During a global seminar held on Feb. 25-26, 2017 in Patna experts from across the country have advocated an “urgent review” and comprehensive studyof the Farakka dam to revive the Ganga river. The experts were discussing various concerns facing River Ganga and the possible solutions for them. The seminar titled as “Incessant Ganga” was organisedby Bihar’s Water Resources Department, almost week after, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has openly termed the barrage as genesis of floods in the State. Speaking in the program, the CM again expressed deep concerns behind receding water flow in the Ganga and increasing silt deposit due to Farakka dam.
Speaking during the seminar, environment expert Himanshu Thakkar the coordinator of SANDRP advocated urgent need for review of Farakka barrage claiming that it has failed to fulfill any of the purpose – irrigation, hydro electric power, water supply – of the barrage for which it was built. As per, Himanshu Thakkar the dam was built to maintain the navigability of Kolkata port.
Thakkar also suggested that the gates of Farakka be openedduring monsoon to mitigate the intensity of floods in Bihar. As per Thakkar there was an urgent need for a comprehensive study of the Farakka barrage to find out its achievements or whether the barrage fulfilled its objectives. The committee constituted for study must include the Centre, Bihar, West Bengal and all states having Ganga, he said adding that a study should be made on the social and livelihood impact of the barrage, how it affected people’s lives, whether its existence was justified and cost-benefit assessment among other issues.
All of them are working to ‘let the rivers flow’. The settings in which they work… their convictions and their understanding gives each of their work a unique flavour…
From colourful personality of Dinesh Mishra who has contributed single handedly to a gradually changing perception of flooding rivers as a catastrophe or “something to be tamed”…. to Himdhara’s deep love for mountains and urge to protect them…. to struggle of CCDD to save their rivers from grabs of corporate hydro-power sector in the armed conflict zone of Manipur…. SANDRP captures flavours of relentless efforts of recipients of Bhagirath Prayas Samman of 2016.
Above: Young kid from a fishing family in Kahalgaon, even the most informed communities (Ganga Mukti Andolan) are clueless about the government’s intentions (Photo by Veditum)
GUEST BLOG BY: Siddharth Agarwal
As the Ganga rises and fills streets and alleys with it’s water all along it’s course, I spend a time out at home, partially because of personal reasons and in some parts due to the rising levels of the river hindering all sorts of movement around it. Currently on a walk along the Ganga for Veditum India Foundation’s ‘Moving Upstream’ project, I’ve been able to walk a distance of about 1000 kms alongside it’s banks from Ganga Sagar till Varanasi in 50 days’ time. Some places saw me walking right next to the river while others had me maintaining my distance since it just wasn’t possible to peruse a course anywhere in the vicinity of the flooded banks.
The rising levels of the river are no surprise, an annual occurrence with variation only in ferocity. We’re surprisingly still caught off guard, every single year, with this news about floods in cities like Patna, Allahabad and Varanasi making it to national television on an almost daily basis. But what of all the places between Patna, Allahabad and Varanasi? What of all the places that are not cities and of all the people who are not urban dwellers? The major focus as I walk along the river are the people of the river and their lives, those who inhabit this space known to all as the vastly fertile Indo-Gangetic plains but unknown as a place extremely vulnerable to the forces of nature and shaky towards those man-made.
I had been informed in advance of the situation of our fishermen by minds already working in the field of environment and rivers in our country, often mentioning that these communities were severely under-represented and very much neglected even when it came to discussions relating to them. Non-inclusiveness of communities while making decisions is not a new theme in India, but given the extent of impact that some upcoming government decisions/policies was going to have on these people, I decided to ask them a few questions as I proceeded upstream from Ganga Sagar, starting early June 2016.
Anywhere downstream of the Farakka barrage, the mention of the word barrage has a stunning effect on the people and 1975 is a year that fisher folks remember as a year of doom. For most readers and even for me before I started upon this trip, this would makes sense if one tries to put in a little effort in imagining how a barrage or dam might affect a river. But unlike how logic would dictate, this effect doesn’t exist just downstream of the barrage and similar reactions continued even further upstream, in Jharkhand and Bihar.
The National Mission for Clean Ganga and The National Waterways programme have been in the limelight for making grand promises of :
1.) Cleaning and maintenance of the river
2.) Economic Development and Cheaper Transportation.
Now, this is not a commentary on the efficiency and feasibility of making such proposals, simply an attempt to understand the impact of such programmes. EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) and SIA (Social Impact Assessment) are the terms you might be looking for, something that ideally the governing authority should be taking care of. But why is any of this important or relevant to this article? It is because whatever happens in these places between Patna, Allahabad and Varanasi is very much relevant and important to discuss. These are not uninhabited spaces, but pretty well populated areas with a lot of lives at risk.
Coming back to the point of the two government programmes, firstly, the NMCG letting the Waterways programme run through protected areas and non-protected ecologically sensitive areas goes very much against the whole agenda why this mission was set up. Secondly, the waterways programme in a bid to decrease ‘transportation’ costs and utilise our river potential recently ran tests with large vessels on the Ganga.
What is surprising (or rather not) is that these test runs were without any warnings to fishermen and boatmen in said test sections, the few who were on the waters at the time of passing of these vessels had to face high waves, enough to topple a less experienced or unaware boatman. The news of these tests were flashed all over the main stream media, but failed to make it to those for whom it mattered. Not an uncommon occurrence at all, but till when will this go un-noticed? On asking these fishermen if they have any clue why this is happening, most of them responded in the negative while a few said they’ve learnt about the government’s plans to run large vessels on the river.
As this conversation extends and questions follow, it is gradually revealed that the picture is not clear and conversations have somehow trickled down in a very muzzled form. Though most fishermen laugh off the prospect of this being a constant activity because of the extreme reduction in water level that the river has seen these past years, often mentioning how large excavators and multiple tugboats have been needed anytime a large vessel has traversed these stretches in lean seasons. There’s talk of loss of fishing nets and reduced catch, difficulty in controlling small country boats in high waves, chances of accidents when transporting villagers to small ‘diars’ for agricultural work, loss of land where there’s no embankments and so on, but this also brings us to the most important part of this article.
The Water Highway programme on the Ganga has been proposed on a 1500 km stretch from Allahabad to Haldia, with barrages at about every 100 kms. Now, an avid news reader would have knowledge of this as a great policy step but the fisherman who directly depends on the river for his livelihood does not. This holds true for maybe 15-20 different fishing communities that i’ve had the chance to interact with in the first 50 days and even the mention of new barrages was way too shocking for those who have had to bear the burden of Farakka’s impacts. There are even places where locals have signed their wishfulness of a barrage near their villages without understanding consequences and only having been shown the shiny side like we see everyday in the papers, called ‘development’.
The ‘Moving Upstream’ project intends to understand and present a narrative of the river and it’s people, hoping this will lead to more meaningful conversation and inclusive action by the government. In a recent announcement by Sushri Uma Bharti Ji – Union Cabinet Minister of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, she said she will march down the length of the river to take stock of the status of various projects commissioned by her. I’m glad that cues are possibly being taken from the Moving Upstream project, but like every other government project, when will our habit of assessment (if at all) after execution stop and preparedness & understanding before implementation materialise? I hope she does her Ganga yatra before approving any projects, I hope for inclusiveness.
बाणसागर बाॅध, सोन नदी, गंगा नदी और पटना को दर्शाता मानचित्र
21 अगस्त 2016 की सुबह, गंगा नदी का जलस्तर लगातार बढ़ते हुए, पटना में 50.43 मीटर पर पहुॅच गया। जिससे पटना में गंगा नदी अपने पहले के उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर 50.27 मीटर से 16 सैंटीमीटर ऊपर बह रही थी। 22 अगस्त 2016 तक पानी का जलस्तर गंगा नदी के किनारे तीन अन्य स्थानों पर उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर को पार कर गया। जिसका विवरण निम्न हैः-
स्थान 22.08.2016 को उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर पुराना उच्चतम बाढ़स्तर बलिया उत्तरप्रदेश 60.30 मीटर 60.25 मीटर (14 सितंबर 2003) हाथीदाह, बिहार 43.17 मीटर 43.15 मीटर (07 अगस्त 1971) भागलपुर बिहार 34.55 मीटर 34.50 मीटर (05 सितंबर 2013)
इस तरह से हम देखते हैं कि पटना में उच्चतम बाढ़ का रिकार्ड तोडने के बाद, अब यह बाढ़ गंगा नदी के किनारे बसे बिहार और उत्तरप्रदेश के अन्य इलाकों में पहुॅच रही है। यहाॅ यह बात उल्लेखनीय है कि बिहार में अब तक वर्षा औसत से 14 प्रतिशत कम हुई है। सवाल यह उठता है कि इसके बावजूद गंगा में रिकार्ड तोडने वाली बाढ़ क्यों आयी?
Above: Map Showing the location of Bansagar Dam, Sone River, Ganga River and Patna
Water level of Ganga at Patna reached 50.43 m on Aug 21, 2016 morning with still showing rising trend. This level was already 16 cm higher than the highest ever recorded flood level (HFL) of Ganga at Patna of 50.27 m. By Aug 22, 2016, at three more sites along Ganga, the water level had already breached the highest recorded levels: Balia in Uttar Pradesh (Ganga Water level at 60.3 m, higher than the HFL of 60.25 m recorded on Sept 14, 2003), Hathidah in Bihar (Ganga water level at 43.17 m, higher than the HFL of 43.15 m recorded on Aug 7, 1971, that is 45 years back) and Bhagalpur in Bihar (Ganga water level at 34.55 m, higher than HFL of 34.5 m recorded on Sept 3, 2013). This means that the highest flood level that started at Patna is now travelling both upstream and downstream along Ganga.
Several districts of Bihar along Ganga are facing floods, with at least 10 lakh people affected and about 2 lakh people displaced. On Aug 21 alone, NDRF teams have rescued over 5300 people from Didarganj, Bakhtiyarpur, Danapur Chhapra, Vaishali and Maner. At least ten lakh people have been affected in Bihar, two lakh have been displaced and scores have been killed. It seems more like and annual natural calamity.
But that is not the case, if we look closely. Available information shows that the unprecedented floods that we are now seeing in Ganga in Bihar and UP are largely due to contribution of two dams: Bansagar Dam along Sone river in Madhya Pradesh in the upstream and Farakka Dam (misleadingly called a Barrage) on the Ganga river in West Bengal. If Bansagar Dam was operated in optimum way, than it need not have released over ten lakh cusecs of water. As pointed out by Bihar government, the high floods brought by Ganga in Patna are majorly due to the high flow contributed by Sone river upstream of Patna. Continue reading “A tale of two dams: Is Bihar’s unprecedented flood an avoidable man-made disaster?”→
On the 3rd of August 2016, Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Sushri Uma Bharti ji made some interesting remarks in her answer to a question about impact of Ganga Waterways Project on Biodiversity (Please see SANDRP’s detailed report on the same issue here). Her brief speech can be seen here: https://youtu.be/ohEOMfay71I
It has been two years since the Union Minister for Shipping and Transport, Mr. Nitin Gadkari, announced the Government’s ambitious plan to revive the National Waterways-1 (Ganga Waterway) between Haldia and Allahabad, justifying it on the grounds that India’s waterway potential remains highly underutilized, although six times cheaper than road transport. In a letter dated 18th June, 2014 forwarded by Mr. Gadkari to the Finance Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley, a proposal for financial assistance to four navigational barrages was also made.
Centre’s new wetland protection rules reinforces the stereotype that govts see wetlands as wastelands The draft Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2016 which replace the existing Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010, are up for public comments till June 6, 2016. While wetlands nationwide are threatened by encroachment, pollution, catchment degradation and mindless development, the Narendra Modi government’s draft rules show no indications of acknowledging this threat. The draft rules, environmentalists say, reinforces the stereotype that governments see wetlands as wastelands. The essence of the new rules is to decentralise wetlands management to states. The Centre will have a say only in ‘exceptional cases’ While the 2010 rules gave some role to states, the draft rules gives them all powers. But in the process, the whole conservation process has been weakened. The period for public comments on the draft notification ends by the month. Several organisations, including BHNS, WWF, LIFE, International Rivers, INTACH, YJA & SANDRP have sent, or are in the process of sending, representations to the environment ministry. Among the concerns is that the 2010 rules itself were barely getting implemented. No state has identified a wetland yet, and few have made state-level nodal agencies mandated by the 2010 rules. In an ongoing case before the NGT, it emerged that states had not notified wetlands under the 2010 regulations. This forced the tribunal to demand that states begin to do so in at least 5-10 districts in a time-bound fashion. The Union meanwhile has proposed to substantially change the existing regulations. The new regulations do away with the elaborate list of activities that are prohibited or restricted. It prohibits reclamation of wetlands, conversion to non-wetlands, diversion or impediment of inflows and outflows from the wetland and ‘any activity having or likely to have adverse impact on ecological character of the wetland’. The need for the environmental impact assessment before permitting such activities is to be done away with. The earlier regulations allowed appeals against the decisions of the central wetlands authority with the NGT. This, too, is to be done away with, though aggrieved entities could continue to file cases against violations of these rules. The concerns were also raised during a discussion organized in Jodhpur on May 23 by three NGOs EIA Resource and Response Centre, Libra India and Life on Draft Wetland Rules 2016 issued recently by the environment ministry seeking suggestions and comments.
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?”→