Expert Appraisal Committee · Interlinking of RIvers · NWDA

Thanks, Dr Sharad Jain: But Plz step down from EAC: Let us understand Conflict of Interest!

Above: Ken Yamuna Confluence at Chilla Ghat (Photo by Siddharth Agarwal)

We are thankful & glad that Dr Sharad Jain has responded to our open letter to MoEF, circulated through email and blog[i] that he holding the charge of NWDA Director General and Chairman of Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley and Hydropower Projects (RVP) involves Conflict of Interest. We are also thankful that through the Indian Express report (on June 3, 2017), he has provided another set of answers.

Unfortunately, Dr Jain, all this only expose our lack of basic understanding as to WHAT CONSTITUTES CONFLICT OF INTEREST. You have failed in trying to defend the indefensible, and we would rather urge you to resign as we continue this debate. Continue reading “Thanks, Dr Sharad Jain: But Plz step down from EAC: Let us understand Conflict of Interest!”

Dams · Interlinking of RIvers

Open Letter of Protest on Ken Betwa Project to MoEF

Above: Part of proposed Ken-Betwa link submergence area (Photo by Joanna Van Gruisen)


Shri. Anil Madhav Dave
Honourable Minister of State (Independent Charge),

Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF&CC)

Indira Paryavaran Bhawan, Jor Bagh Road, New Delhi – 110003

May 2, 2017

Honourable Minister,

Please consider this joint letter (See PDF file with logos here: Letter to MoEF Ken Betwa 020517) from an informal coalition of environment and wildlife organisations as a collective note of protest against the proposed Ken-Betwa River Link Project. Continue reading “Open Letter of Protest on Ken Betwa Project to MoEF”

Interlinking of RIvers

Little for Bundelkhand, lot for contractors in Ken Betwa river-link

Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave on January 5, 2017 reportedly told a meeting called by his ministry of non-official members of statutory bodies like expert appraisal committees and forest advisory committee, “How can we hold up development and not fulfill the needs of the poor for the sake of birds and animals?” This is of course a shocking statement to come from a minister whose mandate is to protect environment!

No less disturbingly, even as an environment minister, he has several times advocated pushing the Ken Betwa River Link Project (KBLRP) as a pilot scheme, when the project does not have any of the final clearances from his own Ministry! Continue reading “Little for Bundelkhand, lot for contractors in Ken Betwa river-link”

Expert Appraisal Committee · Interlinking of RIvers

Ken Betwa Link: Letter to Water Resources Minister and EAC in Dec 2016

December 27, 2016

Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation,
Govt of India,
New Delhi
Copy to Ministers of State (MoWR), Secretary (MOWR), OSD (MoWR), PS to MoWR
Respected Uma Bharati ji, 
We have seen reports in today’s news papers (e.g. and which were basically giving an old news, several times published already, that Ken Betwa link has been recommended NBWL clearance. When enquired, we were told that this was based on MOWR’s official press release, published through PIB y’day evening, that is at 18.29 hours on Dec 26, 2016, see:

Continue reading “Ken Betwa Link: Letter to Water Resources Minister and EAC in Dec 2016”

Interlinking of RIvers

Rivers and ILR need democracy: There is none today; BUT THIS AUG 6 MEETING IS NO DIALOGUE

Indeed, Rivers, including the Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) needs democracy, in which dialogue is the starting point. The government, with all its powers, mandate and resources, needs to initiate this. Particularly when the government has taken such an ideological, fundamentalist position on ILR. So much so that the Union Minister says that anyone opposing the project is committing a national crime. And even goes to the extent of threatening even statutory regulators if the controversial Ken Betwa River Link proposal is not cleared in next meeting! That very minister is scheduled to conclude the “dialogue” of Aug 6, 2016 (to be held during 4-7 pm at Constitutional Club Rafi Marg, Delhi), is ironical to say the least. [As I was writing this, I got a call from Ms Uma Bharti ji’s home saying that she won’t be able to come for the meeting today as she is down with high fever. I hope she recovers soon and fully.] Continue reading “Rivers and ILR need democracy: There is none today; BUT THIS AUG 6 MEETING IS NO DIALOGUE”

Interlinking of RIvers

ILR fundamentalism: Union Minister threatens regulators, media and civil society

Above: A fabulous view of Ken river. Nesting sites of Long-billed vultures are to the right. All will go under water if Ken-Betwa linkup is carried out, PHOTO by: AJT Johnsingh

It’s a curious case of Dam fundamentalism: now manifest as ILR fundamentalism. On June 7, 2016, (as widely reported by media[i]) Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti “threatened to go on hunger strike if the Ken-Betwa river linking project is further delayed and termed the attempt to delay the project by environmentalists as a “national crime”” as reported by Business Standard. The threat was directed against all those raising questions about Ken Betwa River Link proposal of her ministry. Continue reading “ILR fundamentalism: Union Minister threatens regulators, media and civil society”

Interlinking of RIvers

River Ken, as I saw it

Guest Blog by: Manoj Misra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan

Rivers are often seen merely as carriers of utilizable water and little more. Such utilization could be for supply of water to meet human domestic, commercial, irrigation or industrial needs or as a motive force to produce electricity. That there could be far more to a river than water flowing in it is rarely appreciated far less investigated. The reason also is that in case of perennial rivers water flowing in them tends to hide from public view a lot residing in their interiors, including their living and non living components. So a drought, notwithstanding its adverse impacts on water dependent people and their commensals[i], is an opportunity nevertheless to easily see what is otherwise normally hidden.     Continue reading “River Ken, as I saw it”

Floods · Interlinking of RIvers · Kosi · Narmada · Uttarakhand

CWPRS: A 100-year-old institute remains uni-dimensional; has no achievement to show

Jawaharlal Nehru who famously celebrated large dams as “temples of modern India” later termed them as “disease of giganticism”.[i] The fascination wore out after witnessing the huge sacrifice of the vulnerable and unfulfilled promises. Government of India however has continued with the worship of giant structures such as big dams, ports, hydropower projects etc. Even after nearly seven decades of independence, ‘engineering approach’ still dominates the idea of river planning which views river as an entity to be engineered and planned for irrigation, hydropower, industrial and urban water use rather than as a living eco-system. 17 study models that were displayed at Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS) open house day at Khadakwasla near Pune on June 14, 2016, its completion of 100 years of existence, stood testimony to this. Continue reading “CWPRS: A 100-year-old institute remains uni-dimensional; has no achievement to show”

Dams · Drought · Interlinking of RIvers · Jammu and Kashmir · Uttarakhand

India facing its worst water crisis ever: Himanshu Thakkar

Find below interview of SANDRP coordinator Himanshu Thakkar by Aditi Phadnis, Business Standard. The interview was published in Business Standard on the 14th May 2016 (


Environmental activist and water expert Himanshu Thakkar tells Aditi Phadnis that India needs a comprehensive water-use policy immediately.

You are quoted as saying that India is in the grip of its worst hydrological crisis ever. Isn’t that a bit drastic? After all, India has endured endemic in many parts of the country for several years now. What makes you so pessimistic?

I do not think it is statement of pessimism but possibly reflects a reality. What we are seeing this year is unprecedented in many respects: major perennial rivers like the Ganga, Godavari, and have dried up at several locations, which was unheard of earlier. Groundwater levels are at a record low. In many places hand pumps have dried up completely. The number ofimpacted, the intensity of the impact are huge. This is only the fourth time in a century that there has been a back-to-back drought, but on all previous occasions groundwater, an insurance in times of drought, had provided relief. That is no longer an available option in several places. Our rivers are in a much worse situation today than ever in the past, due to all the ill treatment we have meted out to them, including multiple and often unnecessary, unjustified damming. All this makes the situation this year much worse.

You are credited with making public a lot of information and anlysis about the circumstances of the current shortage of water in Maharashtra. What do your findings tell us about the issue of water in the state?

The first thing that strikes you about is that it has, by far, the highest number of big dams in India. According to the National Register of Large Dams of the Central Water Commission, of the total number of 5,100 big dams 1,845 are in Maharashtra. So about 35 to 36 per cent of all big dams in India are in the state. Yet Maharashtra is in the headlines for drought and water scarcity today. While nationally, 46 per cent of cropped area is irrigated, in Maharashtra the figure is hardly 18 per cent. There is a lot of evidence here that big dams have proved to be a failed water resources development model. The current chief minister did say in his famous Assembly speech on July 21, 2015, that farmers need irrigation, not dams, and dams are not the only means to achieve irrigation. Unfortunately, one of the major planks used by his party to achieve power in Maharashtra, the Rs 70,000-crore irrigation scam, seems to have been totally forgotten by the state government.

Parts of Maharashtra are facing multiple agrarian and hydrological crises this year. Rainfall deficits have been as high as 40 and 42 per cent in the last two years in Marathwada. In some districts and blocks the figure is even higher. So rain-fed kharif crops in many parts have failed for the last two years. The rabi crops were also hit by unprecedented hailstorms in 2014 and 2015. The 2016 rabi season has been hit by unusually dry conditions.

During the 2015 monsoon, we (my Pune-based colleague Parineeta Dandekar does most of our Maharashtra-related work) realised in mid-July that this year is going to be a crisis for most of Maharashtra, in addition to some other adjoining areas. So we wrote to the chief minister in August that the state needed to take certain measures urgently. This included stopping the diversion of about three billion cubic metres of water from the Bhima and Krishna basins to the high-rainfall Konkan area, stopping non-essential water-use activities, taking stock of available water and deploying it for priority needs, and so on.

The did not wake up to this situation then or at the end of the monsoon or even now. While the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyaan, the flagship scheme of current Maharashtra government, is welcome, leaving aside some problematic work they are doing in terms of deepening, widening and straightening of rivers, it cannot be a fig leaf to hide its incompetence in handling this crisis.

In Marathwada and western Maharashtra (similarly, also northern Karnataka) sugar cane cultivation on about four to five per cent of cropped land takes up about 70 per cent of available irrigation water. We have been saying that considering the rainfall, weather situation and water availability, sugarcane is not a sustainable crop in these regions. However, even when 2014 and 2015 monsoon had major deficits in Maharashtra, the area under sugarcane remained at record levels. This was after the 2012 drought in Maharashtra, when the same issues had cropped up and the government, including the then Union agricuture minister Sharad Pawar promised intervention. We saw no implementation of those promises then. The situation is the same now.

Industry and agriculture are both responsible for the water crisis. But industries can’t be shut and farmers can’t be told to stop farming. So what is the answer?

I won’t say industry and agriculture are responsible. The kind of industries we set up and the kind of agriculture we do in any region has to keep in mind the various factors prevailing in the region, including water. When we conduct water-intensive activities in water-starved regions, that is an invitation to an inequitable, unsustainable, conflict-generating situation and sooner or later we will face the consequences. We have seen this happening in Maharashtra over the last decade most starkly.

Shouldn’t everyone be made to pay for water? Punjab has 98 per cent irrigation. It has spent money over the years, setting up irrigation channels, etc. Nobody has paid for those. Worse, the water running in those channels is not paid for either. By contrast, Maharashtra has barely 18 per cent irrigated land. What is the solution?

About 80 per cent of the water we use is supposed to be used by farmers, and I think there is national consensus that farmers in most places are not in a position to bear additional input costs in the current situation. Farmers need to be guaranteed much better returns on their produce than they are getting now. Say, if the Bharatiya Janata Party is able to implement the promise it made to farmers in its election manifesto that they should get 50 per cent return on investment, then maybe we can start talking about making farmers pay for the water, as that cost will then be included in the input cost calculations.

Moreover, a lot of users of water even in urban and industrial areas are not paying for the water they use or pollute. For example, a lot of groundwater gets used up by them, but there is no payment or regulation of this. Nor are they being made to pay for the pollution their effluents lead to.

We also need more participatory decision-making in water resources development before we can start asking farmers to pay for all the wrong decisions that are being taken now.

In the midst of all this gloom over lack of water, some states -Telangana and Maharashtra, for instance – have signed a pact to interlink rivers (ILR). Andhra Pradesh and Telanagana have already effected the interlinking of two rivers. Is this the way forward?

Today groundwater is India’s water lifeline, as most of our water comes from it and in every water sub-sector the dependence on groundwater is increasing with each passing year. So whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, groundwater is our water lifeline. Our water policy, programmes and projects need to focus and prioritise how to sustain the groundwater lifeline. Will ILR help achieve that? The answer is no. In fact, we also need to prioritise optimisation of use of our existing water infrastructure; second, making rainwater harvesting the central focus as that can help sustain groundwater. ILR is costly, environmentally destructive, socially disruptive and a non-optimum option, particularly in view of the changing climate, in addition to other issues.

In hill regions like Uttarakhand and Kashmir, the frenzy of the floods can hardly be forgotten. What is happening there?

Yes, all across the Himalayas, the high disaster vulnerabilities (to earthquakes, floods, landslides, erosion and flashfloods) have deepened because of the changing climate and the kind of interventions we are doing there. Our disaster management infrastructure remains a rather weak link, as the Supreme Court order on on May 11, 2016 about the current drought pointed out. We seem to have learnt little from the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 and the Jammu and K ashmir floods of September 2014 and March 2015. As the Nepal earthquake of April-May 2015 showed, these regions are prone to major seismic shocks. All this demands urgent action and possibly course change.

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Dams · Interlinking of RIvers

Open letter to Mr. Rajendra Singh: Do not disregard environmental needs of the Mhadei River Basin and the livelihoods of its people

Above: Mandovi River in Goa just before Mapusa, Photo by Author in Feb 2016

GUEST BLOG by: Chicu Lokgariwar

Dear Mr. Rajendra Singh

Your support for the diversion of the Mhadei River to the Malaprabha before it enters Goa is well known. I understand it is your belief that it will benefit ‘commoners’[i] in the Malaprabha river basin while not having any adverse downstream impact on the Mhadei. While a ‘commoner’ citizen is entitled to have his/her opinion based on a curated portion of the facts, you, Mr. Singh, do not have that luxury.

As a Magsaysay, Stockholm Water Prize awardee, as an individual who has adopted the title of ‘waterman of India’, it is obligatory for you to consider all the facts, to weigh the issues at stake in an unbiased manner, and finally, to commit no injustice. And that is why I do find some comments made by you to the press problematic in their bias. Please allow me to put forth my objections to these statements.

Malprabha River on the Eastern Flank

Malprabha River on the Eastern Flank (Photo by Parineeta Dandekar)

You have gone on record[ii] that it is your belief that ‘This diversion from River Mhadei to River Malprabha would not cause any environmental damage’.

The discharge of the Mhadei, when measured near its mouth in the non-monsoon season is 285 MCM/year (8.07 TMC); and its total annual discharge is 3447 MCM/year (97.6 TMC). Karnataka, as per its original plan made in 2002, aims to divert 214 MCM/year (7.56 TMC). A study[iii] of the water retaining structures then planned by Karnataka on the tributaries of the Mhadei indicates that these six will  retain 21% of the annual monsoon rainfall and 22% of the baseflow during non-monsoon season for the entire basin.

But things are even worse than that study would have us believe. According to A N S Nadkarni, Advocate General of Goa,”Karnataka now wants to divert 24 TMC of water from the basin”.

I fail to conceive of any circumstances in which this extensive withdrawal ‘would not cause any environmental damage’. This is especially true of the Mhadei. The Mhadei sanctuary was formed in 1999, and hosts one of the most lush and verdant pockets of the Western  Ghats Biodiversity Hotspot. Mr. Rajendra Kerkar informs us that infrastructure for the diversion islocated in the  reserve forest area. Nirmal Kulkarni, Chair of the Mhadei Research Centre[iv], has stated in an interview, “This region is sustained and supported by the Haltar nullah, Kalsa-Bandura nullah and their tributaries, along with the Mhadei river and its tributaries. Any diversion of water going to a wildlife sanctuary or forest is not permissible by India’s wildlife laws”[v]. This area will receive a denuded river incapable of supporting the rich riparian ecosystem that now exists. This is true not only in terms of a decreased quantity of water, but also due to a loss in the nutrients brought by the sediments which will now be impounded by the diversion related structures.

An issue unique to coastal rivers is that of tidal ingress. Currently, some 56 kilometers of the Mhadei’s 87 kilometer length is in the saline zone. A decrease in the baseflow of the river will have two consequences. It will increase the salinity of estuarine waters and will increase the area that is presently saline. Either will have catastrophic consequences on the people, wildlife and plants that presently depend on this river.

Increase in the salt content of coastal and estuarine waters can decrease the nutrients available[vi], lead to major mortalities of several species[vii], possibly destroying fish populations[viii]. Increase in the length of the saline zone will decrease the area available for freshwater organisms and lead to a decrease in their numbers.

I will include humans in this list of the victims of environmental damage due to increased salinity. The Mhadei, just above its saline zone, supports most of Goa’s rich Khazan lands. Besides these, several fisherfolk depend on it for their livelihood. And finally, the Mandovi supplies drinking water to 43% of Goa’s population.

Rajendra Singh Interview

Above: Image of The Hindu clipping of March 26, 2016 carrying Rajendra Singh ji’s interview

  1. In an interview with The Hindu of the 26thof March 2016[ix], you said that ‘(Karnataka) should come out clear on a policy that will enable it to harness every drop of water available in its territories’. Further, you have also stated that ‘Karnataka would not have faced scarcity if it had stopped the western flow of water four decades ago’.

Mr. Singh, you are an advocate of healthy flowing rivers. You have, in the past, opposed the inter-linking of rivers. Why do you consider the Mhadei-Malaprabha diversion to be an exception?

This diversion certainly does not come under the concept of ‘catch every drop’ or any other water harvesting principle. As Adv. Nadkarni stated, Goa has no objection if Karnataka wishes to utilise the water within the basin. The issue is that the state wishes to divert water out of the basin into another one. Harnessing ‘every drop of water’ available within political boundaries is a notoriously dangerous and oppressive principle. While India has the good fortune to be the upstream neighbour in the case of most of our rivers, we too would protest if Nepal, Bhutan or China were to follow the principle you are advocating.

While there is a perceived scarcity of water in Karnataka (though the intensity is being debated[x]), scarcity cannot be negated by robbing other rivers.  The solution has to evolve within the basin.

Mr. Vijay Kulkarni, president of the Kalasa Banduri campaign that is advocating the diversion, has informed us that water from the Mhadei will be used to supply the needs of irrigation in Bagalkote, Gadag, Dharwad and Belguam. The rainfall in these districts ranges between 579 to 772 mm[xi]. Admittedly, this is less than that of coastal regions, but is comparable to Alwar. All four districts grow sugarcane, cotton, and sunflower. These are crops with high water needs, their requirements being approximately 1500-2500mm (cane), 700-1300mm (cotton), and 600-1000mm (sunflower)[xii]. In addition, there is an abysmal lack of interest in rainwater harvesting or water recharge. Of the four districts, only Belagavi can boast of one water harvesting/recharge structure constructed to the knowledge of the CGWB. Karnataka has not proved to be a wise user of its own water resources.  Goa is not perfect by any means. It faces problems of pollution of its waters and environmental degradation just as other states do. But that does not give us the right to rob the Mhadei of its water.

  1. As you know, Karnataka has gone ahead and constructed most of the structures required for this diversion without any of the clearances in place, including environment clearance, forest clearance, wildlife clearance, Options assessment, CWC clearance, conducting social and environment impact assessment and public consultations, among others. Most of these are staturoy requirements. In your statements it would have been useful if you had also raised the issue of these violations, since besides being statutory requirements, these are basic steps necessry before any prudent decision making.

Now that the issue is before the tribunal, any such diversion cannot take place without the tribunal decision. In fact, we hope you also raise your voice that the tribunal should also hear the people and civil society, besides the states, since states have most often failed to fairly represent the real interests of most of the poorer and weak sections of society and also environment.

work on diversion done by Karnataka without clearances 3

work on diversion done by Karnataka without clearances 1

work on diversion done by Karnataka without clearances 2

work on diversion done by Karnataka without clearances 4

Work on diversion done by Karnataka without clearances (All four photos by Parineeta Dandekar)

IN CONCLUSION As Mr. Rajendra Kerkar suggests[xiii], rainwater harvesting, selection of appropriate crops and irrigation technologies, and demand management are the key to quenching Karnataka’s thirst. Interestingly, these are the very principles that you mentioned when you spoke of your work in Alwar. At that time you said of these,’I believe this is the way to save the environment and bring prosperity to farmers in Indian villages.’

What was true then is true today. In your own words[xiv] Mr. Singh, your first foray into leadership and water began in November 1985 when ‘carrying a spade and basket and accompanied by Nathi Bhalai of Gopalpura village, we started building a dyke in the hot sun’. Those principles, of working with people, and arriving jointly at a sustainable solution to their needs, of protecting the earth’s resources, is what we expect of you. Not advocating environmentally and socially unsound inter-linking of rivers.

No exceptions.

Chicu Lokgariwar (







[vi]             Qasim, S. Z., P. M. A. Bhattathiri, and V. P. Devassy. “The influence of salinity on the rate of photosynthesis and abundance of some tropical phytoplankton.” Marine biology 12.3 (1972): 200-206.,

[vii]            Gibson, R. N., Margaret Barnes, and R. J. A. Atkinson. “Impact of changes in flow of freshwater on estuarine and open coastal habitats and the associated organisms.” Oceanography and Marine Biology, An Annual Review, Volume 40: An Annual Review 40 (2003): 233.

[viii]           Drinkwater, Kenneth F., and Kenneth T. Frank. “Effects of river regulation and diversion on marine fish and invertebrates.” Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 4.2 (1994): 135-151.



[xi]             Central Ground Water Board District Profiles,