This was one of the last poems written by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Bard of Bengal, Kabiguru, Bishwakabi: world knows him by many names. He reveled in life with the curiosity and wonderment of a child. In the Preface of Gitanjali (1912), Collection of poems which made him the first non-European to receive the Nobel in Literature, W. B. Yeats says, “Pearl fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.” This was for Tagore as much as the children. Poet, musician, novelist, painter, educator, freedom fighter, rationalist, modernist: the world was his canvas. Continue reading “He Spoke the Language of the Rivers: Rabindranath Tagore”→
My son is twelve years old and a voracious reader. His favorites include series like Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, Spy School and Space Runners. In short, nothing of the sort I read as a kid. I do not know these books and am frankly, a bit bewildered at the mix of mythology, science fiction and middle school dilemmas.
When I was documenting a tiny, free-flowing river in Maharashtra Western Ghats named Shastri, the common thread from headwaters to estuary was Fishing! It was everywhere, in all forms, including dozens of fish species and fishing practices, including everyone: men, women, children, otters, crocs, storks. Across the country, buzzing, diversified fisheries with old, complex narratives indicate a rich river. And the palette just gets more vivid, nuanced and colorful with the size of the river.
More than 10 million Indians from some of the most vulnerable groups depend on rivers for their livelihood and nutritional needs. This staggering number can be an underestimate as several riverine fisherfolk do not bring their produce to the market and our livelihood census hardly captures the intricacies of riverine fisheries sector. Despite the huge dependence and critical importance of riverine fisheries, the sector continues being ignored and abused. The reasons behind the exploitation are at the heart of a deeper, more troubling discourse: ownership and appropriation of the river as a natural resource. Continue reading “Riverine Fisherfolk as Mascots of flowing rivers and how 4 projects treat them today”→
अत्यधिक दुखःद समाचार है कि अनुपम मिश्र जी नहीं रहे। 19 दिसंबर 2016 को प्रातः 05:27 पर दिल्ली के एम्स अस्पताल में उनका देहांत हो गया।
पानी के मुद्दों और भारत की नदियों पर स्पष्ट विचारों वाले, सरल किंतु प्रभावशाली भाषाशैली के धनी, अत्यंत उदार और विनम्र अनुपम जी समान व्यक्तित्व दुर्लभ है। जैसा रवि चोपड़ा जी ने कहा है वे सही में अनुपम थे।
अनुपम जी भारतीय नदी सप्ताह 2016 के आयोजन समिति के अध्यक्ष थे और वर्ष 2014 भगीरथी प्रयास सम्मान चुनाव समिति के सदस्य थे और वर्ष 2015 में इस समिति के अध्यक्ष बने।
खराब स्वास्थ्य के बावजूद वे भारतीय नदी सप्ताह की आयोजन समिति की बैठकों में वे लगातार उपस्थित रहें, अंतिम बार सितंबर 2016 की बैठक में वे मौजूद थे और भारतीय नदी सप्ताह 28 नवंबर 2016 के शुभांरभ के समय भी वे उपस्थित रहे , जहॉ पर हमेशा की तरह उन्होने अपना सरल, स्पष्ट किंतु मर्मस्पर्शी व्याख्यान दिया। वे शाररिक रूप से थके और कमजोर थे , इस सबके बावजूद वे आए जो पर्यावरण के प्रति उनके समर्पण की मिसाल है।
व्यक्तिगत तौर पर वे मेरे (हिमांशु ठक्कर) प्रति बहुत उदार थे और मुझे हमेशा प्रेरित करते रहते थे। हमने कभी भी नहीं सोचा था कि एक दिन हमें उनसे अलग होना पडेगा। उनके चले जाने से देश और पर्यावरण को हुई क्षति की भरपाई नामुमकिन है। परंतु उनकी प्रकृति शिक्षा और अनुभव उनके द्वारा रचित स्पष्ट, सरल और सारंगर्भित लेखों और पुस्तकों के माध्यम से हमेशा हमारा मार्गदर्शन करती रहेंगी।
किताबों के समान उनके व्याख्यान भी ज्ञान और अनुभव से भरे हुए प्ररेणास्रोत है। उनके दिखाए मार्ग पर आगे बढ़ते रहने के लिए, दुख की घड़ी में हम, उनके द्वारा भारतीय नदी दिवस (28-30 नवंबर 2016) में दिए गए उनके अंतिम व्याख्यान को, उन्हें श्रृद्धांजलि के तौर पर अर्पित करते हुए, आपके साथ सांझा कर रहे हैं ।
Above: Hilsa fishers in Bangladesh setting out for their journey Photo: with thanks from Arati Kumar-Rao
In addition to the Gangetic Fisheries Primer, SANDRP will shortly publish a Primer documenting the Impacts of dams on Riverine Fish and Fisher Communities. One of the most profound impacts of dams on fish is blocking migration routes and perhaps no other fish symbolizes this impact as dramatically as the Hilsa: the Silver Queen of the River.
Glimpses of the impacts of dams on Hilsa in South Asia.
Arguably, Hilsa is not just a tasty and healthy fish species that migrates from the sea up the river to spawn. It is a cultural icon that binds Bengalis, whether from West Bengal or Bangladesh, together in their shared love for Ilish Machch. Pohela Baishakh or the new year day’s meal is not complete without Ilish. Though Hilsa is celebrated fervently by the Bengalis, it is prized in all estuaries of South Asia, from Narmada, Mahanadi, Godavari, Cauvery to Indus and Irrawaddy and takes the name of Chaski, Palva, Ilishii, Palla, Pulasa, etc. It is also found at confluence of Tigris and Euprates in Iran, where it is as prized and known as Sbour. The fish flavours several poems, folklore, songs and phraseologies of the entire South Asia. In cultural terms, the significance of Hilsa is comparable only to Salmon and Mahseer.
Tenualosa ilisha, Hilsa or Indian Shad belongs to the sub family Alosinae of Family Clupeidae. Commercially, it is the most important fisheries in the estuaries, especially in the Ganga-Hooghly region.It occurs in marine, estuarine and riverine environments and is found in Indus of Pakistan, Irrawaddy of Myanmar and Indian rivers like Ganga, Bhagirathi, Hooghly, Rupanarayan, Brahmaputra, Godavari, Narmada, Cauvery, Tapti, coastal rivers like Padma, Jamuna, Meghana, Karnafuly and others in Bangladesh. It is seen to migrate up smaller estuaries like Pennar too.
Hilsa, by habitat, is a marine fish but migrates in estuaries and rivers for spawning, normally inhabiting the lower region of the estuaries and the foreshore areas of the sea. Hilsa ascends the rivers for spawning and the spent fish and their progeny migrate down the river towards lower estuaries and coastal areas, moving in shoals. The peak upstream migration of Hilsa in most of the rivers of the country is generally in the monsoons months of July and August and continues upto October or November. The spring spawners that enter the river for spawning in January-March return to the sea during July-August when these are caught in good numbers. The monsoon spawners that enter the river during September- October return to the sea after spawning and these spent fishes are caught in good numbers during January- March. Similarly, the off springs of spring-spawners make journey for the sea from the river during November- January, whereas the off springs of monsoon spawners return to the sea from the river during July- September. (Bhaumik et al, CIFRI, 2012)
Obstruction to undertaking this spawning migration by dams and barrages has been singled out as the primary reasons for the fall of Hilsa fisheries in India as well as Bangladesh. The trade of this commercially important fish species constitutes upto 1.5% of Bangaldesh’s National Gross Domestic Product and about 2 million fishers are estimated to depend on Hilsa fisheries in Gangetic estuaries. Till August 2014, Bangladesh has stopped Hilsa exports to India to contain astronomic price rises in Bangladesh as the costs of the fish are becoming uncontainable due to its cultural importance on one hand and dwindling supply on the other. India has requested Bangladesh to lift the ban of Hilsa export, but it is yet to relent, due to a number of socio-political reasons. 
One of the main reasons for the phenomenal fall of Hilsa in Gangetic delta has been the Farakka Barrage built by India in the 1970’s, just a few kilometers upstream the India –Bangladesh border, to divert water from Ganga into the Hooghly river, to keep the Kolkata Port at the mouth of Hooghly, free of sediments.
Prior to commissioning Farakka Barrage in 1975, there are records of the Hilsa migrating from Bay of Bengal right upto Agra, Kanpur and Delhi covering a distance of about 1400 kms. Maximum abundance was observed at Buxar, near Allahabad, at a distance of about 650 kms from river mouth. Post Farraka, Hilsa is unheard of in Yamuna in Delhi and its yield has dropped to zero in Allahabad, from 91 kg/km in 1960s. Studies as old as those conducted in mid-seventies single out Farakka’s disastrous impacts on Hilsa, illustrating a near 100% decline of Hilsa above the barrage post construction.
An obligatory Fish lock provided in Farakka Barrage is non-functional and tagging experiments reveal that Hilsa cannot move across the barrage due to obstruction of three-tire sluice gates. For more on how Farakka has failed its objective and continues to impact livelihoods: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/lessons-from-farakka-as-we-plan-more-barrages-on-ganga/
Fishers who live off the Ganges strongly feel the pressure of dams, personified by Farakka. In north India, ‘Farakka’ –the word doesn’t mean a village on the Bangladesh border anymore, but means destruction by dams. The local Hindi dialects have borrowed new phraseology: “Farakka hua, tabse hilsa toh bas bhabis” (Farakka happened, and then Hilsa exist only in imagined future)”. The same phrase repeats up to the Yamuna River! In a recent status survey of Gangetic fisheries almost 75-80% of fishers singled out ‘Farakka’ as the root cause of all their miseries. They actually referred to multiple barrages built on the respective rivers. But destruction had a common name: Farakka.
Bangladesh has been making several serious attempts to revive Hilsa fisheries and implements a strict fishing ban in certain months to avoid fishing “jatkas” or small Hilsa. It has also declared several Hilsa Sanctuaries to protect the fish and is witnessing small and steady improvements in the population. India has hardly taken any steps to protect this specie. IUCN has led a program called Ecosystems for Life: A Bangladesh-India Initiative and Hilsa fisheries is a part of this project. There is also a Norwegian project on Hilsa Aquaculture  ( All prior efforts of Hilsa Aquaculture have failed). However, the primary need to address the giant problem of the Farakka Barrage is being unaddressed. The barrage and reduced freshwater in the downstream is also exacerbating other stressors like sedimentation of the river mouth, high fishing pressure on limited stocks, concentrated pollution, etc.
Hilsa in other Rivers (would taste as sweet!) Hilsa is found not only in Ganges delta but most of the estuaries in India. In all of these places, Hilsa fishery is primarily affected by dams and barrages near the estuaries, blocking spawning migration and reducing freshwater from upstream.
Hilsa in Cauvery: A century of impacts In Tamizh, Hilsa caught at Sea is Kadal Ullam and the one in the River is the Aattu Ullam. Here, the impact of Mettur dam on valuable Hilsa fisheries in the Cauvery has been recorded as early as 1939 in an issue of Current Science, where it is stated: “Unfortunately the effect of the dam (Mettur on Cauvery) on the fisheries below was disastrous. The number of valuable Indian Shad or Hilsa, the most important sea fish ascending the Cauvery for breeding purposes, declined as the high floods which enabled them to ascend the rive no longer occur. The serious decline of fisheries in Cauvery would be evident from the fact that the fishery rental of the river below the dam which used to amount to 80000 Rs. annually has steadily declined since the formation of the dam to about 42,900 rupees.”Puntius species also disappeared in Cauvery post dam, which formed 28% of the landings prior to dam construction.
As per the Report “Fishing the Cauvery: How Mettur Changed it all,” by Ramya Swayamprakash published by SANDRP, It was Sir Aruthur Cotton himself, way back in 1867 who alerted the erstwhile government about the damages wrought by weirs on river fisheries. Immediately, Dr. Francis Day was commissioned to investigate the impact on fisheries and subsequently appointed Inspector-General of Fisheries in India. In his report on the fisheries of India and Burma, Day condemned dams as insurmountable barriers to fish passage; he designed a fish passage which was on the Lower Anicut on the Kollidam. The pass was primarily designed for the Hilsa who could not ascend it, as it was too wide. According to the Madras Fisheries department in 1909, the fish pass did not ensure Hilsa migration because of various practical and technical difficulties; in the first place, the expenses for the construction of a fish pass were not commensurate with the expected results and secondly, sufficient water could not be provided for the efficient working of the pass. Interestingly, Hilsa was sought to be cultivated and exported along the lines of the Salmon in north-western United States. So important was the Hilsa that a stuffed specimen made its way into the exhibits sent to the Great Exhibition from the Bombay Presidency, in 1851!
Today, the Hilsa is unknown on the Cauvery. According to fish biologists, the Hilsa ascended the anicuts on the Cauvery up to Mettur to spawn overcoming the low anicuts. But the coming of the Mettur Dam formed an impassable barrier.
Hilsa in Godavari is known as Pulasa when caught i the river and Vilasa when caught n the sea! Here too, the fish is declining and main reasons are said to be declining water levels and the Dowleswaram Barrage  (Arthur Cotton Barrage). In Andhra villages too Pulasa has a huge cultural significance.
This author made a presentation to the Standing Committee of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament in June 2012 about the impacts of dam on riverine fish and discussed Hilsa, when an MP from Coastal Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh said, “I know Pulasa! My constituency depends on riverine fisheries like Pulasa, and not marine fisheries, but we end up talking only about marine fish and not river fish and Pulasa and the impacts of upstream projects on livelihoods of river fishers”
In Mahanadi, Orissa, Hilsa has been hit by dams and is recording a declining trend. Paradip recorded about 500 tonnes Hilsa, but prices have increased astronomically.
Hilsa in Narmada, Sardar Sarovar and the proposed Bhadbhut Barrage The narrative of damming the Narmada by the Narmada Valley Projects is one of the most significant stories of an on-going struggle against modifying a river and way of life of her people. Although there are many facets to the story ranging from displacement, false benefits and true costs, forest loss, non-existent rehabilitation and an all-pervasive insensitivity of the government towards weaker communities, the impacts of this project on riverine fisheries have been equally profound. Narmada River system experienced a nearly 70% decline in Hilsa catches in just a decade between 1993 to 2004 ( From 15319 t to 4866 t ) and this decline was prominently recorded from 1998-99 onwards. As per CIFRI, the most stressed species after Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) construction is the Hilsa and Macrobrachium prawn (Jumbo River Prawn). CIFRI made some prediction about impacts of the dam after 35 years, calling it a ‘critical period’ when fisheries will be nearly lost. Shockingly, these conditions are already being witnessed in Narmada Estuary in Bharuch which records nearly 30% Inland Fish production. More than 12,000 people from 21 villages in Bharuch alone depend on Narmada Estuary for fisheries.
Assessment of impact of commissioning of Sardar Sarovar dam and other projects in 2009 by CIFRI revealed that SSP will retain 96% of the sediment, adversely affecting biological productivity of the downstream including Narmada estuary. However, already the Sardar Sarovar and upstream dams in Narmada Basin have already resulted in retention of about 95% sediment, cutting off the delta from nutrient rich silt. Historical sediment discharge of Narmada was 61 million tonnes and the current sediment discharge (average of last ten years of the study) was found to be 3.23 million tonnes.
According to CIFRI, “While the annual inflow is 23.68 MAF (1981-1990), it will be reduced to 15.9 MAF after 10th year of SSP, to 4.34 MAF at the 30th year and will cease at the 45th year. This freshwater decline will severely affect Hilsa fishery and prestigious fishery contributed by M rosenbergii (Jumbo River Prawn)”. As freshwater declines, there will be “Steep hike in salinity regime with tidal ingress. Fishery not tuned to such enhanced salinity will succumb to such pressure. Mangroves will also be affected and this will impact marine fish production as Mangroves are nurseries of many marine fish.”
Gujarat Government has agreed to release 600 cusecs water from Sardar Sarovar and Bhadbhut Barrage as environmental flows. There is no study as to whether this amount is sufficient for estuarine balance, for ecological needs of Hilsa or other species, for spawning migration, etc. Also, there is no guarantee that Gujarat will release this meagre quantity. Ironically, the minimum flows of 600 cusecs agreed to be released by Gujarat through SSP come to 532. 9 Million Cubic Metre (MCM) water annually and CIFRI’s warning of a sharp fisheries decline at 30th year was for 4.34 MAF or 5353.4 MCM! So, 532.9 MCM released now as minimum flows is barely 10% of a dire scenario predicted at 30th year of commissioning SSP[i]!
It is hardly a wonder that Hilsa is falling sharply in Narmada Estuary and fishers are directly blaming the Sardar Sarovar for this decline.
Last Straw for Narmada Hilsa: Bhadbhut Barrage: Gujarat Government is planning to build Bhadbhut Barrage about 17 kms from Bharuch, directly affecting the Narmada estuary and the Hilsa and Prawn fishery. The Barrage is planned for SEZ and also water sports and is a part of an infeasible scheme known as the Kalpasar project which plans to dam almost all rivers as they meet the Gulf of Khambat.
The Bhadbhut Barrage is being fiercely opposed by fishers in Bharuch because of its serious impacts on their livelihoods and Hilsa fisheries. Public Hearing of Bhadbhut Barrage was held in July 2013, wherein the fisher community staged a walk out, stressing that the EIA had under-reported Hilsa fisheries in the region, number of fishers and their dependence on the Estuary for fish. The walkout took place immediately after Pravin Tandel, the fisherfolks’ local leader, spoke saying the project would “adversely affect the fish catch, especially Hilsa, once it is implemented. Currently, Hisla fetches Rs 1,200 per kg, and is our main source of livelihood.”
Hilsa in the Indus: In the Indus too, Hilsa fisheries, known as Palla are the main stay of local fisher communities. Hilsa fish is a highly contested territory due to declining catches.
Before the construction of the Sukkur Barrage, the Palla used to reach to Multan as per records of 1907. The Sukkur Barrage and then later the Kotri Barrage severely restricted Palla’s range, affecting the fish and its fishers. According to M. R. Quereshi, ex-Director of Marine Fisheries Department of Pakistan, the Palla used to ascend the river (Indus) to spawn in the middle of June but its ascent is now delayed by at least one month owing to late freshets. Kotri Barrage near Hyderabad has severely restricted its breeding range. Like the Cauvery, in Kotri too the fish ladders do not work due to faulty designs and Hilsa is unable to ascend them, consequently prevented from going up to the upper reaches of the river. As a result the Hilsa fishery is being depleted and immediate action is imperative to increase its production. “Failing this, the fish will eventually disappear from the river.”
To conclude, the fate of this silvery fish hangs in a fine balance. Not only does the Hilsa enjoy huge cultural significance, it also supports millions of livelihoods. In the United States, several dams, like the recent Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha, have been decommissioned for their impacts on migrating fish and dependent communities. Elwha river dams came down in a biggest decommissioning effort because the indigenous Klallam tribe asserted its rights on traditional Salmon fisheries which were blocked by these dams. In Japan too, Arase Dam was decommissioned because of its impact on Ayu fish and fishers.
What has happened in India to the Hilsa fish and fishers is far more serious.
Hilsa has a striking ecological, economic and cultural significance. Till date, ranching or farming of Hilsa has not worked. Till date, fisher communities continue to face conflicts, hardships and risks, go deeper and deeper in the sea to gather a few Hilsa. Till date, dam operations have not changed, nor have the fish passes been designed, built, operated or monitored to help the fish. Till date, none of the fisher communities who suffered colossal losses when a dam affected Hilsa, have been compensated for their loss.
Is it not time to rethink these dams, to help the fish and our fishers?
 Milton, STATUS OF HILSA (Tenualosa ilisha) MANAGEMENT IN THE BAY OF BENGAL: AN ASSESSMENT OF POPULATION RISK AND DATA GAPS FOR MORE EFFECTIVE REGIONAL MANAGEMENT, Report to FAO Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem Project , 15 February 2010
 CIFRI, River Narmada, Its Environment and Fisheries, 2009
The one day Ganga Manthan organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on July 7, 2014 was described by Union Minister Sushri Uma Bharti & Union Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari as “Historical”. The Union Environment Minister, who has one of the most crucial role in achieving a rejuvenated Ganga, was supposed to be there, but could not come at any stage.
I attended the full day meeting with a lingering question: Will this help the river? Even some of the ardent skeptics said that Uma ji has emotional, spiritual and religious attachment with the cause of Ganga.
At the conclave attended by close to a thousand people, the story of how Ms. Bharti came back to the BJP party about a year back to work for the cause of Ganga, and how she was promised a year back that if their party came to power, Ganga will get a separate ministry and she its charge was narrated repeatedly by both Ms Bharti and Mr Gadkari at least twice. It was also stated that the government has the commitment, the will & all the money to make the Ganga clean (Nirmal) and perennial (aviral). There were also repeated statements by both ministers about the officials being so committed to the cause of Ganga. These, in essence, were the basic positive assets of this government to achieve Ganga Rejuvenation.
While it was good to see large gathering involving various sections of the society, including many independent non government voices, missing were some key stakeholders: Ganga basin state governments, farmers groups, Ministry of Urban Development, fisher-folk groups, boats-people representatives. Another key constituency missing was Ministry of Agriculture, since agriculture is major user of water & irrigation and responsible for water diversion and at the same time major non point source polluter through use of chemicals and fertilizers.
Rejuvenation does not mean just nirmal and aviral But if the task is Rejuvenation of River Ganga, are these assets sufficient? What exactly does Rejuvenation of River Ganga mean? There were no answers to this question at the meeting. The government did not even seem bothered about these questions. Are Nirmal and Aviral Ganga sufficient objectives to achieve Rejuvenation of Ganga? The answer is clearly no, for, even a pipleline or canal carrying perennial flow of water can claim that distinction. A rejuvenated river will need much more than that, but the government has nothing else to offer for a rejuvenated river.
Even for Aviral Ganga, the government had absolutely nothing to offer. In the information package shared with the participants, the only thing relevant to Aviral Ganga was the extended summary of draft “Ganga River Basin Management Plan” being prepared by consortium of seven IITs in collaboration with some 11 other organisations. This is led by Dr Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur. While standing with Dr Tare and Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh at the lunch, I said, the problem with Ganga is not of technology, but of governance. Despite being a proud IITian myself, I have no hesitation in saying that IITs do not have expertise in governance issues, so how can the IIT Consortium help in fix a governance problem? Having read the full Draft Plan of the IIT consortium, it only further strengthens the view that it was wrong decision of Jairam Ramesh to give this task to IIT Consortium.
Agenda for further destruction As a matter of fact, while this government has yet to take a step that will truly help rejuvenation of Ganga, they have declared their agenda that will possibly further destroy the river. This was clear on June 6, 2014, within ten days of new government taking over when a PIB press release announced, “Shri Gadkari said it is proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters and for a three (3) meters draft (depth) to enable transport of passengers and goods between Varanasi and Hoogly on river Ganga in the first stage of its development and eleven terminals are proposed to be constructed along the banks. He said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms.” This was a shocking and arrogant announcement. There is nothing in public domain about this Rs 6000 crores plan, no details as to what exactly is planned, where the barrages are planned, why are they needed, what are their environmental impacts, what are the social impacts, what are the riverine impacts, what is the cost and benefits, who will pay the costs and who will reap the benefits, where is public consultation….there is absolutely nothing in public domain and here is a nine day old government declaring such massive plan! By July 7, 2014, the PIB Press Release declared that the depth will now by 5 meters and not three announced earlier. The PIB PR now said, “He (Mr Gadkari) said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms on the river. Shri Gadkari said his Ministry has sent a proposal in this regard to World Bank for the development of Allahabad- Haldia corridor.”
The minister possibly does not know that there is just one barrage on the Allahabad-Haldia 1500 km long stretch, namely the Farakka barrage and Bangladesh had threatened India to take the matter about building this barrage to the UN! Moreover, that barrage, everyone accepts, has not even achieved the basic objective it was supposed to achieve, namely navigability of Kolkata port, but has had many other severe impacts.
At Ganga Manthan, Mr Gadkari dropped a bombshell when he said this plan is already in advanced stage of appraisal with the World Bank! He said the government hopes to get Rs 4000 crores from the World Bank!! The World Bank has zero track record in achieving any clean river anywhere in the world, after spending billions of dollars every year. In India itself it stands guilty of destroying many rivers. A more inauspicious start to the Ganga Manthan possibly could not have been possible. At the Ganga Manthan itself, there was opposition to this plan, as The Hindu has reported.But Ms Uma Bharti finds nothing amiss about this as was clear by her answers at the press conference. But what about at least some semblance of participatory democracy?
Business as usual at NMCG and NGBRA will not help In reality, this is not all. While this Manthan for Ganga Rejuvenation is happening, the NMCG and NGBRA (National Ganga River Basin Authority) go on with their work in business as usual fashion. So in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam is going about its task of floating and examining the bids for five-part sewer laying and Sewage Treatment Plants with the help of JICA money. In Kanpur, the effort to divert several streams to Pandu is going on. In Allahabad, “the draft final ESAMP sewerage works for sewerage districts” A & C could be found on the NGBRA website. In Patna, the World Bank is funding the sewerage projects of Pahari in Patna & river front development and the draft social and environmental impact assessments could be found on NGBRA website. All of this (except the Varanasi packages, which are funded by Japanese aid agency) is going on under USD 1 Billion World Bank Funded NBGRA project.
So the business as usual that is going on for 40 years is now going to help rejuvenate Ganga!
The NMCG announced that the Manthan, a “National Dialogue on Ganga”, was supposed “to facilitate interaction with various stakeholders”, “to discuss the issues & solutions to the task of Ganga Rejuvenation”, “to prepare road map for preparation of a comprehensive plan”. The website said the Ganga is “holiest of Rivers”, “purifier of mortal beings” & “living godess”, but now “seriously polluted” and in “extreme environmental stress”.
Where is the dialogue? However, the way the meeting was organized, there was essentially no dialogue. After the inaugural plenary session, the participants were divided among four groups: 1. spiritual leaders, 2. environmentalists, NGOs, water conservationists, 3. scientists, academicians and technocrats, and administrators; 4. public representatives.
I went to the second group and there, when someone pointedly asked, if there is any representative of the government present, there was no response! In fact it was positively shocking that the first panel member that spoke in this group was Dr Arun Kumar of AHEC (Alternate Hydro Energy Centre) whose work on Ganga basin cumulative impact assessment is so discredited that even the official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF, the Inter-ministerial Group on Ganga, the Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court after the June 2013 flood disaster and the Supreme Court itself has criticized it or found it unreliable. NMCG has discredited itself by appointing such a person to give an overview of achievement of Ganga Action Plans.
Ms Bharti apologized in the beginning for hurriedly-called meeting. But the least she could have ensured was a credible process that will ensure that the officials have to show application of mind to the various suggestions received and conduct of the meeting in credible and confidence inspiring way. But the meeting did not inspire confidence that there will be any credible process that will ensure that there is application of mind to the various inputs given. Many of the participants did not have any opportunity to speak.
Recommendations for the government on Ganga
1. Make an honest effort to learn from the past. Why have the efforts of last 40 years since the passage of Water Pollution Act 1974 not helped Ganga? Similarly why did the GAP I, NRCP, GAP II, NGBRA not helped make the Ganga clean (nirmal) or perennial (aviral)?
2. Understand & recognise that Ganga is a river and what are the essential characteristics of a Ganga that it needs to rejuvenate it as a river. At Ganga Manthan, in post lunch session in the room where the fourth group for public representatives was sitting, I was sitting next to an official of Ministry of Water Resources and I casually asked him does the ministry of water resources understand what is a river? He first said yes, but when I said you are only dealing with water and nowhere in your work have we seen any value for rivers, he said ok, but we can do it in collaboration with MoEF. The trouble is, even MoEF does not understand rivers. [It was also strange to see in this session Mr Madhav Chitale (former Water Resources Secretary) describing Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 as an effort to clean the river! Such misrepresentation going unchallenged was shocking.] It should be remembered that it is this ministry of water resources through which Sushri Uma Bharti has to achieve a rejuvenated Ganga!
3. Ganga is not 2525 km long river: We kept hearing this sentence that Ganga is 2525 km length of river and Mr Bhurelal in fact said we need to limit ourselves to discussing how to make this stretch clean. The trouble is, if the tributaries are not healthy rivers, how can the main stem of Ganga be rejuvenated? As Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan said, Ganga is not 2525 km, but much more than 25000 km including all the tributaries, as Yamuna is not 1400 km long but 13470 km long including all the tributaries.
4. Ganga in Mountains: Learn the lessons from Uttarakhand disaster, that affected the headwaters of the Ganga river. The Expert body constituted by the MoEF under Dr Ravi Chopra has a lot to say there. Revisit all the existing, under construction and planned projects in the whole basin.
5. Farakka barrage: It is well known that the barrage did not serve the basic purpose it was created for, namely making the Kolkata port navigable. But it has created such havoc in upstream and downstream for millions of people that some of the Bihar MPs of previous Lok Sabhas talked about decommissioning of the barrage in the debate on Ganga. But this government wants to make many more barrages! First do a post facto assessment of the Farakka barrage and its current costs, benefits and risks.
6. Formulate an Urban Water Policy: The footprint of the urban areas on the rivers is increasing in multiple ways, but we have no urban water policy. Some key elements that such a policy will include: Reducing transmission & Distribution losses, water audit from RWA upwards, Rainwater harvesting, decentralised and eco-friendly ways of sewage treatment and recycle, groundwater recharge and bottom up management, demand side management, protection of local water bodies, protection of riverbeds, floodplains and forest areas & democratisation of the Urban water utilities. As the working report for the 12th Five Year Plan on Urban water said, no Urban areas should be allowed to have external water till they exhaust their local potential, including recycling of the treated sewage and other demand side and supply side options. The footprint of the urban areas will increase exponentially if we do not urgently on this front.
7. Agriculture is the biggest user of water and our government encourages use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. Most of these chemicals end up in water bodies including rivers. If we do not want our rivers to be dumping grounds for these chemicals, the government should encourage organic farming. Similarly, in stead of encouraging water intensive cropping patterns and methods, government needs to encourage low water use crops and methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is applicable for many crops and can reduce water need by upto 50% and yet increase yields and incomes of farmers. But the government has shown no interest in encouraging SRI. Such methods can free up a lot of water for the river. Similarly, under the influence of powerful sugar lobby, we are producing more sugarcane and sugar than we need and than we are exporting the same at subsidized rates! So essentially we are exporting water at huge subsidized rates, that too from Ganga, but we have no water for the river!
8. Irrigation is the biggest user of water. At Bhimgoda, Bijnor and Narora barrages, we are diverting almost all the water in the river for irrigation. But we have no water for the river. If we change our water resources development and agriculture policies, it is possible to restrict these diversions to 50% and release the rest for the river. We need to review all this.
9. The IIT consortium report is seriously flawed and is not likely to help the river.
10. We need to define the path of the riverbed or right of way for the river, based on its need to carry 100 year flood and silt. In absence of such a defined space for the river, there are a lot of encroachments. There is also no river regulation law to regulate this riverways land. This is urgently required.
11. Our Pollution Control Boards and related mechanism is not known to have achieved a single clean river or nala in 40 years of their existence, anywhere in the country. This is because of the completely non transparent, unaccountable, non participatory and exclusive bodies, where people whose lives are affected by the pollution have no role. A complete revamp of this is required to make its management inclusive from block level upwards, and answerable to the local people through clearly defined management system.
12. One of the major reason for the failure of the GAP, NRCP and NGBRA is that their functioning is top down, with absolutely no clearly defined norms for transparency, accountability, participation and inclusive management. Unless we completely change this, no amount of money, no amount of technology, no amount of infrastructure or institutions is going to help the Ganga. We need management system for every STP, every freshwater plant, every city and town, every 3-5 km of the river, every tributary and so on. At least 50% members of the management committees for each of them should be from outside the government, including community members. The people whose lives and livelihoods depend on river including fisherfolk, boatspeople, river bed cultivators, local sand miners, communities depending on river for different water needs have to be represented in such management system. That will also create an ownership in river rejuvenation effort. This is also applicable to urban areas and all the tributaries.
13. This is also true for our environmental governance of dams, hydropower projects, flood control projects, water supply projects, and so on. Today there is no credible environmental management at planning, appraisal, construction, operation or decommissioning stage.
14. River of course needs water. Urgently. Chart out a road map to achieve 50% of freshwater releases from all dams and barrages in two years. Also no sewage water or effluents entering the river in two years.
In the concluding plenary, after listening to the reports from four groups (there were a lot of positive and useful suggestions there), Ms Uma Bharti and Mr Gadkari said that they won’t make any announcement today but they will ensure that the good suggestions that have come will be given to the decision-makers who will create a road map. This is very vague and unconvincing process with no credible transparency. The least the ministers could have assured is a confidence-inspiring process that would transparently ensure that the decision makers have applied their minds to the suggestions. But even that was not promised.
Despite this seemingly gloomy outcome, considering that the NMCG has invited suggestions even after the meeting, I am going to send this blog link to them and wait for their response! Ganga definitely needs a lot of sewa from all of us if the river is to have any better future.
 Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
 Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation
 It’s worth noting here that Mr Gadkari seems to have abiding faith in technology, he said that this is an age of technology and there are technological solutions for all problems! This possibly shows where we are heading!
 Title: “Development of River Ganga for Tourism, Transport and to make it Environment Friendly”
At the 10th International Symposium on Ecohydraulics in Trondheim, Norway in June 2014, SANDRP talked with Dr. Thomas Hardy, Past President of the Ecohydraulics Section of the International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research (IAHR), and The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment Endowed Professor in Environmental Flows at Texas State University.
Dr. Hardy holds advanced degrees (MS and PhD) in both aquatic ecology and civil engineer and has been at the forefront globally, for linking issues related to hydraulics and hydropower with ecosystems. Here he talks about issues like state-of-art mitigation measures being put to use across the world for mitigating impacts of hydropower, evolution of Ecohydraulics and the dangers of “Putting dams at the wrong place”
We see some significant mitigation measures, some of which include decommissioning, for addressing impacts of hydropower coming from over the world. How did this system evolve? What was the role of various actors and did this happen suo motto from the companies?
Since the last two decades, we have recognized the environmental consequences of hydropower. The cost benefits analyses of many projects is getting skewed, we have been witnessing the ecological costs of many of such projects are exceeding their economic benefits. For example, in the 5 dams in a cascade on the Klamath River, the economic value of the salmon fisheries being destroyed was more than the hydropower benefits from the dams. A lot of mitigation measures have come from countries like Norway and countries like US have also seen them, and we are always keeping our eyes open for better solutions.
While it’s accepted that there will be impacts of any intervention, we need to be honest about the scale of the impacts and who pays the price for these impacts.
About the suo motto role of companies, unfortunately, I have not seen very many companies adopting better environmental standards by themselves without consistent pressures and constant monitoring from people and the government. A lot of credit to increased performance of hydropower mitigation measures goes to NGOs, civil society groups, indigenous communities and the citizens themselves for raising these issues with the companies as well as governments to adopt better standards for their rivers. The advent of social media continues to help a lot to this end.
In the US, a lot of changes were also driven by aboriginal communities who protected their fishing rights or riverine ecosystems. For example in the Klamath River, the aboriginal tribes upheld their traditional fishing rights of salmon which were affected by the dams. This led to not only changes in dam operation, but a spurt of work on fish ladders, passes, eflows and decommissioning. Having said that, we have also committed some massive mistakes, the cost of which have been great. The mitigation measures we are trying to put in now are very costly. Making wise decisions about siting dams and including mitigation measures at the level of designing itself is not only effective, but its also comparatively cheaper. In that sense, it is encouraging to see China being more concerned about the impacts of its hydropower on the environment.
It is claimed that Run of the River projects are environmentally better than storage type HEPs. There are some such projects which undertake massive peaking. How can the impacts of massive scale of hydro-peaking be mitigated?
Firstly, if its peaking, its not an ROR. An ROR by definition cannot store water and cannot change the hydrographs of a river on a timescale. If it’s doing that, it’s not an ROR and should not be labelled as such. Period. If anyone is doing that, I would question their motives in being less than truthful. It’s also a matter of wrong green labels to these projects. So we need to remember that RORs do not change the downstream hydrograph and hence cannot peak.
How about the contention that ramping up and down reduces peaking capabilities of the project?
Well, there is no free lunch. There is a cost to doing business, cost of doing good business, and only this will keep it running in the long term. No one would deny that all developmental activities entail environmental costs, but we to understand the range of environmental and social costs, put them on table and then take a wise decision, taking everyone on board.
As for ramping rates affecting peaking operations, power demands do not fluctuate hugely from established patterns on a daily, weekly, or seasonal basis and the companies have a pretty good forecast idea of the range of demand. Based on this, if the peaking is supposedly for 3 hours, up ramping can be started an hour earlier, so that we get the benefits of 3 hours peaking. Same goes for down ramping, you need to coordinate it that way. Of course this will mean some change of efficiency, but like I said, there is no free lunch and surely government and companies are concerned about safety of their people downstream these projects.
Safety concerns of peaking opeartions, apart from the ecological concerns, are very important to consider. In case of the Milner Dam on the Snake River in the US, I actually had a group of students and fishermen stand and then wade in a river and we then worked on the releases from the dam which gave sufficient time for these people to get out of the river. There is no option to safety measures. They are of paramount importance.
When we develop rivers in a cascade, would it help if we maintain free flowing stretches between projects?
Well it’s a relative question, which is all about siting your projects. In the first place, don’t put a dam in the wrong place! That’s most important. After that, placing of other dams will be specific to the ecological uniqueness of that river. But we need guidelines which say at least some percentage of the upper watershed should be conserved and not exposed to impacts like peaking. It may be better to entirely protect the tributaries of a heavily dammed basin, rather than adopting a cut and stitch approach. FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) is now routinely including impacts of hydropeaking on fish and other organisms like benthic macroinvertebrates while relicensing and also licensing.
How is the monitoring mechanism around mitigation measures developed in the US? Do communities have a role to play here?
Monitoring is well developed and an important part of the licensing process. The company can do annual monitoring themselves, or they can outsource this to an external entity. Monitoring advisory Committees are mandatory for projects and this committee includes representatives from the company, wildlife groups, aboriginal groups, regulators, etc. The membership to this committee is pretty flexible. If a group has significant reasons and wants to be a part of the monitoring committee, it can do so. This committee monitors environmental management plans and also guides the company in this process.The issue is about making the companies and government accountable to the society.
There has been a flood of eflows methodologies, Which one would you describe as the state of art methodology at this moment?
ELOHA is robust and well developed for this moment, but there is no one size fits all method, the assessment method depends on the data, time and resources available. The main point is that even eflows entail consensus generation and equitable sharing of resources and here too, the community should be playing a main role.
When the dam building pressures are too high, there is little point in hurrying through studies. In extreme cases, it is wise to put a moratorium on on-going development, try and fathom what we have lost and will be losing, look at the environmental and social consequences of this loss and then decide on the way forward. These things cannot be hurried into.
At places like Columbia River systems, we realize that we have changed the entire river basin, but the mitigation measures have been developed, put in place and are working. So, that’s good. But in other places, we realize that the social, ecological and even economic costs we are paying for developing dams are just not worth the costs. In those cases, we need to bring them down. This has happened too.
Interviewed by Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
(The trip was possible due to generous support from Both ENDS)
Text book definition of ROR: ““Run-of-river” refers to a mode of operation in which the hydro plant uses only the water that is available in the natural flow of the river, “Run-of-river” implies that there is no water storage and that power fluctuates with the stream flow.”
NOTE: Contrast this with the Indian Bureau of Standards definition of ROR, which allows pondage for even weekly fluctuations of demands and then claiming that this “does not alter the river course materially”. This is a blunder as that sort of pondage and resultant peaking hydrograph changes the downstream character of the river completely. even weekly storage and then peaking as ROR!
http://www.northfieldrelicensing.com/NorthfieldRelicensing/Lists/Documents/Attachments/47/20130228-5329(28100604).pdf: The Turners Falls Project is currently operated with a minimum flow release that was not based on biological criteria or field study. Further, the project generates power in a peaking mode resulting in significant with-in day flow fluctuations between the minimum and project capacity on hourly or daily basis. The large and rapid changes in flow releases from hydropower dams are known to cause adverse effects on habitat and biota downstream of the project. Effects on spawning behavior could include suspension of spawning activity, poor fertilization, flushing of eggs into unsuitable habitat due to higher peaking discharges, eggs dropping out into unsuitable substrate and being covered by sediment deposition and/or eggs becoming stranded on de-watered shoal areas as peak flows subside.