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”
A summary analysis of the ecological impacts of the National Waterways Bill (2015)
Introduction: The National Waterways Bill (NWB, Bill No. 122 of 2015) was tabled by the current central government’s Minister of Transport and Shipping, Mr. Nitin Gadkari, in May 2015. This Bill plans to convert 106 rivers and creeks across India into waterway canals, purportedly for ‘eco-friendly transport’ of cargo, coal, industrial raw materials, and for tourism purposes. The primary reasons provided for this bill are that 1) inland water transport is fuel-efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly, 2) the systematic development of waterways will create progressive economic opportunities in the country, and 3) the potential of water transport is underutilized in India. The Bill has since been examined by the Standing Committee appointed of Rajya Sabha Members and experts on the matter, who submitted their findings in Report No. 223 (Rajya Sabha Secretariat, August 2015). Recently, the Bill has been cleared by the Lok Sabha, and awaits final discussion in the Rajya Sabha within a fortnight’s time. As of now the NWB appears to enjoy support across party lines, states and political positions and agendas. There is also a belief that waterways would mean maintenance of enough water flowing in our rivers – yet the means through which this is proposed to be achieved involve capital dredging and large-scale conversion of floodplain environments and riverbanks to concrete embankments. A serious concern of observers has been that there has unfortunately been but scant debate on the high ecological and social risks the NWB poses to riverine biodiversity and local resource users through such irreversible engineering controls on our rivers. There is no discussion among politicians and administrators. Importantly, this issue appears to have barely received adequate attention even in environment and conservation circles. Problematically enough, the NWB thus emerges as a threat that may go unnoticed by conservationists and get passed without debate, deliberation or emphasis on environmental clearances to the extent required. In this article I will discuss the potentially damaging consequences of the NWB on river ecology, human life and hydrological dynamics of India’s riverscapes. My earlier article on the SANDRP blog ‘Four boats at a river crossing along Ganga’ (dated 28th December, 2015) had described https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/four-boats-at-a-river-crossing/) ground experiences related to the impacts of large-scale inland water transport (IWT). Continuing there I attempt to provide a point-wise discussion and critique of the NWB. Continue reading “Digging Our Rivers’ Graves?”