Beas · Dams · Environment · Environment Impact Assessment · Environmental Flow · Fish · Fish, Fisheries, Fisherfolk · Free flowing rivers · Gharat · Himachal Pradesh · Hydropower · Rivers

Muktadhara Tirthan

How one fish and many people saved a river

“Hark! What is that? What is that sound? It is laughter, bubbling up from the heart of the darkness. It is the sound of water! There is no doubt. The water of Muktadhara is free!”

As I stepped on the wooden slats across the joyously gurgling Tirthan River, I remembered Rabindranath Tagore’s lines from his first play, Muktadhara (Free-flowing). I was in the Himalayas to listen to the story of Tirthan, a Muktadhara in her own right! Tirthan is the rarest, possibly the only river valley in India to be declared as a “No-Go Valley” for hydropower or dam development, protected in perpetuity.

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River Biodiversity

When a gharial landed in a cow shelter in Delhi

It’s been more than six months since I got a Whatsapp video forward from my friend Yayati Bhardwaj along with a message in Hindi about some cow vigilant rescuing a ‘crocodile’ from Swaroop Nagar area of Delhi and sending it to a cow shelter in Narela, a bustling town in North West Delhi bordering Haryana.

It was around 07:00 pm on November 12, 2021 when busy in market, I had quick glance over the video. It was not very clear and shot with loud Punjabi music playing in the background. It showed some monitor lizard kind reptile lying motionlessly on ground with wheat grains scattered around it. At first sight, I found nothing to be surprised or worth responding.

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Cloud Burst

Himachal Pradesh: Cloud Bursts in Monsoon 2021

(Feature image:- Local people trying to crossing the overflowing Jahlma drain with a rope to take an injured person to the hospital. Source: Amar Ujala, July 30, 2021.)

The Himalayan states have been facing reoccurring cloud burst disasters for the past several years. The state of Uttarakhand witnessed 50 such events, 24 pre monsoon[i] and 26 during south west monsoon[ii] season of 2021. This account highlights the situation of the emerging climatic threat in Himachal Pradesh in pre monsoon and monsoon months in 2021.

Here it may be noted that during SW Monsoon months of June to Sept 2021, Himachal Pradesh had 10% below normal rainfall, with 8 of the twelve districts of the state experiencing below normal rainfall. Lahaul and Spiti had the highest deficit at -65%. Among the four districts that had above normal rains, Kullu had the highest surplus at +40%. Even during the pre-monsoon months (March to May 2021), HP had 10% below normal rains.

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Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 1 June 2020: No escape from Dam floods as dam lobby continues to dominate

Feature image: Officials of the irrigation department visited the breached Tiware dam near Chiplun in Ratnagiri, in July 2019. (Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)

The report of the 10 member committee headed by Shri Nandkumar Vadnere, appointed by the Govt of Maharashtra in Aug 2019 was submitted on May 28, 2020. The report titled “A report on Floods 2019 (Krishna Sub-Basin): Experts Study Committee: Analysis, Causes, Remedies” from all accounts is a major let down as is apparent from the way one of the members felt so humiliated that he had to resign: he was not provided basic information to do justice to the Terms of Reference, his chapters were unilaterally removed from the draft report by the chairman, under pressure from higher ups. The report is actually an attempt to show, by hook or by crook that dams were not responsible for the Krishna basin floods of Aug 2019. Almost exactly the same way CWC came out with a shockingly unscientific, contradictory report about Aug 2018 Kerala floods to prove that dams had no role. The report did not even ask if the any of the dams followed the rule curve, though it made recommendation that rule curves should be followed! The story keeps repeating for each of the dozens of instances in recent years. The report of the Tiware dam disaster in Maharashtra in July 2019 has been submitted in Feb 2020, but is not yet in public domain. These few recent instances show how strong a strangle hold the dam lobby has over the official water institutions and governance in India. The Dam Safety bill now before the Parliament will not help as it has no provision to remove or even loosen this stranglehold, there is no place for independent oversight in the bill. Without an accountable reservoir operation policy, legal and institutional paradigm there is no possibility of freedom from dam induced floods.

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Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 18 May 2020: Signs of Impending Dam Floods in SW Monsoon 2020?

These are rather ominous signs. As per the latest reservoir storage bulletin of Central Water Commission dated May 14, 2020, the 123 reservoirs monitored by CWC has massive, 64.6 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) in live storage capacity, which is about 165% of the capacity on same date last year and average of last ten years, even as monsoon is just weeks away. Most dams known to create DAM INDUCED FLOODS in the past, including Bhakra dams (we wrote about it earlier this month: https://sandrp.in/2020/05/07/are-we-ready-to-use-more-water-from-snow-melt-in-indus-basin-this-year/), Narmada dams, Odisha and W Bengal dams (Cyclone AMPHAN is going to bring a lot of water here in next few days, even before the monsoon), Krishna basin dams, Cauvery basin dams, Bansagar and Gandhi Sagar Dams, and Kerala dams among others. All these dams have above average storage situation.

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Bhakra Dams · Dam floods · Indus

Are we ready to use more water from snow melt in Indus basin this year?

Union Water Resources Minister Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has recently said that the snow this year on Himalayan peaks is the highest in 50 years, and reservoirs like Bhakra, Pong, Ranjit Sagar, Ramganga, Tehri, etc will receive very high water inflow from snowmelt during summer and SW Monsoon.[i] This is in fact the third warning this year on this issue. Earlier on Feb 27, 2020 and then again on May 4, 2020, the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) provided the same warning to its partner states. However, neither the Union Minister & BBMB, nor the partner states seem ready or doing anything to prepare for the unprecedented situation that the dams and rivers may bring in ongoing summer and coming SW monsoon.

In fact the situation is similar to the one that happened twice at Bhakra-Pong-Ranjit Sagar Dams last year[ii]. Even then not only there were massive floods, but the water flowed away to Pakistan, totally against the declared pronouncements and policy of Indian Government leaders including the Prime Minister. Continue reading “Are we ready to use more water from snow melt in Indus basin this year?”

Dams · Sand Mining

Himachal Pradesh sand mining 2020: No Replenishment study, district foundation

Himachal Pradesh is a hilly state where large scale, mechanized mining of riverbed minerals has been going on for past many years. The damaging impacts on rivers, streams and dependent communities are evident and on the rise. However the state government has failed to bring any change in the scenario as can be seen in this overview covering the related developments during 2019-20.

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Wetlands

Punjab Wetlands Overview 2019: More Ramsar Tags no guarantee for Wetlands protection   

Punjab government has been successful in getting three more wetlands declared as Ramsar sites of international importance. The state already has three wetlands with Ramsar tags namely Harike, Kanjli and Ropar wetlands. The government in October 2019 had proposed a total of five sites including Ranjit Sagar conservation reserve and Hussainiwala wetland for Ramsar tags. The new wetlands selected for the tag are Keshopur-Miani community reserve, the Beas conservation reserve and Nangal wildlife sanctuary. So now six wetlands in the state are covered under Ramsar convention.

The state forest department and WWF team were working in this direction over past couple of years. In the year 2019, the government has also taken some remarkable decisions regarding conservation of wetlands in the state. However, by the year end, there has not been any significant progress on the issue from the government.

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Sand Mining

Punjab Sand Mining Overview 2019: Story of Political Patronage & Goonda Tax

Sand and gravels forming riverbed materials hold immense ecological value for living and healthy rivers systems. The inbuilt water filtration capacity and absorbing characteristic of the minor minerals plays critical functions in groundwater recharge and in ensuring lean season flow in the rivers. However for over two decades the brazen illegal and mechanized mining activities across the country have been irreversibly affecting the rivers and riverbank communities. The state of Punjab is among leading states where state government has failed[I] to ensure sustainable sand mining practices. The 2019 overview the state shows strong clout of political parties over the illegal sand mining operations without sharing a thought for the rivers and public.   

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DRP News Bulletin

DRP NB 6 Jan 2020: When will Inland Fisheries get its due in decisions about rivers & other water bodies?

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.

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