There is some good news this week. A survey has found existence of fishing cat and two otter species in Chilika lake – this was not known so far. However, this also underlines how little we know about India’s aquatic biodiversity in our rivers, lakes and deltas. Its high time we have authentic baseline survey across India, hopefully in participation with the local communities who would already know so much about this. And may be rather urgently, once we are through with the current Covid-19 Crisis.
The Supreme Court order asking for fresh environment clearance and fresh Environment Impact Assessment for the Peripheral Ring Road project in Bengaluru is remarkable and most welcome, even though it is not directly related to water issues. The order is relevant since we have yet to find what can be called an honest Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for River Valley Projects and yet the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects happily clears ALL the projects that come their way, even with most fraudulent EIAs. We are hoping against hope that this apex Court judgement will be a precursor to many such orders and judgements and general warning against fraudulent EIAs and EACs. We hope it is not too much to ask that the EIA be an honest effort and the EAC that does not reject fraudulent EIAs should also be dumped and members black listed. We hope we have such orders from the judiciary soon.
This remarkable TOI report on March 14, 2020 (there was a Hindustan Times Report on March 9, 2020, we found out later: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/scientist-flags-kedarnath-project-worries/story-1DoLBHLeMOmYLI3OPFOq1M.html) says that rampant redevelopments termed as “unabated unscientific work in the valley” around Kedarnath is likely to create dangerous situation leading to 2013 like catastrophe. We could not find report about such an important development in any other media.
But this detailed report, not contradicted by any of the quoted sources, seems sufficient reason to be alarmed by all concerned.
Experts of the Wildlife Institute of India, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Uttarakhand Space Application Centre (USAC) and even the Principle Science advisor to the Prime Minister K VIjay Raghavan and also the contractors, Woodstone Constructions along with other state and central govt officials were present where officials made some candid presentations. It seems there has been neither any impact assessment studies or clearances for the controversial interventions happening, including 9 km long approach road for Kedarnath on the left bank of Mandakini river, (left band has basically loose glacial sediments and hence is unstable and could get affected by avalanches and landslides) and a massive 50 ft deep and 100 m wide pit just 50 m behind Kedarnath for the Samadhi sthal. MPS Bisht, the Director of USAC in his presentation called the pit an extremely dangerous for future. He asked: “Why are we creating a situation for another disaster like the 2013 tragedy to take place again?” Scientists from the Wadia Institute are quoted saying: “The Road being built to Kedarnath is being made on the most vulnerable of Kedarnath Valley and may any day collapse under the pressure of so many glacier shoots which are directly opening on the road.” Raghavan called these revelations tipping points.
Ramsar wetlands in India require urgent intervention for central, state governments and Ramsar Convention as this 2020 report shows. The five regional reports from India in 2020 show that despite Ramsar tag, the fate of these wetlands has seen no marked improvement. This raises the question as to how helpful for wetlands in India is the Ramsar tag.
In 2019, India has added 10 more wetlands selected under Ramsar Convention taking total number of Ramsar wetlands in the country to 37 covering about 10,679.39 sq km area across 15 different Indian States and two Union Territories (UTs). A description of each of India’s 37 Ramsar wetlands, as given on official Ramsar website is given in Annexure below. A decade after the first meeting at Ramsar in Iran for wetland protection in 1971, India got its first wetlands, Chilika lake (Odisha) and Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan) registered as Ramsar wetland of global significance in Oct 1981.
Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), with annual rainfall in access of 2000 mm, does not do much to harvest the rain. It does not protect its local water bodies. It does not recharge groundwater to the extent it can easily do. It does not reduce its transmission and distribution losses. It does not treat its sewage to recycle and thus reduce freshwater demand. It does no demand side management. And yet it keeps demanding more water, and for that building of more dams and thus pushing more destruction. Without any credible options assessment. It has no water policy or water vision for smart water management.
The proposed Gargain Dam that will lead to destruction of over four lakh trees in 720 ha forest mostly in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary, is a good example of how Mumbai is fuelling such dam building and destruction. The Rs 3105 Cr project will have many other impacts, including displacement of tribals and destruction of livelihoods for thousands others. As SANDRP report showed six years ago, (https://sandrp.in/2013/12/20/dams-in-tribal-areas-of-western-ghats-for-water-supply-to-mumbai-why-are-they-unjustified/, https://sandrp.in/2013/12/18/multiple-dams-for-mumbai-region/) and as our letter to the then Maharashtra Chief Minister emphasised in 2015 (https://sandrp.in/2015/01/13/water-smart-mumbai-open-letter-to-cm-devendra-fadnavis/), MMR region does not need any of these dams.
It was good to see MID DAY news paper report and EDIT highlighting some of these issues. Will the people of Mumbai Rise up, to stop this destructive dam, being pushed in their names, the way they stood up to save the far fewer Aarey Milk Colony trees?
There are large number of stories this week from all over India highlighting the crisis that Urban Rivers in India face. Urban rivers, like the Urban Water sector, exist in complete policy vacuum. There is no policy to guide the Urban water governance. Cosmetic efforts being done when President Donald Trump of USA visits India on Feb 24-25, 2020 at Yamuna (in view of his visit to Agra) or Sabarmati (visit to Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad) won’t really help. The crisis not only affects the rivers, but the health, livelihoods and lives of millions and millions of city dwellers too, in addition to the downstream river users. Our Water Resources establishment has no clue, as is evident from their calling the Dravyawati river channelization in Jaipur as an example of river rejuvenation and suggesting such rivers should be given to corporates to rejuvenate in similar ways! It’s doubtful if the new National Water Policy now being formulated will help, unless it dares to suggest radical changes.
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.
The Water & Environment sector, including the Agriculture, Environment & Forests, Urban Development, Ganga and & Other Rivers, Water Resources Ministry, Rural Employment Program and Rural Drinking Water Mission, seems to have seen disappointment from the allocations in Union Budget 2020-21 presented by the Union Finance Minister Smt Nirmala Seetharaman to the Parliament on Feb 1, 2020, most independent observers have concluded. The Budget has proposed some welcome measures in solar power and rural infrastructure sector. But on the whole, considering the situation in Water Sector & Climate Change impacts already upon us, and considering the various statements from the government, these sectors have not received the priority they deserve. Continue reading “Water-Environment Sectors disappointment in Budget 2020”
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.