Yamuna River

Yamuna Jayanti 2019: Will the agony of the River & People speak in Elections?

(Feature image by Nishant Panwar, Vikas Nagar, shows Yamuna River in upper reaches in Jan. 2019)

On April 11, 2019, is the birthday of Yamuna river. The Yamuna Jayanti comes every year on the sixth day of ‘Chaitra’ (summer) Navratra. The Kapat (door) of famous Yamnotri shrine would be opened this year on May 7 for Char Dham Yatra. 

In April-May 2019 India will vote to elect 17th Lok Sabha or Parliament. On April 11, the 1st of the 7 polling days, the home state of Yamuna river, Uttrakhand and the districts of Western Uttar Pradesh through which Yamuna river flows, will vote.

The two other states heavily dependent and Yamuna river, Haryana and Delhi will see voting on May 12. The district Mathura, Agra, Etawa, Kanpur, Hamirpur, Fatehpur and Allahabad of Uttar Pradesh located along Yamuna river will witness voting from second (April 18) to sixth phase on May 12.

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Yamuna river at different locations between 8 to 11 April 2019. (Image Source: Yamuna Nadi Mitra Mandalis)

The NDA government come to power in May 2014 promising clean Ganga and Yamuna. The thousands of devotees of Mathura and residents of Agra were especially convinced of a promise of clean flowing Yamuna river. People were also hopeful that the government of the same party, BJP, in centre and in key basin states of Yamuna (Uttarakhand, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh) would bring a change in the situation. But over the five years, things have only deteriorated further.  In fact, under the present government apart from dams and pollution a illegal sand mining has emerged as equally dangerous threat for the Yamuna rivers from upper reaches through middle and lower stretches.

On the occasion of Yamuna Jayanti, the Yamuna Nadi Mitra Mandli (YNMM) a voluntary group of villagers and concerned; established along the length of Yamuna by Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan is highlighting the issues affecting the Yamuna river and riparian communities which have remained unaddressed during past five years and none of the political parties even now have remotely focused on these.  They also warn that ignoring the problems of Yamuna and dependent community will soon affect every state and dependent people in a significant way apart from endangering the river itself.

Continue reading “Yamuna Jayanti 2019: Will the agony of the River & People speak in Elections?”

Drought

Can floods lead to drought? After the flood, severe drought looming over Kerala

Guest blog by: Madhusoodhanan C.G. and Sreeja K.G

The state of Kerala experienced extreme precipitation events during the 2018 South West monsoon period with multiple episodes culminating in devastating floods across the state during 14th-18th August 2018. This year, with an early onset of monsoons that dovetailed with strong summer showers, the state received about 41% excess rainfall (2394 mm against the normal of 1700 mm) during the period June 1st to August 22nd [1]. Almost all of its reservoirs were near full storage by mid-July.

The heavy downpour and the uncontrolled opening of the spillway gates of almost all reservoirs that inundated huge stretches of river banks and floodplains, along with massive landslides across the Western Ghats affected more than 1.5 million people, with close to 500 human casualties, immense losses to property, livelihoods and resource security apart from the extensive damage to forests, wildlife and biodiversity. Maximum destruction was observed along the rivers of Periyar, Chalakudy and Pamba, all having multiple dams on their tributaries. The debate is still on as to the various reasons, both manmade and natural, behind the floods and the resultant wide-ranging casualties [2,3,4,5,6]. Meanwhile things have taken a rather unexpected turn in the flood ravaged state.

Continue reading “Can floods lead to drought? After the flood, severe drought looming over Kerala”

Ganga

World Rivers Day and Ganga: A look at Farakka Barrage and other such calamities

Last Sunday of every September is celebrated as ‘World Rivers Day’. It is a recent phenomenon, but in many senses more significant than World Water Day. While ‘Water’ is seen more as a resource than the life-blood of the global ecosystem, ‘River’ provides water with its ecological, social, cultural and spiritual context. One this day, SANDRP looks at India’s ‘National River’ Ganga. The river seems to be a symbol of all that is right and wrong with water governance in India. It depicts crystallisation of challenges faced by rivers across the country, albeit at a much larger scale. The rich canvass and the deep spiritual value of Ganga for many cultures make it more riveting. The new government at the centre has declared that rejuvenation of the Ganga River is one of its priorities. However, in addition to several infrastructure projects planned and ongoing on the river and its tributaries (Ganga is not just 2525 kms long river, its is more than 25,000 kms long, with all its tributaries), the new Government is planing to build a series of barrages on the River to make it navigable, from Haldia, at the mouth of Hooghly, a major distributary of the Ganga to Allahabad which is some 1620 kms upstream from Haldia. Before we go further into the advantages or the disadvantages of more barrages on Ganga, let us take a look at what one only existing Barrage on this 1620 km stretch of the river, The Farakka Barrage, has done to the river in the past 39 years since the Barrage was commissioned. Let us see how we have managed the issues which have arisen, how human lives have been impacted, what has been our response, how the main objective of building the barrage has been frustrated, how we have dealt with this realization, how the Barrage has furthered more conflicts and how a thriving fishing activity has been nearly killed by Farakka in the upstream as well as in the downstream. SANDRP visited the region of Farakka Barrage, Malda, Murshidabad, talked with the affected people, fisherfolk, authorities at the Barrage as well as the Director and other officials at the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI) to understand the complex issues. Prior to detailed analysis, here’s looking at Ganga, Hooghly and Farakka in photos.

The Hooghly-Ganga in Kolkata carries 40,000 cusecs water which has been divereted into Hooghly from Ganga at the Farakka Barrage Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
The Hooghly-Ganga in Kolkata carries 40,000 cusecs water which has been diverted into Hooghly from Ganga at the Farakka Barrage Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

Farakka Barrage was commissioned in 1975 to transfer 40,000 cusecs ( Cubic Feet per second) of water from Ganga into its distributary Hooghly to save the Kolkata Port on the Hooghly from silting up. The barrage is just 16 kms upstream from Bangladesh border.

Cargo at Kolkata Port is dropping streadily. The Port is silted up, dredging is ncresing down the years. Farakka Barrage has NOT controlled the silting problem of the Port Photo: The Hindu
Cargo at Kolkata Port is dropping streadily. The Port is silted up, dredging is increasing down the years. Farakka Barrage has NOT controlled the silting problem of the Port Photo: The Hindu
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Hooghly at Kolkata Photo: Author

As a part of Farakka Barrage Project,  an afflux bund was constructed over several rivers upstream of Farakka, like Choto Bhagirathi, Pagla, etc., to divert water into the Barrage. The complete diversion of water killed these rivers in the downstream, severely affecting people. Here we see Choto Bhagirathi flowing after many years, thanks to a pipeline and sluice sanctioned this year to supply meager water to the river. This does not help the fish though, there are hardly any left.

Meager fishing at Choto Bhagirathi Photo: Author
Choto Bhagirathi, completely diverted for the Farakka Barrage, only flowing this year. Photo: Author
Fishing nets at Choto Bhagirathi. Fisherfolk told   us this was more out of habit, there re hardly any fish left in the river. Photo: Author
Fishing nets at Choto Bhagirathi. Fisherfolk told us this was more out of habit, there are hardly any fish left in the river. Photo: Author
Kedarnath Mondal, a noted activist working on issues related to Farakka Barrge, discussing with fisherfolk
Kedarnath Mondal, a noted activist working on issues related to Farakka Barrge, discussing with fisherfolk. Photo: Author

Not withstanding the anti-erosion works completed upstream the Farakka Barrage in Malda, the Ganga has deposited huge sediment load in the upstream of the barrage and this has accelerated the swing in its channel. The channel is swinging rapidly to the left bank, eroding and eating away thousands of hectares of villages, farms, mango plantations and chars (islands) in the way, endangering the Barrage itself. Although sediment-laden Ganga has a history of changing courses, this has been aggravated to a great extent by the sedimentation and obsrtuction caused by Farakka.

Anti erosion works upstream of Farakka Barrage Photo: Author
Anti erosion works upstream of Farakka Barrage Photo: Author
Anti Erosion work destroyed
Anti Erosion work destroyed by the river on its left bank, upstream of Barrage Photo: Author
Erosion at Malda upstream Farakka Photo: Soumya Desarkar
Erosion at Malda upstream Farakka Photo: Soumya Desarkar
Erosion and its impacts Photo: Jaideep Mazoomdar, Outlook
Erosion and its impacts Photo: Jaideep Mazoomdar, Outlook

Even before you arrive at the heavily guarded Barrage, you can see the heavily silted river, with cattle grazing peacefully on islands (chars) just 500 meters-1 km upstream of the barrage. According to River Expert Kalyan Rudra, Farakka hordes nearly 350 million tonnes of sediment flow of Ganga every year in the upstream!!

Cattle grazing just upstream of the Barrage, indicating the enormous sediment deposition
Cattle grazing inside the riverbed just upstream of the Barrage, indicating the enormous sediment deposition Photo: Author
Sedimentation upstream the barrage can be clearly seen Photo: Author
Sedimentation inside the riverbed just upstream of  the barrage can be clearly seen Photo: Author
Board proclaiming that Farakka is the Pride of the Nation! Photo: Author
Board proclaiming that Farakka is the Pride of the Nation! Photo: Author
Farakka Barrage
Farakka Barrage Photo: Author
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Diversion of water to Farakka Feeder Canal from right bank Photo: Author

The Barrage also severely affected navigation through the river. A separate ship lock was made on the Feeder Canal and it is managed by Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI). Hardly any ships pass through due to high sedimentation.

Condition of the Farakka Ship Lock. Secirity Personnel there told us hardly any ships pass this route, less than one ship in three months Photo: Author
Condition of the Farakka Ship Lock. Security personnel posted here told us that hardly any ships pass this route, less than one ship in three months Photo: Author
Hilsa FIshing upstream Farakka is nearly finished as the fish cannot overcome the huge obstacle. Fisherfolk have taken to fishing in the feeder canals where too the catch is meager Photo: Author
Hilsa Fishing upstream Farakka is nearly finished as the fish cannot overcome the huge obstacle. Fisherfolk have taken to fishing in the feeder canals where too the catch is meager Photo: Author
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Any meager Hilsa catch is immediately seized by the middleman. In this case middleman gave forty rupees to the fisherman. The Middleman will get more than 300 Rs. for this same catch of Hilsa. Photo Author
Fishermen upstream Farakka are a worried lot
Fishermen upstream Farakka are a worried lot

Downstream the barrage, due to trapping of silt in the upstream, silt free water erodes banks with vengeance, especially the left bank. We saw several anti-erosion measures failing miserably in front of the river’s fury.

Anti erosion works get routinely swept away
Anti erosion works get routinely swept away

bankerosion4 Farakka has profoundly changed the character, sediment regime and flow of Ganga. It is affecting lives of lakhs of people in India and Bangladesh through cycles of erosion, sedimentation, floods and affected fishing. Our response to the issue has been dismal. We have not conducted a single review of costs, benefits and impacts of Farakka Project so far. In addition to Farakka , Lower Ganga (Narora), Middle Ganga, Upper Ganga Barrages (Bhimgoda), Kanpur Barrage, Hydropower projects in Uttarakhand and other upstream states have affected the river in most profound ways. If we want to rejuvenate the Ganga, we need to institute a credible independent review the existing Barrages, not plan new ones. May be we can begin with a demand for such a review for Farakka on urgent basis. One World Rivers Day, let us wish for a long and healthy flow for the Ganga River, a symbol of all flowing rivers in India!

-Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com)

POST SCRIPT on April 28, 2015:

An edited version of this article and photoessay on The Nowhere People — Environmental Refugees around Farakka, was published in the Mint on March 28th, 2015. Here it is in full: http://www.ficusmedia.com/traildiaries/2015/03/28/the-nowhere-people/
This article was made possible with a grant from The Third Pole and Asia Foundation.
Arati Kumar Rao

Dry Ganga downstream Upper Ganga, Bhimgouda Barrage in Haridwar Photo: Author
Dry Ganga downstream Upper Ganga, Bhimgouda Barrage in Haridwar Photo: Author