Inland Waterways · Rivers

Digging Our Rivers’ Graves?

A summary analysis of the ecological impacts of the National Waterways Bill (2015)

– Nachiket Kelkar (rainmaker.nsk@gmail.com

Introduction: The National Waterways Bill (NWB, Bill No. 122 of 2015) was tabled by the current central government’s Minister of Transport and Shipping, Mr. Nitin Gadkari, in May 2015. This Bill plans to convert 106 rivers and creeks across India into waterway canals, purportedly for ‘eco-friendly transport’ of cargo, coal, industrial raw materials, and for tourism purposes. The primary reasons provided for this bill are that 1) inland water transport is fuel-efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly, 2) the systematic development of waterways will create progressive economic opportunities in the country, and 3) the potential of water transport is underutilized in India. The Bill has since been examined by the Standing Committee appointed of Rajya Sabha Members and experts on the matter, who submitted their findings in Report No. 223 (Rajya Sabha Secretariat, August 2015). Recently, the Bill has been cleared by the Lok Sabha, and awaits final discussion in the Rajya Sabha within a fortnight’s time. As of now the NWB appears to enjoy support across party lines, states and political positions and agendas. There is also a belief that waterways would mean maintenance of enough water flowing in our rivers – yet the means through which this is proposed to be achieved involve capital dredging and large-scale conversion of floodplain environments and riverbanks to concrete embankments. A serious concern of observers has been that there has unfortunately been but scant debate on the high ecological and social risks the NWB poses to riverine biodiversity and local resource users through such irreversible engineering controls on our rivers. There is no discussion among politicians and administrators. Importantly, this issue appears to have barely received adequate attention even in environment and conservation circles. Problematically enough, the NWB thus emerges as a threat that may go unnoticed by conservationists and get passed without debate, deliberation or emphasis on environmental clearances to the extent required. In this article I will discuss the potentially damaging consequences of the NWB on river ecology, human life and hydrological dynamics of India’s riverscapes. My earlier article on the SANDRP blog ‘Four boats at a river crossing along Ganga’ (dated 28th December, 2015) had described https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/four-boats-at-a-river-crossing/) ground experiences related to the impacts of large-scale inland water transport (IWT). Continuing there I attempt to provide a point-wise discussion and critique of the NWB.  Continue reading “Digging Our Rivers’ Graves?”

Dams · Ganga

Four Boats at a River Crossing along Ganga

Above: A fisherman crosses the river with his boat. Photo: © Sameer Kumar/VBREC.

-Nachiket Kelkar (rainmaker.nsk@gmail.com)

It was a pleasant November afternoon when we were travelling down the Ganga River by boat, surveying river dolphins. Tall grass had grown on both banks through the flood recession period. The water level had become very low already. Two magnificently large concrete buildings; one, the agricultural college, and the second, the industrial office, stood precariously by the edge of a rapidly eroding bank. At the turn of this bank, the Ganges Voyager appeared in a sudden sight. British tourists with gleaming shades, sunning their fair skins to balanced tan tempered by muslin umbrellas put over brick-red wooden tables, waved at us from the deck of the Voyager. Uniformed Indian attendants confirmed that they were not waving out to any dangerous people, in a re-enactment of the old colonial days. The Voyager had fifty air-conditioned luxury rooms. Their windows were made translucent by pale mauve and white chiffon curtains artistically tied in an hourglass shape. Continue reading “Four Boats at a River Crossing along Ganga”

Dams · Fish Sanctuaries

Celebrating India’s Riverine Fisheries on the World Fisheries Day

Above: Women fishing in small pools near (सादिया घाट) Sadiya Ghat on (लोहित) Lohit and Dibang Rivers. Women use several gear, baskets and nets to catch fish from the slush. The activity is accompanied by laughter, chatter and songs. Photo: Author

21st November is celebrated as World Fisheries Day. Since the past few years we have been trying to highlight the significance and richness of India’s riverine fisheries which support over 10 million people by providing livelihoods and nutritional security. Ironically, although India is the world’s biggest inland fish producer, our riverine fisheries are woefully neglected. We do not have a record of riverine fish catch and its trends, people dependent on riverine fishing, species of fish and their population trends, etc. Interventions like dams, water abstraction and pollution have severely affected riverine fisheries, which do not find a place in the dominant water management narrative. Continue reading “Celebrating India’s Riverine Fisheries on the World Fisheries Day”