People walking on the bank of Ganga in Allahabad
SC transfers PIL on cleaning Ganga to NGT In a major development, after monitoring Ganga cleaning work for last 31 years and without achieving any cleaner river, the Supreme Court on January 24, 2017 wrapped up a PIL on cleaning of river Ganga and sent it to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for more effective adjudication. The apex court had been monitoring the issue for 31 years. A bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice N V Ramana said that since issues relating to municipal solid waste and industrial waste were already being heard by the NGT on a day-to-day basis, all other issues relating to sources of polluting the river should also be heard by the NGT.
The bench said that the tribunal will be required to submit an interim report to it every six months, only to give an idea about the progress made and difficulties, if any. It also granted liberty to the petitioner, environmentalist M C Mehta, to approach the court if he had any grievances in consonance with the law.
During last week hearing (January 17, 2017), the SC bench has directed the government to file a report on the construction and functioning of STPs alongside the river, which runs through five States.
It has been almost two years after the SC has voiced scepticism about the government’s self-proclaimed promise to clean up the Ganga River. Before this, in 2014, the apex court had voiced its reservations about the various efforts over the decades to return the Ganga to its pristine self, once even saying that it “does not expect Ganga to be cleaned up even after 200 years.”
In 2014, the apex court said that its “last hope” rested on the NGT and referred the task of monitoring industrial units along the Ganga to the NGT. The apex court had even empowered the tribunal to cut off water and power connections if the units are found to be polluting the river.
The apex court had observed that official apathy coupled with “failure at various levels” in both the State and the CPCB had led to the Ganga dying at the hands of “highly” and “grossly” polluting units, which flushed their untreated effluents into the river without any checks.
In its first major order on September 22, 1987, noting that industrial pollutants were ten times more noxious then domestic waste, the apex court directed closure of 20 tanneries working on the banks of Ganga and discharging effluents into it.
Similarly, on January 12, 1988 the apex court, while reiterating the earlier directions, ordered the municipalities concerned to set up STPs to ensure that untreated domestic sewage does not enter the river.
In 2006, it took note of the CAG report on the expenditure on the Ganga Action Plan for year ending March 2000 in which it was said that Rs 587.63 crore had been incurred by the implementing agencies.
Several other important orders were also passed by the apex court on the PIL including that industrial units shall submit a time bound action plan for setting up of anti- pollution measures to be completed before March 31, 2015.
Notably in January 2015, the government had informed the SC that a consortium of IITs was preparing a road map to rejuvenate the river. It informed that a proposal is on track to have a total of 80 STPs which would process, in a day, 368 million litres of water flowing into the river in the five river basin States.
The Ganga River Basin Management Plan (GRBMP) 2015 drafted by the IIT consortium had pointed to several problems, from rapid urbanization to over-grazing, which has led to the slow destruction of the river.
Budget 2017-18: Group of Secretaries want PM to shift focus to renewables Key information: In the action points, sought by the PM for inclusion in 2017-18 Budget, the Group of Secretaries on Energy & Environment called for special dispensation for hydroelectric sector by declaring them as renewable energy and raising the threshold for financial support from less than 25 megawatts to 100 MWs.
Under the current tax regime, small hydro projects up to 25 MW are treated as renewable energy whereby they are exempted from excise duty and pay value added tax of 0-5 per cent and a central sales tax of 2 per cent.
For hydroelectric projects higher than 100 MWs, the Group has suggested long term loans with interest subvention of four per cent. The action points also recommend continuation of tax incentives and benefits for the sector beyond March 2017.
However, it wants only new hydroelectric projects to be part of the renewable purchase obligations — whereby it is mandatory for all states to purchase a certain percent of their power demand from renewables.
In order to incentivise RPO compliance, the Group has suggested that the monies collected in the National Clean Energy Fund be used to subsidise the distribution companies. NCEF, a fund created in 2010-11, has collected Rs 54,000 crore since then.
Sikkim Locals fighting against from hydropower projects While the government of Sikkim is determined to convert its rivers into so-called “white gold” by exploiting its vast hydropower resources, indigenous Lepchas of the state in India’s Northeastern Himalayas hope their opposition will halt construction of the proposed 520 MW Teesta Stage IV hydropower project. Struggle against Teesta IV project of Sikkim goes to NGT, Sikkim or people there do not really need this, the Grid does not need it with excess supply and with such huge costs and impacts, one wonders why is this project being pushed at all.
Narmada Dam Oustees HC insists on land compensation In a major setback to the MP government, which had been offering cash compensation against the land lost by the oustees of Gujarat’s Narmada dam, the High Court’s Indore bench has ruled that those who had received the first cash installment would be entitled to land compensation. The MP High Court’s interim ruling is likely to benefit as many as 1,505 oustee families, who were offered first installment of the cash compensation. Operating through the grievances redressal authority (GRA), formed to listen to the oustees’ complaints, the MP state govt had decided against giving land, saying they must get cash compensation alone. Termed special rehabilitation package or SRP, the cash-for-land formula was worked by Gujarat govt bureaucrats more than a decade ago in order to speed up completion of the Narmada dam.
INTERSTATE WATER DISPUTES
Mahanadi Row Center constitutes negotiation committee Ministry of Water Resources, has constituted a negotiation committee to assess availability and utilisation of water of Mahanadi and its tributaries. The committee will also examine existing water sharing agreements on river Mahanadi and will consider claims of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand regarding availability and utilisation of waters of these rivers. Mahanadi dispute goes to the next level with setting up of this committee to assess the water use. Wonder if the name negotiating committee is official name (not likely) or the media has given that name!
RIVERS AS NATIONAL WATER WAYS
Center Govt starts development work on 106 National Waterways Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has begun the preparatory works on 106 additional National Waterways (NWs). In phase I, eight waterways are being considered for development covering states such as Bihar (NW-37, Gandak & NW-58 , Kosi), Uttar Pradesh (NW-40 Ghaghra), Goa (NW-68, Mandovi, NW-111, Zuari and NW-27, Cumberjua Canal), West Bengal (NW-97, Sunderban), and Assam (NW-16, Barak). While the Detailed Project Report (DPR) for these waterways are ready, the tender process for fairway development of two NWs namely NW-16 and NW-40 i.e. river Barak in Assam and Ghaghra in Uttar Pradesh respectively have been initiated.
Assam Govt to build express highway along Brahmaputra The Assam government would soon start work on an 890-km Express Highway along the entire length of the Brahmaputra in the state from Sadiya in the east to Dhubri in the west, which in turn would also help arrest river-bank erosion. Could this be invitation to major disaster if not done properly? Can it really help prevent river bank erosion? The news report even mentions lessons to be learnt from the Chinese experience in dealing with Hwang-Ho River, but do we have credible account of what all was done in that case and what were the results?
Tamil Nadu Rivers dying a slow death A visit to Ennore creek, which drains the Araniyar and Kosasthalaiyar rivers, once ran unperturbed, carrying crystal-clear water. The Buckingham canal, a salt-water navigation system built in the 19th Century, was a treasure trove of fish. All this are thing of past. The origin of the injustice is fly ash from a power plant in Vallur and a thermal power station that has destroyed the river, its fish, and the livelihood and childhood memories of the fishermen.
Yettinahole Row Diverting Yettinahole is economically unsound The manner in which the project has morphed to skirt the law is disturbing. While the original project report included irrigation and power generation components, it was modified to remove all mention of them without any actual changes to water storage or usage plans. Civil society groups have claimed that making Yettinahole a drinking water project by modifying the original proposal are mere cosmetic changes to evade environmental scrutiny. This way, it keeps to the letter but ignores the spirit of the Environmental Protection Act. In fact, there are three cases against Yettinahole Project in the NGT – yet work continues apace.
Uttarakhand Curious case of disappearing Ramganga’s fish Fishermen are confused by the decline in fish numbers in the Ramganga. While the dams and the resultant fragmentation of rivers are the single largest threat to fish species, especially in the mountain areas, the stretches of the Ramganga are free flowing still. Studies being conducted have discovered that the changes in the land use and the resultant non-point source pollution may adversely impact riverine fish.
Kerala Rampant mining endangering 100 bridges: Minister According to Minister for Public Works Department G. Sudhakaran said the main reason of about a 100 bridges in the state being in bad shape, and therefore in danger, is the indiscriminate river sand mining. Over the years, river sand mining has become a huge business in Kerala, as this is the main raw material for all sorts of construction in the state. The trade used to be controlled by a well-organised mafia, with support from both revenue and police departments. But, after the environment activists ran a well-organised campaign against the river sand mining, things got regularized to a great extent.
WETLANDS & WATER BODIES
National SC asks Govt to file report on wetlands in a week The Supreme Court on Jan. 25 cautioned the Centre against “hoodwinking” it on the number of wetlands and lakes in the country and set a week deadline for it to come out with a “holistic” report on the issue. The reaction came after the Environment Ministry informed the court that the country has only 115 wetlands and 63 lakes across 24 States and two Union Territories. According to affidavit, since 1987-88, an amount of Rs 780 crore has been released for undertaking various conservation activities in these wetlands and lakes. The court asked the petitioner to study the matter and even suggest whether justice could be done to the cause by sending it to the NGT for effective monitoring.
Important Information: The identification and conservation of wetlands and lakes were part of the National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP) launched in 1986. Under this scheme, Centre provided funds to States and Union Territories to conserve and manage identified lakes and wetlands. In 2001, another such program aimed at preserving lakes was launched under the name National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP). By February 2013, both the programs were merged under one integrated scheme called National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA).
Tamil Nadu State facing worst monsoon in 140 years The retreating northeast monsoon—usually unnoticed in India owing to the singular importance of the larger southwest monsoon—in 2016 was the worst ever over the last 140 years, according to IMD records, since 1876. Overall, the northeast monsoon was 45% short of the average for this period, the state worst hit being Tamil Nadu, where rainfall for the season was 62% short of normal. Although the southwest monsoon–which waters the subcontinent between June and September–was classified as normal across India (3% below average), it was 19% deficient in Tamil Nadu.
Kerala Govt. imposes curbs on water use Faced with a worsening drought situation, the government has imposed curbs on the use of water in reservoirs and stepped up the review and monitoring system at the district level. District Collectors have been directed to stop the release of water through canals for irrigation and keep a close tab on the water level in reservoirs. The State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) had proposed a 75 per cent cut in the extraction of groundwater by industries.
Hydro power affected worst in last 4 years The storage position in the hydel projects across the State had dipped to 45 per cent of the total capacity on Jan 25, enough to generate 1,873 million units of electricity. Last year, the reservoirs had enough water to generate 2,676 mu. The situation was much better in 2015 (3,134 mu) and 2014 (3,646 mu). Meanwhile, the season’s rainfall from January 1 shows a deficit of 99 per cent, signalling a post-monsoon dry spell expected to last till March.
Center Govt begins process to move water to concurrent list The Union ministry for water resources has begun the process to make water a part of the concurrent list, moving it away from being a state subject. The move follows the rising number of disputes over access to water arising between states across India. According to the Constitution of India, as most of the rivers in the country are inter-state, the regulation and development of water of these rivers is a source of inter-state differences and disputes and is included in the state list. We don’t need further centralization as this move proposes, but rather greater democratization, greater decentralization of water issues. Hope the states wake up to the risks of this move.
Maharashtra Problematic uses and practices of farm ponds The need of the hour is to appropriately regulate farm pond practices in the state. In fact, in direct contradiction to the purpose of building such ponds, most of the farm pond owners still extract groundwater from dug wells and bore wells and then store it in the same farm ponds. Therefore, farm ponds have become the new way for groundwater extraction and have increased the competition amongst farmers to further extract groundwater. As a result, such extraction is causing a grave depletion of the groundwater levels in these regions.
Delhi Crackdown on breeding of African magur Breeding of banned variety of catfish in Delhi needs immediate attention, said officials who seized a consignment on Jan 21. The revenue department came across 25 tonnes of the predatory African magur or catfish at the Mangolpuri fish market, which led it to multiple ponds in nearby areas where the fish was being bred on a commercial scale. However, there are several states where large scale breeding was carried out, including Haryana, Karnataka, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Sources said this species is commercially more profitable than the Indian magur as it grows at a much faster rate. A fish completely banned 15 years ago is being openly bred in National Capital.
National Canals could help fast-forward solar-energy plans While it is a good idea to put up solar panels on Canals and other water bodies, it may not be feasible everywhere, and more importantly, it should not be used to give a human face to destructive and unjust projects like Sardar Sarovar Project.
India-China-Nepal Competition for hydropower resources The sorry state of affairs in Nepal has seriously hampered its hydropower and irrigation expansion, even though progress in these areas is essential to obtain much-needed revenue and development and to help tame the transboundary rivers that often overrun their banks in Nepalese and Indian areas during the monsoons. This is the usual Brahma Chellaney macro strategic view point. It does not really look that options for Nepal, which Nepal has rather than pushing more big hydro. These options include root top solar, micro and mini hydro, among others.
India-Nepal 2nd meet to assess hydro projects funded by India Second meeting of high level Nepal-India Oversight Mechanism to be held on January 30, 2017, to discuss dams, hydro projects, irrigation projects, bridges, roads, among others.
Report Mumbai vulnerable to storms and flooding The geography department of SP College in Pune has been studying sea level rise in the Konkan coast from Dahanu, just north of Mumbai, to Vengurla to the south. Over 20 years, levels have risen by 5-6 cm. In recent years, sea levels were rising at a much faster pace. A 5-6 cm rise has led to the ingress of sea water up to 1 km inland, eroding beaches, harming mangroves and coconut and cashew plantations. The geographers find that tidal patterns are getting increasingly erratic.
Report Know how hot and dry was your city in 2016 Last year is the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year. In a database of more than 5,000 cities provided by Accu Weather, about 90 percent recorded annual mean temperatures higher than normal. The normal temperature range is determined using the averages of the highs and lows for each day from 1981 to 2010. According to this site, Delhi was 2.1 degrees C warmer in 2016 than normal and rainfall was 6.7% below normal.
Ritwick Dutta Interview Courts last resort, community actions first step to save environment Lawyer Ritwick Dutta says we need to understand how minor changes in environment governance impact our lives in big ways. Great to see interview of RITWICK DUTTA, he richly deserves the Bhagirath Prayas Samman Award 2016.
Tribute to Anupam Misra A Clerk Who Saw the Genius in the Ordinary Mishra saw himself as the voice of his people, his society. He did not see with the eyes of academic objectivity or impartial commentary, but with empathy and imagination. He noticed the environmental wisdom in the ways of ordinary people and appreciated the cultural threads and values that carried that wisdom from generation to illiterate generation. This is most remarkable and possibly the best Tribute to ANUPAM MISHRA.