The Maharashtra government submitted an affidavit in High Court that the state has 15865 wetlands, down from 44714 in 2010. How did 28849 wetlands disappear from the very definition of wetland? While all of these wetlands may not have disappeared from ground, their disappearance from govt papers as wetlands means that they are now open to all kinds of abuse and encroachments. It along with other wetlands related stories here shows how little the governments are concerned about the wetlands.
This week’s news bulletin has a number of examples of Better Water Management Options that India has, let us focus on the example from state. These examples come from Kerala (achieving a barren land free constituency & KERI study showing the need for desilting of Malampuzha reservoir), Tamil Nadu (lessons from implementation of System of Rice Intensification in large parts of cultivable land and also declaring the Cauvery Delta as protected agriculture zones that will help stop the problematic hydrocarbon exploration project as also, hopefully other destructive projects), Odisha (govt filing affidavit in the Supreme Court asking it to stop work on Polavaram Dam of Andhra Pradesh is hugely belated but right move), Telangana (rejecting the Godavari Cauvery River Linking proposal of NWDA for its shoddy water balance), Uttarakhand (Dehradun DM accepting in affidavit to High Court that 270 acres of river bed land is encroached in the district), Kashmir (drive to remove encroachments of Khushal Sar lake, even if selective, hopefully it will be a beginning), NGT (cancelling the township coming up in lake eco sensitive area in Bengaluru) among others. We have listed only the welcome initiatives from the govt. Even if these initiatives are taken to logical conclusion and also emulated by other states, it can go a long way in moving towards better water management.
A number of welcome developments around dams appear in this week’s DRP News Bulletin from SANDRP. The prominent is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation declaring that it may not need Pinjal Dam, which SANDRP had said in its report way back in 2012-13 and the then BMC commissioner had agreed to in an interview to NDTV. This should also lead to cancellation of the Damanganga Pinjal River Link proposal. The Maharashtra govt decision to review the need for Human dam is also welcome. The Kerala State Information Commissioner’s decision to direct that the Dam Break Analysis should be in public domain is also a useful precedent that all states and CWC need to follow immediately and also amend the proposed Dam Safety Act to include a provision that all Dam Safety related information, including meeting minutes, agenda, decisions, status reports etc will be in public domain.
The statement of Shri U P Singh, secretary, Union Water Resources Ministry, that “industry (private or public sector) could adopt small rivers” seems to suggest that the government is moving towards handing over the rivers to Corporate bodies. The example Mr Singh gave of Drayavati River of Jaipur is even more disturbing since that river has been completely destroyed by the project implemented by the Tatas. It should not surprise though, considering that no less than the Prime Minister has been giving the example of canalisation of Sabarmati as an example of rejuvenation of the river. If this is what the government means by rejuvenation, that even Ganga and Yamuna are facing major risks of destruction. Its not less shocking that while Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar has questioned Modi government’s attempt to achieve Nirmal Ganga without attempting Aviral Ganga, his own government is basically following the same Sabarmati model on Ganga in Patna. If this is the example of “rejuvenation” of river according to the top most bureaucrat of of the government in charge of Water resources, nothing can save India’s rivers except a people’s movement against such moves wherever such destruction of rivers is attempted.
A large number of stories this week remind us that India urgently needs national urban water policy.
The water footprint of urban areas is gradually on the rise. The cities have several problems with management including destruction of water sources, groundwater exploitation, poor performance in treating and recycling the polluted water, pollution and encroachment on water bodies etc. To fulfil their growing demands new dams, barrages and check dams are being planned, proposed and built on the rivers in faraway places, which is in turn displacing and depriving the local people of equitable water share.
Even before onset of summer, the Army in Sagar district have started patrolling Chitora dam to prevent water thefts (denying farmers to take dam water for irrigation).
With the beginning of New Year, there have been several media reports highlighting the river revival works and floodplain protection efforts going on in different parts of country. While the community driven efforts with active support from administration and experts to revive Kasal Odha in Solapur and bring back Old Lakhandei river in Sithamarhi have been bearing fruits. The civil societies, judiciary and administration have also taken steps to protect the floodplains of Ramnadi, Indrayani, Hindon rivers.
The artificial pond efforts by NGT panel and Delhi government have also shown positive results in preventing the pollution from idol immersion pollution reaching the Yamuna river. Similarly the CPCB has raised the issue of Mahi river pollution by industries in Central Gujarat. The Karnataka High Court questioning the authority and fund collection mechanism by Isha Foundation for Cauvery Calling initiative is particularly significant. While revival of rivers is imperative task, the accountability and transparency cannot be set aside.
In shocking instance, the Govt of India has provided just 17 days for commenting (Submission of Comments of NPSSFW _Inland_ on the Draft NFDB Bill 2019_ with rejoinder) on Draft National Policy for Inland Fisheries (Draft_NFDB_Bill_2019). As can be seen from the comments by National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers (Inland) on the draft policy, the draft policy has major lacunae. The most glaring one is the complete lack of any role for the Inland fisher people in the decision making about rivers and other water bodies in India. Every dam and hydropower project has adverse impact on the fishes and fisher people, but the impact assessment reports rarely if ever even mention such impacts, leave aside question of any rehabilitation for them or even compensating them for the losses.
This is in complete contrast to the situation in US and a number of other countries where fish and fisher people have a much bigger role. Even as millions of people depend on Inland fisheries in India, we do not have even reliable census of the people who depend on Inland fisheries. One had hoped that in new year, the situation would improve, but going by the Draft Policy, there is not too much hope on that front. The least the govt can do is to immediately accept the suggestions of the National Platform and circulate the draft in all major languages and provide three months for comment period and institute a confidence inspiring process of including such comments.
Groundwater is India’s water lifeline for some decades and will remain so. So attention to Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABY) is welcome, but key question is, will it help sustain our Water Lifeline? The World Bank funded project ABY has been in limbo for several years, but for some unknown reasons, took years to enter implementation phase. Secondly, why did it need the World Bank funding and how that will help for a scheme that essentially needs bottom up regulatory system, where the global banker has far from confidence inspiring track record?
Groundwater sustainability requires: 1. Identifying, understanding existing groundwater recharge systems 2. Protecting such recharge systems. 3. Enhance recharge from such systems. 4. Create additional recharge systems 5. Acknowledging in National Water Policy, programs and practices that Groundwater is India’s water lifeline and most importantly 6. Creating a bottom up legally empowered groundwater regulatory system.
A new study has shown how powerful the monsoons and their abnormalities are: It’s these abnormalities that ended reigns of multiple dynasties in medieval India, not wars. But the society does not seem to understand this basic reality today, and we are not only doing everything in our power to make the monsoon abnormal through human induced climate and natural world changes, but not even valuing the rainwater in our water policies, programs and practices. The changes we are bringing in natural world is making even the smaller monsoon abnormalities bring catastrophic impacts as the capacities of the people and societies to cope with the changes is decreasing. These studies are another wake up call, if only we were interested one.
The Prime Minister finally found time to have the first ever meeting on National Ganga Council, over three years after the Ganga Notification of Oct 7, 2016. The meeting happened at Kanpur, where the NGT recently fined the state government for continuing to release untreated effluents into the Ganga. In fact NGT in recent weeks have taken several decisions that also shows how abysmally the govt has failed on Ganga front. And now after the first NGC meeting, the Prime Minister, in an effort to divert attention from Namami Gange failure, is proposing the new slogan of Arth Ganga, which basically seems to suggest focus on Money, which is Exactly what is not going to help the cause of Ganga. The Ganga is still on the lookout for the Ganga putra that promised a clean Ganga in May 2014.