DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 1 March 2021: Actions speak louder than words on PM’s appeal for water, river conservation

In his #MannKiBaat on Feb 28, 2021, India’s Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi appealed to people to conserve our Rivers, Water, referring to Magh Purnima on Feb 27 2021 and Sant Ravi Das teachings. He also said that India’s traditions, festivals, scriptures, etc have so much place for rivers, also mentioning the Kumbh mela this year at Haridwar. He mentioned that a 100 day campaign will be launched soon by the Jal Shakti Ministry for rainwater harvesting. He gave several examples from across the country where individuals and groups have taken up such words.

All that sounds fine and welcome. But the trouble is that his all-powerful government is working consistently and with increasing intensity towards opposite direction. This very week his Power Minister expressed ignorance if hydropower projects have any environmental adverse impact, right in the face of destruction wrought by the hydropower projects in Chamoli disaster in Uttarakhand on Feb 7, 2021. Why is the Union Government still pushing hydropower projects which are no longer even economically viable, they never were environmentally sustainable or socially acceptable.

His Jal Shakti Ministry has no policy for river conservation in India. In fact there is no agency in India that is even monitoring and report health of India’s rivers. His Road transport ministry refuses to do even environment impact assessment of the Char Dham Highway that is bringing so much destruction to Ganga and its tributaries. The Uttarakhand government, ruled by the same BJP party is allowing so much sand mining in Ganga that a Saint from Matri Sadan is once again fast unto death starting from Feb 23, 2021. The orders of the Supreme Court in Feb 2012 on sand mining remain unimplemented. His Environment Ministry is showing such unreasonable stand even on the issue of translating the draft EIA notification in local languages and holding credible public consultation process that the High Court this week had to tell the ministry to stop being so combative on such issues. The Union Government has a smart city program, but zero effort at saving the Urban rivers or water bodies.

His appeal for rainwater harvesting is welcome, but what % of government owned land in national capital or elsewhere is doing rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharging or recycling of treated local sewage?

In fact rainwater harvesting should indeed be the central focus of India’s water resources policies, programs and practices. Sooner we achieve, better it will be. But that is clearly not the case as Union Jal Shakti Ministry and Central Water Commission act more like lobbies for big dams and river linking, which work in totally opposite direction.

Clearly, Actions speak much louder than words. The PM’s words would have much better impact when his government is seen to be working along the lines he is preaching. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?cbps=1&v=Gbi8mH3m5HA)

A report on this can be seen here. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/pm-modi-calls-for-100-day-drive-to-clean-water-bodies-218852  (01 March 2021)

NGT directs MoJS to devise mechanism to control river pollution A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said there has been continuous failure of statutory mechanism for preventing pollution of water and hardly any accountability has been fixed for such serious failures. “MoJS may devise an appropriate mechanism for more effective monitoring of steps for control of pollution and rejuvenation of all polluted river stretches in the country.” The said mechanism may be called “National River Rejuvenation Mechanism” (NRRM) or given any other suitable name. NRRM may also consider the observations with regard to setting up of National/State/District Environment Data Grid at appropriate levels as an effective monitoring strategy,” the bench, also comprising Justice S K Singh, said.

The tribunal directed that chief secretaries of all states and Union Territories must work in mission mode for strict compliance of timeliness for commencing new projects and completing ongoing projects. “Other steps in terms of action plans for abatement of pollution and rejuvenation of rivers be taken effectively. The process of rejuvenation of rivers need not be confined to only 351 stretches but may be applicable to all small, medium and big polluted rivers, including those dried up,” the tribunal said.

It directed the chief secretaries of all states and UTs to personally monitor progress at least once every month and the NRRM every quarter and reiterated that accountability for failure to comply with the direction for payment of compensation will be of the concerned chief secretaries. The NGT had earlier formed a Central Monitoring Committee to prepare and enforce a national plan to make over 350 river stretches across the country pollution free. The tribunal had said that there has been deterioration in quality of water in rivers in spite of the Water Act which was enacted way back in 1974 which was intended to bring about improvement. https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/ngt-directs-ministry-of-jal-shakti-to-devise-a-mechanism-to-control-river-pollution/2036091  (25 Feb. 2021)

Matri Sadan seer commence ‘fast unto death’ Brahmchari Aatmabodhanand, the 28-year-old seer of Haridwar-based Matri Sadan who had earlier fasted for 194 days in what he termed a continuation of the efforts of professor GD Agrawal (Swami Sanand) after the latter died fasting for Ganga to be left alone, reiterated his demands for a clean Ganga on Monday, a day before he is to sit on another fast unto death. Matri Sadan seers have called the Chamoli flash flood a “forewarning”. Matri Sadan had sought the closure of hydel projects like Singoli-Bhatwari, Vishnugad-Pipalkoti, Phata-Byung as well as Tapovan-Vishnugad, which was extensively damaged in the flash flood two weeks ago. These also include putting a stop to mining, quarrying and stone crushing activities from Raiwala to Raighaati in Haridwar (a 15km stretch) with immediate effect, implementation of the Ganga Act, 2018 as made and agreed upon by Agrawal and formation of Ganga Council, an autonomous body comprising ‘devotees of Ganga’ to oversee matters concerning the river.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/chamoli-disaster-an-indication-given-by-ganga-says-seer-of-haridwars-matri-sadan-before-commencing-fast-unto-death-to-protect-river/articleshow/81158355.cms  (23 Feb. 2021)

Saints boycott Shai Snan due to pollution Underlining the Yamuna’s acute water pollution, three prominent Hindu seers of the country on Saturday (Feb. 27) vowed not to take another bath on other ‘shahi snan’ days during the ongoing Vrindavan Kumbh near here unless the river water is clean. The declaration to boycott the ‘shahi snan’ in the river on three remaining auspicious days — March 9, 13 and 25 — and thereafter during subsequent Kumbh fairs was made by the chief of the Ayodhya-based Maha Nirvani Akhara, Mahant Dharm Das.

The Mathura district administration had promised to arrange for clean water in the river at its Devraha Ghat during the Vrindaban Kumbh by discharging additional water from the Ganga but nothing appears to have been done, he said. Mahant Dharam Das made the critical remark on the pollution in the Yamuna after taking a holy dip along with the two other seers at the Devraha Ghat of the river. https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/feb/28/will-not-participate-in-shahi-snan-in-yamuna-unless-water-is-clean-hindu-seers-2269952.html  (28 Feb. 2021)

HYDRO POWER PROJECTS

SANDRP Blog Force Multipliers in Uttarakhand disaster Given below if the text of the presentation made by SANDRP coordinator on Day 1 at the FICCI-NIDM (NIDM: National Institute of Disaster Management; FICCI: Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) 3-day training program on Feb 18-20, 2021 on “Resilient Infrastructure in Hilly Areas: Avalanche, GLOF & Debris Flow” in the context of the Chamoli Disaster of Feb 7, 2021. https://sandrp.in/2021/02/26/force-multipliers-in-uttarakhand-disaster/  (26 Feb. 2021)

Rishiganga HEP: A foretold disaster for River, People and Chipko legacy The disaster is also a wake up call for the United Nations and its fraudulent Clean Development Mechanism decision making process that end up certifying completely disastrous, unviable and unacceptable projects like the 13.2 MW Rishiganga project as clean development project. The project was certified to get CDM credits and this certification process needs to be probed by an independent credible process to ensure that no projects like this ever get CDM credits. The project may have lost the CDM credits since it could not be commissioned within the stipulated period as mentioned on CDM website, which says: “Renewal no longer possible”, but the fact is the project was certified to get 49585 Credits per annum for a period of seven years, which was totally wrong decision. https://sandrp.in/2021/02/28/rishiganga-hep-a-foretold-disaster-for-river-people-and-chipko-legacy/  (28 Feb. 2021)  

Chamoli Disaster चमोली त्रासदी की इंसानी वजहें Another article in Hindi on Chamoli Disaster by Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP:- सीखने-सिखाने के मामले में हमारा ‘ट्रैक-रिकॉर्ड’ कोई उत्साहवर्धक नहीं रहा है। मसलन – उत्तराखंड में हाल में आई भीषण आपदा से क्या हम कुछ सीखेंगे? क्या पहले भी कभी कुछ सीखा गया है, ताकि भविष्य में ऐसी आपदाएं नहीं हों या फिर उनसे होने वाला नुकसान कम-से-कम किया जा सके? और क्या इस कम-अक्ली के साथ ‘विकास’ की अंधी दौड को मिलाकर जो परियोजनाएं बनाई जा रही हैं वे इंसानी तबाही के ही परचम नहीं गाड रहीं? https://www.spsmedia.in/opinion/human-causes-of-chamoli-tragedy  (20 Feb. 2021)

Deadly floods bare conflicts from hydropower boom Reuters reports how people of Raini village tried their best to oppose the Rishiganga hydropower project including going to the high court, but that did not help. As India seeks to nearly double its hydropower capacity by 2030, construction of dams in the region is increasingly leading to disagreements between plant owners and locals, said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the SANDRP, which has studied the conflicts. “It happens with many projects,” he said. “People want to resist and oppose, but project developers… will always make promises of employment and development.” https://www.reuters.com/article/india-disaster-village/no-other-option-deadly-india-floods-bare-conflicts-from-hydropower-boom-idUSL4N2KQ07L  (22 Feb. 2021)

Hydro projects contributed to disaster “The Tapovan project acted as a force multiplier. More lives were lost because of the project. Vast amounts of muck and debris had been dumped in the Dhauliganga River during the ongoing construction of the project,” Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator at the SANDRP, an independent NGO, told ENR.  https://www.enr.com/articles/51298-hydro-project-may-have-contributed-to-india-glacier-disaster  (25 Feb. 2021)

Ayaskant Das about Chamoli Disaster waiting to happen. “The level of disaster preparedness at the two plants is suspect. They had sufficient time at hand to evacuate workers at the NTPC site. Besides, the power plants have been constructed in a para-glacial influence zone and should not have been there in the first place,” said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator at SANDRP. https://www.newsclick.in/Uttarakhand-Flash-Floods-Disaster-Waiting-Happen  (28 Feb. 2021)

Demand of the Core Group members of Vikalpa Sangam in the context of the Chamoli disaster:

1. Scrap the two damaged hydropower projects – Rishi Ganga and Tapovan – and remove the debris from the river courses.

2. Institute an immediate independent enquiry into the disaster that would throw light on possible causes of the tragedy, the lacunae in dealing with it, and the lessons learned. The committee should also fix responsibilities at various levels for the loss of innocent lives and property, institute action/s against the culprits and establish protocols and processes to prevent any recurrence of such tragedies and/or minimize their impacts.

3. Constitute an independent multi-disciplinary expert group to carry out a comprehensive review of existing developmental programs and projects in the Himalayan region in a time bound manner on the lines of the 2014 Expert Body headed by Dr. Ravi Chopra and/or the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP). The review should be a comprehensive, cumulative, regional one (as against standalone, project-based reviews) that takes into account the combined impacts of all the projects (including roads, dams, tunnels, tourist centres, colonies, townships, and so-called afforestation) and existing threats of climate change and seismicity.

4. Announce a moratorium on all infrastructure projects like dams and hydropower projects, barrages, tunnels, road widening and construction of new ones, railways, large scale tourism infrastructure etc., till the above mentioned review is completed and a social consensus is built around the same.

5. Initiate a participatory process to develop an alternative development policy/strategy for the holistic protection, preservation of the Himalayan Rivers and the ecosystem and livelihood security of local people. Rampant development in the Himalayan region should be banned; instead, the Himalayan region should be protected as a natural heritage with minimum human interventions approach. The approach should incentivize protection and conservation of ecosystem services, organic and biodiverse farming, sustainable pastoralism, decentralized water systems, local/indigenous forests and biomass-based manufacturing, crafts, and community-led ecotourism, at the same time removing disincentives such as subsidies for ecologically harmful agriculture, mass tourism, etc. https://vikalpsangam.org/article/statement-on-the-uttarakhand-tragedy/  (24 Feb. 2021)

NGT directs NTPC to pay Rs 57.96L for ruining environment NGT on Feb 23, 2021 rejected a plea by National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) seeking review of an order passed by the Uttarakhand Environment Protection & Pollution Control Board and slapped a fine of Rs 57.9 lakh on the power major for damaging the environment. The company was found to have violated muck disposal site maintenance norms at its Tapovan-Vishnugad hydropower project in Chamoli, which resulted in damage to the environment.

– A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel noted that “slope of the muck dumped at the hydropower project was dangerously double the standards with potential for erosion” and dismissed NTPC’s plea against the state pollution control board’s order. “Erosion was seen in terms of gully formation in downstream of the muck dumps. It is clear that the operative muck disposal sites were not being maintained as per the norms laid down by the ministry of environment and forests,” it said. “There is no merit in the appeal as ‘polluter pays’ principle has been rightly invoked for damage to the environment. The appeal is dismissed. The amount of compensation which may be recovered by state pollution control board may be utilised for restoration of environment,” the tribunal said. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ngt-directs-ntpc-to-pay-rs-58l-for-ruining-environment/articleshow/81182140.cms; https://www.livelaw.in/environment/ngt-pay-compensation-polluter-pays-principle-pollution-control-board-ntpc-170293  (24 Feb. 2021)

Power minister wrongly says dams, hydro projects don’t harm environment Union Power Minister R K Singh is WRONG here on so many counts. So many studies exist, including the report and studies by the World Commission on Dams. What stops him from instituting a credible, independent report that he suggests here?

Power Minister R K Singh on Feb 24, 2021 brushed aside apprehensions that water storage or dam projects, which also generate hydroelectricity, harm environment, and urged experts to commission an authoritative and scientific study to find out the truth. Speaking at a symposium on sustainable development of dams and river basins, Singh said, “I have not seen science of environment being harmed. I see science of progress in this (water storage). Punjab and Haryana developed and they are where they are today because of Bhakra Nangal dam.”  https://www.livemint.com/politics/policy/dams-hydroelectric-projects-don-t-harm-environment-calls-for-study-to-find-that-r-k-singh-11614162425357.html  (24 Feb. 2021)

Global dam experts meet in backdrop of flash floods India is hosting a high-level meeting of the Paris-headquartered International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) to end on Feb 27, 2021. This meeting on “Sustainable Development of Dams and River Basins”, has been organised in collaboration with India’s Central Water Commission (CWC), Dam Rehabilitation Improvement Project (DRIP) and National Hydrology Project (NHP).

– “The achievement of flagship programmes of Ministry of Jal Shakti namely Dam Rehabilitation Improvement Project (DRIP) to improve the safety and operational performance of large dams and its appurtenances structures in addition to institutional strengthening and National Hydrology Project (NHP) with the World Bank assistance will be the presented to the Global Dam Community who are keen and looking forward to India’s development and successful implementation of DRIP as well as NHP,” India’ power ministry said in a recent statement. “In addition, the Dam Safety Bill which has been approved by Lok Sabha, in order to put regulatory mechanism in place, to provide for proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all dams in India, which has been enacted will be publicised,” the statement added.

– Also, apart from high tariffs that has resulted in around 100GW of electricity potential in India’s rivers lying untapped, hydropower project construction is time-consuming and tedious. https://www.livemint.com/industry/energy/india-hosting-global-dam-experts-meet-in-backdrop-of-uttarakhand-flash-floods-11614317781441.html  (26 Feb. 2021)

Matu Jansangathan Video of Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower project after the Chamoli Disaster of Feb 7, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAkMS-mCcjc&feature=youtu.be

Matu Jansangathan Video of Rishiganga and Raini village after the Chamoli disaster of Feb 7, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kzIN3UaYzY&feature=youtu.be

आज चमोली जिले के ही दर्जनों गांव दरक रहे हैं. सामाजिक कार्यकर्ता अतुल सती चाईं, रैणी, पैंग, लाता और तंगनी जैसे गांवों के नाम गिनाते हैं. अतुल कहते हैं कि ग्रामीण और सामाजिक कार्यकर्ता कई सालों तक विरोध करते रहे लेकिन इसके बावजूद पहाड़ों पर एक के बाद एक प्रोजेक्ट लगते रहे. इन गांवों से कई परिवारों को विस्थापित होना पड़ा है क्योंकि वो खतरे की जद में हैं पर बहुत से परिवार जाना चाहते हैं और उन्हें विस्थापित नहीं किया गया है. https://bit.ly/37SOu3q   (22 Feb. 2021)

चमोली में ऋषि गंगा और धौली गंगा के संगम स्थल के ठीक शीर्ष भाग पर स्थित पल्ली रैणी गांव को नदी के कटाव से खतरा हो गया है। गांव के निचले हिस्से में अब भूस्खलन की आशंका बढ़ गई है। इससे गांव के करीब 60 परिवार खौफ में हैं। https://www.amarujala.com/amp/photo-gallery/dehradun/uttarakhand-chamoli-glacier-burst-news-palli-raini-village-in-danger-due-to-cut-of-rishi-ganga-river  (12 Feb. 2021)

Atul Sati on facebook post says Rishiganga project company was regularly monitoring water level but raised no alarm when it declined in the morning of Feb. 7. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3803146499763204&id=100002036746060 

According to authorities, the 134 people still missing in all likelihood have died in the disaster but their bodies have not been found will be presumed dead. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/uttarakhand-flash-floods-134-still-missing-to-be-presumed-dead-says-govt-7201899/  (24 Feb. 2021)

Dams multiply impact India’s environment ministry says that with the ministries of power and Jal Shakti, it has now prepared a joint policy for the seven hydroelectricity projects that are under construction at a height of 2,000 metres or more above sea level. It says this policy will be submitted to the Supreme Court in July. India’s top court had asked for a joint policy almost six years ago. The hydroelectricity projects about which the three ministries have now prepared a joint policy include the 520 MW Tapovan project which has been destroyed. It also includes the 444 MW Vishnugad Pipalkoti project, just a few kilometres downstream of the Tapovan project. https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/climate/dams-roads-worsened-himalayan-flood-impact-manifold/  (25 Feb. 2021)

Opinion Glaciers’ study requires a very multidisciplinary approach by H C Nainwal- There are close to 10,000 big and small glaciers in the Himalayas. Like the other glaciers of the globe, most of them are retreating because of the rise in temperatures. Many of these glaciers are retreating at an average rate of 5 to 20 metres a year. In India, the study of glaciers began in the 1940s, thanks to the efforts of the Geological Survey of India, which carried out the first research projects and measurements. Now, of course there are several government departments, institutions and universities that are involved in the study of Himalayan glaciers.

The study of glaciers requires a very multidisciplinary approach. It combines the knowledge of geology, physics, hydrology, meteorology, mathematical modelling, and many other fields. It also needs the help of technological tools like remote sensing and Geographic Information System. There are several aspects of glaciers that need to be studied to get a clue about their behaviour, and to understand their dynamics. These include mass balance (ablation/melting), estimation of volume, snow cover mapping, hydrology, geochronological studies, modelling and sensitivity, GLOF (Glacial Lake Outburst Floods), meteorology, black carbon, and aerosol studies. https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/mass-volume-models-listening-to-glaciers-7207779/lite/  (28 Feb. 2021)

Landslide Lake Valley blocking landslide at Rishiganga Dave Petley has some interesting things to say about the Rishiganga Landslide dam here. “The good news is that there is a well-developed channel draining the lake, which has a modest volume.  The risk downstream should not be ignored, but this does not pose the sort of threat that we saw at, for example, Attabad. These images tell us something about the flow.  I remain a little perplexed by the ongoing discussion about the source of the water in the flow, which seems to ignore the well-known observation that granular flows can occur with little or no water present.  Large, dry granular flows give the appearance of having water present,even where they are dry, but they do generate considerable volumes of dust (as was the case here).  Where they sweep down the valley, the front may become saturated as water is incorporated. I am not arguing that the events on the Rishi Ganga were completely dry – they were not – but I do not think that we need to find a source for very large quantities of water.  There was enough water present in the form of ice on the block that failed, and in the valley in the form of dead ice, snow and saturated sediments to explain the flow, in my view. By the time the landslide reached the point shown above it was well-contained within the channel, as demonstrated by the intact trees on either side.  There is some evidence of super-elevation on the outside of the bend.  The landslide has dumped a large volume of sediment in this valley, which has been retained.  The latter part of the flow appears to have eroded the toe.”  https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2021/02/22/rishi-ganga/  (22 Feb. 2021)

A deadly debris flow NASA Earth Observatory note of Feb 23, 2021 provides very clear satellite pictures and explains about the Chamoli disaster of Feb 7, 2021: “Months before the landslide, satellite images showed a crack opening on an ice-covered flank of Ronti, a 6,029-meter (19,780-foot) mountain peak. On February 7, 2021, a huge chunk of a steep slope broke off from the peak, bringing down part of a hanging glacier perched on the ridge. After freefalling for roughly two kilometers, the rock and ice shattered as it slammed into the ground, producing an enormous landslide and dust cloud. As the accelerating rock and ice raced through Ronti Gad and then Rishiganga River valley, it picked up glacial sediments and melted snow. All the materials mixed into a fast-moving slurry that overwhelmed the river and churned wildly as it rushed through the river valley.”

– “Unfortunately, there were no weather stations that we know of that were nearby, but we are looking at things like whether cycles of ongoing freezing and thawing may have weakened the rock,” said Shugar. “Climate change may have even helped destabilize the rock face through increased water infiltration over a period of years and by thawing permafrost. For now, we can hypothesize about these possibilities, but careful work is required to understand exactly what happened.” https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/147973/a-deadly-debris-flow-in-india  (21 Feb. 2021)

CM mulls glacier study centre CM thanks Modi for extending helping hand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat on Feb 23, 2021 called on PM Modi in Delhi and underlined the need to establish a centre for the study of glaciers and water resources in the state in view of its vulnerability to natural disasters. https://www.livemint.com/news/india/uttarakhand-flash-floods-cm-rawat-thanks-modi-for-extending-helping-hand-11614102591338.html  (23 Feb. 2021)

House panel asks ISRO to make landslip warning system The parliamentary standing committee on science and technology headed by Jairam Ramesh has asked the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to develop an alert system to warn on landslides, following a brief discussion on the Chamoli flooding in a meeting on Feb 22, 2021.

– Sources said that many members, including TMC MP Shatabadi Roy, asked the ISRO if it so far had any alert mechanisms to forewarn about landslips on the lines of its cyclone warnings. The ISRO officials informed the panel that so far there were no systems in place. They acknowledged the necessity to bring such systems in place. They assured the committee that they will explore the possibility of developing it.  https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/house-panel-asks-isro-to-make-landslip-warning-system/article33905184.ece  (22 Feb. 2021)

Water level of Rishiganga lake falls by 1 foot  SDRF personnel aided by the villagers have managed to widen the discharge area of a Rishiganga lake in Uttarakhand, bringing down its water level by one foot, top police officers said on Feb 24, 2021. For the past few days, villagers have joined hands with the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) personnel in uprooting some trees and widening the lake’s discharge area to release more water. By doing this, the discharge area has been widened by 20 to 50 feet. https://menafn.com/1101653900/Water-level-of-Rishiganga-lake-falls-by-1-foot&source=22  (24 Feb. 2021)

Union Home Secy reviews status of artificial lake Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla on Feb 22, 2021 chaired a high-level meeting here to discuss further course of action on the lake created after flash floods in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. The meeting was attended by SS Deswal, Director General (DG), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), SN Pradhan, Director General, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Uttarakhand state officials and other senior officials.

The meeting lasted for 45 minutes and it was decided that the concerned agencies will observe water flow in the lake for some time. “It was decided that agencies will observe water level and if it will increase, further course of action will be decided,” a senior official said. “After a detailed survey of the lake formed in the upper reaches of Chamoli, ITBP and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) teams returned to Joshimath. The report will be submitted to the administration. Teams of Geological Survey of India and Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology will also reach the spot and ITBP teams will provide them support,” ITBP had said. http://www.businessworld.in/article/U-khand-glacier-burst-Union-Home-Secy-reviews-status-of-artificial-lake-formed-over-Rishi-Ganga/22-02-2021-380474/  (22 Feb. 2021)

Expert team widens mouth of Rishiganga lake by 15ft Scientists, Indian military personnel, Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and disaster management personnel and experts analysed the lake including its depth before widening its mouth. The 30-member expert team succeeded in widening the mouth of the lake, formed upstream Rishiganga river in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district due to flash floods, from 20 ft to about 35 feet, leading to faster drainage, which is likely to prevent a repeat of the tragedy, according to state disaster response force (SDRF) commandant Navneet Bhullar. The expert team formed by state chief secretary Om Prakash, includes scientists from the Uttarakhand Space Application Centre and Geological Survey of India, apart from officers from ITBP and SDRF. They had left for the lake area on Friday and reached there on Saturday, Feb 20, 2021. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/expert-team-widens-mouth-of-rishiganga-lake-by-15ft-to-prevent-repeat-tragedy-101614045878993-amp.html   (23 Feb. 2021)

Arunachal Pradesh SMRF says no to govt’s renewed call for hydropower in Tawang  The Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), which is led by the monks from Tawang region, has shot down the government’s renewed plan to construct hydropower projects in the district. In a statement to this daily, the SMRF said that it condemns the decision of the Arunachal government to revive the construction of hydropower projects in Tawang district. “Most of these hydropower projects are proposed to be constructed in the two major river basins in Tawang – the Tawangchhu in the east and the Nyamjangchhu in the west – which will damage the geographically volatile and highly seismic region of Tawang. Apart from endangering several holy Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the region, the hydropower projects also threaten the existence of the endangered black-necked cranes, considered a sacred embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama”.

– The SMRF in its latest statement reiterated its earlier allegation that the signatures of the gram sabha for the Tawang Chu Stage-II were obtained fraudulently by the NHPC.

In the gram sabhas conducted by the people, and recorded by the SMRF, the majority of the participants from 27 villages and the Tawang monastery had said no to these projects. It further added that the “Arunachal government should learn from the disaster at Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, where the Rishiganga and Tapovan hydroelectric projects were completely destroyed by a glacier avalanche. This event highlights the harsh truth of how little the government of India and various regional Himalayan states are focusing attention on appreciating the fragility of this range,”.

– After repeated protests and the 2016 killings by the police, a year later, in June 2017, a formal closure report was sent to the government of Arunachal, rejecting the 600 (3×200) mw Tawang Phase-I and the 800 (4×200) mw Tawang Phase-II projects. The closure report, prepared under the chairmanship of Thegtse Rinpoche, was sent to the state government, stating that “after elaborate discussion and listening to the merits and demerits of the hydropower projects in Tawang district and resolutions by villagers of the affected villages, the committee resolves to reject and direct the closure of the NHPC projects in Tawang district immediately.” In April 2016, the National Green Tribunal had suspended the environmental clearance given to the proposed 780 mw Nyamjang Chu hydropower project, promoted by the Bhilwara Group, which subsequently led to the state government’s cracking down on anti-dam protestors. https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2021/02/23/monks-led-smrf-says-no-to-govts-renewed-call-for-hydropower-in-tawang/  (23 Feb. 2021)

In a statement issued on February 22, the monks-led Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF) said the proposed projects would not only affect the nesting grounds of the endangered black-necked crane but also threaten several holy Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the region. Most of these projects are proposed in the Tawangchu and Nyamjangchu river basins, a haunt of the black-necked crane considered a sacred embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama who was from Tawang. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/tawang-monks-oppose-arunachal-govts-fresh-push-for-hydropower-projects/article33910552.ece  (23 Feb. 2021)

Himachal Pradesh 4 NHPC, BHEL officials held for Rs 1.2cr theft in hydel project Four officials of National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL) have been booked in connection with theft of 58 metallic bars costing Rs 1.23cr from a store of Parbati hydroelectric power project in Kullu, police said. A senior manager of NHPC on September 28, 2018, had lodged a complaint with Banjar police station of Kullu that the 58 bars amounting to Rs 1.23cr had been stolen from the store of their Bihali power house. Ram Kumar, resident of Chattisgarh, who is assistant manager in Parbati Stage III hydroelectric project; Pranav Kumar, resident of UP who is a manager in a project in Uttarakhand; Nayan Kumar, a resident of UP who is an assistant manager with a project in J&K; and Rahul Srivastava, a resident of UP who is a duty engineer with BHEL; had been booked under sections 420, 467, 468 and 120B of IPC on Sunday, Feb 28, 2021. “The accused have been arrested and will be produced before court. Two other accused, including the senior manager who complained and a store in-charge, have been granted interim bail. Investigation is continuing,” he said.  https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/power/himachal-pradesh-4-nhpc-bhel-officials-held-for-rs-1-2cr-theft-in-hydel-project/81265599  (01 March 2021)

MoEF Agenda of the EAC meeting for River Valley Projects to be held on March 1, 2021:

1. Third Unit of 50 MW (Phase-II) For Tidong-I Hydroelectric Project (100MW+50MW) Himachal Pradesh by Tidong Power Generation Private Ltd for Environmental Clearance

2. Kurha Vadhoda Islampur Lift Irrigation Scheme UPSA Sinchan Yojna with CCA 32372 Ha at Village Rigaon, Tehsil-Muktainagar Dist. Jalgaon, Mah by Tapi Irrigation Development Corp for Terms of Reference

3. Anjaw Hydro Electric Project by M/s Lohit Urja Private Ltd for Terms of Reference http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Form-1A/Agenda/24022021RMF8O3B7DraftAgenda_8thEAC_RiverValleyHydro.pdf

DAMS

Polavaram Project 6 member panel to prepare muck dumping action plan NGT constituted a six member committee to be headed by Justice B. Seshasayana Reddy, former Judge of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and with nominees of the Union Environment Ministry, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Central Soil and Water Conservation Research Institute, Dehradun, IIT, Hyderabad and IIT-Delhi.

– The NGT on Wednesday (Feb. 24) formed a six-member committee to prepare an action plan on dumping of muck near the Polavaram dam in Andhra Pradesh. A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel noted that there is adverse impact of coffer dams on upstream areas and huge dumping of mucks has taken place without proper environmental management plan. “The Committee will visit the site at least once and conduct public hearing, if necessary. Except for such visit, it will be free to conduct proceedings online. The Committee will be at liberty to take the assistance of any other Experts/Organization,” the bench also comprising Justice S K Singh and expert member Nagin Nanda said.  https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/ngt-forms-six-member-panel-to-prepare-muck-dumping-action-plan-on-polavaram/articleshow/81189895.cms  (24 Feb. 2021)

Uttarakhand Lakhwar dam raises environmental concerns The first high dam on the Yamuna is scheduled to come up at Lakhwar in Dehradun and Tehri in Uttarakhand after the Union environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee recommended the 300MW Lakhwar Multipurpose Project for environmental clearance in its December 2 meeting last year. Residents of Lohari village along the Yamuna are both happy and anxious about the project. The Lakhwar Project is contentious as it will impact a large forest area. Dams on Himalayan rivers can also amplify glacier burst, flash floods etc. Watch this ground report filed by Hindustan Times’ Jayashree Nandi from Lohari village in Uttarakhand. https://www.hindustantimes.com/videos/news/watch-first-high-dam-on-yamuna-raises-environmental-concerns-101613988963773.html  (22 Feb. 2021)

Telangana CM Chandrasekhar Rao to lay stone for Sitamma Sagar dam Smita Sabharwal, Secretary to the CM, and Principal Secretary (Irrigation) Rajat Kumar visited the Sita Rama Lift Irrigation Project in Khammam on Sunday (Jan. 10) and inspected the progress of works. Rajat Kumar said that CM K Chandrasekhar Rao will soon lay foundation for the proposed Sitamma Sagar barrage and added that the construction of the project is likely to be completed by September, 2022. Meanwhile, Smita Sabharwal and Rajat Kumar also visited Mulugu district and took stock of the progress of Sammakka barrage (Tupalulagudem barrage).They also inspected the Baswapur reservoir in Yadadri-Bhavanagiri district and directed the officials to complete its works by July 31. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/telangana/2021/jan/11/telangana-cmchandrasekhar-rao-to-lay-stone-for-sitamma-sagar-dam-2248421.html  (11 Jan. 2021)

Punjab 60% work of Shahpur Kandi main dam completed  The Punjab water resources department has completed 60% work of the Shahpur Kandi main dam despite the Covid-19 situation during the year of 2020. The Shahpur Kandi dam is being constructed on river Ravi 11km downstream of Ranjit Sagar dam and 8km upstream of Madhopur headworks in Pathankot district. The project will reduce the outflow of the river water to Pakistan. The minister expressed the hope to start the filling of the reservoir of Shahpur Kandi dam project by November 2022. He said that the project will hopefully start generating power in 2023. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/punjab-water-resources-dept-completes-60-work-of-shahpur-kandi-main-dam/articleshow/80048564.cms  (31 Dec. 2020)

INTERLINKING OF RIVERS

Proposed ILR Cauvery Plans Source Deccan Herald 280221

SANDRP Blog Forget ILR pipedream, let us pray for smaller places of worship  The celebrated argument that ILR will solve flood and drought problems across India is based on the assumption that flood means surplus and drought means deficit. It again has no scientific basis, since there are drought prone basins that also increasingly face floods and there are flood prone basins that also face serious water scarcity at other times.

In fact, groundwater is and has been India’s water lifeline for at least last four decades, including for irrigation, rural and urban water supply and also for industrial water supply. That water lifeline is in very bad state with depleting levels and deteriorating quality, with complete absence of groundwater regulation or protection and rejuvenation of groundwater recharge mechanisms. Reversing that situation has to be our top priority as that is where our real water solution is.

But the big dam lobby led by Central Water Commission won’t have any of it. ILR is certainly a dream for this lobby where contractor driven big projects are the mainstay. The politicians have always loved such big projects due to the prevailing political economy. Sooner we understand this reality and move to reverse it, better it will be. Discard the pipe dreams and pray for smaller places of worship.  https://sandrp.in/2021/02/28/forget-ilr-pipedream-let-us-pray-for-smaller-places-of-worship/  (28 Feb. 2021)

This was first published here. https://www.deccanherald.com/specials/insight/forget-ilr-pipedream-let-us-pray-for-smaller-places-of-worship-956259.html   (28 Feb. 2021)

Tamil Nadu Ahead of polls, govt cashes in on river linking project On TN plans to interlink Cauvery with Southern rivers. Politics aside, ecologists rubbish the arguments of both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as ill-informed. Water activist S Vishwanath pointed out, “The dispute is political, arising from lack of clarity on using the surplus water. Chauvinistic arguments prevail while we are no longer looking at the river ecosystem, the livelihoods provisioning and health of the river. We are only looking at it as a unit to be traded between two states.” Vishwanath says the whole premise of the argument, that water reaching the sea was going waste, was ridiculous. “When river water reaches the delta, it prevents salinity and protects the integrity of the biological ecosystem. Fresh water entering the sea brings with it nutrients, supporting biodiversity of the sea itself. This also helps the monsoon ecosystem to kick in, as fresh water is easier to evaporate than salt water,” he added, lamenting political considerations overriding ecological concerns. https://www.deccanherald.com/specials/insight/a-fantasy-of-surplus-water-ahead-of-polls-tamil-nadu-cashes-in-on-river-linking-project-956258.html  (28 Feb. 2021)

Telangana Task force on river-linking okays Mahandadi-Godavari link  The task force on Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) at its 13th meeting on Feb 25, 2021 has approved the preparation of detailed project report (DPR) on the proposed Mahandi (Barmul)-Gadavari (Dowlaiswaram) link. The meeting was chaired by Chairman of the task force Sriram Vedire, who is also Advisor to the Ministry of Jal Shakti, those present included Chairman of the Central Water Commission (CWC) S.K. Haldar, Director General of National Water Development Agency (NWDA) Bhopal Singh and several others from the Department of Water Resources and other agencies concerned.

– The Telangana government had categorically opposed diversion of Godavari water from Telangana without ensuring utilisation of allocated water within the State first and in case diversion is planned it should be done after diverting/linking excess water in Mahanadi.  https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/task-force-on-river-linking-okays-mahandadi-godavari-link/article33936020.ece  (26 Feb. 2021)

INTERSTATE WATER DISPUTES

Karnataka-Tamil Nadu TN move to utilise excess Cauvery water ‘illegal’: Bommai Terming the Tamil Nadu government’s move to utilise the excess water in the Cauvery basin as ‘illegal,’ Home, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Friday (Feb. 26) said that Karnataka will challenge the new link scheme of Tamil Nadu in the Supreme Court. Speaking to presspersons here after participating in a high-level meeting of technical and legal experts here, Mr. Bommai said that the Cauvery tribunal has not allocated the surplus amount of water to any State. “When such is the case, it is not right on their part to devise a scheme to utilise the excess water.”

Last Sunday (Feb. 21), Tamil Nadu government laid the foundation for the Cauvery-Vellaru-Vaigai-Gundar link scheme to utilise about 42 tmc ft. of water in the Cauvery basin and supply to its southern districts. This, sources said, was above the allocation that Tamil Nadu gets under the tribunal award. While the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal awarded 419 tmc ft. of water annually to Tamil Nadu in 2007, the Supreme Court revised it to 404 tmc ft. in 2018. He said that CM B.S. Yediyurappa has already written to the Union government, raising the opposition to the project. The State government has asked the legal team to mount a challenge effectively against the scheme in the Supreme Court, he added. Water Resources Minister Ramesh Jharkiholi, who chaired the meeting, said that the State government will legally and politically challenge Tamil Nadu. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/t-nadu-move-to-utilise-excess-cauvery-water-illegal-bommai/article33941407.ece  (26 Feb. 2021)

Won’t allow TN to use surplus Cauvery water: CM  BS Yediyurappa has said that his government will not allow Tamil Nadu to use surplus Cauvery water and will take strong measures to protect the state’s interests. This after the Cauvery river water sharing dispute erupted again after the Tamil Nadu government on Sunday laid the foundation for the Rs 14,400 crore Cauvery-Vaigai-Gundar (262-km) river interlinking project, which will divert 6,300 cubic feet of surplus water during floods and increase the groundwater levels in southern districts to meet drinking water needs.

-Yediyurappa on Monday (Feb. 22) told reporters that the state government has decided to file objections before the Union government against the project. “We will not allow it. We are taking strong measures. We will not allow Tamil Nadu or others to use surplus water,” he said. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/won-t-allow-tn-use-surplus-cauvery-water-cm-yediyurappa-143976  (23 Feb. 2021)

Telangana-Andhra Pradesh Another water battle erupts Yet another water row has erupted between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The Telangana state government took a serious view of the AP government launching works to construct a canal at Rajolibanda village in Kurnool district, in parallel to the existing Rajolibanda Diversion Scheme (RDS) to draw additional water without obtaining any approvals from various government agencies. https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/in-other-news/230221/another-water-battle-erupts-between-telangana-ap.html  (24 Feb. 2021)

Odisha Mahanadi Water Dispute Leaving Odisha High & Dry  Be it the construction of barrages over Mahanadi by Chhattisgarh government or negligence and the lack of vision by Odisha government, the direct effect of a dry riverbed during the non-monsoon season has threatened livelihood of lakhs of people in 15 districts of Odisha. Two pictures of Mahanadi, one at Kalma in Chhattisgarh and the other one at Sukhasodha in Jharsuguda depict the real story of one of the longest rivers of Eastern India over which both Chhattisgarh and Odisha have locked horns over sharing of its water.

The same kind of bleak pictures emerged from Sonepur and Hirakud as well where the water level of Mahanadi is going down at a steeper rate each passing day. As per a report, a comparison drawn over the water level of this time last year revealed shocking statistics. While the water level at Hirakud reservoir was registered at 626 Feet on February 1, 2020, this year same day it has dropped to 622 Feet. Similarly, on February 26, 2020, the water level was recorded as 624 Feet at Hirakud while the same has reduced to 618 Feet on February 26, 2021.

The Secretary of Hirakud oustees front, Gopinath Majhi said, “Because of the Kalma Barrage at Chhattisgarh where the natural flow of Mahanadi has been disrupted, the downstream water at Jharsuguda and Sambalpur has reduced drastically.” However, Odisha government’s admittance of the reduced water level and impending water scarcity in summer has raised many concerns about its intent.

On February 25, 2021, answering a question in Odisha Assembly by BJP’s Mohan Majhi, Odisha Water Resources Minister Raghunandan Das said, “The water level of Mahanadi will reduce further in the coming years. However, out of the 15 water conservation proposals sent to the CWC, 7 draft proposals have been returned back to us.” “So out of the 23 proposed in-stream storage structures, we have decided to fast track 13 important projects on an urgent basis,” said Das. Adding salt to the wound, Sudarsan Das, Congress leader and Convenor of Save Mahanadi Movement said, “These tribunals take a lot of time to reach a decision. Cauvery water dispute is a glaring example of how these panels resolve the disputes at a turtle’s pace. So the government should take alternative steps to address the issue.” https://odishatv.in/odisha-news/mahanadi-water-dispute-leaving-odisha-high-dry-15-districts-staring-at-a-thirsty-summer-522225  (28 Feb. 2021)

IRRIGATION

Tamil Nadu Appavu moves High Court for release of water from dams Former DMK MLA M. Appavu has moved the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday (Jan. 27) seeking a direction to the State to release water from Pechiparai dam through Radhapuram channel so that 52 ponds in the area could be filled with water for the benefit of the agriculturalists. In his petition, Mr. Appavu said that in 1972, the State government had introduced a scheme and as per the scheme a water channel was created. Water from the Pechiparai dam would travel through Thovalai channel and to Radhapuram, which would then fill up 52 ponds in the area. He said that the project was for the benefit of the farmers.

He said that approximately 16000 acres of agricultural land would get the benefit directly and 1012 acres of nanjai lands would get the benefit from water stored in the 52 ponds. He said that though the water capacity at the Pechiparai dam was surplus, only limited water was being released and this affected the livelihood of the farmers. In a connected petition, he sought the release of water from the Manimuthar dam as special supply to the ponds in Nanguneri, Radhapuram and Thisayanvilai in Tirunelveli district and Sattankulam and Udangudi in Thoothukudi district. In 2008, the State government initiated steps to meet the demands for adequate drinking water in the region, he said.

A request was made to link the Thamirabarani-Karumeniyar-Nambiyar rivers as part of a project. The areas in the region will not face water scarcity if the project is completed. The public is facing a crisis as of now. Therefore, the water from the dam must be released to address the drinking water issue, he said. Taking up both the public interest litigation petitions for hearing, a Division bench of Justices M.M. Sundresh and S. Ananthi ordered notice to the State government and sought response from authorities concerned. The case was adjourned for the filing of response in the case and further hearing till February 4. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/appavu-moves-hc-for-release-of-water-from-dams/article33678097.ece  (27 Jan. 2021)

Uttar Pradesh Budget allocation for 2021-22 The budget provides Rs 3,098 crore for various irrigation projects, including Rs 1,137crore for the Madhya Ganga Nahar project, Rs 976 crore for the Rajghat Nahar project, Rs 610 crore for the Saryu Nahar project, Rs 271 crore for Purvi Ganga Nahar project and Rs 104 crore for the Ken Betwa Link Nahar project. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/irrigation-farmers-welfare-get-lions-share-of-funds-in-budget/articleshow/81162051.cms  (23 Feb. 2021) Details of other projects and budget allotment. https://www.timesnownews.com/business-economy/industry/article/ayodhya-to-get-a-major-makeover-with-river-front-development-other-special-features/723533  ( 22 Feb. 2021)

Haryana A breach in canal near Kakroi, Sonipat has destroyed crops over 40 acres of land. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mm2RcmHHwNc&feature=youtu.be  (25 Feb. 2021)

URBAN RIVERS

Musi, Hyderabad NGT raps govt NGT ripped the Telangana govt apart for failing to protect the Musi river and directed it to clear the encroachments on “mission mode”. The green court’s Principal Bench said the extent of encroachments on the river is “huge” and criticised the government for its “sorry state of affairs”. It also rapped the government for “not discharging its basic obligation” in following a 47-year-old law The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and allowing untreated waste to be disposed into water bodies.

– As per the directions, the rejuvenation works of the Musi will be monitored by the Telangana Chief Secretary once a month and by the Ministry of Jal Shakti (MoJS) once every quarter. The Ministry is responsible for issuing the National River Rejuvenation Mechanism (NRRM) guidelines which will prescribe steps for controlling the pollution and rejuvenating all polluted river stretches in the country. It will also check the setting up of the national/state/district-level Environment Data Grid as an effective monitoring strategy.

– The NGT directed all States to adhere to the timelines they have set for the rejuvenation of polluted river stretches, failing which they will have to pay a compensation to the MoJS as per the formula fixed by the green court in 2019. Chief Secretaries are accountable in case the governments fail to pay the compensation.  https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/telangana/2021/feb/25/telangana-govt-gets-an-earful-from-ngt-for-not-looking-after-musi-2268759.html  (25 Feb. 2021)

RIVERS

Tamil Nadu Women came together to revive a river The Naganadhi river with its catchment area in Vellore and Tiruvannamalai districts had dried up many years ago. The groundwater in the area reduced subsequently making the area bore-well dependent. Over a 1000 women from 21 villages of a revenue block in Vellore district built recharge wells and check dams to recharge groundwater which, in turn, revived the river. The groundwater recharge work has now been extended to nine other districts led by close to 20,000 women. https://india.mongabay.com/2021/02/when-an-army-of-women-came-together-to-revive-a-river/  (23 Feb. 2021)

BRAHMAPUTRA Grassland burning, clearing imperils birds of Brahmaputra’s river islands Unprotected grasslands on the Brahmaputra river’s river islands need safeguards against clearing and encroachment to conserve the habitats of threatened birds. Experts have said that several river island grassland habitats could do with legal protection. Unprotected river islands can serve as refugia if human disturbance is at its minimum.  https://india.mongabay.com/2021/02/grassland-burning-clearing-imperils-birds-of-brahmaputras-river-islands/  (22 Feb. 2021)

NARMADA Jayanti celebrated Narmada Jayanti 2021 was observed on Feb. 19. According to Hindu lunar calendar, the festival of Narmada Jayanti is celebrated annually on Shukla Paksha Saptami in Magha month. On this day, devotees worship river Narmada that brings peace and prosperity in their life. Many devotees visit Amarkantak, the origin of river Narmada, to observe Narmada Jayanti. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/religion/rituals-puja/narmada-jayanti-2021-date-time-significance/articleshow/81058063.cms  (17 Feb. 2021)  

GANGA Uttar Pradesh Tent city to come up on sandy bank in Varanasi  The tent city is likely to be ready by October 2021 and will stay for three to five months, after which it will be dismantled and then reassembled the following year. It will come up along a 5 km stretch of the river on the lines of the nature camps at Konark in Odisha, according to officials familiar with the matter. It is not possible to keep the tent city going in the monsoon due to the flooded banks. The duration of the tent city will more or less coincide with the tourist season. The arrival of foreign tourists begin in Varanasi in large numbers from the last week of September.

Around a month ago, a team of officials visited the Konark nature camps on the instructions of Varanasi divisional commissioner Deepak Agarwal to collect details, ranging from setting up the camps or tented accommodations and their management. They submitted a detailed report. A monitoring committee and a technical-cum-executive committee for setting up the tent city have been constituted by the divisional commissioner. The monitoring committee is chaired by divisional commissioner and the executive-cum-technical committee by district magistrate Kaushalraj Sharma.

The tent city is likely to have 500 beds and be equipped with electricity supply, water supply, a washroom and a bio-toilet each. Roughly, each tent accommodation will be 200 to 300 square feet in area. There will be three types of tents — deluxe, semi deluxe and normal, the official added. In 2020, around 10 lakh domestic tourists visited Varanasi in January, February and March. In addition, around 70,000 foreign tourists visited Varanasi before the last week of March last year. After the Unlock phase began in June, over a lakh domestic tourists visited Kashi till December, according to people familiar with the matter in the tourism department. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/lucknow-news/tent-city-to-come-up-on-sandy-ganga-bank-in-varanasi-on-the-lines-of-konark-101614331582203.html  (26 Feb. 2021)

YAMUNA Uttar Pradesh Forest dept building ‘campsite’ at Okhla bird sanctuary  Environmentalists and birders have raised an alarm over the construction of a structure in the middle of the forest area of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary. Though construction activity is banned in the sanctuary that enjoys the status of a protected wildlife zone, the forest department has said it’s “just a campsite” and will be built anyway.

Birders have, however, urged that the structure be at least shifted to the buffer zone  so that the avian habitat is not impacted by human activity. Work at the site started sometime last week. The Okhla Bird Sanctuary is enlisted among 24 sanctuaries of state. The campsite is actually part of the beautification activity in progress at the bird park. An office room, a canteen and a board room have already been constructed near gate number 1 of the sanctuary as part of this renovation.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/noida/forest-dept-under-fire-for-building-campsite-at-okhla-bird-sanctuary/articleshow/81218810.cms  (26 Feb. 2021)

Untreated sewage slowly poisoning Okhla Bird Sanctuary -In 2015, the ministry of environment and forests had approved an eco-sensitive zone within 1.3km of the northern boundary of the park and 100 metres on either side. Six years on, the 400-hectare bird park now has a 4km metalled road, a boardroom, canteen, office, painted signboards, CCTV surveillance and everything required to ensure the footfall of visitors.

-But what has remained unattended over the years is the ecological health of the 273-hectare water body, which is the main source of food for the 17,000-odd migratory birds that visit the sanctuary on an average every year. But the Yamuna is not the only source of squalor for Okhla. The Hindon canal, too, adds to the filth with industrial effluents.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/noida/the-enemy-within-that-is-slowly-poisoning-okhla-bird-sanctuary/articleshow/81131482.cms  (21 Feb. 2021)

Manoj Mishra, convener of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, an organisation founded to revive and protect the river and its floodplains, said that Yamuna after Wazirabad in Delhi is “nothing but a lifeless nallah”. “The water that one sees at the Okhla sanctuary is not Yamunua’s water but is sewage being generated from houses and industries of Delhi. Question is how much someone would treat a sewage. The river is anyways lifeless because it still continues to receive untreated sewage and effluents,” said Mishra.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/noida-news/yamuna-pollution-impacting-avifauna-at-okhla-bird-sanctuary-says-noida-forest-department-101614105280998.html  (24 Feb. 2021)

Delhi NCRTC starts work on bridge over Yamuna for Delhi-Meerut RRTS link  The National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC) has started the construction work on a 1.35-km-long bridge on Yamuna, which will be the 17th bridge to come up on the river. The bridge is part of the 82-km-long Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTS) project between Delhi and Meerut. The bridge will run parallel to the existing Delhi Noida Direct flyway and connect Sarai Kale Khan and New Ashok Nagar RRTS stations.

A NCRTC spokesperson said, “The length of the bridge crossing over the river will be around 626 metres and the remaining portion will come up on the floodplain on both sides. We have started digging the foundation for the piers.” This will be the eighth mass transit corridor to be constructed on the river. The Northern railway is constructing a new bridge parallel to the Old Yamuna bridge. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has four corridors crossing the river and the construction work on the fifth bridge on the Majlis Park-Maujpur corridor started in August last year.

Environment expert CR Babu said, “The agency should ensure that there is no damage to the floodplain and wetlands. The agency should undertake work to restore the ecology and protect the wetland.” A senior NCRTC official said, “All the construction activities are being carried out following the prescribed guidelines to avoid any adverse impact on the floodplains. Various eco-friendly measures will also be taken during the construction. The muck and debris generated will be disposed of systematically and no dumping will be done on the floodplains.” https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/others/ncrtc-starts-work-on-bridge-over-yamuna-for-delhi-meerut-rrtslink-101614017548017.html  (23 Feb. 2021)

LG chairs meeting on river front Lt Governor Anil Baijal on Friday (Feb. 26) reviewed the progress of restoration and rejuvenation work of the Yamuna river front and emphasised on time bound completion of landscaping, greening and plantation in the area to restore wetlands and riverine ecosystem, according to the LG Office. https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/delhi-lg-chairs-meeting-on-restoration-rejuvenation-of-yamuna-river-front/2037243  (26 Feb. 2021)

Toxic foam was seen on the surface of river Yamuna in Delhi on February 23. It poses threat to the health of the people living at its vicinity. The reason behind the foam is the toxic wastes released into the drain and can be seen floating on the surface of the river. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/city/delhi/yamuna-river-continues-to-spill-toxic-foam/videoshow/81176514.cms  (23 Feb. 2021)

A bushfire broke out at Yamuna bank near Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, opposite Rajghat thermal power plant in Delhi, on February 24 afternoon. Fire tenders rushed to the spot to douse the flames. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/city/delhi/delhi-bushfire-at-yamuna-bank-near-indira-gandhi-indoor-stadium/videoshow/81190892.cms  (24 Feb. 2021)

RIVERS BIODIVERSITY

NBWL Caracal declared critically endangered The National Board for Wildlife and MoEF last month included the caracal, a medium-sized wildcat found in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, in the list of critically endangered species. Though not under grave threat in its other habitats, the animal is on the verge of extinction in India, some experts believe. The recovery programme for critically endangered species in India now includes 22 wildlife species.

Experts point out that the caracal’s natural habitat — for example the Chambal ravines — is often officially notified as wasteland. Land and environment policies are not geared towards the preservation of such wasteland ecology, rather they seek to ‘reclaim’ these areas to make them arable. Infrastructure projects such as the building of roads lead to the fragmentation of the caracal’s ecology and disruption of its movement. The loss of habitat also affects the animal’s prey which includes small ungulates and rodents.

The listing of the caracal as critically endangered is expected to bring central funding to conservation efforts. It is likely to ensure that the animal is studied comprehensively for the first time, including its home range, population, prey, etc. Such study will also throw light on the much neglected “wastelands” in the country, which are home to a large number of animal and bird species, including leopards, Asiatic wild cats, rust spotted cats, sloth bears, wolves, wild dogs, civets, etc. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-the-caracal-a-favourite-of-royals-now-critically-endangered-7206724/  (27 Feb. 2021)

FISH, FISHERIES, FISHERFOLKS

Tamil Nadu NGT order proves fraud at highest level: Activists The Save Ennore Creek campaign claimed that the NGT’s order confirmed the allegations by activists and Ennore fishers that the former Director of Environment presented an illegal and unapproved CZMP that deleted entire sections of the river and backwaters to justify industrial take-over of eco-sensitive wetlands. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/ngt-order-on-czmp-proves-fraud-at-highest-level-say-activists/article33920389.ece  (24 Feb. 2021)  

Karnataka Power unit’s water discharge into beach threatening marine life: Fisherfolk  Residents and fishermen in and around Yermal near Padubidri in Udupi district have said the Udupi Power Corporation Ltd., (UPCL) of Adani Group has been letting out hot water used in the plant directly into the beach, thereby affecting marine life. Fisherfolk, who did not want to be identified, told The Hindu though UPCL had laid a 1 km long outfall defuser pipeline into the sea, it appeared to have developed problems. The company removed the pipeline about 1.5 months ago and since then, waste water was being discharged into the sea on the beach itself, they alleged.

Representatives of the group, meanwhile, said that discharged water contained no chemicals and was brought to ambient temperature before being let out. However, a fisherman said letting out used hot water into the sea, be it 1 km from the beach or on the beach itself, would adversely affect marine life because of change in water temperatures. The worst affected were the traditional fishermen who do not venture into deep seas. Their catch has been decreasing every year, he said. Another fisherman said there was no constant discharge of the waste water, but once in a while large volumes were discharged. The discharge takes place when people are not around, he said.

He said a breakwater built to support the pipeline was removed by the district administration about five years ago as it had begun causing massive sea erosion. After dismantling of the breakwater, the erosion drastically reduced. The fisherfolk said neither the district administration nor the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board responded to the issue. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/power-units-water-discharge-into-beach-threatening-marine-life-allege-fisherfolk/article33952486.ece  (28 Feb. 2021)

Odisha HC registers suo motu PIL on Olive Ridley turtle deaths While registering a suo motu PIL, the High Court issued notices to the Collector of Kendrapara district and Secretary of Forest and Environment department. The Registrar (Judicial) suo motu registered the PIL on the basis of a media report on the large number of Olive Ridleys’ death since January. According to the report, 800 turtles have died along the Odisha coast since January 2021.

The PIL assumes significance as Gahirmatha is the world’s largest rookery of the endangered sea turtles. The rookery at Gahirmatha was declared a marine sanctuary in 1997 by the State government. It imposed a ban order on fishing activities inside the sanctuary, around 20 km off the shore from November 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021

The fishing trawlers are supposed to fish beyond 20 km from the coast in Gahirmatha marine sanctuary, according to the Odisha Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1982. But, they fish near the shore in violation of the law. As a result, turtles die after getting trapped in fishing nets or hit by trawlers.The carcasses of turtles are also driving away tourists from the Siali, Satabhaya, Pentha and Paradip beaches in Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur districts due to the stench, much to the resentment of local shopkeepers and hotel owners.  https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2021/feb/24/orissa-high-court-registers-suo-motu-pil-on-olive-ridley-turtle-deaths-2268283.html  (24 Feb. 2021)

SAND MINING

Karnataka 6 dead after gelatin sticks explode in Chikkaballapur At least six people were killed in a blast at a quarry site at Hirenagaveli village, Chikkaballapur district in Karnataka, after a bunch of gelatin sticks exploded in the wee hours of Tuesday (Feb. 23). Two people have been arrested in connection with the incident.

As per the reports, the blast occurred when gelatin sticks were being transported in a vehicle. A case has been registered in Peresandra police station and police are investigating. According to police, an FSL team is at the spot. A police official from the Peresandra police station told indianexpress.com that the blast was so powerful that it completely damaged the vehicle and the dead bodies cannot be identified as well.

-In January last month in a similar kind of incident six people were killed after a massive explosion that took place near a gravel and boulder crushing facility in Shivamogga district. Following the incident, the quarry owner and a person who allegedly supplied dynamite to him were arrested by the police.  https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/bangalore/chikkaballapur-gelatin-sticks-blast-karnataka-7200615/  (24 Feb. 2021)

Apart from the glaring environmental degradation, news reports state that mining and quarrying activities have also caused cultural erosion. The explosions threaten to destroy the precariously perched ruins of Hampi, 330 km from Chikkaballapur, dating back to the 14th century. The stone quarry nearest to the Hampi ruins is 15 km away.   https://en.gaonconnection.com/powder-keg-in-karnataka-the-chikkaballapur-and-shivamogga-gelatin-blasts-tip-of-the-icebergchikkaballapur-gelatin-blast-powder-keg-in-karnataka-hinterland-pays-price-for-bengaluru-construction-boom/  (26 Feb. 2021)

Telangana 3 arrested for lawyer couple murder A local leader of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and two others were arrested in connection with the gruesome daylight killing of the lawyer couple on Wednesday (Feb. 17). The TRS suspended the leader concerned as advocates across the state staged protests. TRS Manthani mandal unit president Kunta Srinivas, along with another person allegedly attacked  Gattu Vaman Rao and his wife P.V. Nagamani on Wednesday as he bore some personal grudge, police said, ruling out as of now any political reason behind the killing.

“In his dying declaration, Vaman Rao named TRS Manthani Mandal president Kunta Srinivas. The couple was murdered by TRS sand mafia for raising their voice against the custodial killing of a Dalit person, Seelam Rangaiah on May 25, 2020. Chief minister Chandrasekhar Rao’s silence is deafening and only a CBI inquiry will bring out the truth,” News 18 quoted Reddy as saying. https://thewire.in/government/trs-leader-among-three-arrested-telangana-lawyer-couple-murder  (19 Feb. 2021)

CBI probe sought into lawyers’ murder Telangana Congress stepped up its offensive against the TRS government meeting the Governor, Tamilisai Soundararajan and demanding that a court-monitored CBI inquiry be launched into the daylight murder of lawyer-couple, Vaman Rao and Nagamani, since the police and TRS leaders were facing accusations.

Later, Mr. Uttam Kumar Reddy told reporters that the brutal murder of High Court advocates Gattu Vaman Rao and PV Nagamani in Manthani reflected the murderous politics in Telangana due to the rising sand mafia. He said CM K. Chandrashekhar Rao did not even condemn the murder and claimed this sent a signal to the TRS leaders that they will be protected.

The deceased Vaman Rao and his wife Nagamani had filed several cases against the local TRS leaders involved in illegal sand mining and land grabbing. They also filed a case against the Manthani police officials for the custodial death of a Dalit, Seelam Rangaiah, he reminded. The Bar Council of Telangana and also the Bar Council of India had written to the Telangana High Court Chief Justice terming it an attack on the judiciary, he said.  https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/cbi-probe-sought-into-lawyers-murder/article33944819.ece  (26 Feb. 2021)

Bihar In just two days 11 people killed in road accidents involving sand trucks in Katihar district. -Five persons were killed and 5 others sustained grievous injuries when an autorickshaw collided head-on with a sand-laden truck on the national highway 31 near Sameli primary health centre at Kurshela in the district in the wee hours of Monday (Feb. 22). https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/5-of-a-band-party-die-in-katihar-road-accident/articleshow/81158921.cms

-Six persons died and three were seriously injured when the SUV they were travelling in collided head-on with a sand-laden truck in Katihar district in the wee hours of Tuesday (Feb. 23) This was the second major accident within 24 hours and only 12km from the spot where 5 people had died in an autorickshaw-truck collision on the NH-31 on Monday. The accident took place on Kataria-Kosi bridge near Kursela on NH-31. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/six-from-rosera-returning-from-tilak-die-in-accident/articleshow/81179281.cms

Illegal sand mining rampant in Gaya District magistrate Abhishek Singh and SSP Aditya Kumar have asked the mining officer to spend at least 20 days on field inspection to check sand smuggling. The DM has also requested the state geology and mines department for posting a mines inspector in Gaya. Sources said non-settlement of sand ghats and stone quarries has led to huge loss of revenue to the state exchequer. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/illegal-sand-mining-rampant-in-gaya/articleshow/81158984.cms  (23 Feb. 2021)

Uttar Pradesh 4 killed, 6 injured in sand truck collision in Azamgarh The accident took place near Bagahidand bridge in Jiyanpur police station area of the district. Around a dozen people on board the minivan were travelling from Gorakhpur to Azamgarh. As the van reached near Keshwapur village in Azamgarh district, a truck loaded with sand coming from the opposite direction collided with the van, killing four daily-wage labourers and injuring six others. Two of the injured were residents of Varanasi, said police. It added that the truck turned turtle after the accident.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/lucknow-news/4-killed-6-injured-in-a-collision-in-uttar-pradesh-s-azamgarh-101613277680629.html  (14 Feb. 2021)

Before this, 3 people were killed and 6 more injured in a head-on collision between a truck and a sand-laden dumper on the Lucknow-Agra expressway due to reduced visibility caused by fog, police said on Saturday (Jan. 2). The dumper was on the wrong side of the road when it collided with the truck coming from Rajasthan in the Usrahar police station area on Friday (Jan. 1) evening, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Akash Tomar said. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/north-and-central/3-killed-6-injured-as-dumper-collides-with-truck-due-to-fog-in-uttar-pradesh-934313.html   (02 Jan. 2021) 

‘Nadi Adhikar Pad Yatra’ from Mar 1 to woo Nishads  This is happening after district administration damaged 17 boats of Nishad people recently claiming them to be involved in illegal sand mining. UPCC (OBC cell) acting chairman Manoj Kumar Yadav said atrocities on the people of Nishad community had come to light after 17 boats were allegedly damaged in action against illegal sand mining by authorities at Baswar village. Yadav alleged that atrocities were committed on the Nishad community on the pretext of following NGT guidelines. The Nishad community is dependent on rivers for their livelihood since ages and the government is trying to snatch their bread and butter, he alleged.

Yadav claimed that illegal mining through machines is rampant in Banda, Chitrakoot and Hamirpur districts and he has even collected evidence of it but the state government is sitting like a mute spectator. UPCC leaders said people of Nishad community are real protectors of rivers and their rights should be protected. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/cong-to-launch-nadi-adhikar-pad-yatra-from-mar-1-to-woo-nishads/articleshow/81214376.cms  (26 Feb. 2021)

Gujarat Sand truck runs over sleeping labourers, kills two A dumper truck ran over a group of labourers sleeping on a pavement, killing two of them and injuring one person on Mansarovar Road in Palanpur town of Banaskantha on Monday (Jan. 25) early morning. According to police, the incident took place the driver of a truck carrying sand was reversing the vehicle. The driver accidentally ran over four labourers sleeping on the pavement. One of the labourers Magan Beghdiya (23) died on the spot, while Raman Beghdiya succumbed to injuries in a private hospital. Police said that the condition of one labourer was critical, while the fourth person sustained minor injuries. The deceased are residents of Danta taluka of Banaskantha. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/rajkot/truck-runs-over-sleeping-labourers-kills-two/articleshow/80454038.cms  (26 Jan. 2021)

SC notice to Centre on appeal against UltraTech Cement’s limestone mining project The Supreme Court has sought response from the Centre on an appeal challenging a National Green Tribunal order that dismissed a plea against grant of environmental clearance (EC) for a limestone mining project of Ultra Tech Cement in Bhavnagar district. A bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah issued notices to the MoEF, SPCB, UltraTech Cement, Uncha Kotda Gram Panchayat and others.

The NGT had on September 24, 2020 dismissed the plea filed by the petitioners noting that the project proponent has explained with reference to the documents that the public notice was duly issued through the concerned statutory authorities and the Panchayats in the area supported the project.

The petitioners are residents of the three villages where limestone mining will be undertaken. According to the petitioners, the grant of EC was mechanical, without a meaningful public hearing and ignoring several vital aspects. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/indl-goods/svs/cement/sc-notice-to-centre-on-appeal-against-ultratech-cements-limestone-mining-project-in-gujarat/articleshow/81242967.cms  (27 Feb. 2021)  

Goa Behind Fatorda attack, a tale of illegal sand & drug racket Sources familiar with the illegal sand mining trade are of the view that the failure of police and the directorate of mines and geology in cracking down on the illegal sand extraction and transportation has only emboldened the sand mafia with criminals now venturing into the trade.

-With the closure of iron ore mining activities, several youths from the mining belt ventured into illegal sand extraction and transportation activities. It is common knowledge that law enforcing authorities turn a blind eye to these illegal activities. And when a raid does take place, the culprits are tipped off well in advance enabling them to retreat in time to evade police action.

-“The illegal sand trade has now arrived at a dangerous cusp,” said a source. “While earlier there would be occasional turf wars between groups owing to business rivalry, with the entry of criminals in the trade now, extortion for ‘protection money’ has taken the trade to a dangerous proportion.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/behind-fatorda-attack-a-tale-of-illegal-sand-mining-drug-racket/articleshow/81099747.cms  (19 Feb. 2021)  

Haryana ‘Transport mafia’ planned attack on IAS officer  This also mentions of illegal sand transporters being informed about possible raids through whatsapp groups possibly by govt officials. On the night of 18 Sept, 2020 Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) and Road Transport Authority (RTA) Secretary Preeti Sabbarwal was attacked by a group of more than 50 people, allegedly members of the mining and transport mafia. The convoy was attacked near Panjokhra at the Haryana-Punjab border. While the IAS officer escaped unhurt, her gunman Karamvir and driver Kuldeep were assaulted with rods. Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij and the Haryana IG were informed of the attack immediately, and the police have arrested 17 accused in the case so far.

Sabbarwal, who joined office on 14 August, had been cracking down on rampant overloading of vehicles in her jurisdiction. According to details accessed by ThePrint, a total of 149 vehicles have been challaned ever since the officer joined in August, collecting nearly Rs 70 lakh in penalty as of 20 September. According to the authorities, this rattled the “transport mafia” operational across Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the Uttar Pradesh belt, involving transporters or drivers of trucks and dippers who carry goods from one state to another.

The transport and mining mafia allegedly picks up sand, coarse sand and other construction material from different mining plants or major rivers such as Satluj and Beas but don’t have documents to prove, and most of them do not reveal who their consumers are either. “This leads to GST theft, overloading leading to infrastructure loss as they do not have licence to mine,” Sabbarwal told ThePrint. “So if a mining officer challans these impounded vehicles, the penalty amount is about Rs 4 lakh per dumper and it involves multiple units across the channel.”

Pathankot, Ropar, Hoshiarpur and Mohali are among the main areas in Punjab where illegal mining is dominant, and for the trucks to reach here, they cross certain points in Haryana, Ambala being one of them, according to officials. “In the name of land levelling, some people are involved in digging of sand and mud. Trucks full of sand and mud are transported to brick kilns and crushers even though they don’t have licence for the same,” said Rana Singh, a resident of Dera Bassi in Punjab who was earlier in transport business. https://theprint.in/india/whatsapp-group-tracker-mole-how-transport-mafia-planned-attack-on-ambala-ias-officer/508719/  (24 Sept. 2020)

Tamil Nadu Vaikundrajan convicted for bribing MoEF official A CBI court in Delhi has sentenced Vaikundarajan with three years imprisonment and Rs 5 lakh fine for bribing the then deputy director in MoEF Neeraj Khatri, who has also been given 5 years imprisonment and Rs 5 lakh fine.  https://www.pgurus.com/south-indias-sand-mining-king-vaikundarajan-convicted-for-bribing-environment-ministry-official/    (24 Feb. 2021)

‘List pleas for release of vehicles in mining cases’ A special bench comprising Justices MM Sundresh and N Sathish Kumar observed that on October 29, 2018, they passed a detailed order that request for release of vehicles involved in illegal sand mining cases could be made only before designated courts. But petitions seeking the above relief are being filed in High Court and orders are being passed ignoring the division bench’s order, the judges said.

Neither the division bench order was taken to the notice of a single judge nor the government filed any appeal against orders passed for releasing the vehicles, the judges said. “Imposition of cost can never be a substitute when it comes to environment and life source. Water is a life source,” the judges opined.

Even numbering and entertaining such petitions would be contradictory to the division bench order, they further held and directed the registry to post all matters seeking release of vehicles involved in illegal mining cases to the division bench so that the 2018 order could be clarified and reiterated. The bench gave the direction while hearing a PIL filed by one Kaleeswaran of Madurai seeking action against two police personnel of Subramaniyapuram police station in an illegal sand mining case.  https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2021/feb/25/list-pleas-for-release-of-vehicles-in-mining-cases-before-division-bench-2268833.html  (25 Feb. 2021)

HC seeks report from Chief Secretary on sand mining The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday (Feb. 23) directed the Chief Secretary to collect information from all District Collectors on the steps taken to stop illegal sand mining in the State and file a report before the court. A Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice R. Hemalatha observed that illegal sand mining had to be stopped and depletion of natural resources caused loss to the State. The court directed the Chief Secretary to take special interest in the matter. The court was hearing a suo motu public interest litigation petition initiated in 2018. The court had taken up the issue after residents of Nerinjikudi in Pudukottai district wrote to the High Court Registry complaining of illegal sand mining. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/hc-seeks-report-from-chief-secretary-on-sand-mining/article33925940.ece  (24 Feb. 2021) 

Uttarakhand Govt responds to PIL against mining on private lands The government on Wednesday (Feb. 24) submitted its affidavit to the high court outlining why it had allowed mining of riverbed material (RBM) on private lands adjacent to the rivers in the state. RBM includes sand, gravel and stones. In its affidavit the government said that since the rivers, especially when flooded, bring riverbed material with them on these private lands, it had decided to grant lease/pattas to private persons for extraction of riverbed material from the banks of rivers in the state.

SRS Gill, counsel for the petitioner sought time from the high court to file a rejoinder. “We have sought two weeks’ time for filing a rejoinder (response) on the state government’s affidavit. The court has granted us time and the next hearing of the matter has been fixed on March 17”, he said.

A division bench of chief justice RS Chauhan and justice Alok Verma heard the PIL filed by US Nagar-based social activist Ramesh Lal, who had had alleged last year that allowing mining on private lands adjacent to riverbeds will give rise to illegal mining, cutting and erosion of the banks, flooding and affect the overall ecology of the rivers in the Himalayan state.  In August last year, the HC had stayed till further order the state government’s May 5, 2020 notification which allowed mining of RBM on private lands adjacent to the riverbeds in the state. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/uttarakhand-responds-to-pil-against-mining-riverbed-material-on-private-lands-101614169310010.html  (24 Feb. 2021)

Illegal mining causing irreparable loss to Noon river Noon, a seasonal river in Dehradun’s Jaitanwala area, has become the new hotspot for illegal mining, say local residents. According to the residents, people from a nearby village can be seen carrying away stones, sand, and other construction materials every day. They add that these materials are further sold at construction sites. They expressed fear that the seasonal river may dry up due to the illegal mining. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/illegal-mining-causing-irreparable-loss-to-noon-river-say-locals/articleshow/81233119.cms  (27 Feb. 2021)

Jammu & Kashmir Labourers stage protest Scores of sand mining labourers from Kakapora area of district Pulwama on Monday (Feb. 22) assembled at press enclave to protest against the restrictions imposed by the government on sand mining for past two months causing a deep impact on the lives of sand miners and labourers.

“We are associated with sand mining since many years and our families are fully dependent on us. We have no other option as we are illiterate and do not have any other source of income. Due to some blue eyed elements, we are made to suffer,” said Ali Jan, one of the sand mining labourers. He said that due to some issues between contractors and the government, our livelihood is suffering. “This decision has snatched the livelihood of dozens of people including graduates and post graduate degree holders who have no other option other than sand mining due to unemployment,” he added. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/kashmir/sand-mining-restrictions-in-pulwamalabourers-stage-protest-demand-resumption-of-mining-activity/  (23 Feb. 2021)

Punjab Ghanaur: FIRs lodged, but no action so far Almost over a month after the registration of FIRs into illegal mining in over 10 villages in Ghanaur, from where sand worth crores is missing, the mining and the police departments are yet to make recoveries. They are “officially” clueless as to who pocketed the profits. With four FIRs and cases against landowners from where illegal sand was missing, the two departments are yet to identify the actual mafia kingpins. Except for names of aged landowners in two of the four FIRs, the police have not identified any big fish who plundered, ferried and sold the illegal sand worth crores.

Sources said following pressure from senior cops, an FIR against the same mafia was earlier registered in August and later in October 2020 and the work came to a standstill. “With farmers busy with protests against the farm laws, the mafia, in connivance with local cops, became active in the area again and no one dares to report,” a villager said. He alleged that the Shambhu police was reluctant to act on their complaints. More than half a dozen villages adjoining Ghanaur are witnessing unbridled sand mining. Villages of Rajgarh, Nanhera, Chamaru and Bathonian, apart from a couple of others, are the “hotbed of unlawful mining”. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/illegal-mining-in-ghanaur-firs-lodged-but-no-action-so-far-216232  (23 Feb. 2021)

Maharashtra Police destroy 14 boats worth Rs 1.3 cr The Pune Rural Police has seized and destroyed 14 boats worth Rs 1.3 crore used for illegal sand mining in the Bhima river basin in the past two weeks and arrested two alleged sand mafia gang leaders, booked 14 people apart from seizing one truck used for transporting excavated sand. Over the last several months, the Pune district administration, police, forest department and other agencies launched a coordinated crackdown against these gangs. In October and November last year, these agencies had together seized and destroyed more than 80 boats used for excavating sand and made several arrests.

Illegal sand excavation rackets have multiple criminal activities associated with them. From the excavation of sand from riverbed using boats to illegal transport in trucks and sale, criminal elements are involved in each activity and many are known to carry illegal firearms. Many of the areas where sand mining is done are forest areas and rampant sand excavation has had serious adverse effects on the ecosystem.

Illegal sand excavators use two types of boats. One type is the suction boat, which has suction pumps and dredges the sand from the riverbed. This sand, which has water content, is then transferred to larger boats made of synthetic material, which go to the riverbanks to load the trucks parked nearby. These trucks then illegally transport the sand to their destination.  https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/crackdown-on-illegal-sand-mining-police-destroy-14-boats-worth-rs-1-3-crore-14-people-booked-7201720/  (23 Feb. 2021)

Daund, Shirur and Indapur talukas of Pune district have numerous illegal sand mining rackets in operation, especially in the Bhima basin riverbeds, according to police. These riverbeds are known to have good quality sand, a commodity which is always in very high demand mainly in construction — both in non-government construction projects and government-initiated infrastructure projects. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/crackdown-against-sand-mafia-pune-rural-police-destroy-14-boats-extern-two-gang-leaders-7200730/  (23 Feb. 2021)

Highest attacks on RTI activists This also includes activists exposing illegal sand mining. Since the Right to Information Act came into existence in 2005, at least 16 activists have lost their lives in Maharashtra. In another 36 instances, RTI activists were assaulted and 41 others were either harassed or threatened with dire consequence. But not a single case, despite pressing evidence, has led to a conviction. Worse, the state and its police have blamed the activists in few cases for being attacked or killed. A recent report, published by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an independent, NGO, documents these attacks on RTI activists in Maharashtra in great detail.

The research has recommended that the Whistle blowers Protection (WBP) Act, which parliament enacted in February 2014, should be brought to force, along with state-level mechanisms to ensure activists’ safety. The courts, the report recommends, should ensure a mechanism to conduct a fast track trial in cases of attack on RTI activists. The report adds that across the country, at least 86 murders of RTI activists have occurred. There have been at least 170 cases of physical assault (in some cases multiple attacks on the same individual) and 183 cases of threats or harassment reported by the media, linked to the RTI activism, it says. https://thewire.in/rights/maharashtra-dubious-distinction-highest-attacks-rti-activists-chri-report  (06 Feb. 2021)

Odisha 45% Tehsils Report Illegal Mining!  Details of illegal sand mining, policy vacuum and sand violence in the state. Even as a whopping over 45 per cent of the Tehsils in Odisha report massive illegal sand mining, the State government has apparently gone pound sand to the problem. Odisha, along with Jharkhand, is the only two major states in the country that have no policy on the sand.

With illegal mining of major minerals in Odisha having been shrunk to a mere 1 case in the first half of 2020-21 from over 45 in 2017-18, courtesy of the SC guidelines post the famous Shah Committee report, illegal sand mining has emerged as a lucrative business for mining mafia in the State.

The role of the Odisha government in putting shackles on the rampant illegal mining looks lackadaisical because, replying in Odisha Assembly recently, Revenue and Disaster Minister Sudam Marandi conceded that Odisha has neither estimated the demand – consumption of sand in the State nor has fixed any price for the sale of sand.

As per the data provided by the State Revenue and Disaster Management Minister, Odisha has been a sand surplus State for a long period of time. The State has been exporting sand to the tune of nearly 2.7 lakh cum during the period of 2018-21.

The total revenue earned from sand in 2019-20 had been Rs 680 crore against Rs 303 crore in 2018-19 The State has collected revenue to the tune of Rs 37.11 crore during the period of April and May 2020 from minor minerals.

As per official data, when one was killed due to a road accident during illegal sand mining, two activists against illegal sand mining were killed in the State during the year 2019-20. The State has no data to show regarding a number of the attack on government officials in the anti-illegal sand mining squad. There is no data on the number of FIRs and court cases on illegal sand miners. https://odishatv.in/odisha-news/odisha-only-major-state-sans-sand-mining-policy-45-tehsils-report-illegal-mining-521924  (27 Feb. 2021)

Sand policy soon The Assembly witnessed noisy scenes during the question hour on Friday (Feb. 26) with members cutting across party lines expressing concern over sand smuggling in the State. Criticising the government inaction over the issue, BJP and Congress members demanded that a policy should be formulated to curb illegal sand mining.

Speaker SN Patro also expressed concern over the matter and asked Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Sudam Marndi why the government has no specific policy for lifting sand from different rivers. Sand is under minor mineral category and should be regularised, he said and added that in his Assembly constituency, sand is lifted and smuggled to Andhra Pradesh. “Therefore to stop the illegal activity, the government should formulate a policy,” he said.

The Minister said the government is in the process of consultation with different stakeholders and will soon formulate a policy in this regard.  Stating that a decision was taken on April 11, 2018 for deploying police to check sand theft from different rivers, the Minister said it could not be implemented due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He said the government has already identified 144 tehsils in the state as sensitive areas. Special squads consisting of officials, including revenue inspectors, have been formed in those areas to keep a check on the illegal activities, he added. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2021/feb/27/to-stop-illegal-activities-sand-policy-in-odisha-soon-2269704.html  (27 Feb. 2021)

The state is losing nearly Rs 14,000 crore per annum because of illegal sand mining, which is rampant across the state, the Opposition members alleged in the Assembly. They said that though a draft policy was prepared in 2018 to curb the illegal sand mining no steps were taken to turn it into a law.

The state government landed in trouble when Speaker Surya Narayan Patro himself leapt on his feet and said sand was also being transported from his constituency to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. He also raised the question as to why there has been delay in formulating a policy to curb it. “The state is earning Rs 1,500 crore as revenue from sand lifting but it is still losing nearly Rs 5,000 crore owing to illegal trade,” said Patro.

As the issue snowballed into a major controversy, revenue minister Sudam Marandi assured the Assembly that the draft policy on sand would be brought soon. “We are into discussions with various departments to formulate a new sand policy. It will be implemented soon,” said Marandi. https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/ire-over-illegal-sand-mining-in-odisha/cid/1807936  (27 Feb. 2021)

State Assembly was on Friday (Feb. 26) adjourned till post-lunch after opposition BJP and Congress members created ruckus demanding formulation of a policy to curb illegal sand mining across the state.

Congress whip Taraprasad Bahinipati said “the general people are charged hey amounts as penalty when they lift sand for constructing their houses. But no action is taken against the sand mafia. The government is losing thousands of crores of rupees due to the lack of a specific policy”. In a written reply to a question made by BJP whip Mohan Majhi, the minister said that the draft of Odisha Sand Policy is in its final stage. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/east-and-northeast/odisha-assembly-adjourned-after-bjp-mlas-suicide-threat-955640.html  (26 Feb. 2021)

In a bid to discuss modalities in resolving disputes arising out of several bordering villages near Jaleswar and Bhograi in Baleswar district, a meeting of top officials of Odisha and West Bengal Governments was held at West Medinipur in West Bengal on Thursday (Feb. 25).

Notably, the Subarnarekha river is the natural border between both States. However, there is no physical demarcation; and the virtual lining often creates confusion. West Bengal extracts sand from the riverbed. However, it is said that the sand mining zones fall within Odisha’s jurisdiction which is the root cause of tension between locals of both the sides. https://www.dailypioneer.com/2021/state-editions/odisha–wb-officials-meet-on-border-issues.html  (26 Feb. 2021)

Focus on remote sensing maps to solve border row Discussions were held over 36 border reference points on Odisha side and 52 in WB’s West Medinipur district, all linked to Subarnarekha river. Basing on geo-tagging, two coordinate points were verified at Dakhin Praharajpur village close to Odisha border in presence of officials of two states to resolve the dispute. Scientists from Odisha Space Applications Centre (ORSAC) Manoj Kumar and Pramod Panda facilitated the bordering reference points through geo-tagging. The teams also visited reference points at the bordering of two states.

Officials of the two states exchanged maps to ascertain the boundary in the meeting and it was decided to hold the next meeting in Balasore in March. Both sides are verifying DGPS maps from time to time. After identifying the reference points at the inter-state boundary by ORSAC, the two states generate the coordinates where poles are installed. In this manner, so far, 36 coordinate points were identified and poles installed in 12 villages in presence of officials of both the states, Jaleswar Tehsildar Khirod Panda said.

The boundary dispute between Jaleswar tehsil in Balasore and Dantan of Paschim Medinipur district dates back to 1926 over rampant sand mining from Subarnarekha river. While the issue raged on over the years, it intensified in 2016 prompting Congress leader Sudarshan Das to petition the NGT. The NGT directed both the State governments to take immediate measures for clear delineation of the inter-State boundary. Governments of both Odisha and WB did not pay heed until both the parties met at Dantan in September last year and ORSAC intervened for a survey. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2021/feb/26/focus-on-remote-sensing-maps-to-solve-odisha-west-bengal-border-row-2269193.html  (26 Feb. 2021)

Madhya Pradesh Govt efforts to curb illegal sand mining proving insufficient. https://www.facebook.com/sandrp.in/posts/4262515567109417  (23 Feb. 2021)

World Bank India accounts for 10% of global road crash victims There is still no information number of people being killed in accidents caused by sand mining vehicles. For India, it’s one per cent of the world’s vehicles and 10 per cent of the crash victims.. https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/india-accounts-for-10-of-global-road-crash-victims-world-bank/story/431211.html  (14 Feb. 2021)

WETLANDS, LAKES, WATER BODIES

Manipur Mega ‘Eco’tourism Project Questions Wetland Ownership and Livelihoods The Loktak lake is currently at the crossroads of development, where any hurried step could be a step back. Sendra Islands’ shift from being a free and commonly accessed landform, to its current avatar of privatized resorts is difficult to look past. While tourism might provide livelihood alternatives, the more important question at hand is what type of tourism. For those living in and around Loktak, the tourism model they are advocating for is one that involves them in making decisions that are truly beneficial for the ecology. https://thebastion.co.in/politics-and/environment/conservation-and-development/mega-ecotourism-project-questions-livelihoods-in-manipurs-loktak-lake/  (26 Feb. 2021)

Haryana Govt yet to submit plan to conserve Najafgarh Jheel State govt, even two months after the deadline, is yet to submit an environment management plan to the NGT for the protection of Najafgarh Jheel, as sought by the green court last September. However, officials from the state environment department said that technical committees have been formed to look into the matter and study the reports concerned.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/gurugram-news/haryana-yet-to-submit-plan-to-conserve-najafgarh-jheel-matter-with-state-technical-committee-101614275756692.html  (25 Feb. 2021)

WATER OPTIONS

Maharashtra Baravas – Unique water harvesting structures Baravas, the unique water harvesting structures continue to stand the test of time. Urgent efforts need to be made to conserve them and learn from them!  https://www.indiawaterportal.org/article/baravas-unique-water-harvesting-structures-maharashtra  (24 Feb. 2021)

GROUNDWATER

Study Groundwater crisis threatens food security The study, published on Feb 24, 2021 in the journal Science Advances, found that overuse of groundwater could cause winter harvests in some regions of the country to fall up to two thirds by 2025. “Many studies have shown that India has large groundwater depletion, but to date it has been unclear what the impacts of this depletion could have on agricultural production,” said lead author Meha Jain, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. The researchers found that in a worst case scenario, if farmers in over-exploited regions lose all access to groundwater, and if that irrigation water isn’t replaced by water from other sources, winter harvests could decrease by 20% nationwide and by 68% in the most severely affected areas.  https://www.kctv5.com/indias-groundwater-crisis-threatens-food-security-for-hundreds-of-millions-study-says/article_43acbdc2-5b83-5ada-a7c1-3d0d6d1739c9.html  (24 Feb. 2021)

Abstract of the full paper: We use high-resolution satellite and census data from India, the world’s largest consumer of groundwater, to quantify the impacts of groundwater depletion on cropping intensity, a crucial driver of agricultural production. Our results suggest that, given current depletion trends, cropping intensity may decrease by 20% nationwide and by 68% in groundwater-depleted regions. Even if surface irrigation delivery is increased as a supply-side adaptation strategy, which is being widely promoted by the Indian government, cropping intensity will decrease, become more vulnerable to inter-annual rainfall variability, and become more spatially uneven. We find that groundwater and canal irrigation are not substitutable and that additional adaptation strategies will be necessary to maintain current levels of production in the face of groundwater depletion. Full Paper: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/9/eabd2849  (24 Feb. 2021); More details here: https://phys.org/news/2021-02-indian-agriculture-groundwater-depletion-winter.html  (24 Feb. 2021)

It was earlier believed that a shift to irrigation canals, which divert surface water from lakes and rivers, is one way to overcome this shortfall. However, the study concludes that a switch to canal irrigation will not completely compensate for the loss of groundwater in Indian agriculture.

According to the team, the distance from existing irrigation canals is strongly linked to decreased acreage planted with winter crops. They also noted that increased reliance on canals in future could increase inequalities related to irrigation access.

According to the study, lakes and rivers that feed irrigation canals rise and fall in response to rainfall variability, unlike deep groundwater wells. This means as farmers become more reliant on canal irrigation, they would become more vulnerable to rainfall fluctuations, as well as any long-term trends due to climate change.  https://theprint.in/india/india-could-see-winter-crop-cultivation-shrink-by-20-as-groundwater-depletes-study-finds/610371/  (25 Feb. 2021)

Review Causes and implications of groundwater depletion The paper discusses the challenges and opportunities related to the measurements and modelling of groundwater, groundwater recharge, cropping systems and irrigation efficiency, and social and policy reforms for sustainable groundwater management in India.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022169421001505  (23 Feb. 2021)

Bihar Alarming levels of arsenic, fluoride and iron in 36 districts According to a report tabled by the Nitish Kumar government in the Bihar Assembly, the higher concentration of contaminated water is found in Patna, Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Vaishali, Buxar, Darbhanga, Katihar, Khagria, Lakhisarai, Munger, Samastipur, Saran, Sitamarhi, and Bhojpur. Official sources have said that 4742 wards spread in these 14 districts have a higher arsenic concentration in the groundwater.

Similarly, the groundwater in 3791 wards of 11 districts of Aurangabad, Banka, Bhagalpur, Gaya, Jamui, Kaimur, Munger, Nalanda, Rohtas, Sheikhpura, and Nawada has been found with a stronger presence of fluoride. The contamination with the presence of higher presence of iron in the groundwater in 21739 wards in 11 districts. These districts are Araria, Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Katihar, Khagaria, Kishanganj, Madhepura,Munger,Purnia,Saharsa and Supaul.

According to official figures, the department has a target of nearly 7.59 lakh households in 14 arsenic-affected districts followed by 6.07 lakh households in 11 fluoride-hit districts and 34.78 lakh households in iron-affected areas for providing safe drinking water through deep drilled water boring or other means. https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/feb/26/alarming-levels-of-arsenic-fluoride-and-iron-found-in-groundwater-of-bihars-36-districts-2269293.html  (26 Feb. 2021)

Study High levels of arsenic in cooked rice A paper ‘Arsenic exposure from food exceeds that from drinking water in endemic area of Bihar, India’ by Mondal et al deals with how food contributes equally as drinking water towards total arsenic exposure in Bihar. In this study, the contribution of food over drinking water to overall arsenic exposure was estimated for arsenic exposed populations in Bihar. https://www.indiawaterportal.org/article/study-detects-high-levels-arsenic-cooked-rice-biha  (24 Feb. 2021)

Report Surface irrigation won’t improve ‘dramatic’ groundwater depletion in North India https://www.counterview.net/2021/02/surface-irrigation-wont-improve.html  (27 Feb. 2021)

URBAN WATER

Pune Groundwater is an invisible but crucial resource The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has taken up a project to revive a water percolation pond in Handewadi, in southeast Pune. This spot is right at the gate of the Dada Gujar Madhyamik Vidyalaya. The pond revival and redesign is being done by PMC with technical advice from ACWADAM, and participation of Mission Groundwater, a civil society initiative.

– Rainwater from Handewadi flows into this percolation pond. Two newly constructed filtration pits will screen out leaves and rubbish flowing in with the rainwater. In addition, three small springs bring water naturally percolating in the surrounding area into the pond. Two recharge shafts are constructed to direct the pond water into the aquifer below that is rock layers with numerous cracks and air bubbles that retain water.

– Studies show that Pune’s current plot-based rainwater harvesting voluntary programme should change to a comprehensive area-based approach. Protecting open vegetated areas like Bavdhan and Vetal tekdi, which are natural recharge zones, should be a priority. Recharge structures should be set up at places where the rock structure is such that it would hold water, as in Handewadi. Further, the concretisation of streams and nallahs should stop. Corporators sometimes promote nallah concretisation mistakenly believing it helps the neighbourhood. In fact, concretisation is more likely to cause flash floods and reduce groundwater recharge. Instead, discretionary funds could be used to restore nallahs as natural streams.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/pune-news/civic-sanskriti-why-groundwater-is-an-invisible-but-crucial-resource-101614065195498.html  (24 Feb. 2021)

Amritsar Canal water is set to replace underground water in Amritsar While talking to TOI on Saturday (Feb. 27), mayor of Amritsar Karamjit Singh Rintu said that the underground water level was depleting at the rate of three metres per year. The administration had to use extra high power motors for drawing the water and yet it was unable to supply potable water round the clock to nearly 14 lakh population of Amritsar.

”In many places, we are drawing the water from somewhere else and supplying it in the area where the water level is too deep,” he said. Besides, Rintu said that due to overexploitation of water, officials had observed various contaminants including arsenic and other heavy metals which were not only harmful to human consumption but also for the ecosystem.

To resolve the issue of erratic water supply, check the contamination of water and to prevent further depletion of water level, the mayor said that the administration had come up with a World Bank-aided Rs 2200-crore project for the 24X7 supply of the water. “This project will meet the needs of the expected 22 lakh population of Amritsar in next 30 years,“ he said. Giving details, he said that the work on the first phase of Rs 723 crore project was underway.

“We have purchased 40 acres of land near Upper Bari Doab Canal, Vallah, where a water treatment plant will be installed,” he said. The treated water would be stored in as many as 100 overhead reservoirs from where it would be supplied to every household, he said. When asked about any change in the water tariff, he replied “there may be a nominal hike in water tariff, but people will get round-the-clock potable water supply at their homes”.

Presently, free of cost water was supplied to the houses built in 125 square yard and Rs 220 was charged per month including Rs 110 sewerage tariff from the owners of properties above 125 square yards and there was a separate tariff for the bulk users. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/amritsar/punjab-hope-on-the-horizon-as-canal-water-is-set-replace-underground-water-in-amritsar/articleshow/81244746.cms  (27 Feb. 2021)

Hyderabad Free drinking water scheme caught in inter-departmental wrangle Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWS&SB) claims it cannot clear the pending dues of about Rs 1,100 crore and bear the electricity charges for the supply of the water. Citing its weak financial condition, it has urged the electricity department not to disconnect power until a budgetary allocation for this purpose was made by the state government.

In a request to the TS Electricity Regulatory Commission (TSERC), the Water Board said it had incurred a net loss of Rs 232.33 crore for 2016-17, Rs 330.01 crore for 2017-18, Rs 299.95 crore for 2018-19, Rs 577.49 crore for 2019-20 and Rs 265.86 crore for 2020-21 up to October. The board said the deficit was on account of operations of the board which does not include capital expenditure. “Due to the vast spread of urbanisation, it has become a challenging job to supply potable water to all citizens in and around Hyderabad. The maintenance of sewer systems has also become a challenging job for the HMWS&SB.”

The electricity department responded claiming that it too was in a sad condition. There was no revision of tariff since 2017-18. If the orders dated July 18, 2020 of the regulatory commission were to be implemented with effect from 2018-19, distribution companies (discoms) were bound to incur a revenue loss of Rs 244.57 crore, for fiscal 2018-19, Rs 257.38 crore for fiscal 2019-20, Rs 63.59 crore for the first quarter of fiscal 2020-21. Further the discoms would be losing Rs 21.19 crore per month till the revised tariff orders are approved. This loss was due to lack of tariff revision and fall in revenue. Hence, the total impact on revenue for discoms is Rs 538.95 crore up to June 2020, including Rs 83.35 crore towards surcharge. https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/politics/270221/free-drinking-water-scheme-in-telangana-caught-in-inter-departmental-w.html  (27 Feb. 2021)

Chennai NGT seeks reports on Putheri lake pollution Taking suo moto cognisance of an Express report that was published on February 10, judicial member, Justice K Ramakrishnan, and expert member, Saibal Dasgupta, in their order, directed the Municipality to submit two reports — one on the action taken regarding the allegations and the other on the progress of restoring the lake by March 17. The Tribunal also directed the TNPCB to submit a report on the lake’s water quality and implementation of Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, in Pallavaram Municipality. Recently, the Municipality had mentioned before the Tribunal that all the garbage in Putheri were removed.

Meanwhile, the Public Works Department, in its report, said that there were plans to restore Putheri Lake under the the Comprehensive Flood Mitigation Project, with an amount of Rs 2,000 crore, which also involves creating biodiversity parks and trees on the banks of the river to protect it from future encroachments. The PWD said that a DPR has been sent to the government and after getting approval from the World Bank, the project would start. https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2021/feb/25/ngt-seeks-reports-on-putheri-lake-pollution-2268609.html  (23 Feb. 2021)

Bengaluru Lakes as living labs We urgently need science-based approaches to solving pollution problems in lakes. However, we cannot wait for all the science to be “done” before a problem can be addressed. There are real costs to inaction and in any case, scientific knowledge is a moving target. Each study opens up new avenues for investigation (science is a never-ending quest), and each new field site brings in new confounding variables that have not been addressed previously. “Lakes as living labs,” is a systematic approach to solution design under such circumstances. https://medium.com/centre-for-social-and-environmental-innovation/lakes-as-living-labs-da2dcad161c0  (27 Feb.  2021)

Sewage in Agara lake Untreated water has entered Agara lake through BWSSB STP pipe and Lakes Dept is looking the other way, residents allege. Members of Agara Lake Protection and Management Society have demanded the BWSSB authorities to install sensors at the Agara lake inlet as per the SPCB guidelines. They said installing sensors would help raise an alarm when there is an inflow of water that does not meet the standards. The members also blame the BBMP Lakes Department for not registering a complaint against BBMP’s Major Road Department for damaging the pipeline while carrying out the developmental works. https://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/civic/good-grease-there-is-sewage-in-agara-lake/articleshow/81252021.cms  (28 Feb. 2021)

Study Plight of Private Desludgers-Aya Nagar case study While the DJB has classified several Sewage Pumping Stations and STPs as sites for safe disposal of faecal sludge, 93 percent of sewage are managed unsafely. A lack of customer awareness, no integrated planning with desludgers and poor monitoring are part of the problem.

There is a need for better incentives and business models to ensure that private emptiers handle the faecal sludge at the designated disposal points. https://www.watersciencepolicy.com/2021/02/22/plight-of-private-desludgers-a-case-study-of-aya-nagar-new-delhi/  (22 Feb. 2021)

Delhi City may face water shortage in March-April “Due to repair and maintenance work, the Bhakra-Nangal dam in Punjab will be shut from March 3 to April 24, 2021,” a source in the Delhi government said. After receiving information about the closure of the dam for one-and-a-half months, the officials at the DJB are busy finding an alternate solution to ensure adequate water supply during this time period, when the mercury starts to soar in the national capital. Replying to a query on whether the shutdown of the dam will affect water availability in Delhi, a senior official said on condition of anonymity, “Yes, it will have its effect. If the Bhakra-Nangal dam is shut, Delhi’s water availability could come down by220 MGD or about 25 per cent. http://www.nagalandpost.com/delhi-may-face-water-shortage-in-march-april/229388.html  (24 Feb. 2021)

DJB vice chairman Raghav Chadha said on Thursday (Feb. 25) that the Delhi government body had written to the Centre, Haryana government and BBMB (Bhakra Beas management board) urging them to postpone the repair of Nangal hydel channel. Due to the repair work, the water supply to Delhi will have to be stopped, which will lead to an unprecedented crisis in the national capital, Chadha said in the letter.

“The blind closure of the channel will affect supply of 232 MGD of water supply from the Beas river to Delhi for one month in March-April. It is 25 per cent of water supply in Delhi and could lead to an unprecedented water crisis and even law and order situation,” he said.

He also urged Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat to convene a meeting of all the stakeholders to discuss the issue. Chadha added that the Delhi government is in constant touch with the Centre over the issue and hoped that the impending crisis will be averted. “This could lead to an unprecedented water crisis and even law and order situation,” Chadha said. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/delhi-news/delhi-to-face-water-crisis-due-to-closure-of-nangla-hydel-channel-raghav-chadha-101614245640123.html  (25 Feb. 2021)

DJB vice-chairman Raghav Chadha said that supply to Rashtrapati Bhavan, PM’s residence and other institutions of national and international importance may also be affected. Out of Delhi’s installed water treatment capacity of 935 MGD, it receives 232 MGD raw water from Beas river via the Nangal hydel channel.

“We sent a letter to BBMB, the Centre and Haryana government on February 19 informing them that the citizens of Delhi are fully dependent on this 232 MGD water. We have requested them to put the maintenance work on hold during this important period and not reduce water supply to Delhi. They should carry out the maintenance work when water supply is enough,” added Chadha.

Delhi Jal Board gathers water from four key sources to supply it to the citizens of Delhi. These include the Yamuna, Ganga, Ravi-Beas rivers and groundwater. Already a water deficient city, Delhi’s peak water demand is over 1,260 MGD against which only 935 MGD is supplied.

Chadha said that Delhi’s access to this 232 MGD water is protected under law according to the memorandum of understanding signed in 1981. The Supreme Court had also issued an order on May 10, 2020 in this regard.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/vip-areas-in-delhi-stare-at-month-long-water-crisis/articleshow/81217463.cms  (26 Feb. 2021)

Rawat said the Delhi government has many policies on rainwater harvesting, but implementation remains problematic. The city receives about 600 millimetres of rainfall annually, primarily during the monsoon season (July to September). “This water can be used to recharge water bodies and recharge the groundwater level. But, sadly, everything is only there on paper. When will it be achieved 100 percent on the ground? We have to wait and watch for it,” he suggested. https://sputniknews.com/india/202102281082195772-dying-of-thirst-indias-capital-delhi-may-run-out-of-water-this-summer/  (28 Feb. 2021)

Wetland Authority of Delhi’s plan is now on to hire volunteers to keep a check on the dumping of waste in wetlands across the national capital and their encroachment. Reports suggest that the goal of such recruitment is to increased public participation in the cause of environmental conservation. Apart from that, such a move will also help the authorities in fixing the accountability of the land-owning agencies and owners in-charge. https://www.timesnownews.com/delhi/article/delhi-authorities-looking-to-hire-wetland-mitras-to-keep-check-on-encroachment-and-waste-dumping-activities/723956  (23 Feb. 2021)

WATER

IMPRI Planet Talks Water Governance challenges and suggested tools Supply-side solutions are creating havoc for the already disadvantaged and marginalised. https://www.facebook.com/sandrp.in/posts/4261384293889211 

Gujarat At a ‘watering hole’ in the arid Banni grasslands The migrations of the maldharis of Kachchh, Gujarat, are linked to the search for grazing grounds and water. https://ruralindiaonline.org/en/articles/at-a-watering-hole-in-the-arid-banni-grasslands/  (05 March 2020)

Research Enduring War of Water Governance Paradigms This paper talks about two paradigms of water governance in India. But are there just two? https://www.orfonline.org/research/indias-enduring-war-of-water-governance-paradigms  (23 Feb. 2021)

WATER POLLUTION

Karnataka Sweeper ends life after being forced to clean sewage Narayana, a 37-year-old who worked for the Maddur Town Municipal Corporation as a sweeper, died by suicide on Tuesday (Feb. 23) after alleged harassment from officials, who had earlier forced him into a manual scavenging job and were facing an enquiry for the same.

While official figures estimate total 774 deaths between 1993 and March 2019, SKA estimates that nearly 2,000 manual scavengers die every year in the sewers, due to exposure to poisonous gases. Include deaths that occur in septic tanks to this and the number would be even higher. These figures do not even take into account stories like that of Narayana’s where the trauma, discrimination and societal prejudice associated with occupation push people to suicide.

According to a 2013 report by the CAG, Indian Railways ejects around 3,980 metric tonnes of faecal matter onto rail tracks every day. That’s about one-fifth the weight of The Statue of Liberty. Whenever passengers use train toilets while trains are halted at stations, the excreta directly falls on the railway tracks beside the platforms, which is then cleaned by a human work-force.

The railways did deploy bio-toilets across 68,000 coaches (as per data available till 2019-20) but that is not without its own problems. According to a memo submitted to Northern Railways, these toilets are unfit for use in general compartments because of the heavy passenger traffic in these coaches. Furthermore, an IIT Madras study done between 2013-17 states that these bio-toilets do not eliminate the problem entirely: once the tank is filled, human excreta is allowed to drop down onto the tracks.

Another culprit is the Union government’s Swacchh Bharat Abhiyaan, which though well-intentioned, seemingly fails to eliminate the need for human beings to clean the excrement of their own kind. The mission boasts that 99.5 percent of households in India now have a toilet. According to the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey 2019-20, only 27.3 percent of the toilets surveyed have a double leach pit; 1.1 percent go into a sewer while all others empty into some form of a septic tank or single pits. Another reason for the existence of manual scavenging is the continued usage of dry latrines in India. According to the 2011 census, there are 26,07,612 dry latrines in India. Manual scavengers are employed in cleaning these latrines. https://www.firstpost.com/india/karnataka-sweeper-ends-life-after-being-forced-to-clean-sewage-why-manual-scavenging-persist-in-21st-century-india-9341791.html  (25 Feb. 2021)

Maharashtra 5 Jalna civic officials fined ₹1 lakh each for misleading HC Observing that the majesty of law had to be upheld by high-ranking officers, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court (HC) recently imposed a cost of ₹1 lakh each on five officials of the Jalna Municipal Corporation who were found to have given false statements in a bid to mislead the court in a PIL.

The officials, while giving their statement regarding a slaughter-house which the PIL had alleged was illegal, had assured the court that the slaughter-house was legal and had all the requisite permissions from various authorities. However, on perusal of records and other documents, the court found the statements to be false. To deter others to act in a similar way, the court imposed the cost on the officials.

The court, while seeking the names of the officials concerned, directed the PCB counsel to place a list of officials who had done dereliction of duty and posted the PIL for hearing on February 26. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/bombay-hc-fines-5-jalna-civic-officials-1-lakh-each-for-misleading-court-101613932218153.html  (22 Feb. 2021)

The HC decided against initiating a contempt of court proceeding against the five officials after they tendered apologies and expressed remorse and regret over the matter. The fine amount is to be deposited with the court registry by March 5, the bench said and also directed the Jalna CO Nitin J Narvekar to furnish an affidavit by the next hearing on February 26 listing names of the officials who can be held responsible for not maintaining records of the animals slaughtered at the facility. The bench was hearing a PIL against the slaughter house.

“It is a coincidence that this matter was not circulated in between December 2015 till 20.01.2021 and the petition was not disposed of keeping in view that the petitioners had filed this petition in public interest to ensure a legal slaughter house being operated in Jalna district. Considering the contents of the affidavits filed by these officers, we were made to believe that the purpose, for which this petition was filed, had been achieved and the petition was worked out. It is only on account of the intervention of the court vide orders dated 20.01.2021 and 25.01.2021 that these officers were exposed and the truth about their affidavits putting forth false statements, surfaced,” the bench said.

The MPCB had furnished a report to the HC on January 29 stating that an uncontrolled slaughtering was performed by group of persons in the said slaughter house and the blood that flowed post-slaughtering was dumped in the open nullah in the premises of the slaughter house and then disposed of into the municipal nullah outside the premises which are open gutters in the residents colonies without any effluent treatment. Several residents in the said area expressed their grievances in this context. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/aurangabad/hc-imposes-rs1-lakh-fine-each-on-jalna-civic-chief-4-other-officials-for-false-info-over-illegal-slaughter-house/articleshow/81095740.cms  (19 Feb. 2021)

‘Year after Dombivli MIDC road turned pink, no drop in pollution’  A year after a road in Dombivli Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) turned pink, there is still no change in the pollution situation in this area, reveals a study by NGO Vanshakti. As per the reports of the water samples collected and tested from various drains in MIDC by the MPCB, the water appears to be in different colours – blackish, light brown and light green. The NGO also claimed that the water had a stench of ammonia and sulphuric acid.

Vanshakti visited several locations in Dombivli MIDC on February 9 and also raised a complaint to the MPCB, Kalyan division, regarding rampant pollution caused by the industries in the region. Stalin D, director, Vanshakti, said, “The pollution situation has not changed in the MIDC area of Dombivli as the drains have bad odour, which affects the air in the nearby areas. The drain water also has different colours. If this situation continues, it will be difficult to even pass through Dombivli MIDC.” https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/1-year-after-dombivli-midc-road-turned-pink-no-drop-in-pollution-101614366182028.html  (27 Feb. 2021)

MPCB underlines high pollution in Ramala Lake With the hunger strike held by Eco-Pro organization for conservation of Ramala Lake gaining momentum, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) here on Saturday dashed off a letter to the district collector, detailing the presence of high quantities of hazardous chemicals in the historic lake’s water. The letter points out that the water samples collected twice from the lake — in the first and second week of February respectively — have excessively high BOD.

Fish have been dying in the lake since quite some time and MPCB had earlier blamed poor content of dissolved oxygen for their deaths. MPCB has said that the excessively high BOD in water is due to washing of sewage water into the lake. Suspended solids, TDS, iron, cadmium and lead have also been found higher than normal. The lake water percolates into the ground and the same hazardous water finds its way into the wells and borings nearby.

People living in the area around the lake have been complaining about foul smell and contamination in the water from their borings and wells since many years. MPCB has further stated that this contaminated water from the lake overflows into the adjoining Jharpat river and then washes ahead into Irai river, spreading the pollution far and wide.

MPCB has claimed that the NGT, on August 28, 2019, had directed the local self-governing bodies to set up a processing plant to treat all the domestic wastewater generated from the city, and to construct a closed sewer system in their jurisdiction. However, presently the Chandrapur Municipal Corporation (CMC) does not have a complete network of sewerage system in the city. The underground water in the area and the rivers around is being polluted due to discharge of non-treated sewage into the lake, and MPCB told the collector that it has already directed CMC to set up a sewage treatment plant to treat the sewage water entering the lake. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/mpcb-underlines-high-pollution-in-ramala-lake/articleshow/81249268.cms  (28 Feb. 2021)

Report Bleak picture of air, water, land contamination An evaluation of 88 clusters, identified by central and state pollution control boards (CPCB and SPCBs) as polluted industrial areas, has thrown up a “bleak picture of air, water and land contamination” in the country, said the Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) State of India’s Environment report 2021, released on Feb 25, 2021. Tarapur in Maharashtra had emerged as the most polluted industrial cluster in the country followed by Mathura (UP), Bulandshahr-Khurja (UP), Moradabad (UP), Vadodara (Gujarat), Najafgarh drain basin (Delhi), Kanpur (UP) and Varanasi-Mirzapur (UP) between 2009 and 2018. 35 of 88 industrial clusters showed overall environmental degradation, 33 pointed to worsening air quality, 45 had water that was more polluted while 17 had land pollution that has become worse in 2018 compared to 2009. The CEPI data clearly indicates that there has been no action over the years to control and reduce pollution even in areas which were already identified as ‘critically’ or ‘severely’ polluted. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/indias-88-industrial-clusters-present-a-bleak-picture-of-air-water-and-land-contamination-says-cse-report/articleshow/81221535.cms  (26 Feb. 2021)  The report was jointly released at an online event by over 60 environmental thinkers and activists, journalists and academics from across India. https://www.cseindia.org/industrial-pollution-no-respite-quality-of-air-water-and-land-has-worsened-in-india-10704  (26 Feb. 2021)

AGRICULTURE

It is important to view the environment and agriculture together Farming practises in India are not really environment-friendly. Indian agriculture suffers from a bad pattern of mono-cropping, water-intensive cropping choices, and chemical-laden cultivation to name a few. These harmful practices, in fact, find their roots in the Green Revolution when the government widely supported cropping practices that gave massive output on minimum input. However, experts and ground-level resource persons have pointed out that behind the unsustainable farming practices, there are a slew of bad policy decisions taken by the governments. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/why-it-important-view-environment-and-agriculture-together-144266  (26 Feb. 2021)

WINTER RAINFALL 2021

SANDRP Blog District wise Winter 2021 Rainfall in India In the just concluded Winter Season (Jan 1 2021 to Feb 28 2021), as per India Meteorological Department (IMD), India received 32% below Normal Rainfall. The Normal rainfall in this two-month season is supposed to be quite low at 40.8 mm, but the actual rainfall was just 27.8 mm, which means rainfall was less than 0.5 mm per day in the season. Out of this the Rainfall in January 2021 was 20.2 mm, 17% above the normal rainfall of 17.3 mm. So in February 2021, the rainfall was 7.6 mm, against the normal rainfall of 23.5 mm, so the February rainfall was 68% below normal! However, these figures are an underestimation to the extent that they do not include the snowfall figures. https://sandrp.in/2021/03/01/district-wise-winter-2021-rainfall-in-india/   (01 March 2021)

SUMMER 2021

Delhi February 2021 warmest month Delhi beat the record to be the warmest in recent years by registering a mercury level of 32.3 degrees on the last day of the month, 7 degrees above normal. With this, the average for Delhi for the month of February 2021 turns out to be 28.2 degrees centigrade and tops the list of gruelling years of the contemporary era. The normal temperature for Delhi for the month of February is 23.9 degrees, the current state of 4.3 degrees above the bar spells alarm.

However, February 2006 continue to be the hottest for Delhi with a monthly average of 29.4 degrees. Also, February 2006 retains an all-time high record of 34.1 degrees measured on 26th February in Delhi. February 2006 also holds the distinction of 11 days having mercury level in excess of 30 degrees. In comparison, February 2021 had 7 days measuring temperature above 30 degrees with the highest of 33.2 degrees in Delhi for the month recorded on 25th February. Delhi experienced a prolonged dry spell of 23 days between 05th and 28th February. The national capital recorded meagre 3 mm rainfall against the monthly normal of 22.1 mm. https://www.skymetweather.com/content/weather-news-and-analysis/delhi-february-2021-goes-on-record-to-be-warmest-but-2006-continue-as-hottest/  (28 Feb. 2021)

Early onset of summer in NW India despite La Nina’s cooling effect? According to an IMD statement, higher temperatures over the north-western plains is mainly attributed to absence of any weather system, and prevalence of south-westerly surface winds which is causing advection of heat from West Rajasthan towards the region.

Interestingly, earlier meteorologists had projected that winter conditions could be prolonged this year because of La Nina, a global weather phenomenon. El Niño and the Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a periodic fluctuation in sea surface temperature and the air pressure of the overlying atmosphere across the equatorial Pacific Ocean according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  

“We are almost in summer. IMD considers March, April and May to be pre-monsoon season. The reason we are seeing a sudden shift to hot weather is because there is no weather system bringing rain. There is rain and snowfall only in the Western Himalayas. The wind direction is variable but mostly easterly. Whenever there is abundant sunshine there will be heating. We are preparing to issue our outlook for summer season next week,” said K Sathi Devi, head, national weather forecasting centre. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/early-onset-of-summer-in-nw-india-despite-la-nina-s-cooling-effect-101614310016479.html  (26 Feb. 2021)

ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE

Draft EIA 2020 Don’t take combative stand: HC  Observing that the Centre should not oppose “so combatively” the order directing it to translate the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 notification into the 22 languages mentioned in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution, the Delhi High Court on Thursday (Feb. 25) said the Union government for “some reason” was resisting “very hard” the consultation with those who do not speak Hindi and English.

“Every legislative exercise does not require public consultation but some of the Acts statutorily embody the concept of public consultation. In that situation to make that consultation effective, meaningful and comprehensive … I am putting to you that perhaps the view taken by the court is not the one which the Union (of India) needs to take so combatively,” a division bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan told Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma during a hearing.

The court made the observation during the hearing of Centre’s review petition against the court’s June 2020 order. The Centre has argued that it does not have constitutional or statutory obligation to publish the draft EIA notification in any language apart from Hindi and English. Trying to do so would cause massive procedural and administrative difficulties, the government has said, while arguing that the court order would create a precedent and lead to future demands of translation of all statutory regulations in different languages.

The division bench also said if the translation is possible at pre-draft stage – like in the case of Pre-draft Coastal Regulation Zone Notification 2010 – then the Centre needs to think of a way in which the consultation process is “inclusive to those who do not speak the two languages”. “You come up with a solution and tell us,” said the court. It said it cannot accept that the central government does not have the administrative capacity to translate into languages that are recognised by the Constitution.

The court said the states can do the translation and the question is of effective consultation. “If we look at the environmental laws and impact of the notifications, several industries will have to be closed down. Suppose somebody is staying in a remote area of Assam or Tamil Nadu, he may not be aware of the languages in which you want to publish. Where will be the effective consultation? What is wrong in hearing? They are our own citizens. They are not foreigners,” said the court. The Centre’s review petition will be heard next on March 26. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/draft-eia-translation-dont-take-combative-stand-delhi-hc-tells-centre-7205099/  (26 Feb. 2021)

DTE India needs to revamp its public consultation framework Good to see DTE and CSE waking up to this reality, though it still does not raise all the key problems. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/governance/environment-impact-assessment-india-needs-to-revamp-its-public-consultation-framework-75630  (23 Feb. 2021)

Report NGT cited delay in filing as reason to dismiss every second plea In 2020, the NGT dismissed a total of 22 appeals, mostly by local residents against green clearances issued to 20 projects. As many as 11, half of these dismissals, an analysis by The Indian Express of the orders shows, were on the technical ground that appellants did not approach the Tribunal in time.

The NGT’s move raises questions of due process for two key reasons: One, of the 11 dismissals because of delay, as many as five were filed within 44 to 90 days, well within the outer limit. One was filed on Day 91 and another four were filed within two months beyond the 90-day limit.

Ironically, the NGT itself, in its orders, acknowledged that the “provision relating to condonation of delay should be construed liberally and ought not to be approached in a pedantic manner.” It also added that “no hard and fast rule can be laid down in this regard and the basic guiding factor is advancement of substantial justice.”

At the same time, though, the tribunal’s dismissal orders held the appellants “lethargic” or “careless” and their grounds for seeking condonation of delay “sketchy and superficial” or “vague and nebulous”. The tribunal also disregarded pleas that certain stakeholders, such as agriculturists, might lack the wherewithal to monitor routinely various government portals for information on such clearances.

Two, the number of appeals dismissed last year on the ground of delays is the highest ever as a share of all appeals, 40 per cent — almost twice the share between 2017 and 2019. The 11 appeals dismissed include those related to clearances given to sand mining in Ganga (Uttarakhand); Bhogapuram greenfield airport (Andhra Pradesh); a thermal power plant (Telangana); and coal and limestone mines (Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat).

One, of the 11 dismissals because of delay, as many as five were filed within 44 to 90 days, well within the outer limit. Significantly, in November, the SC issued notices in at least two appeals that were dismissed because of delay: the Penganga coal mine in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district and the airport in Andhra Pradesh.

“The tribunal’s test of independence and expertise is in its function as the appellate authority. It is surprising if the NGT shies away from hearing appeals on merit even when they are filed within 90 days. Not even 1% of projects are appealed against and the appellants, often project-affected people from the hinterlands, deserve to be heard within the limits of reasonability,” said Ritwick Dutta, environmental lawyer and founder of Delhi-based Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/green-tribunal-cited-delay-in-filing-as-reason-to-dismiss-every-second-plea-7208897/  (01 March 2021)

Goa Forest clearance given to contentious Goa railway project The doubling of the railway line along the existing alignment is being staunchly opposed in Goa by some as the line will cut across the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park – these two are Goa’s oldest wildlife sanctuaries — fearing that besides ecological damage, new construction will destabilise the vulnerable slopes of the Western Ghats mountain range and lead to landslides and other unforeseen consequences.

The forest clearance is the latest in a long line of clearances that have been granted for the project. In April last year, the standing committee, National Board for Wildlife approved the project, based on the approval by the Goa State Wildlife Board.

These clearances have now been challenged before the Central Empowered Committee on grounds that they have been cleared in haste and threaten the rich biodiversity of the region before the Bombay High Court at Goa. Opponents also allege that the projects are being planned solely to enhance the capacity to transport coal — a source of severe air pollution due to its open air handling — from Goa’s Mormugao Port to Steel units in North Karnataka. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/forest-clearance-given-to-contentious-goa-railway-project-through-western-ghats-101614487713027.html  (28 Feb. 2021)

Uttar Pradesh SC okays Agra waste-energy plant A proposed waste-to-energy (WtE) plant at Kuberpur dumpsite in Agra received the go-ahead from the SC in Feb. 2021 — nearly five years after it first reached the court’s doors. The plant was proposed by the Agra Municipal Corporation (AMC) in the eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ); the top court had in February 2019 asked the CPCB and NEERI to conduct a viability study on the plant.

Agra city generates roughly 800 tonnes per day (TPD) of municipal solid waste, including inerts and drains silts, most of which is transferred directly to the Kuberpur dumpsite that is approximately 15 kms from the city. The city has a capacity to process about 450 TPD; nearly 57 per cent of the total waste generated in Agra is biodegradable, according to a recent study conducted by the CSE. The CPCB, however, pointed out in a recent report submitted by the state urban development department to the NGT that over 690 TPD of municipal solid waste (MSW) was directly being sent to the Kuberpur dumpsite.

This is what it means: Despite having the potential to treat over 50 per cent of its waste, Agra relies on sending over 85 per cent of it to the dumpsite. The resource recovery and recycling infrastructure is underutilised. This leads us to the question: What if the 500 TPD plant, to be commissioned in mid-2022, meets the same fate?

Half the WtE plants in India shut down soon after starting operations and the remaining plants are under scrutiny for environmental violations. There are several reasons these plants do not work in India. The fundamental determinants of the suitability of WtE feedstock are the composition, calorific value and moisture content of the waste. Approximately 15 per cent of the 55 million metric tonnes MSW generated every year in India can be classified as non-biodegradable, non-recyclable and high calorific value waste. This translates to around 30,000 TPD of waste that can be fed to WtE plants.  https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/waste/supreme-court-okays-agra-waste-energy-plant-will-that-make-the-city-cleaner-75701  (01 March 2021)

SOUTH ASIA

Opinion China infra push: Delhi and Dhaka must challenge Beijing by Sanjoy Hazarika China’s hydro engineers and political and economic establishment have now set their eyes on the heart of the river in the Namcha Barwa gorge, where it gathers its phenomenal pace and power on its way to Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bangladesh and eventually the Bay of Bengal. But there are limits to the knowledge of engineers. We also do not know of any assessments by either Chinese or independent experts on the damage to permafrost, the vast volume of water trapped in ice form below the earth’s surface.

Thawing permafrost alters natural ecosystem; makes soil vulnerable to landslides and erosion; introduces new sediment to waterways, which may alter the flow of rivers and streams; degrades water quality; impacts human life, livelihoods, and aquatic wildlife; and introduces new threats of ancient microbes.

These massive interventions are an invitation to disaster downstream. Of course, we need power and energy. But dams clean the waters of nutrients; the water to enter the turbines must be wiped clean of all sand, rocks and sediment to produce hydro-electricity. Yet, it is this sediment which gives the Brahmaputra and its tributaries their nourishing powers as they reach farms and river-dependent human and non-human populations downstream. It is not the volume of the water that flows into India that matters as much as its quality. https://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/the-brahmaputra-is-in-danger-delhi-and-dhaka-must-challenge-beijing-101614181248822.html  (24 Feb. 2021)

CHINA

Badong: population relocation due to landslides associated with the Three Gorges Dam Dave Petley describes how due to Three Gorges dam in China, the underestimated and substantial problems have been occurring. One particular community had to be relocated three times already, and this describes in detail this situation. https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2021/02/26/badong/   (26 Feb. 2021)

ASIA

Philippines Indigenous Filipinos face down dam projects For more than five decades, Indigenous communities in the northern Philippines have pushed back against the planned construction of hydropower dams on the Chico River system. The river is of great importance to Indigenous communities in the provinces of Kalinga and Mountain Province, who call it their “river of life” and have depended on it for generations.

The Upper Tabuk and Karayan dams have been proposed in some form or another since the 1970s, but are now backed by corporations created by Indigenous groups, causing divisions among communities. Critics of the dams have questioned the Indigenous consent process, a requirement for a project on tribal lands, alleging that some of the community support was obtained through bribery. https://news.mongabay.com/2021/02/the-river-will-bleed-red-indigenous-filipinos-face-down-dam-projects/  (26 Feb. 2021)

MEKONG Thailand NGO seeks halt to Mekong dam project Laos has seen a dam-building boom in recent decades – funded in part by neighbours China, Malaysia and Thailand – as it looks to cash in on energy resources. But ecological concerns, and the impact on local communities, have campaigners calling for a rethink on funding for the Luang Prabang dam project. https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/economics/article/3122326/thailand-ngo-seeks-halt-mekong-dam-project-laos-threat-aseans  (19 Feb. 2021)

Vietnam Chinese dams, pollution impacting Mekong Delta Local communities fear diminished prospects as the country’s agricultural powerhouse loses steam amid China’s upstream energy ventures. With the delta’s fertility at risk because of pollution and other factors, can sustainable farming, renewable energies and a master plan reinvigorate the region? https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3123184/chinese-dams-pollution-send-vietnamese-mekong-delta-search  (28 Feb. 2021)

THE REST OF THE WORLD

CANADA For the 1st time, a river is granted official rights & legal personhood in Canada The Muteshekau-shipu Alliance today announced the granting of legal personhood to the Magpie River, through the adoption of two parallel resolutions by the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit and the Minganie Regional County Municipality (RCM). The river is thus assigned nine rights, as well as potential legal guardians responsible primarily for ensuring that these rights are respected. This is the first such case in Canada.

– The Magpie River (Muteshekau-shipu in the Innu language) is an internationally renowned river nearly 300 km long. The river is recognized worldwide for its rapids and for whitewater expeditions, most notably by the prestigious National Geographic magazine, which ranked it among the top ten rivers in the world for whitewater rafting. The river’s protection has received regional consensus, but the plan to declare the river a protected area has been thwarted for years by state-owned Hydro-Québec, due to the waterway’s hydroelectric potential.  https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/for-the-first-time-a-river-is-granted-official-rights-and-legal-personhood-in-canada-301233731.html  (23 Feb. 2021)

USA Michigan’s fragile dams need a $420M investment Michigan’s dam safety task force has taken a long hard look at its dam infrastructure and come up with a list of 86 recommendations that would improve the state’s failing barriers. They’re not going to be cheap recommendations to make, however. And many will require the rewriting of laws that regulate ownership and maintenance in Michigan.

– “These decades-old dams have deteriorated due to age, erosion, poor maintenance, flood damage, or antiquated design, and they are particularly vulnerable during high-water flow events,” read a report released by the MI Dam Safety Task Force. The underinvestment – which amounts to a gap in funding of $225 million and doesn’t include the cost to remove dams – is matched by understaffing. The Dam Safety Program, which regulates over 1,000 dams in Michigan, only has one supervisor and three engineers. Another 92 dams are regulated under a federal agency. That means for each staff member in the DSP, they oversee 342 dams. There’s one more that people should be aware of: $420 million. That’s the estimated investment over the next 20 years Michigan will need to make to ensure its dams don’t fail again.

– “Continuing the current path of underinvestment is a violation of the public trust, a path that leads to tragic losses of property and life and is ultimately more expensive to Michiganders,” read the report. The task force also said reevaluating how the state and dam owners assess the risk each structure would better inform how much of a threat each poses to people and property. For high and significant hazard dam, independent reviews would be authorized. For Full Task Force Report dated Feb 25, 2021. https://www.fox2detroit.com/news/michigans-fragile-dams-need-a-420m-investment-more-oversight-new-laws-task-force-says  (27 Feb. 2021)

Detailed backgrounder in the context of the Task Force report: https://waterpowermagazine.com/features/featuremichigan-dam-failures-prompt-re-assessment-of-safety-8552738/  (26 Feb. 2021)

Groundwater Salinization in California’s Tulare Lake Basin, the ABCSAL model Lower groundwater levels can prevent drainage of water and salts from a basin and increase aquifer salinity that eventually renders the groundwater unsuitable for use as drinking water or irrigation without expensive desalination. Pauloo et al. (2021)  demonstrate this process for the Tulare Lake Basin (TLB) of California’s Central Valley. Even if groundwater pumping does not cause overdraft, it can cause hydrologic basin closure leading to progressive salinization that will not cease until the basin is opened by allowing natural or engineered exits for groundwater and dissolved salt. The process, “Anthropogenic Basin Closure and Groundwater Salinization (ABCSAL)”, is driven by human water management.  

The Central Valley has at least three times the subsurface water storage “space” than California’s entire surface reservoir storage capacity, highlighting opportunities to better use subsurface storage. Basin salinization challenges long term groundwater quality sustainability under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Solutions to slow or reverse salinization should emphasize managed aquifer recharge to increase groundwater storage, improve water quality, reduce pumping costs, and secure clean irrigation and drinking water. https://californiawaterblog.com/2021/02/21/groundwater-salinization-in-californias-tulare-lake-basin-the-abcsal-model/  (21 Feb. 2021)

Australia Wivenhoe Dam flood victims awarded ‘partial’ $440 ml settlement In a statement to the Australian stock market, litigator Omni Bridgeway said it had secured the settlement on behalf of approximately 6700 claimants following a “hard-fought and extremely expensive case”.

Following a landmark judgement by the NSW Supreme Court, the operators and engineers of Wivenhoe Dam were found responsible for actions that exacerbated the 2011 floods in Brisbane.

Experts found that water releases from the dam caused water levels in the riverine area of Brisbane to rise as high as 10 metres. The settlement will be paid by the State of Queensland and Sunwater. It has been referred to as “partial” because the NSW Supreme Court deemed another entity in Seqwater to be 50 per cent liable. https://www.9news.com.au/national/wivenhoe-dam-flood-victims-awarded-partial-440-million-settlement/ffef98bb-96c4-4db2-bfdf-a91e6b214b0d  (26 Feb. 2021)

Report Ageing Water Storage Infrastructure: An Emerging Global Risk -Overall, the Report aims to attract global attention to the creeping issue of ageing water storage infrastructure and stimulate international efforts to deal with this emerging water risk. This Report’s primary target audiences are governments and their partners responsible for planning and implementing water infrastructure development and management, emphasizing adaptation to a changing climate and sustainable development.  https://inweh.unu.edu/ageing-water-storage-infrastructure-an-emerging-global-risk/  (22 Jan. 2021)

Study Very few of world’s rivers undamaged by humanity Rivers in which fish populations have escaped serious damage from human activities make up just 14% of the world’s river basin area, according to the most comprehensive study to date.

Scientists found that the biodiversity of more than half of rivers had been profoundly affected, with big fish such as sturgeon replaced by invasive species such as catfish and Asian carp. Pollution, dams, overfishing, farm irrigation and rising temperatures due to the climate crisis are also to blame. The worst-hit regions are western Europe and North America, where large and affluent populations mean humans’ impact on rivers is highest, such as with the Thames in the UK and the Mississippi in the US.

Rivers and lakes are vital ecosystems. They cover less than 1% of the planet’s surface, but their 17,000 fish species represent a quarter of all vertebrates, as well as providing food for many millions of people. Healthy rivers are also needed to supply clean water.

Other recent research has shown that global populations of migratory river fish have plunged by a “catastrophic” 76% since 1970, with a 93% fall in Europe. Large river animals have fared worst, with some like the Mekong giant catfish on the verge of extinction. A 2019 analysis found only a third of the world’s great rivers remained free flowing, due to the impact of dams. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/18/very-few-of-worlds-rivers-undamaged-by-humanity-study-finds  (18 Feb. 2021)

Report Freshwater fish face existential threats  A third of freshwater fish species could go extinct in the decades ahead unless measures are taken to curb human activities that destroy their habitats, according to a new report by a coalition of 15 nonprofits led by the WWF.

The report, titled World’s Forgotten Fishes, says that migratory freshwater fish species have declined by 76% since the 1970s, while “mega fish” — those weighing more than 66 pounds — have plummeted by 94%. Behind this staggering loss of fish are a number of industrial practices that receive little scrutiny relative to their environmental impact, the report found.

“Freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction due to a devastating combination of threats from damming rivers to draining wetlands, abstracting too much water for irrigation to releasing too much untreated waste, from unsustainable and damaging fishing practises to introductions of invasive non-native species – and, of course, the escalating impacts of climate change,” the report said.

The report’s authors are calling on countries to adopt the principles of the Global Biodiversity Outlook, outlining a six-step Emergency Recovery Plan to reverse the catastrophic decline of freshwater fish species. The steps include: Let rivers flow more naturally; improve water quality in freshwater ecosystems; protect and restore critical habitats; end overfishing and unsustainable sand mining in rivers and lakes; prevent and control invasions by non-native species; and protect free-flowing rivers and remove obsolete dams.

Worldwide, there are more than 18,075 species of freshwater fish, which is more than the number of fish species living in the ocean, even though marine areas account for 96.5% of the earth’s water. Currently, more than 200 million people rely on freshwater fish as their primary source of animal protein. Freshwater fisheries provide livelihoods for 60 million people worldwide, generating $38 billion in economic value just in terms of food. But freshwater fish are not invulnerable. Already, 80 fish species have been declared extinct, including 16 in 2020, the report says. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/freshwater-fish-extinction-biodiversity/  (24 Feb. 2021)

Much of this decline was driven by the poor state of freshwater habitats in parts of the United Kingdom, with just 14.6 per cent of rivers in England achieving Good Ecological Status in 2020. TiT added that 80 freshwater species have already been declared extinct. Of these, as many as 16 freshwater fish species were declared extinct in 2020 alone. Of more than 10,000 species whose conservation status has been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 30 per cent are considered at risk of extinction, the report added.

According to Stuart Orr, WWF global freshwater lead: “Nowhere is the world’s nature crisis more acute than in our rivers, lakes and wetlands, and the clearest indicator of the damage we are doing is the rapid decline in freshwater fish populations. They are the aquatic version of the canary in the coal mine, and we must heed the warning.” Ensuring healthier freshwater ecosystems will only be achieved through collective action involving governments, businesses, investors, non-profits and communities, the report flagged.   https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/pollution/a-third-of-freshwater-fish-face-extinction-report-75687  (26 Feb. 2021)

Researchers solve puzzle of water-to-land transition of vertebrates A team led by Kunming Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, collaborating with domestic and overseas researchers, has unraveled the mystery of water-to-land transition of vertebrates by investigating the genomes of African lungfish, bichir, paddlefish, bowfin and alligator gar. They reported the findings in two studies, both published in Cell. The findings of these studies are important to understand the evolution mechanism and process of vertebrates from water to land.  https://phys.org/news/2021-02-puzzle-water-to-land-transition-vertebrates.html  (26 Feb. 2021)

Compiled by SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

Also see: DRP News Bulletin 22 Feb. 2021 & DRP News Bulletin 15 Feb. 2021  

Follow us on: www.facebook.com/sandrp.in; https://twitter.com/Indian_Rivers   

3 thoughts on “DRP News Bulletin 1 March 2021: Actions speak louder than words on PM’s appeal for water, river conservation

  1. India needs immediate action on restoration of nomination flow and control on direct and indirect pollution.
    Delay will lead to health hazards, water related migration and loss of aquatic life.

    Like

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