As can be seen from the news reports from Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Arunchal Pradesh, Karnataka, among others, the opposition to Large Hydro Projects and Big Dam is growing all over India. These projects are neither economically viable, nor Socially-environmentally sustainable. There are much better options exist and hope the governments takes informed, democratic decisions. Going by the agenda and minutes of the recent Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects and other decisions, this hope seems far fetched at the moment.
HC asked govt to start demolishing illegal prawn gheries in wetlands In a remarkable order the Odisha High Court on Jan. 21, 2019 directed the govt to start the demolition process of illegal prawn farms in Bhitarkanika National Park and the Chilika Lake under the supervision of the committee formed for the purpose. The high court has set March 18 as the date for taking stock of the work. It has also directed the govt to lodge criminal proceedings against the offenders.
The Supreme Court had on April 3, 2017, asked the chief justice of high courts in 15 states to take up the issue of conservation of important wetlands. Of the 26 major wetlands in 15 states, two are in Odisha. The high court had taken up the issue by suo motu registering a PIL in Sept 2017 for restoration of two wetlands – Bhitarkanika in Kendrapada district and the Chilika Lake, encompassing areas in Puri, Ganjam and Khurda districts.
The theme of the World Wetlands Day[i] 2019 is very fittingly, “Wetlands and Climate Change”. With climate change already upon us and its impact likely to increase due to increasing emissions and global temperatures, its high time we understand the importance of wetlands to face inevitable impacts of climate change, even as we must continue to do everything possible to reduce emissions.
On the occasion, Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has said[ii]: “Peatlands[iii] for example cover just three per cent of our world. Yet they store nearly a third of all land-based carbon. This is twice as much as all the world’s forests.
International news agency, after independent research, have corroborated what SANDRP has been saying: Mismanagement of dams played big role in worsening Kerala floods.
-“The release could have started earlier so that by Aug. 9 there would have been left-over capacities in the reservoirs to store the water,” said Biswajit Mukhopadhyay, director of water resources at U.S-based engineering firm IEA, who analysed some of the publicly available data at the request of Reuters.
– Still, dozens of flood victims interviewed by Reuters, who live in villages dotting the banks of Kerala’s biggest river, the 244 km Periyar, say they faced no floods despite torrential rain in late July and early August. All of them said waters only rose overnight on Aug. 15. That was when more intense rainfall forced KSEB to rapidly ramp-up releases of water from Idukki and Idamalayar reservoirs, which feed into the Periyar.
– Kerala’s revenue secretary and head of disaster management, P.H. Kurien, told Reuters he has twice written to KSEB requesting EAPs and has yet to receive them. KSEB’s Pillai said EAPs and dam operation manuals were still being prepared. CWC said it was working with Kerala’s government to speed this up. The Kerala Chief Minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment. https://widerimage.reuters.com/story/did-dams-make-indias-once-in-century-floods-worse (11 Oct. 2018)
And this fantastic infographic: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/INDIA-FLOOD/010080MF18N/index.html (11 Oct. 2018)
(Feature Image: IMD Sub-Division wise Weekly Rainfall Map 26 July – 1 Aug. 2018)
Amid news of monsoon being normal, farmers in several parts in the country have started facing irrigation water problems affecting sowing of Kharif crops. Apart from, insufficient rainfall, mismanagement of water resources is turning the situation grim for them.
As per reports, water levels in Bhakra and Pong dams in Himachal has plunged to lowest in decades. As a result dam authority has issued advisory to lakhs of farmers in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan to use water judiciously. Some official also said that the beneficiary states lacks efficient water management practices which is making the situation tough for them.
The Sri Ram Sagar Project in Telangana has no irrigation water. As per state water minister, a Rs. 1100 crore work was going on to renovate the dam. Meanwhile farmers of about 24 villages have started protest demanding irrigation water form SRSP for their standing crops. Given the tense situation, the State Govt has deployed heavy police forces to control farmers agitation.
At the same time, farmers in North Gujarat farmers have lost 40% of sown crops particularly in Ahmedabad, Morbi and Surendranagar. Non availability of Narmada waters have added to the problems. It is worth to mention that mismanagement of water during past four months in Narmada dam by the authority, has worsened the plight of farmers. Meanwhile, there are reports of furious Surendranagar farmers themselves opening the dam gates going against authority.
Similarly, lack of rainfall in Beed district which is part of Marathwada in Maharashtra has affected the rural population badly. In fact, the rainfall situation in a fourth of India, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, was in stark contrast to the rest of the country. Overall, the southwest monsoon in 2018 was only 2 % below normal by July, 27.
The southwest monsoon in Bihar was almost 40 % below normal till July 27 and the state was set to be formally declared ‘drought-hit’. It is worth to mention that the monsoon scenario seems less than reassuring, based on Skymet latest forecast and reading between the lines of IMD Aug. 3, press release.
In a remarkable development, Jammu & Kashmir Govt is reviewing its Hydro policy to assess whether the Hydro Electric Power Projects (HEPs) are still viable. As per sources, this is for the first time that the Govt is discussing the viability of generating hydro power.
An empowered committee led by the Chief Secretary has started this discussion by calling for an “approach paper” that will give an overall picture of the hydropower industry in India. Top sources in the State Power Development Corporation (SPDC), a government-owned company, told Kashmir Reader that the empowered committee wants to lay a roadmap for power generation in the state. “It will reflect the vision of the government. It will give the picture of hydropower generation in India, its rates, market, demand and supply. It will also lay down a roadmap for large power projects,”
The approach paper will be part of a new hydropower policy which will be submitted before the same committee, and then before the cabinet for approval. The SPDC had submitted a hydro policy draft in April last year, which was returned to it in December. Sources said the approach paper has to be submitted in two months’ time.
At present, India has a surplus generation of hydropower, which has plummeted its rate. This has led to losses for SPDC as it invested in projects whose generation costs were high. The blunt example is that of the 450-MW Baglihar II. SPDC has failed to lure any buyer for more than a year as its selling cost of per unit of energy, Rs 4.4, is nearly Rs 2 higher than the market rate. The SPDC has finally managed to sell the power at about Rs 4 per unit to the Uttar Pradesh government but for one year only. The SPDC may have to struggle again next year if the state of UP does not continue the contract.
Another example is that of Nimuno Bezgo, and Chutak hydropower projects, which sell energy at Rs 13 per unit. The SPDC also buys power from Dulhasti project at Rs 7, when the available rates for power in the market is around Rs 2 and Rs 4. https://kashmirreader.com/2018/02/02/cs-led-panel-to-lay-roadmap-for-power-generation-in-jk/ (Kashmir Reader. 2 Feb. 2018)
As per another report, facing a growing demand for electricity and unable to tap its vast potential for generating hydroelectric power, the state government is looking to boost solar power generation. Given the long gestation period of hydel projects, it is unlikely the generation of hydroelectric power will expand significantly in the near future, said. Hence, the focus on solar power. Indeed, when solar power potential exists, with lower installation and operation costs and impacts, why States continue after destructive, expensive hydro projects? https://scroll.in/article/866058/kashmir-can-generate-a-lot-more-hydel-electricity-than-it-requires-why-is-it-eyeing-solar-power (Scroll.In, 30 Jan. 2018)
There is one more interesting hydro power development in which the state cabinet of Bihar has approved closing 3 and cancelling the development of 2 others in addition to handing over of 8 hydropower projects to neighboring Jharkhand.
Central Government Decisions
Environment ministry notifies new wetland rules In a major decision, the union environment ministry notified the new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 on 26 Sept. 2017 replacing the 2010 version of the rules. The draft of the Wetland Rules was first presented by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) in March 2016. But they were severely criticized by conservationists who had alleged that the draft rules don’t mention anything about a national regulator and don’t list specific activities prohibited in these ecologically sensitive areas.
The new rules stipulate setting up of a State Wetlands Authority in each State and union territories that will be headed by the State’s environment minister and include a range of government officials. They will also include one expert each in the fields of wetland ecology, hydrology, fisheries, landscape planning and socioeconomics to be nominated by the state government.
The State authorities will also need to prepare a list of all wetlands of the State or union territory within three months, a list of wetlands to be notified within six months, a comprehensive digital inventory of all wetlands within one year which will be updated every ten years.
To oversee the work carried out by States, the rules stipulates for setting up of National Wetlands Committee, which will be headed by the MoEFCC Secretary, to monitor implementation of these rules. The Committee will also advise the Central Government on appropriate policies and action programmes for conservation and wise use of wetlands, recommend designation of wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention, advise on collaboration with international agencies on issues related to wetlands etc. http://www.livemint.com/Politics/y6Tr3tkrr3q28AmGKaBFII/Environment-ministry-notifies-new-wetland-rules.html (Live Mint, 28 Sept. 2017)
SUPREME COURT The Supreme Court of India is hearing a matter Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s). 230/2001 in which there have been several orders of consequence this year (e.g. 8 Feb 2017 & 16 Aug 2017) for protection of wetlands. In spite of several directions for identification, preparation of brief documents, implementation of rules 4, notification of wetlands under the Wetlands Rules 2010, hardly any progress has happened.
Rule 4 of Wetlands Rules 2010 applicable to Wetlands of size ≥2.25 ha
“National Wetland Inventory & Assessment” was filed in SC. This Brochure indicates on page 11 that 2,01,503 wetlands have been mapped at 1:50,000 scale. All these wetlands have ‘an area of more than 2.25 hectares’. As a first step, the ‘Brief Documents’ with regard to these 2,01,503 wetlands should be obtained by the Union of India from the respective State Governments in terms of Rule 6 of the Wetlands (Conservation and management) Rules, 2010.
The East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) are unique yet complex system of natural and human-made wetlands in West Bengal. The wetlands cover 125 sq km comprising of salt marshes, salt meadows, sewage farms and settling ponds. They are used to treat Kolkata’s sewage, and the nutrients contained in the waste water sustain fish farms and agriculture.
Devised by local fishermen and farmers, these wetlands served, in effect, as the largest natural sewage treatment plant (STP) for the city. And using the purification capacity of wetlands, Kolkata by transforming nearly one-third of the city’s sewage into a rich harvest of fish and fresh vegetables daily, has pioneered an environment-friendly system of sewage disposal. Because of this, the EKW were designated a “wetland of international importance” under the Ramsar Convention on August 19, 2002. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Kolkata_Wetlands
However for past many years, these wetlands are under threat due to exponential expansion of real-estate projects. Recently illegal landfills are on the rise and unprecedented land development and urbanization have been creating concerns about the impact on EKW environment. 2017 has seen the situation turning only worse for EKW.
This is about the proposed Brahmaputra Festival being planned by the Assam Govt from March 31 to April 4, 2017. The five-day festival will witness significant participation from China. Various other countries such as Vietnam and Singapore are also reported as attending the program. It is scheduled to be inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee.
It is true that the word business appears four times on the opening page of this festival website, but the word flood, erosion and people do not appear even once. This is relevant since for very large sections of people of Assam, the river also means floods, erosion, displacement and disaster on regular basis and not just “lifeline of Assam” or “life-giving prosperity and countless blessings”.
The festival website also errs in many ways, including when it claims “India’s only male river”, since there are several male rivers, including Damodar, Ajoy, Pagla, Gadadhar, among others. It is true that even the word Nemami is copied from the Nemami Gange, but that should not be such a big issue?
It is true that people also suffer when river dries up or is polluted or is encroached or unsustainably mined, and none of these issues are highlighted by the festival website. It is true that the the Assam also means all the communities, including the bodos and mishing and many others, not just Guwahati or Dibrugarh or Majuli. The festival organisers may argue that we are taking the festival to all 21 districts, but it is important to recognised all communities of Assam.
This is in addition to the fact that Brahmaputra includes all the states of North East India, and more. The Brahmaputra, 2,900 km long, is an international river with 918 km of it flowing in India, 1625 km in China and 337 km in Bangladesh.
It is true that the festival is more about attracting tourists, business and transport along the river. And so it is not even giving a comprehensive picture of the rivers of Brahmaputra basin in Assam, nor is there attempt to do anything to improve the state of the rivers. Similarly, the destruction of the rivers of Guwahati and Assam needs to be halted and reversed, and may be this occasion can be used to push that advocacy?