibly no swimming.

Malabar Pied and Malabar Gray Hornbills on the banks of Kali Photo: Author
Malabar Pied and Malabar Gray Hornbills on the banks of Kali Photo: Author

Dams on Kali: Kali has seen far too much damming. According to Kali Bachao Andolan, a network of organizations working to protect Kali River, more than 5 dams across the river have already submerged 32,000 acres of forests in the Western Ghats. According to Karnataka Power Corporation website, “The west flowing Kalinadi has its origin at an elevation of 900 m, near the DiggiVillage in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. Its 180-km long journey ends at the Arabian Sea near Karwar.”

Kalimap1

After its origin, it’s dammed at Supa in Joida Taluk of the Uttara Kannada District. The submergence of Supa Dam is a site to behold. Stretching endlessly like an ocean, this dam submerged more than 24 villages and hundreds of hectares of forests. One of the dam evictees, an old, frail man now tells me, “Even now in summers, when the waters recede, I can see my village and my temple. We try to go there some times. I can see all my past life there, for a brief period, before it all goes under water again”.

Extensive submergence of the Supa Dam Photo: Author
Extensive submergence of the Supa Dam Photo: Author

genrationKali

Downstream the 101 m-high Supa Dam (100 MW), the river flows down through Dandeli town, taking huge pollution from West Coast Paper Mills on the way. From here it is dammed at Bomanhalli Pick up Dam, from where it is diverted to Nagazhari Powerhouse (870 MW), then to Kodasalli Dam and powerhouse (120 MW) and then at Kadra Dam and powerhouse (150 MW).  If we look at the flow chart of Kali Nadi Dams, the river seems to be flowing from one reservoir into the next, with nearly no free flowing river stretch between two dams. Its main tributaries Kaneri and Tatihalla have been dammed too.[1] The power generation performance of Kali dams for the last 27 years is shown in the graph above.

There is a stretch downstream the Supa dam to Bomanhalli Pick up dam, where the Kali still flows. This again is controlled flow, regulated by the Supa Dam. But this is the precise stretch which was also targeted to be dammed in 2000’s. An 18 MW project by Murudeshwar Power Corporation Limited (MPCL) was proposed to come up at Mavlangi village downstream Supa Dam. According to Kali Bachao Andolan, it would have meant submergence of 210 hectares of land, including 70 hectares of forest land, next to the Dandeli Sanctuary. Kali Bachao Andolan, including Parisar Samrakshana Samiti, Sirsi and Environment Support Group (ESG), Bangalore, highlighted that Uttar Kannada District only needed 17 MW electricity (in 2000) while it was producing more than 1200 MW electricity and one more dam at a huge social and ecological costs cannot be justified. More importantly, ESG exposed that the Rapid EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) report done by reputed consultancy Ernst and Young for the proponent, was in fact a copy-paste of a different EIA, done by a different agency for a different river! A strong campaign was built around this, which garnered public and media support.

Guide from one of the homestay-resorts, a resident of Dandeli Photo: Author
Guide from one of the homestay-resorts, a resident of Dandeli Photo: Author

In 2006, the Forest Advisory Committee of the MoEF rejected Forest Clearance for this project. The project was also strongly opposed internally within the Karnataka Government by the Department of Tourism. Surprisingly, MoEF did not book the EIA agent (Ernst and Young) or the proponent (MPCL) for submitting an entirely false report! Even more shockingly, this EIA was later done by TERI (The Energy Research Institute), which also completed the study in one month and came up with a dubious report based on secondary data. However, strong opposition from local groups, ESG, and even within Karnataka Government resulted in rejection of the proposal by a number of authorities, including the Department of Industries and Collectorate of Uttar Kannada. Since then, the project has tried to raise its head again, only to be opposed strongly.[2]

Fishing along the Kali in the early morning Photo: Author
Fishing along the Kali in the early morning Photo: Author

Around 10 years down the line, what does this small stretch of free flowing river mean?

I traveled in Uttara Kannada as a tourist in November 2013. A thriving tourism industry now exists on the banks of Kali and the river is now world-renowned as one of the best rivers for white-water rafting in India. There is boating, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, fishing along this stretch of the river. Pools and islands in the river provide perfect habitats for various species as well as for naturalists and bird watchers. The range of recreational activities that take place along the river are endless. Fishermen still lay their nets across this stretch and catch some fish (though I was told that fish greatly reduced after Supa Dam was commissioned in 1985). Along the banks of the river in this stretch, a thick riparian forest flourishes, providing habitat and corridor to several species.

But more importantly, this tiny stretch is a reminder of how this great river once was. A humbling reminder.

According to Lal, now a boatman and guide from Dandeli, the river stretch which could have been dammed, now provides tourism related employment to around 1000 people from around the region. The region supports around 8 resorts and several homestays. It has created multiple employment opportunities for locals like naturalists, guides, white-water trainers, etc.  Some of the locals are descendants of the Supa Dam evictees. One of them says, “The relocated colony of Supa evictees is called Ramnagara, actually it is Vanvasanagara. If it were not for the tourism, I would have migrated to Goa or Belgaon.  We saw the fate of Supa dam displaced and would not allow one more dam, no matter how small or big, to affect us again.”

Many ways to enjoy a flowing river: Rafting, canoeing, swimming Photo: Author
Many ways to enjoy a flowing river: Rafting, canoeing, swimming Photo: Author

The struggle against 18 MW mini hydel has been significant in a number of ways. EIA and public hearing for the project were the two events where protests were recorded. It was through these platforms that the extent of the impacts of the projects was known and could be opposed. However, after this, a newer version of EIA Notification was adopted in Sept 2006 which excludes hydel projects below 25 MW from its ambit! This has been a ecologically senseless move as projects which have severe impacts on the ecology do not even need a public hearing and an EIA now! We, and several experts and organizations, have raised this point a number of times with the MoEF, but MoEF is yet to respond.

One more strong point of the struggle was a more than 20-year-old order by Karnataka government categorically stating that since the Kali river is so heavily dammed (five major dams on this short 186 kilometre long river, destroying most of its forests and displacing thousands of tribal and forest dwelling communities), no more dams, big or small, shall be allowed further across this river. This has been a very significant order.

Even today, when more and more bumper to bumper dams in the Himalayas and Western Ghats are killing our rivers, our Ministry of Environment and Forests does not have a clear guideline for protecting certain stretches of rivers from dams or declaring them as no-dam stretches. There exists no such order protecting over-dammed, collapsing rivers.The only report which actually recommended that 24 dams in the Upper Ganga basin should be dropped due to their impact on ecosystems, has not been complied with by the MoEF. Dams are coming up in cascades, without leaving any free-flowing riverine stretch between two projects. Nothing is being done about this. The MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects now has a weak norm of leaving a bare kilometer of flowing river between projects. But this norm too gets twisted and violated.

Avay Shukla committee appointed by Himachal Pradesh High Court recommended that projects should have at least 5 kilometers of free flowing river between them. But MoEF does not seem to support this. In fact, a flowing river seems to have no value in our governance system.

However, as the Kali experience shows, a flowing river is good for ecology and is good for the people too.

Let us take this opportunity to thank the Kali Bachao Andolan and the local communities for protecting the last remaining free flowing stretch of Kali… so that we can catch a glimpse of how a free-flowing river looks like!

– Parineeta Dandekar

Local children rafting along the Kali Photo: Author
Local children rafting along the Kali Photo: Author