(Feature image by Nishant Panwar, Vikas Nagar, shows Yamuna River in upper reaches in Jan. 2019)
On April 11, 2019, is the birthday of Yamuna river. The Yamuna Jayanti comes every year on the sixth day of ‘Chaitra’ (summer) Navratra. The Kapat (door) of famous Yamnotri shrine would be opened this year on May 7 for Char Dham Yatra.
In April-May 2019 India will vote to elect 17th Lok Sabha or Parliament. On April 11, the 1st of the 7 polling days, the home state of Yamuna river, Uttrakhand and the districts of Western Uttar Pradesh through which Yamuna river flows, will vote.
The two other states heavily dependent and Yamuna river, Haryana and Delhi will see voting on May 12. The district Mathura, Agra, Etawa, Kanpur, Hamirpur, Fatehpur and Allahabad of Uttar Pradesh located along Yamuna river will witness voting from second (April 18) to sixth phase on May 12.
The NDA government come to power in May 2014 promising clean Ganga and Yamuna. The thousands of devotees of Mathura and residents of Agra were especially convinced of a promise of clean flowing Yamuna river. People were also hopeful that the government of the same party, BJP, in centre and in key basin states of Yamuna (Uttarakhand, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh) would bring a change in the situation. But over the five years, things have only deteriorated further. In fact, under the present government apart from dams and pollution a illegal sand mining has emerged as equally dangerous threat for the Yamuna rivers from upper reaches through middle and lower stretches.
On the occasion of Yamuna Jayanti, the Yamuna Nadi Mitra Mandli (YNMM) a voluntary group of villagers and concerned; established along the length of Yamuna by Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan is highlighting the issues affecting the Yamuna river and riparian communities which have remained unaddressed during past five years and none of the political parties even now have remotely focused on these. They also warn that ignoring the problems of Yamuna and dependent community will soon affect every state and dependent people in a significant way apart from endangering the river itself.
It’s not secret that water pollution is getting worse in India, including pollution of groundwater sources, thought we still donot know the full extent of the pollution of that source. But there is so little citizen action on such an important issue that affects so many so severely on daily basis. So it’s great to see four separate instances of such action this week, one each from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Kerala. In absence of any seriousness shown by governments at centre and states and any effective success from judicial intervention, this is welcome news. One only hopes this is no flash in the pan and rather beginning of citizens’ action to agitate against such rampant water pollution that goes on in India.
For last 22 years, 14 March is celebrated globally as International Day of Action for Rivers.
As per India Rivers Week Assessment 70 per cent of our rivers are facing existential threats. Over 60 per cent of sewage generated in India is dumped untreated in rivers and water bodies. As per latest official assessment the number of polluted river stretches in country has increased to 352 from 302 two years ago. Similarly the number of critically polluted stretches has gone up to 45 from 34 in two years. Our rivers are facing lack flow, pollution, encroachments, unsustainable mining and destruction of habitat. In mountains, streams are running dry for most of the time, while in urban areas they are over loaded with pollution.
Amid this gloomy scenario, many small initiatives are being taken to reverse the plight of our rivers. This compilation shows few of such recent and inspiring initiatives.
Two interesting orders from National Green Tribunal (NGT) marked important developments on water-environment issues this week. NGT asking for PERFORMANCE AUDIT of pollution Control Mechanism is indeed long overdue necessity, considering the complete, abject failure of the pollution control mechanism in India. The hopes of effective action, like in the past, however, were dashed since CPCB, which is PART OF THE PROBLEM has been asked to do the audit. An independent audit, in addition to one possibly by CAG may have helped. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/ngt-slams-state-pollution-bodies/article26008687.ece (17 Jan. 2019)
Whatever positive signs were available by this order were further dashed by another NGT order in which it declared that EIAs (Environmental Impact Assessment) reports are already taking climate change into account, while the tribunal dismissed a petition asking that all development activities be screened/ regulated keeping climate change in mind.
This is totally WRONG contention. Just to illustrate, SANDRP has been pointing out to the EAC, MoEF and the developers how the EIAs of dams and hydropower projects are ignoring the climate change related issues and impacts. In response the consultants and developers have responded, approved by the silent or spoken nods by the EAC and MoEF that these were not even part of their TORs! One only wishes NGT was most discerning before making such claims and would have gone through a few EIAs to see if at all EIAs are dealing with these issues with any rigour or credibility. https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/climate-change-already-covered-under-environment-impact-assessment-ngt-119011600897_1.html (16 Jan. 2019)
Good to see NGT rejecting the flawed Groundwater notification dated Dec 12, 2018 from CGWA that was also critiqued by SANDRP: https://sandrp.in/2018/12/31/groundwater-governance-why-dec-12-2018-cgwa-notification-would-be-disastrous/. However, NGT should have asked an independent panel to formulate the policy for sustainable groundwater use, rather than a committee of the same government persons. Besides, there is also need for restructuring of currently totally ineffective CGWA and make it COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT of government.
In case of the 3097 MW Etalin project being developed by Jindal and Arunachal Pradesh govt, the IE report says: “the WII was asked by the Ministry (MoEF) to assess the feasibility of the plan that requires 1,166 hectares of forestland in the valley. The Ministry’s move followed a recommendation from its Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) to conduct an environment impact assessment study. Instead, the WII initiated a study to find how the project’s impact on wildlife can be minimised”. Thus instead of doing the mandated scientific impact assessment, the WII initiated a study to minimise the project’s impact.
This multi-media report by Siddharth Agarwal based on a walk along the majestic Ken River in central India, now part of a contentious river-linking project, shows how essential it is to the communities living around it.
The idea of walking along a river has many key reasons, but the most important of them is to interact, discuss with and document the life of the actual stakeholders of this natural system. Traversing flood plains and riverbanks on foot takes us right where the story is, not in a far removed space, where even a few kilometres away from it can be a major shift. Location plays a wonderful role in rejigging memory and helps people imagine past situations. The discussions on the scale of the importance of a river suddenly have a realism and depth.
Further speaking to various regional media, Madhav Gadgil has said that irresponsible environmental policy is to blame for the recent floods and landslides in Kerala. He also called it a “manmade calamity”. He said that the committee report had recommended to protect the resources with the cooperation of local self-govt and people, but those recommendations were rejected.
Dams should never be filled before the end of the monsoons. Because then one doesn’t have any solution but to release the water in the surrounding areas: Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP says as one of panellist discussing role of dams in aggravating Kerala floods.
Here is admission about sudden, excessive releases and not foreseeing the coming disaster. The Kerala crisis could have been contained had the state “gradually released” waters from at least 30 dams, officials said, adding that the local authorities failed to foresee the imminent danger with high rain prediction. “Such floods have probably recurred after 100 years, exposing the state’s unprofessionally run reservoir management system and unpreparedness on disaster mitigation and disaster resilience, an official pointed out. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/gradual-dam-water-release-could-have-contained-crisis/articleshow/65436339.cms (17 Aug. 2018)
The release of around 1.31 lakh cusecs of water in Yamuna from Hathnikund barrage at 09:00 hours on July 26, 2018, was certainly first surge of flood this monsoon in the river. But no one expected, most are still in the dark that the release would multiply by over five times in just two days! It is almost a month after the Southwest monsoon arrived. By this time the river usually floods couples of times.
Looking at the lack of significant rainfall in the catchment area over past weeks, the flood is unexpected and has taken many by surprise. The Irrigation and Flood Control Department, Delhi Government has issued warning for flood plain farmers and human settlements close to river banks, but the warning does not seem to commensurate with the flood peak that is likely to hit the capital in next day or two.
Yamuna has already crossed warning (204 m) and danger level (204.83) at Old Delhi Railway Bridge (ORB), Delhi. The High Flood Level is 207.49 meters, reached on Sept 6,1978 after around 7 lakh cusecs (cubic feet per second) water was released in Yamuna on 3rd Sept 1978 at 04:00 hrs from Tajewala barrage, that was decommissioned and replaced by Hathnikund barrage in early 1990s. The flood monitoring of River Yamuna began in 1963.
Since then, the river has seen high floods in 1988, 1995, 2010 and 2013. The 2010 and 2013 floods also crossed 207 metres mark but fell short of 1978 level.