DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 080822: Why is Centre not taking action against violations, defects of Kaleshwaram Project of Telangana?

(Feature image source: Pratidin News)

Union Water Resources or what is now called Jal Shakti minister Shri Gajendra Shekhawat made a rare and rather interesting statement this week about Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project of Telangana, supposed to be the world’s biggest lift irrigation project, India’s most expensive ever irrigation project. The Union Minister publicly said that the Kaleshwaram project did not have all the clearances, project thus involved violations, and had defects, leading to submergence of three barrages and a massive power house last month. It is not clear if the Union Minister has also written to this effect to the Telangana state government and also taken action against the project. This is because the allegations made by the Union Minister are about such a huge project and are serious in nature.

If the Union Minister has done neither, as seems to be the case, he hope he is doing something on these lines soon. We do not expect a responsible Union Minister not take any action on such an important matter and is only making such statements for public consumption (incidentally, he seems to have made these statements in Karnataka, not in Telangana). Questions will be raised if the Union Minister fails to take such an action.

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DRP NB 1 Aug 2022: Dams reduce sediment load in rivers leading to higher coastal erosion

(Feature image: Delta Land Loss Mechanisms. Source Wikimedia Commons)

A new study this week has reminded us what has been known for long. Dams not only store water but also trap the sediment flowing in the river. Whatever smaller quantity of water flow from dams to downstream areas, has much lower or no silt. A lot of that silt was supposed to reach the coast, helping fight against the erosion of the coast due to sea tides and waves. With drastically lower sediment reaching the coasts, higher coastal erosion is the result. While climate change is definitely contributing to the increased coast erosion due to more frequent and higher intensity storms from the sea, the role of dams tend to work as force multiplier in increasing the coastal erosion due to less sediment reaching the coasts from river.

While a new study by a Pune University has highlighted this phenomena in case of Godavari river, peninsular India’s biggest river, this is also happening at most other rivers and where they meet the coasts. As in case of Farakka, closer the terminal dam is to the coast, greater is its effectiveness to trap the river sediment and higher is its contribution likely to be to the increase in coastal erosion.

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DRP NB 250722: State of Yamuna River ignored by NMCG and MoEF

(Feature Image:- A drain choked with solid waste and untreated effluents running through Yamuna floodplains in Mathura. Source: News 18, 13072022.)

This year, even in the middle of monsoon, the Yamuna river in the national capital is in such a pathetic state, there is insufficient flows in the most of the days. The govt may jump to blame it on poor monsoon rains, ignoring that the upstream dams like the recently commissioned Vyasi dam not releasing water in the downstream is also a major reason beside the unsustainable riverbed mining and also dumping of solid waste in the upstream, including due to the building of mindless projects like the Char Dham highway, all in the news this week. Both National Mission on Clean Ganga (NMCG) and Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) should be concerned about this lack of flows downstream from the dam and other issues listed above, but they clearly seem least bothered.

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DRP NB 180722: Polavaram, Kaleshwaram projects damaged, Kadam dam overflowed

(Feature image: An aerial view of the flood-affected areas in Godavari districts on July 15. Photo by arrangement/Deccan Chronicle)

One of the noteworthy feature of the floods in ongoing on monsoon so far has been what is happening around large dam projects, particularly in Central India, Eastern India and Southern India. The Polavaram dam on Godavari river, the largest under construction dam in India, again suffered damage this monsoon as confessed by the Andhra Pradesh Irrigation Minister Ambati Rambabu after his frequent visits to the dam. The dam had suffered damage in 2019 floods and it is still not clear what is way forward and the dam has again suffered damage. This will make the unviable project even more unviable, but the government will continue to sink good money after the massive sunk funds.

The Kaleshwaram project in Godavari basin, the largest lift irrigation projects of India has also faced damages with at least two pump houses with large number of massive capacity pumps getting submerged, and third one partially flooded. The full impact of this damage will only be known after assessment once the floods recede.

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DRP NB 110722: Govt failure on cloudburst monitoring, forecasting, managing

(Feature Image: On July 8, a flash flood triggered by a cloudburst hit a camp near the Amarnath cave shrine in J&K’s Ganderbal district. The Indian Express)

Just in first few weeks of this South West Monsoon in India and particularly in last two weeks there have been numerous cloudburst incidents leading to large number of deaths and destruction of human and natural infrastructure. Most of the time, the government just calls these disasters cloud burst and points finger at climate change, implying its helplessness, but happy that they have rescued the affected people. In reality, a lot can be done in terms of monitoring, forecasting and managing cloudbursts that is clearly not happening and is not part of government’s disaster management plans or actions.

Firstly there are some known places where the flash floods from cloud burst could lead to disaster, they need to be identified and habitations near and at risk at such locations need to be mapped and monitored to minimize the risks. The locations next to streams are clearly such hazardous locations and how can there be camps located right next to such streams as happened during the recent Amarnath caves?

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DRP NB 040722: Stalled, delayed, cancelled Hydro in Bhutan

(Feature Image: Stretch of Punatsangchu River that will be diverted through the tunnel when the dam is commissioned Photo: SANDRP)

Puncturing the prevalent notion about India Bhutan Cooperation on hydropower projects, there is news this week (in fact the news on this score has been coming for more than a couple of years, but Indian media seems to be practicing a self-imposed ban on putting out such stories – but that is another story as they say) that hydropower projects have been stalled, delayed, reconfigured, and even cancelled in Bhutan. This is broadly in line with the increasing economic non viability of hydropower projects.

Kuensel, Bhutan’s national newspaper, has reported about such projects quoting the National Council recommendation to the government of Bhutan to expedite the decisions about the stalled projects like the massive Punatasanchchu-I HEP and the Kholongchu HEP. It has also reported that the government of India conveying to Bhutan that India has sufficient electricity supplies, suggesting that the proposed Nu 200 Billion Sunkosh Hydropower project may not have any definite dateline and hence likely to not go forward. The happenings at the geologically unstable site selection for Punatsanchchu project involving India’s Central Water Commission, Wapcos and Geological Survey of India among others is in fact major scandal and how the whole issue has been dealt with so far. The happenings at the Kolongchu HEP being executed by the SJVN (erstwhile Sutlej Jal Vidhyut Nigam Ltd) as the first ever joint venture project in Bhutan in terms SJVN not giving the promised contracts to Bhutanese companies also does not bode well for Joint Venture projects in future. Both Punatsanchchu and Kholongchu HEPs are stalled and delayed for long, increasing the cost of the projects and power from the projects. While all this is broadly in line with increasing economic non viability of hydropower projects, a lot of this can be avoided by increasing transparency and accountability in governance of these projects.

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DRP NB 270622: There are many man made factors behind Assam Floods, Mr CM

(Feature Image:- DDMA, UNICEF and Oxfam have innovated boat-mounted water treatment units to provide life-saving water to the people in need within Silchar & its peripheral areas. Source:- Assam State Disaster Management Authority )

The Assam Chief Minister has called the unprecedented floods in Silchar town along Barak river in South Assam as man-made floods. The reason given is that the breach of embankment along the Barak river in the town was created by some people. It is good to see that the Assam CM Mr Himanta Biswa Sarma has recognised that some of the floods can be due to man made factors. And indeed, investigation followed by action is required in all such cases. But the CM should not limit this to just the breach of Barak embankment or the role of some of the people who may have breached the embankment earlier in May to provide outlet to one of the lakes. The investigation must also look into the role of the water resources department as to why they did not swing into action earlier, both in terms of repair and investigation. .

In fact, according to reports so far, no less than 297 embankments have breached during this monsoon so far already. Many or rather most of them have happened due to systematic neglect and lack of proper maintenance by the water resources department and needs proper investigation and action. There is also an urgent need for assessment of cost benefit and efficacy of the embankments in Assam.

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DRP NB 200622: Erratic onset & progress of SW Monsoon in India

It is great to see an EDITORIAL on monsoon progress in one of India’s National newspapers, THE TIMES OF INDIA on June 20, 2022. The editorial figure of monsoon deficit of 32% at all India level is hugely outdated as it was for rainfall till 8.30 am on June 15. According to the latest figures of rainfall till 0830 am on June 19 available as we write this, the deficit is DOWN to just 8% as rainfall has been above normal on each of the last five days. The deficit in NW India has also reduced from 77% reported in TOI edit to 63% now. The monsoon has also covered much larger area except in North West India. The rainfall so far has already broken several records in terms of intensity of rainfall.

Nevertheless, the key message of the TOI EDIT, about our wrong cropping pattern and urgent need of the govt to come up with schemes to incentivise farmers to change to more appropriate cropping pattern is very important.

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DRP NB 13 June 2022: Down in Dumps, MoEF becomes more opaque

(Feature image: Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav with PM Narendra Modi before taking oath on July 7, 2021 PTI/HT.)

While the news that India has achieved the worst ever ranking of 180, at the bottom of 180 country index in terms of Environment Performance Index was shocking, it should not surprise too many people considering the way environment is treated by the current central government, particularly the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). As expected, MoEF questioned the methodology of the assessment, and the criticism has been responded to and rejected by the authors of the EPI report.

Now with a dictate of the MoEF (dated Apr 8, 2022, preceding the EPI news) coming to light, the trajectory of the MoEF should leave no one in doubt. Through this dictate, the MoEF has asked the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), a supposedly autonomous institute of the Ministry, to seek the ministry’s approval before it publishes any document, that too with retrospective effect! WII in any case, was towing the ministry’s line in many of the cases as is evident from its performance in regulatory committees like the Forest Advisory Committee, National Board of Wild Life and Expert Appraisal Committee (on River Valley Projects, possibly among others). And yet the Ministry has come out with this dictate, without giving any reasons, possibly since some of WII reports have been problematic for the govt in judicial proceedings in some cases. But the MoEF move to stop WII from publishing (and hence doing) any credible studies only shows the paranoia of the ministry. Its performance index would not improve this way, it would only get worse.

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DRP NB 30 May 2022: Govt not serious about Rain Water Harvesting

(Feature image: Condition of a RWH structure in Karnal. The Tribune)

As India Meteorological Department (IMD) declared onset of 4 month South West Monsoon in Kerala on May 29, 2022 and published map of monsoon onset in rest of the country, key highlight of the news this week is how callous, non-serious is the govt in harvesting the rain where it falls. This is in spite of all the sloganeering about harvesting rain where and when it falls right from Prime Minister to downstairs. As they say, our actions speak louder than our words. The news came from Delhi and Karnal (Haryana) that in both states the rainwater systems even in government premises are lying defunct if all built.

The story would be similar from rest of the country. This also shows how serious is the government in working towards sustaining groundwater, India’s water lifeline as the biggest help GW can get is from harvesting rain where it falls, when it falls. This is particularly pertinent in the context of changing rainfall pattern with changing climate. If we had systems in place to harvest rain when and where it falls, it would also help reduce the flood peaks significantly. But until the government shows it is serious through demonstrable evidence of functioning rain water harvesting systems all across the river basins across India, there will be little morale authority in government pushing rest of us working to harvest rain, where and when it falls.

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