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.
The March 2, 2020 directions of Punjab and Haryana High Court for the sustained conservation of Sukhna wetland are welcome, though the directions are likely to be appealed against in the Supreme Court, considering the far reaching implications of the lake. One hopes the Supreme Court takes a view that helps sustain the Sukhna lake and the wetlands in a confidence inspiring way.
Punjab & Haryana HC Issued Slew Of Directions For Protection Of Sukhna Lake. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/punjab-haryana-hc-issues-slew-of-directions-for-protection-of-sukhna-lake-in-chandigarh-read-judgment-153386 (2 March 2020)
This is a far reaching judgement on protection of watersheds, water bodies. Any government authority which ignores the environmental damage caused by unplanned development will have to face the music. The court also declared all commercial, residential and or other structures constructed in the catchment area falling in the areas of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh as delineated in the map prepared by the Survey of India on 21.9.2004 were declared illegal and unauthorised and ordered to be demolished within three months. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/hc-declares-chandigarhs-sukhna-lake-living-entity-fines-punjab-haryana-100-cr-each-for-damaging-catchment-area/article30969711.ece (03 March 2020)
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 floodplains of Yamuna in Delhi have been facing encroachment threats for long. In the latest incident a huge portion of riverbed underneath Nizammudin bridge towards Games village was found turned into a dumping ground on February 16, 2020. This was happening despite the protection of floodplains from encroachment and waste dumping were among key concerns of remarkable National Green Tribunal (NGT) judgement “Maili Se Nirmal Yamuna” of January 13, 2015. Continue reading “Despite NGT order and Yamuna Monitoring Committee-CPCB-DDA responses, action awaited about dumping on Yamuna floodplain”
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.
On February 2, the World Wetlands Day is celebrated globally. The theme of 2020 is Wetlands and Biodiversity to emphasize the critical roles the wetlands plays for wildlife, aquatic life, and native vegetation. They also play crucial role in harvesting rainwater, recharging groundwater, providing livelihoods, acting as carbon sinks and providing cushion against flash floods thus they hold immense significance in changing climate.
This compilation puts together some of the positive developments related to wetlands that took place in 2019. It also includes few individual initiatives of lakes and water bodies cleaning from greater Noida, Chennai and Udaipur. There have been some fruitful efforts by citizen and community groups in Maharashtra, Goa and Kerala.
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.
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.