Much has been talked about PPPs (Public Private Partnerships, a euphemism for privatisation) in urban water supply sector. After National Water Policy 2012 spelled water as an economic good, PPP water projects have spurred further across cities all over India.
Concession agreement between the Municipal Corporation and the private company awarded with the contract is a mode of PPP widely used in this sector. Many municipal corporations sign concession agreements in such a way that the concessionaire gets entirely exclusive rights on using the water infrastructure for purpose of water supply and also of billing & collection. This means that the more water the concessionaire sells, the more profit it earns.
While these agreements are signed assessing the financial feasibility of the projects, realistic studies of their impact on the water use from the dams or source at the back end are missing. So how do PPP projects interact with the water sources like dams which are the source of raw water for these agreements? We conducted a brief case study of 24×7 Water Supply PPP Project of Nagpur in Maharashtra. We see a strong link between demand stress on the dams and 24 x 7 water supply promotions, indicating that the 24×7 water supply projects which are pushed widely across the country may further increase the demand stress on the dams.
The central Indian city of Nagpur has been one of the earliest cities to opt for water supply PPP. The pilot project launched in Dharampeth Zone started in June 2007 and is now in the operational phase. Before the project could be critically assessed for its performance, the NMC (Nagpur Municipal Corporation) in November 2011 extended the PPP to entire City claiming that the demo project has already been successful[i]. Concession agreement was signed with Orange City Water Private Ltd. (OCWL) which is a joint venture of Vishvaraj Environment Pvt Ltd and Veolia Water (India) Private Ltd[ii].
It has to be understood at the outset that Dharampeth ward which was chosen as a demo ward[iii] already had average water supply of 18 to 20 hours a day. This ward also has abundant open wells which are used regularly by the consumers for non-potable uses. In fact the experts say that NMC has chosen the ward with least amount of water problems so that the project can be readily showcased as a success, but with such convenient selection, the NMC did not wait for the critical assessment of the performance of demo.
Water consumption increased after 24×7 Water Supply was launched in demo zone
PPP was launched on a pilot basis in this ward claiming multiple benefits. One of the benefits of 24×7 water supply claimed repeatedly is ‘reduced burden on water resources’. Continuous supply is said to reduce water wastage arising from overflowing storage systems and open taps. It is also said to save on stored household water that is discarded when new supply comes in. Because the distribution pipe network is repaired and renewed where needed before starting 24X7, it also reduces losses arising from leaks in the old pipes.
All this is said to result in reduced water use.
In Nagpur however the case has proved to be the opposite.
Administrative State College of India (ASCI), Hyderabad conducted Impact Assessment of the Pilot Project[iv]. The study found that during the demo project the target set for increase in billed volume was 10%. In reality, there was an actual increase of about 50%. Billed volume for Bajiprabhu Nagar (an area of about 2.5 to 4 SqKM in Dharampeth zone) which was 0.440 MLD, increased to 0.504 MLD. The billed volume[v] for Dharampeth zone increased from around 22 MLD before the project to 33 MLD by March 2010. While 24X7 water is not available to the poor in many slums, meter reading and bills have gone up by two to three times in non-slum area. The NMC officials claim that the increase in total water supplied[vi] to the pilot area from 45 MLD to 52 MLD, is a natural growth.
Findings of another study in which this author was involved are on similar lines. The study shows that the leakages after replacement pipes and leakage at consumer premises due to excess pressure in fact increased the wastage multifold. In addition the taps fitted for slum connections are of poor quality and keep leaking. This adds to the wastage. Non slum connection holders point out that 24 hours availability leads to more wasteful water use. They also mention that 3 to 4 hours of water supply with good force twice a day is much preferred than 24 hours water supply.
Print media reports in September 2011 state that water demand for Demo zone was 41.25 million litres per day (MLD) while the actual supply was 92.98 MLD[vii]. The figures had been quoted from information obtained from RTIs filed by corporator Vedprakash Arya. It was alleged that the additional 51.73 MLD more than the actual requirement has been the wastage from the leaking main pipelines & leakage at consumer premises. It was also alleged that this additional water has been provided to the Demo Zone by diverting water from other zones.
Mr.Arya also shows concern about increase in the water supply quantum when the project is implemented in the entire city. He says that NMC will have to arrange for over 1,000 MLD, which is impossible.
Nagpur receives water from the Pench dam at the cost of irrigation potential
While the demand in the city has been going up with introduction of 24×7 water supply, it will be interesting to take a look at what has been happening at the source of city’s raw water.
The Navegaon Khairi dam in the Parseoni forests from which the Nagpur City receives its raw water is a part of Pench Project, which incidentally straddles the Pench Tiger Reserve. The dam was constructed in 1977. The total water available for utilization at Navegaon Khairi dam is 965 M Cum (75% dependability). PRAYAS Resources & Livelihoods Groups has conducted a detailed case study of water allocation for the Nagpur City. The report presents startling facts. As per the report, the original allocation plan shows that the project was constructed primarily for irrigation purpose, with 79% of the planned water allocated for agriculture development and 21% allocated for non-irrigation purpose. NMC started drawing 112 MCuM water from the Navegaon Khairi dam between 1982 and 84. In 2001 NMC demanded allocation of additional 78 MCuM water to supply for the increased population. Allocating this share of water to NMC would essentially have to be at the cost of loss of irrigation potential. Hence temporary permission was granted to NMC and the city was specifically asked to lower their dependence on the Pench River. The water allocation was made permanent in August 2008 on two conditions –
1) NMC should pay the restoration cost[viii] of 8445 Ha at the rate of Rs 100 000/ha
2) NMC shall undertake treatment of waste water
The current water allocation to NMC from Pench RBC (Right Bank Canal) is 255.71 MCuM.
Kanhan River to be augmented as a future raw water source
After diverting the water from irrigation to urban water supply, NMC is all set to augment a fresh water source for the city’s growing thirst. The DPR (Detailed Project Report) prepared for 24×7 water supply states that NMC has prepared the master Plan for Water Supply to meet the water supply up to 2031 from identified sources. The future source for city would be proposed barrage on Kanhan River which will meet the water demand up to Year 2031. Kochi barrage and Jamghat will be required to be developed to meet water demand beyond 2031.
Accordingly NMC has started the process of to approve the project of constructing a barrage at the confluence of Kanhan and Kolara rivers[ix]. The project aims to increase water supply from Kanhan water treatment plant, which would benefit East, North and few parts of South Nagpur. NMC had constructed water treatment plant with installed capacity to treat 240 MLD water. However, the plant cannot function to full capacity due to shortage of raw water from Kanhan River. The plant can treat water stored in the barrage throughout the year.
A proposal has been tabled before the standing committee seeking approval for Rs 1.82 crore for the work. The standing committee was to give its nod in the meeting organized on July 14 (2014).
Case of Pilot 24×7 water supply project at Dharampeth zone is indicating that 24×7 water supply has increased water use by the consumers. It also indicates that the problem of leakage has actually increased in 24×7 water supply. The PPP agreements are drafted in such a way that the more water the concessionaire sells the more profit it earns. Quick look at the PPP agreements of Bhiwandi, Aurangabad, Latur will confirm this fact. In case of Nagpur the more water the private player bills the more profit he earns. This increases the demand pressure at the raw water source and may result in issues like water supplied at the cost of irrigation potential, and increase in the need of dam projects, with associated social, ecological and economic impacts.
Instead of managing the demand and promoting local options like as Rain Water Harvesting, reuse of treated sewage which will reduce the demand side stress on sources like dams, 24 x 7 water supply projects are widely promoted with the assumption that they will automatically mean less water use. No comprehensive assessment of performance of these projects has been done to actually assess initial claims. As in the case of Nagpur, the model seems to promote more wasteful use of water And is banking on more sources for this.
It is also significant to note here that these efforts are funded by the centre. Out of 17 JNNURM projects sanctioned for Nagpur, (till September 2013) eight projects are water supply sector related projects[x]. All of them are proposed to augment the present water supply source and to develop a raw water source. As the situation stands now, NMC has signed concession agreement with OCWL the entire city and is looking to augment more water sources like Kanhan River. On background of poor performance by OCWL during implementation of the project, this move saw signification local protests and opposition[xi].
There is an urgent need to assess the performance of PPP water supply schemes in terms of water use by the consumers which seems to be missing in the hoopla of promotion of PPPs. The alternative of greater democratization of urban water sector by increasing transparency, participation and accountability seems to be more imperative than PPP experiments.
– Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP. email@example.com
– National water policy 2012
– Detailed Project Report of 24×7 pilot project
– Unpublished study by PRAYAS Resources & Livelihoods Group: Water Diversion from Irrigation to Non-Irrigation Use in Pench Project
Although infamous for the failure of its large dam approach and the recent dam scam, Maharashtra has also been one of the most progressive states in the country when it comes to watershed development, participatory water management and a pioneering discourse surrounding equitable sharing of available water sources. The state has had a number of remarkable stories like Ralegan Siddhi, Hiware Bazaar, Soppecom’s work on water users associations in Waghad and Palkhed, work of Paani Panchayat, Afarm, etc., in addition to a number of centrally funded and state funded watershed programs like Drought Prone Area Program (DPAP), Integrated Wasteland Development Program (IWDP), Adarsh Gaon Yojana, etc. The state has had its share of stalwarts like Late Dr. Vilasrao Salunkhe, Anna Hazare, Popatrao Pawar, Late Dr. Mukundrao Ghare, Smt. Kalpanatai Salunkhe to name just a few. They talked about not only increasing water availability, but also allocating and managing the available water resources equitably and sustainably and many other facets of participatory watershed management which were strongly rooted in equity, gender sensitivity, social realities and ecological sustainability.
This overall context had a role to play even as Maharashtra faced one of its worst droughts in 2012-13. The devastating drought pushed some unique watershed initiatives across the state, some of which were directly supported by the state, many without any support.
We looked at a few successful stories of increasing water availability locally, through watershed or other simple measures. The common thread running through these examples is ‘local initiative’. It was experienced again that having local communities at the driving seat, with encouraging guidance from the experts and help from government agencies can lead to positive results.
At the same time, we came across some quick-fix watershed measures which are currently supported by the government and discuss if these can replace the holistic and long-term effort of participatory watershed management and equitable water distribution. The examples below are taken from an agricultural daily “Agrowon” and they are indicative in nature[i]. We have talked with the key people behind the initiatives to understand how the work evolved.
Naigaon village in chronically drought prone Ahmednagar desilts its village tank
Naigaon is a small village of around 5000 people in Jamkhed taluka of Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra. Although Khairi Irrigation Project on Khairi River in Jamkhed is just 3 kms from the village, it does not save Naigaon from water scarcity. Since the past few years, Naigaon has been increasingly facing acute water scarcity in post-February months and its dependence on tankers has increased.
The village has a tank: The Naigaon Tank, constructed by the Water Resources Department after the great drought of 1972. It extends over 42 hectares of land. However due to lack of maintenance, the tank was silted and its water storage had decreased substantially. The 2012-13 drought was the last straw for Naigaon. The tank, silted up and hardly holding any water was an eyesore for the villagers. In the summer of 2013, more than 1500 people of Naigaon came together to desilt the Naigaon tank by hand and by machines. The collective effort resulted in removing over 3 lakh cubic meters of silt from the tank!
Being farmers, they realized the value of this silt and it was spread over more than 250 hectares of agricultural land. The Tahsildar of Jamkhed Taluk, seeing the enthusiasm and initiative of the farmers, waived royalty on the silt. But apart from this, the initiative did not take any help from the government. Why did they do that? We asked Watershed Committee Chair Suresh Ugale. “We decided to get together and do something in late 2012-early 2013. We were afraid that if government schemes like MNREGA take time in sanctioning, then we will lose the monsoon of 2013. We did not want to lose a single monsoon and did all the work entirely on voluntary basis.”
In addition to desilting, the villagers, along with agriculture department carried out watershed works in the surrounding region which included Continuous Contour Trenching, nallah bunding and gulley plugging.
The results are evident. Due to desilting of the village tank, water levels for 30 to 40 surrounding wells have increased. Farmers have been lifting water directly from the tank too. Watershed works have also resulted in increase in water levels of other wells and an increase in soil moisture. This in turn has lead to more crop diversity. In kharif of 2013, 35 ha of additional land was cultivated with multiple crops like cotton, soybean, mung, urad, sugarcane and 18 ha of land was under horticulture. The villagers proudly proclaim that the lands where silt was spread are more productive. In the words of Yogesh Shinde, “My light soil did not allow me much crop choice. But the silt from the tank allowed me to grow jowar and udid ( black gram, a lentil) and fodder crops. We’ve indeed been fortunate this year.”
At the same time, it is worrying that area under sugarcane is also increasing. When asked about this, the watershed Committee chair says, “Yes, we’ve been trying to irrigate all new sugarcane by drip. But that is difficult. The subsidies don’t reach the poorer farmers who need it the most.” But it is clear that without active efforts, more water can mean more water guzzling sugarcane in Naigaon.
No tankers for Pingori village this year
Pingori village in Purandar taluka of Pune district is surrounded by hillocks from three sides. 80% of the land is hills and only 20% is cultivable. Although Pune region has a very high density of large dams, no canal water reaches Pingori. Veer dam lies about 15 to 20 km downstream of the village and plays no role in water supply to the village.
In 2013 the village faced acute drought. People who held lands on the hilly tracts were left with no option but to sell offs their lands. In the words of Babasaheb Shinde, a veteran from the village, ““There was hardly any income source in village without water. People were migrating to cities. We had to do something.”As the situation turned alarming, some villagers came together. It was accepted by all that the key to their challenge lay in water availability. Pingori had a village tank which was badly in need of maintenance and desilting. Despite several follow ups with Water Conservation Department, no desilting was undertaken by the department, siting non-availability of funds as the reason.
Left with no choice, the villagers of Pingori came together. Hundreds of villagers raised funds for desilting the tanks by working on NREGS schemes. Though they raised a considerably sum, it was still not sufficient for the entire desilting operation. Here, they were helped by Dagdusheth Ganapati Temple Trust.
With some help like this, Pingori undertook desilting work for nearly 45 days in summer 2013 by manual labour and machines. Villagers told SANDRP that more than 200,000 cubic meter silt was removed from the single tank and spread on agricultural fields. Desilting not only increased water holding capacity of the tank, but also its recharge. Following the monsoon of 2013, the village tank held more water and water table in the surrounding areas also increased.
Several years ago when Pingori tank held more water, it had fish in it and fishery was existing, if not thriving. Silt and droughts killed this initiative. But with desilting, local youth introduced over 2 lakh fish seed in the tank and even formed a Fisheries Society. In addition to desilting, the villagers have also undertaken watershed works in nearby hills, especially continuous contour trenches (CCTs) which has helped significantly in raising water table and augmenting stream flows. Cumulative gain of desilting has been increased cultivation on over 300 acres of land and also increased fodder availability.
Pingori has a remarkable lady Sarpanch Ms. Pallavi Bhosale. Ms. Bhosale tells us “I know what it is not even to have drinking water in your home. As a Sarpanch in 2012-13 I was deeply saddened as I had to call for tankers every other day. I could see women from my village walk for miles for water. So many horticultural plantations had to be hacked. It was very disturbing. The entire village stood together and hence this could happen.”
Today Pingori has not called for a single tanker as yet, although the Purandar block has received less than 25% rainfall in this monsoon till date.
How does Pingori avoid water guzzling crops, now that Pingori tank has water? “As a gramsabha we don’t allow water guzzling crops like sugarcane in Pingori. Our water is very precious and we cannot give more water to a few.”
Medsinga village in Taluka & District of Osmanabad is a village of 2700 population. Drought and water scarcity is a regular feature in Osmanadabad in Marathwada and Medsinga is no exception. As SANDRP indicated during the rought of 2012-13, water from major dams in Osmanbad-Latur regions is almost exclusively diverted to sugarcane and sugar factories, leaving smaller villages high and dry.
The village has a tank built by the villagers themselves, 25-30 years ago. Villagers decided to desilt this tank and increase its water holding capacity.
Here, they built recharge shaft inside the tank bed to increase groundwater recharge. This was a 13m x 7m x 2m pit with 2ft x 2ft pit below that followed by a bore well 70 ft deep. Twine was wound around the borewell casing pipe before inserted into the shaft. The shaft was then filled with pebbles to facilitate water percolation.
The villagers also repaired about 16 cement bunds constructed about 10 years back. These bunds were leaking as parts of cement had washed away. The expenses of about Rs 7 lakhs was covered by Holistic Watershed Development and Mahatma Phule Water Conservation Programme.
The cumulative impact of desilting, recharge and repaired bunds was increased water availability in 27 wells and 32 borewells. There are 2 percolation tanks in the village constructed by Water Conservation Department. They have however lost their capacity due to siltation. Next phase of work plan includes desilting of these tanks.
Is increased water availability an end in itself?
The leaders in Pingori, Naigaon, Sinnar, etc., accept that watershed development is a long and complex process and not simply synonymous with increasing water availability. While it is very positive that water availability is indeed impacted by even short term measures, it seems to be essential that there is long term vision and a watershed approach behind these initiatives. In the absence of a long term vision, water guzzling crops and mismanagement of available resources can lead to a zero sum game. As reviewed by Soppecom in their review on watershed development in Maharashtra,[ii] in itself, watershed development can accentuate inequity by favoring the landed and the lower reaches as well as those who have the capacity to use pumps, siphons, etc.
Unfortunately the May 2013 Government of Maharashtra resolution of supporting nallah widening and deepening known as Shirpur Pattern and raising cement nallah bunds indiscriminately cannot really count as participatory, bottoms up process. Unscientific deepening and widening of streams is not only wasteful, but can also expose the groundwater aquifer, rather than helping recharge. It also raises additional questions of water availability in the downstream, exclusive work by mechanical equipment and not human effort that provides employment to the local needy, Shramadan, etc. While watershed development entails a ridge to valley approach where measures are taken right from the mountain top and logically culminate in the valley in form of bunds or weirs, indiscriminate erection of cement nallah bunds cannot qualify as watershed development. As Seema Kulkarni, Soppecom says, “Watershed program is a culmination of a watershed plan for a village or micro watershed. In the absence of such a plan, it is doubtful whether ad hoc measures can help”.
It is no wonder then that in the contractor-savvy Maharashtra, mega-scale projects like building thousands of cement bunds is looked at as a business venture than a critical intervention. According to reports, Government of Maharashtra through Agriculture and Water Conservation Department built over 3000 bunds spending more than 700 crores just in the last two years. As it is recently reported, many of the cement nallah bunds built hastily in 2013-14 after the Government GR are not holding water, some are built at hydrologically wrong locations, some are already damaged, some are built without sufficient desilting affecting water storage, etc. A Government inquiry has been constituted on the same in many districts.
From the experience of recent examples like Pingori, Naigaon, Devnadi or the older successes like Ralegaon Siddhi or Hiware Bazaar, it seems that Watershed Development is so much more than erecting some structures at the right places with the help of machines. As much as a technical process, it is also a social and ecological process. And it is indeed more effective that way.
– Parineeta Dandekar, Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP
1. This election time (Oct 10, 2014) report highlights the success story of similar local efforts in Jalna-Aurangabad area: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/bring-water-gain-goodwill/.
2. Since the implementation of Phad irrigation, a low cost and eco-friendly system that works without electricity, agricultural production has increased improving the situation of farmers in Yavatmal. (Sept 7, 2014) http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/oasis-hope-land-suicides
It is officially the monsoon season but there are no dark clouds to be seen on the horizon as yet in majority parts of the country. This year, like some previous drought years, the monsoon has disappointed and the rice crop is in jeopardy. The fields are almost dry and the provision for enough water for irrigation seems to be the only hope the farmers have. Over the past Century, water use around the world has been increasing at a rate more than twice that of population growth1. With the changing climatic conditions, water from rainfall is becoming more unreliable. It is in such a situation that the agricultural sector will have to feed more people and have very little water to spare1 as there is also pressure from increasing water demand from other sectors. In order to then get more crop with less water, our techniques of rice production must be modified. It is in this context that one can look at the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which, experts argue and studies demonstrate, can be used to preserve this indispensable resource. Studies show that SRI uses upto 52.4% less water per ha of rice farm1.
It has been estimated that irrigated rice uses 34-43% of the world’s total irrigation water.1 Almost all the rice crop grown in India is sustained through irrigation. About 1900-5000 litres of water is used to produce 1 kg of rice2. Thus the water use is immense in rice production. SRI then, is an agro-ecological method for increasing the productivity of rice by changing the way that the plants, soil and water are managed. It is a technique developed in collaboration with the farmers in Madagascar in the 1980s. The purpose of SRI was to enable farmers with limited resources to increase their production and income without relying on external sources7. Most importantly, this practice can be adjusted to suit local climatic and soil conditions. This is because it is based on adjustments in the environment and not a change in the physiological aspect of the seed that is planted. The biggest advantage of SRI is the fact that it uses less seed and less water to give an increased yield as compared to conventionally transplanted (CT) rice. SRI does not require continuous flooding of fields like conventional rice, but requires water only when the crop needs it, i.e., when the field is relatively dry and ready for the next irrigation. Though by its name, SRI only stands for rice cultivation, it is also seen to be used in other crops.
Climate change adaptation: SRI using less water has larger root system in Andhra Pradesh, India.
A number of countries have been practising the SRI technique. In India, this has started becoming popular with farmers. Farmers in states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Tripura have been practising SRI and gaining good results from it for many years now. According to a report in The Hindu, the area under SRI management in Tamil Nadu has now reached about half of the State’s rice area8. It says that in Tripura, almost 3,50,000 farmers are practising SRI in about 1,00,000 hectares, almost half of the State’s rice area8. A recent report on Odisha by the Cornell University in their SRI-Rice Global News Update states that among the families studied by them who actively practise SRI, there was a saving of 19% in the cost of production as the grain yield was higher even though the cost of cultivation was 3.2% higher. The farmers had a positive perception about SRI because it was economically better for them6.
Water saving potential of SRI
Various other studies have been conducted to measure the amount of water saved in the use of SRI in different countries. The results have been positive almost everywhere. Jagannath, Pullabhotla and Uphoff1 in their Meta study comparing SRI and non-SRI method for irrigated rice production using data from 251 trials published in various studies, out of which 139 were from India, observe that there is almost 22% reduction in water use if one uses the SRI technique as compared to the traditional ways of cultivating rice. As compared to the mean Total Water Use (TWU) being about 15.3 million litres per hectare for conventional methods, SRI only demanded 12 million litres per hectare. The saving is even higher for the mean Irrigation Water Use, where non-SRl methods used about 11.1 million litres per hectare; SRI used about 7.2 million litres per hectare1. The study demonstrates that on an average, there is a “37.6% increase in water use efficiency (irrigation + other) with SRI methods compared to non-SRI methods”1. A study by Adusumilli and Bhagya Laxmi in Andhra Pradesh, India, in 2011 shows that there was upto 52.4% total water savings in SRI per ha basis and the SRI crop produced 18.5% higher rice, so water productivity of every kg of SRI rice was over 70% higher than that of non-SRI rice.
Y. V. Singh in his field experiment earlier in 2010-11, observed that less quality of water was utilized in SRI for the production of each unit of grain. Water saving of 34.5-36 % was recorded in SRI as compared to CT rice3. In SRI, cycles of repeated wetting and drying have been found beneficial to rice plant growth as it leads to increased nutrient availability leading ultimately to higher grain yield. There are visible gains in terms of yield upturn and water saving with non-flooding conditions7.
Singh, in his report, also recorded that there was a saving of 7-9 irrigations in SRI rice over CT rice. Besides savings in number of irrigations, there was saving in water in each irrigation since only 3cm water depth was filled in SRI whereas in CT used 5cm of water depth3.
The above statistics show that SRI has definitely been more efficient as a growing technique in conserving the water that is used for irrigation of the fields. It has also been observed that this is true for varying soil textures, differences in seasons, soil pH and also the duration of the variety of rice. Therefore, it is adaptable across diverse agro-ecologies.
An Indian woman shows the difference in the SRI (left) and the non-SRI (right) crop.
SRI is even more relevant in times of water scarcity:
So if we look at the question of water today, it becomes extremely important to then look at the benefits that SRI gives us. This year’s troubled monsoon (while the rainfall deficit at national level is 35% as on July 17, 2014, there are regions where the the rainfall deficit is as high as 64% in Punjab-Haryana, 71% in Western Uttar Pradesh & 82% in Gujarat, in fact these deficits were even higher on July 15, 2014) has been a cause for concern for farmers all over India. It is also the season for the rice crop. Areas of Central India and North-Western India have been receiving very less rainfall leading to reduced water availability. It has been getting more and more difficult for the farmers to maintain their crop and hope for the yield to be good. Since most of the rice crop is grown through irrigation, it then becomes important to maintain the sources of irrigation, mainly groundwater, since most dams do not have water at this stage.
In the Ganga Basin, one of the main kharif (monsoon season) crop is paddy or rice, significant part irrigated with water from the river and groundwater. The Ganga river is in crisis today not only because of pollution, but also because the river has very little freshwater most of the times and most of the places. In such conditions, if river is to have more freshwater all round the year, cutting down on water use for agriculture through SRI like technique for all crops can be hugely useful. SRI thus provides a less water consuming alternative to the people. Despite this potential, the government is not making any efforts to provide policy and economic incentives for farmers to take up SRI. It’s tried and tested benefits are being overlooked. SRI thus can also help the cause of the rivers in the Ganga basin.
Importance of Irrigation management:
Though all these studies have demonstrated that there is definite reduction in water use under SRI as compared to conventional methods, Adusumalli and Sen have also observed that even though this decrease is there, there are chances that the potential of water saving may be only marginally utilized4. This large potential in water saving can be realized through various measures like the better control and management of timeliness of water availability. But implementation of such types of irrigation is often difficult by farmers mainly due to lack of reliable water source & little water control7.
SRI practice in Uttarakhand Photo by Padmakshi Badoni
Application of such water saving technique to rice cultivation has the potential to reduce irrigation water requirements by upto 50% with yield advantage of upto 25%. This system requires low investment and is easy to operate. Proper water management is in fact key to higher yields and net income in SRI as this important input influences the effects of other inputs also.7
It is the Union Agriculture ministry, the state governments, agriculture universities and extension system which needs to wake up to this huge water saving potential of SRI, in addition to so many other advantages of SRI, including, most importantly, increasing the incomes of the farmers. This is particularly relevant in North West, West and Peninsular India. Even in climate change context, the SRI plants have shown greater adaptability to both droughts and floods. So why is it that this potential is not being harnessed? Why is it that on the one hand the government is making big budget plans for the apparent rejuvenation of rivers and on the other hand doing nothing about preserving their water? Why is it not pushing SRI in this drought year, particularly the western and North West India where there is maximum monsoon deficit?
Jagannath, P., Pullabhotla H. and Uphoff, N. 2013. Meta-Analysis Evaluating Water Use, Water Savings, and Water Productivity in Irrigated Production of Rice with SRI vs. Standard Management Methods. Taiwan Water Conservancy. Vol. 61. No. 4.
Jagannath, Pratyaya. “More Crop per Drop- System of Rice Intensification”. Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development. – published as a poster by the Cornell University.
Singh, Y. V. 2012. Crop and Water Productivity as influenced by Rice Cultivation Methods under Organic and Inorganic sources of Nutrient supply. Paddy and Water Environment. DOI 10.1007/s10333-012-0346-y. Springer-Verlag.
Adusumilli, R. and Schipper, R. Groundwater Irrigated Rice: A Techno-Economic exploration of the possibilities of producing ‘More Rice with Less Water’. Development Economics Group. Wageningen University and Research.
Adusumilli, R and Sen, D. Irrigation System Reforms: New Policy Opportunities with SRI.
Dass A and Dhar S. 2014. Irrigation Management for improving Productivity, Nutrient uptake and Water-use Efficiency in the system of rice intensification: a Review. AnnualAgricultural Research. New Series. Vol. 35 (2): 107-122.
The Cheyyur power project will damage water reserves, harm agriculture and interfere with local drainage routes leading to increased flooding in some areas and reduced rain water flow to vital irrigation tanks, according to a study titled “Hydrological Implications of the 4000 MW coal-fired Ultra Mega Power Project in Cheyyur, Tamil Nadu.” The report finds that the water bodies and water flows in the Cheyyur area render it unsuitable for hosting a large coal-fired power plant.
“Site selection for the power plant has completely ignored the project’s impacts on Cheyyur’s rich surface water resources such as eris (tanks) and ponds and the interconnected network of streams,” said Prof. S. Janakarajan, one of the authors of the study. Janakarajan works extensively on water management, and is currently mapping the water bodies of Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts, Tamil Nadu, as a part of the project funded by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.
“Thermal power plants are water abusers. Krishnapatnam, in Nellore district, which was as water rich as Cheyyur is now starving for water,” said Shripad Dharmadhikari, an IIT-Bombay graduate who is currently researching the water-related impacts of coastal power plants in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. His organisation Manthan Adhyayan Kendra conducts research on water and energy. “Unfortunately, with coal-fired plants, Tamil Nadu will have to make a choice between water and electricity. Particularly in places like Cheyyur, you can’t have both,” he said.
“Not locating the project here keeps open the option of developing this area for its agriculture and hydrological potential. The network of irrigation tanks need to be maintained, not abandoned or diverted for other uses, if Tamil Nadu is interested in some long-term water security for its fast urbanising population,” the report concluded. (both the photos are from internet)
The study, which included computer modelling of rain water flows, found that the site for dumping toxic flyash is located up-gradient of at least seven irrigation tanks with a command area of more than 5000 acres. Noting that the flyash will be mixed with seawater and transported to the ash dump in a slurry form, the report warns of salinisation of groundwater and surface water flows down-gradient of the ash pond.
Relying on RTI records from the Revenue Department, the report pointed out that the plant and ash pond sites enclose more than 150 acres of water bodies, including backwaters, streams and ponds.
The project proponents have failed to study the impacts of key components of the project – such as a proposed 4 km road to East Coast Road, a coal conveyor corridor, a storm water drain and a 25-km railway line – on local drainage and flooding, the study reports.
The study was conducted by Community Environmental Monitoring, a project of The Other Media, Prof. S. Janakarajan, Siddharth Hande and Nityanand Jayaraman.
For more information, contact: Nityanand Jayaraman – 9444082401
Community Environmental Monitoring
92, Thiruvalluvar Nagar 3rd Cross, Besant Nagar, Chennai 600 090
Maharashtra SBWL The State Board for Wildlife has been formed under the Section 6 of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) (and its subsequent Amendment in 2002) in all states of the country. The main functions of this Board are conservation and protection of wildlife in Protected areas, selection and appraisal of areas to be declared as sanctuaries, etc. It also appraises proposals which affect Protected areas or buffer zones around Protected areas and only after the recommendation of the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), is the proposal forwarded to the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife.
In Maharashtra, Chief Minister is the Chairperson of the Board, while chief wildlife warden is the member-secretary. Forest minister is the vice-president of the board and minister of state for forest, FDCM (Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra) managing director, head of forest force (HoFF), field directors of tiger reserves, principal secretary (forest), and principal secretary (tribal development) among others are on the board.
Apart from the government representation, the SBWL also has sizable representation from reputed Wildlife Experts and organizations, some of which have been the members of the SBWL for more than a decade now. Some members include: Sanctuary Asia editor Bittu Sahgal, Bombay Natural History Society’s (BNHS) Dr. Asad Rehmani, Satpuda Foundation’s Kishor Rithe, Bharati Vidyapeeth’s Dr. Erach Bharucha, Executive Director of Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) Belinda Wright, Wildlife expert Anish Andheria, Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (WCT) Hemendra Kothari, Eco-Pro president Bandu Dhotre, MLAs Anandrao Gedam from Armori and Jagdishchandra Valvi, Honorary Wildlife Warden of Pune Anuj Khare etc.
SBWL minutes, Agenda not in public domain Due to some problematic projects considered in the NBWL from Maharashtra, SANDRP tried to access the minutes of the SBWL to understand it’s functioning and decision making. We could not find the minutes in the open domain, the minutes should have been available on the website. Even the agenda and minutes of the National Board for Wildlife which recommends Wildlife Clearance, Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF which recommends Environmental Clearance or the Forest Advisory Committee which recommends Forest Clearance are available in public domain.
RTI gets no reply We wrote to the Principal Secretary, Revenue and Forests, and PCCF, requesting them to share the minutes but we received no response. We wrote to some members of the SBWL for the minutes, we received no response. ( We could not write to all members as the constitution of the Board and list if members too is not available in the open domain).We contacted the media persons who wrote on SBWL meetings, but they did not have access to minutes. In the meantime, many problematic projects like Gargai Project involving 750 hectares inside the Tansa Sanctuary, Nardawe Irrigation Project, Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme, which involved clear violations, were recommended by the SBWL. We wrote about these projects and violations involved to some members, but received no response.
Finally we filed an RTI for all past agenda items and minutes of the SBWL. We filed this RTI in April 2014 with the Wildlife Department, Nagpur. Again we received no response. When we called the PIO, Wildlife Division, we were told “There are 32 PIOs in the department, How on earth would they know where our application is?” We talked with the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, but he asked us to file an RTI again as the original application was untraceable at the office. We filed a new application, even this time we did not get a response in the mandated 30 days. To cut the long story sort, we received half of the information we asked for 3 months after the application. In the meantime we were also told by the office that these proposals are considered by NBWL again, so why are you worried?
Of the 8 Meetings of the SBWL conducted, we received agenda notes and minutes for 4 meetings exactly over 4 years: from 4th meeting in 20.02.2009 to the 8th Meeting in 20.02.2014. The decisions of the SBWL in these meetings on WRD projects are compiled in the table at the end of this report.
As we will see below there are many concerns about the way SBWL is functioning. This is worrisome because the current 33-member committee has ample number of non-government representatives, some noted wild lifers who are passionate about their work. Some of these organisations and individuals have been a part of the SBWL for more than decade now. Although the SBWL is not functioning transparently and accountably, we hear no protest from these members or demands that SBWL needs to function in a transparent way in the open domain. Neither is any dissent minuted in the SBWL meeting minutes.
At the same time, we are aware that some members are trying to fight this situation and have been raising issues, this too gets hidden due to lack of transparency about the functioning of the Board.
Some of the major issues about the functioning of SBWL include:
Many projects are cleared despite clear violations. There is nothing in the minutes to reflect if SBWL members are aware of the ground realities.
Decisions taken in an earlier meeting are changed in the next with no explanations given.
Contradictory decisions being taken, no consistency in decision making.
SBWL Members do not respond to submissions, even if they outline serious issues.
Agenda and Minutes not in open domain. Forest Officials do not share these even when requested
Minutes of the SBWL meetings have no discussions, only decisions.
SANDRP analyzed agenda items of 4 meetings from 2009 to 2014 which were provided to us under RTI. During this period, the SBWL did seem to be taking some good decisions and initiatives about wildlife conservation. This mainly included declaration of new Protected Areas and some conservation reserves. This is commendable, although here too we see only a few members of the SBWL being active on these proposals.
On the other hand, SBWL’s decision making about sanctioning projects is seriously problematic. As SANDRP deals with issues concerning rivers and dams, we are specifically looking at these examples as illustrated below:
Ignoring clear violations: In the 8th meeting the SBWL (on 20.02.14) recommended:
Alewadi Irrigation project in Buldana, 1 km from Melghat Tiger Reserve
Ar Kacheri Irrigation project in Buldana, 1 km from Melghat Tiger Reserve
Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme in Solapur parts of it inside Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Solapur
Nardawe Irrigation Project, Sindhudurg, 2.5 kms from Radhanagari Sanctuary
Shockingly, ALL of these projects are already under construction when they came before SBWL, in clear violation of WPA (1972) and Supreme Court Orders. Projects are supposed to obtain the Wildlife clearances before even starting survey works and of course before initiating the work. And the fact that no-one raised the issue of these violations seems to indicate that either the members did not know of this ground reality or they chose to ignore it.
In this case, all of the projects are in violation of the WPA and should undergo necessary punitive action. But what we see in the minutes is that all these projects are recommended for clearance! This indicates the serious issues with the SBWL. When the same projects were considered for Environmental Clearance by the EAC of the MoEF, this committee did not clear these projects and passed strictures against GOM for violations. Note that this was BEFORE these projects were considered by the SBWL.
In April 2014, SANDRP sent an email to some members of the SBWL as well as the Chief Minster, Principal Secretary and PCCF, drawing their attention to the violations, strictures passed on these projects by MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects, requesting the SBWL to take back their recommendation of clearance to these violating projects. But we have received no response till now.
Hugely Contradictory Decisions:
While considering the Tambadi Irrigation Project in Roha, Raigad (Buffer Zone of Phansad Sanctuary) in the 7th SBWL Meeting on 24.1.13, the SBWL passed strict comments on the Water Resources Department , Maharashtra (WRD), stating that:
“All members were of the opinion that no proposal of Irrigation Department should be recommended as the department did not comply with the instructions about mitigation measures which should be taken up like construction of over passes and steps in canals within wildlife corridors. It was reiterated by the Board that unless required action is taken, no proposal would be considered by the board.”
Please note this is the part of the APPROVED minutes circulated to the members on the 7th March 2013. Reading this, anyone would get an impression that all further projects from WRD would not be considered. Shockingly, Action Taken Report for the same project attached to the Agenda of the 8th Meeting (20.02.14) states that: “As decided in the 7th meeting a committee comprising 4 members has been constituted to study this and….it came out with possible mitigation measures.”
Firstly, approved minutes do not reflect this decision and secondly, the approved minutes had taken a completely opposite stand than what is decided. This indicates serious problems in not only minuting the meetings but also inconsistency in decision-making.
Similarly, the committee considered diversion proposal of Savarde Irrigaton project in its 5th Meeting on the 28.06.11.
Dr Asad Rahmani after conducting a Site visit to the project recommended several strong conditions for the project which included:
Cumulative impact assessment of major and medium projects on Radhanagari Wildlife Sanactuary,
Permission from Western Ghats Expert appraisal Panel headed by Prof Gadgil and
WRD to give in writing that no new project impinging directly or indirectly or Radhanagari Sanctuary will be taken up.
WRD provided no responses on this.
When the proposal was discussed for the third time in NBWL on the 24th April 2011, the CCF told the NBWL that Maharashtra Government agreed with ALL conditions raised by Dr. Rahmani, except the one on sharing water. The WRD had still not provided any response.
This indicates that the Maharashtra Government, especially WRD (Water Resources Department) is not bothered about any statutory clearance related processes surrounding its projects and that the GOM (Government of Maharashtra) has agreed that no new WRD projects will be undertake affecting Radhanagari Sanctuary.
Disturbingly, the same SBWL considered Nardawe Irrigation Project in its 8th meeting, which was affecting Radhanagari Sanctuary and also cleared it, without even mentioning its earlier commitment from WRD.
Add to this the fact that Nardawe Irrigation project was an ongoing project which had violated Forest Conservation Act (1980), Environment Protection Act (1986) and EIA notification 2006.
State Level Appraisal Bodies facing problems in Maharashtra Exactly one year back in July 2013, the Chairperson and majority members of the State Expert Appraisal Committee resigned together stating political and industrial pressures as the reasons.
When SANDRP talked with some present and past SBWL members, it was clear that there are several serious issues and hindrances in functioning of SBWL. Agenda is not sent even a week before the meeting giving the members no time to understand the projects, in some meetings agenda was put on the table at the time of the meeting. It is significant to note that the Agenda notes received by SANDRP under RTI do not carry dates.
Many of the meetings are “clearance” meetings where projects are set out, expected to be cleared, like the 8th Meeting before the Lok Sabha Election, which had a number of proposals from WRD, when it was stated by the SBWL itself that it will not consider any further proposal from WRD. Not surprisingly, 4 project considered and recommended by the SBWL in its last meetings were in violation of the WPA (1972) as noted above.
At the same time, some active members on the condition of anonymity stated that many members do not raise voice against problematic projects and it is left only to a few members, who raise issues all the time. Some members are happy being a part of a board which is headed by the CM and attend meetings where CM is present and will not raise issues. Some members and organizations have to be in the good books of the Forest and Environment Departments as well as the politicians.
We have stated upfront that the SBWL has also taken some commendable decisions, like the formation of new protected areas. However there is no denying the fact that functioning of SBWL is seriously problematic, opaque, non-transparent and contradictory.
It is high time that the Forest Officials, bureaucracy, politicians as well as the non-officials members take steps to improve the functioning of SBWL. Many of their current decisions will not stand legal scrutiny. The SBWL is a regulatory body and its functioning needs to be governed with some ‘rules of business’, rather than be arbitrary. For starters, the SBWL needs to put their agenda notes and minutes in open domain and invite comments on the same, as is being done by several other decision making bodies.
Large dams represent a gamut of ideas around the asocial and apolitical nature of water itself, i.e., ‘modern water’, expert control, and national space that are stitched together to yield hydraulic bureaucracies or hydrocracies. In the 20th century, the ‘hydraulic mission’ (See Molle et all 2009) was accepted across the globe and entrusted with hydrocracies which became synonymous with the project of ‘development’. These hydrocracies have left an indelible mark on national economies and geographies, constructing massive damming projects i.e. what India’s first Prime Minister called ‘temple[s] of modern India’. The effects of these projects have been a mixed bag. In India, these ideas about water and technology formed a template through which the hydrocracy—which took the form of the Central Water Commission (CWC)— conceived, discussed, and justified technological interventions. Rivers were described as natural features without history, ecology, and society, making a case for greater technological control.
Using engineering voices from the Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development (IJPRVD) and Government of India publications, I attempt to puncture the ‘tunnel vision’ of hydraulic development in India. Juxtaposing two contrasting narratives within the engineering community, the attempt is simply to bring out the spirited debate on large dams in post independence India- a fact lost in the din about which narrative won.
Except one engineer, M.Karantha who was the Chief Electrical Inspector of the erstwhile Madras Presidency, all the other engineers quoted in this post viz. A.Khosla, K.L. Vij, S.N.Gupta, Kanwar Sain etc were a part of the Central Water & Power Commission (CW&PC) before it became the Central Water Commission (CWC).
Transforming Rivers into datasets Hydraulic manipulation has a long history in the Indian subcontinent. Hydraulic engineers in the 20th century recast modern irrigation as the logical conclusion of millennia long hydraulic manipulation practices- projecting irrigation, specifically dams and canals, as age-old components of the riverine landscape thus establishing continuity with the ‘unbroken’ tradition of hydraulic manipulation. This projection was selective: it did not acknowledge the colonial state’s role in establishing a radical break in hydraulic principle in the subcontinent by introducing perennial irrigation; barrages and weirs that effectively flattened a river’s variable flow. Instead, independence was projected as the watershed moment at which the millennia long project of hydraulic manipulation would reach fruition in the form of large dam projects.
Interestingly, engineers saw colonialism as helping bring modern science and technology to India; colonialism’s only limitation was ‘that it constituted an insult in that it denied that Indians could fully be partners in the enterprise of modernity’ (Klingensmith 2007: 233). Modernity in their eyes was an inevitable process, denied to India pre-independence. Modern science was a universal, emancipating category. According to S.N. Gupta: ‘[S]cientific, engineering and industrial research directed towards greater understanding and greater control of material surroundings is the keynote of the modern search for progress and power’ (Gupta 1970:3). The unfinished business of modernity, thus, was the complete control of nature, which could only be realized through the nation-state.
A System of Limits and Solutions One of the foremost challenges facing post independent India was food security. Narratives for water control underscore this challenge. There were carefully worded alarms about scarcity and impending catastrophe. Such warnings are found with striking regularity in the IJPRVDand the Silver Jubilee Souvenir of the CW&PC. For instance, S.N. Gupta asserted:
[T]he fateful year 1947- the year of India’s independence brought both responsibilities and opportunities. The country was faced with the basic question: Adequate production of food for the growing millions (S.N. Gupta 1970: 1).
The only way to meet this ever-increasing demand was to increase the area under cultivation by providing more water: The food production has to keep pace with the ever increasing requirements of population. The principal remedy for meeting this increased demand is to steadily extend irrigation facilities (Kanwar Sain 1959: 37a).
The answer was simply put: greater investment in developing water resources to ensure that the twin challenges of a rising population and looming food scarcity could be met effectively. Technology would provide solutions to tame nature for human needs.
There are two equally important elements in human progress. They are the development of spirit and character on the one hand, and the mastery of the physical world on the other… Without mastery over nature, our earth, as it stands would support but a small fraction of the present population… I submit that hunger and poverty are no longer beyond solution. The mastery over the physical world gives us the key to the problem. The most thickly populated regions on earth can be satisfactorily fed if the most effective known methods are applied. The technical possibilities of feeding the world will probably always run far ahead of the increase in population (Kanwar Sain 1957:1).This neo-Malthusian trap anticipated more than just technological problems and solutions. The rhetoric about looming scarcity and overpopulation served as a vantage point to drive home arguments for large multipurpose projects. This was an unprecedented move by Indian engineers in conceptualizing Indian rivers. Modeled on the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), these projects would render rivers into a ledger of flows and returns. As a complete system of inter-related projects, the aim was to ensure rivers would no longer ‘run waste to the sea’ (Khosla 1951:2). Basin-wide development therefore came to be premised on the scarcity trap. These visions of scarcity were axiomatic in two ways:
1) The ability of science and engineers to forewarn such a possibility due to the exact nature of their science and scientific method.
2) The need for planned development to ensure that fragile and unreliable natural resources could be yielded into reliable flows to provide consistent maximum returns.
Without large multi-purpose dam projects to control floods, manufacture electricity, provide water for irrigation, and utilize an ‘inexhaustible source of water supply in the form of rainfall’, all that water would go to waste (Khosla 1970a: 15). These projects would meet the pressing needs of the country:
[K]eeping in view the need of the country, priority has been accorded to projects likely to yield additional food at an early date. Large multi-purpose projects have been phased with a view to an early completion of their irrigation aspect (Dhir 1959: 57).
Indeed, as K.L. Vij stated while commenting on hydro-electric resources in India emphatically:
[E]ssentially the problem is simple, in that it resolves itself into an examination of the possibilities of utilizing “available water supplies” at the maximum possible head (Vij 1959: 64).
It was only through such a thorough examination of hydraulic heads that entire river basins could function as measures of water resources. As stocks of volumes, rivers held enormous possibilities, provided they were engineered holistically so as to ensure maximum returns.
Burgeoning Bureaucracy It’s [sic] (the CW&PC’s) development and march towards organizational expansion has been linked up with the development and planning of projects in the country since Independence and thus the stature of the Commission today is a barometer of the progress achieved by the country in the fields of irrigation and power (Jain 1970a: 21).
Kanwar Sain summed up the times emphatically: ‘[K]ey to the production of wealth is the Kilowatt. Underlying the country’s capacity to produce anything else is our capacity to produce power’ (Sain 1959: 37b. Emphasis added). There is a clear imperative to scale up through expert-led interventions. According to H.S. Desai,
[V]iewed purely from technical angle, and given all the goodwill that such cases deserve other angles, it is felt that engineers could and should have the last word on the development of the water resources of the country (Desai and Rao, 1970: 82).
Development, it might seem, could best achieved if driven by expert-led organizations like CW&PC. This championing of a burgeoning hydrocracy helped incubate and insulate it from overt political and social questions.
Holistic Planning for Basin-wide Development Planning water resource development required rearranging rivers into basin-units instead of geographies or people. Rivers as basin-units, like the larger nation state were comparable and amenable to technological solutions for resource optimization, and wired apolitically. Sain clearly charted out a course for the same:
[T]o make effective use of waters for irrigation, navigation, power and other allied purposes, it is necessary that a careful and unified development of the whole basin is planned irrespective of that number of States or Provincial boundaries that may be involved. It is only in this manner that optimum utilization of resources of the entire water-shed can be made and waste of any potential resources of the valley eliminated. If the entire basin is not developed as a unit there is the possibility of confusion arising when each State starts controlling the river from its own point of view (Sain 1959: 37b-c).
Some of the many voices include those of M.L. Sood, A.N. Khosla and S.K. Jain:
Practically all the river systems of the country run through more than one State. Their balanced development in the interest of navigation and other objects, e.g., irrigation, hydro-electric power and flood control, demands that the entire valley is treated as one unit irrespective of State boundaries (Sood 1959:52).
Modern technology for conservation and utilization of water resources is making rapid strides. With a unified and integrated approach to the development and utilization of surface and ground waters and to problems of agriculture and irrigation, this challenge (of looming resource crunch and a steady population rise) can be met (Khosla 1970a: 14).
It has been well recognized that river basin should be considered a single unit for development of water resources (Jain, 1970:12).
A basin-based approach across rivers was thus, the most efficient means to develop the nation’s water resources: ‘[T]he water and power resources of a region, basin and sub-basin and the transfer and interchange of both water and power between regions, basins and sub-basins in the overall interest of the country and regions concerned’(Khosla 1970a:12). These arguments combined to form the basis for a National Water Grid — an idea first proposed by Sir Arthur Cotton in the 19th century. Post Independence, the grid was seen as a means to ensure that the excesses of one river basin could replenish the deficiencies of another:
Large areas in Western, Central and Southern India have a very low rainfall while in the Northern and Eastern regions heavy monsoon rains cause extensive floods and large volumes of water flow waste to the sea. The National Water Grid has been conceived for remedying this imbalance to a certain extent by transferring waters from surplus regions to deficit areas by interlinking the various river basins so that transfer of water becomes possible (Rao 1979:104).
Rivers, thus, came to be re-conceptualized as units that could be rationally developed for maximum usage through multi-purpose projects. The natural world came to be arranged as a system of excesses and deficits that could be corrected with mathematical precision to yield steady, uniform returns. To the post-independence engineering mind, the National Water Grid was not a possibility but a certainty; the question was when it would become reality & not if it is desirable, viable or acceptable:
[T]hese policies will have to be implemented sooner or later for the survival and prosperity of our country (Rao 1979:100).
Driven by a burgeoning hydrocracy, the National Water Grid would render the riverine landscape entirely legible and amenable to complete development as well as provide impetus to power sector development, with reliable flows for hydropower generation. Tapped from source to mouth, river would cease to flow freely or at all. Instead, they would populate man made lakes; the tail of one reservoir would be the beginning of another hydro-project.
Rivers were thus reified and reconceptualized as prospective models that could be reproducible; a function of heads and cusecs. The development apparatus thus acquired ‘the character of calculability’ (Mitchell 2002:92) that mediated between material realities and the abstractions of science and politics. Numerical indicators came to speak for themselves and became tangible enough to mold facts. Rivers came to be organized in a linear fashion, as reproducible units across landscapes that were framed and solved technologically.
Marking the Elisions Despite their self-assuredness, these claims faced doubts, criticisms, opposition and questions. Engineers’ own admissions about the nature of hydrology are telling:
When the position regarding the resources of the country began to be reconsidered after the attainment of Independence in August 1947, it became apparent that there was very little data to enable an accurate estimate of the power potential to the country. Even selection of schemes for immediate detailed investigations had to be done on an ‘ad hoc’ basis (Vij 1959:64; emphasis original).
Indeed, according to the Five Member Review of the Sardar Sarovar Project by Patil et al, the CWC itself admitted:
Hydrology as a discipline is different from most of the engineering disciplines. Natural phenomena, with which hydrology is concerned, though have underlying physical processes, are complex and not amenable, to deterministic approach: They do not lend themselves to rigorous analysis not offer unique solutions as are possible in engineering mechanics [sic]. Since water resource development activity cannot be delayed for want of data of adequate quality and quantity, best judgement has to be resorted to. In the field of hydrology one has to devise methods to suit the data available and come out with solutions. Accepting a solution in turn needs judgement with due consideration to sociological, economic and political situations (Patil et al, 1994:7; emphasis added, see: www.ielrc.org/content/c9402.pdf).
Development plans preceded data, in lieu of which, projections and assumptions would have to do. Until 1958, when the erstwhile Ministry of Irrigation and Power (now the Ministry of Water Resources) set up a number of gauge and discharge observation stations on the Ganges and its tributaries to assess the flow, plans for river development were based on A.N. Khosla’s pioneering formula to calculate stream flows based on certain assumptions.
Voices of dissent constantly called for a more reflexive, inclusive, and engaged process of development. M.V. Karantha, the Chief Electrical Inspector of the erstwhile Madras Presidency was an early critic. In his article in the March 1952 issue of IJPRVD, he charged that his colleagues built for themselves and for Western observers rather than for India’s villagers. He observed that in India, like in other parts of Asia, ‘it has been the small tail of urban population that has been waging the body, the rural population’ (Karantha 1952: 11). In order to realise the true embodiments of democracy, he asked engineers to realise that engineers should utilise their education and training ‘not only for own self-advancement but also for the benefit of the common man if democracy is to be real and to survive’. According to Karantha, the common man is the single most important denominator for gauging the efficacy of engineering processes and technology. He said,
[I]f we Indian Engineers are to be praised for what we have done and what we are going to do for our country, obviously the praise has to be for what we have done and what we are going to do for these majority people, the common man (Karantha 1952:11).
Karantha championed the need for local solutions because, ‘[O]ur economic and industrial problems are peculiarly our own’ (Karantha 1952:16). He was particularly critical of western models that were prescriptively and sometimes uncritically imported to India:
[O]nly if we realise that in the field of technology the problem of India is indeed very different from that of the Western countries whose practice we have been blindly adopting. Ours is a country in which the population has now grown beyond any easily manageable limit. Even our annual increase of population is as much as that of the entire population of some of the smaller nations of Europe. Our resources though not bad are like the property of a middle class man which has got to be divided amongst his dozen children. There is too little to go around to all to enable us to act as if we are engineers living in America. We have no great outside markets for manufactured good from which we can enrich ourselves for us to act as if we were the rich British or Swiss engineers. It will be a tremendous task to increase our prosperity yearly even to the extent our population is increasing yearly. It is exceedingly stupid and suicidal for a poor man to imitate a rich man. For a similar reason, it is suicidal for us to imitate our poor country the methods which the rich and prosperous Western countries have adopted. We have no tangible proof whatsoever that we can ever catch up with them for very many decades to come (Karantha 1952: 18).
Karantha was extremely anxious about a centralized bureaucracy:
It seems to be that there is often, for people in our country, a fascination for collecting more power for themselves and to believe that others can never be trusted to do things so efficiently. But more the centralization the less the touch with local conditions which alone are capable of being turned to advantage by way of cheapness and quickness of action, so essential for our country. Engineers sitting far away do not find it easy to tackle endless local problem of varied types. So they insist on standardization, however costly it be. They have also better chances of salaries and promotion, the more the services are centralised. But it is the common man that finally pays for all the costliness, delays and misunderstanding of local problems. Nor is over-centralisation the way to train our people in democracy (Karantha 1952: 20).
In a more focused critique, engineer Ram Kishore examined the financial aspects of irrigation works, asking questions of transparency, efficiency etc. He remarked that:
A large number of irrigation works and other development projects are under consideration, investigation or construction in India. Some of them have been completed. Figures of actual cost in the case of completed projects, and of estimated cost in the case of other projects are usually available with ease, through often very late; but figures of anticipated net profits and other figures for the comparison of different projects are usually not available to the public. They are worked out in Government offices but are not usually published, apparently in order to avoid or reduce criticism.
All estimates and forecasts are in their very nature approximate and liable to prove more or less wrong, or incorrect when the project has been built and developed, more specially when the time of construction and development is long. We all make estimates and forecasts, and it is very important to do so, even if they prove a hundred percent out in the end; only we should try and make our estimates as correct as possible, and also invite suggestions and criticism. All printed literature about Government Projects should be made available to the public, sufficiently in advance of their being sanctioned so that non-government engineers, and others can offer suitable criticism. This is very important in a democratic country, even though it will to some extent increase work in Government offices. It will most probably do a great deal of good. In the absence of correct information criticism, where made, is usually based on wrong information and does more harm than good (Kishore 1952: 29-30).
At first glance, it might have seemed that the development process in post independence India was undeterred. In questioning the centralizing tendencies of the bureaucracy and calling for greater transparency and locality in the planning process, these brief but powerful early critiques point to the frictions in development. Without remarking on which side and why, these critiques offer a radical puncturing to the ‘tunnel vision’ of hydraulic engineers. As a critique coming from within the engineering community itself, they point to the fact that maybe development did not have as much of a buy in as the early heady narratives might have had us believe.
These couple of critical voices cited above were not the only critical voices present in those initial years after independence, there were many others. But these are given here as examples to point out that there were voices even from within engineering fraternity that were pointing that alternative development paths were available, and that the path taken was not the only option available to the society. In fact even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in his speech before the annual meeting of CBIP in November 1958, talked about disease of gigantism plaguing Indian dam establishment (see page 6 of June 2006 issue of “Dams, Rivers & People”, see: https://sandrp.in/drp/June2006.pdf).
Why did Nehru not change the course after that speech is another question. The non-accountable culture that water engineering clan was allowed to indulge in is continuing to damage to this day. But that is another story.
Agnew, John. “The Territorial Trap: The Geographical Assumptions of International Relations Theory.” Review of International Political Economy 1, No. 1 (1994): 53–80.
Dhir, R.D. “Utilisation of Water Resources India.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 2, No. 6 (May 1952): 1-8.
—. “Water Resource Utilisation in India: A Brief Review.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 9, Numbers 6 & 7 (June- July 1959, CW&PC Special Number): 49-51.
Gupta, S.N. “Challenges of Seventies, Eighties ….and Central Water & Power Commission.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970.
—. “Challenges of Seventies, Eighties, And Central Water & Power Commission.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 1-3. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970.
Hayath, M. “Power Development in India.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 9, Numbers 6&7 (June-July 1959, CW&PC Special Number): 39-39i.
Jain, S.K. “25 Years of CWPC- A Historical Review.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 18-22. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970a.
—. “Problems in Irrigation Development in India.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 180-183. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970b.
Karantha, M.V. “The Engineer and the Country.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 3, No. 4 ( March 1952): 11-22.
Khosla, Ajudhiya Nath. “Central Water and Power Commission: April 1945 to April 1970.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 10-17. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970a.
—.“My Reminiscenes of The Central Water Commission.” 20, No. 3 (March 1970b, CW&PC Special Number): 107-111.
—. “Our Plans.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 1, No. 7 (1951): 1-4.
Kishore, Ram, “Financial Aspects of Irrigation Works,” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 2, No. 5(April 1952), 29-30.
Klingensmith, Daniel. One Valley and a Thousand: Dams, Development and Nationalism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Linton, Jamie. What is Water: The History of a Modern Abstraction. Vancouver, Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2010.
Molle, François, Peter P Mollinga, and Philippus Wester. “Hydraulic bureaucracies and the hydraulic mission: Flows of water, flows of power.” Water Alternatives 2, No. 3 (2009): 328‐349.
Patil, J., Vasant Gowarikar, Ramaswamy R Iyer, L. C. Jain, and V. C.Kulandaiswamy. “Report of the Five Member Group Set Up by the Ministry of Water Resources to Discuss Various Issues Relating to the Sardar Sarovar Project.” New Delhi, 21 April 1994.
Rao, Dr. K.L. Cusecs Candidate: Memoirs of an Engineer. New Delhi: Metropolitan Press, 1979.
Rao, G.V., and H.S. Desai. “Role of CW&PC in development of inter-state rivers.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 80-82. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigation and Power, Government of India, 1970.
Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin, 1986.
Sain, Kanwar. “Administrative Organisations for Water Development Projects and Inter-State Rivers in India.” In Central Water & Power Commission (CWPC) Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 166-171. New Delhi: Ministry of Irrigaiton and Power, Government of India, 1970.
—. “Developing India’s Water and Power Resources.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 9, Numbers 6 & 7 (June-July 1959, CW&PC Special Number): 37-37b &37c.
—. “The Engineer in the Developing Community.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 7, No. 3 (March 1957): 1-7.
Scott, James. “High Modernist Social Engineering: The Case of the Tennessee Valley Authority.” In Experiencing the State, by Lloyd I Rudolph and John Kurt Jacobsen, 2006. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 3-52.
Sood, M.L. “Inland Navigation in India.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 9, Nos. 6&7 (June-July 1959, CW&PC Special Number): 45-48 & 52.
Thakkar, Himanshu “Who takes decisions for large Dams? How? Why? Who profits? Who pays? Many questions, few answers” South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, October 2005 (https://sandrp.in/dams/Pol_economy_dams.pdf)
Vij, K.L. “India’s Hydro-Electric Resources and Their Assessment.” Indian Journal of Power and River Valley Development 9, Numbers 6&7 (June-July 1959, CW&PC Special Number): 63-67.
 Jamie Linton contends that the ‘modern idea of water as an objective, homogenous, ahistorical entity is complimented by its physical containment and isolation from people and reinforced by modern techniques of management that have enabled many of us to survive without having to think much about it’. He states that the twin processes of the formulation of water as a chemical formula, i.e. H2O and the development and dissemination of the concept of the hydrologic cycle represent an important contribution to the idea of abstract, modern water. In a philosophical investigation elaborating the fundamental incompatibility of modern water with people, Linton argues that despite being produced in relation to social practice, modern water is nevertheless taken to be entirely independent of social relations. Borrowing from Bruno Latour and Actor Network Theory, he claims that the ‘fictional’ independence of water from society is at the core of the ‘constitution of modern water’. This constitution of modern water holds together ‘only so long as the appearance can be sustained in hydrological and popular discourse’. See Jamie Linton, What is Water? A History of a Modern Abstraction (Kingston and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press 2010, p. 21and 175).
 The Central Water & Power Commission (CW&PC) was reconstituted as the Central Water Commission in 1974 & Central Electricity Authority. The CW&PC itself had a long gestation period and was a combination of a bunch of institutions that dealt with inland navigation, power generation, and hydraulic engineering.
 To read the story of Budhni Mejhan, see: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/recovering-budhni-mejhan-from-the-silted-landscape-of-modern-india/article3481766.ece
Here is OUR TAKE ON VARIOUS PROVISIONS IN THE UNION BUDGET for 2014-15 presented by Union Finance Minister of Government of India in Parliament on July 10, 2014. This is focused on provisions related to Urban Sector. In what followed, I have given the relevant para from the budget speech, followed by my comment in italics.
24. As the fruits of development reach an increasingly large number of people, the pace of migration from the rural areas to the cities is increasing. A neo middle class is emerging which has the aspiration of better living standards. Unless, new cities are developed to accommodate the burgeoning number of people, the existing cities would soon become unlivable. The Prime Minister has a vision of developing ‘one hundred Smart Cities’, as satellite towns of larger cities and by modernizing the existing mid-sized cities. To provide the necessary focus to this critical activity, I have provided a sum of `7,060 crore in the current fiscal.
Building ‘Smart Cities’ is a welcome idea provided the definition of “smart” includes zero pollution discharge; incorporation of eco-sanitation (zero sewage) and ensuring the integrity of existing water bodies as central to planning of such new cities.
28. A national multi-skill programme called Skill India is proposed to be launched. It would skill the youth with an emphasis on employability and entrepreneur skills. It will also provide training and support for traditional professions like welders, carpenters, cobblers, masons, blacksmiths, weavers etc. Convergence of various schemes to attain this objective is also proposed.
Skill generation activity must not be in isolation as merely targeted at employability and consequent outmigration to urban / overseas centres. It must be part of a larger aim of re-establishment of village republics where skilled youth have round the year opportunities of gainful work including returns on barter basis.
29. Bulk of our farm lands are rain fed and dependent on monsoons. Therefore, there is a need to provide assured irrigation to mitigate risk. To improve access to irrigation we propose to initiate the scheme “PradhanMantriKrishiSinchayeeYojana”. I propose to set aside a sum of `1,000 crore for this purpose.
We hope that this scheme actually results in restoration of village ponds, village level micro-irrigation facilities and wells in each farm.
Swatchh Bharat Abhiyan
30. The need for sanitation is of utmost importance. Although the Central Government is providing resources within its means, the task of total sanitation cannot be achieved without the support of all. The Government intends to cover every household by total sanitation by the year 2019, the 150th year of the Birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi through Swatchh Bharat Abhiyan.
This should focus on promotion of dry toilets and eco-sanitation.
Statue of Unity
33. Government of Gujarat has embarked upon the mission to build the largest statue of SardarVallabhBhai Patel. Sardar Patel stands as the symbol of the unity of the country. To support the Gujarat Government in this initiative to erect the Statue of Unity, I propose to set aside a sum of `200 crore.
We are sure that Sardar Patel would have never approved of such a wasteful expenditure. You do not need a statue to highlight either the greatness of an individual or to establish national unity. This must be reconsidered and dropped.
50. To give an added impetus to watershed development in the country, I propose to start a new programme called “Neeranchal” with an initial outlay of `2,142 crores in the current financial year.
Most welcome. We hope that this becomes a people’s movement.
66. It is time that our cities and towns undergo urban renewal and become better places to live in. While developing housing and other infrastructure, both physical and economic, which can have local variations, four fundamental activities must underpin such development. These are provision of safe drinking water and sewerage management, use of recycled water for growing organic fruits and vegetable, solid waste management and digital connectivity. It is the vision of this Government that at least five hundred (500) such habitations must be provided support, while harnessing private capital and expertise through PPPs, to renew their infrastructure and services in the next ten years.
This is welcome with a caveat. It should not become an excuse for privatisation of water management in these habitations.
Climate change is a reality which all of us have to face together. Agriculture as an activity is most prone to the vagaries of climate change. To meet this challenge, I propose to establish a “National Adaptation Fund” for climate change. As an initial sum an amount of `100 crore will be transferred to the Fund.
Good and timely move.
112. Development of inland waterways can improve vastly the capacity for the transportation of goods. A project on the river Ganga called ‘JalMargVikas’ (National Waterways-I) will be developed between Allahabad and Haldia to cover a distance of 1620 kms, which will enable commercial navigation of at least 1500 tonne vessels. The project will be completed over a period of six years at an estimated cost of `4,200 crore.
We fail to appreciate the urgency of this action since a national road map for a rejuvenated Ganga is still to be devised and any such move unless it finds a good fit (most unlikely) in that road map would result in further degradation, pollution, compromising the integrity of whatever Ganga today exists downstream of Allahabad. This must be deferred till a fully participatory, transparent and merit based Ganga rejuvenation plan has been put in place.
Water Resources and cleaning of Ganga
Linking of Rivers
153. Rivers form the lifeline of our country. They provide water not only for producing food for the multitudes but also drinking water. Unfortunately the country is not uniformly blessed with perennial rivers. Therefore, an effort to link the rivers can give rich dividends to the country. It is time that we made a serious effort to move in this direction. To expedite the preparation of the Detailed Project Reports, I propose to set aside a sum of `100 crore.
Yes, rivers are our life lines. But these are living ecological entities and product of millions of years of geo-morphological processes and NOT some pipelines carrying water which could be redirected and tampered with at will. India is blessed with diversity of land forms, biomes and biodiversity that has evolved over the millennia. And it cannot be anyone’s case that all parts of India should have perennial rivers? Such presumptions are bad in science and against nature where diversity and NOT uniformity is the law. We sincerely hope that such unscientific, unethical and unnatural obsessions are laid to rest once and for all times.
154. Substantial amount of money has been spent in the conservation and improvement of the Ganga, which has a very special sacred place in the collective consciousness of this country. However, the efforts have not yielded desired results because of the lack of concerted effort by all the stakeholders. I propose to set up Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission called “NamamiGange” and set aside a sum of `2,037 crores for this purpose.
We wholeheartedly endorse the realisation of past failures and this move on IGCM and the name – Namami Gange! But hopefully the planners also understand that we cannot remain respectful (namami) to Ganga (Maa) and yet disregard its integrity as an ecological system by interfering at will with it, in the name of either river linking or building dams and barrages on it?????
Development of Ghats and beautification of Riverfront
155. Our Riverfronts and Ghats are not only places of rich historical heritage but many of these are also sacred. To start this process in the country, I propose to set aside a sum of `100 crore for Ghat development and beautification of river front at Kedarnath, Haridwar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, Patna and Delhi in the current financial year.
Ghat and river front at Kedarnath? Obviously the Hon’ble FM is still to visit Kedarnath……
NRI Ganga Fund
156. NRIs have been a very important contributor to the development process in India, in areas such as education, health and preservation of culture. In this context, to harness their enthusiasm to contribute towards the conservation of the river Ganga, NRI Fund for Ganga will be set up which will finance special projects.
This is a welcome step.We only hope that special projects are ecological and not infrastructural or commercial in nature?
Conservation of Himalayas
171. There is a great need to increase the capacity in the country for Himalayan Studies. I propose to set up a National Centre for Himalayan Studies in Uttarakhand with an initial outlay of `100 crore.
This is a welcome and much delayed move.
National Capital Territory of Delhi
178. In addition, to solve the long term water supply issues to the capital region, construction of long pending Renuka Dam would be taken up on priority. I have provided an initial sum of `50 crore for this.
This is again a totally unnecessary investment in the name of a city that is perhaps globally the most water provided in its class. The money should be rather used to improve water management including demand management in the city of Delhi.
In the first annual budget (for the year 2014-15) presented by the new NDA government at the centre on July 10, 2014, it is generally bad news for Ganga and other rivers. Below we have given various provisions on water and river from the budget speech of the Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley. Mr Jaitley said in his speech: “In the first Budget of this NDA government that I am presenting before the august House, my aim is to lay down a broad policy indicator of the direction in which we wish to take this country.” The broad policy indicators on rivers do not seem to be any good news for the rivers of the country.
RIVERS FM said, “Rivers form the lifeline of our country. They provide water not only for producing food for the multitudes but also drinking water.” This shows the limited understanding of rivers that the government has. Rivers provides so much more than water. The FM do not seem to have any good news for this lifeline as the budget has several proposals that will harm and destroy the rivers.
River Linking The PIB wrongly claims, “The Budget also contains the first ever effort to link the rivers across the country.” A sum of Rs. 100 crore in the current Budget to expedite the preparation of Detailed Project Reports has been set aside. This is waste of public money. In addition to this, there is a huge allocation for the annual budget for NWDA, whose only mandate is studies for river linking. It is existing for 22 years, but has not produced a single document that will pass independent public scrutiny, and NWDA is afraid to put any document in public domain. Why is the government spending money on such fruitless exercise?
GANGA: Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission The Finance Minister, Shri Arun Jaitley said, “I propose to set up Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission called “Namami Gange” and set aside a sum of Rs 2,037 crores for this purpose.” Shri Jaitley said that the Mission is being launched because a substantial amount of money has been spent in the conservation and improvement of the river Ganga but the efforts have not yielded desired results because of the lack of concerted effort by all the stakeholders. This is admission of even NDA’s failure, since they were in power for at least six years and have not been able to make a dent in the state of the river. They should learn from that experience before jumping into such missions.
This raises a lot of unanswered questions: There is already an existing National Mission for Clean Ganga and if this new mission will be in addition to the old one or if the old one will be abolished? What is new in the new mission? Strangely, the FM did not use the work Ganga Rejuvenation, the charge that Ms Uma Bharti has been given. Does this indicate something is amiss here?
Riverfront Development “The Finance Minister has also set aside a sum of Rs. 100 crore for Ghat development and beautification of river front at Kedarnath, Haridwar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, Patna and Delhi in the current financial year since Riverfronts and Ghats are not only places of rich historical heritage but many of these are also sacred.”
The trouble is, this could spell disaster for the river and the cities where such development is planned, if this is going to happen on the lines of Sabarmati river front development. This is because in case of Sabarmati, the Riverfront development meant encroachment of over 200 ha of riverbed. If this is followed the river’s carrying capacity will be reduced. In changing climate, rivers need more and not less carrying capacity as the events of July 2005 in Mumbai, of August 2006 in Surat & recent years in Delhi have indicated. During Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 the buildings that we saw collapsing were all standing on the riverbeds. That should be a warning for any riverfront development that would encroach on the riverbed.
NRI Fund for Ganga To harness the enthusiasm of the NRI Community to contribute towards the conservation of the river Ganga, an NRI Fund for Ganga will be set up which will finance special projects, the Finance Minister added.
“A project on the river Ganga called ‘Jal Marg Vikas’ (National Waterways-I) will be developed between Allahabad and Haldia to cover a distance of 1620 kms, which will enable commercial navigation of at least 1500 tonne vessels. The project will be completed over a period of six years at an estimated cost of Rs 4,200 crore.”
Watershed Development To give an added impetus to watershed development in the country, a new programme called “Neeranchal” will be launched with an initial outlay of Rs 2,142 crore in the current financial year. This could be a positive move, but we have to await the details. It is also not clear if this is in addition to the ongoing watershed development or in place of it.
Rural Drinking Water For providing safe drinking water, Rs 3600 crore has been earmarked under National Rural Drinking Water Programme in approximately 20,000 habitations affected with arsenic, fluoride, heavy/toxic elements, pesticides/fertilizers through community water purification plants in next 3 years, the Finance Minister added.
Delhi Water Reforms Rs. 500 crore for water reforms to make Delhi a truly World Class City. The budget does not say a word what these reforms would mean, but going by the track record of this government in past, when they say reforms, they mean privatisation, which will be strongly opposed in Delhi.
Allocation for Renuka has no justification The FM said, “In addition, to solve the long term water supply issues to the capital region, construction of long pending Renuka Dam would be taken up on priority. I have provided an initial sum of Rs 50 crore for this.” Firstly Renuka dam does not even have statutory forest clearance and NGT has stopped work on the project. FM, but allocating money for the project in such a situation has indicated that they do not care for statutory clearance process or judicial orders.
Moreover Delhi does not need any more water from outside. It is already privileged with per capita water availability of over 250 lpcd, which is more than most European cities. Delhi does not harvest rain water, does not use flood water to recharge, does not protect its water bodies, does not treat its sewage, does not recycle and reuse the treated sewage, does not reduce its losses, does not do demand side measures and like a spoilt kid, asks more and more water from long distance sources.
Thirdly, Delhi may want exclusive share in water from Renuka, but Upper Yamuna states of Haryana, UP, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh are all asking for their share from the project and are ready to share the costs. Going ahead with the project without resolution of the interstate issues may land us in a soup similar to the Munak Canal.
Allocation for Statue of Unity The budget provides Rs 200 crore for ‘Statue of Unity’ in Gujarat. This project is come up in eco sensitive zone, and will affect large no of people and water body, but it has not seen any social or environmental impact assessment or participatory consultative process. It is supposed to come up in the middle of the water reservoir to be created by the proposed Garudeshwar Dam on Narmada river, but that dam has no impact assessment or clearances and stands challenged in NGT. Allocating money for the project under the circumstances is inappropriate.
Welcome Move: National Centre for Himalayan Studies in Uttarakhand “There is a great need to increase the capacity in the country for Himalayan Studies. I propose to set up a National Centre for Himalayan Studies in Uttarakhand with an initial outlay of Rs 100 crore.”
Irrigation The Budget provides Rs. 1,000 crore for Pradhan Mantri Krishi Seenchaayi Yojana. If this is for decentralized local systems, it would be a welcome move, but no details are available.
Welcome move: Organic farming in North East India Rs 100 crore has been provided in the budget to promote organic farming in Northeast India. This is a welcome move.
Welcome move: National Climate Change Adaptation fund for small farmers The FM said, “Climate change is a reality which all of us have to face together. Agriculture as an activity is most prone to the vagaries of climate change. To meet this challenge, I propose to establish a “National Adaptation Fund” for climate change. As an initial sum an amount of Rs 100 crore will be transferred to the Fund.” This is welcome, but we need to see who corners this money. It should go to the rainfed farmers.
Some other welcome provisions: Finance to 5 lakh landless farmers through Nabard since landless are not able to get bank loans in absence of land as a guarantee; Rs 50 core set aside for blue revolution for inland fisheries. This is provided there is a move to conserve the riverine fisheries.
On the whole, in spite of some welcome moves, on the whole, the budget brings more bad news for the rivers & those depend on rivers and rains, than good.
1. The Hindustan Times reported that the budget has reduced the allocation for MEF by 15% compared to previous year: http://www.hindustantimes.com/specials/coverage/unionbudget2014/budget2014/environment-gets-raw-deal-renewable-energy-a-fillip/sp-article10-1238988.aspx
2. The Indian Express has reported that the budget provides additional provisions for shutting downNGOs and Trusts: http://indianexpress.com/article/business/business-others/budget-makes-it-easier-for-govt-to-shut-down-ngos-and-trusts/
3. CSE: “Budget 2014 allocates Rs 200 crore for statue and Rs 50 crore for 50 million people who depend on the handloom sector. What does this say of priorities?”
4. BJP’s maiden budget disappointing for farmers: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/bjp-s-maiden-budget-disappointing-farmers
5. ‘Budget silent on crucial farmer suicide issue’: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/City/Chandigarh/Budget-silent-on-crucial-farmer-suicide-issue/articleshow/38163502.cms
6. Good, bad and ugly – YJA ‘green’ take on the Union Budget 2014-15: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/good-bad-and-ugly-our-green-take-on-the-union-budget-2014-15/
India is well aware of fury of ‘Mighty Brahmaputra’[i]! The 2900 KM long river is prone to catastrophic flooding in monsoon when the Himalayan snows also melt. It is a classic example of a braided river and is highly susceptible to channel migration and avulsion[ii]. What we seem not to be aware of is the consequences of damming every single tributary at multiple sites in the name of hydro power projects.
Hydro Power projects proposed on Yarjep River
Name of the Project
Pauk HE Project
Heo HE Project
Tato-I HE Project
Rapum HE Project
Rego HE Project
Kangtangshiri HE Project
Pemashelpu HE Project
Source: EIA Reports of Pauk, Heo and Tat-I HEP
Consider this: Might Brahmaputra has large number of tributaries, one of them, albeit the main one is Siang river, constituting just 2% of the Brahmaputra basin. Siang has many tributaries, one of them is Siyom River. Siyom has many tributaries, one of them is Yarjep. & now this Yarjep river, third order tributary (when enumeration is done in tree format, starting from main river) of Brahmaputra, is to have seven large hydropower projects with total installed capacity of 888 MW. Three of the largest among these projects together came before the Expert Appraisal Committee of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for River Valley Projects during their meeting on July 3-4, 2014. All three projects have common developer, namely Velcan Energy[iii] & common EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) consultant, namely Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environment (CISMHE)[iv]. Having been established as a R&D centre by the Power Ministry, there is an issue of conflict of interest since Power Ministry agenda is to push all hydropower projects, but an EIA consultant is supposed to be an independent entity.
The story of river Yarjep in the State of Arunachal Pradesh which is a small part of Brahmaputra River System can help us understand the larger canvas of much ambitions hydro power spree the state is on.
Arunachal Pradesh government and the central government plan to make Arunachal Pradesh the ‘future powerhouse’ of the country. Siang basin is considered the largest basin in terms of hydropower potential in Arunachal Pradesh, the present estimated potential is 18293 MW it has over 18000 MW of power potential, which is planned to be harnessed by setting up about 44 hydropower projects spread throughout the basin. Department of Hydro Power Development, Government of Arunachal Pradesh has allotted 39 projects, which are at various stages of survey and investigation. Five projects are yet to be allotted which includes two major projects viz. Siang Upper Stage I (6000 MW) and Siang Upper Stage II (3750 MW), which are in investigation stage.
Such a large-scale development which is expected to take place over a period of next 10-15 years will cause huge environmental impacts and exert tremendous pressure on carrying capacity of Siang basin. Cumulative Impact Assessment and Carrying Capacity Assessment of Siang basin which was conducted by CWC as directed by Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) in Feb., 2010 on the directions of Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The study is yet to be approved through a credible participatory process. The study itself has very serious shortcomings[i].
There is an attempt to delink the sanctioning of the individual projects from the CIA & CCA study of the Siang Basin. Even before the report is accepted by MoEF, the ministry is considering three projects proposed in a cascade on Yarjep River of the Siang Basin. Pauk HEP (145 MW), Heo HEP (240 MW) and Tato-I HEP (186 MW), have been proposed as a cascade and were considered for EAC in its 75th meeting held on 3-4th July 2014 for grant of EC (Environment Clearance). EIA studies conducted by Centre for Inter-Disciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environment University of Delhi, Delhi (CISMHE) for all the three projects were submitted to the EAC. Considering these projects is also in clear violation of the MEF order of May 28, 2013 which required that no project beyond the first project be considered in any basin without a cumulative impact study. Siang basin supports spectacular biodiversity as well as anthropological richness in India. Any decision in this basin needs to be taken carefully. Siang CIA CCS Study is a step in that direction which can guide EAC’s decision making regarding Siang Basin projects only after it is completed through a credible process.
All the three EIA reports have serious inadequacies. The EIAs have been conducted in a very project specific manner and do not reflect the cumulative nature of impacts. The EIA reports for the schemes present the respective schemes as Run of the River Schemes (ROR) even when the projects talk of peaking generation and also have large storage of water proposed. The report at several places reflects pro hydro bias. Impact prediction and assessment is highly inadequate and completely bypass the cumulative impacts. The report also shows casual approach towards prediction and mitigation of impacts. SANDRP recently made detailed submissions to EAC after reviewing the EIA reports, EMPs (Environment Management Plan) and Public Hearing reports of the three projects. Highlights of the submissions are given below.
Pro hydro bias Opening chapters of the EIA reports (Apart from Developer’s Foreword, which is inappropriate in an EIA Study) of the EIA begins with ‘Need of hydropower’ and ‘Power potential of Arunachal Pradesh’. This is not expected from an EIA. This does not lay grounds for unbiased impact assessment and supports the project implicitly from word go.
Consultants not aware of policies and Acts Para 1.5.1 the EIA says: “In the course of its development, the Tato-I HEP needs to adhere to all relevant policies and guidelines in general and the following, in particular:
i.) National Forest Policy (NFP), 1988
ii.) National Water Policy (NWP), 2002
iii.) National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy (NRRP), 2007
iv.) Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy (RRP), 2008 of GoAP”.
This shows that the EIA consultants are not even aware of latest policies and Acts. For example, the latest Water Policy is National Water Policy of 2012 and latest R&R Act is that of 2013.
Misleading claim: These are NOT ROR schemes All the three EIA reports keep referring to the projects as ROR schemes. The Executive summary of all the EIA reports starts with a strange statement, “Such (“midsized ROR”) kind of projects is highly environment friendly”, which is clearly wrong and has no place in an EIA. This is not an ROR project, since it also hopes to do peaking power generation. EIA report of Pauk HEP states “2.4.1 One storage capacity in the most upstream project, Pauk, is sufficient to regulate the natural flow during the lean season, and to ensure the diurnal peaking hours of the entire cascade.” While EIA report of Tato-I states that master and slave relationship has been attributed to Heo HEP (master) and Tato-I HEP (slave) due to 94% to 98% direct dependency of Tato-I flows for power generation. The report also states that during peaking power generation for about 3 hours in lean season, ungated trench weir can supplement flows. Pauk HEP has dam with live storage of 1.67 million m3 and Heo HEP has dam with live storage of 0.15 million m3. Dam storage and peaking generation in these cascade projects disqualify them as RoR projects since the projects will be changing the downstream hydrograph, which ROR projects cannot do. The proponent and the EIA consultant are misleading the MoEF as well as investors, statutory bodies and general concerned public that this is an RoR project, thus painting a falsely benign picture of the project.
Missing aspects of impact assessment Many of crucial aspect of impact assessment are completely missing.
Word ‘Climate Change’ does not feature in EIA report or in the EMP. No assessment of the possible impact of climate change on the project and impact of the project on the local climate as well as increase in green house gas emissions from the reservoir and construction of the project has been done.
Similarly impact of the project on adaptation capacity of the local communities in changing climate has not been assessed.
Impacts of the dam on the flood character of the river, what will be the changes and how these will impact downstream areas are not assessed.
Impacts of changing silt flows downstream from desilting chamber and from silt flushing in monsoon on the downstream areas are not analyzed.
Impact on the disaster potential in the project area as well in the downstream due to construction and also operation at various stages, say on landslides, flash floods, etc. is not assessed.
Impacts of peaking generation have not been assessed. When a project operates as peaking station, there are severe impacts in the downstream and also upstream (rim stability). These impacts have not been assessed, nor is it assessed how the project will perform in the cascade development it is in.
EIA reports of the Heo and Tato-I projects conveniently adopt the site specific seismic study carried out for Pauk HEP by IIT Roorkie stating that “In view of proximity, size of the structure, similarity of lithological/ tectonic features, location in the same geotectonic block, and absence of any major additional tectonic features, it is considered appropriate”.
INADEQUATE IMPACT PREDICTION AND MITIGATION
Impacts on Fishes: The report shows quite a disregard for these migrating species. No mitigation measures for the habitat fragmentation of these species are considered. Schizothorax richardsonaii, Schizothoraicthys prograstus are the two migrating species among the eight species found in the Yarjep river. EMPs for all the projects make no provision for fish ladder or pass stating that the two species can survive in lentic as well lotic waters. The consultant has used only the schizothorax species as an indicator for assessing impact of changes in discharge, depth and velocity. Such assessment based on single species downplays the impact on other species like smaller fish, benthic macro and micro invertebrates which form an important part of the food chain which also supports the target specie. This is also in violation of original TORs.
Playing down fisheries diversity: The chapter on Fisheries compares fisheries in Yargyap, which is Siyom’s tributary with Siyom and concludes that the icthyological fauna is lesser than Siyom. That is a flawed comparison as Siyom has a bigger drainage area and is a bigger river. Siang CIA CCS Study indicates presence of additional RET fish species than EIA Report.
Non fulfillment of TOR: According to the original TORs dated 09/2008: The assessment of eflows stated: “Estimation of environmental flow for the aquatic species and river morphology”. However, the study forgets this TOR and focusses only on Schizothorax species and does not comply with the ToRs. There are issues of merit and significant impact here and the eflows assessment part of the EIA study needs to be redone.
Turbine designs also need to be changed to protect downstream migrating fish from being mortally injured by the turbine blades. Precautionary measures like bubble walls, acoustic barriers, racks etc., have to be adopted to avoid fish mortality in the turbines for downstream migration. None of these measures are even explored, although the TORs asked for measures to aid fish migration. This is not confirming to the TORs and hence this part of the study needs to be done again.
Non fulfillment of TORs:
Eflows discharge designs: The TORs state that the EIA should contain : “The design details for ensuring minimum environmental flows should be provided in the EIA/EMP report.”
Aiding fish migration: The TORs had also asked the proponent to explore ways to aid fish migration and ladders. The proponent’s response does not deal with this. In fact the proponent states: “The height of dam of Pauk H.E. project is more than 100 m so that fish ladders are not proposed for Pauk considering its feasibility.”
Although ladders may not be feasible for Pauk HEP there are a number of other ways like passes, fish lifts and a combination of ladder and lifts that can be explored to aid fish migration, as is being done the world over. Fish ladder in any case should have been considered for Heo and Tato I trench weir.
Dangerous Mitigation measures suggested Mitigation measures suggested in the EMP like River channelization are downright dangerous, indicating the flawed impact assessment by the consultant. Reinstating Habitat complexity downstream of dam stretches is one of the mitigation measures for fish conservation. Many countries are working towards reinstating this habitat complexity by introducing boulders, creating riffles, etc, while the Pauk EMP actually suggest removing boulders and channelization of river between dam and powerhouse, which will increase the impacts downstream!
Impacts of tunneling and blasting on geophysical aspects of the region: All the three EIA reports summarize the impacts on landslides in single sentence: “The HRT might disturb the water tables. In addition, blasting, quarrying and road construction activities may give rise to landslides and slips in the area.” In the EMP no specific measures have been suggested for landslides.
All the projects require about 2.7-3 ha of land for underground works such as Head Race Tunnel (HRT), adits and related works. This will involve tunneling and blasting works. No detailed assessment of impacts of tunneling and blasting works involved in this construction in terms of spatial assessment of areas to be blasted and their overlap with ecologically sensitive and geologically fragile areas has been done. Impacts of blasting on local water resources such as springs, impact on the houses, impact on wildlife has not been detailed. No preventive measures have been suggested in the management plan. This again shows non serious attitude of the EIA agency.
Free flowing river stretch: There is no mention of what is the flowing river stretch downstream & upstream of the projects. This point was raised in 34th EAC Meeting held on 19-20.01.2010 and it was observed that as there is no free stretching of river between the three contiguous projects (Pauk, Heo and Tato-I) the river will be a pull of water for a stretch of about 14 kilometers. However, the report does not talk about free flowing river stretch at all.
Unless this length is assessed and is found to be adequate for river to regain its vitality, the project should not be considered and it should be asked to change the parameters as per the need for flowing stretch between projects. In any case this stretch should not be less than 1 km between any two projects, which is the current EAC norm.
Environmental flows: Section on Environmental Flows discusses all three projects together. These three projects will change the character of at least 14 kilometers of the river and also beyond. The Environment flow should be assessed through a Building Block method which has not been done, one of the key requirements for building block method is participation of all stake holders.
It has to be noted that the Powerhouse discharges from Heo do not enter the river at all, but are intercepted by the water conductor system of Tato I which also diverts additional water through ungated trench weir. So the section of the river which carries only environmental flows is significant, highlighting the importance of holistic e-flows recommendations and not one focused on single species.
As stated in the Pauk and Heo reports, large no of data is from years 2009-10, more than three years old now and in any case before the TOR approval given in 2011. This is clearly in violation of the MEF norms.
No details of how the e-flows will be released and monitored have been given in the EIA. This is a serious lacuna as we have seen that e-flows recommendations remain on paper in the absence of clearly defined discharge mechanism and robust monitoring.
Impacts on the wildlife:Impact of clearing forests which would result in land cover change has been stated in the reports as “small in magnitude.” The EIA report categorise the impacts on wildlife as “temporary” stating that they would last up to the end of construction period only. This is clearly wrong considering that the change in downstream river flows in operation phase will have impact on aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.
The most affected animal species in the surroundings are Common leopard, Leopard, cat, Jungle cat, Barking deer, Wild boar, etc. However no detailed assessment of their habitats and corridors has been carried out. The Heo EIA report surprisingly states that “Contrarily, the diversion of water in the downstream part of the river may open new corridors for the movement of animals. It is considered as positive impact.” (p. 301 Volume-I EIA Report) Which new corridors the report is talking about when there is ZERO distance of free flowing river between the projects? There are clearly contradictions and that shows how non serious the EIA agency is.
The report also clearly does not recognize the hazard of animals getting washed away with sudden release of discharge.
No assessment of Cumulative Impacts The project lists seven projects on rive Yarjep. The report claims (clearly an unsubstantiable claim) that the cumulative impact assessment study has been conducted only for the three projects in the cascade development. The model for computing environmental-flows is site specific and focused on the Yarjep river part related to the Pauk, Heo and Tato-I HEPs only. (p. 277 Volume-II EIA Report) While report makes a brief mention of cumulative impacts on different environmental components, there is no detailed assessment of any of the cumulative impacts. This is clearly unjustified looking at the large number of hydro power projects on Yarjep River. The report has completely failed in having serious attitude towards the cumulative impacts assessment.
EIA report completely misses out on the detailed analysis of cumulative impacts in terms of
Impacts on flora, fauna, carrying capacity, livelihoods
Impact of reduction in adaptive capacity of the people and area to disasters in normal circumstance AND with climate change
Impacts on springs and drainage pattern
Disaster potential of the area
Tunneling and blasting
Changed silt flow pattern in different phases
Cumulative downstream impact
Cumulative impact of hydro peaking
Implementation of measures for safe operation (e.g. as recommended by SANDRP[ii])
Mining of materials for the project
Cumulative disaster management
Geological disturbance caused
Impact of construction and operation of coffer dams and diversion tunnel
Issues with Rehabilitation & Resettlement Plan Rehabilitation and Resettlement plan of the project refers to National Policy on Rehabilitation and Resettlement (2007) and Resettlement & Rehabilitation Policy of Arunachal Pradesh Government (2008). (p. 120 Volume-II EIA Report) This is clearly wrong; the new R&R Act of 2013 has to be made applicable. The PP should be asked to redo the R&R Plan in consultation with the affected people, EMP and cost estimates and come back. The R&R Plan should also include compensatory measures for all social impacts in the upstream and downstream, not only for those who lose land or houses.
Public Hearing minutes not included: The EIA is supposed to include the full minutes of the Public hearing, which has not been included in this report, violating the legal norm. Instead, the EIA indulges in biased unwarranted statements of “Everyone Clearly supporting Pauk HEP”. The public hearing report for the Heo HEP has several shocking statements from the DC, which seems to raise the suspicion that the public hearing has not been conducted in free and fair manner and should be asked to be conducted again, this time by an independent panel.
Conclusion Looking at the fact that the Siang Basin study is yet under consideration and the EIA reports of Pauk, Heo and Tato-I projects fail to assess the project specific & cumulative impacts we sincerely hope that the EAC will not accord environmental clearance to these projects & will also call for fresh public hearings after EIAs have been redone.
We also see it alarming that all the three EIAs by CISMHE are so fundamentally flawed. If this is the way we are going to conduct EIAs, we are not even in a position to make informed decisions about such massive interventions in such fragile, vulnerable areas. Should CISMHE, having been set up by the Power Ministry itself, be doing an EIA is another question that needs answer.
The one day Ganga Manthan organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on July 7, 2014 was described by Union Minister Sushri Uma Bharti & Union Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari as “Historical”. The Union Environment Minister, who has one of the most crucial role in achieving a rejuvenated Ganga, was supposed to be there, but could not come at any stage.
I attended the full day meeting with a lingering question: Will this help the river? Even some of the ardent skeptics said that Uma ji has emotional, spiritual and religious attachment with the cause of Ganga.
At the conclave attended by close to a thousand people, the story of how Ms. Bharti came back to the BJP party about a year back to work for the cause of Ganga, and how she was promised a year back that if their party came to power, Ganga will get a separate ministry and she its charge was narrated repeatedly by both Ms Bharti and Mr Gadkari at least twice. It was also stated that the government has the commitment, the will & all the money to make the Ganga clean (Nirmal) and perennial (aviral). There were also repeated statements by both ministers about the officials being so committed to the cause of Ganga. These, in essence, were the basic positive assets of this government to achieve Ganga Rejuvenation.
While it was good to see large gathering involving various sections of the society, including many independent non government voices, missing were some key stakeholders: Ganga basin state governments, farmers groups, Ministry of Urban Development, fisher-folk groups, boats-people representatives. Another key constituency missing was Ministry of Agriculture, since agriculture is major user of water & irrigation and responsible for water diversion and at the same time major non point source polluter through use of chemicals and fertilizers.
Rejuvenation does not mean just nirmal and aviral But if the task is Rejuvenation of River Ganga, are these assets sufficient? What exactly does Rejuvenation of River Ganga mean? There were no answers to this question at the meeting. The government did not even seem bothered about these questions. Are Nirmal and Aviral Ganga sufficient objectives to achieve Rejuvenation of Ganga? The answer is clearly no, for, even a pipleline or canal carrying perennial flow of water can claim that distinction. A rejuvenated river will need much more than that, but the government has nothing else to offer for a rejuvenated river.
Even for Aviral Ganga, the government had absolutely nothing to offer. In the information package shared with the participants, the only thing relevant to Aviral Ganga was the extended summary of draft “Ganga River Basin Management Plan” being prepared by consortium of seven IITs in collaboration with some 11 other organisations. This is led by Dr Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur. While standing with Dr Tare and Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh at the lunch, I said, the problem with Ganga is not of technology, but of governance. Despite being a proud IITian myself, I have no hesitation in saying that IITs do not have expertise in governance issues, so how can the IIT Consortium help in fix a governance problem? Having read the full Draft Plan of the IIT consortium, it only further strengthens the view that it was wrong decision of Jairam Ramesh to give this task to IIT Consortium.
Agenda for further destruction As a matter of fact, while this government has yet to take a step that will truly help rejuvenation of Ganga, they have declared their agenda that will possibly further destroy the river. This was clear on June 6, 2014, within ten days of new government taking over when a PIB press release announced, “Shri Gadkari said it is proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters and for a three (3) meters draft (depth) to enable transport of passengers and goods between Varanasi and Hoogly on river Ganga in the first stage of its development and eleven terminals are proposed to be constructed along the banks. He said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms.” This was a shocking and arrogant announcement. There is nothing in public domain about this Rs 6000 crores plan, no details as to what exactly is planned, where the barrages are planned, why are they needed, what are their environmental impacts, what are the social impacts, what are the riverine impacts, what is the cost and benefits, who will pay the costs and who will reap the benefits, where is public consultation….there is absolutely nothing in public domain and here is a nine day old government declaring such massive plan! By July 7, 2014, the PIB Press Release declared that the depth will now by 5 meters and not three announced earlier. The PIB PR now said, “He (Mr Gadkari) said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms on the river. Shri Gadkari said his Ministry has sent a proposal in this regard to World Bank for the development of Allahabad- Haldia corridor.”
The minister possibly does not know that there is just one barrage on the Allahabad-Haldia 1500 km long stretch, namely the Farakka barrage and Bangladesh had threatened India to take the matter about building this barrage to the UN! Moreover, that barrage, everyone accepts, has not even achieved the basic objective it was supposed to achieve, namely navigability of Kolkata port, but has had many other severe impacts.
At Ganga Manthan, Mr Gadkari dropped a bombshell when he said this plan is already in advanced stage of appraisal with the World Bank! He said the government hopes to get Rs 4000 crores from the World Bank!! The World Bank has zero track record in achieving any clean river anywhere in the world, after spending billions of dollars every year. In India itself it stands guilty of destroying many rivers. A more inauspicious start to the Ganga Manthan possibly could not have been possible. At the Ganga Manthan itself, there was opposition to this plan, as The Hindu has reported.But Ms Uma Bharti finds nothing amiss about this as was clear by her answers at the press conference. But what about at least some semblance of participatory democracy?
Business as usual at NMCG and NGBRA will not help In reality, this is not all. While this Manthan for Ganga Rejuvenation is happening, the NMCG and NGBRA (National Ganga River Basin Authority) go on with their work in business as usual fashion. So in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam is going about its task of floating and examining the bids for five-part sewer laying and Sewage Treatment Plants with the help of JICA money. In Kanpur, the effort to divert several streams to Pandu is going on. In Allahabad, “the draft final ESAMP sewerage works for sewerage districts” A & C could be found on the NGBRA website. In Patna, the World Bank is funding the sewerage projects of Pahari in Patna & river front development and the draft social and environmental impact assessments could be found on NGBRA website. All of this (except the Varanasi packages, which are funded by Japanese aid agency) is going on under USD 1 Billion World Bank Funded NBGRA project.
So the business as usual that is going on for 40 years is now going to help rejuvenate Ganga!
The NMCG announced that the Manthan, a “National Dialogue on Ganga”, was supposed “to facilitate interaction with various stakeholders”, “to discuss the issues & solutions to the task of Ganga Rejuvenation”, “to prepare road map for preparation of a comprehensive plan”. The website said the Ganga is “holiest of Rivers”, “purifier of mortal beings” & “living godess”, but now “seriously polluted” and in “extreme environmental stress”.
Where is the dialogue? However, the way the meeting was organized, there was essentially no dialogue. After the inaugural plenary session, the participants were divided among four groups: 1. spiritual leaders, 2. environmentalists, NGOs, water conservationists, 3. scientists, academicians and technocrats, and administrators; 4. public representatives.
I went to the second group and there, when someone pointedly asked, if there is any representative of the government present, there was no response! In fact it was positively shocking that the first panel member that spoke in this group was Dr Arun Kumar of AHEC (Alternate Hydro Energy Centre) whose work on Ganga basin cumulative impact assessment is so discredited that even the official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF, the Inter-ministerial Group on Ganga, the Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court after the June 2013 flood disaster and the Supreme Court itself has criticized it or found it unreliable. NMCG has discredited itself by appointing such a person to give an overview of achievement of Ganga Action Plans.
Ms Bharti apologized in the beginning for hurriedly-called meeting. But the least she could have ensured was a credible process that will ensure that the officials have to show application of mind to the various suggestions received and conduct of the meeting in credible and confidence inspiring way. But the meeting did not inspire confidence that there will be any credible process that will ensure that there is application of mind to the various inputs given. Many of the participants did not have any opportunity to speak.
Recommendations for the government on Ganga
1. Make an honest effort to learn from the past. Why have the efforts of last 40 years since the passage of Water Pollution Act 1974 not helped Ganga? Similarly why did the GAP I, NRCP, GAP II, NGBRA not helped make the Ganga clean (nirmal) or perennial (aviral)?
2. Understand & recognise that Ganga is a river and what are the essential characteristics of a Ganga that it needs to rejuvenate it as a river. At Ganga Manthan, in post lunch session in the room where the fourth group for public representatives was sitting, I was sitting next to an official of Ministry of Water Resources and I casually asked him does the ministry of water resources understand what is a river? He first said yes, but when I said you are only dealing with water and nowhere in your work have we seen any value for rivers, he said ok, but we can do it in collaboration with MoEF. The trouble is, even MoEF does not understand rivers. [It was also strange to see in this session Mr Madhav Chitale (former Water Resources Secretary) describing Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 as an effort to clean the river! Such misrepresentation going unchallenged was shocking.] It should be remembered that it is this ministry of water resources through which Sushri Uma Bharti has to achieve a rejuvenated Ganga!
3. Ganga is not 2525 km long river: We kept hearing this sentence that Ganga is 2525 km length of river and Mr Bhurelal in fact said we need to limit ourselves to discussing how to make this stretch clean. The trouble is, if the tributaries are not healthy rivers, how can the main stem of Ganga be rejuvenated? As Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan said, Ganga is not 2525 km, but much more than 25000 km including all the tributaries, as Yamuna is not 1400 km long but 13470 km long including all the tributaries.
4. Ganga in Mountains: Learn the lessons from Uttarakhand disaster, that affected the headwaters of the Ganga river. The Expert body constituted by the MoEF under Dr Ravi Chopra has a lot to say there. Revisit all the existing, under construction and planned projects in the whole basin.
5. Farakka barrage: It is well known that the barrage did not serve the basic purpose it was created for, namely making the Kolkata port navigable. But it has created such havoc in upstream and downstream for millions of people that some of the Bihar MPs of previous Lok Sabhas talked about decommissioning of the barrage in the debate on Ganga. But this government wants to make many more barrages! First do a post facto assessment of the Farakka barrage and its current costs, benefits and risks.
6. Formulate an Urban Water Policy: The footprint of the urban areas on the rivers is increasing in multiple ways, but we have no urban water policy. Some key elements that such a policy will include: Reducing transmission & Distribution losses, water audit from RWA upwards, Rainwater harvesting, decentralised and eco-friendly ways of sewage treatment and recycle, groundwater recharge and bottom up management, demand side management, protection of local water bodies, protection of riverbeds, floodplains and forest areas & democratisation of the Urban water utilities. As the working report for the 12th Five Year Plan on Urban water said, no Urban areas should be allowed to have external water till they exhaust their local potential, including recycling of the treated sewage and other demand side and supply side options. The footprint of the urban areas will increase exponentially if we do not urgently on this front.
7. Agriculture is the biggest user of water and our government encourages use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. Most of these chemicals end up in water bodies including rivers. If we do not want our rivers to be dumping grounds for these chemicals, the government should encourage organic farming. Similarly, in stead of encouraging water intensive cropping patterns and methods, government needs to encourage low water use crops and methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is applicable for many crops and can reduce water need by upto 50% and yet increase yields and incomes of farmers. But the government has shown no interest in encouraging SRI. Such methods can free up a lot of water for the river. Similarly, under the influence of powerful sugar lobby, we are producing more sugarcane and sugar than we need and than we are exporting the same at subsidized rates! So essentially we are exporting water at huge subsidized rates, that too from Ganga, but we have no water for the river!
8. Irrigation is the biggest user of water. At Bhimgoda, Bijnor and Narora barrages, we are diverting almost all the water in the river for irrigation. But we have no water for the river. If we change our water resources development and agriculture policies, it is possible to restrict these diversions to 50% and release the rest for the river. We need to review all this.
9. The IIT consortium report is seriously flawed and is not likely to help the river.
10. We need to define the path of the riverbed or right of way for the river, based on its need to carry 100 year flood and silt. In absence of such a defined space for the river, there are a lot of encroachments. There is also no river regulation law to regulate this riverways land. This is urgently required.
11. Our Pollution Control Boards and related mechanism is not known to have achieved a single clean river or nala in 40 years of their existence, anywhere in the country. This is because of the completely non transparent, unaccountable, non participatory and exclusive bodies, where people whose lives are affected by the pollution have no role. A complete revamp of this is required to make its management inclusive from block level upwards, and answerable to the local people through clearly defined management system.
12. One of the major reason for the failure of the GAP, NRCP and NGBRA is that their functioning is top down, with absolutely no clearly defined norms for transparency, accountability, participation and inclusive management. Unless we completely change this, no amount of money, no amount of technology, no amount of infrastructure or institutions is going to help the Ganga. We need management system for every STP, every freshwater plant, every city and town, every 3-5 km of the river, every tributary and so on. At least 50% members of the management committees for each of them should be from outside the government, including community members. The people whose lives and livelihoods depend on river including fisherfolk, boatspeople, river bed cultivators, local sand miners, communities depending on river for different water needs have to be represented in such management system. That will also create an ownership in river rejuvenation effort. This is also applicable to urban areas and all the tributaries.
13. This is also true for our environmental governance of dams, hydropower projects, flood control projects, water supply projects, and so on. Today there is no credible environmental management at planning, appraisal, construction, operation or decommissioning stage.
14. River of course needs water. Urgently. Chart out a road map to achieve 50% of freshwater releases from all dams and barrages in two years. Also no sewage water or effluents entering the river in two years.
In the concluding plenary, after listening to the reports from four groups (there were a lot of positive and useful suggestions there), Ms Uma Bharti and Mr Gadkari said that they won’t make any announcement today but they will ensure that the good suggestions that have come will be given to the decision-makers who will create a road map. This is very vague and unconvincing process with no credible transparency. The least the ministers could have assured is a confidence-inspiring process that would transparently ensure that the decision makers have applied their minds to the suggestions. But even that was not promised.
Despite this seemingly gloomy outcome, considering that the NMCG has invited suggestions even after the meeting, I am going to send this blog link to them and wait for their response! Ganga definitely needs a lot of sewa from all of us if the river is to have any better future.
 Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
 Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation
 It’s worth noting here that Mr Gadkari seems to have abiding faith in technology, he said that this is an age of technology and there are technological solutions for all problems! This possibly shows where we are heading!
 Title: “Development of River Ganga for Tourism, Transport and to make it Environment Friendly”